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Update on À Côté, Oakland

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Last Saturday after an exhausting technical tasting of big red wines, we decided to reward ourselves with a really nice lunch. First we headed to Soi 4 but discovered they’re not open for lunch. Uizen was also closed. Yet, the nice thing about this stretch of College Ave. is that you’re never that far from something good to eat.

À Côté was next on my Rockridge list of places to try and fortunately was open. In fact, they’re open long hours, Tuesday to Saturday lunch until midnight and Sunday until 10pm. A first visit for either of us, we like the soothing atmosphere of the small dining room and bar area. The ceilings are draped with fabric that adds to the intimacy. There’s additional seating outside on the patio and that was our choice on this sunny day.

The patio was very pleasant with the calming sound of a water fountain, aromatic provençal herbs in the garden, lavender and white iceberg roses. With careful positioning of a big canvas garden umbrella we were comfortable enough when out of direct sun. I used the drinking water from the carafe placed on the table (a nice touch) to cool off the baked utensils and water glasses and watered the lemon thyme to boot.

I was incredulous when Allison reached for the wine list and said, “the sauvignon blanc flight looks interesting”. No more wine! I can’t bear to look at another wine today.

But she was right, the handful of wine flights here are carefully chosen from small, quality producers as is the rest of the list. We ended up sharing the selection of three blancs for $15 – Ch. Brusset Entre-deux-Mers, Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, and Ch. Carbonnieux Graves. I liked that they were served in Riedel Overture series white wine crystal glasses.

The format here is small plates, yet they’re actually not that small. More like medium-sized oval plates. One thing that the growing number of tapas/small dish restaurants need to figure out is how to fit all these dishes on a two-top. It’s a pain to try to juggle them and make room when the next dish comes out.

We ordered pommes frites ($5), arugula salad with apples and majorero cheese ($8), and figs with prosciutto and white cheese ($8). This turned out to be a little more than we could polish off comfortably. The frites were excellent, very crisp and well-browned, although a little too greasy. The accompanying aioli was the light lemony variety and not that eggy. The salad was a heaping pile of tender baby arugula with a grating of this mild cheese from the Canary Islands (Allison was impressed that I knew this). Well-balanced in all elements, the peppery green notes of this salad and the cheese were particularly pleasing with our wines. The black mission figs could have been riper and squishier. Yet I loved the presentation – a cross was cut through the top of the figs and the soft white cheese piped in, then these were placed standing up on a generous number of slices of firm-textured prosciutto (maybe San Daniele?).

We finished off by sharing the profiteroles filled with banana walnut ice cream and sauced with caramel ($6). A handful of raw walnut halves adorned the plate. These were of current season and high quality but could have been so much more if toasted or seasoned in some way.

Previous reports about À Côté have praised the food and criticized the service. We thought the food was fine and didn’t have any complaints about service which was professional and attentive, despite the party of 10 seated next to us that had servers scurrying. In fact we felt we got some special attention by having the wine portions split for us. All in all a very pleasant two-hour lunch, we felt very French indeed as said our good-byes and wandered off to the rest of our day.

Btw, the best reds of the day were:

1997 Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, $35 suggested retail
1997 Tatachilla "Foundation" McLaren Vale Shiraz, $20
1999 Hongell Barossa Old Vine Grenache, $28
1999 Henry's Drive Padthaway Shiraz, $40

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