I am new to these boards, having just moved back to the Bay Area from Boston. When I last lived in the Bay Area, I was a San Francisco denizen and Craigslist food forum devotee. Anyway, I am now hiking the Hills of Berkeley... exploring the East Bay. A few highlights to date and then a commentary on Ici, which was what prompted me to post.
China Village - one of my first meals (when I was still getting plates unpacked)... great flavors though not as spicy as I expected. Yes, I did order from the mostly szechuan section of the menu. I'll be going back and would appreciate hearing about anyone's favorites.
Gregoire - this place is excellent. They chose a new model and they ran with it. I've only been to the Cedar Street location, but I would eat there all the time if I could afford to. It would be cool if they offered some of the entrees for 2+ people at a discounted price. The boxes are a little too precious, but the food holds up and the chefs are very friendly. For dog owners, this place is very dog-friendly.
DaNang KrungThep Thai-Vietnamese Southeast Asian confusing place -- so I have read the history and I still don't understand why they didn't just choose one name. Anyway, I went with one of my Thai classmates and he did all of the ordering. I seem to remember an excellent eggplant dish and a curry that I liked. I'll pay more attention next time.
Cha Am Thai (corner of Shattuck and Vine) -- I went here because it is close to home. Since then I have read strong reviews on other websites... it is fine. We had a delicious appetizer that was like like Thai style fried crabcakes. The pad thai was what I call Americanized Pad Thai - meaning it was on the sweet side of the spectrum. I would go back because the prices are reasonable -- it might be a good take out option.
Cafe Rouge - we went there last night and I was actually impressed. I won't be rushing back, but mainly because I think there are lots of restaurants at the same price point with more to offer. We had a couple oysters - good and fresh, well-shucked (at least better than I can do -- the juices were still surrounding the meat). I had an onglet steak (hanger steak) - perfectly cooked and great flavor. It needed a little more salt, but fortunately that was on the table. The watermelon ricotta salad was pretty, but hard to eat. My wife said her lamb needed a little salt as well. As I said, I actually liked my meal but I won't go back immediately. The wine list was not that great, which is usually something that can bring me back.
Okay, so finally onto Ici. I was excited about this place because of the pedigreed owners/ice cream makers... but I don't get it. I paid $2.50 for a tiny scoop of ice cream. Good ice cream, but not a decadent flavor explosion in my mouth. If you are going to charge a lot for small portions, than you want the consumers to linger over every bite. I won't go back until I hear really strong reports from people I trust.
I have also been to Soi4 in Rockridge, Bette's Ocean View on 4th Street, and an inevitable late night meal at Zuni (you can count me among the Zuni lovers). All great meals, but nothing new to report. I do want to discuss Zuni at some point, but I'll save it for another rant. One quick point -- I am willing to pay a small premium to be able to order my burger medium rare and to know it will actually come out medium rare. I don't particularly like paying $7 for a mixed greens salad that is missing the garlic parmesan croutons... but I enjoyed the burger.