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Dine About Oakland: Ode to À Côté

September 12, 2008

I used to think Oakland’s restaurant scene was one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Fortunately for the city and unfortunately for me, this has changed a lot in the past couple of years, and now Oakland hot spots are getting everything from New York Times reviews to Michelin bibs (but no stars yet—c’mon guys, what gives?!?) But À Côté, a little restaurant in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland a couple of miles from our house, still seems to stay just under the national radar (though it has made the Chron’s top 100 every year since it opened). It’s one of my favorite places for dinner, topped only by Wood Tavern, also in Rockridge, and Rivoli on Solano Avenue in Albany. We go there a couple of times a year, sometimes for a special occasion and sometimes just because we’re biking by and want to stop for “fries and a beer” (which invariably turns into a four-course meal!) It’s one of the few spots in Oakland that reserves a chunk of tables for neighborhood walk-ins (though unless you go early, you typically still have to wait). They serve tasty Belgian beers, cocktails, good wine, and lots of interesting small plates, generally with a French/Mediterranean flair. We almost always sit out on the patio, which is this wonderful space that can’t quite decide if it’s inside or outside—surrounded by a velvet curtain with the heat lamps on, you can enjoy dinner here even on rainy winter nights.

Earlier this week we headed there to celebrate my birthday, and enjoyed the usual tasty goodness: some of the best frites around; chanterelle mushroom fritters; a wonderful pear, candied pecan, and blue cheese salad (their cheeses are phenomenal in general); and lamb roasted in their clay oven. Accompanied by a Belgian brew and an elderflower gin cocktail to start the night off (I’ll leave it to you to guess which of us had which!) and a flight of Spanish wines to follow, it was one of the best meals we’ve had in a while. Being that it was a birthday and all, we did have dessert too and our server, who was excellent, even remembered the candle—but as is often the case at both À Côté and Wood, I was less excited about the desserts. They were good, but not stellar after four dishes that were. I think I’m just not a creamy-goodness kind of gal, and that’s most of what’s on the À Côté menu right now, though we’ve been there a couple of times when they’ve had tasty fruit tarts that were more up my alley. (And in all fairness, we did pass up the odd-sounding peanut butter and jelly cake, which our server swore was the best dish in the house!) But overall, a lovely way to welcome my fourth decade (as my mom so delicately put it).

Anyway. À Côté. Check it out if you’re ever in Oakland. You’ll find it on College Avenue in the Rockridge district, and you won’t be sorry, because, as the Chron noted in its very first review of the place back in ’01, it’s practically perfect.

Grade: A (on its way to an A+ if they ever get the desserts nailed down)
Price: $$$-$$$$

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