'MEET ME at The Shattuck "..." begins an advertisement in a 1915 issue of The Berkeley Daily. Opened in 1909, The Shattuck Hotel emerged as a central community gathering spot in Berkeley with events such as Thanksgiving dinner for $1 per plate.
The hotel's reputation has ebbed and flowed in the last hundred years, but Hotel Shattuck is back. The building is now a striking reinvention of its former self with its new restaurant, Five, pulling healthy attention to downtown Berkeley.
Executive chef Scott Howard conceived Five as a modern American bistro. The North Carolina native worked all along the Eastern Seaboard before arriving in the Bay Area, where he is best known for his eponymous San Francisco restaurant.
Five senses engaged
The restaurant is named after the five senses, and sight is the first sense to be engaged. A spunky peace sign inlaid in the white marble lobby sets a tone that intertwines the turn of the last century with the turn of this century and every decade in between. It's part urban lounge, part old-fashioned ice cream parlor and part retro bistro — all in one space.
A bar separates the hotel lobby from the dining room, where high ceilings, soaring columns and enormous mirrors highlight an eye-catching chandelier bedazzled with red gems, a color that reappears on sconces, bread plates and chairs. Bold geometric wallpaper and banquette fabric bring a playful energy to the open dining room. It's a refreshing change from the many East Bay restaurants opting for wood-heavy "rustic" designs.
Pot roast or bust
On my visit, six appetizers ranged from roasted beets with Pt. Reyes blue cheese ($9) to smoked salmon and American caviar with a potato cake ($15). The celery root and chestnut soup with a curried apple puree ($8) turned out to be a wise choice for its velvety smoothness and nutty flavor.
Orders of orzo mac and cheese ($10) were flying out of the kitchen. Howard sort of feminizes the all-American dish by starting with tiny orzo, but then adds in sturdy King Trumpet mushrooms and a large dollop of tomato jam. My friend and I were disappointed that our order was not heated all the way through but we still found our way to the bottom of the cast-iron dish.
Since the restaurant's summer opening, meats have stayed fairly consistent while sides and vegetables have shifted seasonally. Currently, main dishes such as lamb loin ($25), vegetable pot pie ($16) and duck confit ($20) have a wintry, homey pulse. We opted for the short ribs "pot roast" ($24) and butternut squash ravioli ($15).
I've been waiting 18 months for a single bite of restaurant food to delight me as much as the simple avocado toast I ate at Camino in 2008. I found a close competitor in Howard's short ribs "pot roast." Although short ribs are overplayed right now, these were the best I've had. They're seared and braised to create intense flavor and a very tender texture. Howard apparently knows a bit about beef, having grown up near Lexington, N.C., a city that calls itself the "Barbecue Capital of the World."
The rest of the dish was equally satisfying. The short ribs were perched atop a block of white cheddar polenta and only a short swim in jus from a trio of baby turnips that made me wonder how these gems ever became the black sheep of root vegetables.
The butternut squash ravioli was artfully plated with caramelized pearl onions and buttery Bloomsdale spinach. This was a rich dish where loads of chestnut sage butter overpowered the sweet squash filling. Although delicious, its richness stopped us from cleaning the plate.
Desserts worth exploring
Howard is exceptionally good at accentuating the natural flavors of his ingredients. Thus, the short ribs tasted especially beefy and the tomato jam was as vibrant as a late August heirloom.
Dessert (all $7) was no exception. The butterscotch pudding with vanilla bean screamed of, well, real butterscotch. Topped with lighter-than-air whipped cream and a peanut butter brittle, this luscious pudding renewed my interest in the wonder of brown sugar. Other dessert options include banana bread pudding and a Meyer lemon pana cotta.
Service was steady and generally earnest, with a few thoughtful touches such as labeled takeout boxes.
Five is a boon for downtown Berkeley and the guests of Hotel Shattuck Plaza. The pot roast alone is worth the drive from other parts of the Bay Area. As the good word continues to spread about Five, more of us will be meeting at the Shattuck once again.
We don't let restaurants know that we are coming in to do a review, and we strive to remain anonymous. If we feel we have been recognized or are given special treatment, we will tell you. We pay for our meal, just as you would.
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