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Oh my – Vanessa's Bistro in Berkeley ... the Vietnamese/French Connection done right

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Wow. Top-notch food that is reasonably priced ... $21 bought

- Glass of sparkling wine
- Pumpkin/lemongrass bisque with puff pastry
- Chicken/shrimp claypot with bok choy and wild mushrooms

The bisque was deeply pumpkiny and matched nicely with the lemongrass. A light-puff pastry stick topped the bisque. Delicious.

The service really is a good as everyone says ... professional, helpful and warm. I asked which clay pot to choose and the server didn’t hesitate to recommend the less expensive dish. It was so good.

The wild mushrooms had been cooked in wine. The shrimp and chicken perfect. Baby bock choy and onions chopped up in easy to eat pieces. Crispy bits of rice clinging to the sides of the clay pot. Somehow butter was involved in al this. Absolutely excellent.

On chilly night with the fog creeping across the bay, the food and the service were soul-warming.

Vanessa's Bistro
http://www.vanessasbistro.com/index.html
1715 Solano Ave
Berkeley, Ca
510-525-8300

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  1. An interesting aside tonight - I went to go to Vanessa's Bistro for dinner - had no idea it was closed on Tuesday. The staff at empty Bui (right near where the car was parked) was looking for people walking to Vanessa's, and coming up to suggest Bui when seeing Vanessa's is closed tonight. Didn't eat at Bui.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lmnopm

      That is odd. I was planning on one dish at Vanessa's and moving on to Bui, but I was so into the food I decided to save Bui for another night. I like that both of them are open on Mondays where so many places are closed.

    2. hi - I went to vanessa's last night and it was pretty disappointing foodwise (the papaya salad was the best thing out of the pumpkin lemongrass soup, halibut, and duck confit), but the main problem was the very loud, and overly-friendly, actually abrasive bartender/server named chris. I have no idea, but it seemed like maybe he was on something. cringe-inducing mannerisms and anecdotes. I wished for something better- vanessa and her daughter both seemed very nice. maybe it will improve.

      1. I just went to Vanessa's Bistro tonight w/ the bf and it was really really good. We had for a total of $83 w/ tax & tip:
        Bouillabaise
        Pork Rolls
        Chicken and Shrimp Clay Pot
        Tiger Prawn and Scallop Curry
        Shaking Filet Mignon
        Bananas Foster
        A beer, a soju mai-tai, and a glass of Spatlese

        The hits of the night were the Pork Rolls and the Shaking Filet Mignon. The filet mignon was amazing and when paired with the lemon-pepper sauce was even better. The rice from the clay pot (w/ delicious crispy bits) when paired with the curry was also delicious. I love that this place is mostly family run but still is very stylish.

        I took photos of all the dishes and will update with those soon.

        1. I had quite the feast for my first trip to Vanessa's tonight. We went a bit overboard in the ordering, and so it was good we had walked to and from the restaurant.

          Dishes, in no particular order of consumption:

          Crispy Saigon Pork Rolls. Not my favorite (I'm really particular with fried rolls - very few do I really like). Nothing was wrong with them, and the other side of the table really liked them.

          Pear and Candied Pecan salad (with some other things in it, I forgot the exact name). It was delicious, and a great starter.

          Salt and Pepper Calamari. The calamari itself was excellent. The coating was ok, but really the calamari didn't even need it as it was so tender. I think if she tweaked this dish to a non-fried coating (maybe a light sauce) it would be even better.

          Spicy Salmon Tartare. It was a fun, interesting and flavorful dish.

          Another salmon dish (have no idea what it was called, because I didn't order it). There was a communication mixup with the waiter, but it looked so good we ate it, and it was really good - probably pan-seared, with some reduction underneath with carrots.

          Shaking Beef (filet). It was probably my favorite of the evening. The lemon pepper sauce was a hit. That was until I had the...

          Lemongrass Chicken. Ok, I probably liked the Beef better, but I really liked the flavor and sauce of the chicken. A big plate of this with rice would make for a great lunch. I also suggested that this would be great made with beef. Basically, if you ask, they will!

          Sticky rice with wild mushrooms in banana leaf. Very tasty.

          Peach/Raisin/Somethingelse (banana?) bread pudding with gelato - extremely tasty, served in a very neat bowl. I saw that the gelato was from ciao bella - this means I probably wouldn't order it on its own but it was perfectly good on the bread pudding.

          Service - it was nice to see a family operation in a polished restaurant. The space turned out a lot nicer than I thought it would having seen the construction go on for (seemingly) ever. They are all eager to please and proud (rightfully) of the product they are putting out. I would suggest letting them know if you want things in a particular order, or timed a certain way. I will do so next time.

          Food (overall) - I wanted to try (almost) everything on the menu. The plates that kept coming out looked wonderful. As far as my food went, I haven't been to a place in quite some time that kept the tastebuds popping in different ways, until tonight. It was a solid, tasty (with no strikeouts and a few very big hits) meal, which was interesting as well as fun to eat.

          A bottle of Riesling was a great accompaniment to the meal.

          Out the door, with a tip, for just about $100. They are open until 11pm on the weekends, which is great for this area, which usually rolls up the sidewalks pretty early.

          I can't wait to return.

          1. Interesting, my wife and I went there tonight and thought that the food was good, but the service erratic. We had sticky rice with mushrooms (which I really liked--wished there was more of, yes it was a "small plate"), green papaya salad, seafood claypot (my wife particularly liked this) and shaking beef--though they have a slightly different name for that dish. There were waits that were inexplicable at a small restaurant with (pleasantly) an adequate level of staff.

            We also thought the arrangement of the restaurant could use some help. I can hear Chowhounds remonstrating with me, but I didn't feel my meal was particularly enhanced by staring into the kitchen. Perfectly fine kitchen, apparently, but I'd be just as happy with a curtain. It's a contrast with Xyclo, the new Vietnamese restaurant on Piedmont Ave., which is very pretty. We thought maybe if we go back to Vanessa's we'd be happier sitting at the bar, which makes up almost 1/3 of the seats in this small place.

            1. I would like to make two comments:

              1. I had the sticky rice with wild mushrooms last night and wasn't impressed. The wild mushrooms consisted of inedible pieces of shitake mushroom stems, and nothing else.

              2. The dish cost 6 dollars. I could have gotten at least 2 sticky rice lotus wraps for the same price, with lot's of good fillings, at any Chinese dim sum for the same price. I would prefer to go to almost any Oakland-based Vietnamese or Chinese restaurant and get better food, at better value, rather than Vanessa's small plates.

              1 Reply
              1. re: goodmeals

                I will say I've had the sticky rice and wasn't impressed with the mushroom bits but the experience at Vanessa's for a group is wonderful. Last night had dinner there with 6 others and we had:

                the bouilliabaisse, which was delicious

                shaking beef--everybody LOVED it but I'm not sure what the fuss is all about

                the salt and pepper calamari, most tender calamari on the face of the earth, I do believe

                pumpkin bisque--creamy deliciousness

                eggplant--was undercooked last night and I would have sent back but I was near the wall

                chicken hot pot, delish

                lemongrass chicken, yum

                softshell crab--good

                quail--sorry, I don't eat birds the size of chicks

                a few other dishes I forget.

                It is expensive but not for the presentation. Why must Asian food be cheap while French food is allowed to be expensive?