We went to Raphael on Center Street in downtown Berkeley last night for dinner, seduced by the outdoor seating on such a warm evening. The bad part was the music - unacceptable easy listening, even blaring outside onto the patio (right out on Center St.)! Toward the end they started playing Dean Martin, which was much better. I know this is a value judgment, but I doubt there are too many people out there who would rather listen to muzak than blissful silence.
Music aside, the food is all right. Nothing fantastic, but I'm sure it's quite welcome to those who keep kosher. We didn't try any of the seafood dishes, though they sounded appealing and looked all right at the table next to us. Ali had the special penne with wild mushrooms (~$14) and I had lasagne di verdure (~$14), and we split a salad to start (which turned out to be $8.50 - a complete rip-off, as it was only greens and dressing, albeit good greens and dressing).
Supposedly they have homemade pasta, and the lasagne seemed like it could have been. Not sure about the penne - it looked too perfect to be homemade! But then, I haven't had much experience with homemade penne before. The penne dish was very tasty - in a white wine cream sauce with little sweet bits of sauteed onions and big chunks of "wild" mushrooms (several types, morels being the most prominent and recognizable). We used the bread to clean up the entire plate - it was that good. The lasagne (with red sauce, ricotta, capers, and grilled vegetables like eggplant and zucchini), however, had an odd flavor. Maybe it was the red sauce - it was too thin and sweet for my liking. I'm hoping it will be better as a leftover.
We shared a coconut custard for dessert - I was expecting it to be a light custard but it turned out to be yellow and flan-like in texture (firm!) with a coconut "crust" beneath, and served with a rum-berry coulis (couldn't taste the rum, which was just fine with me!). Not bad, but wouldn't order it again.
All in all this was way too expensive for what you're getting. For those prices I'll go back to Venus down Shattuck a couple of blocks, where at least they tell you if the veggies are organic and have a more complex touch to things. (Obviously these are very different types of restaurants, but Ali and I agreed that the prices were just way too high for the quality and style of food. I guess they have that captive kosher audience...)
Raphael Bar Ristorante
2132 Center St
Berkeley, CA 94704
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