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downtown report (Berkeley)

Reese in Rockridge | Nov 26, 200402:58 AM

My boyfriend and I decided to try downtown on the night before Thanksgiving since we were spending the holiday apart and wanted a special meal together.

Overall, the meal was pretty disappointing and we won't be in a rush to go back, but I'll go into more detail...

We were seated immediately for our 7:30 reservation and the restaurant was mostly full. A waitress arrived promptly and took our order for a bottle of sparkling water.

As we waited what seemed like a while for the water, the couple beside us began noticeably looking around and complaining to each other that their food was taking forever. This didn't bode well, and their loud complaining to each other didn't help the atmosphere for us.

The water arrived and we placed our order while the table beside us still tried to flag down our waitress. We ordered Clams and Mussels, Fall Salad, and a Duck Leg for starters (all $8-10) and Risotto ($16.75) and NY Steak ($24.50) for mains.

Of the starters, the duck was the real standout -- crispy skin, moist and flavorful flesh. The Fall Salad of endive, romaine, smoked trout, persimmon, and pomegranate seeds just didn't work. The ingredients were all resonably tasty, but it just didn't come together. Clams and Mussels were of fine quality, but their broth was pretty lousy, somewhat improved by my extreme salting and peppering at the table.

For mains, the risotto suffered the same problem as the salad -- pancetta, butternut squash, a cheese I can't remember (not parm, but similar), and sage (but not enough). Salt helped some, but not enough. The NY Steak was great, though. Cooked rare when ordered med. rare (better to err on the side of underdone, though.) Tender, juicy, and flavorful.

Throughout the meal, the service was awkward -- it felt as though it was our server's first (or close to first) night there, maybe waiting tables at all. She just didn't have the rhythm or banter down. She said a number of odd things, including giving us instructions about extra silverware she gave us (like the mini forks for clams and mussels.) If that had been all, we would have found it funny that apparently we look as though we need help understanding how to behave in a restaurant, but that wasn't all. She was friendly, but always seemed to go a little too far with whatever she was saying. And she had a moment of real awkwardness with the complaining table -- the owner brought them free apps because the things they ordered were taking so long and she walked up to the table and demanded to know where the extra food had come from. It's one of those things -- someone should have let her know that they were caring for her table in this way, but a good server would roll with it and act as though they knew what was going on while in front of the table. She was green, to a point that it made our meal a little less enjoyable than it could have been.

When we ordered dessert (chocolate brioche bread pudding), we got persimmon pudding instead. When we pointed it out, she comped us the dessert, but didn't bring us the correct one or even offer to. I did say that my boyfriend liked pudding, but I was surpised that she took that to mean that we didn't want the dessert we had ordered. I didn't care for the pudding, and we both agreed that the whipped cream on top tasted off.

All said, the bill was about $90 for three starters, two mains, two bottles of San Pellegrino, a coffee, and a free dessert. We tipped $20, even though we didn't particularly care for our waitress -- we've both done that job and can't really go below 20% unless a server actively tries to offend us and succeeds.

Another disappointment was the ambiance -- I was expecting a hip, sexy feel with the jazz, but instead the lighting was too bright and the odd shopping bag art was unappealing and dirty-feeling for a restaurant. The place just didn't have the buzz I was expecting.

At any rate, with all the other restaurants out there, I would be surprised if we go back to downtown any time soon.

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