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The Oakland Berkley Book March 2013

welcome addition to downtown Berkeley’s burgeoning dining scene. Executive chef Matt Gandin takes a delicately California approach to regional Mexican cuisine: While the tamale’s tart, slightly sweet mole negro could have come from a Oaxacan marketplace, Gandin’s not afraid to throw in local—but non-Mexican—ingredients such as salmon and bok choy. The menu is broken up mostly into shareable small plates, plus a few large platos fuertes, and there’s plenty to try. Must-eats include the chile relleno, comfortingly squishy and spiked with salty-delicious queso fresco; and the tripe guisado, an endlessly rich, layered tomato- and chile-based stew with tender tripe and garbanzo beans. Steak house– quality strips of beef turn the carne asada tacos into a gourmet treat, and don’t miss the guacamole, made fresh to order all night. Dinner daily. 2345$$ Corso 1788 Shattuck Ave., 704-8004, trattoriacorso.com. This Tuscan trattoria from Rivoli’s Wendy Brucker and Roscoe Skipper manages to more than hold its own against its Gourmet Ghetto neighbors, with a straightforward emphasis on amazing, beautifully prepared food. For starters, the tuna crudo tastes so fresh, it seems as if it might flap around on your plate, while the salad of romaine lettuces sparkles with a belt-it-out anchovy vinaigrette. The bistecca alla Fiorentina 56 theberkeleyoaklandbook.com is wonderful, served medium rare, Hannibal Lecter–style—blood red and juicy. Pastas shine as well, the knockout being the various pansotti. Desserts offer a fantastic endnote and include a chocolate budino and a creamy, dense gelato. Dinner daily. 2$$ Five 2086 Allston Way, 225-6055, five-berkeley.com. The reinvented American fare is special at this restaurant in the remodeled Hotel Shattuck. The first sign came in a briskly delivered basket of warm herb biscuits. Then, we enjoyed a basil gimlet while taking in the high-ceilinged space. Once the food started arriving in earnest, it was a bean puree that knocked a braised pork belly appetizer out of the park. The oysters Rockefeller showed off bivalves fresh as a sea breeze. A “sandwich” of two slices of petrale sole, with crab mashed potatoes between, provided another delicious choice. The short rib pot roast was fall-apart tender, but we weren’t loving the stewed flavor. Many fresh, inventive sides appeared, including crisply fried artichoke hearts, and baby turnips and carrots in a chive butter sauce. A peach and nectarine crisp was overwhelmed by its brown sugar crust. Servers knew the menu and wine list inside and out, yet were friendly and fun. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 24$$$ Ippuku 2130 Center St., 665-1969, ippukuberkeley.com. Ippuku feels like it was plucked out of a hip, secluded corner of Tokyo and dropped in downtown Berkeley. Unfinished wood booths with blue pillows line one concrete wall, with traditional kotatsu tables along the other. Color comes from rows of upside-down hanging shochu bottles. Ippuku offers nearly 50 varieties of the Japanese liquor, distilled from rice, barley, or potatoes, served on the rocks. Enjoy yours with one of the many small plates hailing from the charcoal grill. Bacon-wrapped mochi are already a cult hit, with the salty crisp bacon offsetting the chewy rice dough. Yakitori—grilled chicken—comes in many forms, including heart and gizzard. We tried the sasami ume: breast seared on the outside, rare on the inside. Yes, rare—and delicious. Vegetable plates, such as cucumber in vinaigrette, avocado sashimi, and raw cabbage, are accented with simple yet nuanced sauces. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 25$$ Kirala Restaurant 2100 Ward St., 549-3486, kiralaberkeley.com. Akira Komine, a native of Tokyo, opened Kirala in 1989, and it seems there’s been a line out the door ever since. The 89-seat restaurant doesn’t take reservations because diners will wait hours for the restaurant’s pristine sushi and crispy robata (grilled) entrées. Service is rushed, and it’s like pulling teeth to get explanations of the menu, but take heart: You can’t go wrong. Tender sliced toro of bluefin tuna disappears too quickly; sesame seeds give the perfectly dressed seaweed salad bursts of texture; and the tuna poke, beautifully encircled in a thin ribbon of cucumber, gets so much flavor from soy sauce, scallions, sesame oil, and ground chilies, it’s irresistible. Don’t forget the robata: Miso-marinated black cod is succulent and caramelized by the grill. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. 1$$ Lalime’s 1329 Gilman St., 527-9838, lalimes.com. Lalime’s is more than just a welcoming neighborhood spot. Its delicious, inventive food belies the restaurant’s modest location. The menu is Mediterranean influenced, although it changes according to what bestquality fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish are available. Bold New World flavors and Asian-inspired dishes also make the occasional appearance. The wine list is innovative and often surprising. Choose from the à la carte selections, order the prix fixe menu when offered, or attend one of the special theme dinners, such as one featuring the food and wine of Spain. Dinner Wed.–Sun. 24$$$ La Note 2377 Shattuck Ave., 843-1525, lanoterestaurant.com. This charming café and restaurant in downtown Berkeley will have Francophiles longing for Paris. Every detail—from the soft-boiled eggs served in their shells to the baskets of freshly baked croissants and platters of French cheese—gives a warm, homespun feeling. La Note is mobbed for weekend brunch, when patrons wait hours for the orange-scented pain perdu (French toast) and merguez sausage. The restaurant serves dinner three nights a week, offering a menu of bistro-style entrées such as bouillabaisse, ratatouille, and lavender-basted duck breast. Wash it all down with a citron pressé (the French version of lemonade) or a kir royale dining listings »


The Oakland Berkley Book March 2013
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