Tallow Man

Box & Bells serves the kinds of vegetables your mother warned you about

"All my restaurant concepts are just filling a personal void," says James Syhabout, owner of Commis and Hawker Fare.

So what gap does his newest Oakland spot, Box & Bells, fill? It's a loud, dark tavern serving the kind of dishes the chef and his fellow cooks want to eat on their day off: aged steak with snails, poutine with blood-pudding gravy. You know, rabbit food.

Funny thing, though–we were more impressed by the vegetables.

These dishes are as rich and layered as their meaty brethren: The kitchen roasts celeriac in rendered beef tallow ($6) until it's mellow and earthy, and gives Little Gem lettuces ($11) a lavish coating of blue-cheese dressing, scattering broken Saltines and fried pork belly across the top.

There is one dish that qualifies as light–a sharply dressed red cabbage salad with carrots, currants and tarragon ($12) that is almost as effective a digestif as a shot of Fernet.

You'll need it if you order the 50/50 potato purée ($7). That's 50 percent butter, 50 percent potatoes, and 100 percent as opulent as it sounds.

We greedily finished our bowl and then weathered a moment of self-doubt. All part of the plan, says Syhabout: "I want the restaurant to be a place where you attract regrets."