Image courtesy of Kingston 11
Image courtesy of Kingston 11

You can feel the love here. It's everywhere: in the air, between the warm snippets of conversation exchanged between strangers, in the clinking of glasses at the bar commemorating a night out, in the families and friends huddled together at each table. While Kingston 11's food was a thing I'd been waiting to experience (I cursed to myself, hungrily, anticipating the arrival of the menu), I could instantly recognize that it was a place built on genuine intimacy. There was none of that insulting haute couture pretension that is unfortunately associated with certain brands of fine dining; instead, the atmosphere was a buzz with warmth. Even a stranger could quickly realize that the people dining here were all somehow banded together: as strangers or friends, there was a feeling of comfort, of companionship and fun that pervaded the atmosphere of the restaurant and made me feel immediately at ease.

Drink in hand and my spirits rising, it became easier to appreciate the beauty of the restaurant itself. It was decorated sporadically with the kind of artwork championing the individual: from the hanging portraits seated at each booth, to the array of pictures featured throughout at the walls, lurking in the corners, and even above the DJ booth as a colorful Bob Marley grinned out at the audience. Small, twinkling lights accompanied the bolder pieces including the "One Love" art installation at the entrance to the kitchen, consolidating the sweetly perfumed, jovial atmosphere, one which was in particularly high spirits at the Fern Gully Rum Bar.

I'm a pirate at heart—meaning there is no drink I appreciate better than some rum, damnit. This pirate tendency, in turn, sparked my interest in the Fern Gully bar as I curiously eyed the menu. At a quick glance I could see that it was a thoughtful one: it was filled with drinks featuring exotic novelties I'd never heard of like cardamom sugar, cayenne paired with an array of citrus, blackberries. It was foreign to me, but infinitely appealing—you could even get your drink "smoked" (vida mezcal) for an additional fee. I ordered a Red Stripe, then washed it down with the "Fern Gully", not somewhat enviously eyeing the aptly named "Skirt Slides Up" drink. The cardamom in the drink astounded me: paired with the white rum and sweet sugar, it added a beautiful floral note to the entire drink, inspiring a sensation in me I'd never quite experienced before.

On to the food. Kingston 11's got the formula for comfort food down and perfected, pitting savory applications (cod cakes & the jerk chicken, which is understandably a jerk because it is SO, SO deliciously spicy) against sweet ones (deep fried plantains, caramelized carrots, sweet potatoes), achieving that gorgeous harmony of flavors which are only achieved with true mastery. And while I was more or less continually astonished at the fact I continued to eat my carrots in abundance (what sorcery is this?), I remained in awe of the jerk chicken, which I'd never had before. I love spicy, but man oh man did it hit me like a ton of bricks lit on fire hurtling towards me at full speed: that smoky kick of flavor, the lingering trace of spice, was sheer magnificence.

So if you're in for a spicy night, and happen to be sauntering around Oakland, hip as can be, then boy oh boy do I have a recommendation for you.