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Restaurant Week in Oakland links international cuisines to local innovation

Oakland Restaurant Week lures locals back to downtown dining destinations
Oakland Restaurant Week lures locals back to downtown dining destinations 03:25

OAKLAND -- Oakland's Restaurant Week started Thursday night and, for ten days, people will be able to find deals at roughly 160 dining establishments that reflect the diversity of The Town.

Some may recognize Chef Nelson German from Bravo TV's Top Chef. A Dominican American from New York, he married an Oaklander and has called the city home since 2010. He owns AlaMar and Sobre Mesa. For Chef Nelson, restaurant week has turned into an event he looks forward to every year.

"Honestly, as a chef, we used to hate restaurant week back in the days," Chef Nelson said. "It was time where someone was looking for something too cheap and this and that. People were just too needy but it's not like that any more. It's really a sense of us getting a chance to shine even more."

Chef Nelson infuses his Dominican roots and lessons he learned from cooking with his grandmother and his mother.

"I'm actually doing that same dish that I had when I was in Episode 4 of Top Chef," he said. "Red stew chicken with sweet plantains that's smoked and mesquite with a rice powder. I'm really excited about that one. It tells a story of where I come from and where a lot of us come from."

Dishes like these are part of the three-course prix fixe menu offered at both of his restaurants for the next 10 days.

"For me, even creating a menu now, I dig deep and tell a story with that menu. It's not about what's the most cheapest item I have and creating a menu with that. It's something I really want to showcase. Something new on the menu. Something I've been wanting to test out," he said.

There's is nothing ordinary about the dishes or the cocktails served at Chef Nelson's restaurant. He knows the week is key in attracting customers who may be hesitant to dine out because of crime in Oakland.

"There's definitely an impact by that," Chef Nelson said. "Just the thought that nothing is secure. Honestly, it's about, for us, a challenge of creating something so unique that you have to come out."

AlaMar definitely left an impression on these folks. They returned for a second year in a row to celebrate a birthday.

"Oxtails! The oxtails and they had some good French fries," Gary Bolden and Sonja Noble said.

Bolden and Noble believe it is worth some effort to come out and enjoy good food with good friends.

"We have a beautiful place here ...There are a lot of great things happening and we just want to keep supporting it," they said.

Restaurants in Oakland can use all the support they can get to keep the local food scene vibrant and dynamic.

"There's still a lot of beauty, still a lot of positivity here," Chef Nelson said. "Even with everything that's happening, change is happening."

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