Note: We've gone to Cafe Rouge with our baby several times for lunch, while shopping at 4th Street. The lunch menu is very nice, with sandwiches and slightly heavier fare mostly priced in the low teens. I often have the steak frites which I would recommend. Service is always good and they are very tolerant of Michaela.
Café Rouge always appears on the lists of the best Berkeley restaurants, so we had been meaning to go there for dinner for ages. Last June, I finally tried it for lunch and I was a bit disappointed. The BBQ ribs I had were a tad chewy and the sauce could in no way compare to that of our favorite BBQ joints (E&J's and Flint's). However, lunch and dinner menus are different and we thought it was worth giving dinner there a try. We are glad we did. The food was delicious and the experience very positive.
Café Rouge is located in trendy but dead-at-night 4th street. At 7 PM, all the stores were closed and the street was deserted but for the homeless people who congregated in front of Peet's. Café Rouge, however, was quite awake. The restaurant is very pleasant, simple and casual. A large bar, where you can have the full menu, is the main focus of the room. The small tables are well-spaced, but the restaurant can get quite loud.
Service was pretty good, though I could barely hear our waiter. I don't remember anything going wrong.
The food, however, is the main attraction. The menu is brief; the night we were there it featured 7 appetizers, 3 salads, 6 entrees and 6 desserts, in addition to seafood sold by the unit. The dishes seemed to be mostly of Mediterranean origin, not necessarily French. We skipped wine so we didn't take a look at the wine list, but there is a nice variety of beers, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
As an appetizer, we shared the "Grilled lamb sausage coil and flatbread with arugula and mint salad" ($9). The brown sausage presentation left something to be desired, but taste-wise it could not be faulted. It had a rich, Middle-Easterny flavor, and was delicious with the bread. Mike, who ate the salad, found it very good as well.
Mike ordered the "Spit-roasted chicken with warm potato, dandelion and pancetta salad" ($17) as an entree and I had the "Spit-roasted piglet with chanterelle, corn, cranberry and romano bean ragout" ($18). I felt weird about ordering this dish, having visions of a small pig on a skewer, but the waiter assured us that the pig was not that small. The pork slices, however, were so extremely tender that they almost melted in your mouth. They were very nicely flavored and I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. I skipped the beans et al, but Mike, who tried them, said they were good. Mike's roasted chicken was also very good. It's really amazing to me how a common dish such as roasted chicken can be so good when properly prepared - it was juicy, tender and very flavorful.
For dessert, we ordered the Blueberry creme brulee ($6.50). If you've read my other reviews, you probably know that I love creme brulee, so I order it whenever I can. The Café Rouge version, unfortunately, was not successful. The sometimes-sour, never sweet, taste of the blueberries added nothing and took away quite a bit from the soft flavor of the pudding. It's just not a good combination.
All in all, however, the dinner was very nice and we'll very likely go again.
1782 Fourth Street