It was a sad day for Berkeley’s restaurant scene when Cafe Rouge called it quits after 30 years. The cafe and butcher shop was a staple for the neighborhood and beyond, before staffing shortages, and bad timing caused it to shutter. Luckily, a like-minded duo has taken over its hallowed grounds, launching a neighborhood restaurant called Pompette.
Chef David Visick and partner/general manager (and wife) Caramia Visick have lovingly taken up the reins of the Berkeley restaurant, at which they were regulars. Visick’s background includes stints at restaurants like Chez Panisse, though he has most recently been cooking privately for heavy-hitters in Silicon Valley and throughout the Bay Area (including prominent visitors like the Obamas). Caramia is also an industry veteran, having spent time in the front of house at Bay Wolf, Zuni and Stars, before starting her own jewelry business.
The Visicks did a remodel of the space, though with the exception of the butcher counter’s transformation into a chef’s counter, there were no big construction projects. New paint, fixtures, tables, and chairs are part of the new look, though the same, beautiful zinc bar designed by Paco Prieto remains in the space. “Nobody should ever do anything to this bar,” said Visick. The bar itself seats 16, while the dining room holds 65; a patio outside will seat another 15, while an upstairs area provides 25 seats for private dining or overflow on the weekends.
The menu (see below) will change gradually throughout the week, based on what is available. “We take what we can find [at the market] and do as little to it as we can to make it delicious,” Visick told Eater. “But everything gets filtered through the traditions of France, Italy, and Great Britain.”
The includes dishes like a crispy lamb belly croquette with spicy pickled escarole, alongside a grilled chicken paillard with arugula, frisée, radishes, and shaved parmesan. Though at opening the restaurant is only serving dinner, lunch will join the lineup soon. That also includes a Sunday brunch that Visick says is more of a late Sunday lunch with a Sunday gravy, and roasts coming off the rotisserie. “Sunday, when I was growing up, was always the big family meal,” said Visick. “There are hundreds of places to get eggs for brunch but not that many places to get a lazy, late Sunday lunch like this.”
Cocktails will be from bar director Tim Campa (Bar César), skewing classic. Negronis, daiquiris, and whiskey sours will star, alongside simple house cocktails like the Gavard, made with bourbon, rye, lemon, orgeat, and apricot, and wines from France and Italy.
“I want to be a restaurant that you can drink at and a bar that you can eat at,” said Visick. “Sit at the bar with some nibbles, or sit at a table and order a burger.”
The restaurant is currently open from 5:30 p.m.- 10 p.m.; lunch will be added in the coming weeks.