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Mar 22, 2006 12:30 AM

Epicurious Opening - Socca, Taste, Alegio and more

  • m

Soft opening at Epicurious today, the entire complex will be open tomorrow.

Loved the Socca. Soccas are thin chickpea pancakes. Hearty yet light, crispy yet moist, with a subtle nutty flavor. We had one with lamb, green olives and eggplant and one with zucchini and tomatoes. The soccas are baked to order in the oven, covered with toppings and then finished in the oven. The lamb was tender, juicy and loaded with meat - you can always rely on Gregoire for good lamb. The zucchini was piled high with thinly sliced squash and warm tomatoes. The menu also includes caramelized onions, eggplant-basil, bay scallops, cod, lemon-chicken, and pork shoulder-mushroom. Prices ranged from $5.25 for veggie to $7.75 for lamb. A very satisfying lunch and the perfect thing to combine with other dinner options.

Loved the rotisserie chicken at Taste. Seriously, this is some of the best I've had. It put Cafe Rouge to shame and was even better than Roli Roti. Tender, juicy, flavorful from the thigh down to the breast. We requested a "fresh" one and the chef gave us one straight out of the oven (this is perfect if you're getting it to go because the chicken needs to sit for a few minutes anyway. By the time you get home, it will still be hot.) Also tried the Ceaser - I always order Ceasers and this one was spot on. Crisp, fresh Romaine, excellent dressing, quality parm. The chicken Ceaser was particularly good as it featured generous pieces of moist chicken. Finished it off with a Valrhona brownie - easily the best saran wrapped "to go" brownie I have ever had (though I didn't care for the dried fruit bits).
Taste has a limited menu for opening week and they plan to expand as they get more popular. We chatted with the chef a bit and he has some fantastic ideas up his sleeve. Right now there's the rotisserie chicken with Meyer lemon, garlic and rosemary (Rosie organic - $21/whole and $11/half) you can get the boxed lunch ($10)- leg and thigh, cous cous, slaw and naan (yes, they actually have a tandoori oven in there). They also have a Jamon Serrano sandwich ($7) and a Flatbread sandwich with asparagus, chanterelles, goat cheese and tapenade ($7). Caesers are $7 with anchovies, $10 with chicken and nice, large portions. The wine machine wasn't up and running yet but they said it will be ready soon.

Alegio was the surprise of the evening. They have an assortment of Spanish chocolates and hot chocolates but the real treat are the house made chocolates. We got a box of four ($12) with raspberry, cinnamon anise, habanero and espresso caramel. Simply amazing. Without a doubt some of the best candy I have ever had. Very subtle, pure flavors. A texture that isn't too thick but simply melted in your mouth in a smooth pillow of heaven. Yes, they're pricey, but I could easily see myself getting addicted. They have some interesting flavors, including single malt scotch, and they said the selection will rotate. I felt as if a lot of folks passed them by because they are expensive and Ciao Bella (ich!) is right next door. I hope that people just try them out (you can get a two piece "sampler pack") and find out how delicious they are. They also have beautiful packaging making it an ideal gift.

Soop and Kirala are opening tomorrow (Wednesday) but I managed to snag menus for both. Soop will feature 7-8 soups a day, each made from scratch with fresh, premium ingredients. They have a set of soups that changes each week, a special weekend meat stew and a standard soup of the day for each day of the week. The offerings look delicious and I couldn't help but think of rw when I saw that every Friday they will have New England Clam Chowder "Lots of Clams, potatoes, onions and cream seasoned with boquet garni make a simple, straightforward chowder. Brothy. No artificial thickeners in this classic." Check out their website for a detailed menu to drool over - They also say that if you are craving a soup that is hard to find they will make it for you.

Kirala's menu is huge! Rolls, Nigiri, Sashimi, Donburi and Bento Boxes. Basic rolls are all under $7, with veggie rolls at $4 and tuna and salmon at $5. Fancy rolls top out at $14 Nigiri ranges from $4 to $7 for two pieces. Very exciting!

Imperial Tea Court and Kitchen on Fire are also scheduled to open tomorrow. Both are on the second floor of the complex which was still closed today. Imperial Tea Court has a nice, large space and will be serving organic dim sum and other Chinese food in addition to tea. Kitchen on Fire will offer cooking classes, food lectures and seminars. They will have free "Open House" classes for the first two weeks. The caviar stand, which is simply a tiny stand with tins of caviar for sale, will also open tomorrow.

Excepting Ciao Bello, everything is organic, fresh, sustainable, made by hand, from scratch, etc.

Seating is limited (Berkeley wouldn't grant the proper permit). Taste has a counter with seats but I imagine folks will be fighting over them on weekends. There is "bleacher" style seating in the garden on the second floor that could accommodate quite a few people but there are no tables. We were comfortable eating without tables and most of the food is pretty ideal for a "to go" format. Of course, there's always the median.

The building is 100% handicapped accessible. There are bathrooms. There is a very nice garden on the ground floor and another garden upstairs that was not yet opened.

The thing really lacking is parking. Yes, there is Andronico's but I imagine that they will step up enforcement soon. For now, Safeway is probably the safest bet (just a few blocks away and they have a huge lot). There is street parking available in the surrounding residential area, you just have to look for it and maybe walk a few blocks. It's also accessible by public transit - a few blocks north of Downtown Berkeley BART.

Final impression: well worth the wait, thrilled to have this addition to my neighborhood, now the Gourmet Ghetto truly is a culinary destination, I can't wait to really dive into the offerings.

Tomorrow: soup, sushi, dim sum and more!

Epicurious Garden
Mon-Sat 11-9
Sun 11-7
1511 Shattuck Ave
In North Berkeley, next door to Chez Panisse and across the street from Cheese Board.
Credit cards accepted at all the stands. (website under construction)

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  1. This is probably one of the best take out lunches I have ever had.

    The chicken in the lunch box is different from the Rotisserie which is meyer lemon, garlic and rosemary.

    The lunch box is marvelous ... marvelous ... moroccan spiced chicken ... the leg thickly coated with wonderful spices, maybe I detect a hint of pomegranate it it.

    The slaw again ... one of the best I've ever had. If I move away from the Bay Area I will mourn not having availability of this slaw.

    It is super crispy organic slaw with preserved lemon, house-made harassa and chermoula ... I have no clue what half that means ... but it so refreshing. Before I just read the description, the tastes that shouted out were the lemon, mint and a slight cilantro like taste. There's also some nice slawed carrot and red onion which adds to the zing.

    There is also date and almond cous-cous that gives Aziza a real run for it's money. The cous-cous here are lovely large ... uh ... cous? ... a little pleasantly chewy ... by that I mean texture.

    And then there is the wonderful blistered naan hot from the tandori. All of the exciting tastes work together and are balanced and not overwhelming. Tastes is so well named.

    Opening the box was great too because of all the lovely fragrant spices.

    The owner or manager, Greg I think, is wonderful as well. I kind of rolled out of bed to get there at opening and was looking bag-lady chic, and he was so friendly and nice. Really excited about the excellent food he had.

    I commented that it was nice his restaurant had the only seats in the complex. He said if it wasn't busy, it would be ok to sit there if I ordered a glass of wine and and bring food from one of the other places like Socca Oven. Very nice ... but I have a feeling I'm going to have a problem eating elsewhere since his food is so delicious.

    I'm really sorry I didn't get the fennel, arugula & Blood Orange salad with cured olives, pinenuts and mint ($6) that was on the menu today.

    The two sandwiches today looked excellent too

    - Flatbread sandwich - roasted organic asparagus, yellowfoot chanterelles, goat cheese, red spring onions and tapende on naan - $7.

    - Baguette sandwich - jamon serrano and dry cured Niman ham, tuscan pecorino, parsley, aioli and endive $7

    Even though I don't eat a lot of potatoes, the spicy, smokey potatoes with aioli ($4.50) are tempting me.

    The website isn't up yet. The bottom of the menu says

    "We make everything by hand here. Our menus will change frequently. We primarily use organic and/or sustainably raised and procured ingrediants. Most of our packaging is biodegradable, including the corn-based untentils and clear containers".

    Thanks for mentioning the roast chicken, Morton. I'm always on the lookout for a good chicken. Big thumbs up for this place ... even if the only good thing they have there is that chicken lunch box ... oh yeah, the size is hefty. For me it is lunch and dinner ... except for the slaw ... ate that immediatley.

    Your new 'best of' catagory made me laugh ...

    "easily the best saran wrapped "to go" brownie I have ever had"

    I tried the other places and I'll report in another post. Taste deserved to stand out from the rest.

    1. Needed to add in my thoughts re: Socca after a visit last night. I love Gregoire. My fiance proposed to me over one Gregoire meal and I have never been disappointed with anything there. Given my love for Gregoire, I thought Socca would be right up my alley.

      Perhaps I went on an off night, but I found the soccas dry, either bland or overpowered by one flavor to the exclusion of any others, and seriously burnt. The eggplant one was not so good and neither was the chicken. We also tried the lamb, which was significantly better, but nothing I would go back for.

      Just thought I'd dissent...

      2 Replies
      1. re: goatcheesey

        I had a similar experience at Socca. It was a few months ago, so I've forgotten what the precise kind I got was (there was eggplant on it), but here's what I recall:

        1) Oil drenched, otherwise cardboardy.
        2) Given the quantity of oil, I found it staggering that they don't have any utensils. None. I had to get a plastic utensil from the soup place down the way -- a spork, as I recall. It required a utensil of some kind, though. There was just too much oil otherwise -- I didn't want it running down my hand while I ate.
        3) It was fairly overly salted. I couldn't finish it.

        Maybe I too hit them on a bad day?

        1. re: Kitchen Imp

          I guess either we both hit them on a bad day, or every day is not so good. Cardboardy is the perfect adjective to describe the actual chickpea flour base. The texture was gritty and the flavor was so bland. In contrast to your experience, I did not have an overly oily experience at Socca. The chicken was dried out, probably since the whole thing was so close to being burnt. They did throw in a little plastic vessel of olive oil on the side, perhaps that would have improved things?

      2. I'm trying to piece together what this is all about. Is there some place in Berkeley with an outpost of Socca from Geary?

        The one meal I had at Socca in S.F. was eminently forgettable.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Peter Cherches

          No, it has no connection to the one in San Francisco.

          1. re: Peter Cherches

            I don't think they're related. There's been a lot of discussion here about Epicurious
            Garden. If the search is working, it's worth poking around. It's North Berkeley's
            odd new upper class food court. Salt-free soup, cheese-free pizza, a chocolate
            jewelry store, a cooking school, and a weirdly schizophrenic chicken rotisserie and
            wine bar (which you might think would be the most straightforward thing imaginable
            but somehow it's not). Plonked down pretty much next door to Chez Panisse.

            There seems to be some good stuff there, but I haven't cracked the code; just wandered
            around as a tourist a few times.

            1. re: Peter Cherches

              Socca Oven is an offshoot of Gregoire's. It's not a normal socca place, they put toppings on them (stews etc.) so it's sort of soggy chickpea-flour pizza.


              It's in Epicurious Garden, a bizarre upscale yuppie takeout-only food hall down the block from Chez Panisse, in the old TV store. There are more recent topics that go into detail about it.


              If you want normal socca, go to Nizza la Bella.


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                > in the old TV store

                That's where my parents bought our first color TV! Perhaps it's more "of the neighborhood" to see it evolve into something foodish rather than a Best Buy. Too bad it isn't upholding the standards set by its neighbors.

              2. re: Peter Cherches

                Hmmph. I was a regular at the SF Socca for years, and never had a meal that wasn't very, very good.

                Sadly, Socca in San Francisco closed years ago. It was co-owned by a great chef - John Caputo - who was sous chef at Campton Place under Jan Birnbaum. John has been co-owner of Bin 36 in Chicago for years.

                1. re: jeffyd

                  We ate there once and the food was good, though the eponym was a sort of light and fluffly nouvelle cuisine variation of the normally dense and rich street snack.