My husband and I had a really good, satisfying meal at Venus on Shattuck in downtown Berkeley last week. We drove around for a while trying to come up with a new place to eat (yes, I know there are tons of good restaurants in Berkeley, but when you eat out as much as we do, sometime the old favorites get stale) and finally hit upon Venus. We'd had dinner there over a year ago and hadn't been as impressed with it as we generally are with their brunch. But this time it exceeded our expectations.
We shared a few dishes:
Saffron risotto cake on a bed of frisee, asparagus, fava beans (I think - could have been another kind of lima bean look-alike), with pieces of generously hand-shaved parmesan.
Roasted chioggi beets atop thinly sliced fennel, frisee, and green beans, and garnished with goat cheese.
Alaskan halibut topped with pesto (cilantro? can't remember) and accompanied by plum chutney, baby bok choy, roasted beets, and basmati rice.
All three were delicious (first two were salads and the last was an entree) and well-made. The risotto cake was crisply pan-fried but not greasy; lots of saffron aroma and flavor to it. The halibut was perfectly cooked (I can't remember how) and very fresh-tasting. Plum chutney was a little strong (asafetida, maybe?) and superfluous, anyway, so we left it. The basmati rice was much much better than the basmati we've had at some of our favorite Indian restaurants lately - perfectly cooked with each grain separate, not sticking to its neighbors. Beets were small and tender - nicely roasted with some caramelizing on them. All in all some very good dishes.
We also shared buttermilk panna cotta with small disks of Meyer lemon gelatin and candied orange peel for dessert - the first bite didn't wow me, but I came to appreciate the subtlety of this tangy treat.
With a bottle of Pellegrino and a blackberry lemonade, plus tax and tip, the meal came to a little less than $55. Definitely not an every-week place, but nice for a special occasion when you don't want to break the bank.
It's also good to know that a lot (if not all) of what you're eating at Venus is organic/free range.
2327 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94704