Tag Archives: Sidebar


17 Feb

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.

Rediscovering Downtown Oakland: Dinner Dates

11 Feb

Since Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, I thought I’d share some of my favorite date spots in downtown Oakland. I know I’m missing at least a few great places so please share your favorite retaurants to take a date to in the comments.

B Restaurant – Washington at 9th

B is my favorite restaurant to eat dinner at in downtown Oakland, whether on a date or with friends. The food is excellent, the atmosphere is laid back, and they do a good job catering to vegetarians and meat eaters. I’ve had excellent wine there, and they know how to make strong cocktails. Lots of the food is small plates so you can share several dishes with your dining companion. The decor is also gorgeous – huge windows facing 9th and Washington, perfect lighting, detailed tiling, and a fireplace. And when you’re done with dinner, take a stroll around Old Oakland.

Franklin Square Wine Bar – Broadway at 22nd

I’ve yet to bring a date to the Franklin Square Wine Bar, but it seems like it could be very romantic. Order some food to munch on and peruse their wine menu. Any of the wines can be ordered by the half glass, which means you can explore and don’t have to worry about committing to a full glass of a whine you’re not crazy about. I haven’t eaten much of the food there, but what I’ve had has been tasty and my foodie friends enjoy the food there as well. If you’re looking for something casual, sit at the bar, but if you’d like some privacy, snag one of the tables. One of the best parts about Franklin Square is that they’re open on Mondays, when just about every nice restaurant is closed in the DTO.

Flora – Telegraph at 19th

I’m sure Flora’s booked up for Valentine’s Day, and that’s for a good reason. Honestly, I’m not so hot on their food. It’s not bad, and once in a while you’ll find some incredible food there. It’s just not consistent enough to encourage me to wait for a long time for a table and I’m terrible about making reservations ahead of time. Also, they have very few options for vegetarians, which annoys me. But the food is not the reason to go to Flora. The reason to go there is because it’s absolutely stunning. The building it’s in used to be a medical marijuana dispensary and my boss always talked about how she wanted to buy the building and turn it into a bar or club because of the incredible architecture. And now that the Fox is all lit up across the street, there’s even more to look at and appreciate. If you don’t want to take your chances with the food, just sit at the bar and enjoy a cocktail. You’ll feel fabulous and have a great time. (Oh, and if you want to read more about the food, read V Smoothe’s infamous review of Flora from 2007, when they first opened.)

As for me, I’ll be taking my Valentine out just outside of downtown to Sidebar on Grand. It opened last week and I’ve yet to go there, but I suspect it will be excellent. It’s run by the same people who ran Zax, which used to be my favorite Berkeley restaurant. They were most well known for their goat cheese souffle, and their soups were always delicious (and vegetarian). Expect a review here next week.