1403 Solano (in Albany). This is a new vaguely European small-plates restaurant near the Albany/Berkeley border. I went there with my research group after reading about it on Chowhound. The menu is still a little in flux and the wheels of the operation haven’t yet been oiled, but I’m pretty confident that they could work out the kinks by the end of February when they officially open. At the moment, however, the restaurant leaves a lot to be desired.
I ordered the Roman Manhattan, which was Maker’s and Cinzano and was a bit watery. This might have been due to the 10 minutes they spent making it — it had that left-in-the-shaker-to-melt taste to it. For a restaurant that was so empty, it was a little disappointing.
There were a lot of things missing from the menu — the venison was absent to lack of availability, and the Holland crepes were also out, which was surprising since as far as I could tell they are like Dutch quesadillas. The menu also had some pretty glaring typos; not something you expect in such a high-end place. It was especially bad if you knew French. It was hard to tell what was vegetarian and what was not. Lots of the things had ham or something hidden in them.
We ended up getting the pommes frites, saffron rice croquettes with pancetta, breaded olives stuffed with ricotta, ham, marjoram, “amalfi grilled vegetables,” crostini with various spreads, mussels cooked in white wine and garlic, and the vegetarian grill, which was an entree with lots of veggies and some vegetarian croquettes. The bread that came initially was clearly not that fresh, which was a real downer, especially since the Acme bakery is so close by. Of the dishes we ordered, the saffron rice was a clear winner — lightly fried and the saffron was clear but not overpowering. The wine from the mussels was overpowered by the intense brine flavor and the garlic was mostly absent. The vegetarian grill had some sauce on it that was a little sour but absolutely delicious. The olives kept losing their breading but the ricotta was surprisingly good as a stuffing. I didn’t really get to try the crostini so I can’t comment.
Dessert was cheese and fruit and a creme brulée. The latter didn’t have a crunchy enough top — certain movie characters would have been sorely disappointed. On a different day I would have chosen something more chocolate-oriented — there were some other tasty options on there that may have been more exciting.
All in all it seemed like the whole place was getting into the rhythm of things, and I think they have a lot going for them. I’ll definitely try it out again sometime.
Afterwards, we went bowling, and I managed to bowl a 151, which is shockingly good for me. I attribute the score to the white Russians.