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The Early Word on Comal in Berkeley

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Photo: Courtesy of Comal

Comal is the Berkeley Mexican restaurant started by John Paluska, a former Phish band manager (of 20 years), and Matt Gandin, a former long-time Delfina chef de cuisine. Since Josh Harris and Scott Baird are creating the tequila-driven drinks behind the bar, and Abueg Morris completed a monumental rebuild of the c. 1927 building—Mexican griddles, state-of-the-art sound system, 80-seat patio—this opening falls squarely in the "much-anticipated" category, but there's been some skepticism about the neighborhood's openness to such a beast. To the Early Word for a read on the situation.

The Mole News: “Duck mole coloradito (a red mole sauce) enchiladas ($14) already had me jonesing for a return.” writes Virginia Miller of The San Francisco Bay Guardian. Robert Lauriston on Chowhound says “[it’s] some of the best mole I've had around here.” While Jenny Oh at KQED writes that her dining companion thought “The mole tasted too strongly of tomato and not enough chocolate essence and spices for her liking," EBX's Luke Tsai confirms, "The pork enchiladas were a showstopper, served in a brick-red mole coloradito that grew on me with each bite." [SFBG, Chowhound, EBX, KQED]

The Booze News: Miller at SFBG reviews the Jack Satan drink ($9): "Despite a tinge of heat from the ‘infierno tincture,’ the whole effect is tart loveliness with Tres Agaves Reposado, hibiscus syrup, lime, and salt.” Oh at KQED writes, “My favorite was ‘El Burro,’ made with 1800 100-proof Blanco tequila, lime, bitters, salt, ginger and soda and accompanied with a toothpick laden with thin slices of candied ginger." Jesus Varela at Remezcla advises “don’t neglect the tequila.”

The Menu News: Michael Bauer tweets “I want this recipe! Pork and beef meatballs in adobo sauce from Comal” Oh at KQED adds, “The carnitas were tender and juicy, but I would have preferred to have more meat and less of the pickled onions and fennel slaw, which were heaped on top with too-large chunks of orange” and that the “sikil pak [mayan pumpkin seed dish] was somewhat bland.” Robert Lauriston on Chowhound digs the grilled bok choy with chile-pepito salsa writing “[it] tasted pretty Mexican even if bok choy isn't,” and that the “the chicharrones ($3) were funky and good, like you'd get from a Mexican butcher.”

The Acoustic News: Serious Eats writes that the “state-of-the-art sound system” allows for “music volumes to vary by section. The ample front bar area caters to a more lively party crowd, while the back tables are meant for more intimate dinner conversations.” Varela of Remezcla adds “Each of the microphones and speakers throughout the room are independent from one another. The microphone picks up the sounds and sends it to a computer where it is processed and fed back into the room in a manner that helps eliminate noise reverberation.” [EBX, KQED, Serious Eats, ISSF]

The Tripe News: Serious Eats writes how the “tripe is braised for two to three hours in a stock of rendered bacon, onions, garlic, pork trotter, and ground toasted chile morita” and that according to Gandin it is one of the most popular items on the menu. Varela at Remezcla writes, “you absolutely must try the tripe...this tripe is flavorful, soft and delicate; not rubbery in the least.” [Serious Eats, Remzcla]

The Pricing News: EBX's Tsai feels, "There were times, too, when the prices seemed out of whack: $7 for a small bowl of strawberries with little value added — just a cookie and bit of lime juice and chile de árbol." Meanwhile he's ok with one price tag: "...initially put off at paying $8 for guacamole, Gandin's minimalist guac turned out to be the best I've ever had." [EBX]

The Fish News: The “grilled white shrimp in a lightly spicy Veracruzana sauce ($14) with tomato, capers and olives,” is a favorite of Michael Bauer and Serious Eats suggests the “thick, buttery slices of King salmon [crudo].” Tsai says of the fish tacos: "The fish was perfectly cooked, but also perfectly bland." [ISSF, Serious Eats, EBX]

The Interior News: KQED describes the space as “exquisitely designed," Berkeleyside's Tracey Taylor adds that Comal is “textural and warm and not afraid to show the patina of age." And Luke Tsai of the EBX says "Comal is a gorgeous restaurant...And the restaurant's covered back patio offers one of the most pleasant al fresco dining experiences in Berkeley: With the festive strings of lights and a cool breeze blowing, all we needed was a view of the ocean and we could have been eating at some seaside resort." [KQED, Berkeleyside, EBX]

· All Comal Coverage [~ ESF ~]

Comal

2020 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley, CA

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