Since the birth of our second daughter and the return of our trusted babysitters to Albania, Mike and I don't get many evenings out on our own. When we do, we like to go to places that are definitely not child friendly; in other words, places where we couldn't bring our little ones along. Crowded, loud and with a beer bent, Luka's Taproom fits the bill very well.
I'd read a positive review of Luka's Taproom in the East Bay Express and it popped to mind on a Wednesday night in July 2005 when we managed to be kid-free for an evening. It was pretty crowded when we got there some time after 7 pm, but we were able to secure a table right away. I am sure on weekends you are better off making a reservation. The restaurant is simple but nice. It has a large bar (where you can eat), a large-party table by the door and otherwise booths and tables for two or four. The small kitchen is semi-open and the whole place buzzes with activity. It's very, very loud. I had problems hearing the waiters, so it's not the sort of place you'd go for a romantic dinner but it'd be a good place to meet friends.
The menu is a combination of American and European flavors. Luka's specializes in oysters and mussels but as we're not fans of such things, we skipped them and got two appetizers, one main dish and a small order of fries to share. Jonathan Kauffman of the Express calls these fries the most authentic Belgian fries he's eaten in the US, and indeed they were pretty good. They were crispy on the outside, tender inside and served extremely hot. They reminded me somewhat of Argentine fries, though Argentine fries are usually thinner. They were served in a glass accompanied by three dipping sauces: chipotle aioli, smoked paprika ketchup and herbed aioli. Of these, I liked the herbed aioli the best (I really need to learn how to make it). The portion was somewhat small for $3, but we enjoyed them.
The first appetizer to arrive was a fig and onion tart ($9, I think). The slice was somewhat small and sweet enough that it would have worked better as a dessert, but it was very tasty. Even Mike, who doesn't usually like figs, really liked it. It was served with some arugula, which was OK, but its bitter flavor did not play off the tart well. Still, I'd order it again.
A second appetizer of duck leg confit ($10) was not quite as good. The duck was tasty, especially when eaten with the accompanying dried apricot chutney, but it appeared fried and it was a bit too heavy - it was a dish I was happy to share. Mike went wild over the frisee and radicchio salad the duck was served on - he thought it was delicious when eaten with the chutney and finished every last bit.
A main dish of fried chicken ($16, I think) was much less successful. The chicken was skinny and very fatty and was thickly coated in a very salty breading. Mike thought the chicken itself, what there was of it, was tasty - but it was too fatty for me. It was served with whipped mashed potatoes (which were fine, nothing extraordinary) and a dish of collard greens that tasted like collard greens.
As one would expect, Luka's Taproom offers a nice assortment of beers and other drinks. I can't remember what I had - it was a light beer costing $5 a glass that was too light for my taste (and I'm exclusively a lager drinker). Its only distinctive taste was that offered by the lemon slice on the glass. Mike had a Bésame Mucho mixed drink (vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur and baileys - $7) which basically tasted like a mudslide and was pretty good.
We weren't able to try dessert as we had to rush to pick up our crying baby.
In all we had a nice dinner out. I don't think I'd be rushing to go back there, but I'd certainly keep it as a possibility for kid-free nights. I'd also consider it for "girl's night out" though one certainly would have to call and make reservations for a group larger than four.