Berkeley's Pompette on Fourth Street
Pompette brings first-rate fare to Berkeley’s Fourth Street shopping district.
Photography by Laura Ming Wong
Pompette, a French-inspired bistro in Berkeley, is worth a trek for its buttery omelets alone. But having opened in one of the Bay Area’s best shopping neighborhoods—Fourth Street is a perambulators’ paradise in summer—Pompette is truly a destination restaurant.
The narrow front patio is particularly conducive to having a European experience. Pair a carefully sourced Italian or French wine with a supple grass-fed hanger steak (and fluffy frites), or go for a cheesy-rich croque monsieur with a lemon spritz or a craft cocktail.
Inside, the former Cafe Rouge space has been reimagined with reclaimed walnut tables, white globe lighting, and a narrow strip of mirrors around the dining room. Cafe Rouge’s garish yellow walls and red banquettes are gone, but the stunning zinc bar is still front and center—a perfect spot to imbibe if you’re on your own. Executive chef and co-owner David Visick tapped the bar’s original fabricator to produce a second zinc top, transforming Cafe Rouge’s retail meat display into counter seating for the exhibition kitchen. But the original cafe’s 25-seat upstairs dining room remains, lending a sense of grandeur to the restaurant.
With so many dining venues, Pompette can suit any mood. And while drinking is not mandatory, the restaurant is a good place to party (in dignified fashion, of course). After all, Pompette translates to “tipsy”—providing cover if, say, your elderly aunt covets a second flute of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé with her strawberry shortcake.
Visick has an impressive résumé, having cooked at Cafe Kati—a pioneering San Francisco restaurant whose dishes raised eyebrows with their whimsical fried garnishes—after graduating from the California Culinary Academy in 1991. He later spent several years at Chez Panisse, where presentations were as simple as Cafe Kati’s were cerebral. Between those two jobs, Visick cooked at Portland’s fabled Zefiro, whose Mediterranean and North African spirit helped put that food city on the map. In the end, though, it seems Chez Panisse’s French techniques and pristine ingredients have most influenced Visick’s vision for Pompette.
Warm olives, Kentucky ham, and mini crocks of pork rillettes and braised rabbit compote with house-made whole-grain mustard and pickled carrots are examples of easy-to-share starters that reflect a simple philosophy. A garlicky cazuela of piping-hot house-made baccalà, which is meant for slathering on crunchy toast points, was our favorite appetizer.
A spring lunch brought sweet-and-snappy local asparagus seasoned with buttery bread crumbs and grated egg, while a summer brunch featured silky corn bisque garnished with a pinch of garden-fresh marjoram. Dinner brought mussels spiked with smoky paprika and chiles. The bold and flavorful dish came with a hunk of grilled rustic bread draped with golden aioli. The star that night, however, was a Heritage Farms pork rack. Moist and perfectly crusted on the rotisserie, the meat paired well with accompaniments of fresh peas, caramelized turnips, and creamy polenta.
Visick owns the restaurant with his wife, Caramia, who is also the hostess. She previously worked as a server at some of the Bay Area’s best restaurants, including Oliveto and Bay Wolf in Oakland. The Visicks became regulars at Cafe Rouge soon after they met some 16 years ago, and when Cafe Rouge owner Marsha McBride (who worked with Caramia once upon a time) sold the restaurant to them, it was a bit of a fairy-tale ending. The transition took less than four months.
Pompette shares a courtyard with a flower market, Sur La Table, and Mexican restaurant Tacubaya, making it an ideal setting for people watching—especially when whiling away the day with a glass (or three) of Visick’s “local, nonlocal wines” (European selections imported by Berkeley companies).
If you end up having one glass too many, sober up with a cup of Algorithm coffee, then take a leisurely stroll through the Fourth Street district.
1782 Fourth St., Berkeley, (510) 356-4737, . Dinner Mon.–Sat., lunch daily.
On the Menu Right Now
Pompette’s seasonal offerings change often, but you can take advantage of these delicious dishes through August.
• Goddess melon and heirloom tomato salad with ricotta salata.
• Spit-roasted rack of pork with polenta and tomatoes Provençal.
• Ricotta cavatelli with sweet corn and pancetta.
• Peach tart with pecan frangipane.