1) The gifted Scott Howard, formerly of Fork in San Anselmo and Scott Howard restaurant in San Francisco, is the chef.
2) The bold, artsy black-and-white interior is a modern-take on a Southern plantation.
3) If you’re out and about in the East Bay, it’s an airy, lively place to take a load off.
4) Fun drinks quench your thirst, such as “Hell or High Watermelon,” a wheat beer in which 400 pounds of watermelon are pressed in each batch. It’s dry, clean-tasting, and faintly fruity on the back note.
5) Vanilla bean butterscotch pudding with crumbles of peanut brittle and shavings of chocolate is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Five restaurant, which opened in July in downtown Berkeley inside the refurbished Hotel Shattuck Plaza, serves American classics with a twist. Think orzo “mac & cheese” ($12), short rib pot roast ($22), and steak tartare ($12).
Why the name? The press materials explain that it’s “a number that is familiar and appears frequently in our day-to-day lives: five senses, five elements, and five o’clock happy hour, to name a few. Although familiar and frequent, the term FIVE is complex and dimensional, similar to the restaurant’s offerings and Howard’s culinary technique.”
So Berkeley, isn’t it?
The decor is, too. Flashes of red, including a massive flame-jeweled chandelier, make the space grand and eye-catching. Look closely when you enter, and you’ll notice a peace sign inlaid in the floor.
I was eager to try the new restaurant when I got an invitation to do so last month, because I have been a fan of Howard’s cooking since his days at his eponymous restaurant in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood.
His food at Five is more homey, less thrilling and not so cutting-edge as in San Francisco. But choose wisely, and you’ll be rewarded.
Service, at least a few weeks ago, still had a few kinks. Our waiter had to return to our table twice — once after taking our drink order, the next time after taking our entree orders — to make sure he got it all correctly. I felt like telling him it was perfectly OK if he wanted to actually write it down, because he didn’t either times. We forgave him the lapses, though, because he was so sincere and well-meaning.
Plus, we were in too good a mood after noshing on the buttery, tender, house-made chive biscuits that come with a little crock of pimento cheese. I could make a meal of these alone.
My hubby and I started with the “Deviled Surf & Turf Eggs” ($10), and the ahi tuna tartare ($14).
The deviled eggs came six halves to an order — three of them filled with Dungeness crab salad, the other three stuffed with deviled egg yolk with slivers of crispy, salty ham.
Cute as they were, they were too one-note. Perhaps it’s a dish to better split with a larger party, because after you’ve had one of each, you’re fairly satiated.
The ahi tartare, which sat atop chopped avocado, was an interesting interpretation with puddles of vanilla bean syrup, and wonderful crunchy bits of chorizo. A little acid would have helped tie all the components together perfectly.
Halibut ($22) was cooked nicely with a crisp sear on top. The accompanying pickled caponata of eggplant, onions, red pepper, and caperberries was fabulous.
My hubby’s skirt steak ($19) was tender and flavorful with a buttery bernaise sauce. A summer bean succotash was colorful and fresh. The accompanying onion strings were really sweet tasting, though, could have arrived a little hotter.
Howard long made a name for his butterscotch pudding at his previous restaurants. The one at Five doesn’t disappoint. It’s creamy and dreamy. You’ll end up scraping up every last bit.
Indeed, five orders of that would leave me thoroughly happy at Five.