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Oakland (Rockridge): Marica Restaurant’s $18.90 prix-fix – Lobster bisque, escolar, Grand Marnier creme brulee … and lots of charisma


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Restaurants & Bars San Francisco Bay Area Oakland

Oakland (Rockridge): Marica Restaurant’s $18.90 prix-fix – Lobster bisque, escolar, Grand Marnier creme brulee … and lots of charisma

rworange | | Feb 1, 2010 11:57 AM

The Bay Area needs more restaurants like Marica. A true neighborhood cafe that is stylish yet casual where the food and wine is delicious, reasonably priced and served by the wonderful staff who … well ... know everyone’s name. Cheers to you Marica.

If it was a thesaurus entry the synonyms would be delightful, flavorful, generous, convivial, contemporary, cozy, intimate, homey, welcoming

My dinner on Sunday (with a happy hour special)

Mesquite roasted Prince Edward Island mussels, pernod shallot butter $5
Lobster corn bisque with shrimp
Mesquite grilled escolar with romesco salsa, portabella mushroom orzo risotto, asparagus
Grand marnier creme brulee
2006 Verdillac light red Bordeaux $6

Warm, crusty rustic bread with butter
Glass of prosecco
House-made pineapple, blueberry and plantano sorbet

The tab: $31.50 (includes tax and 10% cash discount)

Like Bakesale Betty, the place seems big on generous surprises.

The restaurant that night seemed to be giving out complimentary glasses of prosecco to many tables for various reasons. I won’t say what they were because it is like Bakesale Betty. Sometimes you score freebies and when people don’t they get ticked off.

Even without the extras, that was a really swell price for a tasty dinner.

It is an American restaurant (with Asian and Mediterranean touches), yet it reminded me so much of the little no-name restaurants in Paris filled with happy French locals sharing a carafe of vin de pays while enjoying the plat du jour .

The happy hour is all night. There are $5 cocktails, $1 oysters, and a few $5 appetizers such as mussels and pommes frites. Two weeks ago one of the specials was oven roasted dungeness crab marinated with chili, coriander, fennel, cumin in shell. $7.

If seated by 6:30, the prix-fixe is $20-$21. The rest of the night it is $25-$26. The price depends on how expensive the fish selection is that night.. There is a 10% discount for paying with cash. That made the $21 dinner, $18.90.

The meal starts with nicely warmed crusty white bread. They use different bakeries. Sometimes it is Acme, sometimes Semifreddi. I’m guessing Sunday it was the latter.

A dozen small mussels were served in the most spectacular broth …rich, buttery goodness with roasted lemon slices and brimming with chopped fresh herbs. .Fortunately there was lots of bread to mop up every last bit or I would have licked the plate.

The generous bowl of creamy bisque with big toasted croutons was lovely with bits of fresh corn and a large, plump, tasty shrimp.

I’ve been wary of escolar because of its, um, cleansing effect if you eat too much. This was my first time trying it and it was delicious with no after problem

It is a firm white fish that reminded me a bit of monkfish. It was expertly grilled with a smokey seared crust outside, the interior moist. It was topped with a tasty romesco sauce.

The six fresh asparagus spears seem to also have briefly touched the grill. They were tender but had wonderful mesquite flavor. The orzo was fabulous with lots of slices of portabella mushrooms

The crème brulee was very good the crackly top lightly dusted with powdered sugar and topped with six fresh blueberries.

I was really impressed with the generous three scoops of sorbet served in a martini glass. The fresh fruit flavors were front and center..

I’ve read the souffle is very good. It can be added to the prix-fixe for $4 extra.

The seasoning was well-balanced and a compliment to each dish. There was no over or under salting. It was just right.

The regular menu looked very good and was well-priced with many entrees under $20. The ‘pricey’ items at $25 were rack of lamb, fillet mignon and a seafood stew with halibut, scallops, shrimp, simmered in lobster cognac sauce and served with gruyere cheese soufflé.

The top priced item at $34 was a whole “twice cooked Maine lobster, splash fried + sauteed, ginger, cilantro, five spice, carrot parsnip puree” A half order was available for $18.

The menu crosses many cultures with house-made Yucatan sausage, chicken with Thai peanut satay sauce, handmade cannelloni pasta or lemongrass marinated Chinese lamb salad, or simply grilled Niman Ranch pork chops

The service was probably the best of any restaurant in this category. It is to neighborhood cafés as French Laundry is to fine dining Topnotch.

Attentive, thoughtful, polite, helpful, down-to-earth and not pretentious, they make you feel special and completely at home.

Like those charismatic people who seem to focus on your every word, the wait staff seems to focus on your needs alone … quite the magic trick since basically two people were taking care of the entire restaurant where every table was filled.

Reading about Marica, they just do damn nice things that should be what ever restaurant does such as
- splitting plates without cost and plating each beautifully … even the prix fixe
- seating everyone even if the entire party hasn’t arrived yet

Things like that.

Go early or make a reservation

Every table was filled by 6:30 with a nice mix of people. There were families with both babies and grand parents, people on dates, singles enjoying the happy hour, people celebrating a special occasion and locals just enjoying dinner out. It seemed to fit each situation perfectly.

The restaurant seats about 30. The large wooden bar is against the brick wall. Blond wooden tables are set with white napkins. The restaurant is softened by the lighting, glowing candles on the bar, a lovely flower arrangement and large windows lined with white light strings.

The chef formerly owned Christopher’s Café.

Make no mistake thinking this is Commis, Oliveto, Chez Panisse or a restaurant like that. The few negative yelp reviews had to do with those expectations. It is the American equivalent that excellent Parisian café and not Pierre Gagnaire..

However it is solid, honest, tasty fare … and whether you like star ratings or not … it is five stars in its category.

If visitors to the East Bay really want to eat in a non-touristy place that is a local favorite, I wouldn’t hesitate sending them … or taking them … to Marica.

It is a family-owned treasure that makes its customers feel like family

Marica Seafood Restaurant
5301 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618