Almost exactly one year after chef Christopher Lee shut up shop for the final time at Eccolo, his Italian-inspired restaurant on Berkeley’s Fourth Street, a new restaurant has opened in its place.
Zut! — as in zut alors, the French for “shoot” or “shucks” — is serving regional Mediterranean dishes prepared by executive chef Jim Wimborough, 35, a graduate of Home, Kokkari, Grand Café, Boulevard and Rubicon, all in San Francisco, as well as Evvia Estiatorio in Palo Alto.
The new restaurant represents a departure for its owners, Danny Denny Abrams and Rick Millikan, who, with their company Abrams Millikan, developed the Fourth Street shopping district and have designed several restaurants — including O’ Chame, Bette’s Oceaview Diner and Tacubaya — but have not been proprietors before now. “We decided we had to go into the restaurant business ourselves as we couldn’t find anyone who had the level of quality we wanted for the street,” Abrams told Berkeleyside.
Expect to find all or some of the following on the menu at Zut!: local squid stuffed with savory chorizo, braised white beans with roasted peppers and goat cheese, wood burning rotisserie Watson Ranch lamb, lemon-infused pizza, and slow cooked tajines. Desserts might include seasonal fresh fruit granita or spiced apple fritters with Pernod.
Wimborough says he is focusing on “super fresh” food using whatever produce local ranchers, farmers and purveyors bring to him. “It’s not fusion. It’s Mediterranean food the way Mediterraneans would cook if they were here,” he says. The plan is to make all the restaurant’s breads in-house, Wimborough says, as well as jams and vegetable pickles
Abrams Millikan brought in many East Bay crafts-people to help them design the restaurant. A mural by Emily Farish adorns one wall. The zinc topped bar and tables were made by Paco Prieto, of Prieto Studios; and the custom cast-glass liquor shelving was designed by John Lewis.
Zut! is open to the sidewalk with some tables outside and has a sun room with a giant skylight. “People love Fourth Street,” says Abrams. “We wanted to bring the street into the restaurant and the restaurant out onto the street.”
Zut! is at 1820 Fourth Street. After an initial period of dinner-only service, lunch service will begin on September 8. Wimborough says they would like to offer brunch soon too.
The restaurant’s name, Wimborough says, came about in a roundabout way. “We had a huge list we were hashing over, but then our general manager, Steven Decker, suggested Zut. It turned out Denny [Abrams] used to have a dog called Zut many years ago when this building was going up. It was a good coincidence, and we liked the fact that “zut” is an expression of surprise.”
Fourth Street was hit hard by the recession and several businesses were forced into closure. But there are encouraging signs of recovery now — CB2 took the space of the much-missed Cody’s, Books Inc moved in and high-end skin-care store Super opened up in July. And this particular space has good foodie pedigree: before the much-admired Eccolo, it was the base for Mark Miller’s Fourth Street Grill before he moved to fame with his Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe (since sold).
Abrams says that despite the tough economic times, the street is bearing up. “We’re making it through,” he says. “We’re in pretty good shape.”