Today's review roundup includes: Bendean, Hog Island Oyster Bar, Bocadillos, Cuvae.
Bendean is a relaxed, casual eatery on Berkeley's Solano Avenue, and the latest venture of Lance Dean Velasquez. SF Chronicle Michael Bauer gives Bendean two stars (1647 Solano Avenue, Berkeley; 510-526-3700):
Velasquez is a versatile chef, and he excels at the rustic cooking style he perfected at Home. He changes the menu regularly at Bendean, but features nine starters and eight main courses, which always include a vegetarian option.
One of the best deals is Ben's Supper, where diners who come between 5 and 6 p.m. are offered a three-course dinner for $12. On a recent night, that was a Caesar salad; a really good version of pork rojo with hominy, guacamole and a Medusa-like tangle of crisp tortilla strips; and cherry bread pudding. After 6 p.m., the main course alone is $17 and it's well worth that price.
The warm fuzziness evoked by Ben's Supper fights with the harsh message printed at the bottom of the menu: "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, at anytime, for any reason." It's something you expect to see on the wall of a cheesy Midwestern diner, not in a neighborhood restaurant in Berkeley. It's not compatible, either, with comforting selections like tomato basil soup with garlic croutons ($6) and a stew of French lentils with gypsy peppers, butternut squash and curried apples ($15).
Overall, Bendean has the type of menu that makes you feel as if you're snuggling around a fireplace on a cool autumn night. Some combinations fulfill that expectation; with others, Velasquez seems to be coasting.
Pluses: Some dishes are well priced and exceptional, including the pasta carbonara, pork rojo and roast quail.
Minuses: Other combinations seem to lose focus and are only OK. Service, while accommodating, can be a bit scattered.