.Ceron Kitchen’s Siren Song: Muddled dishes served in an impersonal Alameda dining room

Our meal at Ceron Kitchen began with a complimentary amuse-bouche. Served in a soft-boiled egg cup, the server described the pale orange liquid as butternut squash soup. It tasted like a viscous, overly sweet, macaroni and cheese milkshake. Our mouths weren’t amused. It was an unpleasant start to a birthday celebration that continued, course after course, on a downward spiral.  

Located on Webster Street, on the sleepier retail side of Alameda, the team behind Ceron Kitchen has resuscitated a hospitality vibe reminiscent of a Club Med. A vibe that was—briefly—fresh in the 1980s and then tired out by Dec. 31, 1989. The décor is aggressively corporate, cold and impersonal. Instead of candles, there are copper-colored table lights in the shape of miniature barbells. They suggest the presence of spyware robots listening to your every word. Although there aren’t any Patrick Nagel posters adorning the walls, Ceron does provide an answer to the question, “Where do Z Gallerie’s schlocky, derivative, abstract paintings go to die?” 

Restaurant décor doesn’t directly impact the way chefs prepare their dishes. It does indicate the mood the owners hope to inspire in their diners. From the tinned, brassy, vaulted ceiling to the patterns imprinted on the bar panels, the interior feels as claustrophobic and artificial as a television set. Brenda and Brandon Walsh’s 90210 parents would enjoy a date night out at Ceron Kitchen. Even our server, who never dropped her chipper facade, sounded pre-programmed. She’d memorized the script she’d been given and didn’t deviate from it.  

Reading over the menu, we all exhaled a collective gasp of sticker shock. The entrées started at $40 (short ribs) and went up to $65 (prime ribeye steak). Nothing about the atmosphere inspired confidence in those prices—$42 for salmon or a plate of duck breast. To ease our way in, my friends decided to split orders of calamari fritto ($15), hamachi ($22) and a chopped salad ($17).

The fritto batter was remarkable for its lack of salt, and any other trace of spice. To unnecessarily complicate the dish, the chef added shishito peppers and artichoke bottoms. The three ingredients didn’t make sense together. A bright burst of citrus ice was inventively paired with the thin, translucent slices of hamachi.

As for the chopped salad, the restaurant chain Mixt serves a more memorable one. I expected something original, some fresh take on a $17 salad. Even croutons and a tangier blue cheese dressing with fresh herbs, or the inclusion of a slice of bread on the side would have inspired something besides indifference. 

For our main meal, we decided to split two “pizzas” (at $20 and $21 each), which were, in fact, flatbreads. My boyfriend often jokes that my two favorite food groups are pizza and pastries. But no one at the table had more than one slice of each. The crust was over-baked and tasted like a stale cracker that had been sitting out on a kitchen counter for a week. The prosciutto topping was brown, leathery and inedible. Neither of my friends wanted the leftover slices. After dessert and coffee, I took the pizza box with me, failed to find someone unhoused and left it on top of a public trash can for a possible passerby to pick up.

We all pinned our hopes on the desserts, a chocolate soufflé and a citrus cheesecake. Our server did warn us that the chocolate dessert was an atypical soufflé. The texture turned out to be akin to a flourless cake, but tougher and dense. This was the first time in my life that I’ve never finished a slice of chocolate cake. In a nod to somebody’s idea of what a postmodern dessert is supposed to resemble, the cheesecake was deconstructed. I liked the lemon sorbet, but it was mispaired, and despairingly so, with a soft quenelle of cheesecake. Sprinkling the plate with a few crumbs of crust didn’t succeed at redefining a perennial delight.   

Pomet, another high-end restaurant at a similar price point, recently opened on Piedmont Avenue. But after my meal there, I didn’t leave the dining room thinking about the bill. I left wondering what I would try on a return visit to that warm, welcoming, communal space. 

Ceron Kitchen, closed Tuesdays; 1619 Webster St., Alameda. 510.521.9090. ceronkitchen.com
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