EVERY NEW YEAR'S EVE we dine with a couple of old friends; we've been doing this for perhaps thirty years. Odd-numbered years at our place, even-numbered at theirs. This last time, though, we were in Amsterdam, and they were not, so we had to make an accommodation.
So it was that we found ourselves in an infernally loud, sepulchrally dark boîte, I think you'd have to call it, in their town last night. I'd made the reservation; we'd chosen the place from a short list of East Bay restaurants I thought of as appropriate to the occasion.
But over the fifteen years since this place opened its clientele has grown younger while the four of us have grown older. I recalled this as a friendly neighborhood restaurant with a thoughtful kitchen and graceful service; it's now a noisy bar with a number of tables-for-four in very dark alcoves.
The menu is confused, I think: soup, salads, "Tuscan duck liver crostini," Catalan empanadas, Mussels with Pernod, Croque Monsieur, buckwheat papardelle, lamb shank tagine… globalism at the table.
Still, I went into it thinking bistro. I ordered a side of grilled asparagus and spring onions as my first course, the grilled steak as the second. The asparagus was good and generous; the steak, slightly undercooked now I look at the photo, nicely flavored and served with potato gratin, broccolini, and a green-garlic-and-chive butter.
All our plates were small and very crowded. The service was a little uncertain. Plates arrived one at a time. And it was infernally dark and noisy.
Perricone/Nerello, Marilena Barbera "Microcosmo" (Sicily), 2012: very deep, fruity, solid, mature, and delicious
What to say? The food was really quite good; the service a little slack; the ambiance, for old folks like us, quite unbearable. I won't be back; you might enjoy it.
•A Côté, 5478 College Avenue, Oakland, California; 510-655-6469