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Picante, Berkeley CA

Mondays are the toughest night to find a restaurant open for dinner.  It’s even tougher for those with special diets, like vegan or gluten-free.  Any diner, special diet or not, can rest easier knowing there is a delicious Mexican restaurant in the East Bay that caters to all clientele – AND it’s open on Monday nights!  Picante in Berkeley is open seven days a week with extended hours on the weekends for brunch, so you’re bienvenido no matter what day it is.

tostada salad with manchamanteles

tostada salad with manchamanteles

August was recently working with some of her students on compound words, and manchamanteles is one of them.  It’s a style of meat called “tablecloth stainer” because the sauce of the chicken will surely make the linens dingy.  The tostada salad can come meatless and even gluten-free if you request it without the tostadas, even though it would no longer be a tostada salad if you didn’t have the fried tortillas; without the meat and tostadas, though, it would be one of the healthiest, most nutrient-packed items on the menu.  We love our vegetarian friends, but for ourselves, we had to try the special manchamanteles.  The sauce is made with a grilled pineapple red mole, so there was a deep earthiness from the array of chiles used, plus a mild sweetness from the caramelization of the pineapple.  Chunky pico de gallo had its own tomato-based tangy acidity, and the cabbage also was faintly sweet.  All together, those three elements on the sweet side fooled the palate into thinking it was a lighter meal than it really was.  In reality, it was super filling and beyond satisfying.  Fresh, crunchy greens, locally made Mexican-style cheese, and stewed and lightly spiced black beans completed this salad.  There was enough going on that we didn’t need the dressing, but it added a delightfully fresh bite.

sopa de mariscos

sopa de mariscos

Ordering is done at the counter before you seat yourself, and we asked our cashier lady what she would recommend.  August had already been eying the sopa de mariscos, so when the cashier said it was good, that finalized our decision.  There was a little bit of heat, but it wasn’t uncomfortable (although it may be for the timid).  At least the heat didn’t travel past the mouth, making our faces flush or throats burn.  Beyond the heat, it was a very rich broth with intense seafood flavor, tangy tomato, and a slight buttery quality.  Hunks of tender rockfish swam with lots of clams, mussels, and prawns, and it was a pleasant surprise that all the shellfish was very clean as well as fresh – prepared well, there was no hidden sand to grind our teeth.  That would be an unwanted texture, while the carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes were cooked just right so that they retained a touch of their natural textures.  With the fog coating this part of the Bay tonight, it was a wonderful way to warm up.

pork chile verde

pork chile verde

While ordering at the counter, we chanced an encounter with the manager, who offered us samples of different meats.  They all tasted great, but the pork chile verde was one of the most impressive.  It must have been intuition that that was the third item we ordered, before trying the meat samples.  The pork was fork tender, almost to the point of melting in your mouth.  Its sauce was made with tomatillo and Anaheim chile, marrying the flavors with the perfect balance to enhance the meat without overtaking the plate.  On the side came rice cooked with tomato, garlic, onion, and mild spices, and Zach called it “spot on with flavors.”  The pinto beans were both salty and smoky; the flavors were basic, but extremely well done for what they were.  Between the beans, rice, and pork sauce, this dish required the use of tortillas for sopping.  One of Picante’s claims to fame is their corn tortillas – GMO-free corn is used daily to make masa for the restaurant’s housemade tortillas.

The GMO-free corn goes into the tortillas as well as chips and masa for other dishes, so eat those corn-based items without worry.  For diners who appreciate in-house, scratch cooking, this restaurant will meet or exceed your expectations.  If you really love the food, catering is available for your next fiesta.  Picante nos place and we bet you’ll be pleased, too.

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Posted on September 9, 2013, in Restaurants and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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