On a whim, my co-worker Cassie and I dropped by Venus when we got off of work today. Though not a stranger to this restaurant myself, Cassie had never been there; so it was a necessity at this point. I have been a fan of Owner/Restaurateur Amy Murray for many years, frequenting not only Venus for most of its ten years of existence, but have been more recently spotted traipsing around Revival, totally underdressed and over anxious. Cassie had spent some time alongside Amy in the Revival kitchen, where Amy had been volunteering her time and kitchen for a non-profit Cassie was employed with at the time… and all Cassie could say was the most positively glowing things about this woman whose personage already dwarfed me in my minds eye – even before meeting her.
Our meal tonight felt like a celebration of the Earths’ bounty. I hate to sound cliché, but I really felt it. Every ingredient spoke for itself perfectly, and there was no sense of the diluted molecular gastronomy of the modern food scene. It was simple, straight forward, well seasoned, and beautifully presented. We ordered a Niman Ranch Pulled Pork Sandwich. The pork was lightly seasoned, and incredibly tender and juicy. I kept remarking after every bite (much to Cassie’s annoyance I’m sure) “Oh my god, this tastes like Pork!” What brought this sandwich to the next level, was the delightful accoutrement. House made sweet pickled cucumbers, melted Gruyere cheese, and this amazing chipotle mayo that the server admitted they utilize “French dip style” when they are eating it in the back. The Semifreddi’s Ciabatta was in its usual form – fresh and delicious – and the lettuce was crisp, and local. They brought it all together like only a Venus sandwich could. This sandwich made me remember why I like sandwiches. As if that wasn’t enough, they put mashed potatoes on the side! Of all things! Hand smashed, buttery sweet mashed potatoes. I knew from the first bite what it had to be. I asked the server what kind of cream they used in the potatoes. I heard the brief panic in her otherwise flawless delivery as she tried to weigh my reaction and offered up a meek “Yeah, it has a little bit of cream”. Being a cook in Berkeley’s notorious “You shouldn’t, I don’t, I can’t” food scene, I knew exactly what that moment was. I smiled and asked more specifically, “Heavy whipping cream?” She calmly responded “Yes?” to which I said “Awesome! That’s where that sweetness is coming from!” Her relief was evident when she agreed “They’re amazing, right?“ and Cassie and I both shared a chuckle when she walked away.
We ordered a side of braised broccoli rabe. I felt like we should have skipped the veggies and went straight for dessert. I don’t know what we were thinking. We were already stuffed. Though they all looked amazing, we had to limit ourselves to one. We had a Pear Crisp with Coriander infused whipped cream on top. I mean, come on! This is some inspiring stuff here! The first taste was so delicate, I wasn’t even sure if I was tasting it. Then little by little I began to feel the subtle spice as it sat on the back of my tongue. Fresh local pears, and toasted almonds topped it off… but the fresh oats and the fluffy white cream really played a starring role, raising the bar for all fruit crisps that will follow in its footsteps.
I should mention they have Happy Hour @ 8pm nightly, and we definitely took advantage of that. We had a Pomegranate Mojito, and a Basil and Lime infused Gimlet. Easily the best cocktail I have ever had. The basil was remarkably fresh and the lime was not too tart. I have always considered myself more of a local beer and red wine kind of girl, but I could drink that Gimlet every day.
The food coma was immediate.
Tonight after one of the most satisfying meals I have ever had, Chef Amy Murray strolled into the restaurant. I was star struck to finally meet this woman I so admired. She was every bit as amazing as Cassie said! Her graciousness and warmth made me feel at ease. She was a real person who looked you in the eyes when you spoke. She listened patiently while I gushed over how amazing the food had been tonight, and how phenomenal that local Black Cod & Clam dish was last Sunday at Revival. She called the server who had waited on us over and asked her if she had ever been to the soup restaurant that I had mentioned I was a cook at. She gave us glowing reviews, though I am not even sure if she has ever been there. I didn’t care. I was blushing, and not just from the Basil Gimlet! I prayed there wasn’t broccoli rabe stuck in my teeth, because I was grinning ear to ear! It really struck me in that moment, that the love, grace, and charisma that exudes from Chef Amy, is exactly the same love, grace, and charisma that peppers every part of her restaurants. From the concepts, to the décor, to the ingredients, to the menus, to the flavors, to the staff – you can feel her spirit and charm all over the place. That’s a seasoning you couldn’t source anywhere in the world. A warm hug from Chef Amy capped my perfect dining experience. We left the restaurant enrobed in the comfort of great food. It’s the same comforting bliss I find myself in still hours later as I write this love letter to one of my idols, and the beautiful restaurants that she has taken part in creating. May I aspire to your greatness Chef Amy, and may you continue to fight the good fight.