The Southern-inflected food at Oakland’s Pican gets a fair amount of dressing up from chef Dean Dupuis, a former Atlanta-based chef who moved to the Bay Area in 2009 to take the helm at the restaurant. But no dish more elegantly blurs the line between rustic and haute cuisine than his bowl of gnocchi with blue crab. Dupuis’s gnocchi are definitely larger, denser, and more Southern dumpling-like than traditional ricotta gnocchi, but they still have lightness to them and the dough is tender and delicious.
But what really makes the dish sing is the sauce — a mixture of butter, cracked pepper, and herbs so well seasoned and balanced that we were lapping up every spoonful. Then, of course, there was the generous helping of Atlantic blue crab tossed in, just a touch sweeter and we think more flavorful than our local Dungeness, which would normally be the highlight if the sauce weren’t so damn delicious. A few leaves of wilted arugula add some freshness and more pepper notes to the dish. The dumplings themselves, and the butteryness of the dish, are echoes of Southern cooking, but the pungency of the flavors seems more Mediterranean or New Orleanean — and a marked improvement over blander, more typical Southern-style dishes like chicken and dumplings.
Sadly, it’s a special that doesn’t always appear on Pican’s menu, and is only available when Dupuis can get his hands on the crab. But definitely don’t pass this one up if it appears.
Also, sidenote: Pican’s doing a special, first annual PeachFest menu for the month of August, including a chilled peach buttermilk soup, barbecue pork tenderloin with peach slaw, and a peach fried pie.
Earlier on Actually Pretty Awesome:
The Fried-Chicken Sliders at The Lookout
Uncle’s Chicken Curry Tacos at Juhu Beach Club
Buttermilk Panna Cotta at SPQR
The Egg Sandwich at Blue Fig
Lolo’s Mexican- and Turkish-Influenced Small Plates
The Tripe and the Pickles at Bar Tartine
A Dinner of Small Plates at Frances
The Fondue Service at Fondue Cowboy
Brunch at Barndiva