We really, really wanted to love Tomate Cafe (2265 5th Street, Berkeley). It’s a cute little place tucked into Berkeley’s industrial area, food-wise something on the order of a Jimmy Beans or Meal Ticket. They’ve got lots of veggie and vegan options – plenty of organic stuff – and refer to what they offer as “creative, non-traditional American cuisine.” When looking for parking near Vik’s, I would notice this place while circling around, and was looking forward to giving it a try. Matt and I were finally able to stop in for lunch during the holidays.
It wasn’t that the whole experience was negative, but two key elements were a problem. First off, we were overcharged significantly, as in the person behind the counter adding an extra $50 to the bill. Luckily, the manager caught it and took care of it for us. OK, mistakes happen, and I don’t really hold this against them, but at no time did the person who made the error say, “I apologize.” The manager just kept saying something like, “…mistakes happen.”
We each ordered a tuna melt ($7.25), which were pretty good, I must say, particularly the bread, which had a nice crunchy texture. The tuna salad was flavorful, and there was some red onion, tomato and sprouts, too. There was sufficient filling, and everything on the sammie melded nicely. Matt had a green salad and I had the potato salad, which was, well, nothing to write home about, but I find this to be true of most cold, mayo/creamy dressing-based potato salads. This one was no more or less a heavy mass than others I’ve come across, but it also lacked flavor. Maybe if they cut their potatoes into smaller pieces it would help, but they seem to not want to break down their potatoes much, which leads me to the main irritant of our meal: the side order of “Bakers Mash Potatoes” ($2.00). What we got was a plate with three smallish potatoes that looked as though they were cooked whole (I guess they were baked, from the name) and then smashed down on a grill and left there for a very short period of time, given their lack of crust or color. They were served with a small quantity of sour cream on top.
I looked at the server (not really a server – you order at counter and then someone brings you your food) as if she had just brought us out a plate of sawdust. “That’s the potatoes? They look like crushed whole potatoes and there’s hardly any sour cream,” said I. She said, “Yes, that’s the way we make them, and you should know that these potatoes are served with the breakfasts.” Good to know.
While we were eating, another diner ordered the potatoes and also gave them a perplexed look when they arrived. She asked the same server for “something” to put on them, like a sauce. The server offered pesto, which seemed agreeable. When the server passed by our table, I asked her if she had something to put on our potatoes (I don’t think she knew we were wise to the other diner and the pesto), and she said, “no.” She told me she would take them back and give us something else, but by then we were pretty annoyed and told her we’d take them home and use them to cook.
I’m still wondering if they normally crisp their potatoes up on the grill, which would make all the difference, but at no point did the server indicate this. Until I get to the bottom of it, I’ll stick with the tuna melt and salad!