Last Friday night (July 2008) my friend Desiree and I went to Verbena for a girls' night out. I had been there many years before, in my pre-kids day, and had liked it (though I apparently didn't write a review of it) and wanted to give it another try. In all, we had a very nice dinner and I'd go back there again.
Verbena occupies a space in the first floor of an office building in downtown Oakland. It's very convenient for those who want to drink and would rather take BART than drive home. Indeed, the restaurant is known for its drinks as much as for its food. The restaurant itself is nice, though it can't really escape its surroundings. It can be a little bit romantic at night, specially if you take one of the tables farthest away from the bar, but it looks more casual by daylight.
Verbena calls itself an Italian restaurant, but it's definitely Californised - it's dishes are not that different from those found at many a Californian restaurant. Prices are reasonable, with main dishes in the high teens to low twenties.
Desiree and I decided to share the truffled french fries with parmesan and aioli ($7), which we both liked very much. The thin fries were on the soft side and nice by themselves, but positively delicious with the strong and lemony flavored aioli. I'd definitely order them again.
Desiree had the salmon, which was on special that day (> $20). She was very happy with it, though I don't remember the exact comments she made. Still, the point was that it was good. I had the marinated hanger steak with salsa verde and polenta "soufflé" ($20). The steak was perfectly cooked medium-rare (to the rare side of medium rare, which I liked), and tasted like steak should taste. The salsa verde actually enhanced the flavor, rather than hiding it. It was very tender (this is the second time I have had tender hanger steak; isn't it supposed to be a tough cut?) And it was just delicious. It came, however, with a very disappointing polenta souffle. It was light, but it tasted like plain, if salted, polenta - it definitely needed something else.
Desiree wasn't sold over by any of the desserts (though I could have had the strawberry short cake or the chocolate cake myself), so we left without trying them. A pity.
In any case, we had a very nice dinner and I'd go back again.
1111 Broadway, Lobby Level