During Brian and my recent visit to San Francisco, my ultra-hip cousins took us out for dinner one night. Every time we visit the Bay Area, we try to partake in as many Spanish and Mexican restaurants as we can since I find we are lacking in options back home. On this particular evening, we were treated to a fantastic tapas bar named César in the Piedmont Avenue District of Oakland.
After finding a parking spot a couple of blocks away, we walked over to the restaurant. Instantly I was taken by César’s great curb appeal which exuded a very inviting feel. As we approach even closer we are greeted by a large outdoor patio filled with patrons having a great time dining el frecso. While waiting for the host to arrive to seat us, I quickly scanned the restaurant and admired the sleek and modern tile work and other interesting architectural designs. For our dining pleasure, we had the choice to either settle in a booth, regular tables or a communal one which they call la mesa if we want to socialize with others. As a side note, if you ever want to celebrate a special occasion and want a bit of privacy, you can also reserve their round private room.
In the Mediterranean region, there is a tradition of eating small, simple plates of food (tapas), or little mouthfuls, to be consumed over drinks with family and friends. Since it was my first time there, we decided to order a whole whack of tapas so we could nibble at a bit of everything and sample a wide array of options. In addition to the many tapas we ordered, we also ordered a plate of paella. Anyone who knows me knows that paella and jambalaya are my absolute favorite dishes- so if there is an option for paella, you know I have to order it and see how it compares.
While we wait for our food to arrive we are given some bread to nibble on before our tapas start rolling in. We also try to order a pitcher of sangria to complete the Spanish dining experience. Unfortunately for us (and for them) they only serve sangria by the glass. STRIKE ONE. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Spanish style restaurant where ordering a pitcher of sangria wasn’t an option. Boo. And to add insult to injury, the glass of sangria wasn’t anything to write home about. STRIKE TWO. It lacked that punch and natural flavors I enjoy in my sangria. All of a sudden my food expectations and dining experience lowered.
Just a few short minutes later, the small plates start arriving. First we are treated to some patatas bravas and immediately I forget about the sangria debacle. The potatoes were absolutely tantalizing- crunchy but not hard. As we begin to enjoy the patatas another dish starts coming. As quickly as my expectations lowered they quickly rose as the continual stream of tasty dishes elevated the dining experience to phenomenal. No exaggeration here. Though all the food that came was delicious, by far my favorite tapas were the aforementioned patatas bravas, salt cod & potato cazuel, ropa vieja, pimientos de padrón and suquet de gambas. Feeling quite full already, the paella eventually made its way to our table. As any paella connoisseur knows it takes a minimum of twenty-five minutes to cook this dish perfectly. Though not the best-tasting paella I’ve ever had, it definitely ranks in my top five of all time. To this date, my favorite has been from a Vancouver restaurant, La Bodega. Mmmm delicious. It may sound like I didn’t enjoy my paella but on the contrary, I actually really did. It was everything I look for in a paella- well balanced amount of rice, seafood and flavoring. Trust me, top five out of the hundreds of paella’s I’ve eaten is pretty good.
Overall, my César experience was enjoyable and delicious. I would gladly revisit the restaurant again to feast on my favorite tapas and perhaps try a few others I missed the first time around. If you’re ever in the Bay Area, I definitely recommend this restaurant if you’re in the mood for some casual dining. In addition to the Piedmont location I just finished reviewing they also have another location in Berkeley if that’s more convenient. Both serve the same delicious cuisine. Your taste buds will thank you and be forever in your debt.