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Cafe Rouge [Berkeley]

I've been going to Cafe Rouge more since the food at T-Rex went downhill. Not that the two were ever all that similar but they were both good places to satisfy a craving for meat and ample portions of good vegetables.

There are usually tables for walk-ins, especially after 8, so it has become our default place to go without planning ahead. Service, which used to be erratic, has been consistently good (no turnover in a while) and the appetizers, which used to be hit and miss, are on the same level as the mains.

Last night I had a great lamb brochette with the liver and some marinated grilled chanterelles, just a spectacular combination. Also had an excellent cassoulet. Tasted a delicious beet, leek, and goat cheese gratin and a good bourride.

It seemed a little odd that on such a wet and chilly night only three out of around ten appetizers were hot.

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  1. I love their meat counter and after X-mas they will have Pastrami again. I have only had it once many months ago, but it was absolutely the best I have had!
    The House Made Bratwurst is excellent as well!

    My last sit down meal was rather dissapointing however. I had a bowl of soup which was rather bland
    (a posole type) and a grilled flatbread with pears and goat cheese that was very meager for 13 dollars. Previous meals have been excellent..just a bad choice that day.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Diving Chef

      Today the meat counter had pastrami. I made hearty sandwiches tonight at home with it, and it is the best pastrami I've had in ages. The butcher sliced it too thin, but that didn't affect it too much. I steamed it, and made simple sandwiches (emmentaler and some sauteed mushrooms, with a seeded mustard). Really tasty. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a decent rye bread this afternoon (and Acme rye just isn't right for a pastrami sandwich), so we "suffered" with Semifreddi rolls. Yum.

    2. five of us we went for late brunch today, 2:00 p.m., after not having been here in about 10 years. two of our party arrived about 20 minutes late, but we were never made to feel rushed, which was appreciated. on the other hand, service was really slow. once we were all there, we ordered 2 dozen oysters. it took at least a half hour to get them, by which time we'd finished our first round of drinks and ordered the rest of our meal. we ordered a cheese sampler, which while tasty, looked pretty unappetizing. smallish pieces in and amongst some kind of strewn/torn cracker bread. the main dishes showed up shortly after we'd finished the oysters, which was fine. i'd ordered the hangar steak with optional 2 fried eggs. the waiter didn't ask me how i wanted the eggs, and as i'd seen them sunny side up on someone else's plate, i assumed (stupidly) that that's how they came. they brought me scrambled. i sent the eggs back, and two perfectly sunny sides came back, but about 10 minutes later, when most of my food was gone. the hangar steak was chewy, as that cut usually is, but i remember they used to bring it to you sliced, with a nice wine sauce. the meat was a bit underseasoned, but other than that, good. my sister got the pork chop was was tasty but after sitting for a few minutes, dried up a bit, so it had likely been on the verge of being overcooked.

      the waiter gave the wrong drinks to the wrong people are our table, and then smelled one of the glasses to identify them.
      they forgot to bring us plates for the oysters.
      they forgot to bring us steak knives (three of us needed them.)
      had to ask for ketchup after the fries were delivered.
      they were very nice, but there were no apologies made for any of this.

      i really love the ambiance here, and i'd love to go back for a burger. the oysters were fantastic. the service was just really, really poor today. hopefully that's a fluke.

      3 Replies
      1. re: mariacarmen

        Doesn't excuse the sloppy service, but you were there in the middle of both menu and shift changes.

        Also, one of their best, most experienced servers is on maternity leave.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          yeah, i thought about that, but we had the same people all the way through, and the restaurant was busy (it was a gorgeous day out) but not ridiculously so. and yes, i kept thinking these are all awfully young people (not that that's unusual) - there must be someone here who knows this job better.

          my sister just informed me that they failed to pack her to-go box with the frites that came with her leftover pork chop.

          1. re: mariacarmen

            Also, it's UCB spring break, so that may be another hit to their regular staff.

      2. Last night I had the tuna with heirloom tomato, lemon cucumber, Blue lake, yellow wax and cranberry bean salad with aïoli. It was one of the best things I've eaten in a long time. The tuna was pink in the center, but not as rare as it's often served and sat atop huge (4 inches across) slices of dead-ripe yellow and red tomatoes. I've been eating homegrown tomatoes daily, and these were as good or better. The beans were delicious, too, though the cuke didn't add much. The best part though, was the way the melting aioli and the juices from the tomatoes blended together. Though everything was room-temperature except for the tuna, it didn't seem salad-y at all. Summer on a plate -- though the weather outside was more March than August.

        The fritto -- pepper and corn fritters, stuffed squash blossoms with cilantro pumpkin seed salsa -- was good too, with a bit of heat, but not in the same class.

        Service was good except for a too-long wait to order dessert.

        1. I had a great first course last night. "Onion seed pita bread with kabocha squash, celery root, broccoli romanesco and mojo sauce" ($11), a house-made pita stuffed with roasted vegetables and served with a fantastic Canary Islands-style garlic sauce. One of the best vegetarian dishes I've had in a long time.

          Grilled flatiron steak with a spicy tomato sauce, eggplant, and beans ($26) was also delicious.

          Both very generous portions.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Canary Islands-style garlic sauce.

            was it Mojo Picon?

            1. re: Mission

              No chiles that I noticed. It was green, they said from cilantro, though it didn't have a strong cilantro flavor.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Mojo Verde

                6 cloves garlic, peeled
                1 teaspoon sea salt
                2 cups well-packed chopped cilantro leaves
                1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
                1/2 cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
                2 teaspoons sherry-wine vinegar

                1. re: Mission

                  Could have been a version of that, except a with a lot more garlic and less cilantro. It was closer to allioli than anything else.

          2. Cassoulet's back. I can't think of anything better on a cold night. Paired beautifully with a bottle of 2010 Chante Perdrix St. Joseph Empreinte ($49).