When David Visick moved to Berkeley in the late 90s, he started going to Café Rouge for meals and to hang out at the bar. His wife, Caramia, knew owner Marsha McBride from time they shared working at Zuni Café in San Francisco, and, over time, the former executive chef Rick DeBeaord became a family friend. The Visicks became such regulars that, David Visick said, his son “got so comfortable plopping down [in the restaurant] and ordering a burger.”
It was, perhaps, inevitable that the family would take over the restaurant after Café Rouge closed in December. “It feels like it is being kept in the family,” said David Visick.
While between the two of them the Visicks have what could be considered an all-star Bay Area resume — David worked at Chez Panisse and Caramia worked at Bay Wolf, Oliveto and Stars in addition to Zuni — they’ve been out of the restaurant game for the past several years. Caramia Visick has been running a jewelry business since the couple’s son was born, and David Visick has been cooking for private events with the likes of Barack Obama, John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren. “I’ve been lucky to cook for a lot of interesting people,” he said.
This lifestyle allowed the couple to be around while their son was growing up, but “the goal has always been to go back [to restaurant work],” said David Visick. Their son is now a student at Berkeley High School, so the timing was right to get to work on Pompette, their vision for the former Café Rouge space.
Pompette will still look much like Café Rouge. The Visicks have painted the walls and added a few more seats, but it was just a “quick redesign,” said David Visick. They’ve refinished the bar, which David Visick calls “just the greatest,” but are keeping it otherwise intact. The meat counter is being transformed into a dining area, but the rotisserie and view into the kitchen will remain.
When the restaurant opens in about a month, David Visick will head up the kitchen and Caramia will lead the front of the house.
David Visick will be drawing on his experience at Chez Panisse to inform the core of the menu. “Finding the best ingredients we can is the goal,” he said. “We’ll be sourcing from the best farms, the best fisheries, the best ranches, and then filter [those ingredients] through France, Italy and Spain.”
Pompette’s menu will change a little bit every day, but its outline will remain the same. There will be bar snacks and traditional appetizers including crudos and croquettes — “whatever we feel like making,” said David Visick. A few entrées will be offered, but a bigger portion of the menu will be taken up by vegetable-focused dishes. “They won’t necessarily all be vegetarian,” said David Visick. “We might use things like anchovies or pork to build flavor, but the focus will be on vegetables.”
Each of these menu items will be “medium size,” he added, to encourage sharing and a more flexible approach to structuring a meal.
In addition, Pompette will offer a different large-format meal each night built around a protein cooked in the rotisserie. These meals will serve two to three diners, with the entrée and side dishes included. “It might be something like a chicken with salad and potatoes roasted in the fat. … The next night it might be a pork loin,” said David Visick.
It should be noted that the restaurant’s name, Pompette, is an old French word for “tipsy,” so the beer, wine and spirits portion of the menu is far from an afterthought. At the bar, the focus will be on “riffs on classic cocktails,” said David Visick, as well as aperitifs and sherries. Wine will mostly come from France and Spain; they’ll source some California wines that are made in the Old World style. The restaurant’s three beer taps will pour “unique local beers,” he said, and it’ll have additional offerings by the bottle.
Pompette will be open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week, “from the get-go,” said David Visick.
The Visicks have started the hiring process for the restaurant, and they hope to open the third week of March. For now, they’re working on getting the final pieces in place, but, David Visick said, “everything is looking good,” for their opening schedule. “The place is looking wonderful.”
He’s excited to get the restaurant open and is optimistic about its success: “We’ve inherited so much good will from Café Rouge.”