Thursday, June 14, 2012

Back to Berkeley

Berkeley, June 13, 2012—
EARLY SUPPER with a friend before attending a couple of concerts on campus. Has to be quick and convenient, so we stopped in at a restaurant around the corner from her house.

We've been here before, both to this restaurant and to the, let's see, four or five restaurants that have occupied the same premises over the last six or eight years. Some locations just don't seem lucky: for some reason they attract the wrong business models.

The current occupant is interesting. The menu is engaging and enterprising, running to variations on Spanish and Catalan themes; the wine list is equally attractive. Sourcing falls within Berkeley standards: local, organic where possible, seasonable. And the kitchen execution is up to snuff: no complaints.

But we were seated a little after five (the first concert was at seven), and out at six-thirty, and there were very few other diners to be seen — one, in fact, in our fairly large room. Still, the service seemed somehow tentative, as if not wanting to intrude…

We had delicious crisp deep-fried spinach leaves, dark dark green and nicely flavored with a good olive oil and salt; and then a grilled flatiron steak, beautifully rare, nicely seared, on a bed of crisp gratin-style potatoes, with rapini on the side — one gets one's vegetables here, and that's a good thing. (Lindsey had some very nice Blue Lake green beans.)

Dessert, even though we're rushed, why not? My cake — I don't recall what it was called on the menu; it sounded as though it would be a trifle or zuppa inglese sort of thing — turned out to be rather a dry yellow cake, almost like a pound cake though not terribly rich, with a crème patisserie I believe, and whipped cream, and strawberries: when all mashed together it was quite nice.

I like the food here; the owners, too, seem hard-working and hopeful. I wish them well. It's a difficult business these days.
Tempranillo blend (Spain)
• Origen, 2826 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley; (510) 848-9200


Curtis Faville said...

We've eaten here, I think, three times. And yes, those roasted spinach leaves are wonderful, a revelation.

I think the problem with the restaurant is that, despite its attractive surfaces and feeling, its division into three separate areas is wrong. The seating opposite the bar is too cramped. The (third) far area seems isolated and dead, particularly where the floor tilts down at the southeast corner. Maitre'd's who usher couples to this area are clearly discriminating against them. We always insist on the center area, unless a large group is coming. The last time we sat at the bar, and the maid was charming and prompt. We've found that sitting at the bar is usually the best way to get served fast, and you don't have to wait so long for your cocktails.

I'm not sure why bartenders are so slow for table orders. Is it a mark of sophistication to keep diners waiting? So often, we wait 12 minutes of more, by which time the first course (and probably the wine) has already been served. I've watched bartenders in consternation as they stand there idly after having received the first drink orders; they clean a glass, talk with the wait staff, and then, as if remembering something, casually reach for the mixing canister. Then, when it's done, leave it there on the bar, sometimes for another five minutes. If I were running a restaurant, I would fire people who did this.

I wish Origen the best. They have their hearts in the right place, but the space they've got is working against them.

Curtis Faville said...

Well, Origen closed this week.

I posted pretty much the same thing about their space on Yelp!

Another one bites the dust.