Eccolo a bounty of meat, drinks, pasta

For years Christopher Lee worked in the great training kitchen, Chez Panisse. Yet the food at his own three-year-old restaurant Eccolo, a bustling California-style bistro/trattoria in Berkeley’s upscale Fourth Street shopping complex, is distinctly his own.

Though he shares principles with the mothership — the worship of local, seasonal and artisanal ingredients — his dishes are richer, meatier and heartier. After a meal at Eccolo, you know you have eaten. Plus, Eccolo has a bar, a real bar that serves martinis and cocktails.

Now, in winter, Eccolo’s clubby, dark wood-trimmed dining room feels especially warm and inviting. Diners start with delectably salty, roasted almonds ($5) scented with herbs and whole red chiles — and maybe a huge, well-made Negroni ($10), that suave continental concoction of gin, Campariand sweet vermouth.

Next they might opt for Lee’s unctuous house-cured salumi, moist, fragrant and sliced tissue thin to release flavor when they hit your tongue. The slices are laid out on a board with hunks of artisan cheeses ($24). Lee knows how to pick them. Magically crusty and airy Della Fattoria wood-oven baked bread accompanies.

A small box on the menu lists nightly specials and always includes something expertly deep fried. Carciofi giudea ($10), big hunks of artichoke heart with stem and tender leaves, is a must-order dish. Another night, we devoured deep-fried oysters in a crunchy batter, with tartar sauce and arugula salad on the side ($10).

Tuscan-style chicken liver toasts ($10) are always a good bet, the hand-chopped liver full of savory aromatics, the toasts thin; an arugula and endive salad a refreshing counterpoint.

A marinated winter vegetable salad ($9) of tiny florettes of cauliflower opulently drizzled in piquant salsa verde was corralled by a translucent pink slice of smoked prosciutto.

Each night brings three handmade pastas, my favorite part of the menu. Recently an extravagant portion of chunky chanterelles, sauteed in plenty of good olive oil were intertwined with wide, soft tagliatelle topped with a handful of toasted bread crumbs for crunch ($20).

You will usually find Lee’s long-cooked, hyper-meaty Neapolitan pork sugo ($18) on some shape of pasta — little ears, squares or strands. Butternut squash lasagna ($20) is lubriciously moistened with sage and brown butter.

(Photo by Mike Koozmin/Special to The Examiner)

The menu at Eccolo, run by former Chez Panisse chef Christopher Lee, top right, roasts excellent chicken liver, second from top, deep-fried artichokes, second from bottom and butternut squash lasagna, bottom.

A chef with an aptitude for both cured and fresh sausages, Lee makes elegant, very French boudin blanc, gentle in flavor and finely textured, a mix of pork and chicken. They are juicy, white and delicate. He serves them with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut ($21); or stuffed into cabbage leaves with chanterelles ($22).

A flavorful braised duck leg ($21) is always a good bet here, with pot juices moistening thick parsley-flecked noodles. Hamburgers ($16) and a gigantic veal chop ($35) come from the grill.

For dessert, I find it difficult to get past the Eccolo hot-fudge sundae ($8.50), though gingery pear gelato ($8.50) has its charms.

A mostly Italian wine list detours to Alsace, the Rhone and Chiles Valley, California, among other scattered locations, with lots of choice for wine by the glass.

Lee has mounted an urbane, exciting, yet hard-working restaurant. He’s crafted lunch and brunch for shoppers and workers in the Berkeley flatlands, and dinner for pure pleasure. The menu expands with voluptuous choices and the food lovers drift in, hankering for Lee’s signature — deep flavor.

Eccolo

» Location: 1820 Fourth St., Berkeley

» Contact: (510) 644-0444; www.eccolo.com

» Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for lunch; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday for brunch; 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday for dinner

» Price range: Starters $8 to $14; main courses $16 to $35

» Recommended dishes: Chicken liver toasts, house-cured salumi, anything deep fried, handmade pastas, boudin blanc, braised duck leg

» Credit cards: All major

» Reservations: Accepted

Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

entertainmentFeaturesFood & DrinkFood and Wine

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The San Francisco Police Department has cancelled discretionary days off and will have extra officers on duty for Inauguration Day, Chief Bill Scott said Tuesday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF ‘prepared for anything’ ahead of inauguration, but no protests expected

Authorities boosting police staffing, security at City Hall

Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.<ins></ins>
SFMTA board to vote on Better Market Street changes

Agency seeks to make up for slimmed-down plan with traffic safety improvements

Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Currey (30) tallied 26 points and seven assists at Monday night’s game against the Lakers. (Chris Victorio for the S.F. Examiner).
Warriors overcome 19-point deficit to stun defending-champion Lakers 115-113

Ladies and gentlemen, the Golden State Warriors are officially back. Stephen Curry… Continue reading

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during an event to name President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team at the Queen Theater on Dec. 1, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
Kamala Harris to resign from Senate

Bridget Bowman CQ-Roll Call Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will resign from the… Continue reading

A view of Science Hall at the City College of San Francisco Ocean campus on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
CCSF begins search for next chancellor amid new challenges

‘It’s arguably the biggest single responsibility the board has,’ trustee says

Most Read