The circle keeps turning
I remember an entertainer from the days of watching Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights—Senor Wences. A ventriloquist who made his hand into a character right in front of you and then brought it to life.
Hold that thought.
Now remember the restaurant we loved so much in Pleasant Hill, Nibblers. The owners moved on, but kept the old place, renaming it the Fig Tree.
Then they closed, sadly, their new restaurant in Berkeley, and sold the Fig Tree. To a chef from Walnut Creek who named the place after himself.
So now it is Wences, and we’re back to where I started this. The Señor Wences of my youth amused me, and Chef Wences amuses my palate today.
Wences is a decent, local family kind of place. No haute cuisine, no molecular gastronomy, no 15 course tasting menu with three amuse bouches. Solid, steady food like mother didn’t make, reasonable service, fair prices. It’s our new go-to place when we just want a meal.
Wences has a large, perhaps too large, menu. I always wonder if a small place can carry off that many different dishes, if they can inventory that much fresh food and turn it over quickly enough to keep it fresh and still pay the bills. Perhaps I’m prejudiced because we own a place that makes only one thing, pizza, but smaller is better when it comes to menus—-do a couple of things, do them well, and then change them when you and your customers are bored.
Nonetheless, large is what they have. Which doesn’t mean we have to try everything. Gail and I have eaten there 4 or 5 times now, and keep having the same things. Gail is ecstatic over their artichokes. Steamed, cored and then grilled, they are always cooked to perfection and accompanied by two kinds of sauce, aioli and chipotle.
Wences has some pretty interesting tacos, which are presented in a special plate/holder that is really attractive. Gail, who is picky about these things, thinks the chicken gets overcooked, though the total experience is still pretty good.
A quesadilla seems like a simple, standard item, but Wences does an extra-good job on them.
There is enough here to make both dinner and breakfast. Genius in the kitchen is often in perfecting the commonplace just as much as creating the novel and outré.
There are two pastas on the menu, and having tried both I’ve settled on the pappardelle with fresh tomatoes and basil, please hold the roasted eggplant. Aubergines aren’t as bad as mushrooms, but I still avoid them wherever possible. The pasta is very good, and you can have it with chicken or shrimp if you want.
The service is friendly. Not always the most professional, but friendly and helpful as all get out. Mostly, that’s because cousin Rosa is the head waitress. Family restaurants rely on family help, and everyone is motivated in their collective goal.
Wences won’t ever get a Michelin star, but we’re likely to eat there 2 or 3 times a month forever. Great artichokes for Gail and pasta for me is a winning combination.
As Senor Wences character, Johnny, would say “s’allright!” And the circle is closed once again.