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Feb 23, 2008 06:47 AM

Help me "wow" my staff on our Berkeley food adventure

I own a small cooking school in So Cal, and I'm bringing my staff to Berkeley in March for a fun two days of food and bonding. I've spent a fair amount of time there, and want to show them some of the haunts. Already on the list are Rockridge, Berk. Bowl and Monterey Mkt, the Scharffenberger tour, Cheese Board, Chez Panisse cafe, the various half priced bookstores (cookbook junkies), Spanish Table and a BART to the Ferry Bldg. (whew!) Looking for other must-dos, as well as a dinner suggestion...thinking La Note for bfast, and CP cafe for lunch one day, Ferry Bldg for the second....but for the only dinner--maybe A Cote? Please give me your ideas. Will have a car. We will be there for a lunch, dinner, bfast and lunch the second day, then we fly back. TIA

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  1. If you're here on a Sunday morning - the Thai Temple is an interesting scene. Close to the Berkeley Bowl also. There are many posts on the Thai Temple that help with ordering strategies.......just do a search on this board.

      1. re: gordon wing

        we are there wed-thursday, but thanks for the tip--next time!

      2. For dinner, how about Pizzaiolo? The food's great (chef-owner was the pizza chef at Chez Panisse for years), it's very convivial, and to me it's very much an only-in-Oakland style of business.

        À Côté is great too. Most interesting wine list in the area.

        There's a small but good all-organic farmers market on Thursdays from 3-7 two blocks from Chez Panisse.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I would definitely say dinner at Pizzaiolo over A Cote -- I love A Cote, but I think they only take reservations early and late, and the wait can be long, especially for large groups (I'm not sure how big your staff is, but I'm guessing four or more). Pizzaiolo takes reservations, and is a really fun place for groups.

          I would say 900 Grayson or Bette's or Homemade Cafe for breakfast over La Note. I like breakfast at La Note, you could be anywhere, and the other three are very Berkeley kinds of places.

          Definitely do CP cafe on your first day for lunch, then you can wander around the area after that and go to Cheeseboard, Black Oak books, take a look at Gregorie (I like Gregorie, but I don't think it's worth it for one of your four meals here, if you were here for a little longer, I'd say so) etc. Monterey Market is great, but at this time of year it's not worth going to both it and Berkeley Bowl, so just go to the Bowl. Or you could even go to Oliveto downstairs for breakfast on your second day, and then spend that time in the Rockridge area.

          1. re: JasmineG

            À Côté takes reservations via opentable throughout the evening if you make them long enough in advance.

            Second on not doing both Monterey Market and Berkeley Bowl. Too similar and the Bowl is overall more impressive.

            1. re: JasmineG

              I love 900 Grayson, but think if you are WOWing your people the locale might not do the trick. Although it is quintessential Berkeley.

            1. re: Columba

              That thread is rather unwieldy and a lot of it doesn't apply, so I'll pick out some highlights:

              Bakesale Betty's (near Rockridge, a few doors down from Pizzaiolo)
              Gregoire (in Gourmet Ghetto)
              Acme (original bakery, with Cafe Fanny next door)

              With such a limited amount of time, I wouldn't do both Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market (the former is more centrally located). Maybe 900 Grayson (near Sharffen Berger) for lunch? I'm also not sure it's worth it to BART over to the Ferry Building on a non-farmer's market day -- there's plenty to keep you busy in the East Bay for 24 hours.

              1. re: Columba

                That's a huge and largely irrelevant thread.

                This topic has a lot of ideas for a Berkeley-area food tour:


                1. re: Columba

                  fabulous link--thanks! gregoire is def on the list now...still reading.

                  1. re: chez cherie

                    Gregoire's likely to be interesting to food professionals more for its unusual concept (upscale takeout) than for the food, which is high-quality but from the line cook's perspective not much different from any other short-order gig.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I agree -- I wasn't suggesting a whole meal there, more a check-it-out and get a snack (potato puffs, dessert) visit. I think for a food professional it would be interesting to see how those skills can be applied in an innovative way.

                2. I'd spend some time on 4th St. Sketch Ice Cream is a must visit - best sweets shop in the East Bay. It's a total mom-and-pop operation as well, really friendly and talented owners. You can also check out the Pasta Shop and the Cafe Rouge Meat Market and Charcuterie (in the back of the restaurant). Sample the first rate teas at Teance, do an olive oil tasting at (I forget the name, Stone something), grab some coffee at Peets, peruse Napa Style, Sur La Table, and the extensive food and cooking section at Cody's books. Eccolo is a delicious, elegant lunch spot if you're looking for another lunch option. 4th St is located pretty close to both Scharffenberger, 900 Grayson, and Bettes, so it should be easy to squeeze into your schedule.

                  I would actually opt for 4th St over Rockridge Hall, unless you plan on eating at Oliveto. Both hava a Pasta Shop. Rockridge Hall has a decent butcher, fishmonger, coffee shop, and produce market, which are alright for a home cook, but certainly not the "best of breed" in town, and hardly "wow-worthy" IMO. I prefer the produce at Monterey/Berk Bowl, the meat at Cafe Rouge, and the fish at Monterey Fish (near the Monterey Market). 4th St has more things that are well suited to visitors, more seating, and a more dynamic atmosphere.

                  Gregoire can be tough with a large group, as seating is very limited. How many will you be?

                  And I'll third the rec for dinner at Pizzaiolo.

                  Also consider the Charles Chocolates Store and factory tour in Emeryville. I love their chocolate covered almonds. It's just a couple of blocks from Scharffenberger.

                  58 Replies
                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                    Depending on when you come in March, Cody's may or may not still be on 4th St...

                    I agree that 4th Street is worth a visit, though I think that the atmosphere is a little boring down there; it has a lot of chain stores that could be anywhere, but Sketch, Bette's, Cafe Rouge meat market, and the Pasta Shop are all good stops.

                    1. re: JasmineG

                      Most of the shops on 4th st are independently owned; Berkeley is pretty anti-chain. Sur La Table and Peets are chains, but high quality ones. Napa Style has just four retail outlets. Many of the smaller shops - The Gardener, Castle in the Air, Miki Paper, A La Folie, Thousand Cranes - are independently owned and quite unique.

                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                        Berkeley may be anti-chain, but there are four chain homestores, three chain cosmetics stores, a chain travel store, and many others in just those few blocks. I go down to 4th Street and like parts of it, but it's an area for very upscale shoppers, and not all that representative of the character of Berkeley and the East Bay, so there are other parts of town that I would send a visitor for just a two day trip.

                        1. re: JasmineG

                          Though I see your point, I think the two most foodie centric stretches of Berkeley are 4th ST and the Gourmet Ghetto. It would be easy to visit both in one afternoon.

                          Downtown is dead, college ave is too stretched out, Hopkins st is decent for home cooking purposes, Fanny/Acme/Kermit Lynch is OK but it will take you like 20 minutes to check it out. There is Market Hall in Oakland, but I'd opt for 4th st over Market Hall for the reasons I said above.

                          Maybe prioritize the Gourmet Ghetto, Berkeley Bowl and the Ferry Building. But if there's time on the itinerary, I'd definitely check out 4th St. Esp. if you tacked it after a trip to Scharffenberger. Sketch, Teance, and Cafe Rouge alone are worth the trip IMO. The rest are just gravy.

                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                            I might skip 4th street and head over to Vic's Chaat House.

                            1. re: Scrapironchef

                              I wouldn't recommend Vik's to someone visiting from LA. LA has better chaat houses, IMO.

                          2. re: JasmineG

                            4th St? It's an upscale, outdoor shopping mall that accidently happens to have an ok restaurant or two. Easily the closest thing in Berkeley to LA or wherever our visitor is coming from. Plus it's anchored with Spenger's and Brennan's and food visitors should be kept far away from those two.

                            At that end of town, the corner of Cedar and San Pablo with Cafe Fanny, the Acme bakery, and Kermit Lynch wine is a much better, more traditionally Berkeley option.

                            1. re: uh ... art

                              I don't know of anything like Sketch or Teance in Los Angeles. My folks live in LA, and they want to visit 4th St every time they're in town.

                          3. re: Morton the Mousse

                            I don't think of 4th Street as anti-chain anymore. There's CP Shades, Sur La Table, Peets, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrell, etc.

                            I like Caffe 817 in downtown Oakland for breakfast, but, since that's pretty far from the Berkeley border....perhaps Oliveto's downstairs cafe serves a nice poached egg, thinly sliced ham and Acme Levain bread breakfast.

                            1. re: oakjoan

                              If they go to Caffe 817, though, they can check out used cookbooks at the Friends of the Library bookstore in the next block.


                          4. re: JasmineG

                            Cody's sells only new books.

                            Are any of the used bookstores particularly strong in cookbooks? Moe's isn't.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I've had some great cookbook finds at both Black Oaks (right near Cheeseboard and CP, for the OP), and Shakespeare and Co. You're right about Moe's.

                              1. re: JasmineG

                                I'm wondering how many good cookbooks make it to used bookstores half priced shelves.

                                  1. re: wolfe

                                    "Half price" often means remainders, but I've bought the majority of my 200 or so cookbooks used locally.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      yes, but they only count if there are things scribbled in the margins and the pages are dog-eared...

                                      extra points for doughy finger prints.

                                  2. re: JasmineG

                                    yes, I've also had good luck at Black Oak Books, which I am often browsing just before dinner at CP :-) Unfortunately for OP in my opinion the best everyday (as opposed to high end or rare books, for which I think Black Oak is the best) used cookbook selection is at Green Apple in SF...

                                  3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    True, but their food and cooking section is enormous and excellent.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I think Moe's is admirably strong in used cookbooks, actually, which was an implicit focus of the poster's question. (I assume that by "half price" s/he didn't literally mean remaindered recent titles, but good used books from all eras.) It has good coverage in western Europe and most of Asia, as well as health/vegetarian, wine, and miscellaneous gastronomia. And you'll pay a fraction of what Black Oak charges for just about any collectible title. I'd recommend it as the first stop on any local book-collecting tour in this subject area. (Black Oak has the best selection of high-end collectible books on food and cooking, including a rare-book selection as well as their open-shelf titles, but their prices are nearly outrageous ... you'll do a lot better trolling eBay.)
                                      Another option would be the Friends of the Berkeley Public LIbrary store in that gloomy mall just off Telegraph, between Durant and Channing, I think. The stock of used food books isn't huge, but it turns over nicely ... though that's of limited comfort to one-time visitors. Still, it's just a couple of blocks north of Moe's...
                                      Pegasus on Solano has lots of food books too, though not a lot of what I'd call "collectible" stuff (I'm a collector). Still, you could fill a lot of holes in your topical accumulations there, for not a ton of money.
                                      Finally, if your bookworms are content to browse but not buy, there's a surprisingly broad selection of older food books in the Koshland Biosciences Library on the Berkeley campus ... which now houses the collection that was originally assembled by the Agriculture Department a long time ago, and housed in Giannini Hall for ages. Very much worth checking out for period recipe-hounds....

                                      1. re: jonking

                                        "Pegasus on Solano has lots of food books too, though not a lot of what I'd call "collectible" stuff (I'm a collector). Still, you could fill a lot of holes in your topical accumulations there, for not a ton of money."

                                        This is basically what I do on these treks, and I hit that Pegasus, as well as the one in Rockridge. I've never been to Moe's (??!), so I'm quite excited about this tidbit. Thanks! I do love Black Oak, even if prices might not be so great---I have found a couple treasures there over the years. Several of my "girls" are looking to fill in gaps in their Donna Hay collections, which I hardly ever see used...any suggestions there?

                                        1. re: chez cherie

                                          I peruse the used books at all the stores mentioned frequently and rarely see used Donna Hay books.

                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Moe's used selection may be large, but there's not much of interest to me there. Recently, I spent a whole afternoon there trying to spend my certificate obtained by turning in lots of books for exchange.

                                        Another library bookshop is the Bookmark on Washington btwn 7th and 8th in Old Oakland. Very reasonable and the people there are friendly. They also have back issues of Gourmet, etc.

                                        1. re: oakjoan

                                          I have bought a few obscure never-released-in-the-US cookbooks at Moe's, English-language stuff from publishing houses in Hong Kong, Singapore, India, and so on.

                                          Other than that, I haven't found much of interest in their cookbook section.

                                    2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                      yes, i've done the 4th street thing many times, and should have included it in my original post, although if we get really short on time, i think i'd opt for rockridge over sketch new? because i haven't been there, and i thought i'd covered the 4th st area well. what is it near, or what did it used to be? is sketch better than ici, if we only have time for one ice cream/gelato stop? (perish the thought!)
                                      really appreciate all the suggestions...there will be 6 of us. gregoire must also be fairly new? i am thinking, as one poster suggested, that a quick pop in there, to look around (and maybe a snack, because, you know, we'll need to keep our strength up!) will be in order.
                                      leaning toward pizzaiolo now, thanks to the votes in its favor.
                                      all the suggestions are very much appreciated. i have a great staff, and i want to show them a great time in one of my favorite food haunts!

                                      1. re: chez cherie

                                        Sketch is relatively new, it's next door to Bette's (set back from the street a little). I like both it and Ici, they're very different -- Sketch is soft serve style, and they have lots of toppings that you can add, while Ici is more traditional ice cream, but has a lot of flavors with bits added to it. Ici also has a lot more daily flavors than Sketch does. I wouldn't go down to 4th Street just for Sketch if you're short on time and not planning to go down there otherwise -- Ici is on the way to Rockridge from Berkeley, so is a relatively easy stop. However, it would be fun for you to see the difference between the two, and to sample them both!

                                        Gregoire is TINY, so there wouldn't be much looking around, the potato puffs would be fun to try out, though.

                                        I hope you have a fun trip, and that you report back to let us know what all of your stops were.

                                        1. re: chez cherie

                                          Sketch and Ici are both great. Sketch was started by fomer Aqua pastry chef Eric Shelton and his wife, Ruthie Planas, who was his assistant at Aqua. Ici was started by former Chez Panisse pastry chef Mary Canales.

                                          Ici's product is more to my personal taste, but I think Sketch takes a more original and unique approach, so might be more interesting for your group.

                                          Ici Ice Cream
                                          2948 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                                          Sketch Ice Cream
                                          1809 4th St, Berkeley, CA 94710

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            well, if we have to eat ice cream twice, i guess we will just have to grin and bear it! i have been to ici once, and it is certainly on the rockridge circuit, but i think i need to see sketch, so we'll work that in. i hope to rough out an itinerary today, and will post for comment.
                                            thanks to all for your great input! i really want this to be a memorable get-away for my staff.

                                            1. re: chez cherie

                                              Ici's actually in the Elmwood, around Ashby and College. Lines can be insanely long and if you're doing a culinary tour of Rockridge there's nowhere else of great culinary interest to draw you north of La Farine.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                (on the way our of rockridge, we can just go down college and hit ici, no?)

                                                1. re: chez cherie

                                                  Sure, except between the traffic backed up for a block or three south of Ashby on College, the difficulty of finding a parking space, and the line at Ici, it might take you most of an hour.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    It's not usually that bad in the middle of the day on a weekday.

                                                    Since we're talking Rockridge/Elmwood, one more place you might consider for either lunch or dinner is Wood Tavern.

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      Yeah, I agree, I do that drive all the time (and rarely have that much troule with parking, especially during the day), and I don't think it will take nearly that long. Also, Wood Tavern would be fantastic for lunch or dinner, but it will be a challenge to make a reservation for dinner for six there, so I'd suggest lunch.

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        Traffic was backed up past Woolsey (three blocks) when I was walking by around 2pm on Friday. I walk through there all the time and I'm always amazed at how many people happily sit in traffic instead of learning the detours.

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          absolutely second Wood Tavern. and have the pork belly, in whatever incarnation they serve it that day!

                                                          1. re: mariacarmen

                                                            my policy is to ALWAYS have the pork belly, in whatever incarnation it is ever presented. thanks for the suggestion. busy week, but i hope to scratch out a preliminary itinerary this weekend. very much appreciate all the suggestions.

                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          For Ici, you park on the street approximately here:
                                                          Note that the street is blocked just before College so approach from the west. 2 hours, no meters, always a space. That parking lot that's visible is nearly always full.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            The line at Ici isn't really that bad except around 8:00 at night. I live about two blocks away and haven't really had trouble getting in and out within about 20 minutes or less most of the time.

                                                            There are always ways around the traffic (ie, plenty of detours, etc.), which isn't always as bad as you say.

                                                            1. re: chemchef

                                                              As you say, 20 minutes. And you don't have to look for parking.

                                                              The line, traffic, and parking aren't necessarily reasons to skip it, just something to be aware of if time is short.

                                                      2. re: chez cherie

                                                        Personally, I prefer Sketch to Ici, though it's definitely a matter of personal preference.

                                                        One place Sketch really shines is in their house made candy. Excellent salt toffee, marshmallows and caramel corn.

                                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                          Sketch and Ici will both "wow" your staff because they will say "Wow! We're paying $5 for a tiny scoop of ice cream!"

                                                          Some people are ok with that -- I guess it's a matter of personal preference. For my money, though, the wow-est, ice cream in the area is being hand-churned by Luis and his mom down at Nieves Cinco de Mayo in Fruitvale:
                                                          Round-trip bart tickets and a huge pile of ice cream will set you back about the same as a cone at Ici.

                                                          The cheese ice cream is astounding. As is the corn.

                                                          1. re: uh ... art

                                                            It's really different, though. Nieves Cinco de Mayo is not really ice cream, more like ice milk. It's not as rich and creamy and has an icier mouthfeel. That said, the flavors are amazing. If you follow the comments link, you'll see other threads with a more in-depth discussion.

                                                            Nieves Cinco de Mayo
                                                            3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601

                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                              The icy mouthfeel may be a result of having trouble controlling airflow during the hand churning process. Sketch invested a mint in state of the art machines because they are completely obsessed with controlling temperature and texture. Part of the reason that I don't mind spending $4+ for a sundae is because I can't even attempt to replicate the product of those beautiful machines at home.

                                                              My current favorite at Sketch is the Lemon Verbena soft serve topped with extra virgin olive oil and salt. Light, tangy, herbaceous flavor balanced by the smooth oil and kick of saltines. Very refreshing.

                                                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                The mouthfeel is the result of using milk, not cream, and no eggs. It's just a completely different product. I wasn't criticizing either product, just describing the fact that they aren't really equivalent and shouldn't be spoken of as if they were interchangeable.

                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                  Perhaps I misinterpreted the meaning of the word "icier." Are you saying that when the ice cream melts in your mouth that there are small ice crystals?

                                                                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                    No, what I meant is that it's icier -- on the scale from frozen fat to frozen water, it's closer to the frozen water (aka ice) end of the scale than true ice cream is. Why don't you go try it for yourself and see what it's like?

                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                      Thank you for clarifying the terms - now I have a better understanding of the product.

                                                              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                Ruth: Isn't Sketch ice cream made with milk also?

                                                                1. re: oakjoan

                                                                  Yes, per their Web site, they use "Straus Organic milk (no cream or eggs)."


                                                                  1. re: oakjoan

                                                                    Strauss whole milk has a higher butterfat content than most types of milk, so the result is somewhere between gelato and ice cream in terms of creaminess.

                                                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                      > "Strauss whole milk has a higher butterfat content than most types of milk,"

                                                                      If by other types you mean reduced-fat types, then by definition yes. If you mean Strauss' whole milk has more butterfat than other brands of whole milk, then no.

                                                                      Strauss claims 8g fat per 240mL milk:

                                                                      Clover organic -- 8g per 240mL:

                                                                      Even at the low end, Berkeley Farms / Dean Foods is 8g/240mL:

                                                                2. re: uh ... art

                                                                  actually, Ici is $4.25 for a double scoop cone, which is plenty of ice cream even for me, a self-proclaimed ice cream fanatic. Granted, it isn't cheap, but I don't think its too much to pay for that degree of quality. Also, their house-made candies are every bit as good as Sketch's, particularly the cinnamon-pecan brittle. I was not really wowed by the cookies that I've tried at Sketch, though.

                                                                  I used to LOVE Sketch before their switch to soft serve. I thought that the silky texture and the intensity of the flavor really shined before those machines.

                                                                  Still, I agree that both places are worth checking out.

                                                                  1. re: chemchef

                                                                    Yeah. Not sure where that $5 number is coming from. A couple weeks ago they were charging $2.75 for a single scoop in a cup. The scoop might seem "tiny" to some, but it's always enough to satisfy me.

                                                                    Considering that Starbuck's and the like will charge you $2.00+ for a mass-produced hunk of coffee cake that is no more satisfying, I guess I don't see Ici's prices as being totally out of whack. Even though I live practically right around the corner from the place, I view a scoop from Ici as an occasional treat as opposed to a daily requirement.

                                                                    Maybe one day when I'm feeling particularly flush, I'll spring for $6.90 in bus and BART fare to try a scoop at Nieves Cinco de Mayo. I sure hope that scoop worth the investment of $8.00 and an hour on mass transit. ;-)

                                                                    1. re: hohokam

                                                                      "Yeah. Not sure where that $5 number is coming from"

                                                                      It's coming from the adjacent word "cone", the implication of sales tax, the way that adding "approximately" to the sentence didn't scan well, and the fact that I was attempting to make a rhetorical point rather than quibble over pennies.

                                                                      No Morton, I don't think the 5 de Mayo mouthfeel is a defect in his equipment purchasing decisions. He seems pretty happy with the outcome. The overrun on his stuff is pretty close to zero. Also, he seemed quite happy to dish out whatever was still soft in the churn, which is definitely going to be clear of any iciness so that might be the way to go if there are concerns. Personally, it tastes like regular, creamy ice cream to me. With flavors that are just this side of nuts :)

                                                                      But all that aside, the reason I even brought the place up was because the post is about a tour for folks in a cooking school. If we're sending them to taste the best that money can buy extruded from a half million dollars worth of industrial equipment, it might be interesting to compare and contrast with what a single crazy man with an ice bucket and a spoon and a giant heart can do.

                                                                      1. re: uh ... art

                                                                        OK. With the cone, it's $3.25. No sales tax is charged.

                                                                        Your rhetorical point focused pretty heavily on the cost, especially with the addition of the bit about BART fare. So, it did seem that you meant to quibble over pennies or quarters or some other denomination.

                                                                        Anyhow, I'm glad I now know about the place in Fruitvale. Thanks for bringing in into the discussion.

                                                                3. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                  I have to vote for Sketch over Ici as well. . .Eric and Ruthie are so talented and the flavors of all their items are so pure. I am obsessed by their salted toffee. .. . I taught myself how to make a reasonable version but it's always nicer when someone else makes it for you. I love the new soft serve. . . but have a soft spot for frozen custards which this reminds me of to the highest degree. I am not a big fan of Ici but I am definitely in the minority.

                                                                  If you decide to go to Pizzaiolo, and you're in the neighborhood early enough, take your group to Bakesale Betty. . .nicest people on earth and my favorite Oatmeal cookie in the world.

                                                                  1. re: pastryqueen

                                                                    No, you are not in the minority of not being a fan of Ici. Every now and then when I read all these rah-rah Ici reports I give them another try ... and it always ticks me off. Well, good for them .. they have their fan club ... I don't think I will ever be in on that. I prefer Sketch ... besides the people at Sketch are actually glad you came into the shop and remember you. Personal preference. I just like Sketch way better.