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Berkeley Bowl how-to/Elmwood eats

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We're buying a house in Berkeley's Elmwood district! Very exciting. Can't wait to make the Berkeley Bowl our regular food shopping location, but I'm a little intimidated as well. I've only been there a couple of times, and it's kind of enormous and crowded. What times of day are acceptable for going there? Is there any category of thing they have that I'd be better off getting somewhere else? I have the impression that they have great variety and prices on produce, and good meats/fish, but I don't know about their bulk or their boxed goods or cheeses or beers etc.

And what about the food on that College and Ashby strip? We had tuna melts and malteds at Ollie's after our inspection today, which was great fun, and the other night we went to Shen Nua (sp?) which was unimpressive. Also I know about Zax and the falafel place. Other tips?

Also, if any of you are now going to be my neighbors I'd love to know and invite you over to our housewarming party, whenever that happens...

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  1. The bowl is fine most weekdays and not bad weekend mornings. Sunday night and Monday are worst, as at most markets. You can judge by the parking lot; if you can't get a space, you don't want to be there.

    Cheeses are a good selection, but the prices are no better than a cheese store. Wines are interesting and eclectic, but it is the produce and fish you're there for.

    1. Congratulations on moving to Elmwood! It's a great neighborhood. We're in North Berkeley, so not quite neighbors, but it would be fun to chow together in Elmwood sometime.

      I feel that Berkeley Bowl is most crowded on Saturdays and Monday evenings. My best advice is to park on Oregon St. east of the Bowl. Much less stressful than attempting the parking lot. And yes, produce produce produce. Wow. Also, I find their prices on a lot of staples (peanut butter, Hansen's soda, sandwich bread) are cheaper than Andronico's, though perhaps not so cheap as Safeway or Albertson's.

      Try Holy Land in Elmwood (not open on Saturdays - hey, that's the holy day!) - the malawah, a Yemeni bread that seems a little breakfasty to me, is delicious. Served with a tomato garlic salsa (for lack of a better word). And the mint lemonade is great and frothy.

      La Mediterranee packs 'em in - there's always a crowd. But I don't think it's great food. Slightly interesting, because you can't get Armenian food anywhere in the Bay Area (can you?) but not high-quality.

      Filippo's Pastaria is very bad. We just went last night, thinking since they're expanding so much lately, they must be good. No. Pasta Pomodoro is a lot better, and even better than that is making pasta at home.

      Have fun exploring your new neighborhood!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Alexandra

        I have to second, third, and fourth Alexandra's recommendation for parking on Oregon.

        I NEVER EVER enter the parking lot because it puts me in a bad mood before I even get into the store.

        If you need to buy more than a handbasket will hold, I recommend parking your cart once in the produce section, and ferrying your items back to it. Breathe deeply when trying to negotiate out of there. Once you're into the aisles, I recommend parking your cart at the back (near meat counter)end of an aisle, and again, ferrying items back to it.

        Avoid weekend shopping when possible. Last Thanksgiving I made the mistake of thinking that surely everyone would have bought their groceries before Wednesday evening - ha! But, people are good about helping you trace the winding checkout lines. They can often extend into the aisles.

        Good luck and welcome to the neighborhood.

        Another elmwood place we like: Shen Hua -- on the expensive side for Chinese food, but the quality is good, and they make their noodles in house.

        1. re: foodnut

          Thanksgiving at the Bowl -- ack!

          There really isn't a good time to go to the Bowl Thanksgiving week. Monday you have the post-weekend stock-up crowds and early T-Day shoppers. Tuesday you have the people who *think* they're the early shoppers who've cleverly all planned to shop on Tuesday to avoid the crush on Wednesday.

          Wednesday is a madhouse because (1) they're running out of T-Day staples like sage, (2) T-Day is amateur night for cooks: the Bowl is full of people who only cook one day a year -- they don't know where or what anything is. They (and the friend/partner they've dragooned into coming along to "help") clog the aisles while they stare at their shopping lists, desperately trying to figure out what they're supposed to be doing, what some of the ingredients in their old family recipes are, and what to do about the fact the Bowl has run out of sage, while said friend/partner says helpful things like "I couldn't find the fennel, do you think we could substitute celery -- they kinda look the same?"

      2. Congratulations! We're neighbors. We moved to the neighborhood about a year ago and love it.Feel free to contact me via this board or privately for any questions, food or otherwise.
        I really like the Persian Market that is north of Ashby, on the west side of College avenue. As well as a lot of interesting canned and packaged items, the family makes their own babaganoush (great!), a tahini-less eggplant spread and a fava bean spread (maybe ful?)I've not yet tried but plan to. They have a wonderful assortment of fresh halavah and Turkish delight type candy as well. The owner couldn't be more pleasant and helpful.
        Haven't been bowled over by the Chinese and Italian restaurants in the Elmwood but the Sicilean place obviously has a following as evidenced by the crowds. They are perfectly fine for neighborhood places.
        We live closer to Telegraph than College and find ourselves strolling there more often. Lots of Ethiopian restaurants. I've tried em all. Best is Finfine 2556 Telegraph (almost at Dwight) They feature Ethiopian seafood dishes which I've not yet tried.
        The Berkeley bowl is great but the crowd situation remains a mystery to me as to how to predict. Sometimes first thing in the AM is fine, other times mobbed. I've tried to use weather as a predictor with no luck. Guess the best thing is expect the worst and occ be surprised.
        I initially detested Whole Foods (College and Ashby) but now have an appreciation for their store "365" brand of sandwich bread, vinegar and prepared pasta sauce. Their seafood is as good, sometimes better, than the BB. Obviously lots of stuff on the board regarding them.
        When I think of more things- I'll post them. (There is a Korean place we like but can't recall the name..)
        See you in the 'hood!

        4 Replies
        1. re: suebe
          Kathleen Mikulis

          How are the meat (chicken/beef) dishes at Fin Fine?

          1. re: Kathleen Mikulis

            Wish I could remember the actual names of the dishes or had a guide in front of me as we write.. chicken and beef dishes are good- in fact- my favorite thing I've had is a sort of Ethiopian beef tatar..

            1. re: suebe
              Kathleen Mikulis

              Cool! Thanks! I look forward to trying it.

              I'm looking to try another Ethiopian place in the East Bay (I love a place called Zeni in the South Bay), but I've been disappointed so far with faves on this board like Cafe Colucci, in addition to Asmara and Ethiopia Restaurant.

          2. re: suebe

            Is the Korean place you're thinking of the one in the atrium where Finfiné is? If so, my guess for its name is Korean BBQ, though I could be wrong. I second the Holy Land recommendation too. I've generally enjoyed Tratoria La Siciliana, especially their bread with that great spiced olive oil. Plus, I practically lived off Gordo burrito for a number of years when I had a place at Russell and College. Don't forget Nabolom bakery, either! Best fruitcake (seasonal) I've ever had. Though expensive, I also like the Toscano salami sandwich at A.G. Ferarri. All in all not a bad place to live, as a student or anyone! Enjoy.

          3. c
            Caitlin McGrath

            The Elmwood neighborhood is great, though not outstanding for restaurants. Nabalom bakery, on Russell (across the street from the 7-11), has the best Danish I've ever had. The pastry is scrumptious and buttery, with none of that weird flavor that mass-produced commercial types have, and the fruit is actual fruit, not overly sweet, not jam or filling, and is nicely balanced by an also not-overly-sweet cheese. Blackberry's my all-time favorite, but they're all good. Danishes are the best thing at Nabalom, but the Chocolatine cookies are also a treat.

            The bulk section at Berkeley Bowl is terrific - everything from salt and baking powder to candy - and the prices are really good. There is a nice selection of artisan breads available. If you can get there on weekdays before 5, it's usually least crowded then. Weekends are bad, of course. You'll also be close to the downtown Berkeley farmers' market on Tuesday afternoons.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              As usual, Caitlin nailed it: the bulk section at the Bowl is great: both in variety and price.

              In addition to the produce and the meat/fish counters, another category where they shine is dairy products: wide variety of products at excellent prices. They also have eggs for every variation of political/dietary correctness.

              I agree with Caitlin that weekday mid-afternoon seems to be the least crowded time -- it's the only time I've ever seen *no* lines at the Bowl!

            2. m
              Miele Maiale

              Welcome to the neighborhood. We live in Elmwood too and I'd love to do some neighborly chowing with you and other Elmwood chowhounds when you're settled in!

              Cafe Colucci is a great Ethiopian place on Telegraph near Alcatraz. And while I'm a longtime BB devotee for all things produce-related, I prefer the service and selection at Ver Brugge for meat. The fish dept. at the Bowl is great, though. For cheese, I would wander over to the Cheeseboard in North Berkeley if I were you, or to Country Cheese on San Pablo at University. Of course, in a pinch, BB is fine for cheese. And yes, the egg selection is quite amazing.

              1. The best thing, obviously, about Berkeley Bowl is the produce--its quality, variety, and pricing can't be beat. Yes, the crowds are bad, and the carriages are far too big for the space. My tip is to use the hand baskets if possible. I also find it easier when I go with my husband rather than by myself (that way we can have two baskets and still be mobile). I like the selection of international foods at the Bowl, too, but don't usually buy any staples there; pricing is generally better elsewhere (unless there's a sale on, for instance, a brand of cereal you like). I don't understand the kudos for the fish--with rare exception, the fish counter reeks so badly I hate to even pass by it. The smell prevents me from even thinking about buying anything. And I'm not talking about the smell of the sea, just an odor that says to me that it isn't fresh. As for parking, yes, avoid the lot (but leave some space nearby for me!). Regarding Elmwood restaurants, I've found Shen Hua okay if not exceptional (better than the almost identical place on Solano), don't recommend La Mediterranee, think Locanda Olmo is a good deal for lunch but mediocre at night, and recommend the coffee overall. Enjoy!

                1. Welcome to the east bay from your former neighbor and now almost-neighbor.

                  I've found the crowds at the Bowl to be unpredictable. Usually they are crowded on Sat. and Sun. near closing and right after work but sometimes not. For the produce, it's worth the wait and it's fine for meat, fish, cheese, eggs and some of their deli items although for cheese and olives the cheese board can't be beat (and has Bowl-like crowds). Their soups are generally good too when you can't be bothered cooking. I avoid Whole foods unless it's after 8:00 and I need something health foody or bulk that isn't available at Safeway or Andronico's. They're expensive and have service with an attitude although I notice that service is somewhat improved lately.

                  Neighborhood restaurants vary, generally they are better a few blocks south in Rockridge. I second the votes for Nabalom, Holy Land, and the Ethiopian place on Telegraph. Also, La Farine for croissants and other puff-pastry based pastries in the near-Elmwood part of Rockridge.

                  There's also a couple of very good Korean places, one for barbeque and one for Korean tofu stews further south in Temescal. As a north Oaklander in a neighborhood that has no specific name other than "north Oakland", I've adopted Rockridge, Elmwood and Temescal as my own and consider all of them to be in the 'hood.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Lisa Kramer

                    ... "the Ethiopian place on Telegraph" she says. Which Ethiopian place on Telegraph? There are at least half a dozen.

                    As long-time readers of this board know, this phenomenon fascinates me.

                    So perhaps it is time yet again to propose a project:

                    Rate all the Ethiopian restaurants on (or just off in the case of Red Sea) Telegraph.

                    What I propose is to put together a group of people who are interested in trying a different place, say, every Tuesday night. People would not have to attend every week, but if we had enough people who were interested, we should be able to get a critical mass for each Tuesday.

                    Anyone interested should email me ... when we have places and dates we can also announce them on the board for anyone who wants to just "drop in."

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                      Melanie Wong

                      Sounds like the neighborhood is growing with some likely confederates! Here's your previous post on the topic.

                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  2. k
                    Kathleen Mikulis

                    I live down College right on the Berkeley/Oakland border. I'll try to strictly keep my comments to the Elmwood strip because I could just go on and on...

                    --Jin Ling (lower priced than Shen Hua; good spicy chicken with basil, anything with black bean sauce, chicken with honeydew melon; try to name interior decoration you recognize from IKEA while you're there)
                    --Shen Hua (more expensive; hit or miss on ordering; really good Andy's Chicken - chicken with fermented bean sauce, peanut noodles, mu shu; brusque service to say the least)
                    --La Mediterranee (good chicken cilicia - chicken in filo dough topped with powdered sugar, pomegranate chicken, lemon chicken soup)

                    I second the comments on Filippo's - that Pasta Pomodoro near Rockridge BART is better.

                    Does anyone else miss Petroushka, the Russian restaurant that was in this neighborhood until 7 years ago?

                    1. Don't forget about the food at the Thai Buddhist temple on Sat mornings, just west of Berkeley Bowl. Fabulous.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Bryan Gros

                        Shouldn't that be Sunday mornings?

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Ummm. Not sure.
                          I guess I haven't been in a while. Maybe it is Sundays...