Summary: This venerated Berkeley institution offers good but uninspired food highlighting fresh ingredients.
It would not be far fetched to say that Skates on the Bay is a Berkeley institution. It's been there forever, everyone has eaten there and has a strong opinions about the place. Everyone, that is, except for me. I'm not particularly sure why I'd never eaten at Skates. It was probably the price that kept me away at first, and later the fact that all in all, there isn't much buzz about it. Yes, many people like it, but it's not like anyone is raving about the restaurant. Until now. We went there for lunch last Saturday (October 2008), and I really loved the place.
For the few who haven't been there, Skates is a restaurant located on the water in the Berkeley Marina. It's quite elegant, with a large dining room, a fireplace and quite a bit of wood, but its main feature are its huge windows looking out to the bay. Even in a cloudy day the effect was very relaxing.
I loved the atmosphere at Skates, it reminded me a lot of Argentine restaurants - places where you go for long lunches, talk and relaxation. The fact that we were having lunch at 2 pm on a Saturday might have accentuated that feeling. I also loved to see so many well-dressed ladies lunching. And indeed, I immediately felt this would have been the ideal place to take my aunt (one of those elderly women who are always well dressed, with perfect hair, accessories and make up) - I immediately regretted not having done so when I had the opportunity. If only I had known... Anyway, I'm determined to take my father there next time he's in town - I'm sure he'd like it.
We went there for brunch, which included both breakfast and lunch entrees (imagine that). Prices were quite reasonable, with most items in the low teens. Children's meals were $7.
Both Charlotte and I ordered the cheeseburger ($11). I had it with everything on it - that is to say, cheddar cheese and bacon - while Lotty had it without any accouterments. Both were served medium rare, as requested. We both loved them. I thought the burger was nice and juicy without being overly fatty. The smokiness of the thick bacon gave it a very finished flavor; while the bacon in itself was pretty good, it was excellent with the rest of the deal. I wasn't as thrilled with the thin cut skin-on french fries, I thought the taste was off somehow. It wasn't exactly that the oil had gone bad, but something was affecting them.
Mike started with the clam chowder ($7), a large plate full of meaty clams. Both Mika (my 6-year old) and he thought it was very good. I was actually quite surprised that Mika liked it so much, she always claims she doesn't like seafood. I have a feeling she may not know what clams are :-).
He followed it with the salmon, on special that day. He liked the salmon itself, but the portion was quite small. Moreover, the accompanying sticky rice was cold - not very appetizing.
Daniel had the roasted chicken and red pepper scramble ($14), and he thought it was good. He didn't rave about it, but then again, he's not that kind of person.
Michaela had the french toast kids meal ($7). Two thick slices of french toast came accompanied by real maple syrup. She liked it well enough, though the portion was clearly too large for a 6 year-old (at least one that had had some clam chowder). I ate the rest (after having given part of my burger to Mike, it was also too large for one person) and I thought it was OK - a little too dry for my taste. It did not come with the advertised seedless grapes - I didn't notice until later. Camila had the scrambled eggs and bacon, which came with potatoes. She ate very little of it, but seemed to like the eggs well enough. The potatoes were quite nice, well cooked and spiced. Even without the grapes, it was a generous portion. The kids meal also came with a small sundae - which they wouldn't let me try. They liked it, but they are not exactly picky in this arena.
Nat, a 4 year old, had the blueberry pancakes. He wasn't picky either - but he ate them all and nobody got to taste them. I don't remember how much they were, but I think about $12, overpriced for 3 large pancakes, if you ask me.
Service was pretty good. Our server was quite amenable and nice, though not as attentive as I'd wish. She forgot to bring us a second helping of bread, after asking us if we wanted it, for example.
Skates on the Bay is part of a small waterfront chain of restaurants in the Bay Area. The menus at the four restaurants seem to be similar, if not identical, so I wouldn't make the trip to Skates for the food, when I can get the same thing at our local Horatio's. But I would, once again, for the atmosphere.
Skates on the Bay
100 Seawall Drive