I had been looking forward to going to Cesar for ages, and maybe that was the problem. More than one restaurant visit has been ruined by too high expectations. And my expectations of Cesar were high. I had read all the raves about its food, the glowing review in the San Francisco Chronicle, and I was expecting that its food would at least match the quality of what we'd had at A Cote a couple of years before. I knew that Cesar was a tapas bar, where the food was officially an afterthought to the drinks (but the food was supposed to be so good!) and I was even prepared for the long wait on a Friday night (we were told 20 minutes, it ended up being 45, but we were able to sip wine sitting on chairs so I didn't mind). But I wasn't prepared for the food to suck.
OK, maybe that statement is too strong. The food didn't suck; it just wasn't that great. We liked the spiced almonds, but they weren't that special. The much-praised French fries weren't that great and tasted too much of cumin. There was nothing to dip them in either, which didn't help. A thick slab of coarse rabbit and pork pate was fresh tasting but otherwise very mild. Much better was a cheese platter with three generous slabs of Spanish cheeses - but it's sad when the highlight of a restaurant meal is the cheese.
The brief menu also offered three or four bocadillos, or sandwiches. Mike had the spiced tuna one and was very disappointed. "It just doesn't taste very good" was his verdict. We were also disappointed that the menu didn't include any substantial dishes, but after a couple of desserts we weren't left hungry.
Cesar did a little bit better on the desserts. The bread pudding was simply superb, extremely light and fluffy. Even Mike, who doesn't like bread pudding, asked for more. The chocolate creme, on the other hand, was quite disappointing. It was very dense and somewhat bitter, without being very chocolatey. I didn't even want to finish it.
I had a couple of glasses of Rioja wine with dinner and they were quite good, smooth and easy to drink. That I would order again.
But I don't think I'm likely to go to Cesar again. I think Cesar could be a cool place to get together with friends for a drink (not something I'm likely to do with a toddler anyway) if it wasn't for the long lines. There is no compelling reason to face them. There are plenty of other bars in the area that are just as nice and easier to get into. And the food, Cesar's draw, just isn't worth it.
1515 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94709-1516