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Jun 24, 2006 03:21 PM

Recent "Taste" Visit - Berkeley

My better half and I went to Taste last evening to check out what all the buzz was about. Overall it was an interesting experience - a tightly packed juxtaposition of wine store, takeout food, Euro vending wine tasting, and serious food restaurant. I'm not sure how you would ever actually explore their wine for retail sale - since it would require you to disturb virtually every dining guest. The wine tasting selection has an intersting chosen selection - 10% of retail bottle cost gets you 1 oz. We decided to just have tastings throughout our meal - luckily we were seated right next to the vending or it would have been MUCH less convenient, as the seating is very closely spaced. A $50 vending card allowed us each to have 5 one ounce tastes each (10 total).

All of the food was good! The crab cakes were fresh and virtually all meat and the accompaning citrus sections and mint gelee was an interesting complement. Lots of other appetizers seemed to have other gelee flavors. We order the pork chop with roasted corn, and tomato tart - really good pork, great fresh corn, a flabby cherry tomato tart. We also got the "surf and turf": seared ahi and beef short rib. The ahi was fresh but virtually flavorless; the shortrib was rich and tasty, but only a single tiny rib (2" long)with 2 bites of meat.

Overall, the ingredient quality was fantastic. Some hits and misses and the size of dishes seem to vary dramatically. 3 dishes (crab cakes, pork chop, surf and turf) and %50 wine card - Total bill for two: $134

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  1. $50 for ten ounces of wine is $25 a glass!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Considering we each sampled 4 wines (2 oz pour of the Amarone and the Southern Rhone (Syrah) I was OK with that. Got to taste wines that I would never buy even a glass of ($60 a bottle California Chardonay or a non-name white burgandy). For someone who appreciates the 1 oz tastes, the rational about $25 a glass does not add up - as I would be unwilling in most cases to gamble on a $25 glass of anything I was unfamiliar with.

      1. re: A Amore

        A lot of my favorite restaurants will pour me a little splash of something unfamiliar so I can decide if I want a whole glass.

        I guess 250% of the retail bottle price is a fairly low markup for wine by the glass.

    2. I'm so glad you enjoyed Taste. The quality of the food really stands out. Measured by food alone, I think it's second only to Chez Panisse in terms of Berkeley restaurants. That pork chop is incredible, the lamb chops are fantastic (good portion, too) and the foie could go head to head with the city's best. Hopefully, the owners will soon get the floor managament up to the kitchen's standard. The Chron's review last week was spot on: food - 3 stars, service 1.5 stars "Service unpolished as the food is sophisticated."

      Chron on Taste:

      2 Replies
      1. re: Morton the Mousse

        I'm sure I would not agree "second only to Chez Panisse". I would prefer the food Lalimes or Eccolo or even Downtown. At that price there are lots of good, if not better options in Berkeley. In addition, Taste is a totally different experience given the service issues at this multipronged establishment, which I did not discuss.

        1. re: Morton the Mousse

          More reviews of Taste-

          I can't get the second article to come up, but they were the featured review in August's Diablo Magazine as well. My wife and I enjoy the food as much as you do. I really think the whole wine program is a great value and adds to our enjoyment of the food. We used to go to Vino Venue which was the first place we heard of with the wine tasting machines, but Taste is much easier for us to get to- we paid $28 an ounce to try the 1997 Yquem at Vino Venue awhile ago,- Taste had it recently for $17 so we had two ounces with our Foie. We usually taste from the machines before we order and order glasses of wine with dinner,- Louis Roederer Brut Premier for under $10 a glass was our favorite until they took it off the list. Cigare Volant for $7.50 is one of my current favorites; my wife loved pairing the crab cakes with the Grgich Fume for $8.75. I mention the prices because I think for restaurants they are more than fair. We went with friends Saturday and tried something new,- we all liked the La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape which was featured in the machines so we ordered a bottle for the table to got with Pork Chops- $50 for an excellent Chateauneuf was great.

        2. My husband and I have been twice, but for lunch not dinner. The first time we went we were quite pleased. He had a flank steak sandwich that he really enjoyed. I had a chicken BLT that was great. We both had a glass of wine and were happy with our choices and with the service.

          The second time was decidedly the opposite. I had a salad with a sundried tomato "vinegarette" that was lacking any liquid. It seemed that they had just diced some tomato and thrown it in. My husband had the olives and garlic bread, both of which he pronounced "not good" and he didn't finish either. The sauvignon blanc I had was the worst wine I have ever had. It was like drinking old grape juice. It was incredibly sweet and not at all what I expect from a SB. The service was also much less satisfying. Overall, not a good experience.

          1. I don't like Taste because the service is pretentious. We went in there a few weekends ago with our 4 month old and my folks and the host told us in an unfriendly way that no one under 21 was allowed in the main part, but that we could cram into this tiny table right by the door.

            So we went down to Cesar (where they have a full bar!) and were treated like kings.

            (Also, the roasted chicken is far better at Lolas!)

            4 Replies
            1. re: andrewt

              They don't make the rules, the City of Berkeley does. If they let you in they could have lost their license, which means they would have gone out of business. I think it's absurd that Taste has so many restrictions on their permit, but I think a lot of things about Berkeley city government are absurd.

              I do agree that the service needs an overhaul to be on par with the food.

              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                It's weird but it's not the City of Berkeley. The state bans minors from the tasting area of wine shops, and that's the kind of license the owners chose to get.

                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Yeah, I gotta agree on that service. Although I went early, being blown off and a few encounters of the unfriendly type haven't made me anxious to return though I loved the food.

                  The service is just so hot and cold. Either it is great or it is awful.

                  I meant to ask though Morton, I don't want to re-read the Chron article that you generously provided the link to (I'm still working to catch up on reading Chowhound posts since the switch).

                  It is my impression that the chef changed since the beginning. Is that right? What's the story?

                  How's the take-out situation these days?

                  1. re: rworange

                    Chef Garret Martindale has been heading the kitchen since day one. Mark Lusardi (ex-Pearl) was brought on as a consulting chef for the first few weeks, and his was the name dropped in most write ups. But Garret's the man behind the current menu and I love the way he cooks.

                    The service has improved since opening months and now it is extremely friendly, just not always efficient.

                    The take out is hit or miss. It's clear Garret doesn't have his heart in it. Same goes for the chicken. Sit down, dinner service is where it's at. Also a great place to grab a taste of something special (crab cakes, tuna tarar) before heading to Cheeseboard or Socca Oven to fill up on cheaper grub.

              2. It's absurd but they could lose their liquor license.

                That's one of many problems in that building that result from the landlord and tenants trying to cram way too much into the small space.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  So, any idea how they are doing? I was there the other night to pick up some soop, and it was chirp, chirp quiet. The sushi chefs looked bored! Is it bustleing at lunch?

                  The soop is pretty good, but very expensive.

                  I don't have high hopes for the Garden. Probably a good idea poorly implemented. Looks like the caviar place is essentially gone. Bet the chocolates go next. Then sushi? Even if Kirala does OK they may decide it's too much to manage it. The dim sum is supposedly good but off the beaten path and likely to be missed by many casual browsers, IMO.