Occupation: Director of HR
Favorite Restaurant: Café Aquarius
Reviewed Café Aquarius: Sunday, August 28, 2011
I have to start out by saying how I came to know Café Aquarius. My employer moved her business from Oakland to Emeryville, and while we were unpacking our offices on the very first day, the owner (Patrick Feehan) came to our offices with a basket chock full of baked goods. His, “Welcome To The Neighborhood” introduction of the café to our employees was a warm gesture of friendship and let us know we made a good move. When we took a bite of his cinnamon roll, the warm gesture became an immediate falling-in-love relationship.
Café Aquarius has touches of a favorite breakfast spot in Paris: cobblestone floors, fresh flowers, and baked goods that rival Parisian goodies. To add to their uniqueness, they have prominently visual wall artwork featuring retro-television and movie space-related memorabilia, like Lost In Space, Star Trek and other childhood favorites for the adventurer interested in science-fiction like the owner is. (He’s an Aquarius astrologically, so the connection to space-age, futurist, and the always evolving is partially due to this). Even the décor has touches of it. They also offer astrology classes, taught by Renee Bornstein, a professional astrologer who teaches you how to interpret and prepare astrology charts. So it’s a great place to figure out what’s going on with the people you need to chart about while you’re enjoying that baked good or delicious meal.
Easily accessible by public transportation with lots of parking nearby, the café offers breakfast and lunch daily and brunch on weekends with savory and sweet choices. All are portioned well for the ravenous, and they welcome families, singles and their pooches, large or small groups for casual business meals, as well as social gatherings.
It’s no surprise that outer space is featured as a side-kitchen, because their cinnamon roll and hazelnut breakfast buns are other-worldly delicious. I’ve observed many Café Aquarius fans stop in for coffee and say the Café Aquarius cinnamon roll is one of the best they’ve had anywhere and on any continent. My mother is a professional pastry person and has baked her entire life and made money doing it (she’s pretty awesome at it). I tell friends that if I had to choose my last meal on Earth, this would definitely be on it! It’s that fantastic. Their chocolate croissants are light and buttery pastry, decadently done. They offer éclairs, cookies, tarts, and cheesecake for anyone popping in to have with an afternoon beverage or as a dessert to take home. They also custom bake and cater. And I meant it when I said pooches: Café Aquarius makes doggie biscuits in addition to fresh-baked goods and cookies.
Some of my favorite breakfasts include the lemon ricotta pancakes. They are so delicious, they actually taste good for you (a sign of a good pancake is it doesn’t need syrup and theirs don’t need syrup). The buttermilk pancakes are exceptionally light, fluffy, and equally delicious. The eggs Benedict is also perfectly prepared on top of ham and an English muffin with hollandaise sauce. Their croissants, biscuits, and scones make up a variety of sweet and savory goodies that can mix and match with egg, bacon, cheese, and other add-ins. Friends love the breakfast tacos, as well as a special that is a breakfast pizza. My friend Kevin raved about it when he had it, and you have to see it to believe it. It’s that brilliant and delicious.
My favorite breakfast sandwich has to be the Greenway Croissant with chive scrambled eggs, wilted spinach, and goat cheese: perfect eggs, flaky and flavorful croissant. Just yummy. My most recent visit to review for Check, Please! Bay Area allowed me to introduce the restaurant to a newbie transplant friend who commented that her eggs were the "freshest and best [she’s] ever tasted." Eggs at Café Aquarius are always cooked perfectly. Yellow, not runny, unless you order them that way, and perfectly scrambled without frayed edges (overcooked). Over-easy eggs are also prepared exactly the way you ask, either with the runny or fully-cooked yolks (get them runny and dip the bread in them: wow!). I also love the Hollis Hash, which is Niman Ranch pastrami and potatoes topped with two-eggs. This ain’t your typical hash and eggs, and they make a vegetarian version of it.
My lunch favorite has got to be the blackened fish sandwich and the 65th Street Burger. I have to say it’s the lightest and flakiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten. The burger is well-prepared from freshly chopped beef, and it’s a hearty and flavorful choice that is always perfectly cooked. I’ll boldly say theirs is the best Chai latte in the East Bay, because you feel like you’ve had a therapy session after you’ve tasted it. Smooth and flavorful, not too spiced. Just like a warm hug in a mug.
Café Aquarius uses only the freshest ingredients from local purveyors for their selections, and the owner shops at least three times a week to get products for the restaurant. He’s from the Bay Area with over thirty years of experience with bakery and pastry/restaurant goodies. He absolutely knows the best foodie business folks and brings other artisans into the mix when it comes to fresh pastas (Fred Biletnikoff) and spicy sausages. They offer beer and wine, which is a nice change, since cafes typically don’t serve alcohol.
Now, one of the centers of attraction I must mention separately has to be their fresh-baked bread. Café Aquarius uses its on-premises bakery to prepare their delectable baked goods, both sweet and savory, but one of the stars has to be the pan de agua bread, which is served with breakfasts and on all sandwiches. Pan de agua is a uniquely textured, light yet firm, and crusty bread that rises in a water bath, causing it to have a chewy and soft crust and delicious taste that makes all other specialty breads with the hard and flour-dusty crust seem ordinary. Like French or Cuban-styled bread, it perfectly complements their sandwiches, burger, and salads (yes, they use them for croutons). Its light texture doesn’t take away from the fillings on the sandwich and you don’t even need condiments to make it soft or flavored. You can even take home a loaf, since they also bake it to sell.
Café Aquarius is not open for dinner, but they do offer a happy hour barbecue every Friday from 2pm-7pm. Having gone there with a friend who is a hard-core Texan, I know they serve up authentic house-made barbecue, based on Kansas City or Texas Red style sauce. They offer barbecue pulled pork, barbecue chicken, locally made artisan sausages, baked beans, coleslaw (some of the best I’ve had anywhere), and potato salad. They top it off with one of the most delicious cornbread muffins ever and have draft beer and sangria to accompany it. It’s priced reasonably, always delicious, and got a thumbs-up from a Texan that knows his barbeque.
Chef Marianne Zdobysz (Chef Z) is one of the secret weapons that makes the food experience a revelation, and between her and Patrick Feehan, who is responsible for the decadently delicious baked goods at Café Aquarius, they have fifty years of solid restaurant and bakery experience. They’re an all around fun place to spend your mornings and afternoons. Café Aquarius is everything you’d expect from a neighborhood café. It’s friendly and accommodating with delicious food, warm service, and for a place with touches of outer space, it is very down to earth!
Occupation: Massage Therapist
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: VEGA
Reviewed Café Aquarius: Thursday, September 1, 2011
Cafe Aquarius, located on 65th Street, is a well-rated restaurant, tucked between the industrial buildings of Emeryville. I was excited to find out why. It was a warm and sunny weekday, and open doors greeted me with a very bistro-like setting inside. Many of the buildings in this area, including this restaurant, looked new and clean with a fresh coat of paint. I have to say I really liked the decor! Its cobblestone floor, bistro tables, and wooden beams give the restaurant a very winery or old world bakery feel. It was disappointing that they do not have a wine list as it definitely had me in the mood for some. The lunch crowd seemed to be comprised mostly of local professionals on their lunch hour, which made sense. I was seated right away in an almost full dining room. I noticed that the pastry case was nearly empty, making me think they must do a lot of business during breakfast hours.
I have to admit I chose more food than I would normally eat, because I was really interested to see what sets this local favorite apart from other lunch spots. My partner and I started our meal with the soup of the day: a light, refreshing chicken and rice soup, which was complemented by a lime-chicken broth that felt very summery and was a light way to start the meal. We then split the warm spinach salad with candied pecans, bacon, feta, and red onion, and a raspberry vinaigrette. They offered a series of additional items you could add, like grilled steak, prawns, or chicken that, combined with the soup, would easily have been enough for lunch.
Wanting to try more of the menu, I kept it simple and opted to order entrees, knowing most likely, I would still be taking some food home. I love to share entrees; you can try twice as much and not feel like you missed out on trying another dish when it's a toss up. The 6500 Club Sandwich was the first item that caught my eye. It came with grilled chicken, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and avocado aioli in between house made focaccia. It was surprisingly light, but the flavor profile left something to be desired. Not bad, yet not great either. My partner and I both enjoyed the soup of the day so much we went with the dish of the day: penne pasta in a cream sauce with salmon, sun dried tomatoes, and green beans. This fared better than the club. It was well balanced with a rich, creamy flavor that made me dip the homemade bread into sauce after the pasta was gone. Most of the dishes came with a salad and their freshly baked bread. The server was nice enough to substitute the salads that came with the entrée with fresh fruit. It was a great palate cleanser and perfect on this warm summer day. The bread, on the other hand, went to waste, as I packaged one half of the sandwich upon finishing the meal. Clearly, this is not a place for multiple courses, portion-wise. Bang for the buck comes on one big plate.
What's my overall impression of the restaurant? It was "All right." The staff was friendly and quick. I can't say the food was spectacular outside of the soup I had to start, but I can't say it was bad either. If I was in the neighborhood and was hungry, I'd stop in. I just wouldn't go out of my way to brag about it.
Occupation: Production Supervisor & Food Dude
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Taguito Argentinean Grill & Empanadas
Reviewed Café Aquarius: Thursday, September 8, 2011
I went here for breakfast with a friend of mine. At first, I was disappointed, because the breakfast menu wasn't very extensive, and I thought perhaps that all the "good" items might be served at lunch. However, once we started eating, I was really impressed with how good everything tasted and with the overall quality of the ingredients they used in the breakfast dishes.
We sampled the basic breakfast, two eggs with sausage and home fries. The chicken-apple sausage that they used was delicious, and I was a big fan of the home fries. They were cut just right -- not so large that they didn't get cooked thoroughly, and not so small that they only served to absorb grease. They were crispy and delicious with just the right amount of seasonings and fried onions. The Mexican-style breakfast tacos were really outstanding. Two homemade corn tortillas, topped with eggs scrambled with chorizo, cojito cheese, and pico de gallo salsa.
By far, our two favorite items were the biscuit sandwich and the pastrami hash over eggs. The biscuit sandwich is simply eggs scrambled with chives, topped with bacon and cheddar cheese, and served on a biscuit. It's the kind of thing that ISN'T hard to screw up, but for some reason a lot places do. The folks at Cafe Aquarius clearly KNOW what they're doing and have a great deal of respect for the ingredients they're using and their presentation. This was simple, but perfect, dish.
The other huge success was the "Hollis Hash," otherwise known as pastrami and potatoes "hashed" together, served with eggs any style and home fries. According to the menu, they use pastrami from Niman Ranch. This was another dish that, in less-skilled hands, could've really been a disaster, but was done to perfection at Cafe Aquarius.
Since I live in San Francisco, I can't really see myself making a special trip to Emeryville SIMPLY to have breakfast at Café Aquarius, but if you live in the East Bay, or if you need a spot to rendezvous with friends from Oakland or Berkeley, Cafe Aquarius is ideal. I would also recommend that anyone working in a restaurant or cafe that serves breakfast GO to Cafe Aquarius and learn the art of properly scrambling eggs and cooking home fries from them. The folks at Cafe Aquarius knew what they were doing -- they didn't need to be told how to cook the pastrami or how to cook the home fries. They got it all right the first time!