Thursday, February 24, 2011

REVIVAL BAR & KITCHEN - “Gimme that Old Time Religion!”

Mixology Heaven
So maybe not religion exactly, but sometimes the perfectly made drink, or brilliantly grilled sandwich can elevate my senses like a quiet moment in church. I’m more spiritual than religious, but I do believe in something.  A sense of importance in the moment at hand.  The smile of a loved one.  I can recognize whatever it is in eating perfectly prepared food or enjoying the right piece of music. I can feel these things as they resonate in a place that can only be the soul. 

Revival Bar & Kitchen is a nice open space that might echo the spirit just a bit. Certainly the food has heart, if not “soul.” We had a really nice lunch there with a good friend a month or so ago. It was a special occasion (OK, it was Friday, same thing) so we ordered cocktails. Gotta test the mixologist as well as the chef to get a feel for the place. Revival is a place that was definitely up for both tests. They appear to take great pride in the mixology skills of those tending the spacious bar that runs along the right wall of the entrance. Among other more traditional drinks, the cocktail menu had several beverages that announced they came chilled in copper cups. Curious, I ordered a Foghorn, a drink billed as a combination of gin, lime, cucumber and a spicy ginger beer. My copper cup was chilled nicely and appealing to the eye, but I could taste the metal and I think it interfered with the flavors in the drink. It was nevertheless tasty, but might have been better served in a less assertive mug. I’m not sure serving pieces should have any flavor at all. It might have been less noticeable on a hot summer day, as the copper did hold the chilll nicely. Our companion had a Pisco-blended cocktail that I sampled and found likewise tasty.

Cuban Mojo Pork
Our entrees were simple and simply delicious. I ordered the Cuban Mojo Pork sandwich, with a Gruyere Mousse & Cured Pickles. The pork was tender and moist, and fell apart easily at each bite. No unnecessary tugging at stringy meat. The addition of the creamy cheese “Mousse” was heavenly, it mingled with the richness of the pork to provide a nice tang, which balanced the flavor profile nicely. For something that is essentially a twist on the simple classic grilled cheese this was a knockout. The pickles had a good vinegar salt flavor, unique and fresh. Though I forgot to ask, I’ll bet they were made in-house.

Shrimp Burger Patty

The BH and I both had the Soup Special, which was a cranberry bean & ham soup. The broth was clear and inviting, with a nice bit of fat floating atop the broth. Soup is so often a form of riced vegetable, which can be quite delicious, but I was impressed that they took the time to develop the flavor in a broth-based version. It’s a longer process if one wants to really bring all the flavors together, there has to be an investment of time. It was honestly one of the best soups I’ve ever had. The beans were rich and it ended up being more evocative of a light summer minestrone, rather than a creamy and hearty winter soup.

Our companion, we’ll call her The Beauty, had a Creamy Polenta with Lucky Dog Ranch Slow- Braised Beef Sugo. Curious about the term, we actually looked up “sugo’ at the table, which we soon learned is simply Italian for “juicy” and is usually used to described a thick meaty sauce that has been slow cooked until the meat is so tender it melts in the mouth. Menu terms & and iPhone = Fun Facts!

Beef Sugo
The BH had a “Shrimp Burger” which was a beautiful, tender patty, nicely grilled to add a bit of char to the flavors. He said he loved it and I was impressed by the bite I took. It came with a pickled okra tartar sauce, and some lovely gem lettuce in a pretty little side salad.

By the time we were ready for dessert the kitchen had run out of a few, so we took what they offered. The first dessert was a Vanilla Panna Cotta (an Italian version of something akin to flan, but not as eggy, and slightly more gelatinous), topped with chunks of a rich plum gelatin and served with an exquisite fresh fig. I really enjoyed the soft vanilla cream mingled with bites of the rich plum jelly and the fig.

Panna Cotta with Fresh Fig
We also sampled a really rich Pumpkin Pot de Creme. It was served in a rustic jam jar, and was incredibly creamy and were seasones with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. Stuck neatly in the creamy pudding jar was a lovely sugar cookie and more of the plum jelly. Both desserts were a success.

We all loved our meals. I was thrilled to find yet another stellar place to eat in my environment. I thought the place was pretty, the service was attentive and swift and the food excellent. I’ll definitely be back. Maybe not as regularly as every Sunday, but as soon as I can make it!

Check it out for yourself, and Bon Appetit!

Revival Bar + Kitchen
2102 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 549-9950

Author's Update:  Went back again yesterday (3/3/11) and it was even better than I remembered.  I had a duck leg confit with spinach salad, and both were among the best I'd ever had.  Duck meat fell off the bone, rich, fatty and not at all gamey.  Spinach was perfectly dressed, and had tangerines and a stellar dressing.  Cocktail menu's changed for the better as well.  Not super crowded, so if you want to keep it around, I say go! go! go !!

Tables: adequate
Sound: moderate & boisterous, but no trouble hearing
Cost: moderate

Pumpkin Pot de Creme