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Somerset

Miss Millie's Reincarnates in Oakland's Rockridge District

What is it that makes the perfect brunch? Is it the shortness of the wait? The enormity of portions? The strength of the champagne cocktails? No. The best brunches are all about the potatoes. Somerset's potatoes are absolutely stunning: well-cooked but not too crispy, salty but not overseasoned, small enough that you can pop one in your mouth without looking like a pig. If we could only eat one item for breakfast for the rest of our lives, it would be these potatoes.

But this place is not called Spuds Ahoy or Taters; the Rockridge restaurant is called Somerset, which has little to do with potatoes and mostly to do with Somerset Maugham, the author of Of Human Bondage, a British spy during the "great" wars, and a semi-closeted jerk to his wife, the influential interior decorator Syrie Wellcome.

It's not exactly clear what Maugham has to do with Gary Rizzo's wonderful eatery, which arrived on College Avenue in October 2006, save for the fact that the interior has an austere, turn of the 20th Century vibe. Walls are brown, light fixtures are old-timey, and the paintings are moody Edward Hopper prints. Not exactly the cheeriest of auras (save for the outdoor patio), but somehow it fits its tony Oakland neighborhood. Somerset is the kind of place where Cal students take their parents, where families go for Mother's Day, and where we take first dates when we want to impress them without combusting our wallets.

Even with the somber décor, Somerset has a very comfortable feel, which may have to do with the fact that almost all of the staff has been transported from Rizzo's old Noe Valley haunt, Miss Millie's. Fans of that one-time San Francisco institution will no doubt cheer the return of the delicious ginger-hinted orange waffles ($11), the delightfully tender chicken chilaquiles ($11), and the elegant mango bread with crème fraiche ($7).

Naturally, you'll want to try the Hobb's bacon and egg scramble ($11) or scrambled curried tofu and spinach ($11), because both come with the aforementioned heavenly spuds. While it's true that a few items -- such as the dungeness crab hash ($15) and flat iron steak ($15) -- are somewhat ordinary, there are six different champagne cocktails (mmm, huckleberry lemonade) and seven liquored-up coffee drinks to make your visit more memorable.

We have yet to try Somerset's dinner menu, but advance word is that the goat cheese pudding soufflé ($9), roasted beet salad ($9), country fried chicken ($15), and the daily-changing pizzas ($13) are all worth devouring, while the chicken pot pie ($15) and roasted lamb rack ($20) need some work. Some folks complain about Somerset's service as well, but we've never had a problem with it. There are times when the pace seems slow, but what do you expect from a restaurant that's going for an early 20th Century vibe? Plus, it's hard to complain when your mouth is full of the best home fries ever.


American
Rockridge
$$

Reservations Essential? No.