Kyle Anderson opened his first restaurant, Slow, nine months ago. The skinny slip of an eatery resides in an emerging food corridor on University Avenue, home to Chocolatier Blue, eVe Restaurant, OctoberFeast Bakery and New Amsterdam Coffeeshop. (Anderson is an alum of acclaimed eatery Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, as are the owners of eVe, and Christopher Blue, who owns the gourmet chocolate shop next door.)
While Anderson comes from a fine-dining culinary background, the food he serves at Slow is simple, rustic comfort fare, albeit with high-quality, mostly organic, ingredients and thoughtful taste pairings like free-range chicken salad with golden raisin, toasted almond, and sorrel, or potato salad with radish, apple, caraway seed and whole grain mustard vinaigrette. All made from scratch and dished up fast at affordable prices.
He draws on culinary techniques from his high-end restaurant days. He’s not averse to seasoning with salt. And he’s a slave to flavor: balancing acidity and sweetness in the kitchen, he says, is key to good cooking. Slow has quickly developed a loyal lunch-time following (including this writer and a certain city councilmember who can be spotted there regularly). Lines out the door are the norm and some local office workers come in every day for the same order. Dinner service is catching on too, albeit more, well, slowly.
The restaurant features an open kitchen, but the face of the place is Anderson’s partner in work and life, Rose Grabow, who hails from Omaha, as does the chef. The two live within a couple of blocks of Slow. I caught up with Anderson, 28, earlier this week before the restaurant opened to see how his “baby” is doing.
We’ve been busy since we opened our doors. To date we’ve done the bulk of our business at lunch. We’re hoping that dinner picks up once our liquor license is approved and more people know about our patio out back, which is at its best when the weather is warm and the roses are in bloom.
The winter was slow, and went on longer than I expected — March was something — and things got a little tense then. As a new restaurant owner you get a bit on edge when the slow season lasts longer than expected. People here seem to hibernate during the rainy season. But now the weather has come good we’ve bounced back and are doing even better than we were before the weather was bad.
What do you like about living and working here?
The access to and affordability of excellent produce; we source most of our fruits and vegetables from Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market. I like the climate [last March excepted] and the outdoors, so when I get time off I enjoy going up to Tilden Park or out to the ocean.
Berkeley has a reputation as a food town. Given that, any surprises on that front?
A couple: restaurants seem to be afraid to use salt; I notice a distinct lack of seasoning in some of the places we’ve eaten in. As for customers, we came here anticipating a certain level of sophistication around food, and people are certainly up to speed on the local, seasonal, organic end of things. But every day we’re asked to explain culinary terms, such as crudité or confit, which we’re willing to do, I just wasn’t expecting that.
Have you run into any cultural differences in California?
People here want to know your business, both at work and personally. We’re not used to that since we’re from Nebraska. It can feel a bit aggressive. But we’ve gotten used to it and are finding it easier to open up and share our story. Customers here certainly have opinions and aren’t afraid to express them. We have a diverse crowd walking through the door, which I like. We also see the unexpected on a regular basis: this week we had a table of six deaf people for dinner. It keeps things interesting.
I’m realizing I can’t please everyone. I change up the menu every three months or so. If I change it more often, people complain that something they ate recently is no longer available. But some people would like to see us mix it up more. So it’s a question of striking a balance. I can’t take the Caprese off the menu, for instance, because it’s our most popular sandwich. (Since you ask, vine-ripe tomato, fresh mozzarella, baby arugula and truffle aioli on Acme wheat levain.)
Where have you eaten around town that you’ve enjoyed?
Kirala — the sushi bar is so fresh and the atmosphere is great. Café Rouge for charcuterie; we’re big charcuterie fans. Sea Salt does a good Dungeness Crab Cake Benedict at brunch and a trout BLT.
What are you cooking up next?
We’re looking for a space where we could open up a dining room and have a fully equipped kitchen where we prepped all the food for a few, smaller restaurants, like the one we have now. We’d like to have a franchise, and we’re interested in a location where we can attract college students. We think our price point is good for that crowd. I’d also like to try some different things at dinner: I’m thinking small plates, a pig roast, or a clam bake. I want to introduce a bit more science to the evening service without scaring anyone off.
Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.
New restaurant Slow opens in emerging foodie ghetto [08.12.10]
Berkeley Bites: Christopher and Veronica Laramie, eVe Restaurant [07.16.10]