San Leandro Reviews
Bay Area Reviews
Upate: This restaurant has closed
Last Thursday night (July 2006) a bunch of girlfriends and I had a "Mom's Night Out" at Vila Cereja. It was the first time I'd been there since it opened, and I was surprised at how little the place and the menu had changed in almost two years. Most of my friends thought the place was somewhat strange, both because of its decor and lack of windows, and for its almost-exclusively white clientele. That may not be too surprising when you consider that its previous incarnation as Jake's Lion (same owners) has been around since 1967, when San Leandro was an exclusively white town with a police force that harassed blacks that dared cross the border from Oakland or Hayward. Many of Vila Cereja's patrons seem to be regulars, and old regulars at that. Vila Cereja is also the meeting place for the Sentinels, San Leandro's own "old boys network," the people who pull the strings behind the city's government and who've also been around since the 70's.
But of course, none of that dissuaded us from going to Vila Cereja, and we had a great time. Though we hadn't actually gone there to eat, the whole table shared a couple of appetizers and a few of us partook of VC's small plates and desserts. Both Parker and Tita ordered that night's special of figs stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar sauce (~$6). The portion consisted of only 4 figs, which we managed to divide in two so we could all sample them, but they were positively delicious. The flavors blended perfectly, and we were all more than pleased. I'd definitely order them again, and indeed, as soon as my figs ripen I'm going to try making it myself.
Parker and I also decided to share a couple of small plates. The Portuguese Steak ($10.50), served with a wine and Serrano ham sauce, was just as good as I remembered (OK, as I'd previously written), though it perhaps needed a tiny bit of salt. The minute steak was sliced in four pieces and perfectly cooked medium rare, the accompanying tomatoes were ripe, sweet and juice and just delicious. It's certainly a dish worth ordering again.
The hamburger looked expensive at $9.25, but it was well worth it. It was easily the best burger I've ever had. The meat must have been seasoned, but I couldn't distinguish any particular flavors, once again it was just well balanced and hitting all the right notes. The french fries it came with were scant, but also very good. They reminded me of the Argentine fries I've raved about before.
My friend Fanny had the capellini with lemon garlic shrimp and she also thought it was very good. So was the cheeseburger that Paz and Parker's mother in law shared. What can I say? This time the food at Vila Cereja rocked. It was expensive, but worth it.
The same cannot be said for the desserts. Desiree and I shared the lemon cheesecake, which tasted mildly of lemon and not at all of cheesecake. We wouldn't order it again. Paz had the chocolate bomb, which was a cacao tasting semifredo. I think Paz liked it, but I, once again, was not impressed. Even less successful was the orange flan which Fanny and Rosella shared. The flan itself was insipid, and the thin orange sauce did not balance it. They didn't even finish it. The desserts were on the small side - though given their flavors, nobody minded - and quite expensive at around $7 each. It's definitely not worth coming here if you're just looking for dessert (head to Horatio's instead).
I had a cup of the house Cabernet ($7) and it was quite good, oaky and smooth - I'd have it again. A glass of sangria wasn't very strong and was refreshing, though a bit expensive at $5. In all, we had a great time. Regardless of its political affiliations, I'll probably go back to Vila Cereja, at least to have a burger.
Update: In August 2006, I returned to Vila Cereja with my friend Eddie. Once again we shared the figs with gorgonzola and I had the cheeseburger. This time, however, the food seemed to be less spectacular. I don't know if that was because I'd already had those flavors before, so they resonate as much with me, or if the kitchen wasn't at its best. Eddie had the pork, however, and she was quite pleased with it.
Later, at a baby shower for Eddie, I had the opportunity of trying most desserts. The gelato trio - very nicely served on a plate divided in three - was quite good, but the other desserts either lacked flavor or were overwhelmed by one. I assume Vila Cereja is still not doing its desserts in house, which would account for their lower quality.
But it wasn't the desserts which left a bad taste in our mouths that evening, it was the service. The waiter was nowhere to be found, we had to fetch him on several occasions, even to ask after desserts that did not need any type of preparation. He forgot to bring some items to the table, and was less than helpful. It seems that service at Vila Cereja has not improved much since its opening.
1045 MacArthur Blvd.
San Leandro, Ca