Skates on the Bay -- happy hour?
I was out shopping in Emeryville with my "nephew" yesterday, and as it was a belated birthday celebration, I ended up taking him to Skates at the Berkeley Marina for dessert. We ate in the bar area, and I was intrigued by the happy hour specials: half price on most of the bar menu (including three different oyster preps that at half price were about a dollar an oyster), and some nice deals on drinks. Considering the view, this seems like a good place for a drink, a nosh and watching the sunset for a decent price.
I've always thought of the food at the Skates/Horatio's/Kincaid's group (excepting Palomino, which I actively dislike) as being competent if extremely corporate (menu designed by focus group and menu consultants). But bar food is pretty much bar food. Has anyone been to happy hour here? Comments?
100 Seawall Drive
Berkeley, CA 94710
Happy Hour: Mon - Fri 4-6pm and after 10pm (last call is at 11 pm).
Haven't tried the happy hour yet but I might consider a beer and some clam chowder. The East Bay Express reviewed Skates today and said one of the few good things was the clam chowder. Anyone tried. it?
Didn't know this chain owned Cinabun.
Not food but the nearby Cal Sailing Club on "open house" day offers a free sail .
Where is John Birdsdale?
I've been to the after-ten happy hour a couple of times. As you said, the bar was full of people of different ages and ethnicities all having fun and the place is always packed, even mid-week. So it feels festive, sort of like playing hooky if you have kids and don't usually go out on a week night. The food strikes me as old fashioned, pretty high-fat and salty. ("If something's good, then throw some cheese on it and it'll be better.") I'd rather go to the bar than to the restaurant though. The restaurant is simply too big.
Granted, as you note, it's been thoroughly worked over by
the menu consultants, but the dish descriptions on their menu
are pure poetry.
Something about the odd attention to detail, occasionally at
the expense of the main ingredient, the choppiness, a dash
of jargon, is weirdly fascinating.
"Classic Caesar Salad
Romaine, garlic-Parmesan croutons, lemon. 7
"Skates Clam Chowder
Rich cream, red potatoes, white wine. 7
"Warm Brie with Macadamia Nut Crust
Balsamic reduction, herb ciabatta, apple slices, honey drizzle. 11.5"
re: Chuckles the Clone
You're right -- it's rather poetic in its simplicity. Nothing is "grilled to perfection" or "garden fresh" or any other bad menu buzz words (for that matter, it's free from the obsessive source identification of the "artisan" restaurants). It may read like greatest hits and trends of the last ten years, but at least it's not laden with menuese!
re: Ruth Lafler
No kidding about the greatest hits ... reinterpretted ... from everywhere ...
Seafood Deviled Egg Trio With Dungeness crab, Chilean bay shrimp, and smoked salmon
Seafood Platter Buffalo prawns, seafood deviled eggs, lobster-apple skewers, seafood corn dogs
Lobster Mac n’ Cheese Gruyère, cheddar, fontina, lobster, truffl e oil
Michael Minna must be turning in his grave ... oh wait, he's alive ... he should sue then.
Then for brunch there's
Skates Seafood Joe Fresh eggs scrambled with King crab, bay shrimp, fresh spinach, onions, mushrooms and topped with hollandaise sauce.
Lavendar cosmos and lychee martinis and pomegrantie mojitos ... oh my
King Crab & Artichoke Dip, Warm Brie with Macadamia Nut Crust and Grilled Scallop Lollipops ... oh my
Spicy Ahi Tostada, Kobe meatloaf and Crab and Asparagus Quiche ... oh my
I wasn't sure if the place record should list this as American (Traditional), American (New) or California Cuisine ... or a fusion of all three. However it seems some info is automatically being filled in by the Places software ... like neighborhood and cuisine. Places decided it was American (Traditional).
I was going to say the prime rib is usually recommended (made in the style of House of Prime Rib) ... but there are downhill reports abouti it on Yelp.
So give it up Ruth ... what did you order and would you order it again?
Skates On the Bay
100 Seawall Drive, Berkeley, CA 94710
Nope, I filled those in. I picked American (Traditional) because the menu has safe interpretations of things that were "new" a decade or more ago and have become a part of the lexicon, and decided against California Cuisine because the provenance of the ingredients isn't touted.
So, as I said, we just went for dessert -- I've been having a craving for chocolate cake for weeks now, so that's what I ordered (my "nephew" ordered the chocolate torte, so we had both chocolate desserts, but he didn't share <vbg>). I went there because chocolate cake is the the kind of thing that's reliably good in a place like that, and I thought the view and the atmosphere would be fun for the occasion. I'm not sure I would order it again, because it's not the kind thing I would normally order in the first place, and it wasn't exactly what I was craving, so it didn't quite hit the spot. Do you know how hard it is to get a good piece of classic chocolate cake (devil's food cake with fluffy chocolate frosting), not some frou-frou chocolate mousse/torte kind of thing with heavy, fudgey frosting? However, to phrase it differently, if someone else asked me if they should order it, I'd tell them go ahead.
I don't think I'd go there for dinner if it was my choice -- it's not cheap, and for that kind of money, I'd rather go to one of the mid-range Cal-Cuisine or Cal-Italian places. But I happy hour is a whole other kettle of fish, and since it falls at sunset (especially this time of year), it seems like it would be worth trying, which is why I started this thread.
re: Ruth Lafler
Yep, there is no non fancy-dancy classic chocolate cake sold in any Bay Area restaurant that I know of. Those that serve plain chocolate slices rarely use butter in the frosting.
I was more respoding to Chuckles about the menu in general but was curious about what dessert you tried. I know you were posting about Happy Hour.
That being said, the appetizers on the menu aren't all that cheap even at 50 % off still in the $5 - $7 range. Looking at Yelp there seem to be a few other bar menu items like sweet potato fries which like the foccacia and artichoke dip seem to be the only universally liked items on the menu. Someone once got gritty and sandy oysters but they were sent back and replaced with decent oysters.
Just for me so I don't need to ever read all 114 reviews over there again (killer view, ok food) Skates gives a piece of complementary key lime pie for the birthday person in a party ... which seems to be the dessert to order there. They will split a large cut prime rib for two and not charge extra (I'd ask to be sure). The cowboy steak has a good dry rub and you can order it even if it is not on the menu. The Bloody Mary seems to be one of the better drinks and comes with a prawn. There's a little basket of breakfast pastries (cinnoman roll, muffin, croissant) with brunch. And as far as happy hour, you have to hit it just right because sometimes it gets too glare-y and they draw the shades.
The inconsistancy in food and service stands out ... even at happy hour. Someone summed it up by saying even the shrimp on the same plate can be inconsistant.
Yes, it can be annoying when they pull the shades at sunset. A good thing to keep in mind. For the record, I think the artichoke and crab dip with focaccia is awful. It's the same focaccia they serve before dinner...thick and oily. And the dip just seems so unhealthy and gloppy.
As for the rest of the menu, I've had dinner at Skates a few times after Berkeley Rep's Sunday matinees because not many places serve so early on Sunday and my parents and their friends feel comfortable there. Salads and soups have too much dressing and too much cream. I don't do "steaks and chops" unless they're very good, so those are out for me, too. I also avoid the seafood pasta and the crabcakes. (Gouda on a crabcake hogie!?! Eww. Anyhow, this is California, we don't have hogies here.) So that leaves, maybe, prawns or scallops.
That said, I've still enjoyed a cozy drink or two at night. The view of the city lights is pretty.
I've eaten at Skates two or three times and the view is incredible, especially if you're seated by the window. As I said, the view is absolutely wonderful and I always thought it was oh, so wasted on a place that served only mediocre food. They really do appeal to the 'mean' or the LCD and it seems as if they put no effort whatsoever in trying to rise above it because they were consistently mediocre.
I guess the axiom of "food or view but never both" holds true once again. Why can't this be cracked? All I know is that Skates was a nice place in college...mostly because it was expensive by students standards, it was clean and it had a view.
So here's a theoretical question -- if the food at Skates was a good as Oliveto, Sea Salt or Chez Panisse...would it make a difference? Would people care or go for the food? My guess is someone once did the math and figured no and it's in some restro management book, carved in stone.
I think the basis for the math is the high overhead for the site. It pretty much requires that you have a high volume, high turnover, high profit-margin operation. Skates probably does several times as many covers a day as Oliveto or Chez Panisse. At that volume, they can't do the kind of "artisan" food those places do, nor can they afford to have as high food costs, nor can they afford to not have a menu that appeals to as broad a clientele as possible.
I think their food is decent for the kind of restaurant it is. I think a lot of places would be happy to have a place like Skates. Among other things, it has a surprisingly good wine list, with stuff beyond Cabernet-Merlot-Chardonny. One thing I noticed was that it had a really diverse clientele: people of all ages and ethnicities. There's something to be said for a place gives a mass market something better than than McDonalds.
Skates has had a booth at the Caltopia fair on the UCB campus. I've eaten there several times, but am having trouble remembering what I ate, which would not be a good sign. I think the food is no better than OK, although some seem to enjoy it. I do recall that the staff was very gracious.
Not that I'm complaining about an all-you-can-eat lunch with multiple restaurant options for $5. In August, they had samples and coupons for Mashti Malone ice cream (ice cream king of LA, although certainly not the equal of Ici).