bay area food #24: hibiscus

You read that right! It’s the return of restaurant mini-reviews here at I have a huge backlog that has been a mental block for years now, not to mention the fact that I started these reviews as “Berekeley Food” and now I live in Oakland and eat in San Francisco quite a bit. So here we are again, with a bit of rebranding.

Hibiscus is a newish restaurant in downtown Oakland with a Caribbean/soul-food feel. It was started by Sarah Kirnon, former chef of The Front Porch in San Francisco. The Front Porch is a fun place, crowded, busy, and unpretentious but with deservedly legendary fried chicken. Hibiscus is definitely going for something more upscale, but the menu reminded me a lot of the same basic themes.

To start, we had a very fresh and tasty squid ceviche that was not as sour as a lot of ceviche tends to be, so the flavor of the peppers and onions in it really came out.

I was sorely tempted to just score the fried chicken at Hibiscus so I could compare it to its ancestral roots. Instead, I went on a limb and tried the pepperpot, which was a stew/braise with (among other things) oxtail, pigs feet, tripe, duck leg, and cassareep (cassawhatnow?). It looked something like this (I didn’t take any pics so I stole this one from Yelp):

Hibiscus pepperpot

The sauce was delicious. It was infused with scotch bonnet pepper oil and the cassareep turned out to have this really fun sweet/bitter thing going on. I actually kinda enjoyed the tripe, the oxtail was good but difficult to access, and the duck leg was the best thing in there. I couldn’t handle the pig’s foot. Just no meat on it anywhere to be found but plenty of fatty pig skin. Oh well.

Leslie got the fried chicken (photo also stolen):

Fried chicken

It was outstanding. Nice and crisp on the outside, even the white meat remained tender and moist. It had clearly been brined for a while. I’d say it definitely stood up to its Front Porch forbears.

The prices were a bit high, I thought, for the food and location, but the ambiance was nice and I hope that more restaurants pop up in the area. There’s a chance we’d come back, but there’s so many more places to get to first.

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