My editor suggests that a subtext of desperation in my previous columns might be getting a tad repetitious; that any dwelling on our parlous circumstances (War! Coup! Aging!) is perhaps a trifle tiresome.
So today, let’s talk about crime, instead.
Even better, crime and celebrity. I speak, of course, of the recent theft of Sean Penn’s fully loaded muscle car from the streets of our fair city. (The vehicle, sans firepower, was recovered in Richmond.)
So how should a card-carrying Berkeleyan react? Shock at Mr. Penn’s evident penchant for, and I use the technical term here, packing heat? Consternation that he can be both passionately anti-war and pro-gun? Dismay over the sorry state of our public transit system? And what was that Madonna thing all about?
Whatever your response, I believe we can all agree on the excellent taste the star displayed in choosing to lunch at Venus, a hip Shattuck Avenue restaurant within calling distance of the city’s theater district. Venus serves up the sort of inventive fare that can please even the most jaded palate.
“I’ve always been anti-microwave, anti-hormone, anti-chemical, just sensitive to quality,” says Amy Murray, Venus’ autodidact chef and co-owner (along with David Korman). “I like to use extremely fresh, organic ingredients. For instance, we use freshly-dug organic potatoes from Bolinas. No storage at all, just straight from the ground to our kitchen.”
Amy’s menus often reflect her five-year sojourn in Asia. (She’s the only person I’ve ever met who can speak knowledgeably, even lyrically, about Sri Lankan cuisine.) The Indian Brunch dish served on weekends is a case in point. Delicious curried carrot-zucchini-parsnip pancakes are accompanied by mango aioli, handmade chapati, banana raita and eggs scrambled with chiles, tomato and cilantro.
The Asian influence runs deeper than the occasional choice of ingredient. “I was very impressed by the Japanese reverence for food,” Amy says.
That kind of respect is evident in the treatment of the pork in a recent carnitas sandwich. Niman Ranch meat was marinated in a spicy Cuban mix for 24 hours, then slowly roasted for 14 more hours, producing a meltingly tender and tasty filling.
I have a weakness for brunch and, luckily, so does Amy.
“I love brunch,” she confesses, and it shows. Airy lemon ricotta hotcakes, served with housemade lemon curd and fresh blackberry syrup, are simply exquisite. And it’s definitely worth going off your low-carb diet to indulge in a thick Belgian waffle from Venus’ antique waffle iron, topped with winter fruit in almond syrup. The omelettes are all superb, too; I keep returning to the Omelette Royale, with applewood bacon, Vermont cheddar, chipotle crema, avocado, tomato and scallion. The housemade biscuits and muffins are especially good, also.
Venus is a perfect place to dine if you’re catching a downtown movie. You can choose something as light as an autumn salad with arugula, endive, pralined walnuts, pears and blue cheese, or more hearty fare like pan-seared medallions of beef tenderloin with peppercorn sauce, shitake mushrooms, broccoli, and mashed yellow Finn potatoes. Leave room for dessert. One evening, when all the stars were aligned just right, I had a panna cotta with candied exotic fruits that was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
I’ve been asked to note the unusual attractiveness of the young waitstaff, especially the tall dude with smoldering blue eyes. So noted. They certainly add to Venus’ lively, relaxed, fun atmosphere.
Amy offers us the recipe for one of Venus’s flavorful soups, made from seasonal ingredients with very little fat.
Venus is located at 2327 Shattuck Ave. Hours are 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. daily, with dinner served Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 9:30 p.m. The telephone number is 540-5950.