Adagia, the new restaurant at the corner of Bancroft Way and College Avenue, looks like the dining hall of an East Coast prep school. Luckily, the food doesn’t follow suit. The restaurant, opened in February after months of planning, permitting, and delays, is located in Westminster House, a 1926 Tudor-style building designed by Berkeley Architect Walter Ratcliff, with an enormous fireplace in the dining room, wood panelled walls, and stained-glass windows.
The restaurant has swept the old space with a breath of decidedly modern air. Chef Brian Beach, formerly of Aqua, brings a steady hand to a menu that shows both French and Italian influence. A plate of prosciutto and manchego cheese with a scattering of toasted almonds and dates is one of the tasty, straightforward appetizers. Asparagus risotto and duck confit are among the stable of entrees.
“We’ve been waiting for a place like Adagia to open on the southside,” said Susan Dennehy, a Jurisprudence and Social Policy Ph.D. student. “It’s nice to have a place to go where the food is good and you can get away from all the undergraduates. I think it’s filling a void near campus.”
Dennehy, who praised the lamb pasta dish, represents the market that owner Daryl Ross is targeting with Adagia, his latest restaurant in the area. Ross also owns Caffe Strada across College Avenue from the restaurant. He also runs Café Muse in the UC Berkeley Art Museum, Café Zeb in Boalt Hall, and the Free Speech Café on campus.
“Everyone who opens a food place around here thinks students because that’s where the numbers are. They think “Let’s do a Fat Slice,’” said Ross. “But for faculty and staff looking for a place to eat there’s really only the Faculty Club on campus, which has sub-par food.”
At lunch, Adagia offers a bubbly tartine of ham and Gruyere on Acme levain bread, green garlic and potato soup, and Caesar salad. At night, the menu features cod with artichokes, lamb shank over polenta and spaghetti with tomato, basil and garlic bread. Adagia also serves weekday breakfasts and weekend brunch with dishes like poached eggs with toast, Greek-style yogurt topped with poached fruit and well-executed espresso drinks.
Ross said his target audience at lunch, when items on the menu are less than $12, is faculty and staff from the university with a few students mixed in. At night when prices run higher, Ross said he hopes to lure residents from the Berkeley hills and people coming to attend Cal Performances programs.
“Our space seemed conducive to the nicer menu,” said Ross. “Here we have this elegant space and that’s really where the idea came from.”
The dining room décor is simple so the natural beauty of the room is undisturbed. During the day, light pours in through the diamond shaped windowpanes and bounces off the hardwood floors and high ceiling. At night, a gas fire and cream-shaded wall sconces illuminate the room, which feels like a cozy cave. A few purple orchids punctuate the space and a long, handsome table, made from recycled wood by The Wooden Duck in Berkeley, sits at its center.
The building is owned by a Presbyterian Ministry, which uses the rest of the facility to house more than 100 students and host conferences and events. During the 1960s, Westminster House was a gathering place for student organizers of the free speech movement.
The idea for Adagia began about five years ago when Ross approached Westminster’s executive director and campus pastor, Randy Bare. The two discovered they share an interest in philosophy, and in the writings of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Ross convinced Bare that opening a restaurant would be the perfect way of welcoming the public to Westminster House and settled on Adagia, a Latin word meaning slow, as a name for the restaurant. The name seemed perfect because it recalls Erasmus’ famous book of Latin and Greek adages, as well as the Slow Food Movement, to which Ross ascribes.
Chef Beach gets much of the produce through organic distributor GreenLeaf. “All of our lettuces come in whole head,” said Beach. “All of the herbs are organic. We don’t put fish like swordfish and Chilean sea bass on the menu.”
Adagia’s hard-won liquor license allows them to sell beer and wine but no hard alcohol. Former Chez Panisse pastry chef Charlene Reis consulted on the dessert menu: a caramel apple tart served with zabaglione and an almond cake with strawberry rhubarb compote both are delightful.
A lovely garden with benches graces the corner outside the restaurant’s door.
“It’s just such a beautiful place to sit,” said grad student Dennehy. “And that’s worth paying a dollar or two more for your food.”
2700 Bancroft Way