We walked through the 'gourmet ghetto' in Berkeley, stopping to look at the menu for Chez Panisse, the amazing line for pizza at the Cheeseboard (it really is amazing stuff) and passing up more than ten other restaurants. We ended up at a tapas place two doors down from Chez Panisse called Cesar Espana. It was crowded inside. There were just two tables still empty, one by the window that the waiter gestured us towards. He followed us there and dropped off a menu with tapas listed on one side and beverages on the other. He also dropped off two little dishes, one empty and one full of shiny mixed olives. The restaurant is fairly non-descriptive in calming way. There are large windows which seem like they might be opened up on warm nights, a long bar along one wall and fifteen or so tables in the restaurant.
We ordered four dishes and two cocktails and then watched the crowds of people on the median eating cheeseboard pizza below a sign that said, 'no sitting on the median'. The bartender brought our drinks over to us. He dropped them off pausing momentarily to make sure we didn't have any questions. The food came out in quick succession. Everything about the service was nicely executed in this very nonchalant way. The man seating us automatically gave us the nicer table without pause or thought, the bartender bringing the drinks over, the speedy food service and the polite, efficient waiter.
The mixed greens with manchego and nuts (above) was a beautiful display but didn't quite live up to its appearance. The lettuce was fresh, the cheese salty and the nuts were tasty but the vinaigrette needed more vinegar and more salt. Or more something, it just didn't have anything to say which was a shame because it was sitting on top of a great base.
The grilled asparagus (above) was topped with tapenade and a half of a hard-boiled egg. The asparagus had a nice grilled flavor to it and the tapenade was a nice contrast in flavor and texture.
The hanger steak with blue cheese, green olives, green beans and a tarragon vinaigrette (below) was seared on the outside and still red in in the center. It was tender meat that had been properly pounded into submission. The crumbled cheese was half melted on the meat. There were flavorful chopped green olives sprinkled on top. The green beans were cold and covered with a tasty tarragon vinaigrette that had minced tarragon in it along with scattered tarragon leaves. A bite delivered the tang of the olives, the melted cheese, seared perfectly cooked meat and fresh tarragon leaves. It was so good that we ordered a second serving.