Berkeley Hotel Dining is Reborn
2086 Allston Way (at Shattuck), Berkeley
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
Some of the highly anticipated restaurants lately have been opening up in the East Bay. And it’s no surprise when you have names like Scott Howard.
Chef Howard, who had a restaurant under his own name that closed down near San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, has re-emerged with Five restaurant in the historic and recently renovated Hotel Shattuck. The restaurant’s name, according to its Web site, is a celebration of the five senses and five elements that go into food.
I visited Five for dinner recently with my friend Maureen, who has been working in China the last few years and recently moved back to the Bay Area. I thought Howard’s modern take on an American bistro would be a nice reintroduction to the California culinary scene.
Walking in, it takes you awhile to orientate yourself to the black-and-white floors and patterned walls. It’s a bit Manhattan meets Norway in the 1950s. The only hint of Berkeley comes in the interesting inlaid peace symbol at the steps of the foyer.
The deep translucent red lighting, including a chandelier in the lobby, doesn’t seem to hold up to the wide-open layout. That feel seems to carry over to the restaurant, which is to the right of the lobby. The bar serves as a divider between the lobby and the open restaurant, losing all sense of coziness.
Maureen and I sat in a back table near what looked like a real cool lounge area. As Maureen caught me up with her life, I perused the menu, which included a few favorites from Scott Howard (like the orzo mac and cheese with morel mushrooms and my favorite butterscotch pudding).
We started with the Smoked Salmon and Yukon Potato Cake ($10), garnished with green apple slices and horseradish. The salmon was nice, but really served mostly as an accessory to the fluffy and lightly browned potato cake underneath. It was so easy to eat, and the tart crunch of the green apples and kick of the horseradish all blended harmoniously.
For our entrees, Maureen ordered the Duck Confit with Summer Soccotash ($19), which she enjoyed. She says the size of the duck leg was a larger portion than she has seen at other restaurants, so she appreciated that.
I ordered the Lamb Loin with Wild Mushroom Strudel ($24) served with a green peppercorn sauce and spinach. The lamb pieces looked like it was encrusted with the green peppercorn sauce, which was actually mild and didn’t overpower the lamb. I loved how the lamb was perfectly cook, maintaining the tenderness and juiciness of the meat.
But again, the star seemed to be the supporting act; in this case, an incredibly tasty mushroom strudel. It wasn’t just the fact that the strudel pastry was flaky and light, but the stuffing had a variety of mushrooms, creating a complex yet satisfying bite.
To end our dinner, I knew I had to order Howard’s butterscotch pudding. I ate this for the first time at his San Francisco restaurant and fell in love with the creamy, rich pudding that makes you feel like a kid. I’d been searching for a suitable substitute since he closed Scott Howard but nothing seems to compare.
Maureen and I each ordered the pudding ($7) because I warned her I wasn’t willing to share mines. At Five, Howard tweaked his recipe by making it a vanilla bean butterscotch pudding, which explains why the color looked pale than what I remembered at Scott Howard.
The pudding, while creamy and tasty, lacked the strong butterscotch flavor that I recall. Still, it was enjoyable and I especially like the addition of the peanut brittle and shaved chocolate topping.
Service was especially friendly, probably because they still have that “we’re new, come visit us” mentality. Our waiter was very informative although he did sometimes go on and on about our wine selections.
Overall, Five is a welcomed addition to the downtown Berkeley scene. The grand chandelier in the center of the dining room signals the elegance of Howard’s dishes, but the casual vibe makes this a comforting and friendly spot.
Single guy rating: 4 stars (Modern food in historic digs)
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
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Luce: “A Taste of Elegance and Style”
Zinnia: “Welcome Home Chef Sean O’Brien”
Chez Papa Resto: “From Bistro to Paris Chic”
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Berkeley Hotel Dining is Reborn