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Restaurants & Bars 5

good and bad in north oakland: a cote and dona tomas

patrick | Dec 20, 200412:59 PM

Last week Holly and I visited Dona Tomas for the first time in, well, years. Our plan was to have a few drinks and share some small plates.

We were sorely disappointed in the quality and craftsmanship of the food. The empanada soup, which certainly sounded interesting, featured old-tasting chicken and a chalky texture. Tostadas with tuna-picadillo were OK but a little sweet to my tastes. Frankly I enjoyed the plate of refried beans with chorizo more than anything, but it too was lacking spirit. Really too bad. I used to love this place, as the owners seem to share my interest in Diana Kennedy's style of regional mexican fare. But this was a disappointment, and I remember that the last time we visited, in 2002, we came a way with the same impression-- a lot of missed targets, and for a pretty penny.

Saturday we went to A Cote on College with exactly the same intentions: a few drinks and some small plates. We had a plate of their dependably wonderful frites, and the duck rillettes, which were rich and flavorful and just what we wanted. They were served with accompaniments of crostini, mustard and cornichons, along with a lightly dressed salad and some sweet roast cipolline onions. The crema catalan with tiny empanadas was somewhat underwhelming, but tasty nonetheless.

And, of course, the drinks...nothing (that I know of) compares to A Cote's extensive and edifying selection of spirits. I tried the Anchor Steam single-spirit rye, which was delicious. Holly had a masterfully assembled vodka gimlet. And we had some beer, and wine, and ended with a nice grappa for me and a glass of Oban for Holly. The bartender (I think his name is Mike) is exceedingly knowledgeable and helpful, and it was a pleasure to be seated at the bar in front of his cocktail workstation as he muddled away the early evening.

We left sated, and once again impressed with A Cote's consistent high quality and comfortable surroundings. I only wish we could afford to visit more than once a year or so. Shoulda got on that dot-com train back when it was still rolling, I guess, and A Cote is perhaps the only thing in the Bay Area that makes me think silly thoughts like that.

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