Summary: Great food and service, but did we get lucky?
Monday night (September 2007), Katrina, Parker, Eddie and I went out to dinner once again, this time at Cafe de la Paz in Berkeley. Though I'd lived relatively close to the gourmet ghetto for many years, and have driven by this restaurant many times, I'd never been there before. I had an idea, I'm not sure gotten from where, that the food was bland. Then again, with some exceptions, I'm not the biggest fan of Latin American cuisine. I was also a little apprehensive about going here, because Cafe de la Paz gets very mixed reviews in Yelp and other fora. Its service, in particular, is severely criticized. Fortunately, with the exception of a relatively minor incident, we experienced both great food and great service at Cafe de la Paz and I would be happy to go back.
One of the problems I had read about, was reservations that were not being kept. I'm sad to report that this was indeed the case with us. Not only did the hostess not have our reservation, but there weren't tables ready for anyone else with a reservation that night. Fortunately, we only had to wait about 10 minutes before a table was available, and those with reservations were given priority.
Once seated, service was excellent. Our order was taken quickly, we got water and sangria soon enough, and our glasses were refilled regularly. Dishes came in and out without a glitch, and our waitress was nice and friendly.
The food, however, is what really shone. We shared a few tapas, the best of which were the Cachapas de Jojoto ($6), Venezuelan corn pancakes. They were out of this world, soft and creamy served with a delicious sauce that created in my mind a sense of umami. The lapinacho ($5), potato cakes stuffed with cheese, were also good, though not on the same level. The accompanying plantain, however, was really good - and I also liked the chile cream. I liked their crumbly corn cake, though it wasn't particularly great. My friends shared the blackened seacakes ($8), and they liked them; I skipped them as I don't eat seafood.
Cafe de la Paz serves several meat and vegetarian large dishes in addition to the tapas. However, nothing appealed to me as much as the guacamole ($4.50) and the ribs. The guacamole was refreshing and good, though there wasn't very much on the plate. I'm not sure I'd bother ordering it again. The ribs were succulent and fall-of-the- bone tender with a nice sweet sauce, perhaps tamarind. I would order them again.
Eddie had one of the salads, and she seemed to like it, though she wasn't that effusive. Parker and Katrina shared both the seafood xim xim ($12) and the crab enchiladas. The xim xim was a favorite of theirs, and they both enjoyed it - but they really loved the crab enchiladas. They thought they were perfectly balanced, with a generous portion of crab meat. These were in special that night, so get them while you can.
Everyone was too full for dessert, but I insisted we share the chocolate mousse, which they call their chocolate experience. I thought it was delicious, very light with an intense chocolate flavor. Eddie in particular liked the cream, which she ate by itself, I thought it nicely softened the sweetness of the mousse. I'd definitely order it again.
Perhaps what I enjoyed least that evening was the sangria. It was very watered down and not in the least alcoholic. Still, it was very refreshing and we did order a couple of carafes.
The restaurant itself is very cute; it has yellowish and wine colored walls with pictures of Latin American scenes, and large windows looking out at the Berkeley Hills. The dining room is fairly small, though there is more seating downstairs at the bar. They also have a banquet room.
In all, our experience at Cafe de la Paz was very good, and I'd go back in a second.
Cafe de la Paz
1600 Shattuck Ave.