Bay Area Check Please: Contigo, SF; Smoke Berkeley in Berkeley; Paradiso, San Leandro
These 3 restaurant just aired on Bay Area Check Please so will be very busy this weekend, would like to hear some updated reports on them:
Smoke Berkeley in Berkeley
Paradiso in San Leandro
Website w/ video links & more:
I've been to Paradiso maybe four times. I live in San Leandro, and it's pretty much the only "fine dining" place in the city.
It's good, but I don't get the drool fest the Check Please participants had over it.
It used to be the only decent pizza in the area, but now Rubiano's opened just a block away, and is much better.
As for the Cal-Ital menu, everything I've had has been good, but lacking any "wow factor". It survives and thrives by dint of being the best restaurant within 10 miles.
If this was a neighborhood spot in the city, it would be OK, but certainly not a destination.
Though it may be a well-kept secret on this board, there IS life outside of Oakland and San Francisco. When desiring a restaurant in its part of the Bay Area, I've found Paradiso a gem -- at least a dozen times since the 1990s. By no means a fashionable, avant-garde, or foodie-trophy restaurant.
However, Paradiso has been friendly, accommodating, highly flexible about corkage (important for us wine geeks), and with solid execution for food of its type. Certainly a place I'd prefer over any of the corporate chains (like McCormick & Whatever) that serve the Bay Area at similar prices and similarly upscale-casual ambiance.
What Paradiso has been most useful for: Flexible long grazing meals, where dishs are ordered as we go, sometimes to fit wines brought in. And, when old friends located in both East and South Bay, or passing through, want a convenient rendezvous.
A solid friendly decent reasonably-priced independent restaurant -- the sort of place we could always use more of.
A group of four (me, spouse, foodie niece, another friend) did a BBQ tour April 2013 to compare KC BBQ, Smoke, and E&J as they are all within 1 mile. I believe I posted our joint review and you can find it with the search function. We weren't impressed with Smoke, although if you like smoke and very little salt, it's good for that. We intensely disliked the atmosphere, which is marginal (most people appear to get take-out) and the staff's attitudes towards one another was frankly poisonous. Food varied: the salmon was very good, other things were okay but not great, the lamb was mediocre.
Paradiso is as kungfui says: a very pretty, relaxing, "neighborhood 'nice place'". We've gone four times; they're actually quite close to our home in the Oakland hills. The pastas are indifferent, the pizzas looked puffy/bready and uninteresting so we skipped them.
Certain dishes they seem to do well:
- Fried oysters are often on special; served with a good lemon aioli. The frying is right on point, the oysters are just barely cooked inside.
- crab-avocado stack pleases my MIL, who is the Olive Garden kind of diner and likes to have her food recognizable. The crab was fresh sweet Dungeness, with a nice assortment of fruit slices decorating the plate. We've tried this kind of plate from Charthouse/Monterey to Scotts/Oakland (like I said, MIL wants familiar foods), and Paradiso does it as well as anyone else.
- Salads & soups are good, not great. I have enjoyed the daily special salads more than the standard menu salads. The exception was the seafood Louie; it had rather coarsely chopped romaine but a very generous amount of crab and shrimp; a decent value main salad.
- Good job on beef. I've had the boneless short rib with polenta and the filet mignonettes starter; both were well handled, very good if nothing remarkable.
The dish that Paradiso does better than almost anyone is the pork scallopini. The Marsala sauce is masterful, as good as anything you'd find at a four-star classic Italian-American restaurant (of which there are almost none left any longer). The pork isn't pounded nor is it overcooked, so it's tender and juicy.
The one knock we have on Paradiso is they are rabid for half-raw veggies on the side. And I do mean rabid! We insist we want them 'well-cooked' (something we seldom have to do anywhere) and then Paradiso's kitchen sends them out perfect: cooked all the way through but neither mushy nor limp.
Paradiso is the kind of place you can take your parents, which we do. We like it for that, and so my 86-yr old MIL. Service is good, not great - those words pretty much describe Paradiso overall. Parking is on the street, and very easy, which is not a small thing these days!
Four of us had dinner at Contigo two weeks ago Tuesday for their Paella Night, where you get paella of the day and 4 tapas, served family style (so two pans of paella for 4). This was my first time there.
Sardines on toast with avocado spread and picked onions – not enough contrast or flavor in the pickled onions or avocado, so tasted mostly just fishy – no one really liked these – C-;
Little Gem Salad – fine, but nothing special, needed more vinegar in the dressing – B-;
Asparagus – again, fine but nothing 200 other restaurants in the Bay Area aren’t doing or that you could do better at home: C+;
Croqueta with Jamon Iberico – Awesome, rich custardy in the center with ham, perfectly fried, could have eaten a dozen of these – A;
Chicken Paella with some chorizo: Pretty good, nice flavor but without any seafood it tasted kind of one note, a couple clams would have livened it up. Also, there were no crispy bits at the bottom of the pan, which is my favorite part of paella, so maybe should have been cooked a bit longer. B-.
Nice bottle of mencia from Bierzo.
I have a hard time seeing myself returning for the price.