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Update on Cesar, Berkeley

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Melanie Wong Apr 10, 2003 03:48 AM

The roving birthday celebration kicked off Monday last week at Cesar in Berkeley before stepping next door for dinner at CP. Tom Meglioranza (shown below with a local chowchick) had just arrived from NY to join us. This was my first time here.

The complimentary dish of marinated olives on the table were very good, a nice salty snack with our drinks. As befits a tapas bar, the list features a nice selection of sherries by the glass. Pleased to see Eric Bordelet French ciders offered by the glass, I tried the pear cider.

Sunday night after Philharmonia Baroque’s Berkeley performance, I found myself at Cesar again to mark the end of the season. The staff were good about letting us know when the kitchen was about to close for our last orders. Good thing because this meant we didn’t forget dessert.

Among the tapas sampled were:

Fried potatoes – somehow a new name needs to be invented for these that speaks to their true wonderfulness. A giant pile of thin strips of frite width potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and garnished with rosemary and deep-fried crackly fresh herbs. A little dab of alioli on the side.

Fava bean and Yukon gold potato salad – can ones ever get enough fresh-as-spring fava beans? These favas were a bit on the mature side, but if I don’t have to shell them myself, I’m not complaining. Each morsel had a heavy coat of garlic mayonnaise – so the mayo-phobic be forewarned.

Halibut a la plancha – a small filet of roasted halibut with just a bit of pepper and salt highlighting its natural goodness resting on a bed of sauteed mushrooms. My favorite with the 2000 Cold Creek Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

Cazuela of brandade – served warm with a light golden crust on top that added a toasty note and texture to the baccala and potato blend. Loved the contrast of a few rough chunks of potato in the puree.

Boquerones – white anchovy toppers on toasted baguettes spread thickly with the garlic mayo again.

Pork skewers – not my favorite, tender but dryish.

Jamon Serrano with roasted grapes – two full slices of Serrano ham , not too thick and not too thin, cut just right and wrapped around a bunch of wrinkled, slightly dessicated red flame grapes. The salty and sweet notes were a fine match for the 1999 Domaine Richaume “Cuvée l’Escabrada” Cairanne Cotes du Rhone Villages.

And, for dessert, a terrific bread pudding. We were so glad we’d ordered three servings, and still we were fighting over it. The caramel sauce spooned over this was exquisite with a slight apple-y tang that kept it from being cloying.

We closed the place at 12:30am. Saying our last farewells on the deserted streets, Suzanne, mentioned that she was still a little hungry and wondered where we could go next for a bite. My friend, Spencer, popped open his trunk and offered her the remaining slices of the pizza he’d made for his dinner earlier, from the Chez Panisse cookbook no less. He also loaded up Tom and Suzanne with as many Meyer lemons as they could carry for souvenirs. The Diva and the Baritone standing on the curb munching Cal-pizza and juggling lemons – that’s the photo I wish I'd snapped as a momento of their days in Berkeley.

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    Han Lukito RE: Melanie Wong Apr 10, 2003 04:34 AM

    Glad that Cesar is still as delicious as I remembered it couple years ago. There just was not a single bad dish when I was there and most were great.

    Last week, visitted Cheeseboard pizza accross the street and the pizza was awesome. Thin crust and even when there is no meat, the pizza is great. The chewy dough, elastic cheese and delicious tomato sauce and toppings meld together in harmony. Their inexpensive cheese bread at the store is also good.

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      Liz RE: Melanie Wong Apr 10, 2003 02:05 PM

      I've got to agree about Cesar. Everytime we go we have a great time, and it is just so convenient, being next to CP.
      Yes! the potatos are just fantastic. An excuse to eat their great aioli.
      Incredible list of wines too, from Stephen Singer. Every time I go, they have just the right thing that I want to eat.
      The only criticism, a minor one, is that when I get one of the sandwiches, I never eat the bread part as it's not that great. Too much of it, and too too chewy for the ingredients inside.
      I don't know why there isn't a place like this in S.F.
      Liz
      Liz

      2 Replies
      1. re: Liz
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        Melanie Wong RE: Liz Apr 10, 2003 03:47 PM

        Oh, one more, we had also ordered the bocadillo (sandwich) of chorizo pamplona which came on a long section of Acme baguette. But I didn't get to try it, disappeared!

        It was a great place to start and end the week. I can't believe it's taken me so long to get there. I'd been tipped to the opening 5+ years ago when I met one of the partners at his restaurant in Santa Fe.

        Is Stephen Singer still involved with the place?

        1. re: Melanie Wong
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          Gatun RE: Melanie Wong Apr 10, 2003 04:26 PM

          Yes

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        foodfirst RE: Melanie Wong Apr 10, 2003 10:00 PM

        Ahhh, Cesar ... a highlight on our last visit was the plate of thumbnail-sized spanish green peppers (pimiento de padron?), lightly fried and salted, about every 5th pepper packing a fiery whallop. Would be hard to choose between the spuds and these as my favorite.

        1. m
          Millicent RE: Melanie Wong Apr 14, 2003 06:42 PM

          Thanks to this post (and CP's being booked), my mother and I had lunch at Cesar on Friday. The food was delicious -- we shared the fava/potato salad, a tuna/egg bocadillo, a bowl of green garlic/almond soup and grilled spring onions with romesco. I had a glass of moscato d'Asti and Mom had the housemade lemon-mintade, which she really enjoyed. My only quibble was with the paper napkins...just too small and flimsy to be of any use.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Millicent
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            Melanie Wong RE: Millicent Apr 14, 2003 08:40 PM

            Aha! Now we know you're not a mayo-phobe. (g) I still can't believe how much alioli (garlic mayo) I consumed at Cesar.

            Ditto on the napkins. They're basically drink napkins, but at least there's a pile of them on the table.

            Link: http://chowhound.safeshopper.com/23/c...

            1. re: Melanie Wong
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              Millicent RE: Melanie Wong Apr 15, 2003 12:16 PM

              Oh, I love mayo, especially fresh aioli/allioli but I'm plenty happy with the jarred stuff as well. That and those fried almonds are my favorite things about Spanish food.

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            klyeoh RE: Melanie Wong Mar 6, 2008 09:51 PM

            I was at Cesar's tonight - my first time. It was absolutely jam-packed by 7pm, but the manager & bartender were absolutely friendly & efficient.
            There were 2 of us & we chose to eat at the bar. Seats were extremely comfortable, and the bar actually afforded a "quieter" nook amidst the constant din emanating from the tables in the centre of the dining room.

            We started off with sangria (strangely, only served in individual glasses, instead of pitcher/jug with a small wooden paddle/spoon as in Spain).

            The tapas were okay:
            - marinated olives dish was a nice selection of black/green olives. Some were pleasantly spicy;
            - boquerones (pickled white anchovies) with white bean salad (delicious!) & deep-fried "toasts" (yuks - oily);
            - salt cod & potato cazuela (wonderful - THIS is one of the reasons why one would come to Cesar);
            - spicy tuna & egg bocadillo (tasty, but I'm never enamored with munching a large baguette sandwich at dinner-time);
            - paella de la semana: albondigas y setas (pork meatballs, oyster mushrooms, red bell peppers & saffron in a chicken broth) - okay. Doesn't taste authentic one iota - but then, this is Berkeley, not Barcelona.

            From my experience this evening, I'd recommend skipping the desserts (it ain't worth the calories!). We tried:
            - bread pudding with orange-caramel sauce;
            - mel i mato with almonds & grilled pears
            Both were just passable.

            1. bbulkow RE: Melanie Wong Mar 7, 2008 12:51 AM

              The only place to go when you close Cesar is Fonda on Solano.

              Great description - thanks.

              1. Robert Lauriston RE: Melanie Wong Mar 7, 2008 08:00 AM

                I love that tuna and egg bocadillo.

                Personally I find the Berkeley location too crowded and noisy (except mid-afternoon and late at night), I much prefer the Oakland branch, which also has a longer menu.

                -----
                Bar César
                4039 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

                Bar César
                1515 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

                6 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston
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                  datpb RE: Robert Lauriston Apr 21, 2008 07:37 PM

                  Having been a regular customer when Cesar opened ten years ago, I have to report that my last two visits have made me resolve never to go back. Everything I have ordered has been a real disappointment. Today I tried the little gem salad--way too dry and undistinguished--followed by a sad looking slab of lamb cooked "a la plancha"--or should I say "overcooked" a la plancha. Michael Bauer knowingly removed Cesar from the Bay Area Top 100 this year and I must concur.

                  1. re: datpb
                    Robert Lauriston RE: datpb Apr 22, 2008 09:26 AM

                    Are you talking about Berkeley or Oakland?

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
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                      datpb RE: Robert Lauriston Apr 24, 2008 07:57 PM

                      berkeley

                      1. re: datpb
                        Robert Lauriston RE: datpb Apr 26, 2008 02:17 PM

                        I like the Berkeley branch when it's quiet, which means either mid-afternoon or maybe very late on a weeknight. Never had a problem with the food there, but the kitchen's not busy then.

                        Bauer dropped Cesar to make room for Laiola. I'll take Cesar on Piedmont any day.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          Chuckles the Clone RE: Robert Lauriston Apr 27, 2008 12:39 AM

                          >> "I'll take Cesar on Piedmont any day."

                          Absolutely. The Piedmont place has really gone a long way towards capturing the precise feel of an upscale-ish bar in a Spanish city -- Small but carefully thought-out selection of raciones. Couple of nice sherries priced to be drunk rather than studied. A bar where I feel comfortable eating alone.

                          In comparison, my memories of the Shattuck branch are cramped, crowded, noisy.

                    2. re: datpb
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                      recycleit RE: datpb Apr 24, 2008 08:52 PM

                      After a similar experience with food being dried out or lukewarm bordering on cold when it got to the table (Berkeley), I have moved my alliances to Dopo in Piedmont. Parking is easier, too.

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