“I think it’s presumptuous of a chef to say, ‘this is the signature dish.’ That’s something you must wait for customers to tell you.” John Couacaud, chef-owner of Acquacotta (1544 Webster St., 510-523-2220), was talking about his menu shortly before opening. His plan was to offer variety and make nightly changes. “I hope to have regulars who will tell me what they want me to keep,” he says, promising a big selection of small-plate antipasto dishes, an all-Italian wine list (topping out at $40 a bottle) and several pasta choices. Couacaud was eager to introduce customers to his stinco—“it’s braised shank of veal large enough for three or four people.” Acquacotta is Couacaud’s first venture as a restaurateur. He became an Alameda resident after he found the restaurant location, formerly the site of Coffee for Thought. His impressive culinary resume includes three years in the kitchen at Oliveto in Oakland’s Rockridge district and three at Prima in Walnut Creek. He chose to open an Italian-style restaurant because it aligns with his culinary background, he loves the food and, he says, “I’ve learned a great way to go broke is to open a French restaurant.” He was hoping for a wide range of customers—from people wanting a full meal to those seeking a comfy spot to read a newspaper and have a nibble.
Open since April at the former location of Tran’s Restaurant and, prior to that, Round Table Pizza, Café Le Vietnamese Bistro (1531 Webster St., 510-523-6993) quickly developed a regular clientele. The house special is the clay pot com tay cam ($11) with meats and assorted vegetables. The menu offers three varieties of pho ($7.75 each), a light and tasty papaya salad with shredded beef and shrimp ($8.50) and several vegetarian entrees. For those who like variety, the banh hoi binh duong ($13.95) comes with pork, beef, chicken and shrimp kebabs. With Café Le and Acquacotta, Alameda’s west side just got tastier.
—By Wanda Hennig