Maritime East in Berkeley -- good food, improving service
I tried this new place in Berkeley (on Telegraph Avenue, in the spot where, most recently, Zax Tavern was), the other night, with my mom and sister, and we were all generally pleased. There had been a few previous reports about this place that commented on the slow service, so I was a little nervous about that, and while the service wasn't great, it was clear that they're trying to work on it.
First the food: we ordered the seafood chowder to start and then for our meals, the burger, the fish and chips (though they're not called that on the menu, it's French Fried [Whatever that day's fish is] with fried potatoes and lemon), and the "Deviled" Dungeness crab linguini with a poached egg. The chowder was good, though I think after having the chowder at Bar Crudo earlier this year that I'm spoiled for chowder forever. This chowder had lots of great stuff in it that was cooked well, but it was a little too thin and not quite flavored enough, but I'd definitely order it again. The only downside was that we ordered the chowder to warm up, since it was a very cold night, but it arrived with our entrees, which was a little disappointing. I'm not sure if this is a service issue, or if the chef is just backed up in the kitchen (though the restaurant was not busy). Our entrees, though, were uniformly good, though again, with a few caveats. The burger was really excellent, great meat, perfectly cooked, and the french fries were excellent. The pasta (this was my entree) was good, but I didn't really taste any of the promised meyer lemon confit. The texture of the pasta was great, though, and there was a good bit of big chunks of crab in there. The fish and chips, though, was the star of the night -- the fish was excellent, perfectly fried, really great flavor, with the fried lemon really coming through, just delicious. The fries weren't as good as the fries for the burger, since they were not quite as hot as they should be, but otherwise the texture was good (maybe the chef needs some help in the kitchen to get everything out in time? He looked pretty lonely back there). The fried lemon was great, and unexpectedly, the tartar sauce on the side was really good and echoed the great flavors in the fish.
We shared one dessert, the coconut cream pie. It was good, though cream pies aren't generally my favorite kind of dessert, so I'm not sure how good of a judge I am. I liked it, though, and the crust was particularly good. The coconut flavor wasn't particularly pronounced, so if you're a huge coconut fan, you might be a little disappointed.
Our server seemed pretty green, but also eager to please and she came back to update us and check on us a number of times. I"m not sure if she was that well versed on the menu, but maybe that will come if they're open longer. The manager though, seemed very competent, and I heard him answering a number of questions from other tables.
One nice thing about the place is that since it's new and there hasn't been much buzz, it's very easy to get a table, so in a night where we drove by Pizzaiolo and saw it packed to the gills, it was good to just be able to go right in and sit down.
I also like that the website is pretty complete: http://www.maritimeeast.com/
2826 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA
They must have seen your complaint about the chowder, Jasmine, because tonight it was as thick as library paste -- and had a skin on top, despite all the hype we got from the server about it being assembled to order. My daughter who had to wait at Corso the other night got to eat this all by herself while everyone else waited... and then all the rest of the food came at once.
Our vegetarian's asparagus pizza was once again cold, and rather sparse (some thick tomato paste-sauce and a few blobs of goat cheese). Fish sausage pizza was neither, but it was pale, limp, and rather plain, with the sausage under a thick coat of cheese not contributing much but a vaguely fishy taste. Fritto misto had exactly one thin slice of Meyer lemon and two small rectangles of seaweed, plus a couple of fans of fennel. About forty percent of it was chunks of fish, which were fried properly and tasted good. But half the dish consisted of the same fries that were served with the burgers. I'm sorry, but that is not a fritto misto. That is fish nuggets and chips.
The roasted fish of the day, a tai snapper, was nicely done, though we shouldn't have listened to the advice to split it, as it wasn't large. The garnish of diced beets, diced olives, shaved fennel, and fennel tips was colourful, but didn't really add to the taste. I had a bite of the burger, which was decent, but hardly worth fussing over.
Service was reasonably friendly (perhaps a bit insincere at times, and a bit too much eagerness to empty the wine bottle) but fairly muddled. We got a lot of attention, as we were about the only ones in the place. Even when we left, on a Friday night at 7:30, there were only two other parties in the place. And I didn't see Sophina Uong in the kitchen. I don't know what she looks like, but there weren't any women in there. I missed her at 900 Grayson and it seems that I missed her again here.
I was annoyed with my last Sea Salt meal, but I'd recommend it over Maritime East. I think I've eaten at every restaurant that's been at this location back to Casa de Eva in the early '80's. I have the feeling another one will be along soon. --PR