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Berkeley and Oakland


Curlz
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Just returned from a week in Oakland, where I spent two afternoons exploring areas of Berkeley that I hadn't been to on prior visits. I thought I'd start a new thread b/c when I did a search for things (other than Chez Panisse) to see/do, I had to read through a bunch of threads. Thanks to some of what I picked up, I had a great time exploring the area. Feel free to add other thoughts/recommendations for future trips!

The Spanish Table--A lovely store with lots of pottery from Portugal and Spain, along with food and wines, and the largest paella pans I've ever seen (if the pics come out, I'll post them). I bought a beautiful ceramic mortar with a wooden pestle for $12--can't beat that!!

Good Vibrations--Not food related (unless you count edible lotions :raz: ), but certainly worth the trip!

Lunch at Chez Panisse--I took a chance and called that morning and got a 1:45 reservation for a table for moi, myself and I. I can now say that I've been there. It was a lovely space, the service was nice, and the food certainly delicious, but I spent $47 for a glass of Prosecco, a wonderful salad with baked goat cheese, and the day's pasta, which had summer beans and ricotta salata. Finished with the berry sorbet, which was exquisite. But $47?!? A bit much. Still, an experience I was happy to check off my list of places I wanted to try. When I left, I stuck my head in to the main dining room (downstairs) and really enjoyed watching the dozen+ chefs prepping for the evening's service. The smell down there was incredible; they were roasting vegetables, including a tray of mushrooms that I couldn't i.d., but they were gorgeous.

The Cheeseboard--Located across the street from Chez Panisse, I almost didn't bother going in there b/c I was full from lunch and thought "Why look at more food?" But I'm glad I did; it's a cheese collective (only in CA! :blink:) and the cheeses and breads were amazing. The only thing I bought were a couple of warm Zampanos--think roll-sized focaccia with cheese on top and a KICK of hot pepper. They were delicious even the next day!

4th Street shops--Nothing mind-blowing here, but a nice selection of national and local shops, including a Crate & Barrel outlet store and Sur La Table. I made a surprising find for lunch--a place called The Pasta Shop. Gorgeous store, and although I had gone in just to get a bottle of water, their prepared food called to me; I ended up with a chicken turnover and a small container of polenta, which was served with olive oil and cheese. Delicious meal for a whopping $7 (balancing out my lunch the day before), and I got to eat it outside on their patio while people-watching.

Berkeley Bowl--Quite possibly my favorite supermarket anywhere. Every time I visit my brother, at least one visit to 'the Bowl' is required. This time, we went on our way back from the airport! My brother thinks I'm the only nut on the planet who gets off a 6 hour flight and says "Sure! Let's go to the supermarket!" But it's far more than that. The produce area is the reason to go. I've never seen so many varieties of each item in one place anywhere else. The bulk items are pretty amazing too, and the rest of the store is great. I'm a big fan of a few of the BB-brand salad dressings and sauces--to the point where my bro actually shipped half a dozen bottles to me when I missed getting to the Bowl on one trip. :wink:

Breads of India--This was my second time at this restaurant, which is a bit off the beaten path in Berkeley. I have an ex-bf who is Indian, so I've eaten lots of good food in his mother's kitchen as well as in a few local restaurants. This place is terrific!! The small menu changes pretty frequently, maybe even daily. On this night, they offered a special called a Coorgi Roast...a rack of pork ribs that are marinated 24 hours prior to cooking in the tandoor. Never had anything like them in an Indian restaurant before, and they were fabulous. We also had a wonderful dish of lamb in tamarind sauce, along with a tandoori eggplant puree; the last two had serious spice/heat, and were polished off along with the ribs. If you go, be warned--BoI only takes cash.

Grand Avenue Farmer's Market (Saturdays)--There are farmer's markets and great produce stores all over California, but I was truly wowed by this one. I went down there expressly because I had read some of ranchogordo's posts; he was raving about it as a vendor. The GAFM is about 1/4 mile from where my brother lives, so it was easy for me to go, but if you're in the Berk/Oakland area, take a ride over to Oakland for this one. The location is easy to get to (across from the Grand Lake theater), it's laid out beautifully, and even on a cold, misty, sunless Saturday morning, there were lots of people shopping. If I had a cart and/or if we were going to be home to cook, I could have gotten in to a LOT of trouble there. Steve (Rancho Gordo's proprietor) has gorgeous heirloom beans, fresh tortillas, dried chiles, and more--stop by and introduce yourself if you get there!

"I'm not eating it...my tongue is just looking at it!" --My then-3.5 year-old niece, who was NOT eating a piece of gum

"Wow--this is a fancy restaurant! They keep bringing us more water and we didn't even ask for it!" --My 5.75 year-old niece, about Bread Bar

"He's jumped the flounder, as you might say."

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Cheese board has been referred to by locals as the v.i. lenin cheese cooperative. I love their pizza, but can do without the politics.

The Pasta Shop is great. We used to get pounds their stuffed raviolis and bring them back to Seattle. I'm not that fond of the the 4th street location, but others seem to be.

If you have a car, the El Cerritto farmer's market is pretty good. Its doable by BART also.

Did you check out Rattos? I love that store.

lalala

I have a relatively uninteresting life unless you like travel and food. Read more about it here.

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Nope! Where/what is Rattos???

"I'm not eating it...my tongue is just looking at it!" --My then-3.5 year-old niece, who was NOT eating a piece of gum

"Wow--this is a fancy restaurant! They keep bringing us more water and we didn't even ask for it!" --My 5.75 year-old niece, about Bread Bar

"He's jumped the flounder, as you might say."

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Old SF Chronicle article about Rattos

Its probably my partner's favorite place in the world to buy Christmas presents. The building is great too. I used it as my project in my architectural photography class. Their sandwiches and catering are some of the best in the East Bay.

lalala

I have a relatively uninteresting life unless you like travel and food. Read more about it here.

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Old SF Chronicle article about Rattos

Its probably my partner's favorite place in the world to buy Christmas presents. The building is great too. I used it as my project in my architectural photography class.  Their sandwiches and catering are some of the best in the East Bay.

lalala

And it's kitty-corner from the Pacific Coast Brewery! I have fond memories of that place.

I miss the Cheeseboard and their politics. Mmmmm...sourdough cheese roll..... :wub:

Is Phoenix Pastifico still open? I thought they were a neat little place with odd hours. I've bought great pasta from them.

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I miss the Cheeseboard and their politics.  Mmmmm...sourdough cheese roll..... :wub:

The Cheeseboard now has a cookbook, The Cheese Board Collective Works.

It has most of their breads, pastries, and even pizza recipes. It is hard to find outside of Berkeley, unless you order it from Amazon.

Edited by artisan02 (log)
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My two cents about Chez Panisse: 3 of us had dinner there in June. We ate downstairs and had the $65 prix fixe. Starter was three different salads on a plate, approximately 2 tablespoons each, followed by a very nice piece of fish, then grill roasted quail with local sausage. Dessert was fresh berries and sorbet. With wine, dinner was over $350. Everything was fresh and local, service was friendly but not perfect, and I felt like Peggy Lee the next day--"is that all there is?" Everything was very good, but it wasn't the transcendent experience at l'Aigle d'Or in Pont l'Eveque or as memorable as your first good pastrami sandwich. Will someone tell me why this place is the epicenter of the California food universe? It felt like a good neighborhood restaurant that you could visit a couple of nights a week. Is that the point?

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WHS, I've heard this reaction to Chez Panisse from others. I think different people just have different reactions to the cooking and the style of the place. Personally, it is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. It can be expensive, but so can a lot of mediocre places. I don't know the two restaurants you mention, but I think Chez Panisse compares more to a small place in Italy than to most French restaurants. Our most recent visits have been for lunch upstairs- our big meal of the day. Sometimes, I order two first courses and no main course. Sometimes we split dishes, so we can try more things. I like the casual ambiance, and the servers are all well-trained and interesting to talk to. They make good suggestions. The cooking is obviously quite simple, designed to let the quality of the produce come through. The wine list is well-chosen. The cheeses have always been terrific. The desserts include what I like- simple, very good fruit, usually enhanced slightly in one way or another. I also like the herbal infusions. Just one opinion.

Edited to fix a typo.

Edited by Carlsbad (log)
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I miss the Cheeseboard and their politics.  Mmmmm...sourdough cheese roll..... :wub:

The Cheeseboard now has a cookbook, The Cheese Board Collective Works.

It has most of their breads, pastries, and even pizza recipes. It is hard to find outside of Berkeley, unless you order it from Amazon.

artisan02, thank you very much! I will check Amazon. :biggrin:

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In regards to cheese there is a great place I never pass up when in East bay. On San Pablo just off University. It is called something like the Country Cheese Store. It has an amazing selection and great prices and is family owned and operated. No politics, just food. A small meat counter in the rear as well with real, impoted from France, french salumi. You who live in Bay area are soooo lucky. Here in LA we have very little that compares to the food shops of B.A. and they are spread over many miles and hours of traffic. I would like to add a great burrito joint as well ( if it is still there) not far from the old Spengers the name eludes ( Il Piquante maybe) me but when I went there the first time and ordered the steak burrito they asked how I wanted my steak done. I was floored!

David

David West

A.K.A. The Mushroom Man

Founder of http://finepalatefoods.com/

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The Phoenix is very much still open, still selling wonderful pasta (retail and wholesale), coffee, and pastries. They're still (or now, depending on how long it's been since you were last there) serving lunch as well.

"went together easy, but I did not like the taste of the bacon and orange tang together"

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I took my DH to Chez Panisse for the first time last year and gave him the usual warnings I give any newbie. I told him not to expect Gary Danko or Fifth Floor or Boulevard. I told him not to expect elaborate platings or imaginative creations. I told him that what he *could* expect was food that tasted more like the essence of the ingredient than any place he'd been to previously.

When we went he told me I had prepared him for a subdued, conservative experience and instead he was blown away by how perfect everything was. No bells and whistles, but perfect flavors, perfect seasonings, perfect food. He enjoyed it so much he chose it as his birthday restaurant later that year.

I think too many people go to CP expecting a haute cuisine experience and are disappointed at how down-to-earth it really is. If you go expecting a more Berkeley experience, though, you'll find your expectations exceeded many-fold.

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The last time I was there the appetizer was a powerful calamari with a rich tomato sauce and it was downright exciting. This was followed by many "nice" dishes smothered in grapeseed oil. It was really an oddly balanced meal.

I'm glad it's there but Alice, the revolution is over. It's time for some evolution!

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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WHS, I've heard this reaction to Chez Panisse from others. I think different people just have different reactions to the cooking and the style of the place. Personally, it is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. It can be expensive, but so can a lot of mediocre places.

Granted it has been many years (1983) but it was not bad but horrendous attitude by the staff at the restaurant portion of Chez Panisse that made me vow never to return. I still went to the cafe part though where I found the food to be good and the service to be pleasant.

The food at the restaurant was however good, though pricey for the time period. Great service can improve even mediocre food, but even excellent food cannot compensate for poor service.

Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

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...  Great service can improve even mediocre food, but even excellent food cannot compensate for poor service.

This certainly shows that people go to restaurants expecting different things. I believe exactly the opposite. You can always get another waiter, but a new genuis Chef? That is a problem. I'll always give a restaurant another chance if the food is good.

Edited by chaud-froid (log)
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dfunghi, I think you're referring to Taqueria Picante on 6th street, near Gilman. The founder of this place has some distant relationship to Chez Panisse, which I can't remember now.

Next door to Chez Panisse and across the street from the Cheese Board is Cesar's, a great bar and tapas restaurant. The drink and food selections are worthy of the Gourmet Ghetto.

Other good bar/small plates choices are Fonda, on Solano Avenue, Grasshopper, on College Avenue, and A Coté, also on College.

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I remember well my first trip to Berkeley to visit my sister. Fall of 1990. I took Diana, I think she was about 2 weeks old. Sister, husband and daughter lived within walking distance of everything good. Diana spent her days in the front pack, me walking. Monterrey Market. Acme Bread. Cheese Board. Mr. Mopps. Fat Apple's. It was heaven. It was a good place to recover from a difficult pregnancy and acquaint myself with with this most wonderful little girl ( who is no longer little, but even more wonderful than before).

Midway through my visit, my mom came out for a conference, so we went to Chez Panisse for lunch. Diana was with, and woke a time or two for "lunch" (on me!). The staff was wonderful, the food delightful. We were the last luncher's there, and the staff coddled us, cooed over Diana and we met Alice Waters. But, that was many years ago.

Yes, when I visit now and get off the plane, the first stop is to the Berkeley Bowl.

We're thinking about a Berkeley/Black Mountain Christmas again this year, which we did two years ago. The only caveat is that my BIL and I will once again shop for Black Mountain provisions at the Berkeley Bowl together.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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In regards to cheese there is a great place I never pass up when in East bay. On San Pablo just off University. It is called something like the Country Cheese Store. It has an amazing selection and great prices and is family owned and operated. No politics, just food. A small meat counter in the rear as well with real, impoted from France,  french salumi. You who live in Bay area are soooo lucky. Here in LA we have very little that compares to the food shops of B.A. and they are spread over many miles and hours of traffic. I would like to add a great burrito joint as well ( if it is still there) not far from the old Spengers the name eludes ( Il Piquante maybe) me but when I went there the first time and ordered the steak burrito they asked how I wanted my steak done. I was  floored!

David

Oh, I know this place!!!

Yes, you are absolutely correct! It is a great place.

I am a traveling nurse, who calls the San Francisco bay area home. I go from state to state,and I am truly finding out what wonders and treasures we have in the bay area.

I have spent some time in the LA area lately, and I found what you said to be absolutely true.

I was based just north of Berkelely, living in the bay area. I shopped regularly in Berkeley, at Berkeley Bowl, and at Monterey Market. There are no finer markets in my estimation. Plus everything else that Berkeley has to offer.

Everyone talks about California and the San Francisco bay area being the most expensive places to live and eat. Well, I disagree. I found that I could live more inexpensively than most by shopping at these wonderful places. There are wonderful fresh bargains galore. Wonderful produce. Wonderful bulk products.

Okay, I sound like an advertisement. But I still think the bay area doesn't have to be a nightmare for someone who wants to eat well and inexpensively.

Edited by artisan02 (log)
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Next door to Chez Panisse and across the street from the Cheese Board is Cesar's, a great bar and tapas restaurant.  The drink and food selections are worthy of the Gourmet Ghetto.

Thanks for mentioning Cesar's! I forgot to say that when I was leaving The Spanish Table, the owner was asking where else I was going in Berkeley; I told him I was headed to lunch at Chez Panisse, and he highly recommended Cesar's for another day. Sadly, I didn't have time to get back there--next trip!

"I'm not eating it...my tongue is just looking at it!" --My then-3.5 year-old niece, who was NOT eating a piece of gum

"Wow--this is a fancy restaurant! They keep bringing us more water and we didn't even ask for it!" --My 5.75 year-old niece, about Bread Bar

"He's jumped the flounder, as you might say."

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