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I don't often post reviews here as I'm so often behind on my OT, Yelp, and blogsite review posts...just not enough time in the day, even in retirement, LOL. But we had such a lovely dinner at Julia's @Berkeley City Club over UC winter recess, I wanted to post this for other French cuisine lovers who haven't tried it yet. This is a slightly shorter version of what I posted on That Other Website recently: 4.5 for food, 5 stars overall due to the marvelous dining room and well-trained service (unexpected, and such a pleasure to experience!).
Chef Alaun Grimaud took over in 2012 and deserves the extra star Julia's has garnered over the time he's been here. He is classically trained, and except for one line cook who exhibited too much enthusiasm about using too much butter (tasting good is one thing; greasiness is quite another), the food is divinely, beautifully updated French. For dinner, we had:
- Potato gnocchi with lamb picadillo, capers, golden raisins, Spanish olives: Stunning! Balanced flavors, a hearty starter or good light entree.
- Chicken liver mousse with fresh cranberry sauce, grilled sourdough bread: Lightly foamed to offset the richness, this was also amazing. Three ingredients on a plate, each perfectly executed. No excess garnishes, sauces, trendy dips. None of the idiotic dessert-sweet or sour-pickle nonsense that so many CA chefs think must accompany offal. We have, btw, often been dismayed at what lousy toast we've received in many name restaurants that's accompanied an otherwise excellent pate or mousse.
- Roasted duck breast, braised farro and black barley, lacinato kale, pickled quince, duck jus: If there hadn't been an overdose of butter on the grain pilaf, this would have been one of the best duck dishes I've had in 50 yrs. As it was, it came close. We love butter (and we use a lot of it at home), but there was so much on the grains it threatened to overwhelm the divine au jus. The duck with quince was inspired flavors.
- Fulton Valley chicken: roasted breast, confit leg, polenta, braised red cabbage, roasting jus: Chicken was lovely, the confit leg (that's the way to handle free-range birds!) nicely tender. Cabbage and jus were excellent. But again, the polenta was over-the-top rich with too much cream and butter. We like rich food, but this side went over the line, even for us.
We ended with dessert and coffee. Julia's uses Peet's Major Dickinson blend, but there's no espresso available. MD is not a blend we like; we prefer the French or Italian roasts from Peet's. It's strong, but not very interesting.
Flan is the firm style, not the delicate fall-apart custard. Spiced walnut cake was delightful, even if the baby Comice pears weren't cored (but poached in wine, they were nonetheless delicious)!
Summary: EXCELLENT. Note there is a parking lot across the street, but beware of events at UC when it fills up.
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