The line was down the block by 5:20pm last night in anticipation of the opening of The Advocate, Berkeley’s new restaurant from John Paluska and Andrew Hoffman, the partners behind downtown’s wildly successful Comal.

Lining up for the opening of The Advocate in Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood.
Lining up for the opening of The Advocate in Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood. (Kim Westerman)

At The Advocate, they’ve turned their attention to the flavors of Morocco and North Africa in the more general context of clean Mediterranean flavors framed by local ingredients. Chef John Griffiths leads the charge in the kitchen, while Matthew Campbell and Corin Weihemuller (both from Comal) oversee the cocktail program and wine/beer list, respectively.

We got there early enough to be about tenth in line, and were seated and served drinks posthaste. The Mary Elke Brut, a friendly North Coast sparkling wine, is a perfect accompaniment to perusing the menu. The space is beautifully distracting, one wall lined with giant grainy prints of vintage Berkeley postcards, and another with a lyrical sculpture by John Bisbee a Maine-based artist who works only with nails.

The bar and whimsical nail sculpture by John Bisbee.
The bar and whimsical nail sculpture by John Bisbee. (Kim Westerman)

The persimmon-colored chairs came from a school in Chicago and almost perfectly match the restaurant’s namesake cocktail, The Advocate, made with City of London gin, luxardo apertivo, cocchi rossa, lemon, and grapefruit zest, which smells like orange soda, but tastes more like the nectar of blood-orange peel.

The Advocate’s namesake gin cocktail.
The Advocate’s namesake gin cocktail. (Kim Westerman)

There are three flatbreads from the wood-burning oven on offer, and we began by sharing the one topped with squash blossom, French feta, spinach, and Gaeta olives. While many flatbreads seem like fancy pizza, this version was more Moroccan in style, hand-formed, roughly rectangular in shape, and crisp on the exterior, but light and chewy inside. Cooked spinach serves as a kind of sauce, and the other ingredients are nicely balanced savory accents.

Flatbread with spinach, feta, squash blossoms, and olives from the wood-burning oven.
Flatbread with spinach, feta, squash blossoms, and olives from the wood-burning oven. (Kim Westerman)

Next up was my favorite dish of the evening: chickpea fritters with pieces of Manila clam tucked inside the custardy middle, stacked on a classic aioli and garnished with celery-heart salsa. Seared squid was paired with fava beans, avocado, and a deeply resonant muhammara.

Chickpea fritters with clams, aioli, and celery-heart salsa.
Chickpea fritters with clams, aioli, and celery-heart salsa. (Kim Westerman)
Squid with fava beans, avocado, and muhummara.
Squid with fava beans, avocado, and muhummara.
(Kim Westerman)

Another delightful surprise was the pairing of tomatoes and translucent slices of cucumber with anchovy-sesame sauce, a nice mix of sweetness and umami on the palate.

Tomato salad with anchovy-sesame sauce.
Tomato salad with anchovy-sesame sauce.
(Kim Westerman)

We knew we were over-ordering, but couldn’t restrain ourselves from continuing. We chose the lightest of the main courses, seared albacore tuna with grilled pole beans, more lovely squash blossoms, and black olives. The fish arrived glistening, barely seared on the bottom, placed on a pretty schmear of olive paste and sprinkled with a bit of Aleppo pepper. And who can resist a proper fried potato? This is one of the best versions I’ve had in ages, big chunks of the nightshade smoked, fried and tossed in a scallion salsa with yet another olive variety, Castelvetrano. And the kicker: egg yolk cured in salt until it is firm enough to grate. Just fabulous.

Rare-seared albacore tuna.
Rare-seared albacore tuna. (Kim Westerman)
Perfectly fried smoked potatoes with scallion salsa and cured egg yolk.
Perfectly fried smoked potatoes with scallion salsa and cured egg yolk. (Kim Westerman)

Dessert was a simple olive oil cake with a scoop of floral pistachio ice cream and some nectarine slices.

Olive oil cake with pistachio ice cream.
Olive oil cake with pistachio ice cream. (Kim Westerman)

Our server made it seem as though the restaurant had been in the neighborhood for years, so well-versed was she in both the food and drinks, and more attentive than seemed possible on opening night.

As part of a growing trend in the Bay Area restaurant scene, the bill includes a 20% tip.

Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood has scored what promises to be one of the East Bay’s next destination restaurants.

The Advocate dining area.
The Advocate dining area. (Kim Westerman)

The Advocate
2635 Ashby Ave. [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94705
Ph: (510) 370-2200
Hours: Sun-Thu, 5:30-9:30pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30-10:30pm
Price Range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17)
Facebook: The Advocate Berkeley
Twitter: @theadvocateberk
Instagram: the_advocate_berkeley

The Advocate Opens to a Warm Welcome in Berkeley’s Elmwood Neighborhood 12 December,2016Kim Westerman

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Author

Kim Westerman

Kim Westerman has been writing about food and wine for most of her adult life. Originally from North Carolina, she moved to Berkeley in 2006 to pursue the California dream, which, it turns out, is all it’s cracked up to be. She’s a farmers' market junkie, a lover of all things tomato, and Champagne-obsessed. She loves to cook with her kids, eight and three, and she makes frequent pilgrimages to International Boulevard in search of her next favorite Mexican dish. She spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about food and wine pairing, often starting with the wine and working backwards when planning menus. She is a Level I Sommelier and a Licensed Q-Grader. Her work has appeared in KQED's Bay Area Bites, Forbes.com, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table, Fodor’s Travel Guides, and lots of other publications. You can follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram @throughtraveler.

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