Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dish on Dining: Somerset

Miss Millie's takes new form in the East Bay

5912 College Ave., Oakland
(Rockridge neighborhood)
Lunch, M-F, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner nightly, 5:30-9:30 p.m. (Fri. & Sat. till 10 p.m.); brunch, Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
PH: (510) 428-1823
(Reservations accepted; Visa/MC, soon to accept American Express)

A Noe Valley favorite, Miss Millie's attracted a regular crowd of brunch devotees. People were drawn to the restaurant's comfort food and large portions. But owner Gary Rizzo closed Miss Millie's (supposedly because of the high cost of running a restaurant in San Francisco) and headed east to Oakland's family-oriented Rockridge neighborhood.

But if you're looking for Miss Millie's, you'd get lost among the stores of baby outfits and antique furniture. Rizzo re-opened his restaurant in October as Somerset just two blocks north of the Rockridge BART station. In a larger space, Somerset is a full-fledged restaurant with dark wood and pressed linens. But Rizzo still conjures up the cozy feel for his comfort food with outdoor seating in the back garden (with grape vines for shade) and an extensive, seasonal menu.

The hodge-podge of dishes on the menu goes beyond the typical brunch faire of omelets and pancakes. It's almost like Somerset is trying to find one good dish for every person's taste. You definitely need a few good minutes to study the selection to decide what to get.

A sure bet, however, is anything with the words "lemon" and "ricotta." There has been much talk about Somerset's lemon ricotta pancakes, and they definitely sounded delightful and enticing when I visited recently. But among the "starter" items, the Meyer Lemon Ricotta Crepes caught my eye.

When my order came to the table, the crepes were more than I expected.
They looked almost like two huge cannellonies. The thin crepes were filled with a creamy ricotta that was as smooth as the finest custard. They were topped with crystalized Meyer lemon zests that were define. To me, this dish is inappropriately classified as a starter because if you order this, you don't want to eat anything else.

My brunchmate went the savory route with another dish that caught my eye: a tart with artichokes, spinach, feta cheese and black olives. These are all of my favorite savory ingredients! When his order came, he got a nice large slice of the tart with a mixed green salad and fruits. It was definitely a meal, and the tart crust was well done with just the right amount of flakiness. I wasn't too jealous, though, because I still felt I made a better decision with my lemon ricotta crepes.

Service was very attentive and brunching in the outdoor garden area on a perfect California Sunday just made Somerset another excellent find on the East Bay. Miss Millie's devotees now must make the reverse trek to Oakland to get their comfort-food brunch, but it will be a trip worth taking.

Single guy rating: 3-1/2 stars (perfect for foodies who like to indulge)

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

Somerset in Oakland

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