After on-off openings and closings during the pandemic, Oakland restaurant Nido will reopen for good, this time with a new look and food partner and a bar focused on one thing: agave. Nido returns May 27 as Odin, a bar focused on mezcal and tequila, with Devin González of Tacos El Precioso running the kitchen.
It wasn’t something Nido owners Sylvia and Cory McCollow initially planned for the space; after the first shutdown, the couple decided to focus on their other restaurant Nido’s Backyard located just a few blocks away, porting over menu items from the original restaurant into the newer, open-air space. But when they briefly reopened the smaller spot — or, Little Nido, as Cory affectionately calls it — the couple found the two restaurants competed with each other, especially with similar menus and at a time when restaurants weren’t open indoors and most customers said they felt safer eating outside.
“Here we were, presented with this [feeling of], ‘Now what are we gonna do?’” Sylvia recalls. “We just decided we were going to try something that we had talked about for a long time, which was opening up a mezcaleria here in town.” The duo previously tried offering pairings and tastings of mezcal at the backyard, but it never stuck. “It just made sense to rebrand the space and align ourselves with Devin,” Sylvia says.
During much of the pandemic, while the McCollows were focused on Nido’s Backyard, they allowed other businesses, such as Pie Society to use their kitchen. This led the couple to consider letting another person handle kitchen duties at Odin, eventually turning the reins over to González, who they’ve known through events and his pop-ups Cafe Con Pan and Tacos El Precioso. “We just saw how uplifting it was for someone who otherwise would not be able to get a permit and open up a restaurant or a bakery anytime, let alone during COVID, and thought, ‘Well, how else can we let someone else shine? ” Cory says. The McCollows were busy at the backyard and rather than divide and conquer, they went a different direction. That grew into a conversation with González, and the couple felt that his food from him aligned the best with the mezcaleria they had in mind.
Fans of little Nido may not recognize the restaurant; it’s gotten a facelift courtesy of designer Jon de la Cruz, who outfitted the space in darker colors and added a bright onyx bar to anchor the room and pop against the dark interior. “John calls it mezcal church,” Cory says, and the description certainly fits, from the church pews used as seating to the host stand at front, to the wall of mezcals and tequilas behind the bar. Works from Oaxacan artists hang on the walls and tables pair with striking wooden chairs in the shape of hands.
Great care has been taken with curating the bar program, which doesn’t offer much beyond mezcal and tequila — but goes deep in both options. There will be cocktails made with mezcal and tequila, but the McCollows tapped Hugo Gonzalez, who’s worked in the mezcal industry for a number of years, to create a bottle collection perfect for flights and learning about the spirit. Gonzalez led tastings at the backyard and the selection of mezcal and tequila create a fuller, richer bar — and one that gets conversations going on mezcal production itself. “The makers, their stories, and the impact of what it means to support this maker versus that one, the conservation aspect, there’s just so many layers,” Sylvia says. “Our hope is to be able to host events where we invite speakers to talk about the beautiful things about agave, but also about the not-so-nice things, and having the space to have those conversations is really exciting to us.”
On the food side, Devin Gonzalez (no relation to Hugo) and his Tacos El Precioso team created a menu that’s 60 percent plant-based, but will play well with Odin’s drinks. “Essentially, we’re really showcasing the best of California seasonality with Mexican influences,” Gonzalez says. The menu will rotate seasonally, with different types of tacos, salads, ceviches, and desserts. “So you have the different flavors from the different distillations of mezcal, mixed with the strong acidity and fat and richness and brightness of all of our food,” Gonzalez says.
For the opening menu, Gonzalez will have dishes such as ceviche de champiñónes made with trumpet mushrooms, a smoked salmon tostada, and two tacos, one made with a morita sofrito and the other made with charred yam. Gonzalez also highlighted the tabla de carne, a meat board of sorts that will feature a carne seca — a dried beef rubbed with citrus, chilis, and sea salt, and dehydrated in-house — along with a carnitas ríete, pickles, and corn tostadas . There will also be a cheese board, or tabla de Quesos Salazar, highlighting cheesemaker Queso Salazar. That board will feature a salsa macha-marinated queso fresco, quesillo, a Oaxacan-style cheese, along with others, including local honey, spiced almonds, and pickles. The menu will also offer three types of desserts, including two vegan offerings, like the Budín de Chocolate, a dark chocolate pudding spiced with cinnamon, cayenne, and chilis, which Gonzalez calls a “mole inspired pudding.”
Gonzalez has been at the helm of Tacos El Precioso for nearly five years, working as a pop-up and catering business, but never imagined he’d be running a proper restaurant again. He recounted working his way up from washing dishes for free in exchange for cooking lessons to working farmers markets to supper clubs and more. “What’s fascinating is, I’ve learned to never say never,” Gonzalez says. “I always told myself, I never wanted to own a restaurant again, I never wanted to run a restaurant again. .. for me, I feel like this is almost like a coming home.”
Odin (444 Oak Street, Oakland) debuts Friday, May 27 and will be open 4 to 10 pm Thursday to Saturday.