UPDATE: The restaurant, citing economic reasons, announced it will close its doors on Oct. 27, 2016.
The story: The people behind the successful high-end Mexican restaurant Comal in downtown Berkeley branched out to the tiny Elmwood neighborhood with a splashy new restaurant called The Advocate (how this is supposed to make you think of food is beyond me). Opened in the former Wright’s Garage building, the spacious dining room with wood-fire oven opened earlier this month.
Why I went: Rarely has there been much restaurant activity in Elmwood, so I was curious to see how the arrival of the Advocate would be like. I visited for dinner on a recent Saturday night with my friend, Vera. Because they have a similar seating system like Comal (no reservations, first-come, first-serve), we got there soon after the doors opened at 5:30 p.m.
The vibe: The large 100-seat dining room has an open feel with the high ceilings. In the beginning, there’s definitely a lot of people coming in to check out this new restaurant so there’s a mix of neighborhood residents and food lovers wanting to see the food from Chef John Griffiths. Along with the large dining room, there’s a long bar and a communal table. And similar to Comal, the sound system is amazing, allowing you to hold a conversation without the loud din of typical restaurants.
The menu: The seasonal and changing menu focuses on California ingredients presented in a Mediterranean style. Early word is that Chef Griffiths wants to include some of the flavors of North Africa and Morocco, but it seems like he’s easing that into the menu. Other than the grilled flatbread, most of the dishes seem primarily to highlight the California produce in season, such as the nectarines with pickled beets ($11). The blistered squid ($13) had a hint of North Africa with the use of yogurt and muhammara (a Syrian dip). The pork tenderloin ($25) was another dish highlighting seasonal ingredients such as roasted plums and fava beans, but Vera thought the pork was slightly dry.
The booze: There are 10 specialty cocktails that have some creative and fun names. Because of my love for foamy drinks, I ordered the Hey Jude ($11), made with Rittenhouse rye, nectarine, rhubarb, lemon and the egg white for the foam. It was delicious and well-balanced. Vera doesn’t drink alcohol so she was excited when she heard there was a daily agua fresca that actually isn’t on the menu (you just need to ask). On this day they served up an interesting strawberry beet agua fresca with a hint of herbs.
My favorite dish: While I enjoyed our starter of nectarines and pickled beets, I really liked the blistered squid, again because it introduced me to a bit of new flavors with the muhammara and yogurt, mixed with padron peppers and fried okra (which seemed like it was pan-fried, not deep fried, whew).
Insider tip: This is more a reminder, but the Advocate adds a 20 percent service charge automatically to the bill, so don’t worry about figuring out the tip. It’s already part of the bill.
The last bite: The dishes are beautiful and really plays off the abundance of local ingredients, but the high price makes it a pricey night out. Still, I enjoyed the open space and it’s a strong improvement to the dining scene in this little neighborhood. I’m looking forward to seeing Chef Griffiths introduce more North African and Moroccan flavors to the plate.
The deets: The Advocate, 2635 Ashby Ave. (at College), Berkeley, Calif. PH: 510.370.2200. Open Tuesday through Sunday, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (till 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Closed Monday. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.theadvocateberkeley.com
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