Mex Ed

An ambitious new Mexican restaurant goes beyond tacos

Comal chef Matt Gandin is obsessed with Mexican food.

This may be surprising, given that he's spent much of the last seven years as chef de cuisine at Delfina. It's less startling when you learn he's a third-generation Southern Californian who once pursued a doctoral degree in Latin American history.

At his new post at Comal, a sprawling space in downtown Berkeley, Gandin has swapped cilantro for basil, and in place of polenta, masa.

Our game plan is simple: Start with the flaky tortilla chips and guacamole ($8), the local salmon crudo ($14) with black olive salsa (click here for the recipe) and a cocktail. For the latter, we recommend the Comal Swizzle ($9), made with sotol, Falernum, pineapple, passion fruit, lime and hops tincture.

Move on to an English pea- and pickled jalapeƱo-filled tamal ($8), or enchiladas ($14), the tortillas rolled around local duck in mole coloradito.

But please don't miss the irresistible, crisp-skinned Tai snapper ($56). The whole fish is cooked on the wood grill, its flesh imbued with the flavors of smoke and herbs, and is accompanied by green rice, soupy black beans and a stack of warm, house-made tortillas.

It's a dish that might have you obsessed with Mexican food too.

Comal, 2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510-926-6300 or comalberkeley.com