In a culinary development that marks the end of an era for Uptown Oakland, Bravo TV’s Top Chef alum Nelson German said goodbye to his beloved alaMar Kitchen & Bar after nine years at 100 Grand Avenue #111. The seafood haven, a community staple, closed its doors in June, only to be reborn as alaMar Moroccan Kitchen. A true homage to German’s Dominican Republic roots, influenced by his childhood in Washington Heights, Manhattan, this new venture introduces an NYC-style Dominican restaurant in the heart of Uptown. The restaurant’s reinvention not only pays homage to Germans’ family connections, but also shines a spotlight on the flavors of Dominican home cooking and the vibrant street food of Washington Heights.
“After nine years as alaMar Kitchen & Bar, it is time for me to concentrate fully on Dominican cuisine,” says owner and chef German Nelson. “Sobre Mesa allows me to explore my Latin American and West African heritage, and being places where foodies can celebrate the culture while enjoying the amazing foods of my childhood is critical to my footprint on the Bay.”
“As Californians travel more and more to the Dominican Republic, I really feel like the San Francisco Bay Area community is ready to enjoy regional Dominican cuisine influenced by the streets of New York,” he continues. “People are more open right now when it comes to exploring and learning about other cultures, and we will be the go-to place for Dominican food in Northern California.”
In a coastal style, alaMar Moroccan Kitchen offers delicious appetizers, small plates, stews, seafood and braises using Dominican spices and ingredients. alaMar’s new menu includes select dishes such as oxtail with garlic-miso butter, peppers and semi-glaze; Pollo Guisado Chicken Wings; Chipotle-glazed chili plantains, guava BBQ sauce with toasted nuts; Fried pork with quinola and sofrito butter, served family style; Bacalao salted cod; Dominican-style grits, Chen Chen, and boozy, boozy cocktails.
We chatted with Chef Nelson German about his new concept, legacy and inspiration for alaMar Dominican Cuisine and more. Here’s what he had to say.
Talk about how alaMar Moroccan Kitchen is different from alaMar Kitchen & Bar. Is it completely new or are some parts still the same?
alaMar Moroccan Kitchen differs from alaMar Kitchen & Bar in that the new version is more focused. alaMar Kitchen & Bar was my playground to showcase global inspiration and dishes that I have learned to prepare throughout my career and while traveling. Dominican cuisine showcases my direct ancestry and is a tribute to my family. It’s completely new, but the same is the feeling of being at home at alaMar.
Talk about the inspiration for the menu, the atmosphere and the ambience of alaMar Moroccan Kitchen. What are the standout dishes?
The inspiration is my family, my Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, my community and my childhood. Every detail tells a story, starting with the mural depicting my journey, but most importantly, my family’s journey. The music is the best of New York Dominican music with a dash of NYC hip-hop, which made many of us who grew up in Washington Heights feel like we were Americans now.
The colors really highlight the bright and vibrant culture I am a part of. A standout dish for me is the Malecon-Style Half Chicken, which is inspired by my family’s favorite restaurant in the Dominican Republic that we went to together when my mom, abuelita, or aunt wanted a break from cooking. It’s tender, juicy and the mojo is full of sazon and sofrito.
Another dish is the roast goat, which only my grandmother cooked and fed the family on special occasions. A final dish is the shrimp criolla, a tribute to old AlaMar and the shrimp cooking that has made us a city staple.
What was the impetus for opening this new restaurant? What was the turning point?
The trigger was when we celebrated our nine-year anniversary and realized that we had just become the old restaurant in a sea of new and semi-new restaurants. We felt that we have just reached this amazing milestone and overcome the tough times of the pandemic years where we now need to refresh ourselves. Feel new like we are a new restaurant but with the same fun atmosphere as the old alaMar.
With this new feeling, I wanted to bring it deeper into the culture. Like my cocktail bar Sobre Mesa, I pay tribute to my ancestors and the African diaspora that I am so proud to be a part of. It really goes deeper to my roots, beyond my Dominican side, but now with alaMar I’m honoring my family.
I felt like I needed to give back and honor my lineage and my Afro-Latino 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 they dine here? And what are you most looking forward to with this alaMar Dominican cuisine?
Guests can look forward to a fun time with food that has a focus, a story and is full of love. My heartfelt thanks go to the people in my family who have inspired me and always encouraged me to pursue my dreams and be the best person I can be. It’s truly a full circle moment for me and alaMar. I hope our guests feel the love for and connect with the Dominican culture.
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