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Lalime's - the George Morrone era

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Given the chef change, I'm starting a new topic.

1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706

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  1. We went for the mushroom dinner last night. The place was packed. I liked that they fit everything onto one menu: the prix-fixe menu, the a la carte menu (which was also available), and on the other side wines by the glass, beers, cocktails, other beverages, and desserts.

    We started with a couple of glasses of Prosecco, delicious and a good value at $7.25. They brought out some hot sourdough rolls from their bakery, Artisan Foods, very nice.

    A spinach salad with cauliflower mushrooms, "fried chicken" mushrooms (a type, not a preparation), and hot bacon vinaigrette was quite nice. I'd have preferred the spinach more wilted, but on the other hand I would happily have had seconds or thirds. A few thin slices of regular white mushrooms made no sense to me.

    Roast arctic char with braised chanterelles and a chanterelle cream was great, nice crunchy sear on the fish but it was still moist inside. This was served with a nice salad-like preparation of Brussels sprouts in a vinaigrette with hazelnuts. The two dishes didn't make total sense together but they were both good.

    During that course our red wine arrived, 2006 Villa del Borgo Refosco, Grave del Friuli, a very good value at $28. This went very well with the last of the fish.

    Succulent grilled quail with a "jus" of porcini and black truffle was one of the best things I've eaten in the past couple of years. It outshined the sautéed trumpet mushrooms on top, though they were quite good. This came with a delicious parsnip puree.

    Dessert was a fancy cylindrical French pastry from Artisan Foods, a thin layer of cake topped with lemon "soufflé" (mousse, really), a "sable Breton" (brown butter shortbread cookie), and glazed strawberries, served alongside a pineapple-coconut sorbet topped with a stick of chocolate. This was weak compared with the previous courses: the mousse and cookie were good and went well together, but you had to demolish the pastry to eat it, and the flavorless out-of-season strawberries were something from another decade. The piña colada sorbet was good but didn't make sense with the chocolate.

    Service was friendly and relaxed but correct throughout. Overall, for $47 each, this was an excellent value. This was my first visit, so I can't compare it with the previous era, except that I now find the menu interesting.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I forgot, they also brought out a couple of espresso macarons. They were small but delicious, very dark caramel, chewy. So the meal ended on a high note.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I was there a few weeks ago on a Saturday night. The place was jammed but they were spot on with our reservation. My Caesar salad was mediocre with limp lettuce and a bland dressing. I had lamb two ways. The portion was small and the lamb stew was bland. Service was friendly but inattentive with a few errors. Wine list was good. Coffee was excellent but I had to flag a server for more. All and all - a so-so experience.

        1. re: SunsetKid

          A few weeks ago, it was the old chef, who apparently was resisting changes Morrone wanted him to make. His last day was the 20th.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Which is what I was afraid of. I'm sure he was dis-spririted at that point. I'd had many a great meal during the Jaramillo days. In any event, I was there last night. In some ways, I was in a different restaurant. The server was great, but not in quite the comfortable way of days' past. I didn't recognize many people there, but maybe it was because it was a Thursday, I am not quite sure yet. But overall, the food was very good. If I had never been, it would have been a great experience without any second thoughts. As a semi-regular, my neighborhood restaurant just went through family turmoil. Prices were generally up, the wine list appeared much narrower, with less in the more appealing price points, but honestly, I didn't have much time to spend with the list.

            I had the ahi tartare appetizer, which was very good. I'd easily order it again. We then shared the foie 2 way (a grilled piece and a mousse) which was excellent. Both of us then had the sea bass, which was really nice. The poached apple dessert was very good, as was the maracon at the end. We also started with an amuse of a mushroom soup which was really good.

            This was a business dinner and the host was most impressed at my choice of restaurant. I just felt a little funny eating there last night, but I'll be over it soon enough.

            I also hope that someday soon, I have the chance to eat Jaramillo's food again, soon. I also know that the Krikorians are savvy about this biz, and may have made a very smart move. I also know that dinner last night was very good.

            1. re: lmnopm

              They needed the change I think. I look forward to trying it again, probably in January. Lalimes was an excellent restaurant about 10 or 12 years ago. But the last few years have been largely hit or miss. I always wanted to like the food more than I did. The atmosphere was warm and the menu always looked interesting. But I think that often some of the menu items did not come together in a way that produced a satisfying result. We had a good meal there last summer, but we went back about a month ago and it was just ok. Some of the dishes were good but there were some interesting sounding things on the menu that ended up being just ok. For example Epoisse baked with tomatoes sounded intriguing, but it ended up being much less than the sum of its parts. It was a good idea for them to experiment and try to make this dish, but they should have realized that it was not all that successful. 10 years ago Lalimes made the most amazing sweetbreads but the last few years the sweetbreads there have been mediocre at best. Hopefully with the change they will focus on making sure that all of the dishes are delicious.

      2. re: Robert Lauriston

        "from another decade."

        I think that might describe most of what they're turning out for dessert. The menu describes very comforting desserts, and what arrives are closer to the school of dessert making where you get three deconstructed art objects on a lifeless plate. It's out of style. I think these days, most people expect less technique, or complex presentation, and "storytelling" in favor of homey fresh in season ingredients. It's possible they're still transitioning under Morrone.

        1. re: sugartoof

          It was just the out-of-season strawberries that seemed dated. I think fancy French pastries are timeless. The Artisan Foods display at the West Berkeley Bowl is beautiful.

          It seems to me that a restaurant of Lalime's style should have its own pastry chef, like most other places with similar prices do.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I think I know what sugertoof means. In late October my son had a piece of chocolate cake that came out on a long narrow plate with a pot of chocolate-something on one side and a couple of artistic pieces of hard, edible sugar on the other and dots of sauce all over the place. He said he thought someone in the kitchen was bored, but to me it seemed dated. Maybe that will change, now. Hope so.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I agree about French pastries, but nothing I saw was that simple.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            I miss Jaramillo and his simple, hearty menus. What a loss.

            With Morrone, Lalime's has taken a direction that no longer interests me - flashy, over-seasoned, over-priced. I've eaten there several times since the changover to give them the benefit of the doubt but have been gravely disappointed each time. Way too much salt, pepper, and spices. You can barely taste the core ingredients. Or as my friend said, "A nuclear bomb on the palate." But if you want to do that, there are plenty of better places out there to go. I used to go to Lalime's for wholesome simplicity. Now it's an over-complicated mess. Guess I'll be heading back over to Chez Panisse for my nights out in Berkeley - their offerings seem spartan by comparison.

            I hope Jaramillo takes his knives somewhere else in the East Bay, pronto. His quail dishes were the best I've had.

            1. re: gutsmash

              Actually, I don't think there are many other restaurants in the East Bay doing French-influenced, technically sophisticated cooking. Commis, Chez Panisse downstairs on some nights ... that's about it.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Post Meridian. Rivoli and Oliveto, which are sort of a French approach to Italian.

                1. re: gutsmash

                  Rivoli and particularly Oliveto seem Italian / Cal-Italian rather than French to me. Acquerello and Quince are more in the direction of French-Italian fusion.

                  Post Meridian somehow escaped my notice. Definitely French. I'll have to check it out.


          3. As I noted earlier, I was interested in trying the George Morrone version of Lalime's, so I chose it for my birthday dinner, which made the rest of my family -- which has always liked Lalime's -- very happy.

            We had an excellent meal overall. Like a lot of places, the appetizers seemed more interesting than the entrees, so several of use decided to have two warm appetizers instead of an app/entree. Among us we ordered the fois gras two ways, the sweetbreads, the quail, the "modern" onion soup and the crab cakes from the appetizers and the farrotto and the filet (an off-menu special) from the entrees, plus a side minted English peas and an amuse of a shot of broccoli soup with cheese and bacon bits. We skipped dessert because we were having cake and ice cream (and presents) at home. I can see where gutsmash was coming from: I thought a couple of the dishes had maybe one too many elements -- I enjoyed the duo of foie gras a lot, but could have done without the raspberry sauce, for example, and a couple of dishes were slightly oversalted (and I'm not a salt-phobe). However, unlike gutsmash, I don't eat at "white tablecloth" restaurants that often, and when I do, I want something more than "simple, wholesome" food. I want something that I couldn't (or wouldn't) make at home, elaborate or creative combinations, and this definitely fit the bill. I thought the prices were reasonable, too, and the portions were large enough that two appetizers was plenty of food.

            Service was very hospitable. At the last minute my sister couldn't get a babysitter, so she brought my four-year-old niece along. My niece is a total chowhound who will eat anything, but she is only four, which is still pretty young to sit through a multicourse dinner. The restaurant was prepared, though, with a booster seat, paper and a jar of crayons, and even more impressive, Chef Morrone himself showed up at our table a few minutes after we were seated with a plate of wedge-cut fried potatoes with ketchup (housemade? -- I don't think any of the adults tried it) for my niece, and he told her that when little girls and boys come to the restaurant they draw pictures and he puts them up in the kitchen. Now that's kid friendly! I was wished happy birthday multiple times, and brought a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream with a chocolate tile inscribed with Happy Birthday and a candle.

            I thought the wine list was interesting and reasonably priced, with a lot of choices under $30. The waiter was knowledgeable about the wines on the list and made some good suggestions. The only significant service glitch was a delay in serving the wine, which arrived well after our appetizers (partly because we had trouble choosing something that would go with most of what we'd chosen and didn't place our order until well after we'd ordered our food). I also really enjoyed my cocktail -- They Spicy Frenchman, made from St Germain elderflower liqueur, Hanger One spiced pear and lime juice. Definitely recommended.

            1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706

            3 Replies
            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Ruth, that is so George. He truly loves kids. And his generosity of spirit gives so much "chi" to his food. Okay, he's passionate and hot-tempered, but he's also a genuine human being, not a Top Chef wannabe "hunk." I can't wait for the $$ and the occasion to go over and eat at Lalime's to have his food again. I'm glad you had a good birthday meal.

              1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706

              1. re: purpleunicorn

                FWIW a couple of months ago we went back to Lalimes and it was very inconsistent (see my review: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/691494). A couple of weeks ago we went back to Sea Salt for the first time in a long while and it was completely amazing. I meant to post a review but time got away from me. My sense is that the Sea Salt chefs are a pretty independent group (and they always do an amazing job).

                Sea Salt
                2512 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706

                1. re: Ridge

                  That link is broken, here's a clean one: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/691494

            2. So it seems that George Morrone has been fired!!


              I wonder if Jaramillo will be back! That would be awesome.

              7 Replies
              1. re: gutsmash

                Just ate there today. Morrone is indeed gone. The menu can be described as Jaramillo-ish with Morrone influences. Some old items are back, some new stuff but overall the 'old' menu is definitely back, not much of Morrone left. Didn't get the name of the interim/new chef but it's not Jaramillo. I am hoping Jaramillo will not be back.

                1. re: MrSmart

                  It appears the Ruth Lafler birthday dinner curse is still in effect!

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    The Lalime's website has the the Executive Chef space blank (where the departed was featured until about a day ago), and Opentable says Brian White.

                    1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706

                    1. re: lmnopm

                      "Lalime's is entering a new era of dining run by Chef Brian White and GM Michael Hutchings."


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        "It was just economics," says Morrone, stressing that the separation was amicable.

                        1. re: nocharge

                          My second visit since George went away. I was there once right after the termination, but now the dust has settled, and dinner was spot on. There was a discernible comfort level of the staff that wasn't there since Jaramillo left. It seemed like my neighborhood restaurant was back.

                          First, an amuse of some mousse/pate, which really wasn't my thing, but there was nothing wrong with it.

                          Second, a "seafood salad." This was great. 3 different items on the plate, all distinct and quite different. Sardines with a topping and pickled onions, Grilled squid and potatoes with uni, and Mussels with some greens.

                          Third, Steak frites. w/green peppercorn sauce. Tasty.

                          Fourth, a butterscotch sundae, which was really delicious.

                          Prices seem to have gone back down a notch - I don't think any entree was above $25 or $27.

                          1. re: lmnopm

                            To put it another way, it's gone back to being a neighborhood restaurant, i.e., one I wouldn't travel from Alameda to eat at.