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Oakland (Rockridge): Marica Restaurant’s $18.90 prix-fix – Lobster bisque, escolar, Grand Marnier creme brulee … and lots of charisma

The Bay Area needs more restaurants like Marica. A true neighborhood cafe that is stylish yet casual where the food and wine is delicious, reasonably priced and served by the wonderful staff who … well ... know everyone’s name. Cheers to you Marica.

If it was a thesaurus entry the synonyms would be delightful, flavorful, generous, convivial, contemporary, cozy, intimate, homey, welcoming

My dinner on Sunday (with a happy hour special)

Mesquite roasted Prince Edward Island mussels, pernod shallot butter $5
Lobster corn bisque with shrimp
Mesquite grilled escolar with romesco salsa, portabella mushroom orzo risotto, asparagus
Grand marnier creme brulee
2006 Verdillac light red Bordeaux $6

Complimentary:
Warm, crusty rustic bread with butter
Glass of prosecco
House-made pineapple, blueberry and plantano sorbet

The tab: $31.50 (includes tax and 10% cash discount)

Like Bakesale Betty, the place seems big on generous surprises.

The restaurant that night seemed to be giving out complimentary glasses of prosecco to many tables for various reasons. I won’t say what they were because it is like Bakesale Betty. Sometimes you score freebies and when people don’t they get ticked off.

Even without the extras, that was a really swell price for a tasty dinner.

It is an American restaurant (with Asian and Mediterranean touches), yet it reminded me so much of the little no-name restaurants in Paris filled with happy French locals sharing a carafe of vin de pays while enjoying the plat du jour .

The happy hour is all night. There are $5 cocktails, $1 oysters, and a few $5 appetizers such as mussels and pommes frites. Two weeks ago one of the specials was oven roasted dungeness crab marinated with chili, coriander, fennel, cumin in shell. $7.

If seated by 6:30, the prix-fixe is $20-$21. The rest of the night it is $25-$26. The price depends on how expensive the fish selection is that night.. There is a 10% discount for paying with cash. That made the $21 dinner, $18.90.

The meal starts with nicely warmed crusty white bread. They use different bakeries. Sometimes it is Acme, sometimes Semifreddi. I’m guessing Sunday it was the latter.

A dozen small mussels were served in the most spectacular broth …rich, buttery goodness with roasted lemon slices and brimming with chopped fresh herbs. .Fortunately there was lots of bread to mop up every last bit or I would have licked the plate.

The generous bowl of creamy bisque with big toasted croutons was lovely with bits of fresh corn and a large, plump, tasty shrimp.

I’ve been wary of escolar because of its, um, cleansing effect if you eat too much. This was my first time trying it and it was delicious with no after problem

It is a firm white fish that reminded me a bit of monkfish. It was expertly grilled with a smokey seared crust outside, the interior moist. It was topped with a tasty romesco sauce.

The six fresh asparagus spears seem to also have briefly touched the grill. They were tender but had wonderful mesquite flavor. The orzo was fabulous with lots of slices of portabella mushrooms

The crème brulee was very good the crackly top lightly dusted with powdered sugar and topped with six fresh blueberries.

I was really impressed with the generous three scoops of sorbet served in a martini glass. The fresh fruit flavors were front and center..

I’ve read the souffle is very good. It can be added to the prix-fixe for $4 extra.

The seasoning was well-balanced and a compliment to each dish. There was no over or under salting. It was just right.

The regular menu looked very good and was well-priced with many entrees under $20. The ‘pricey’ items at $25 were rack of lamb, fillet mignon and a seafood stew with halibut, scallops, shrimp, simmered in lobster cognac sauce and served with gruyere cheese soufflé.

The top priced item at $34 was a whole “twice cooked Maine lobster, splash fried + sauteed, ginger, cilantro, five spice, carrot parsnip puree” A half order was available for $18.

The menu crosses many cultures with house-made Yucatan sausage, chicken with Thai peanut satay sauce, handmade cannelloni pasta or lemongrass marinated Chinese lamb salad, or simply grilled Niman Ranch pork chops

The service was probably the best of any restaurant in this category. It is to neighborhood cafés as French Laundry is to fine dining Topnotch.

Attentive, thoughtful, polite, helpful, down-to-earth and not pretentious, they make you feel special and completely at home.

Like those charismatic people who seem to focus on your every word, the wait staff seems to focus on your needs alone … quite the magic trick since basically two people were taking care of the entire restaurant where every table was filled.

Reading about Marica, they just do damn nice things that should be what ever restaurant does such as
- splitting plates without cost and plating each beautifully … even the prix fixe
- seating everyone even if the entire party hasn’t arrived yet

Things like that.

Go early or make a reservation

Every table was filled by 6:30 with a nice mix of people. There were families with both babies and grand parents, people on dates, singles enjoying the happy hour, people celebrating a special occasion and locals just enjoying dinner out. It seemed to fit each situation perfectly.

The restaurant seats about 30. The large wooden bar is against the brick wall. Blond wooden tables are set with white napkins. The restaurant is softened by the lighting, glowing candles on the bar, a lovely flower arrangement and large windows lined with white light strings.

The chef formerly owned Christopher’s Café.

Make no mistake thinking this is Commis, Oliveto, Chez Panisse or a restaurant like that. The few negative yelp reviews had to do with those expectations. It is the American equivalent that excellent Parisian café and not Pierre Gagnaire..

However it is solid, honest, tasty fare … and whether you like star ratings or not … it is five stars in its category.

If visitors to the East Bay really want to eat in a non-touristy place that is a local favorite, I wouldn’t hesitate sending them … or taking them … to Marica.

It is a family-owned treasure that makes its customers feel like family

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Marica Seafood Restaurant
5301 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

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    1. re: wolfe

      Great to see a review about this place. I've been coming here for years and have always thought the food was fabulous and a great deal.

    2. I have to admit I'd forgotten this place existed. Thanks for the review; I guess I should make a return trip!

      1. Thank you RW for the post. I really need to try Marica - sounds Awesome! Great that's it's close to Rockridge Bart - I can go! Did you add it to your Bart list?

        1 Reply
        1. re: hhc

          It is a longish walk from Bart, but unlike some, the walk is interesting. But do keep in mind my high regard has to do with a combination of atmosphere/price/food AND proximity. It is a neighborhood place. I'd have to get to know it better to send someone on a special trip there. I don't exaggerate saying how much it reminded me of little Paris cafes that I stumbled across and immensely enjoyed but will never be able to find again. It is great for what it is.

        2. Thanks for the report on Marica. I haven't been in years but glad to hear that it is still as good. I checked out the menu and they still have my favorite lobster dish on the menu. With the oysters and cocktails now on the menu, I'll make a point of going again soon.

          1. We had dinner at Marica tonight and had a great meal. As noted, the service is friendly, down to earth, and extremely accommodating. They even gave us complimentary glasses of champagne for being first time customers -- I don't know if that's standard practice, but it was a nice touch that really set the tone for the rest of the meal.

            We started with an order of the mussels ($5) off the happy hour specials list. I also noticed that they offer pommes frites as a side for one of the entrees, so I asked our waitress if we could have a side order of those to have with the mussels (even though the fries weren't listed as a separate menu item). No problem, and so they brought out a huge bowl of the super crisp, super thin frites -- we just devoured these. When we got the bill we saw they'd only charged us $4 for the fries. Good deal. The mussels were also a steal at $5; my only quibble is I thought the sauce was a touch too lemony, but that's more a matter of personal preference than a criticism. I still thought it was a tasty bowl of mussels, and the price is definitely right.

            I was tempted by the dollar oysters too; would go that route next time if I didn't want so hearty an appetizer as the moules frites.

            Speaking of good deals, my wife opted for the prix-fixe ($21 since we were seated at around 6:00). She started with the chopped salad (quite good, not too vinegary, some nice chunks of avocado), then for her entree she had a sesame crusted seared ahi tuna, which was served with a spinach puree, mashed Yukon gold potatoes, a few spears of grilled asparagus, and what I believe were some pieces of poached pear. I thought the spinach puree was especially tasty -- tasted like it might have had some green garlic in it too, but I'm not sure. For dessert, she had a vanilla panna cotta, which came in a champagne glass with a kind of berry compote on top. I only had a bite, but I thought this was excellent.

            She also took advantage of the endless happy hour deal with a $5 margarita, which she seemed to enjoy (and which was strong enough to get her a bit tipsy).

            I ordered a la carte and for my entree opted for the half order of the lobster dish described in the original post ($18). The waitress said that it was a smallish lobster they served, so I was afraid the half order was going to be a tiny portion, but it turned out to be just the right amount of food -- a respectably sized entree portion by any standard, I thought, with a meaty half tail and a big claw that you had to work at a bit. (It crossed my mind to ask for one of those bibs, but in the end I managed to polish it all off with only minor soiling of my shirt.) The spicing on the lobster was wonderful, and the carrot-parsnip puree was delicious. I'd put this up there as one of the top five lobster preparations I've had, and I lived in New England for six years.

            For dessert, I ordered the highly vaunted chocolate souffle ($9), which didn't disappoint. Maybe not the most intensely chocolaty dessert ever, but as airy and delicate as you'd want any souffle to be, and I appreciated that it wasn't overly sweet. Served with three generous scoops of house-made vanilla ice cream. Definitely big enough a dessert to share, but I had to do the brunt of the work since my wife already had her panna cotta to deal with. Note that the souffle takes 20 minutes for them to prepare -- I just ordered it at the beginning of the meal so that they could time it to come out with the other dessert.

            All that food (plus a cup of coffee with dessert) and, since we got the 10% cash discount, we got out for $80 total, including tax and tip. For this quality of service and food (especially for seafood), I don't know if there's another restaurant in the East Bay where you'd be able to make out much better than that!