Carpaccio of Yellowfin Tuna, Grilled California Yellowtail, Angel’s Pillows
Occupation: MBA Student
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Lalime’s Restaurant
Reviewed Lalime’s Restaurant: Saturday January 26, 2008
It was a dark and stormy night.
No, really, it was. I was soaked with rain on the short walk from my car to Lalime’s on a Friday evening. It was the kind of ugly Bay Area weekend that makes one want to cuddle up in a comfy house with someone special and forget about the outside world. Lucky for me, that’s just the kind of experience Lalime’s delivers without fail every time I visit.
Upon arrival, my lucky dining companion and I were immediately ushered to our table by the gracious hostess. The restaurant was full and vibrant, but not so loud that it detracted from the feeling of intimacy and casual comfort. Our server greeted us soon after we were seated, and for the rest of the evening we were wrapped in the warm embrace of the magical dining experience that is Lalime’s.
The best restaurants in the world are those that can, with seeming effortlessness, deliver an experience that transforms every guest’s outlook on the world through the simple act of feeding them. With a sublime combination of memorably impeccable service and dishes that delight not just the taste buds, but also the soul, Lalime’s possesses that intangible sorcery that can turn a cold and wet evening into a warm and wonderful night.
On this particular evening, every course was brilliant and unusual, but seemed somehow as familiar as an old friend. We began with two seafood appetizers. The Dungeness crab salad combined deliciously crunchy lettuces with a peppery bite and perfect buttery bits of sweet crab. The textures meshed well together with bits of avocado-topped toast. We also shared the carpaccio of yellowfin tuna, which was such a thrill! While tuna carpaccio is perhaps one of the most overdone dishes in American restaurants these days, I’ve never had one that tasted quite like this. The secret to this dish is truly in the sauce, an arugula vinaigrette drizzled ever so lightly atop the fish, which is then sprinkled with edamame. The chef’s delicate touch could have easily been overwrought; too much dressing or too many edamame, and the meaty satisfaction of the fish could have been drowned out. As it was presented, however, these ingredients perfectly complemented each other and added to the sense of freshness that one demands in a seafood carpaccio. It was a great way to start the meal.
Our main courses took us deeper into the bliss that great dining can be. Grilled Eel River grass-fed NY steak with mashed potatoes and red wine jus was earthy and solid, true comfort food; but the roast rack of lamb with Meyer lemon confit, couscous, and pine nuts was out of this world! Every bit of flavor was exciting to taste, either on its own or as a “combo bite” with all the other ingredients. The lamb was succulent and tender, and the citrus flavors sang together like a choir of angels. It deserves a standing ovation. That is exactly the type of dish one should come to Lalime’s to experience. With an ever-changing menu, I can’t promise it will be available the following week, but I can guarantee you that something deeply satisfying will take its place.
A word now about the wine list: I think Lalime’s wine list is great. It’s not overpriced, nor so long as to be daunting. One can certainly find a wine that perfectly complements the food and not feel frightened by the price tag. Most wines seem to fall in the $30-50 range. We shared a bottle of Brown Estate Zinfandel ($63), which brought out the fruity flavors in the lamb quite nicely. Then, all too soon, the bottle was empty, and our plates were, too.
But we did find room for a bit of dessert. The Noisette was greatly satisfying for my chocaholic date, but I preferred the Angel’s Pillows. It was like four lightly sweet cheese ravioli, topped with a richly satisfying blueberry sauce. It was served just slightly warm and was a soothing and fresh way to end the meal, especially when washed down with a bit of Taylor Fladgate port.
I don’t think it’s too much to say that Lalime’s is a magical place because, like a great magician, the chef and staff at Lalime’s and even its unsuspecting street front locale have mastered the art of surprise in a way that delights and amazes the senses. Every dish seems sprinkled with a bit of mood-enhancing mystery. And I swear, they may be cooking up something even more powerful in the kitchen than the food… they might control the weather, too. Because as we left the restaurant, the last drops of rain ceased falling from the sky, and I felt warm, dry, and cozy all night long. I’m not entirely sure the magicians in the kitchen didn’t have something to do with that, either.
Occupation: Director of Operations, Test Prep Exams
Favorite Restaurant: Indian Aroma
Reviewed Lalime’s Restaurant: Sunday February 3, 2008
We arrived in Berkeley/Albany around 6:45, and the streets were quiet. Lalime’s is situated in a nice neighborhood with little shops and cottage homes. A large picture window-front framed the restaurant from the sidewalk giving passers-by a glimpse of the linen-tablecloth life. It looked very inviting with orchids modeling on tables and snazzy waiters and bussers eager to assist, and fixtures straight from Restoration Hardware.
We made a reservation, but for that night, it was not necessary. Three were plenty of empty tables. The hostess was warm and inviting, and we were seated immediately. A half-loaf of fresh, crusty bread and butter found its way to our table.
We started with the carpaccio of yellowfin tuna. It was a delightful, rather large-slice of yellowfin with arugula vinaigrette, edemame, and sesame crisps. I found it to be very good and the lemon wedge that came on the plate took away any sense of fishiness. We saved some of the bread for the carpaccio, which was a solid move on our part. Sipping my beer, the restaurant evoked years to come. I think we were the youngest people in there and the air of sophistication was palpable. No regard for the Super Bowl, just a nice dinner. You got a good sense of the true foodies who come to enjoy Lalime’s. Come dressed for a nice dinner and some good eavesdropping.
For our entrees, we have the seafood stew and the grilled yellowtail (do you sense a theme?) I thought the seafood stew once one of the best I’ve ever had! I had a wonderfully bold seafood broth displaced by large shrimp, mussels, and rockfish. The dish also came with a toasted piece of bread, which held up nicely in the broth. The other dish was the grilled yellowtail (seared medium-rare) over a bed of lentils and flanked by roasted fennel. Topping off the fish was a blood orange sauce and thinly sliced fennel. We both thought the fish was excellent and cooked perfectly. It was a good hunk of tuna and could easily be shared by two people. As a side dish, we shared the white beans with the dinosaur kale. I would have liked to see more kale and fewer beans. The beans were cooked nicely and the buttery beans went well with the fish.
For desert, we shared the apple chausson. This was an awesome dessert and the portion was monstrous! I noticed the person next to us ordered the same dessert, but it lacked size. It came on a large rectangular plate with a pastry turnover crowned with vanilla ice cream and surrounded by flambéed Fuji apples. I found the pastry to be a bit salty, but other than that, it was a great dessert.
All in all, I found the experience to be quite enjoyable. The food was good and one would expect that with the price. This is not a cheap place, but if you were going for an anniversary dinner or a parent’s birthday, I would recommend this place. The price reflects the service, food and atmosphere. For the money, I would expect nothing else and Lalime’s was solid on all accounts.
Occupation: Casting Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Anchor Oyster Bar & Seafood Market
Reviewed Lalime’s Restaurant: Wednesday February 6, 2008
Lalime’s is a welcoming, beautifully lit restaurant in a charming neighborhood in Berkeley. I wanted to fall in love with this restaurant, and as we walked in, I was instantly wishing it was in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, my food experience failed with each dish. I hate that feeling of going to a nice restaurant and walking out feeling I had made the wrong decisions on what I ordered, as if it were up to me to know what to order and what not to order. This, of course, makes you a little angry on your way home.
I invited my partner, Patricia, to a dinner at Lalime’s on a Wednesday night. The hostess and our waitress were attentive and welcoming and yet we felt rushed. What was the reason for that? It was a Wednesday night at 7:00, it wasn’t necessarily busy. As we ordered our first glass of wine, our waitress informed us that if we were ordering a cassoulet there was a 35-minute wait on that. Again, what was the hurry? I started out with the onion soup with Gruyère toast, and Patricia had a salad with blue cheese dressing. Her salad was fantastic. It was another cold night, and I wanted hot soup to warm me up. There was no broth in this soup. It was a piece of bread with cheese on it surrounded by pureed onions. My first thought was, “Is this how it’s served in France?” I’ve never been there; maybe this is how it’s done. The onions tasted very good, but I really wanted some soup.
Within minutes of our soup and salad dishes being removed from our table, our main dishes were served, mine being the duck cassoulet. The 35-minute dish arrived 20 minutes after ordering it from the waitress. Both Patricia and I were wondering why they served it so quickly, we would have loved a little break and possibly ordered more wine. Patricia’s a vegetarian and was going to side dishes for her meal, but the waitress strongly recommended that she order the one veggie dinner item. Patricia did order the one item, crêpes with mushrooms. She loved it, instantly giving it the thumbs up. My cassoulet at the beginning was very good. There was a slight broth to it, which helped satisfy my broth craving, and the flavor was delicious along with the white beans. My surprise was biting into the duck and it was COLD! It was cold, and I couldn’t believe it. I had to send it back. While we were waiting, Patricia ate her meal. I could tell she was trying to stretch it out, but I encouraged her to eat it while it was still warm. After about 12 minutes or so, my cassoulet came back and not only was the duck warm, but the cassoulet itself was dry; it was like mush. I was so disappointed and I believe that is when I gave up. I ate most of it because I was hungry and then after putting my fork down, I discovered that I was thirsty from all of the salt in the dish. So salty in fact that I wasn’t interested in the beautiful looking desserts going by. I just wanted to drink a glass of water.
After returning home I reflected upon my experience at Lalime’s. I thought about how there really wasn’t any fun in going to this restaurant. Although it is a very nice looking place and people are very nice, there wasn’t any character there. It is a neighborhood restaurant and yet I didn’t feel anything very special about this place except nice lighting and fancy food. It was disturbingly quiet to the point where we could hear conversations right next to us. Maybe they need some music or a piano player? Something to give it some character, something special, because to me it wasn’t in the food. Would I go back? Probably not. I choose restaurants carefully and look at them almost as an investment. An investment of my time and money. I would not invest my time or money into Lalime’s. My advice to those of you who go is to be careful what you order.