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Ten-minute stopover in Berkeley -- where should I eat?

Just kidding. It's actually three weeks, but I thought I might need to catch your attention among all the visitor posts.

Well, this is another one, though we've been visiting for several weeks a year for the past twenty years, and I'm not asking you to do my work for me.

Our last visit was in July 2006, and I've been working my way back through the posts since then. I'm still only back to about March, so forgive me if I'm posting prematurely. Possibilities so far include Wood Tavern, Jayakarta (though the Chron review implied Malaysian sugar overdose, which I can do without), Platano, Riva Cucina, Ici, Vanessa's, Angeline's. I am undecided about Bui, which sounds like Saigon City (which I liked) with higher prices and worse service. Anyone want to stick up for it?

And if anyone wants to chime in with some more alternatives (see, this is just another visitor post), I would appreciate it. We do have piles of old favourites to go back to.

We're going to try to spend a little more time than usual on the other side of the Bay, also, and I don't have anything new written down for SF so far. But there are more places there that we haven't gotten to ever, plus some which deserve a second visit (e.g. Incanto, which I wasn't thrilled with, though we had a party of nine with too many small children last time...). --PR

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  1. Definitely go to 900 Grayson. It's the best restaurant to open recently in Berkeley, IMO. Riva and Wood Tavern are great as well.

    Right now, my favorite restaurant in Berkeley is Dopo in Oakland. Other standards are Pizziaiolo, Gregoire, Sea Salt and Sketch Ice Cream.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Morton the Mousse

      Thanks, Morton. I have been to all of the ones you mention in the second paragraph; will revisit Sea Salt and maybe Pizzaiolo (the others are good but we have been at least twice and there are others on the list higher up). Last I heard of 900 Grayson it was brunch and lunch -- are they open for dinner yet?

      1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

        No dinner yet, though they aim to open this summer. Right now they serve breakfast, brunch and lunch.

        1. re: Morton the Mousse

          How is the pulled pork? I can see the whole family ordering this.

          1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

            My SO ordered the pulled pork and didn't give me a taste, so I guess it was pretty good. It was not huge, and not too goopy. Civilized, I'd say. On a soft bun. I think my SO was expecting more for the price, but what there was was fine.

    2. when you come to the City, try to add La Ciccia to your list. However, call first, as I believe they are closing soon for a few weeks vacation (sigh)...anyway, you will want a reservation.

      Also, I would add Champa Garden in Oakland to your list. Reservations not really needed there, unless you have a big group. Seriously good Thai and Laotian. Don't miss the rice ball salad.

      http://www.champagarden.com/

      3 Replies
      1. re: susancinsf

        Thanks, Susan. I will phone La Ciccia, and Champa Garden is on the list. I haven't had an interesting SE Asian meal in the Bay Area for some time now...

        1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

          I second both recs from Susan. The answer to your original question, BTW, is "Gregoire" although I suppose Cheeseboard Pizza is another chow-worthy 10-minute stop. You might even, with a little luck and fast footwork, do both in 10 minutes!

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            My wait at Gregoire's has never been as short as ten minutes, even avoiding peak periods. CP, on the other hand, rarely exceeds that, not counting parking and walking.

      2. lol! No recs, just had to respond after I saw the title of this post I thought "only a food obsessed person like a chowhound would look for good eats with 10 minutes to kill!!"
        Thanks for the grin.

        1. I agree, check out 900 Grayson. Definitely try Ici, and I'll cross my fingers that they're still making blueberry sherbet and apricot ice cream for you. We weren't too impressed with Riva Cucina -- the polenta was cooked utterly without salt, which rendered it unpalatable, and the clams in the pasta were so sandy we had to send the dish back. Have a great trip!

          1. Hardly just another visitor.

            I always look forward to your outstanding trip reports.

            Out of that list, of the places I tried, Riva Cucina and Vanessa's would be my top choices.

            Haven't tried Angeline's but in SF Mama Lucy's got some good, if infrequent reports. It is near Bryant and 7th. Haven't tried it yet but drove by recently to check it out. Looks nice.

            If you are into the type of Mediterrean deli places like Zand's, there's a new Persian Place on Solano, Saffron Gourmet.

            Sea Salt now has a nice, if pricy, weekend brunch. If you tried T-Rex, the quality has gone up. They have a nice little happy hour from 3-6 that has good prices on a lot of their items so combined with the regular items, it could be a deal.

            Fonda on Solano now has lunch. It is most of their regular menu but I had a memorable torta there.
            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/398394

            2 Replies
            1. re: rworange

              Seconding Sea Salt's weekend brunch -- I had amazing pork rillons with poached eggs there last weekend that I've been meaning to post about. They also have a nice area outside where you can have brunch, which is lovely with this nice weather we've been having. And I have to say, Sea Salt's brunch prices aren't really that expensive -- the prices ranged mostly from $10-15, which isn't bad (though, if you get those Bloody Marys...). And yes, definitely try Wood Tavern, I've really enjoyed all of the meals that I've had there (especially the pork chop). And if you like desserts, go back to Pizzaiolo, they have a new pastry chef, and her desserts are great.

              1. re: rworange

                I will strongly second Vanessa's. We just had dinner there for the first time tonight, and it blew our socks off. The salmon, tuna, avocado, and mango poke was outstanding, as were the garlic butter noodles. Also delicious were the mushroom and duck confit in lettuce wraps and a simple vegetable-tofu curry whose flavors really shined. I didn't love my miso halibut atop pad thai noodles (the flavors just didn't excite as much as all the other dishes), but it was still well-prepared. The only disappointment of the night was dessert, a peach-banana-raisin bread pudding with very little distinct fruit flavor.

                Overall, though, it was the best meal we've had in recent memory. Plus, the prices struck us as exceedingly reasonable given the quality. If we lived in the neighborhood, we'd definitely be regulars.

              2. Possibilities so far include Wood Tavern,
                - Wood Tavern has been getting some good reviews lately, but i'm not sure how crowded it gets.

                Jayakarta (though the Chron review implied Malaysian sugar overdose, which I can do without),
                - Don't know too much about this one.

                Platano,
                - I've been a couple times now. Been pretty happy with it. Prices very reasonable though nothing mindblowing. Service can be a bit slow.

                Riva Cucina
                - n/a

                Ici
                - I hear they've been giving bigger servings.
                Vanessa's
                - I'm a regular there since I work across the street. They are moving to a dinner only schedule though. I like a lot of their menu items.

                Angeline's
                -Haven't tried yet.

                I am undecided about Bui, which sounds like Saigon City (which I liked) with higher prices and worse service. Anyone want to stick up for it?
                - Lunch menu is ok, but honestly while I like it, I'd prefer to get cheaper, larger portions in Oakland or even in Richmond/El Cerrito. The dinner menu is more interesting, and the service was much better the last couple times I went. They had a real hard time when they first openned finding good help.

                1 Reply
                1. re: nicedragonboy

                  >>> I am undecided about Bui, which sounds like Saigon City (which I liked) with higher prices and worse service. Anyone want to stick up for it? <<<

                  Not really.

                  The thing is with Vanessa's down the street for me it is hard to go to Bui. I haven't been though since opening.

                  That being said, I do think lunch at Bui is worth it and if I'm in the area would return. Also, as to the service ... it is just a personality thing. These aren't bubbly people. Go in with that expectation and all is well.

                  I doubt there is one thing different from Saigon City except location. If you liked SC, you'll like Bui.

                2. Champa Garden in Oakland.

                  Shanghai in Oakland. Funky dive but great food. Pork bliss.

                  Cesar on Piedmont. Much more comfortable than the Berkeley location and longer menu.

                  Dopo has more than doubled the size of its dining room, so it's not as crazy a scene as it used to be.

                  La Ciccia in SF. Best not to go with more than four people.

                  TWO (former Hawthorne Lane) in SF.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yup. Love the pork bliss (aka the "pork joint") at Shanghai.

                    Have you reported on TWO, Robert? If so, I don't remember seeing it, and we haven't had many thorough reports.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I meant Shanghai is pork bliss in general--dozens of great porky dishes.

                      Brief post on TWO:

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/35950...

                      I reviewed it for SF Weekly so for contractual reasons couldn't post in detail here.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Dozens? I can think of three (the XLB, the aforementioned pork joint, and the lion's head meatballs) -- what other porky delights do you recommend there?

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          We always order the pork with bean curd (I forget the exact name now).
                          It is fatty bacon chunks, simmered in savory brown sauce. The bean curd skin is dried strips that have been tied in knots.
                          I eat the pork while my vegetarian wife eats the bean curd knots.
                          (all this at Shanghai in Oakland).
                          For a larger group, the pork joint is a winner.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Between the three menus, odd translations, and ordering by pointing at plates on other tables, I'm hopelessly confused about which dishes I've had there.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              LOL! When you include the white board and the paper specials on the wall, there are actually five different "menus" -- Shanghai has absolutely the worst case of multiplemenuitis of any place I know.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Yeah, it's pretty bad; I don't think many or any of the wall specials are on any of the printed menus, and after going so many times with a Shanghainese, I have no idea if some of the dishes are on any menu at all. Speaking of pork, there's a dish involving small pork meatballs wrapped in really gooey gluten served in a brown sauce- no idea which if any menu it is on, what to call it in English, etc. But good.

                                Also the pretty standard shredded pork with shredded tofu; Mandarin name something like "sheng gen rou si." The pork with bean curd skin that Joel mentions is not to my taste, but they do a version of pork belly with preserved vegetable that is pretty good, much fresher tasting than the commonly seen steam table version.

                                non-pork: they do a pretty good version of diced fish with pine nuts, celery and wolfberries there.

                                1. re: twocents

                                  Those dishes sound delicious. I haven't been for a while, but I'm going to try to remember to ask about the meat balls in gluten next time.

                    2. Brand new place ... gotta go ... Upscale British & Nigerian ... Lagosia

                      If you ever find yourself in Marin, really loved the equally new Cici Geleteria

                      I finally made peace with another ice cream place today ... Ici ... they have improved. Fantastic Santa Rosa Plum

                      -----
                      Lagosia
                      1725 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94703

                      Cici Gelateria
                      17 E Blithedale Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941

                      Ici Ice Cream
                      2948 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                      1. Bobby G's Pizzeria. I've only been once, but my first impression was very positive. Good food, very reasonable prices, friendly staff, comfortable atmosphere, perfect for a casual lunch or dinner. They've only been open for a few months now, but I have a feeling that they're going to do well.

                        More on Bobby G's.

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/406857

                        1. How interesting that no one has mentioned Chez Panisse. Is it yesterday's news?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: pikawicca

                            Just not a propos for someone who has been visiting Berkeley several weeks a year for 20 years who wants to know what's new.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              I ate at CP downstairs in 1986, and last ate at the Cafe four or five years ago. Ruth is right. I wanted to know what has changed in the past year. --PR