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Update on Cesar, Berkeley

Melanie Wong | | Apr 10, 2003 03:48 AM

The roving birthday celebration kicked off Monday last week at Cesar in Berkeley before stepping next door for dinner at CP. Tom Meglioranza (shown below with a local chowchick) had just arrived from NY to join us. This was my first time here.

The complimentary dish of marinated olives on the table were very good, a nice salty snack with our drinks. As befits a tapas bar, the list features a nice selection of sherries by the glass. Pleased to see Eric Bordelet French ciders offered by the glass, I tried the pear cider.

Sunday night after Philharmonia Baroque’s Berkeley performance, I found myself at Cesar again to mark the end of the season. The staff were good about letting us know when the kitchen was about to close for our last orders. Good thing because this meant we didn’t forget dessert.

Among the tapas sampled were:

Fried potatoes – somehow a new name needs to be invented for these that speaks to their true wonderfulness. A giant pile of thin strips of frite width potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and garnished with rosemary and deep-fried crackly fresh herbs. A little dab of alioli on the side.

Fava bean and Yukon gold potato salad – can ones ever get enough fresh-as-spring fava beans? These favas were a bit on the mature side, but if I don’t have to shell them myself, I’m not complaining. Each morsel had a heavy coat of garlic mayonnaise – so the mayo-phobic be forewarned.

Halibut a la plancha – a small filet of roasted halibut with just a bit of pepper and salt highlighting its natural goodness resting on a bed of sauteed mushrooms. My favorite with the 2000 Cold Creek Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

Cazuela of brandade – served warm with a light golden crust on top that added a toasty note and texture to the baccala and potato blend. Loved the contrast of a few rough chunks of potato in the puree.

Boquerones – white anchovy toppers on toasted baguettes spread thickly with the garlic mayo again.

Pork skewers – not my favorite, tender but dryish.

Jamon Serrano with roasted grapes – two full slices of Serrano ham , not too thick and not too thin, cut just right and wrapped around a bunch of wrinkled, slightly dessicated red flame grapes. The salty and sweet notes were a fine match for the 1999 Domaine Richaume “Cuvée l’Escabrada” Cairanne Cotes du Rhone Villages.

And, for dessert, a terrific bread pudding. We were so glad we’d ordered three servings, and still we were fighting over it. The caramel sauce spooned over this was exquisite with a slight apple-y tang that kept it from being cloying.

We closed the place at 12:30am. Saying our last farewells on the deserted streets, Suzanne, mentioned that she was still a little hungry and wondered where we could go next for a bite. My friend, Spencer, popped open his trunk and offered her the remaining slices of the pizza he’d made for his dinner earlier, from the Chez Panisse cookbook no less. He also loaded up Tom and Suzanne with as many Meyer lemons as they could carry for souvenirs. The Diva and the Baritone standing on the curb munching Cal-pizza and juggling lemons – that’s the photo I wish I'd snapped as a momento of their days in Berkeley.