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Jul 21, 2009 11:12 AM

Five Brings Sexy to Berkeley

It all starts with the decor and ambiance for Five. Scott Howard meets the expectations of the very fancy Miami/LA/New York feel that the high design creates.

White is everywhere, with black accents, some gorgeous chandeliers, and nicely appointed table settings, with green chillewich placemats, elegant glassware and cutlery. It is sexy, and you can't believe you're in downtown Berkeley.

Sure, there are glitches to work out, but I still am wowed by the feeling of the dining room and the excellence of the food. I felt like Tilda in her film Orlando. Everything was gorgeous, elegant and well appointed.

The maitre'd works the room. He greets everyone and runs a smooth floor. They seem to be a little short on labor budget at the moment, but we didn't feel slighted. He made us feel very welcome, brought out a welcome glass of bubbly, and charmed us throughout our meal.
It felt sophisticated and classy.

The bar is gorgeous. Limestone, I think. We went twice just for cocktails/apps, and to enjoy the room, take a pulse, and decide on the economic prudence of doing a full-on dinner. The bar could use a few more bartenders, I think. We did have to wait a bit, and the fellow looked stressed.
We tried a red cocktail that resembled a side car, the new Drakes beer, and some wine. Everything was delicious. Cocktail craft was spot on, although I'd add some options for that size bar. I imagine it could become a real hot spot for dates. This is a place that I'd allow extra time for getting dressed up. The room makes you want to look good.
The onion rings and fries were perfect. A butterscotch pudding with salty peanuts--divine.

Dinner was excellent. We went in 8:30, no reservations, and had to wait a bit as they were busy and short a person on the floor--it appeared. But we sat at the bar, enjoyed some bubbly, and a perfect ahi tartare with chorizo and vanilla bean. It was delicious. The chew of the chorizo leant salt and texture to the ahi.

The room was mostly older diners. We sat on the banquette and enjoyed the visuals. It feels so cosmopolitan. The bread arrived warm, with an excellent butter, in a gorgeous silver basket with linen. Dinner went like this:
*Fried squash blossoms with goat cheese--most excellent, perfectly fried, light, crispy and not a whisper of grease. Divine. Olives added the salt balance.
*Corn chowder--excellent and true flavor. Not big on the strong vinegar taste of the pickled chantrelle garnish, but we loved the soup, and presentation is a strong suit.
*Arugula Salad/blue cheese/nectarines--excellent. Peppery arugula, very light but pungent blue cheese dressing, some toasted almonds and perfect, potent nectarines.
*Orzo mac & cheese--not my thing, but hubby loved it.
*Peach and nectarine cobber--served in a deep ramekin with vanilla ice cream--excellent, good balance of sweet/salt.

We shared a pinot gris, a chardonnay, a riesling, and a dessert wine--all served in beautiful stemware and excellent. Glamour on the horizon for Berkeley.

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  1. butterscotch pudding with salty peanuts ... sounds tasty

    Thanks for the report. The website is finally complete with menus.

    FIVE American Bistro & Bar
    2086 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

    1. The ahi tartare at Scott Howard is still my favorite version of the dish ever. I'll have to check out Five soon!

      1. I stopped by for breakfast this morning. They are planning to have brunch mid-August but for now they are keeping the offerings simple ... and doing it perfectly.

        brioche french toast / whipped cream / toasted pecans / star anise syrup 11

        I haven't had French toast this good in a long time. The thick brioche toast was supurbly buttery with perfectly eggyness ... not soggy, not dry ... just decadantly rich. And despite butter and egg, the toast itself was light as air.

        It was topped with absolutely perfect fruit that was as good as you can get ... flavorful cubed peaches, intense strawberry slices, stellar raspberries. They are still working out the syrup. It tasted like plain maple and it too a bit to detect any star anise taste. It was more of adding a little complexity but would be hard to pick out if not on the menu.

        Staff is just great. I asked a few questions and really didn't expect much of a response and the server went back to talk to the sous chef and get some answers. Way more than I expected. The greeting walking in was warm without being overdone.

        Coffee was Peerless which I'm not a fan of so I ordered some Numi tea (bags). The tea pot was kept filled with water. The table next to me had coffee and they were good about refills.

        Maybe it was the hour, but while the room is very nice, it didn't have a Miami/LA/New York feel to me ... unless it was one of those smaller more intimate but not overly fancy type of places. There are pictures on the website and they make it look a little more elegant.

        It is a very nice room, but really nice for Berkeley type of place. It might take a different ambiance at night.

        Just off of Shattuck Ave and across the street from a parking garage, there are nice large windows looking out on Allston ... not a particularily scenic street, but the light is nice. Tables are very well-spaced.

        Scott Howard directs all the meals including breakfast ... which is up to the standard of the food he serves at dinner. That to me is chef greatness. When Bradley Ogden was starting out at Campton Place the breakfasts were similarily simple yet memorable. On the other hand, I had such a disappointing breakfast at a Napa restaurant where it was evident the chef didn't give a fig about it it. I put the restaurant very low on my list in terms of going back for dinner.

        I'm looking forward to going back soon to FIVE for lunch or dinner. Those squash blossoms sound good ... and the salty butterscotch pudding ... and ...

        1. We made reservations to have dinner here tonight.

          I arrived after my SO, and he was already at our table having a drink. The bar area was extremely full and incredibly loud. Like nightclub loud. Yelp was having a big party there, at least 30 or 40 people milling around.

          I sat down and we couldn't even hear each other speak. I asked if there was a quieter table, and the staff was really nice, but there was nowhere even remotely out of earshot of the bar.

          So, we ended up leaving! I was really disappointed to not try any food. The manager stopped by our table just as we decided to leave. We explained the situation and he was incredibly sweet about it. He insisted that my husband's cocktail was to be comped, and said we should call him personally when we're ready to try again.

          I hope I do get a chance to try it out in the future, but this was just way too scene-y and loud for us tonight.

          2 Replies
          1. re: milklady

            We went last night. The main courses were somewhat disappointing. Here is what we had:

            Little gems salad with anchovies and garlic croutons: Excellent. Tasted fresh and perfectly balanced. Very satisfying.

            Orzo mac & cheese: Very good but not as great as it sounded like it might be.

            Short rib pot roast: Was served to look like a TV diner. Disappointing. Veggies were bland and under seasoned. Giant piece of meat was moist but not flavorful. Sauce was uninteresting. Sadly it was reminiscent of what a TV diner might taste like.

            Lamb loin: Ordered it medium rare but it came as extremely rare. I enjoy strongly flavored lamb but this lamb had a strange livery taste to me. Disappointing.

            I thought the room had the feel of an ad for Target you might expect to see in the Sunday Chronicle magazine.

            1. re: Ridge

              Target ... funny, but true. I thought maybe at night it might be toned down. It is that wallpaper that is awful.