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Oaxaca-Inspired Comal Gears Up For Early May Opening

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What we have here is Comal, the huge Mexican restaurant project from former Delfina chef Matt Gandin, buzzing with activity as its Berkeley opening approaches. Abueg Morris has completed a total gut job of the 1927 building, turning into a modern mixture of reclaimed wood floors, wainscoting and poured concrete walls. Pictured in the second image are the restaurant's namesake comals, or Mexican griddles, sitting prominently in the restaurant's exhibition kitchen. Upon opening there will be about 85 seats inside, "at least 80" in the outdoor patio, and indoor and outdoor bars to boot. "No bright colored Mexican kitschy things," says Gandin. The decor's authentic flare will come in the form of black luminaries lining the walls and a large photo of a Oaxacan street scene on canvas.

Gandin, who lived in Morelia, Mexico for a few years, is an encyclopedia of cooking terminology from the region. Tetelas, memelas, and tlayudas are among the masa-based items that will be cooked on the comal, along with more familiar quesadillas, enchiladas and tacos. There will also be a section of small plates ($7-15) including seafood crudos, albondigas, and the likes of a grilled artichoke with ancho and epazote buerre blanc. A third section is devoted to larger sharable meats cooked on the wood-fired grill or spit, such as a whole roasted chicken and whole grilled fish. Although Oaxacan cuisine is Gandin's muse, he says there will be "very Bay Area" ingredients like king salmon woven into the menu. Various moles will be littered throughout and tortillas will be cooked in a heavy steel press shipped in from Oaxaca.

Josh Harris and Scott Baird of the Bon Vivants are designing a list of nine or so tequila- and mezcal-based cocktails. Baird is particularly excited about his seasonal sangrita program, along with tasting flights and inspired yet approachable creations like his "Jacques Satan," made with tequila, housemade hibiscus syrup, lime and a touch of smoky chipotle.

PG&E gods willing, look for Comal to open on May 2. Here's the nascent website, should you wish to obsessively check in.

· All Comal Coverage [~ ESF ~]


2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA