After a ride in the Berkeley Hills for sunset and a few drinks at The Graduate, I marched across the street with three friends for dinner at Wood Tavern, the restaurant of a darling young chef named Max DiMare. Wood Tavern focuses on rustic, hearty fare in the flexible and varied nexus of local-sustainable-California.
I first met Max right when he moved out to California - I worked with his Uncle Bill as a freelance consultant, and we'd go dine at Max's restaurant whenever Bill would be in town. Max is funny, smart and an all around great guy as well as a fantastic chef. He also loves spicy food and I remember going for dinner at a divey Vietnamese joint on Polk with him and his uncle several years ago - Max had been experimenting with habanero salsas and was pouring on fiery yellow salsa and sweat was rolling off his scalp, but he was loving it!
Fortunately, Max knows his limits are different from the rest of us mortals, but certainly if you want spice, Chef Max is the one who can kick it up and challenge your taste buds.
You might not think that a dinner at Wood Tavern would be the first choice for a vegan. Max assured me that he could make me delicious vegan food and my meat eating friends would all be happy to not be eating Thai food yet once again...
I love the interior of Wood Tavern - it's just warm, inviting brick and wood, with sparkling lights and glass. Together, the four of us slayed two orders of frites, bread and olive oil and a wonderful green salad with a blood orange vinaigrette. My friends had a couple orders of the crispy pork belly and an order of cold cuts (salame or venison or something).
The pasta dish Max whipped up for me was delicious - shells with shiitake mushrooms and asparagus was just fantastic - it had a delicious sweet-savory broth for seasoning and was far and beyond any vegan dish I have been served at other "meat" restaurants (Salt House hates vegetarians who like to eat dinner with their meat eating friends, btw).
For dessert, I had the most amazing strawberry sorbet, and two of my friends dared to have the affogato at 11pm! - a concoction of espresso, chocolate and ice cream that would keep anyone up for several more hours!
A delicious, satisfying and not ridiculously expensive meal for 4 people (including wine) was around $100 including tip. Yums!