By Adam Mann
Laney Bistro, Chef’s Table special: Red snapper with cilantro-lime compound butter, bacon, roasted corn salsa, and summer vegetables. Photo Credit: Adam Mann
It seems like a well-kept secret: I’ve lived near Lake Merritt almost four years and have eaten at most of the restaurants, but I’d never heard of or even noticed Laney Bistro.
Maybe it has something to do with the hours: the restaurant is only open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. When I arrived, there were six other occupied tables in a dining room with perhaps triple that capacity. It had been a warm week, so I ordered the chef’s special, something light — snapper with summer vegetables and lime butter. My server was nervous, obviously new, but professional, checking in several times during the meal.
Ordering fish on special can be a risky business, since, in restaurant lingo, “special” may be code for “we’re trying to get rid of this.” But here it was perfect. The golden edges of the fillet were a beautiful crisp texture, and the taste of cilantro and lime shimmered in the sauce. The asparagus — a vegetable prone to overcooking — was perfectly tender yet still firm. And the cost? Nine dollars.
As she was bustling around the dining room, I managed to talk to Noelle Blue, the Laney College instructor who managed the bistro. Staffed by Laney students, the bistro is actually a credit class — Garde Manger and Contemporary American Bistro Cooking, where students hone their front- and back-of-the house skills.
I also spoke with Ervin Lopez, a third semester student in the culinary program. His goal after graduating is to work in a restaurant. Hotels pay more, he said, but the work is repetitive.
As we finished talking, Lopez looked around. “Am I your only interview here?” he asked. I said he was. “Oh. We better come correct then,” he said, raking his fingers through his hair. He then noticed my plate, set aside for the interview, which was spotless post-meal. I think it was obvious they had.