Comal Fires Up on May 4th

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Comal interior; photo by Tara Blazona.

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Comal bar; photo by Tara Blazona.

As mentioned in tablehopper a while back, ~COMAL~ is opening in Berkeley on Friday May 4th, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. Owner John Paluska, formerly manager for the band Phish, and chef Matt Gandin, previously chef de cuisine at Delfina, are focusing on handcrafted regional Mexican cuisine in their new downtown digs. The Bon Vivants are charged with the bar program.

The menu will present modern interpretations of traditional dishes from regions like Oaxaca and its coastal neighbors—often as small and medium plates to share and explore—with many items cooked on a wood-fired hearth or custom comal (a comal is a flat, cast iron or earthenware griddle) in the open kitchen. Expect “exceptional masa” and local, seasonal ingredients. I would also expect chef Gandin’s lifelong interest in Latin American culture and cooking and time spent in Michoacán to shine through. Eater mentions: “masa-based items that will be cooked on the comal, along with more familiar quesadillas, enchiladas and tacos,” “small plates ($7-15) including seafood crudos, albondigas, and … grilled artichoke with ancho and epazote buerre blanc,” and “sharable meats … such as a whole roasted chicken and whole grilled fish.” The kitchen and bar were designed by Alec Bauer.

The bar program springs from The Bon Vivants, Scott Baird and Josh Harris. The focused cocktail list will feature a curated collection of tequilas and mezcals. Seasonal sangritas will also be available: at the last SF Chefs, I had two shots of tequila at their table, just so I could follow up with their sangrita! Operating Partner and GM Andrew Hoffman (previously at Chow, Eccolo) will oversee the wine and beer offerings, which will include an Arnot Roberts 2011 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc and an exclusive grenache from Wind Gap, both on tap.

Abueg Morris (Nopalito, Roam, Prather Ranch) is responsible for the project’s architecture and earthy, modern design. The one-story 1920s building still has its original Douglas fir beams and flooring, but has a new façade from Trachtenberg Architects featuring COR-TEN steel, and custom steel doors and windows by Ferrous Studios. The 3,000-square-foot interior and 2,500-square-foot patio will make room for 140 guests and two bars, one in, one out. Though it won’t be open right away, the patio-bar-combo (landscape design by Garden Architecture) will be partially covered to make outdoor dining possible all year. Berkeleyside has more details and photos here.

Dinner nightly starting at 5:30pm, with weekend brunch in a few months. 2020 Shattuck Ave. at University, Berkeley.