There is something about the Lake Chalet restaurant that makes me a little uneasy. My parents flew back into town this afternoon and they took me there for an early dinner tonight. Don’t get me wrong. The food was good. The atmosphere was pleasant. The view of Lake Merritt from the dining room is really nice. The service was friendly and professional. The dining experience was almost all a person could want. Even the beer, which is brewed by the Lake Chalet’s sister establishment on the west side of the bay, is pretty darned tasty.
The restaurant is housed in the old Lake Merritt Boat House, which is a decent building, if a little overscale when you consider the size of the lake. Major renovations have converted the Lakeside Drive site into a very impressive venue, featuring a very long bar. The actual bartop may be well over 100 feet long. (I’m just guessing.) I can foresee incredible people watching opportunities at that bar.
Still, there’s something about the place that seems wrong. This place doesn’t feel like an Oakland place to me. It feels like it belongs on the San Francisco waterfront, not on the shore of Lake Merritt. As I said, there was nothing pretentious about the staff, or the service, or the way that we were treated that seemed inappropriate. It’s just that the place seemed to lack something that would make it feel like a real Oakland place. Maybe it’s my own self consciousness, my sense of being an outsider trying to find my way back to being a local, that makes me alert to it, but there is a palpable lack of the “we just belong here” sensibility in the place.
There are a ton of new eating places in town that I have yet to visit, so maybe I’m missing something about the new Oakland restaurant aesthetic, but the Lake Chalet didn’t speak to me in a way that said, “welcome to Oakland.” I feel like I need to go back during the warmer weather for the Tuesday evening Taco night on the boat dock—that may give me a better feel for what the place has to offer. And I wouldn’t dare to criticize the food after only a single visit, so my current thought about the place is based only on the hit I got after one visit.
It may take me some time to identify the missing ingredient in the Lake Chalet. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t name it just yet.