Tuesday, February 07, 2006

HFF Quickie: Bendean - Berkeley, Ca

Sometimes I just want to eat something good, relatively inexpensive, in a relaxed atmosphere. I found myself walking around Solano Avenue at 5:oo on a Monday night hungry and with homework to read. Nothing sounded good to me. My usual casual Mediterranean restaurants are not terribly good for homework (something about getting baba ganoush on textbooks).

After renting a few DVDs at Five Star, I found myself strolling past Bendean. They had just open and were serving Ben's Supper (5-6PM Tues-Thurs, all night Sun & Mon), their $13.50 three course prix fixe dinner. I'd heard good things about the food, great things about the space, and mediocre things about the service, so why not?

A note about "early bird" prix fixe meals. I think that they can be a very specious concept. At a restaurant I worked at we introcuded an early bird three-course dinner to bring in business and it failed miserably. First of all, even if they want to there are very few people who are able to come out to dinner before 6PM. Second, people who do eat dinner at 5PM are ALWAYS going to eat dinner at 5PM--you're not going to bring in otherwise late-dining individuals. Third, the "value-conscious diners" who come for a $13 prix fixe are NOT going to come back on a Friday night to spend $40 a head on dinner. Lastly, in my experience, the prix fixe is usually not particularly interesting or even well done.

At Bendean, however, a combination of not having my interest piqued by the meat-heavy entree list and the surprising diversity on Ben's Supper (mixed greens and beet salad; rizo pasta with criminis, bacon, and grana; lemon-poppyseed cake) I went for it. I was thoroughly impressed.

The salad was excellent--fresh field greens with pungent goat cheese and nice thick slices of roasted beets. Much better than the generic mixed greens on other three-course dinners.

I appreciated that on my main dish that it wasn't called "risotto" on the menu. Risotto is a slow-cooked arborio rice dish. Many restaurants pass off a quick-cooked pasta dish as risotto, which it's not, no matter how delicious it may be. Bendean's rizo pasta dish was warm, creamy, smoky, and not overly rich. Thick chunks of mushrooms with a smattering of smoky bacon provided good depth of flavor. There also was an unidentified green (I think spinach) and a hefty dose of grana that gave it the requisite creaminess.

The lemon-poppyseed pound cake was quite dry, which wasn't so good, but it had a bright lemon flavor and was stuffed with fresh poppyseeds.

What I got at Bendean was good, diverse food. The ingredients were quality and there was a measure of care and attention put in to planning the menu. The menu also changes weekly (or even daily, from what I've heard) I knew that I wasnt' going to get the best that their kitchen was putting out, but that's why it's the prix-fixe.

It was what it was, and what it was was good.

Cuisine: Cal-Med/Eclectic
Entree price range: $15-$22
HFF's cost for one (prix fixe, glass of wine, tax, 20% tip): $28
Reservations: 510-526-3700
1647 Solano Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94706

1 comment:

typewrighter said...

now i want to go home and make some lemon pound cake of my own...