Tasting Menu of Local Freshness
1960 University Ave., Berkeley
Open 5:30 to 10 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday
Major credit cards, reservations accepted
A lot has been happening in downtown Berkeley lately with the opening of Gather in the David Brower Center and reports that the chef behind Venus restaurant is taking over the defunct Downtown spot and calling it Revival. And on the edge of downtown on University Avenue, a husband-and-wife team has opened their first restaurant called eVe.
I visited eVe for dinner recently with my friend David, and since I got there early I quizzed my server about the restaurant’s name. There wasn’t a really long, drawn-out explanation other that the name connects with the Garden of Eden because this is the couple’s new beginning as restaurant owners. As for the whole lowercase-uppercase type treatment, it’s apparently just for aesthetics. (The second “e” in eVe is actually flipped to make the whole word look more rounded.)
When a new restaurant or store goes out of the way to be such a non-conformist in its name — especially with the English language — my gut reaction is that they’re usually trying too hard to be different. We’ll see.
The tiny restaurant has a contemporary feel with warm colors that do make it feel almost like a garden. The stylish surroundings make room for two rows of tiny tables that lead up to the center kitchen where the chefs work in plain view of everyone. The setup reminds me very much of the experimental Commis over in Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue where the chefs perform front and center.
The chefs are Chris and Veronica Laramie, who moved from Colorado. The couple met in culinary school in Paris.
When the Laramies opened eVe a few months ago, they experimented with the pricing for their new American cuisine that focused on local, sustainable ingredients. It went from an ala carte menu at reasonable prices to a three-course prix-fixed menu to now a two-course prix fixe menu for $25. (I think they’re going to stick with this plan for awhile.)
When David arrived, we started to go over the menu, which included about three choices in three columns. Each column represents the progression of the meal from a starter to entrée to dessert. But since this is only a two-course menu, you either skip dessert or add it for $11 to make it a three-course dinner.
The menu changes every week and you can get an idea of what’s on tap by checking the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Our evening began with an amuse from the chefs, a tiny pain perdu with a poached quail egg. I thought the presentation looked so pretty and the bread piece was perfectly browned and the quail egg was nicely poached. I just felt it lacked any surprising flavors to tickle my palate.
David and I both chose the same starter, the Sardines with risotto, daikon, Togarashi (a Japanese spice blend), bok choy and kumquat sauce. The plating was interesting with everything presented like art pieces on a white canvas.
The sardines looked smaller in shape than I expected (maybe that’s the size in season?) but they were nice and tender, lightly pan-fried. I really enjoyed the risotto, which had a lot of flavor and its heaviness was cut by the pickled daikon. While I loved the color of the kumquat sauce, I didn’t feel the flavor paired well with either the risotto or sardines, so it seemed a bit disjointed from the overall course.
For our second course, David ordered the Branzino (a white fish) with udon, swiss chard, lemongrass, water chestnut and shiso. As you can tell, there’s a bit of an Asian touch to several of the courses at eVe, and I don’t know if that’s a reflection of the seasonal ingredients right now at the farmers markets or because Chef Veronica Laramie is Peruvian and that country has a bit of history with Japanese immigrants? David said he enjoyed his fish and the udon noodles.
I ordered the duck, of course, which was a fan of duck breast cooked perfectly to medium rear and served with long beans, green papaya and tamarind. The plating was a bit odd IMHO with the two dried figs on each side. It made them seem almost like two eyeballs. And on top of that there was a big spread of a sauce that was distinctly dijon mustard and it reminded me of a big tongue sticking out at me with the two eyes on the side. (Do you see it?) I have to say, the mustard sauce was too strong and a bit overpowering against the duck.
The plate, again, was an assembling of contrasting flavors from the gamey duck to the sweetness of the figs to the slight sourness of the green papaya and the power of the mustard. The flavors were all familiar and comforting, but I still didn’t feel they married well together. It was like the flavors were trying so hard to blend together but in reality they retained their own distinctive characters, refusing to work with each other.
I give credit to the chefs for creating a comfortable, casual dining spot that attempts to raise the dining experience with their experimental dishes and prix-fixed approach. The food is delivered generally well cooked, but I feel the tastes need a bit more maturing. The sophistication level, while trying hard to come through, just needs a bit more refinement.
Still, at the $25 price point, eVe’s seasonal menu is value dining in Berkeley and opens the door for curious diners to try another way of dining out.
Single guy rating: 3 stars (Value prix fixe)
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
More Berkeley reviews:
Five: "Berkeley Hotel Dining Reborn"
Corso Trattoria: "A Taste of Florence in Berkeley"
Gather: "Vegetarians and Carnivores Come to the Table"
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Tasting Menu of Local Freshness