After years of permitting headaches, construction and negotiations with a surly neighborhood association, The Advocate has arrived in Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood. And like the name suggests, it has everyone's best interests in mind.
This is the second project from John Paluska and Andrew Hoffman, offering a distinctly different menu and atmosphere than their Mexican-inspired first restaurant, Comal. That means a menu with an emphasis on Mediterranean and North African flavors from chef John Griffiths. Griffiths, originally from the Detroit area, began his culinary career under chef Larry Forgione at An American Place in St. Louis; after almost a decade cooking in the Midwest, however, Griffiths headed West to Sacramento, landing at The Kitchen before heading South to cooler Bay Area pastures.
Griffiths says his cooking has historically focused on cuisines of the Southern Mediterranean and Italy. However when he began to brainstorm the menu for The Advocate, his personal interests in North Africa and Tunisia were at the forefront, especially since he says an "Italian vernacular proliferates a lot of the area."
"I've always loved the food of Southern Italy, Spain and Morocco— it's interesting to see historically how all of those cultures and flavors come together, says Griffiths. "We wanted to bring in flavor combinations that transport you to somewhere else, [and] we all felt Mediterranean was the angle, with some kind of Northern California lens."
Working alongside Griffiths is sous chef Charis Wahl, former executive chef of Berkeley's Gather, whose inside knowledge of local markets and purveyors is a boon.
The menu includes a section of wood-grilled flatbreads, featuring combinations like pork sausage with eggplant, preserved lemon and chermoula, and confit cherry tomatoes with burrata and basil. Though there's a variety of proteins at play — from squid to shortribs — Griffiths says he wanted to place more emphasis on the fresh produce of the region, putting vegetables at the forefront of the menu rather than sidelining them as an afterthought.
On the beverage side, bar manager Matthew Campbell and wine director Corin Weihemuller have put together a menu of craft cocktails incorporating local plants and produce and a 25-label wine list focused on small California producers. Expect creative takes on classic cocktails like Swords in the Dirt, a reimagined Pimm's cup with chipotle-infused mezcal, cucumber, lime and raspberry.
The 100-seat restaurant is a sleek addition to the quaint and cozy intersection of Ashby and College Ave, designed by local firm Abueg-Morris. The high-ceilinged space offers ample room for diners at both booths and tables, as well as seating at the bar and a very intimate, four-seat chef's counter. The glazed brick tile that line the banquettes is from local company Fireclay, while Berkeley artist Lee Miltier crafted the hanging glass lights throughout the space. The team's attention to detail extends from the custom-made ceramics to wood serving boards from a woodworker in Pennsylvania. Maine artist John Bisbee created the massive, squiggly artwork above the bar exclusively from nails. The piece was shipped across the country and custom-installed.
The Advocate is open for dinner Sunday-Thursday from 5:30 p.m.- 9:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.- 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Stay tuned for brunch, which is slated for a fall addition.