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Oct 16, 2006 03:25 PM

An LA Chowhound goes to Berkeley (writeup)

We spent this past weekend in Berkeley, and since our plans (which involved a wedding) were changing at the last minute, we didn't know where we were going to end up -- hence the lack of one of those "LA Native Needs Berkeley Help" posts on this board.

Besides, one of the things that really makes a Chowhound is the ability to sniff out food that is tasty, and it's certainly easy enough to do in Berkeley... not to mention that Berkeley is a very walkable, fairly compact city.

Friday night, after a long, hard drive punctuated with long periods of sitting on the 5 with the car off, we went to Cheeseboard Pizza, where they were serving roasted bell pepper and tapenade pie. It was my first experience with the Communist Pizza Parlour (100% of people who ate there on Friday voted for the bell pepper and tapenade pie), and it was very tasty -- a little bit too much tapenade on some of the slices which made it very salty, but good and filling and hot.

Saturday morning, after I discovered by walking from the Marin Circle down to Ashby and back, that nothing opens before 8:00 or 8:30, I stopped at the Virginia Bakery and bought a competently-made apple ring and a cherry strudel for the house we were staying in. Nothing earth-shaking, but well-made. I also stopped at Peet's (yes, I know, there are 100 independent coffeeshops on Shattuck, but none of them were open at 6.30 AM!).

For lunch, we met the rest of the family who were coming in from LA for this wedding, and we wandered Telegraph. We were all starving for an early lunch and we happened to walk past a Korean place on the west side between Durant and Channing, called Berkel Berkel. It was very tasty -- I had soon dubu, others had various permutations of barbecue, my (very non-Chowhoundish) mother-in-law had bibimbap. It was all quite good, again, nothing earth-shaking... but the price for five of us was $28, which is unheard of here in LA.

I did wander the Berkeley farmers' market, which was nice -- I do wish my local FM sold meat and better bread -- but I noticed mostly that the seasons for produce are different in the Bay Area, where we are still getting peaches, figs, melons, eggplants and lots and lots of fall strawberries, Berkeley's FM had more apples, pears and squashes. Prices seemed very expensive compared to my home (Studio City) FM, but about the same as the Hollywood or Santa Monica FMs.

Dinner Saturday was at the hotel where the wedding was.

Sunday we went to Hong Kong East Ocean in Emeryville for dim sum. It was nice to have fresh, hot dim sum but I have to say it's the most expensive dim sum I've ever bought -- nearly $25 a person (all told) with regular pu-erh tea. The xlb had hardly any soup in them, but the steamed custard buns were really good; the siu mai were tasty but the har gau were rubbery. The braised fried tofu was very good hot, but as they got cold it got unappetising. It wouldn't be my choice for dim sum again, I don't think -- I remember Ton Kiang fondly but didn't want to deal with parking in the City.

It was a good weekend... and a nice change from the Valley.

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  1. There are cheaper farmers markets around here, Berkeley's for people who'll pay more for higher quality.

    Maybe not as big a selection as in Southern Califoria, but I saw peaches, figs, melons, eggplants, and strawberries at the Berkeley market on Saturday. Strawberries now seem to be a three-season crop around here, last year I think they were still around at Thanksgiving. Figs are normally in season (second crop) this time of year, though this was a bad year for them around here--our tree's first crop still hasn't ripened.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I wasn't implying that there wasn't any such thing, just that the markets are still overrun with such things down here. In a few weeks it'll switch over, I'm sure, and then I can start getting persimmons in time to ripen for Thanksgiving.

      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        I know you were on the wrong side of the Bay, but if you haven't been to the SF Ferry Building Farmers Market it's very interesting. We try to stop by there every time we're in the Bay Area. In contrast, we live close to the Hollywood Farmers Market and don't bother going there any more.

        1. re: Chandavkl

          I haven't been since it was opened -- my local market was the Civic Center market when I lived in SF. I debated going there, but I had to pick people up at SFO at 9.30 on Saturday and just couldn't trust traffic to get me to the Ferry Building and back to SFO in time.

    2. Nice report. What hotel and how was the wedding food ... should we get wedding/event queries in the future.

      Virigina is an old-fashioned European bakery. They do some things well like Irish soda bread and hot cross buns and others like you said ... like an old-fashioned European bakery ... nothing earth-shattering but competently made. Not the best in town, but the do cute seasonal cookies like pumpkins and ghosts for Halloween.

      That is a problem with the non-chain coffee shops in the area, they open too late, but Peet's is still pretty good. When I lived in SF, especially on the week-ends, getting a cup of coffee before 7am meant Starbucks or McDonalds. There wasn't even a joint open in North Beach for coffee.

      And uh, most people up this way don't preceed highway names with the word 'the':-). So far that seems to be a SoCal thing that reminded me of my San Diego days. Just in case next time you visit and get lost and try asking where's 'the 101'. A NoCal person might not know how to answer that and you could wind up having to live here because you can't find a way to get out.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        It was the Bancroft Hotel, and the food was provided by a caterer -- it was buffet-style, which almost always results in better food than plate service (hot food being hot is a good thing in my book). Don't know who the caterer was, though. It was chicken stuffed with leeks and goat cheese with basil mashed potatoes, salmon with pesto and wild mushroom risotto, and butternut squash ravioli with artichoke and tomato sauce.

        And since we got stuck near Gorman (curse that Grapevine, and curse the complete and utter lack of chow in that part of the world) it was absolutely still "the" 5. The 5 turns into the 5 between the 46 and 41. :-P

        1. re: rworange

          I thought I was the only one left who got annoyed at "the" 101, 280, etc. How about people who say "the" BART? Imagine if, when I lived in Chicago, I had insisted on saying just "El", instead of "the El". But since transplants practically outnumber natives in the Bay Area these days, I don't think many people will have any difficulty understanding Ubergeek!

          To expand on the Bancroft Hotel as a wedding site: We checked it out as a possible location for our wedding last year, it was a great option though we ended up selecting another place. But the Bancroft gives you the option of renting out the entire hotel, including the individual rooms, which is great if you have a lot of people coming in from out of town. The rooms are small (described as "European"), but its a pretty nice location, I think. If you rent out the entire place, you can also bring in your own caterer as opposed to the small list you would otherwise have to select from, and they have a not-large (but still useful) kitchen facility. There is also a small roof-deck, which could be used for late afternoon cocktails and had a nice view of the bay. The steep steps up to the roof are somewhat treachorous, though.

        2. Nothing wrong with going to Peets, in my book - if you went to the shop at Walnut and Vine, which I suspect you did given the neighborhood, you went to the original Peets, ie the first one ever to open. They started here in 1966 as a small company. They're still Bay Area based.

          Many of the seemingly independent coffee places on Shattuck (and elsewhere in Berkeley) are part of chains. For example, last I heard, the Espresso Roma corp owns 9 cafes in Berkeley -- including the French Hotel Cafe, International House Cafe, & Cafe Milano -- and 8 more elsewhere in the West. But only a few of their cafes carry the Espresso Roma name, so you would think they're all independent.

          1. I've spent a lot of time at Farmers' Markets in LA and the Bay Area and I agree with your observations. SoCal has much longer growing seasons. I've had good tomatoes and peaches from Farmers Markets in LA in December whereas in the Bay Area "summer" produce will *maybe* extend into mid October.

            I agree with the comparison of Berkeley and Santa Monica in terms of prices and vendor quality. Robert is right that Berkeley definitely represents the high end among Bay Area farmers' markets, as does Santa Monica in LA. However, I do appreciate that the emphasis in Berkeley is on the farmers. There are very few prepared food stands, and those stands are required to purchase most of their produce from produce vendors. There are no tchotchky stands. We also have a couple of outstanding meat stands in Berkeley though there are sadly no good eggs to be found.

            One thing about Communist Pizza - only selling one pie guarantees that your slices will be delivered piping hot. I do wish they'd put some cured pork on it every now and then.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Morton the Mousse

              The half-baked pies they sell are quite versatile--I sometimes sprinkle the simpler varieties with diced, lightly sauteed pancetta or bits of cooked, crumbled fennel sausage from Cafe Rouge, sometimes dot with pesto or caramelized onions or diced oven-roastd tomatoes, then into a convection oven at 425 for 10 minutes or so. Cheeseboard pizza, wonderfully crispy crust and mouth-burningly hot at any hour!

              1. re: dordogne

                I do the same with Arizmendi occasionally. Luckily for my, Arizmendi doesn't do tapinade. I only like it in verrrrry small doses, otherwise it's just too intense.

                Re the SoCal growing season, Das Ub is right. Also about the Berk Farmers' Mkt. Speaking of that market, has anybody tried the fresh sauerkraut? I'm dying to but the last 2 times I got there too late and she was packed up.

                My son did get Swanton strawbs on Saturday, though. Still sweet and juicy in October! We had them for dessert with some raspberries and some great blackberries I got at Berkeley Bowl (they SHOULD have been great, they cost like $4 for a small carton). We had a deelish dessert of berries with a mixture of Fage yoghurt and mascarpone mixed together.

                I laughed out loud at "the 5", etc. I spent my first 23 years in L.A. and lived there a couple of times after that for periods of several years, alternating with Berkeley/Oakland. Last time I lived there was in the early 80's and we still called the fwys by names - the Pasadena Freeway, the Harbor Freeway, The Golden State Freeway, etc. I went back about 8 years later and asked somebody how to get to the Santa Monica Freeway. They had no idea what I was talking about.

                So in one post I mentioned Arizmendi (the "Communist" bakery) and Swanton (the "union" farm). I must be traveling in the right circles!

                1. re: oakjoan

                  The flavor of the sauerkraut is very good, but they grate it so to me the texture's wrong. Should be long thin shreds.