Monday, September 25, 2006

Dish on Dining (restaurant review): A Cote

Revisiting The Meaning of Small Plates

5478 College Ave., Oakland (Rockridge neighborhood)
Open 7 nights a week. PH: (510) 655-6469
(Visa/MasterCard accepted, but American Express is not)

What has now become a regular gem in the family-friendly Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland is the restaurant A Cote. Since its opening next to the well-established Citron Restaurant and a couple blocks from the standard-bearer Oliveto, A Cote has been the king of small plates dining with a California twist in the neighborhood.

One of the first to play on the growing trend of small plates, or tapas in Spain, A Cote does small plates well, offering a nice variety of dishes that celebrates the California seasons. The restaurant has a main front room with a bustling bar and rear patio seating with a wondrous garden that’s perfect on a summer evening. Its chefs know how to combine the seasonal ingredients in perfectly executed fashion. Fresh pears are perfectly ripe, firm but soft. Roasted figs are cooked to melt in your mouth and paired nicely with generous offerings of prosciutto.

A Cote knows how to highlight the right blends of food, and its flat bread is particularly flavorful and great for kids. (Flat bread is a euphemism for fancy pizza, says our waiter. Gee, thanks for popping our bubble, dude.) But I didn’t find any new daring combinations that tickled my culinary curiosity. If this was an Iron Chef challenge, A Cote’s chef would lose points for creativity, playing it safe with typical pairings like pear salad with endive and goat cheese and duck leg with pomegranate (and a bit heavy on the lentils).

Still, despite the expected, A Cote does what it knows well. It offers a variety of cheese that complement each dish and offers a lot more selection for its after-dinner cheese platters. Its dishes are cooked to the right texture and are brought out in a timely fashion, allowing you to enjoy each plate that arrives as you enjoy your dining partner and surroundings.

And now, the discussion on plates. Many restaurants capitalizing on the tapas trend have veered away from the traditional view of tapas, which are almost like finger food served at Spanish bars and often served as the cook’s experiment with what he has in the kitchen. Restaurants in the United States have catered small dishes to the tastes of the American diner, coming up with small plate menus that are basically a regular menu but on smaller plates. A Cote falls into that trap with its offerings of salads, soups, and heavy entrees like duck and pork. But it does price the dishes well, unlike other restaurants that have charged entree prices for their small dishes.

A minor note: Skip the after-dinner tea. While offering a variety, the tea comes from Mighty Leaf, a San Francisco tea retailer that I’ve always found to be unsophisticated and mundane.

A Cote doesn’t necessarily shine to attract new people to Rockridge, but its steady menu and surroundings will keep the regulars coming. And with all those small plates, its dish washer will be busy for awhile.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (perfect for foodies)

Explanation of the single guy’s rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy’s dream dinner

A Cote in Oakland

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