A few weeks before Camino opened, I happened to be looking through the window, when Russ walked up and asked if we wanted to go in.
Another way you can tell that I'm not a blogger with food journalist ambitions, is that I didn't say,"Sure! Let me get my camera!" and then blog about it weeks before the restaurant opened. I was also mildly surprised that Russ was inviting us in even though I had my son with me - Axel was 20 months old at the time, and the restaurant was very much under construction. The 30' long communal tables were there already, so was the cladding for the bar and open kitchen - salvaged from a friend's house. And of course the fireplace.
Years ago, Russ told me that if he ever did his own thing it would need to be very specific. He didn't want to fall into the routine of cooking Chez Panisse food. He said,"Something like cooking everything in a fireplace."
I mentioned that I'd dropped by to a friend, and he offered up that the painted sign out front was kind of bad ass. I agreed, the happy confluence of American roadhouse, and as John Sarriugarte would put it Basque boarding house. Luck would conspire against my wife and I - we missed the opening party. Still, the invite was very fetching.
Yelpers seem to be splitting the verdict on Camino. Some folks think the bar that only serves the drinks on the menu is weird. I admit I didn't know how this worked at first. After having a rum drink, I asked if they did a Caiphirinia. I was told that what I'd had wasn't a caiphirinia but that they'd be happy to bring me another one. There's seems to be a prevailing opinion that the drinks should come in bigger glasses. I come and go on this. The drinks can be potent enough that the small glasses don't bother me. Some folks think the restaurant feels like a cafeteria, with a very limited menu. Whatever.
We've been a few times now, and the fact that I don't have to drive outside of Oakland to eat food like this trumps any foibles yelper's might care to point out. It's odd to find parking in front of a restaurant that serves food this good, and then walking in to find a packed bar of people waiting for a table.
Also, some of those cocktails are just delicious. Rum, orgeat, bitters, and absinthe. Really. I may muster a review at some point, or I could just say that they some times have duck cracklins on the menu.