Who is César?
César is a character from a trilogy of films by Marcel Pagnol – Marius, Fanny, and César – that all take place in a quay side bar in Marseilles. César is the proprietor of the bar, dispensing aperitifs and his own brand of slightly skewed philosophy. Note that another central character in the trilogy is Panisse, who lent his name to our famous next door neighbor. Be sure and look for the photograph in César that depicts César and Panisse engaging in one of their favorite pastimes, playing cards with their cronies.
What is César?
César presents a unique combination of Spanish food, a French name, American restaurateurs, and a global, award-winning selection of wines and spirits. Founded in 1998 by three Chez Panisse alumni – Richard Mazzera, Dennis Lapuyade, and Stephen Singer – César is essentially a Mediterranean-style bar/restaurant that serves a delicious and diverse selection of Spanish tapas, or small plates. Our original location on Shattuck Avenue sits in the heart of what has affectionately become known as the “Gourmet Ghetto” in North Berkeley, right next door to Chez Panisse, the restaurant generally recognized as the genesis of what has come to be known as California cuisine.
César combines its freshly made tapas with a large and thoughtful selection of fine wines, beers and spirits. We also serve a wide range of cocktails made by our expert bartenders, as well as wines-by-the-glass and sample “flights” from our list of spirits, sherries and other aperitifs, and dessert wines. César has been included in the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Best 100 Restaurants of the Bay Area” every year since we opened, in addition to garnering a list of international awards and recognition.
César features the kind of sleek, modern, but unpretentious architecture one would find in a tapas bar in Barcelona, juxtaposed with a large, rustic wood communal table made from recycled planks that sits in the middle of the dining room. The communal table, or la mesa, can also be reserved for private paella dinners for groups of 12 to 15 people.
Our tapas menu is culled from the vast repertoire of classic Spanish recipes, made with a combination of authentic Spanish ingredients and the bounty of the San Francisco Bay Area, often revised and re-imagined by Chef Maggie Pond, her sous chefs Mil Apostol and Germain Andrade, and her kitchen crew. Maggie has traveled throughout Spain and continues to go back each year to scour the markets for new ingredients, and to eat and cook in the finest tapas bars in Barcelona, Madrid, and San Sebastián. She brings back recipes from all over Spain, transforming some into our signature dishes, while others inspire some of her own creations.
In 2003, Maggie, along with veteran food writer (and César bartender/host) James Mellgren, published César: Recipes From a Tapas Bar (Ten Speed Press), a compilation of recipes for our cocktails and Maggie’s tapas, as well as detailed information on sherry, Spanish wines, and the history of César. Autographed copies of César are always available at the bar.
Finally, after eight years, we found the perfect spot for another César on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. It is a much larger space with an expanded menu. Read more about César Piedmont.
Praise for César
“Just a stone’s throw from the legendary Chez Panisse, Cesar makes its own mark with a small but well-rounded tapas menu and exhaustive spirits list.”
“One of the greatest bars in the world in terms of quality, selection and mixology.”
“It’s that passionate attention to detail and respect for authenticity that sets Cesar apart.”
“The café’s most mellow time is in late afternoon, before the evening crush. All the handcrafted details of the interior are best admired then-the communal table, the wall of sea green and blue tiles that curve like a wave, the beauty of the long tiled bar.”
Gourmet Magazine 3/99
“No one cares if all you want is an espresso or a glass of sherry. Cesar is what few cafes are, a gathering place for everyone.”
Gourmet Magazine 3/99
“One of the only grown-up bars and places to get food after 9pm in Berkeley,…this fun, fun, fun “authentic Spanish” spot in the “gourmet ghetto” is packed..”
Zagat Survey 2003