Luca Cucina Italiana / San Pablo Av. /Berkeley
The choice was easy. With Gaumenkitzel still not open, the four of us tried out the new Italian place (in the old Jamaican spot). It is simple and clean inside and you walk up to the register to order. They have soups, salads, paninis, dry pasta and fresh pasta with different sauces, free range chicken, sides and dolci - all at really good prices e.g. the panini's ranged between $5.50 to $6.50 (Acme ciabatta). We had the polenta soup which was very tasty (tomato broth, polenta, corn kernels, a little morzarella), the chicken parmesan panini, the caprese panini and the eggplant parmesan panini. All of us were happy - looks like a great combination of quality and price.
They also do catering for 6-20 people and free delivery with a $20 purchase in a 1.5 mile radius.
I will definitely be back.
2057 San Pablo Ave; Berkeley; they are open from 11am to 8pm;
Of course it was easy to walk to 123 for a coffee afterwards.
Big win on Luca, if you're a fan of old-style East Coast red-sauce places. A meatball hero--excuse me, panini--($4.50) was hefty and messy enough to evoke nostalgia. Eggplant and chicken parmesan (heroes--excuse me, panine--and plates), spaghetti with meatballs, Sinatra in the background, all that was missing was checkered tablecloths and Chianti bottles with candles.
re: ernie in berkeley
Lunch today - pleasant and satisfying. From your description, I thought the meatball sandwich was going to be huge. No, but it was plenty, and tasty, too. The prices are great. Caesar salad side $3.50. Top gourmet? Not what I had. Good and priced right? You bet. I didn't notice if they had beer/wine but I didn't think that they did.
Wife and I went there for lunch today. Had the polenta soup and minestrone plus an insalate mista, and everything was great, especially the minestrone, which took a while because they said they made it to order. In fact, we liked the place so much we got take out for dinner (lasagna and eggplant parmiggiana).
Unpretentious, and everything is done well. Very nice tomato sauce; not loaded with thyme and herbs, pretty much straight tomato, the way I like it.
Small menu is divided into soups, salads, panini, paste secche, pasta fresche, chicken, sides, and dolci. Very reasonably priced; I'm not sure if anything was over $10. No alcohol; forgot to ask if they expect to add it.
We went for dinner tonight and were pretty underwhelmed. Note that the paninis/heroes aren't available after 5pm. No table service, though a girl seemed to be in the process of getting trained to be a waitress.
Caprese salad was probably a non-ideal ordering choice, given the season, but my wife was in the mood--it was fine, but too much onion, I thought.
I ordered one of the specials listed on the sign by the door, the Amatriciana, which I got with spaghetti. This was easily the best thing we ordered--though, to be fair, the sauce was a bit watery, and I'm pretty sure they used regular bacon rather than guanciale (as would be traditional). For the price, it was tasty enough.
My wife got the eggplant parmigiana, which was quite bland. It came with a side of roasted potatoes (pretty good, but a TINY portion) and sauteed broccoli rabe (so mushy; literally the worst I have ever eaten).
What I can't believe is that when I asked the owner/manager (?) what side dish I should get, she actually recommended that broccoli rabe, which was the sauteed vegetable of the day. So we ended up with two portions of it. It was described as being "sauteed" with garlic and "EVOO", but I can't imagine how you could get broccoli rabe THAT mushy and flavorless without just boiling the bejeezus out of it. No olive oil flavor that I could detect. An insult to Italian cooking.
Anyway, I wanted to like the place, and the woman who appeared to be the owner or manager was nice. And the lighting and ambiance are much more appealing than when the Jamaican restaurant was in the space. But even for the price (which was pretty cheap, though not absurdly so), I can't honestly say we thought it was a good, or even above-average, meal. Maybe we ordered badly? Did anyone try the lasagna, or maybe the gnocchi? (I love gnocchi, but I'm scared to try it here because bad gnocchi can be so, so bad.)
I would maybe go again for lunch to try the sandwiches, which seem to have the most favorable reports.