I finally got a chance to check out T-Rex in Berkeley. Even knowing that I was not going to get traditional ‘cue, I still had to see what it was all about. After getting some questionable reviews when it first opened, the recent good reports made it so I couldn't hold out any longer.
In a nutshell, lots of complex flavors, but very rich. Some of the things I tried where fantastic for the first couple of bites, but then I couldn’t get myself to finish the dishes.
Mrs. Bear and I started with a couple of cocktails and a few app’s from the happy hour menu. I really enjoyed the riblettes, which I believe were smoked baby-backs cut into one-inch pieces, quickly deep-fried, and then smothered with a nice tangy sauce. When I had ordered, I was expecting rib-tips, which are the knuckle-end of the sparerib that is set aside when preparing St. Louis cut ribs. No matter, I really enjoyed the riblettes. We also sampled the deviled eggs, which were served much too cold to tell how they tasted, other than to say they tasted like deviled eggs. Perhaps some bbq rub sprinkled on top would have been a good idea. We also tried the onion rings, which T-Rex fried in a light and crispy batter. Unfortunately, they ended up being on the greasy side – even for onion rings.
For the entrée, we shared a two-way of brisket and pulled pork, with mac & cheese and coleslaw for sides. The brisket was fairly traditional (1/4” slices with sauce on the side) and had great smoky/beefy flavor and a delicious peppery bark. As for texture, it was just a tad tough and a bit dry. Adding a thin layer of the mild sauce helped with the dryness. I also liked the mild sauce because it helped accentuate the beef flavor rather than overpower it (the more tangy, spicy sauce was another matter).
The pulled pork was less traditional, as the chef tossed it with some type of oil-based sauce. The taste was wonderfully complex and flavorful, but the richness of the oil made it difficult to enjoy after the first few bites. I always make sure to order coleslaw whenever ordering pulled pork (the crunchiness of the tangy cabbage goes so well with the soft pork), and by mixing the two together was able to cut through the richness a bit, but was still unable to finish it.
I also make it a habit to order the mac & cheese when ever possible because…well because I like it, and because it is fun to try all the different variations around the Bay Area. This version was very tasty, and like the pulled pork, very rich. As far as I could tell, they used extra-sharp cheddar and lots of cream. Although my wife didn’t care for the orecchiette pasta, I thought it worked just fine with the dish. Unfortunately, the two of us were unable to finish half of it. Or should I say fortunately, because it made a great snack the following day.
The service was very good. Our waiter was from North Carolina where barbecue means pulled pork with slaw and spicy vinegar sauce, so it was fun to get his thoughts on when he first started working at the place.