Bar Ribs with Barbecue Sauce; Tunisian Veal Meatballs with Fresh Peas, Penne, and Spinach; Spit-Roasted Chicken on a Bed of Haricot Verts and Italian Sweet Peppers
Occupation: Executive Director of Senior Nutrition Program
Favorite Restaurant: Café Rouge
Reviewed Café Rouge: Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I invited four friends to dinner last night at Café Rouge. I thought it would be a SLAM DUNK or BAM, because know that CR can give first class service. I know that having dinner there can be a casual, friendly, and inviting dining experience. Service, food, and décor have always been undeniably fantastic.
First, last night, our wait staff person was just so-so, flat, and not very attentive to our questions. Second, the hostess had on a blouse that had some type of wings on it, and when she placed dishes on the table, the wings brushed across the food. The most attentive person was the bus person. He saw to it that we had more water, a second serving of bread, and checked back on several occasions to make sure we were not in need of anything. I thought that we were going to go down in a blaze until the food arrived and finally I was redeemed and held on to the title of Queen of Finding the Best Restaurants.
My dining companions loved the food from the start, and we began to share our food. We requested olive oil for our bread, and one of my Sisters of Fine Dining remarked that most food establishments don’t use extra virgin olive oil, and she was just a wee bit impressed. However, this was still not enough to get her beyond what she called a less than desirable wait staff person. We began our meal with two salads: the Red Rice Salad and Garden Lettuces with Point Reyes Blue Cheese. We were pleased that just the right blend of olive oil and vinegar dressed our salads and that the red rice was cooked to perfection -- plump but firm -- and it's difficult to reach that star. We chose the House Charcuterie Plate as our appetizers and the pâtés of veal, rabbit, and mortadella were moist and the spices were balanced just right. I wanted to try the White Corn Soup, and I thought that it just couldn’t get any better. Well, okay, so if my mother made it, maybe it could have been better, but she’s been dead for eighteen years, so maybe I don’t really remember how good corn soup can be. The soup received four stars out of four. I chose the spit-roasted chicken, which was served on a bed of haricot verts, fava beans, and Italian sweet peppers. The chicken was moist, juicy, tender, and the pan juices gave the greens a perfect match for the Great Gospel Bird.
MY GUEST #1 chose the appetizer menu, and she loved the avocado and shrimp, which was mixed with jicama, cilantro, and Sharlyn melon. Her comments were that it had just the right mixture of sweet, tart, crisp, and tangy.
MY GUEST #2 decided to try the pork loin chop. Her first sounds and body language displayed that we had hit a home run. The chop had a spicy crust that made every bite a treat. She loved the chanterelles, artichokes, and chard mixture that was chopped and served as a relish atop the chop. The polenta had bits of the sweet white corn, so that the cross between the corn and the polenta was a real comfort dish.
MY GUEST #3 went for the Niman Ranch steak with red wine and shallot butter and asked for polenta in place of the French fries. We were all pleased with the tenderness and flavor of her t-bone steak. We had a long discussion regarding why I chose the Gospel Bird, but I tried to explain that when it’s done well there is nothing better and CR does it well.
We decided to share a dessert and the vote come down to the Chocolate Cake with Vanilla-Cinnamon ice cream. We really needed four, but we restrained ourselves and voted scissors, rock, paper on who would get the last bit. I lost.
So, the answer to this journey is that you can be redeemed -- if the food's great, all other issues fade into the floor. Great food outbids all.
Occupation: Event Planner & Documentary Producer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Le Colonial
Reviewed Café Rouge: Sunday, August 6, 2006
I was most pleased to have reason to return to Café Rouge. I had eaten there years ago and remember liking it. Located at 1782 Fourth Street (in the Fourth Street gourmet ghetto), Café Rouge is actually nestled in a very upscale strip mall. Well, it can be called a strip mall if one understands that the stores “on the strip” are the stalwart Sur la Table and the tony Pasta Shop.
Parking was a snap, and at 7:30 pm on a Sunday night, there were a selection of tables (I had arrived without a reservation).
I was seated and given a menu and began to feel comfortable with my surroundings. Warm shades of red and browns, and a wall of a red leather banquettes make the initial impression of a well-run operation. Staff is polite and well-dressed and most professional looking.
I ordered an appetizer puff pastry tart with Italian sweet pepper, tomatoes, and caramelized onions, which, I was told by my server, would take ten minutes to prepare. I opted for three oysters while I was waiting. Bread (not warmed) was brought to the table with a ramekin of soft butter. The oysters tasted and looked great on a plate that was too small for the seaweed and rock salt. USE a LARGER PLATE. The mignonette sauce was way too tart. Less vinegar, guys.
The tart arrived and looked great. The puff pastry was flaky and golden, and the tomatoes roasted in the oven. The dish did not have a smell when placed in front of me, which was disappointing. The puff pastry was soggy on the bottom due to the weight and liquid of the sweated onions. Less onions and dryer ingredients would have made for a more complete tart. The tart did need salt as well. It looked great but overall needs lightening up.
The Tunisian Veal Meatballs with fresh chickpeas, penne, and spinach arrived, and it looked amazing. It was served in a large bowl with smooth penne. Very tasty and well seasoned. Small meatballs, but very tasty.
The people next to me had ordered the bar ribs (not on the menu presented to me). They looked great, so I ordered them as I was finishing my entrée. They arrived and were WAY TOO SALTY! They were crispy outside and the meat was tender and cooked very well. Another problem with this dish was the presentation: four ribs were piled on a small cake-sized plate in a gob of barbecue sauce. USE A LARGER PLATE AND way less barbecue sauce.
As the evening got darker, the wait staff placed a lit votive on each table in unison, and the effect was lovely.
For dessert, I was looking forward to a dessert that I saw offered on the web site. When the dessert menu came that dessert was not there. I asked and the server told me that the desserts change daily and the web site could not be kept current. WRONG. This oversight and problem should be addressed.
I ordered a peach sorbet. The sorbet arrived and looked great, it was served in an old fashioned glass with fresh berries on top. THE SORBET HAD A GREAT CONSISTENCT BUT HAD ABSOLUTLEY NO TASTE. Most disappointing.
I would return again as other dishes on the menu looked inviting.
Occupation: Law Firm Communications Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Bill's Place
Reviewed Café Rouge: Sunday, August 20, 2006
“Beautiful Space, Decent Food, But Service Left Us Wanting…Or Should I Say Waiting?”
Berkeley’s 4th Street has become one of the East Bay’s trendiest outdoor shopping destinations. Boutiques and high-end designer stores make this a great destination to enjoy a leisurely stroll on a warm sunny afternoon and pick up a few things you don’t really need, but really want to buy.
All of the designer stores can leave even the most dedicated shoppers hungry. Thankfully, 4th Street has a number of dining options -- one of them is Café Rouge.
Set back from the street, Café Rouge offers seating both inside and out. The afternoon sun floods the dining room through the skylight and makes for an extremely inviting atmosphere. The long zinc bar and unusual, modern red bubble hanging lamp add a modern touch to the very open space. Despite the high ceilings and tables filled with the weekend lunch crowd, the noise levels seemed low, and we were able to enjoy our table’s conversation.
The lunch menu had a nice range of choices. Some of our party had eaten a late brunch, so the many appetizer choices were a perfect fit.
The cheese plate offered a nice range of handmade cheeses sitting atop a crispy flat bread and accompanied by figs and dates. We have come to expect only the freshest and best cheeses in the Bay Area with our numerous farmers markets and local cheese artisans, and this plate did not disappoint. We also tried the hearts of romaine with cucumbers, gypsy peppers, Marcona almonds, and roasted garlic vinaigrette. The garlic vinaigrette helped make this dish stand out. Salad dressings often taste very much the same, but the roasted garlic popped in your mouth and went extremely well with the cucumbers and peppers. People often order a salad because it is there on the menu, but this one is definitely worth trying. The avocado stuffed with rock shrimp, Sharlyn melon, jicama, and cilantro seemed like a perfect mid-afternoon snack. Although the avocado was a little hard, the melon, jicama, and cilantro toned down the taste and matched well with the shrimp.
Two of our diners did come with an appetite. The lunch menu offers a number of different sandwiches as well as heartier fare. The chicken salad sandwich came on a doughy roll that unfortunately overwhelmed the filling. The apple and nuts added to the chicken salad was a nice touch and provided some great crunch and texture to the filling. If you like your chicken salad light on mayonnaise, then this is your sandwich. Otherwise, you might find it a little dry.
Near our table at the back of the restaurant toward the takeout case, you quickly realize what this restaurant is about: meat. So I decided to order the steak frites, a French bistro standby. The meat was cooked perfectly to medium rare and was extremely tender, moist, and juicy. While many restaurants may offer this dish, you can tell Café Rouge only uses the best meat because of how tender the meat was. With the melting red wine and shallot butter, the steak seemed to melt in your mouth.
If you talk about steak frites, you cannot forget about the frites. And the one thing our table could agree on was how good the French fries were. They were so good, our less-than-starving lunch guests ordered a plate for themselves. The “traditionally French” French fries were thin and very crispy. Served fresh out of the fryer and heaped high on the plate, you would be hard-pressed to find better. If you do visit Café Rouge, don’t forget the fries, even if you order a sandwich that comes with a side salad.
While our table generally enjoyed the food, the service dampened our overall experience. Our server got off to an excellent start by interacting with our friend’s four-year-old daughter who one day hopes to become a waitress. She explained what options kids had at the restaurant and was willing to accommodate an order of pasta with butter and extra parmesan.
Unfortunately, the good news stops there. While I always applaud restaurants that allow you to sit and enjoy yourself, our lunch turned into a three-hour ordeal. The table waited nearly twenty minutes for our first drink order to arrive. We had to ask on several occasions to have our water glasses filled. We even had to ask for a second cocktail -- usually most restaurants are more than willing to sell more alcohol -- that did not arrive until we were ready to leave. Although we did not order any appetizers, the food itself took nearly forty-five minutes to arrive at our table, and our waitress did not check in to give us an update. The food also came out in parts because the French fries, which were worth the wait, were not ready with the rest of our food. The last straw for our table was having to ask for a dessert menu. We sat nearly fifteen minutes after our table had been cleared with nothing in front of us and empty glasses.
The dessert menu had some creative touches, but could not live up to the French fries. Our table sampled a chocolate cake with cinnamon ice cream and chocolate and caramel sauce, grape sorbet with ginger cookies, an apple cobbler, and lavender ice cream with honey and figs.
Our friend’s four-year-old daughter made the best choice with the “purple ice cream.” The grape sorbet was a perfect blend of sweet and sour and cleaned the palate nicely after the meal. The ginger cookies were a nice touch to this perfect summer dessert. The chocolate cake was moist and tasted fine, but I could have done without the cake and eaten a whole bowl of the very creamy cinnamon ice cream. The table expected more from the lavender ice cream, wishing it had more than faint hints of the flower. It reminded us too much of vanilla ice cream. Much like the chocolate cake, the apple cobbler tasted fine, the apples were sweet and crisp, but it did not elicit any strong reactions.
Overall, the food tasted good, and if you’re out and about shopping on 4th Street, Café Rouge seems like a decent choice for lunch. Let’s just hope the service has improved before your visit.