My Valentine’s Day was filled with scrumptious food. In the morning, we headed to Berkeley and made a huge brunch with my girlfriend’s parents, complete with mimosas made from fresh squeezed orange juice from their trees and freshly laid eggs from our chickens. In the afternoon, my girlfriend and I made Tagalongs from scratch, and though it took forever, they were well worth it, far surpassing the Girl Scout versions in taste and quality. And in the evening, we made our way down to Lake Merritt to dine at Sidebar, which had opened the previous weekend.
I’ve been looking forward to the opening of Sidebar since early January, when I read about it over at City Homestead and learned that it was a creation of the Zax Tavern team. Zax used to be my favorite Berkeley restaurant. The atmosphere was laid back and very comfortable, and the food was simple, yet refined. I mostly ordered small plates there and found their creamy soups to be flavorful and warming (and always vegetarian). They were very well known for their goat cheese souffle with apple and fennel salad, which paired perfectly together. And the desserts, well, let’s just say there were at least a few times when my girlfriend and I stopped at the bar just to grab a drink and share one of their exquisite sweet treats. My favorites were the mocha pots de creme and the seasonal rhubarb tart.
Needless to say, I had high expectations for Sidebar, and I’m happy to say these expectations were easily met.
The decor of Sidebar is similar to that of Zax. Lots of warm colors, dark woods, and very comfortable seating. The main difference is the open floor plan (Zax was divided into three rooms), with the bar taking center stage. The very large bar is square shaped, with bar chairs and soft light surrounding it. When we arrived, the bar was already packed, though the tables to either side were mostly empty. We were seated next to the front window, where we could gaze at Lake Merritt.
My girlfriend and I took quite a while perusing the menu because we wanted to order half the items on it. We finally settled on starting off with the tomato soup, and then sharing the baked pasta, polenta, and greens. The tomato soup was tasty, but not exactly what we were hoping for. I had expected something creamier and was a bit surprised by the seeds left in the soup. Luckily, we were distracted by our glasses of Savignon Blanc and Syrah, both local choices from the varied wine menu.
The rest of the food blew us away though, and we quickly forgot the tomato soup. The marscapone-manchego polenta was rich and flavorful. It paired well with the greens of the evening, which was chard sauteed with shallots. The baked pasta shells were filled with ricotta and topped with tomato sauce, eggplant, and bread crumbs. My girlfriend usually hates eggplant but loved this preparation of it, as it took on the flavor of its sauce.
Though the savory part of our meal was satisfying and warming, the dessert might have been my favorite part. We split the Almond Joy, Sidebar’s take on the candy bar, which consisted of chocolate pave, topped with coconut ice cream, whipped cream, toasted almond slivers, and caramel. The flavors all worked perfectly together and none of them were overwhelming.
The food was the star of the show at Sidebar, but the service was great as well. Our waiter always was available when we needed something and the food came at perfect intervals. One of the owners came by to talk to us halfway through our meal, and it seemed that the staff genuinely liked working there.
I can’t wait to return to taste the rest of the menu items that called to me and to sit at the bar and sip a cocktail once they get their full liquor license.
Check out Artemis’ review of Sidebar at City Homestead. Coincidentally, we were seated next to eachother on Saturday evening.