Bar César is a tapas bar in Berkeley, California. Partners Dennis Lapuyade, Richard Mazzera and Stephen Singer opened Bar César in 1998 with chef Maggie Pond. They opened a second location in Oakland in 2006. In the interview that follows, Pond answered the question about top sellers, Lapuyade the other questions.
Bar Cesar, Berkeley, California
“We wanted to open a bar next door to Chez Panisse so we would get all those (waiting) people. But we couldn’t get a license unless we served food, and of course Chez Panisse didn’t want us to serve entrees so we came up with the idea of tapas. Maggie had been working in Spain and was passionate about the culture and the food, so we just went with Spain and foods to have with drinks.”
The beverage program:
“We have probably 12 to 15 wines available by the glass daily and rotate through them pretty quickly. We have about 500 bottles on the wine list, and at any given time, 50 to 75 are Spanish. I also have maybe 10 to 12 sherries open at a time, from finos to moscatel and everything in between. A lot of restaurants just offer a token sherry and it’s pretty oxidized, but ours are always fresh because we sell them like crazy. We have a changing list of cocktails. My original position was that we were going to make classic cocktails and make them better, not by changing them but by using better Ingredients. So our juices are fresh and we use the best-tasting brandy in our Sidecar. But now I let the bartenders experiment and play—the ‘bar chef’ concept—and that keeps the cocktails fresh.
“Half of our business is wine and spirits, and that’s a mix you don’t see in other restaurants. When people have tried to emulate us, that’s one of the things they don’t get. There’s really only so much money you can make from a $7 plate of food. You’ve got to sell a lot of drinks, too.”
“Definitely the fries. People really do want fried food. In Oakland, it’s the patatas bravas (thick-cut fried potatoes sprinkled with spicy salt). In Berkeley, it’s the fried potatoes with herbs and sea salt (mandolin-shaved potatoes with fried herbs and aioli). And the spicy tuna salad sells well. It’s a bocadillo, a sandwich, with tuna that we confit ourselves, salt-packed capers, green olives and lots of good olive oil, on a baguette with a 9-minute egg and arugula.
Spicy Tuna Bocodillo
“When we first started, we had the cheese plate listed as one of our dessert selections and we’d only sell three or four. Then I thought, I’m going to try this as a tapa. That’s when it went from three or four to twenty-five. It’s three Spanish cheeses on a plate, three ounces, with no accompaniments.”
One great idea:
“We are open from noon to midnight every day, and you can have whatever you want any time of day. We’ve resisted the temptation to close early on slow nights. There’s nothing more disappointing than to get to a place that’s supposed to be open and it’s closed. At first it was hard to get people to come in late, but now it’s sometimes the busiest time of day.”
Visit them at: www.barcesar.com
1515 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California t: 510.883.0222
4039 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, California t: 510.985.1200
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