Go Fourth, My Child (Eccolo -- Berkeley, CA)
It used to be that when you paid a visit to the parking hell known as Fourth Street in Berkeley, you had two decent dining options: Cafe Rouge and O Chame. Now this is great if you've got a severe meat jones going on (Cafe Rouge) or if you want Udon that will transport your soul to a plane of bliss (O Chame) but not so great if you're not feeling particularly carnivorous or noodle-ous. That all changed when Eccolo came to town.
Christopher Lee was Alice Waters' bitch for sixteen years before he opened Eccolo. Sixteen years in the Chez Panisse kitchen will make you one damn fine chef. I am so glad CL went and did this because while I love Chez Panisse's virgin food, Eccolo has a finessed playfulness that I can't get enough of. In fact, the aforementioned Cafe Rouge and O Chame have been missing my lovin' due to the fact that Eccolo is the new girl next door.
I've been thrice, with the following people:
- B. -- my boss from one of my jobs, who made the waiter play musical teapots with her on our visit.
- Jon -- on two of the visits.
- J. -- a friend from work who is a pescatarian and was pregnant with gestational diabetes at the time. Mmmm....diabetes.
- A. -- J's husband, also a pescatarian.
- D. -- Jon's mom, who has stomach trouble and therefore is particular about her food.
- A2. -- Jon's sister, who weighs about 2.5 pounds and is also pretty picky about her food.
B had their Salad Nicoise and a billion pots of tea. The salad was gorgeous AND delicious. Let's face it -- Nicoise can be AWFUL and when it's not good, it's just repugnant. This, however, was everything it should be. YUM.
I've had various things, but the first thing I ever had was their fish and chips. It was, in a word, incredible. Not heavy or greasy but light, flaky and flavorful. I've also had two of their egg dishes, which were outstanding. In fact, the fennel sausage and potato hash with poached eggs and cilantro was something I wanted to make out with. I would imagine that to most people in the restaurant that's what it looked like I was doing anyway. Need I remind you how much I love sausage?
D.'s sourdough french toast with orange butter kept luring Jon's fork away from his perfect and juicy steak sandwich. A2's chopped salad with chicken consisted of equal sized chopped bits and chicken breast strips that were as beautiful as any of the chicken I've ever seen at Zuni (P.S. -- Sam, I ate there on Saturday late night and there was no pot de creme so no more hatin' on me). Speaking of Zuni, Eccolo's Tuscan fries are now rivaling the shoestring potatoes as my favorite thing to shove in my mouth by the handful. They come with fried herbs (even that bitch, rosemary, the slut of the herb world. I mean it grows in the fucking parking lot of Safeway for Christ's sake -- don't get me started on that one), which lend a nice culinary color to the whole crisp potato deal.
We've never had room for dessert, nor have they ever looked interesting enough to get us to order one anyway. Another shortcoming is the cocktails -- Jon has had both a bad bloody mary and a bad mojito. The wine list, however, is great, and they make a fantastic bellini. On the non-alcoholic side, they have the best lemonade I've ever tasted, and I drink a fuckload of lemonade.
As for service, it is as inconsistent as your sister's orgasm. On our most recent visit, the hostess was straight out of the special ed. class. She just could not get it together. When she brought us to our table, I waited for D. and A2. to get there so they could choose their seats before Jon and I sat down (hey, I have the best in-laws in the entire universe, the least I can do is be nice every now and again). The hostess looked at me and said "wherever you like." Thanks, jackass, I can see the empty seats but I'm waiting for the rest of my party if you don't mind. She also kept a two top waiting endlessly even though there was plenty of space for them at the communal table.
Also, the server on my visit with B. was just a flat out bitch. Now granted, B. had him fetching her every tea accoutrement on the planet, and then had him switch them out at several intervals, but he didn't even pretend to be accommodating about it. I pulled out all my restaurant whore tricks -- batted my eyelashes, engaged him in conversation, flashed my boobs (OK, not really), and he did warm up. To me. So then we were in a situation where he was sweeter than pie to me and a total psycho vampire bat to my dining companion. Let's just say it was awkward.
On my second two visits, we had servers that were simply amazing. Sweet, genial, cute and great at their jobs. Everything a good server should be. On visit 2, when I waxed poetical about the lemonade and asked what it was they were doing, the server got a full definition of the process AND one of the lemons for me from the kitchen. *Sigh*, *swoon*.
I am also fully convinced that Eccolo has magical powers. Here is your evidence:
- There are things I don't eat. One of them is mayonnaise, and, therefore, coleslaw. When I asked Mr. Bitchy Pants if it would be easier for the kitchen to leave it off since I wouldn't eat it and it would be wasted, or if it would be simpler for the them to plate it, he said it was easier to plate. It came with my fish and chips and lo and behold! Their coleslaw has NO mayo! Instead it had a lovely lime vinaigrette and I was completely seduced by it.
- Another one of those things I don't eat? Beef. You might remember that I haven't eaten cows for FOURTEEN YEARS (save for a taste of the sweetbreads at Manresa that were placed in front of me. I would have felt like a complete ass had I not at least tried, but really, based on the info. I gave them, they shouldn't have served them to me anyway). FOURTEEN YEARS. And when Jon said, "Does anyone want a bite of my steak sandwich?" I looked at him and said, "I do." He fell out of his seat and I took a bite and I LOVED it. Eccolo may have changed my life, boys and girls. (And if my would-be lover, E., is reading this, don't you dare start spouting your mad cow bullshit here. Eccolo uses only the finest, organic, grass-fed, free range beef massaged by virgins. Sounds a little bit like you, now that I think about it).
- The magical power I like best about Eccolo, though, is the power it has over Jon. Both times he's joined me for an Eccolo repast, I've ended up with a gorgeous piece of jewelry while shopping afterwards. I'm seriously considering only eating at Eccolo from now on. A girl could do worse.
"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld