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Restaurants & Bars 1

Zex Tavern -- Berkeley -- report

Ruth Lafler | Dec 23, 200206:55 PM

Some friends and I had a really good dinner Friday at Zax Tavern.

I haven't completely trained them in chowhound ways, but we did manage to order three different appetizers, four different entrees, a side of spinach and three different desserts. Tastes were shared, with the conclusion that there wasn't a clinker in the lot.

This menu is California cuisine classics (does that make sense?); not cutting edge, but perfectly prepared using good quality ingredients. My lamb stew with winter vegetables featured not only falling apart tender lamb but several kinds of veggies, including what I think was delicata squash, all cooked to the correct amount of doneness. The cube of polenta that came atop it was crisp but not tough on the outside and creamy on the inside. Delicious on its own, and possibly even more delicious when it soaked up some of the rich wine sauce of the stew.

I didn't get a bite of the flank steak, but both the pork chop (huge!) and chicken (also a generous portion) were moist and flavorful -- the pork was cooked through but still slightly pink, and the chicken was also cooked through but slightly pink at the bone -- just perfect. The flank steak was ordered medium rare and came on the rare side of medium rare, indicating to me the style of the kitchen is to cook meats as rarely as possible -- great for me, but if you like your meat better done, you probably need to specify.

Appetizers were the signature goat cheese soufflee, which I thought could have been a little goatier but my dining companions thought was just right. The fennel and apple slaw with it provides a counterpoint of crunch and tang. Grilled Florida shrimp salad was good but not distinctive; the field greens salad looked really fresh and didn't appear to be over dressed.

We barely saved room for dessert, but were glad we had when the tangerine sorbet knocked our socks off. Wow! "Like tangerine snow" was the most apt description: light and fluffy, not too sweet but intensely tangerine flavored. As we lingered over coffee we seriously considered ordering another one -- only the fact that we were already at the waddling stage held us back. The caramel ice cream on the apple galette was another standout: rich, smooth and creamy. All desserts are made in house, and definitely worth saving room for.

Prices are reasonable for the surroundings, quality and portions: appetizers around $7, entrees $15-18, desserts $6. Service was friendly but professional. Despite the fact they were busy the waiter took the time to find out how the sorbet was made for us (sugar dissolved in fresh squeezed tangerine juice and frozen by the Chez Panisse method, which I'll obviously have to look up).

We'll definitely be back.


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