Microseasonal Mago Debuts on Piedmont Avenue

A ‘Chopped’ winner and a CIA grad, Mark Liberman brings some global magic and a little wizardry to Piedmont Avenue.


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Grilled chicken livers with wood sorrel and sesame.

Photo courtesy Isabel Baer

Mark Liberman doesn’t think of himself as amazingly courageous. Hard-working, sure. But not outrageously brave.

Yet he won an episode of the Food Network show Chopped by devising, then preparing on the spot, delicious dishes made with mystery ingredients including squid ink, molasses, candied orange peel, and sesame-seed candy. At a subsequent pop-up, he topped mushrooms with a sauce made from lacto-fermented, puréed pumpkin flesh — then garnished the dish with ash.

And after six years spent helming the kitchen at San Francisco’s AQ restaurant, the Northern California native and Oakland resident decided to open his own place on Piedmont Avenue.

“I didn’t want it to be far from my house,” Liberman said. “I didn’t want to commute. During the years I worked in San Francisco, I watched the city’s distinctive neighborhoods kind of disappear. But I think Oakland still has neighborhoods. It retains its communities.”

Offering what Liberman calls “very craveable food” with a wild streak and global reach, the darkly hued space — “I didn’t want those traditional white tiles” — sports outdoor garden seating, ample counter space, and a prominent open kitchen where guests can watch the Culinary Institute of America grad do what earned him the nickname that’s now the restaurant’s name, too: Mago, Spanish for “wizard.”

Magic animates a menu that follows not just the standard four seasons but the “52 microseasons” that Liberman calls a year’s weeks.

“For most of my career, I’ve visited farmers markets, where things change visibly, weekly. One week, asparagus is super. The next week, it’s not. Same thing with peas, strawberries — seeing the year in microseasons just makes sense to me, because I’m having all these conversations with farmers, ranchers, and my other purveyors. They’re raising these animals and growing this produce. They’ll say: Look, these peppers are going to be amazing 10 days from now.”

So you might find yourself tucking into microseasonal strawberry aguachile — or focaccio topped with seaweed tapenade.

“It’s not ‘French’ or ‘Italian’ or ‘Japanese’ food,” said Liberman, who toured restaurants in Copenhagen, Los Angeles, and other cities while researching Mago’s menus and design. “It’s what I want to serve to you tonight.”

Mago, 3762 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 916-337-7249, MagoRestaurant.com.

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