Saturday, March 5, 2011

Berkeley Mediterranean

Berkeley, March 4, 2011—
ITALY'S WILL ALWAYS BE my preferred cuisine, I suppose, but any cuisine touching the Mediterranean is fine with us. We love the complexities of flavors and textures, whether separate in an insalata or blended in a brasato. And Berkeley has embraced the Mediterranean kitchen; to look at restaurant names and menus you'd think you were in Nirvana.

I lunched today — yesterday: I write this next day — on pasta Bolognese. Our friend Ann had recommended a new place, not far from where we lived for twenty-five years, with a pleasant patio and a good inexpensive menu. The patio was indeed pleasant: we sat in dappled sunlight in a tranquil almost-garden setting, a lazy bulldog sleepily keeping us company. (On a leash: Berkeley is a law-abiding town.)
The menu promised ribollita, but alas it was not the current menu. Still, spaghetti Bolognese is an excellent substitution on a spring midday (though L. ordered a caramelized-onion pizza instead). A lunchtime Martini was decent, and the mixed salad had all those nice textures. But the pasta arrived on a barely warm plate, and three enormous scoops of cold ricotta lay oddly atop the dish. Ricotta on Bolognese! I said I liked compexities of flavors and textures, but this is cognitive dissonance. I ate all the ricotta as quickly as possible, since there was no place to put it — salad plate had already been whisked away — and then tucked into quite a nice Bolognese, though the spaghetti was a teeny bit overdone.
House red (Sangiovese, Italy)
Paisan, 2514 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; 510-649-1031

Dessert was a dish of the best ice cream in town: for me, a scoop of salt-caramel, another of cinnamon bisque. Exemplary flavors and textures this time, from a former Chez Panisse pastry chef and, it must be said, a friend. It would be absurd to visit Berkeley and ignore this magnificent gelateria.
Ici, 2948 College Avenue, Berkeley; 510.665.6054

WE WERE IN TOWN to see performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, so we dined right in Zellerbach Hall, where the nearby restaurant Adagia caters in light pre-theater suppers. We had lamb couscous, rather good I thought, quite a bit of meat, with raisins, lemon, cumin, and cilantro all lending a hand, and decently steamed couscous, pleasantly served. A civilized way to eat quickly before the show.
“Old Vines Red,” Marietta Cellars, unknown vintage
• Adagia @ Zellerbach, Zellerbach Auditorium, UC Berkeley

1 comment:

Curtis Faville said...

Richard's new Pizzeria we've tried twice, each time pizzas. Odd to have it literally next door to Sea Salt (Haig's fish place), which is sort of a regular stop for us.

Did I mention the Wooden Tavern on College? You must try it.