Maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to appreciate casual fine dining. I mean, we're from a small suburb in southern California, where casual fine dining meant Applebee's. I kid. Not really.
In any case, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite restaurants near Berkeley. If you take a stroll (or drive or bus ride) down College Ave, you'll inevitably come across restaurant after restaurant after restaurant--but tucked discreetly in the Rockridge district, you'll see a sign that looks like this:
This is a picture of the menu, but the logo is what I was referring to. When you walk it, it's dim, but not dark; there are candles lighting the couple of tables to your right and the bar area to your left. A hostess or host will greet you and you'll be led past the kitchen to the back area, where there are more tables lit with candles. Then you'll notice that it's actually a patio, you can smell the air from the outside, and the last bits of sunlight trickling in. (Please excuse my tendency to be verbose--I just wanted to detail the ambience.)
A Cote (means next to in French) is a small plates restaurant, tapas if you will, specializing in French-Mediterranean fare. Tapas are meant to be enjoyed communally, so I would go with 4 to 6 people and try everything--it's all good.
My favorite dish is the mussel dish (the menu reads: with Pernod from the wood oven). How rustic does that sound! The plate is huge (my poor cholesterol levels were dying here, but I couldn't resist, it's so delicious) and filled with mussels. At the bottom is a light, creamy broth with beautiful crusty bread to sop it all up. Mmm, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!
We went for my friend Jen's birthday, and she ordered a fromage (meaning cheese in French) plate that came with candied walnuts, toasted almonds, walnut levain bread, sliced apples and poached figs. I don't remember which cheese she ordered (am not a big fan), but it was creamy and mild. It went so well with the nutty flavors of the bread and the sweetness of the fruits.
The last time I went, I didn't take pictures, but we had ordered all of the desserts--I really wish I had taken pictures because they were so, so amazing. I can't even pick out one that stood out, because they were just all so good.
In other words, you can't go wrong with this restaurant. The service is wonderful, the food is delicious--what more could you ask for?
5478 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618-1552