The Barrel Room extensive guide to Berkeley and San Francisco area, plus inspiring articles about trips around the world

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OAKLAND ●Restaurants

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The Barrel Room  5330 College Ave./Bryant Ave.  What a treat it is to experience a small but interesting menu combined with wine pairings selected from small-production wines by a knowledgeable staff of sommeliers.  On my recent visit, France was the featured wine (the country changes periodically).  You can choose one of the many pre-selected flights and have your waiter suggest menu items to pair them with, or opt to have your waiter choose a special wine for each course you select (more than 50 wines are available by the glass).  A selection of beers and ciders is also poured.  We shared selections from the eclectic menu of rustic wine-friendly cuisine, and started with a glass of Italian Prosecco to open up out palates.  Our small plate was creamy pancetta-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese and walnuts—enhanced by a mineral-heavy Chenin Blanc--but you might consider Brie in puff pastry with roasted grapes or spiced duck confit with spicy glaze a l’orange.  We followed this with a bowl of delicate cauliflower and leek soup made a bit crunchy with toasted walnuts, and paired it with a big wine from the southwest of France—an intense, smoky white with a creamy finish.  About now, I realized I was losing track of the exact wines and just gave in to enjoying the experience.  While large plate temptations included porc aux pruneaux and boeuf bourguignon, we opted for a homey cassoulet with duck confit and Toulouse sausage—something we rarely see on local menus—and a burgundy-style red wine with raspberry notes.  We loved our side of Basque pureed potato cakes with smoked paprika aioli paired with a Cabernet Franc with a green vegetable note.  Dessert was a soft pistacio torte with apple sabayon made delightful with a Moscadello with apricot and caramel notes.  Our extremely knowledgeable waiter’s delicious descriptions greatly enhanced my enjoyment.  Decor is spare and sleek--a pressed tin ceiling, a polished concrete floor--and the varied seating is in front of large windows with a sidewalk view, at the bar, and on a banquette with small tables facing a wall of wines.  Diners can also purchase wines by the bottle to take home and/or join the wine club.

 

 

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travel writer Carole Terwilliger Meyers