This restaurant has closed. A new restaurant has re-opened at the same place
After reading several reports/reviews on Cafe Viola - and craving French food - we went there on a Saturday night in late September 1999. In all, the meal was pleasant, the ambiance nice, and the service so-so. It was an OK experience, but probably not worth repeating.
We had made reservations for 7:30, and we got there a few minutes early. They could not seat us right away, and told us it would be about 5 minutes. Unfortunately, they were more like 40, and while they offered us a complimentary glass of champagne, we did not appreciate having to wait standing up by the crowded front door.
We were finally seated in the back room, which we liked. It's like a covered outdoor patio, with a heater in the middle. There wasn't much in the way of decoration, but all in all it was a pleasant place. The clientele seemed to be mostly middle-aged and older, so we felt a little out of place at the beginning (we're both in our early thirties), especially when we were waiting to be seated - but it was in general comfortable.
The menu is not very long, it had about 5 or 6 appetizers (about $7-9), and maybe 7 or 8 entries (about $14-18). Most of the dishes seemed to be rather simple. For an appetizer we were torn between sharing a foie gras terrine (which I had read was very good, though came in a very small portion) or frog legs. We finally went with the terrine.
For entrees I ordered the New York Steak Frites and my husband went for the salmon. Other choices included a hamburger, tuna, trout, braised short ribs and a goat cheese omelette. I think there was also a vegetarian dish.
They had a wider-than-usual selection of wine by the glass, and I ordered a glass of the Cabernet Sauvignon, from a Central California coast vintner. Mike had a coke.
We were able to order rather promptly and bread and butter soon appeared on our table. The french bread was OK, probably not baked on the premises, though nothing special - but the butter was very good. Our drinks also arrived promptly.
We were hungry, specially after the 20-minute-wait for the table so we soon finished the bread and butter. Unfortunately, no more seemed to be forthcoming. The waiters seemed to be very busy and it was difficult to stop one to ask for some more. The appetizer also seemed to take a long time to come to our table. It finally arrived, however, as well as more bread and butter.
As expected, the portion of foie gras terrine was rather small, about the size of a silver dollar. However, it was very, very good. It came with toasted slices of bread and some wine jelly which we did not care for. All in all we were quite satisfied with this dish.
The entries came in due course, though the waiter promptly disappeared after putting them on our table. Mike said he very much liked the grilled salmon, though he cared less for the beans accompanying it. My New York Steak was also very good and flavorful, though perhaps a little bit less tender than I'd hoped. It came with a beet and beer reduction sauce which was excellent. The french fries were also wonderful, very think and crispy. Everything was seasoned to our taste - which was fortunate because there was no salt or pepper at the table (though we did notice that other tables had them).
In all we had no complaints with the food, other than the fact that the whole menu seemed very unimaginative, which perhaps is to be expected for a bistro. We do, however, have complaints with the service. My New York Steak did not come with a steak knife, and it was very hard to cut it with the regular knives at the table. I was half-way through it, however, before we could stop a waiter and ask for a steak knife as well as some water, which had never been brought or offered to us. Indeed, the waiter never came to ask us if we wanted more drinks after we finished our first ones.
In all fairness, however, it did seem that they were very busy - I don't know if that night they were missing a waiter or if it's always like that.
The plates were promptly removed after dinner and the dessert menu was brought. There was nothing that particularly appealed to us, so we decided against it.
The whole meal came to be about $55, which seemed fair enough.
In conclusion, the food was good though unimaginative, the service left quite a bit to be desired, and the ambiance was nice enough. We probably wouldn't go back mostly because the food wasn't interesting enough.
1428 San Pablo Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94702