Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Charcuterie at Café Rouge

In the last few years, house-made cured meats have been all the rage. So more and more places have been adding their own “charcuterie” sections to their markets. (Charcuterie is the French term for the salting, smoking and curing of meats.)

I love prosciutto now and then, but rarely do I eat a lot of cured meats such as salumi or pates. Again, it’s the whole issue of fat. I don’t like it fresh. I don’t like it cured. But I will eat it in moderation in cured meats, from time to time.

Cured meats make great antipasti. Last weekend when I was planning a picnic for my friends Stella and Mariusz, I decided to put together an antipasti platter. One of my first stop was the Café Rouge Charcuterie and Meat Market.

Café Rouge is a longtime Berkeley restaurant in the Fourth Street shopping district. It serves great Mediterranean-California cuisine and does a pretty busy lunch business with its outdoor seating. But I never realized that it also has a meat market and charcuterie in the back of the restaurant. You don’t even have to enter the front of the restaurant; there’s easy access directly to the meat market from the adjacent Pasta Shop. (You just have to remember to pay for your items at the Pasta Shop before leaving to enter Café Rouge.)

Here’s a look at my visit to the Café Rouge charcuterie:

One thing nice about the meat market tucked away behind the restaurant is that it’s not very crowded. When I was there, only one person was ahead of me. You don’t have to worry about getting a number like at the deli, and no one’s shouting at you. The market is right in front of the kitchen, so it can seem chaotic. But that’s mostly the frenzy trying to feed the lunch crowds.

My first impression was that there weren’t that many items for sale. I was expecting a variety of sausages and salumi. But there were only a few items, displayed interesting enough like jewels on a wood plank. Here are two types of sausages for sale: garlic and fennel. You can also see below that they sell duck confit and house-smoked pancetta. I like using pancetta instead of bacon in my cooking so I may come back again to try Café Rouge’s version. (They also had chorizo for sale.)

Among the charcuterie items were this Canadian bacon and mortadella. I bought some of the mortadella for the picnic and it was my first time trying it. It’s a pork-based product with a variety of items added to spice it up, such as pistachio and olives. Café Rouge’s mortadella had an interesting sweet and savory taste. I also got some of their house-made salumi, which I didn’t photograph. It was peppery but mild in flavor. They like to cut their salumi in thick slices for a full-tasting snack.

It seemed like there were a lot of pates and terrines, which I can’t get my mind around eating them. I don’t know why, just the thought of all that ground meat mixed together. I know, that’s like sausage. But at least with sausages you cook them up and mix them into your dishes. People just eat pates as is. Pictured above is a pork pate and veal terrine.

I liked looking at the meats available for sale at the bottom of the counter. Here are some Liberty duck legs that look like they would be good for braising or searing.

More meats. These are Berkshire pork chops and one that’s already brined for you.

To me, Café Rouge’s charcuterie and meat market offers quality items for sale, but I felt that the selection was a bit limited. (You probably see more variety at charcuteries like Fatted Calf at the San Francisco Ferry Building.) Still, it’s definitely a place to look for fine, quality ingredients for your special dinners and parties when you’re shopping in the Fourth Street area of Berkeley. The guys behind the counter are friendly and knowledgeable about their meats. And you can always get lunch afterwards. :)

Café Rouge Charcuterie and Meat Market, 1782 4th St., Berkeley. Open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. PH: 510.525.1440.


Derek said...

I will have to go there if I am ever out that way.
Looks so good.

Chubbypanda said...

Oooooh... Nice!

Might just be me, but mortadella and bologna just don't do it for me. Probably too many bad sandwiches as a child. Curse you, Oscar Meyer. Curse you.