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Berkeley: Le Theatre Report (lengthy)


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Berkeley: Le Theatre Report (lengthy)

Rod Williams | May 1, 2005 01:00 PM

Despite the lack of Chowhound response to my request for info a few days ago, my partner & I intrepidly ventured into Le Theatre Saturday night for a pre-theatre ("The People's Temple" at Berkeley Rep -- excellent!) dinner. Overall, it was a fairly pleasant experience, but I can easily think of nearby competitors that do a better job on every level -- it's a cut-throat restaurant world out there and only the strong survive!

Le Theatre's distinctive feature is that the owner also has an organic farm in Healdsburg that supplies all its salad greens and veggies. The restaurant offers a vegetarian 3-course prix fixe menu ($25, I believe) that certainly reads like it should be good.

It's an appealing space with excellent subdued lighting, jazz playing softly in the background. and the sound-level of conversation is a pleasant murmur. We were seated at a comfortable square table set for four, and the extra place settings were quickly whisked away. The restaurant was never more than half-full while we were there, from 6pm to 7:30.

The kitchen sent out an amuse-gueule while we were perusing the menu -- two crisp phyllo triangles with a delicious, earthy mushroom filling. Our server explained the evening's specials and took our order for a half-bottle of Domaine Chandon Brut to get started.

For appetizers we had a Roquefort souffle (actually a flan-like custard) with lettuces (not the frisee listed in the menu), walnuts, and a port reduction -- the "souffle" was terrific, the greens fresh with a nice buttery vinaigrette, but the reduction didn't have much to say for itself. We also had a tiger prawn cocktail salad, with the same lettuces (not the escarole listed in the menu), avocado and cucumber. Here too, the dressing was a tad insipid, but the prawns were great.

Our server opened a bottle of Storrs Petite Sirah, 2002 -- rich, jammy berry flavors, with a little pepper in the finish -- probably not the best choice for our entrees, but we enjoyed it anyway.

I had duck confit with pommes sarladaise, baby carrots and turnips and a creamy sauce with what looked like chopped morels. Larousse tells me that pommes a la sarladaise are potatoes thinly-sliced and sauteed in goose fat, then sprinkled with chopped parsley and garlic and left to sweat. The ones served with my delicious, crisp-skinned, tasty duck leg seemed more like simply steamed new potatoes, but they were fine, and the carrots and turnips were good too. The sauce was creamy but hadn't much flavor. My partner thought he was playing it safe by ordering the steak frites -- grilled Creekstone Farms New York steak with pommes frites and Balsamic red wine sauce. Alas, the steak was an undistinguished, thin piece of rather dry meat, the fries were golden brown but soggy, and the sauce tasted of cheap vinegar.

We had lots of wine left, so we ordered the selection of French cheeses -- a decent sheep's milk one whose name I didn't catch, a yummy chevre and some Roquefort. They came with a poached pear, some more greens, and a not very crispy baguette. We passed on dessert.

The servers were polite and attentive, but you could tell they'd rather be somewhere else. Bottom line -- for the same money ($135 plus tip), I know we could have done better at downtown or Bistro Liaison, just a few blocks away.


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