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Restaurants & Bars 6

Sea Salt, Wine & The World’s Best Clam Chowder

rworange | Jul 30, 200501:25 AM

Reading some of the early posts on Chowhound and reviewing the menu, I went in prepared to hate it. It sounded pricy and precious and someone complained the chairs were uncomfortable.

No, no, no, no, no, no … in my humble opinion. It is comfortable, the food is wonderful, the service top notch and the prices a deal. I love this place. LOVE IT!!!

About the wine, while they don’t have their liquor license yet, they will serve bottles and half bottles of wine from Café Trieste. When the bill comes, there are two separate bills, one from Sea Salt for the food and one from Café Trieste from the wine. Nice wine list too.

There is a dish of pinkish Murray River salt from Australia on each table. This Halal certified salt is from underground inland saline waters. Here’s a link to this environmentally friendly salt that is called “more delicate than even fleur de sel … the satin of salts.” Thinking about it, it’s not really SEA salt.

Acme sourdough bread comes with meals. I was a little surprised because I thought I knew most Acme breads, but this was better, pleasantly chewy and soft. According to the server, Acme will make bread to restaurant specifications, so it is different from what is in the stores.

Each dish was approached with an inward eye roll. Yet each dish won me over. The presentation was lovely too. Dinner included:

One New Brunswick oyster on the half shell with mignonette
One littleneck clam on the half shell with cocktail sauce
White clam chowder garnished with bacon and parsley
Soft-shell crab with sweet corn saute and green goddess dressing
Grilled California squid with tomato, pumpkin seeds, cilantro and habanero
Chocolate-caramel almond torte with fresh mint ice cream

White wine – 2002 Sancerre, Bailly
Fresh lime press (a limeade)

The white chowder is not called New England and rightly so. It was better. Those who have read my tirades on the board about traditional New England clam chowder know this is saying a lot.

In a lovely light cream broth it was chock full of … WHOLE … FRESH … clams. The cubed potatoes may have been Yukon Gold, they had that same type of texture that was firm and didn’t fall apart in the chowder. The crispy bacon bits didn’t over salt or over power the chowder. The chowder was laced with fresh parsley and other herbs.

The difference is this is lighter and fresher tasting than New England chowder. There was not the fat from bacon and/or butter. Not that that is a bad thing taste wise. The serving size is a small bowl. For $14 I felt ripped off by Hog Islands chowder. The $8.25 for Sea Salt’s chowder was money well spent.

The clam and oyster came on a bed of coarse salt with a pink mignonette and a wonderful fresh tomato cocktail sauce with fresh parsley. I have never had a better cocktail sauce.

The crab was eyed skeptically. No coating. The bright red soft-shell crab was decorated with a lovely light green goddess sauce and sat on a bed of fresh corn with caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes. Delicious.

Thd eight pieces of calamari had a lovely presentation. The white calamari with purple tentacles was on a bed of pumpkin sauce and strewn with green pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Red and gold cherry tomatoes garnished the dish.

The calamari was grilled and had delicious charred tastes. The combination of all the ingredients worked well together with different textures and a slight kick from the habanero.

The dessert was exceptional. The refreshing mint ice cream was a wonderful complement to the moist chocolate cake studded with nuts. A chocolate curl garnished the dish. It was more of a two inch high round cake with a thin layer of caramel on top than a torte. Whatever it was, it was deeply delicious and satisfying.

The lime press was one of those eye rolling moments. It was served on a dish that contained a glass with ice, and two pancake syrup type of containers, one with simple syrup and the other with fresh lime. The idea is to create a drink to your taste with water, syrup and lime. It worked well despite the initial reservation. There is also a lemon press.

Soft drinks included Doc Brown’s cel-ray soda and root beer, Reed’s ginger brew, coke, diet coke, 7-Up and Martinelli’s sparkling cider. There are also D’arbo Austrian sparkling sodas in sour cherry, passion fruit, black currant and raspberry flavors.

Mr. Coffee organic fair trade coffee is served. China Mist organic loose leaf teas include milikthong estate Darjeeling, simply mint, earl grey, toasted rice green and ginger ginseng.

It is a lovely, casual space. The website says (link below) “As you enter, the inner space opens up with the skylights. Light from the back doors and windows draw you away from the street noise and bustle into the quiet of the garden”.

One side has a lovely exposed brick wall with wooden and metal beams. The colors of the restaurant are the colors of the sea, soothing blues and greens. There is a small five seat bar up front and a 12 seat counter that faces the kitchen toward the back of the restaurant. There are two big picnic table in the center with a number of two and four top tables on either side.

I think the patio area needs a little attention. One section is simply tables on concrete but there is another area under some trees that is nice.

The service was professional, the pacing was perfect. My server was great about answering questions about dishes. Asking about the bread, the vendor changed and she was unsure of the source. Too many drop this type of question. She returned later with the info about Acme being the vendor. She was knowledgeable about each ingredient and pairing the wine to the food.

The only problem is that parking doesn’t seem to be easy. There is a lot in back of the restaurant that is reserved for local businesses. It would be nice if Sea Salt could somehow get permission to use the lot when the businesses are closed.

At first glance the prices seem obscenely expensive. However most entrees these days are about $20 in this class of restaurant. So a $12 crab with $5 cole slaw averages out. For me, a small serving with perfect top class ingredients is more filling and satisfying than larger portions. Any of the dishes in itself would have made a fine and satisfying meal for me with a glass of wine.

The way we dine is changing. If you get your head around it, it is better and cheaper. Coco500 is part of this with the individual plates where the dinner is constructed by the diner. Sea Salt reminded me very much of the Coco500 concept.

The link to the menu is below. It is a sample so dishes might be different. However, many were the same. They also had about eight different interesting oysters on the half shell available. In addition to the three dishes on the website, there was also coconut panna cotta with roasted pineapple and ginger cheesecake with lemon curd and blackberry sauce. There is also more info about the restaurant and chef.

The check had a clam shell on top as a paper weight.

This isn’t a restaurant for everyone. If you want a traditional seafood house you may be unhappy. However, if you enjoy fresh seafood, creatively presented yet simple enough to let the top quality ingredients shine, then Sea Salt stars.

As the website says, it is for” aFISHianados of seafood”

Sea Salt

2512 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, Ca. 94702
510 883 172


Monday-Sunday - 11:30am-10pm


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