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Restaurants & Bars 10

Berkeley – LOLA’S – Blueberry/hazelnut jam, THE Chicken, STROMBOLI

rworange | Jul 8, 200512:29 AM

Lola’s is to American home cooking as Gregoire is to California French food. Like Gregoire, it is take out.

John Janachek does most of the cooking. His wife, Donna Boechler, bakes the wonderful cookies, pastries and cakes.

It is homey American cooking, the kind you would find in the perfect grandmother’s kitchen.

Glass canning jars holding jams and chutneys sit on the shelves. I bought a lovely jar of sour cherry jam with cherries that came from 'one tree' in the back yard of one of Janachek’s relatives in Washington. The thick very sweet jam balances the tart whole sour cherries. This week end, there will be blueberry/hazelnut jam which Janachek says sounds weird but works.

I wish I bought a jar of the peach chutney which is recommended as an addition to a chicken sandwich.

The roast chicken is outstanding and I couldn’t begin to describe it better than the SF Chronicle in a recent article (link below):

“He's justifiably proud of his chicken … which he salts, trusses with lemon, garlic and rosemary, and roasts in a very hot oven. Somehow he manages to get the skin brown and crisp, the thigh done and the white meat exquisitely moist, all at the same time. When you open the bag at home, maybe a half-hour after picking it up, the chicken is still hot and running with juices”

It is best to call to reserve a chicken since they sell out quickly.

The swiss chard is one of the best I’ve had, absolutely fresh and brightly colored loaded with minced garlic.

On the counter there is a selection cookies, cakes and tarts. I was so surprised by Lola’s that I can’t tell you the exact cookie types, but I can tell you about the taste. The lemon nut (probably pistachio) had the freshest, most intensely lemon taste. It was a little like the texture of a pecan sandy … and buttery … wonderfully buttery.

The orange sugar cookies were crisp, and also had intense orange flavor with bits of orange peel. I confess I already finished the bag of these cookies, slowly enjoying each one. They are about the size of a half dollar. I’m trying to make eating six cookies not sound so piggy.

There are soups as well and the southwestern corn had the sweetest fresh corn that made it clear that summer was here and now was the time for corn.

Driving by on Solano Avenue, I stopped to pick up a menu a while ago. I saw that they make stromboli. Every now and then someone on Chowhound asks who makes it. They also make calzones, foccacia and panini.

I’m trying to cut carbs, so I had no intention of buying any of these. The menu didn’t mention cookies, I was blindsided by these. One look at the calzone, with a large puffy crust, like a huge turnover with char marks and I knew I had to try one.

There are all sorts of flaws in the calzone. The sauce was from fresh tomatoes, the crust very thin and it soaked the bottom … but there was just something really good about it. Great dough, (made from organic unbleached flour) and the filling was just so fresh and likable, the tomatoes deeply sweet. The crust was paper thin and in places cheese and crust became one. It was dusted on the bottom with corn meal. It is the only calzone that was light and not leaden.

They were in between batches of stromboli. John says some of his customers order half a dozen at a time. The round foccacia, like a mini pizza was covered with mushrooms today.

The link below has the simple menu with the available pizzas. It says “Our 14" pizzas begin with a wonderful thin crust that is both crisp and chewy.The toppings are selected to reflect the "simplicity" of a classic Italian pizza”

There are a few dishes you can bring home and bake in your own oven (20-30 minutes at 375). Today there was Tuscan beef stew, mac and cheese, chicken pot pie, Chili Colorado and vegetable gratin (eggplant, tomatoes, carmelized onions, dry cured olives, fresh herbs, olive oil).

They also have salads like shaved fennel, carrot, radish, red pepper, Pichaline, olives, organic mixed greens and sherry vinaigrette. I had intended to buy this, but the display of jellies, cookies, calzones distracted me so I forgot.

John said his wife was vacationing this week and the desserts were limited. They looked very impressive to me. Other reviews mention goodies like Bosc pear galette and bittersweet chocolate cake studded with almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and orange zest. Savory items mentioned were Swiss chard and butternut squash pie and polenta and Fontina torta.

You can also walk across the street and get a bottle of wine from Solano Cellars.

I actually didn’t know about the recent reviews in the Chronicle or SF Magazine until a customer in the shop mentioned them. Both reviews mention the reserved demeanor of John. The Chronicle goes as far as a comparison to the Soup Nazi.

I didn’t find that. I found John to be very focused and serious about his cooking. He was very nice to me. But then again, when I find a place that I think is terrific, I tend to gush profusely … wow … beautiful baked goods … the jams just look amazing … etc, etc. So we got along just fine.

However, this is a man who is a perfectionist. When asked if it was possible to request the “take home and bake entrees” baked at the restaurant, I was told no because they would not taste their best that way. And on the pizza menu it says “No substitutions on pizza”

I am at last letting go of my longing for Gira Polli in San Francisco. Lola, this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

1585 Solano Ave. (across from Solano Cellars.),
(510) 558-8600

Closed Monday and Tuesday
Wednesday through Sunday - Noon to 9pm

SF Chronicle

SF Magazine


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