Zillion Cheers for Zut!
The exclamation point is not mine. A new Berkeley restaurant, Zut!, named after a “soft” French swear word, uses the cheerful punctuation sign as part of its brand. The word is a euphemism for stronger figures of speech and might express a sinful delight.
That was exactly what I experienced while sinking my teeth into a quivering slice of pizza oozing with fresh mozzarella and delicate tomato sauce. As I found out, the sauce was made with ripe tomatoes put through a meat grinder then evenly spread over a thin chewy crust with a sheen of olive oil and topped with basil leaves. I’ve eaten quite a few Margheritas before, but this Fresh Mozzarella Pizza on Zut! menu beats them all to pulp.
Zut! Executive Chef Jim Wimborough emphasizes seafood, cheeses, olives, lemon, and a variety of herbs in his Mediterranean cuisine. The menu changes almost daily to incorporate all things fresh, sustainable, locally sourced, and bought from small-batch producers.
Meze appetizer includes the traditional roasted peppers, eggplant, and hummus, but also house-pickled okra, accompanied by grilled pita triangles. Grilled scallops are served with dandelion greens and an excellent whole cranberry/Meyer lemon reduction.
Ever popular and always on the menu, a couple of baby squid stuffed with chorizo, bread crumbs, mint, and garlic with lemon juice, arrive on a bed of wilted Spigariello of the broccoli rabe family.
Heirloom tomato salad is a superior version of a traditional Greek – with Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and house-pickled Gypsy peppers. Pickle- and lime juice is then sprinkled over tomatoes creating a thin and light dressing like no other.
Finally, an excellent gazpacho comes in a white cup – a flavorful chunky mixture of heirloom tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, and avocado.
I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with any of the main courses at Zut!, but beef tenderloin with chanterelles sautéed in red wine and balsamic served with braised greens and smashed potatoes seemed especially enticing.
Desserts don’t disappoint, either. Chef’s wife, Michelle Wimborough, puts on the menu strawberry granita with fresh berries; yogurt and honey; sourdough bread pudding, and an excellent muscovado pot de crème, made with brown sugar, and resembling a creamy yet firm crème-brulee.
It’s not just the food, however delicious, that makes Zut! an outstanding little place on Fourth Street, heavily populated by all kinds of restaurants nestled among boutiques and designer shops.
The restaurant boasts an impressive wine list with good Italian, French and Spanish labels, and is in the process of creating what seems like the most comprehensive collection of cocktail ingredients – from vodkas, rums, and whiskeys to vermouths, bitters, and anisettes.
House cocktails include Emilia’s sangria, made with cassis and orange liquor, and Maltese – with Ketel One, grapefruit, lemon, mint, and ouzo. The ambience, enhanced by melodic chansons playing in the background, is very French. And by French I mean first of all romantic, and secondly – you come here, and you don’t want to leave. On a nice warm night all the floor-to-ceiling windows are open and the skylight over the dining room lets the moonlight stream in.
Zut! is located at 1820 Fourth Street, Berkeley.
For more information and reservations, call 1-510-644-0444 or visit their website.