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Monday, July 13, 2009

Hot Meal: Scott Howard's Five in Berkeley

Posted By on Mon, Jul 13, 2009 at 10:27 AM

Meredith Brody
Five's orzo mac 'n' cheese: the taste of urban renewal in downtown Berkeley.
Everything old is new again. Built in 1907, Berkeley's Hotel Shattuck Plaza has been remodeled as an upscale boutique hotel. Its restaurant, Five, opened last Wednesday. Executive chef Scott Howard garnered excellent reviews at his eponymous New American restaurant in San Francisco after a well regarded turn at Fork in San Anselmo. Five marks his return to the stoves after a year-and-half absence. It also marks a return for Shattuck Avenue, which has seen a run of store closings in recent years. After lunch last week, it was clear that Five is the best thing to happen to downtown Berkeley in a long time.

The name references the five senses as well as the hotel's 5 p.m. happy hour. It's decorated in Hollywood Regency style, reminiscent of designer Kelly Wearstler's work at the Viceroy in Santa Monica: Black-and-white checkered floors in the chic barroom, leading to a space lined with arched mirrors and white columns beneath a huge crystal chandelier.

Howard's seasonal cuisine made with sustainable ingredients shone as brightly as the chandelier. A bowl of delicious white corn soup swirled with chive oil ($7) arrived without its garnish of house-pickled chanterelles. They quickly appeared, though the corn-studded purée was just fine without their sharp contrast. An iron casserole heaped with Howard's signature orzo mac 'n' cheese ($10) concealed fat morels under a topping of tomato jam.

An organic egg salad sandwich scented with truffle oil ($8) came on thick brioche, next to a fragile summer salad of green and wax beans, corn, peas, and chunks of the best tomatoes we've tasted this year. After one bite of amazingly tender, velvety, and nicely crusted skirt steak ($17), rare as requested, all we could think about was booking a table for dinner. And that was even before we'd tried its accompanying crisp fries.

Five 2086 Allston (at Shattuck), Berkeley; (510) 225-6034


Meredith Brody

The Hollywood Regency-inspired barroom.


Meredith Brody
Five's organic egg salad sandwich: the scent of truffles.


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