In a culinary evolution that marks the end of an era for Uptown Oakland, Bravo TV’s Top Chef alum Nelson German said goodbye his beloved alaMar Kitchen & Bar after nine years at 100 Grand Avenue #111. The seafood haven, a staple in the community, closed its doors in June, only to emerge reborn as alaMar Dominican Kitchen. A true homage to German’s Dominican Republic roots, shaped by his upbringing in Washington Heights, Manhattan, this new venture introduces a NYC-style Dominican restaurant to the heart of Uptown. The restaurant’s reinvention not only pays tribute to German’s familial connections but also spotlights the flavors of Dominican home cooking and the vibrant street fare of Washington Heights.
“After nine years as alaMar Kitchen & Bar, it’s time for me to go full-on Dominican,” says owner and chef German Nelson. At Sobre Mesa, I’m able to explore my Latin and West African heritage, and it’s essential for my footprint in the Bay to be spots where foodies can celebrate culture while enjoying amazing foods from my childhood.”
“As Californians are traveling more and more to the Dominican Republic, I really feel the San Francisco Bay Area community is ready to embrace regional Dominican cuisine influenced by the streets of New York,” he continues. “People are more open right now where they want to learn and experience other cultures, and we are going to be the spot for Dominican foods in Northern California.”
A coastal style of cooking, alaMar Dominican Kitchen offers delicious aperitivos, small plates, stews, seafood, and braised meats with Dominican spices and ingredients. alaMar’s new menu features select dishes such as Oxtail with garlic miso butter, peppers, and demi-glace; Pollo Guisado Chicken Wings; Chili Plantains glazed with chipotle, guava BBQ sauce with toasted nuts; Roasted Pork with Chinola and sofrito butter served family-style; Bacalao Salted Cod; Dominican-style grits Chen Chen, and slushy boozy cocktails.
We chatted with Chef Nelson German on his new concept, his heritage and inspiration for alaMar Dominican Kitchen and more. Here’s what he had to say.
Talk about how alaMar Dominican Kitchen is different from alaMar Kitchen & Bar. Is it totally new or are some parts still the same?
alaMar Dominican Kitchen is different from alaMar Kitchen & Bar in that the new version is more focused. alaMar Kitchen & Bar was my playground to showcase global inspirations and dishes that I have learned to make throughout my career and travels. The Dominican kitchen is showcasing my direct lineage, its a tribute to my family. It’s totally new, but what is the same is the feeling of being at home when you are at alaMar.
Talk about the inspiration for alaMar Dominican Kitchen’s menu, vibes and ambiance. What are the standout dishes?
The inspiration is my family, my neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, my community and childhood. Every detail tells a story, from the mural showcasing my journey, but most importantly, my family’s journey. The music is the best of New York Dominican music with a splash of NYC hip-hop, which gave a lot of us growing up in Washington Heights the feeling that we are now American.
The colors really showcase the bright and vibrant culture that I’m part of. Standout dishes for me is the Malecon-Style Half Chicken, which is inspired by my family’s favorite Dominican restaurant that we would go to together when my mom, abuelita or aunt wanted a break from cooking. It’s tender, juicy and the mojo is full of sazon plus sofrito.
Another dish is the Fried Goat, which only my grandmother would cook and feed the family during special occasions. One last dish is the Shrimp Criolla, which is a tribute to the alaMar of old and the shrimp boil that made us a staple of the Town.
What was the catalyst in opening this new restaurant? What was the turning point?
The catalyst was when we hit our nine-year anniversary and realized that we just became the old restaurant in a sea of new and semi-new ones. We felt like we just hit this amazing milestone and survived the harsh times of the pandemic years that now we need to refresh ourselves. Have a feeling of new, like we are a new restaurant, but with the same fun feel as the old alaMar.
With that new feeling, I wanted to bring it deeper into the culture. Like at my cocktail bar Sobre Mesa, I’m giving tribute to my ancestors and the African diaspora, which I’m so proud to be a part of. It’s really digging deeper to my roots past my Dominican side, but now with alaMar, it’s giving tribute to my family.
I felt like I need to give back and honor my direct lineage plus my Afro-Latinx community. It’s really an evolution of my journey and alaMar’s journey, now we have a more direct focus.
What can guests look forward to when dining here? And what are you most looking forward to with this alaMar Dominican Kitchen?
Guests can look forward to a fun time with food that has a focus, a story and is full of love. It is my heartfelt thank you to the people in my family that have inspired me and have always uplifted me to keep following my dreams, plus be the best human I can be. It truly is a full circle moment for me and alaMar. I hope our guests feel the love and connect with the beauty of Dominican culture.