Beef and pork albóndigas. Photo by Charlie Villyard.
Pork enchiladas. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The Palomaesque. Photo by Charlie Villyard.
Interior of Comal, looking toward the back patio. Photo by Deborah O’Grady.
The fab COR-TEN façade by Trachtenberg Architects. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
I admit that as a San Franciscan I can get a bit landlocked with my restaurant choices—Bay Bridge traffic can suck up a couple of hours I don’t have to spare. Fortunately ~COMAL~ in Berkeley is literally a block from the Berkeley BART station, which also means I can enjoy the kick-ass cocktails and tequila selections by the Bon Vivants a little bit more—come to mama.
Chef Matt Gandin was previously at Delfina for almost nine years and has some serious cooking chops. The menu is primarily focused on interpretations of dishes from Oaxaca, so you’ll see some unique dishes, like the de ese, a rustic dish with a tortilla that has an hoja santa leaf wrapped inside, a new flavor for me (read more about it here).
The menu is seasonally driven and changes daily, but gracias to Dios the out-of-hand delicious tripe guisado ($9) with garbanzo beans in a tomato and morita chile sauce is permanently on the menu; ditto the springy beef and pork albóndigas (meatballs) en adobo ($12)—both of these dishes have such notable sauces. (I’m pretty nuts for the mole that comes with the pork enchiladas [$14] as well.) Fans of chile relleno ($9) will dig the one here, it has a perfect exterior that isn’t oily. I also like the vintage Buffalo china plates everything is served on.
The ingredient sourcing is very focused, from the fantastically fresh seafood to the appearance of chepil in the housemade tamales. (The masa here is really good—the first thing you’ll smell when you walk in is the fresh corn tortillas.) Even simple dishes like jicama and cucumber pop with flavor—the spice level of everything is just right. I want to come back with a larger group to try the platos fuertes, large dishes meant to be shared, like a whole rock cod from the wood grill. However, the cod in the fish tacos ($12) made for too much of a soggy taco for my liking.
The earthy-yet-modern space is sprawling: 140 seats, with a bar area, plenty of seating for groups, and the enormous back patio with its own bar, heaters, and fire pit. The sound system is state of the art, and totally something to geek out on (owner John Paluska was formerly the manager for Phish, and worked with Meyer Sound and his architects, Abueg Morris—read all about this custom and very cool system here). Like the music, the crowd is eclectic (and very come as you are). The friendly servers handle the large room well—it can get really busy.
For dessert, the flan ($7) is a creamy dream; do it. The sophisticated and finely tuned cocktail program is worth the BART trip alone (wait until you try the sangritas). The Palomaesque ($9) is a recommended way to start, and be sure to have a meeting with the feisty Jack Satan ($9)—just don’t let him make you miss your train.