Keeping the Flame Alive on Fourth St

zut! dinners

We were so excited we started eating before I got the camera out!

Dinner tonight was at Zut! on Fourth St in Berkeley–to celebrate Rocky’s birthday.  I’ve lost track of how many restaurants have been in this spot, and while it was, of course, remodeled yet again, Zut! really reminds me of the one that got it all started here: Fourth Street Grill. There appears to be some old wood around the banquette we sat in, and I wonder how much if any of the interior was there when it was the Grill.

Sarah and I were practically kids when we first started coming up from Fresno to visit my cousin Tommy in the Bay Area. Often, Tommy would insist on taking us out to dinner, and often it was Fourth Street Grill to which he would his maniacally maneuver 6 series BMW. It’s been over 20 years since those dinners, so I don’t remember all the food details. But I’m pretty sure that was the first time I had Caesar salad with whole leaves, always perfectly coated with tangy dressing and grated parmesan. Perhaps the I’ve ever had. And wonderful little french fries, and the best roasted chicken ever, and fabulous burgers, and…

Tommy loved, LOVED to share good food with his peeps. Nothing made him happier than to take friends and family somewhere and turn them on to his latest discovery of culinary excellence. There were many other wonderful places we went, but Fourth Street was always high on the list of places to go. Thinking about the satisfaction and excitement he felt whenever we ate together makes me miss him so much, all over again.

Tommy would have been content; tonight’s meal was outstanding. Even before our appetizers arrived, we were all loving the bread, and Theo declared it the best bread EVER. Then came the beet salad with feta and mandarin and mint. Fabulous! Next came a bowl of crispy fried smelt with mayo for dipping. They disappeared almost immediately. Although I have to say that to me they didn’t quite live up to what we often got on our last trip to Greece. But I’m not complaining. They were pretty darn good.

Then our entrees came. Theo had a giant cheeseburger off the kids menu ($10), and since he doesn’t really eat french fries, he had Caesar salad on the side instead. I had to QA it, and while it was not  a rival to the old Fourth St Grill Caesar, it was very good. Rocky had seared Ahi with grilled sunchokes, young chickories, treviso, blood orange and dates ($23). It was beautiful, perfectly cooked and ample. Sarah had the halibut with roasted brussel sprouts in lemon, brown butter and capers ($24). Her only complaint was that there was no starch on the plate, but we got a second round of bread to take care of that. She ate every bite on her plate. I had the rotisserie chicken with horseradish mashed potatoes and escarole ($17). It was fabulous. The escarole was perfectly cooked and had just the right acid tang to be the perfect foil for the creamy potatoes. The chicken was very slightly smokey, wonderfully moist and  delicious. But it was both whole halves of a poussin! I would have had to eat through the pain to eat it all. I might have, if I didn’t know we were committed to dessert. Instead, I brought half home for lunch tomorrow. Yum!

Finally, for dessert, we shared a couple of things. Chevre cheesecake with gingersnap crust and blood orange. Outrageous! And also mandarin sorbet with Greek frozen yogurt–like the best 50-50 bar you’ll ever experience. And they made a special little chocolate sundae for Theo.

And before I forget, a nice surprise of the evening was the wonderful Greek wine. The 2008  Santorini, Asirtiko/Athiri, Sigalas ($34) was bright with a hint of gravel, had nice fruit, and was perfect with all the food.

All in all, a wonderful evening sharing good food with the family.