Updated 2007 Review
Friday night (October, 2007), it was Moms' Night Out again and Parker's birthday to boot. Parker suggested going to Doña Tomás, one of her favorite restaurants, and I reluctantly accepted. Mike and I hadn't had a particularly good experience when we went a couple of years ago (see below), but both Parker and Katrina really like it. I don't know if we'd previously gone on a night when Doña Tomás was missing a beat, or that we are blessed with good meals every time we have a girls' night out, but this time the food at Doña Tomás was excellent.
Doña Tomás has a changing menu, and I neglected to bring it with me and I can't recall the ingredients with which they were made, so I'm only going to write generalities about them. We decided to share 4 antojitos - or little plates - and two main dishes, and that proved a good amount of food for four. We started with the fish ceviche in some kind of red sauce. We were weary about the sauce, but we couldn't really taste it. The ceviche tasted very fresh and lively, very much like the ceviches I've enjoyed in Mexico. I wasn't expecting to like the plump squash quesadillas, given that I don't like squash, but they were amazingly delicious, the sweetness of the squash went great with the saltiness of the cheese. I'd definitely order them again. A dish of fork tender short ribs was also delicious, and the portion pretty generous for an appetizer. Probably the least successful dish of the evening were the crab taquitos, of which I didn't partake. The general feeling was that they were fine, but not great.
Parker and Katrina shared the chile rellenos as their main dish, and they loved it. They barely left anything on their plate, so perhaps the portion was not large enough - but it wasn't lacking in flavor. They came with a plate of black beans that went uneaten. Eddie and I shared the carnitas, and they were quite good too. Not spectacular, but satisfying. They were a bit dry, of course, but very flavorful. They came with pico de gallo, Mexican rice, refried beans and small tortillas. I would have liked some guacamole and sour cream as well.
The one sour note of the evening were the cuba libres. I'm not sure what was wrong with them, but neither Parker nor Katrina liked theirs. The mojitos were better. I had a glass of Zinfandel, and I liked it very much, it was smooth and buttery. Alas, it didn't go well with the food.
When we'd previously visited Doña Tomás we hadn't realized just how big the restaurant is. In addition to the two small dining rooms in the front, it has a large patio with heaters with a covered shack in one end - where we ate. It's not very appealing, but it definitely has the feel of Mexico. Service was good and we had a great time.
Original 2004 Review
I had heard how wonderful Dona Tomas was from many people. It's often described as the place to go for Mexican food in the East Bay, though its version is definitely an upscale rendition of Mexican classics. For us (we visited it in November 2004), the food did not live up to the hype. I should disclose that while I'm a big fan of Yucatecan food and enjoy many regional Mexican dishes, neither Mike nor I are great lovers of Mexican food in general, at least as it's served in this country.
Dona Tomas occupies two small rooms and a patio in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, an area that seems to be undergoing rapid gentrification. The restaurant is cute, with tall walls decorated by lively Mexican art and framed lottery cards, if it wasn't for the glass wall looking onto the street it might even feel a bit claustrophobic. As it is, it's pretty crowded, which can be a minus for romance or any intimate conversation but works if you are planning to eavesdrop or get suggestions from other patrons as to what to order.
The menu is similar, but not identical, to the one online. The "sincronizadas" (ham & cheese empanadas), for example, were no longer featured. Most appetizers are under $10 and entrees are in the mid to high teens.
The meal started with tortilla chips and salsa; we found the chips too hard and while the salsa was interesting with its dark, toasted chili flavor, it didn't really win me over.
Our shared appetizer, queso fundido, was good but pedestrian, just melted cheese mixed with white mushrooms. For $9 (I think) I expected something with a little bit more pizzaz. I also wasn't a huge fan of the strong flavored tortillas, which competed for flavor with the cheese, rather than complementing it.
I had the chicken with mole as my main dish, and found it to be OK. The chicken was tasty, though its pale white color made it visually unappealing. The mole was good, a little on the spicy side, but not as complex as I would have liked it. It had a shallow taste without much of a finish - at least one, much cheaper, restaurant in my neighborhood does it better. It was served with swiss chard (which I didn't try) and fried potatoes with parsley. The latter didn't really complement the chicken at all, but were delicious in themselves. They were thick enough so that they could be nicely crispy in the outside, while retaining some softness inside and they were bursting with flavor. Unfortunately they don't appear as one of the side dishes you can order by themselves, but if you go you may want to ask if you can.
Mike had the carnitas ($16) and these were much better. They were very tender, with a wonderful subtle pork flavor. Mike thought they were too fatty, and I agree, but that's where most of the flavor was.
The dessert menu (all $6 each) didn't seem that exciting to us, but we decided to share the chocolate cake. Unfortunately we ordered it before consulting the people at the table next to us, who told us that it was fine but not exceptional. We have to agree. The flourless cake had a nice consistency, but the chocolate was somewhat overwhelmed by the cinnamon flavor. The cinnamon ice cream with which it was served didn't help flavor-wise, but it did provide a soothing contrast to the sweetness of the cake. In all, I wouldn't order it again.
All in all we had a good dinner, I don't think we'd go back but I'm glad we finally tried it.
5004 Telegraph Avenue