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Restaurants & Bars 3

Soizic (oakland): report

Ruth Lafler | Apr 14, 200203:43 AM

Soizic is a restaurant I've recommended but never actually eaten at. I've recommended it based on the fact that its a favorite of both my mother and my roommate. Said roommate's birthday is this week, so we and another friend headed for Soizic (on Broadway, a couple of blocks up from Jack London Square).

The owners of Soizic formerly owned Cafe Pastorale in Berkeley: she runs the kitchen, he the front of the house. He's an artist, and the interior is very creative: mismatched fixures and objects of various kinds and trompe l'oil scenes on the walls. Very comfortable, although when it filled up it got pretty loud.

Food is Asian-influenced Cal/Mediterranean. Everything was good, but somehow I'm not a fan. I wasn't a fan of Cafe Pastorale, and I've never been sure why.

Perhaps one thing is that the menu is fairly small (half a dozen appetizers, some entree salads, and half a dozen entrees, plus a couple of specials) and the same ingredients tend to be repeated. So if you aren't in the mood for, say, shitake mushrooms, your choices are limited.

That said, both the things I ordered were really good: a classic salad of endive, pears, gorgonzola and walnuts in a light, tart vinaigrette. The walnuts were slightly candied with a combination of cinnamon and cayenne -- the bite of the cayenne was a nice surprise. The dressing was perfectly balanced, pulling together the ingredients without overwhelming them. The portion was generous, too.

The others had the soup of the day (asparagus) and a grilled portabello topped with mascarpone with a side of greens (arugula?). I didn't try this, but it was a big hit (apparently it's a regular favorite on the menu). They also liked the soup, but I thought the taste of the stock was too pronounced. But then I'm not sure I've ever had a good asparagus soup that really captured the essence of asparagus.

I followed that up with stuffed quail special, which were delicious. They breasts were boned so they could easily be eaten with the stuffing. It's probably not polite to nibble on the bones, but with quail, what else can you do? The only thing wrong with this plate (there was also a few stalks of asparagus and some greens) was that it could have used something more substantial -- there's not much eating on two quail, and not much stuffing in them -- maybe an additional bed of the delicious bread-pecan stuffing would have been more satisfying.

The other entrees were the grilled lamb filet (I had a bite and it didn't thrill me, but she was happy with it) and a pasta special of ravioli with shrimp and ricotta with more grilled shrimp on top in a lemony cream sauce that I thought was the only true miss of the night: the lemon (I think it was lemongrass and there may have been lemon juice as well) overpowered the other flavors completely.

Desserts were good (chocolate torte with espresso creme anglaise, fruit crisp, ginger custard with almond cookies) but lack that intangible something that makes food sparkle.

Service was professional but seemed a bit harried -- as if she was covering too many tables or too many tables were at the same stage at the same time.

The tab for the three of us -- food, a couple of drinks, a half bottle of Cote du Rhone, tax and tip -- was just under $150, which seemed about right.

I guess if I had to sum up my impression, it's that the although the food is very good, the underlying approach is a little too delicate for my taste. I'd like to see a little more boldness in the flavors, combinations and preparations -- or at least some bolder items on the menu.

I wouldn't hesitate to go back, but I'm not in a big rush to, either.

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