Camino restaurant in Oakland and Umami Mart go way back. Yoko first wrote about the restaurant in 2010! Then, I began bartending there a few nights a week, where it was the first time I used a jigger for measuring. It was a revelatory moment in drink-making and has brought me to what I do today: slinging bar tools from Japan, in Oakland. I even continued to work at Camino part time while trying to get Umami Mart off the ground with Yoko. Neither of us were sure how the shop would go, so we kept our side hustles, just in case.
Eventually, when I left Camino to devote myself solely to Umami Mart, Allison and Russ, owners of Camino, sent me off graciously – it wasn't too sad though cause I knew we would be friends for life. Camino celebrates 10 years this May! It is a restaurant that has changed little since it opened – full of integrity and devotion to local ingredients, hospitality, and community.
We collaborate often – a highlight last year was the launch party of our Japanify All Day Zine at The yet-to-be-opened-to-the-public Kebabery. That was such a special event!
Every year we partner together for a Sake Dinner at Camino, which is always a blast. Russ creates the menu and we pair each dish with a sake! Russ and Allison are big sake fans and are longtime Sake Gumi members. Our Sake Dinner will be on March 25th this year – buy your tickets now!
The Camino Salad
Adapted from the This is Camino cookbook
1 large butter lettuce head
1 small garlic clove
A small handful of chopped soft, sweet herbs like chervil, mint, anise hyssop, tarragon, or chives, in any combination
Camino Red Wine Vinegar
Written by Russell Moore
Trim the base and remove the outer leaves of the lettuce. Let the leaves fall into a large bowl of cool water. Continue trimming and gently pulling the head apart into individual leaves, trying not to manhandle the lettuce. Swish the leaves around in the water to release any dirt. You can dry the lettuce using the Frenchie-roll-them-up-in-a towel method, but it's really hard to get the leaves all the way dry – which is what you want here. A salad spinner works well if you don't fill it up too much, so do it in batches. After spinning the lettuce dry, tear the biggest leaves in two and throw all the lettuce into a bowl with a towel in the bottom, then cover with another towel just to soak up any last drops of water. Chill the clean lettuce until you're ready to serve the salad.
To make the vinaigrette, pound the garlic with a pinch of salt in a morter. I always make the vinaigrette right in the mortar by stirring in a splash of vinegar and then adding the olive oil. Because Camino vinegar is super strong I add about four times as much olive oil as vinegar, but your ratio might be different. I think it tastes better if it's not emulsified, so don't bother with a whisk. After you stir it, dip a piece of lettuce in the dressing and taste it for acid and salt. Adjust as needed.
To dress the salad, toss the herbs into the bowl of lettuce. Sprinkle a little salt and a few grinds of pepper over the leaves. Using a small ladle, start by dressing the lettuce lightly. The goal is to just barely coat every leaf. Gently but thoroughly toss the salad with your hands, touching every leaf at least once, then taste, and add a bit more vinaigrette and another pinch of salt, if necessary. Serve right away.
Notes: The basic Camino Salad is with butter lettuce and herbs. During chicory season (fall/winter) we usually use a touch more vinegar and sometimes almonds or sheepsmilk cheese.
The Camino Salad is a sight to behold. It arrives at your table glistening and dewey, sometimes speckled with dark, fresh herbs – and on a lucky day, almonds. We had the chicories on this winter night, a mouthful of bitterness and fresh earth, so perfectly balanced with the acidity of the vinegar and subtle garlic.
During our most recent dining experience, we brought in some sake and the Taiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai, with its robust fruity notes, paired very well with the salad.
Sake generally pairs really well with food at Camino – with its subtle flavors from the ingredients and fire place, you can't go wrong with any bottle. The oysters roasted in the fireplace with breadcrumbs and absinthe is always a favorite!
We're really looking forward to our Sake Dinner this year. We hope you'll be there!