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Mar 5, 2008 01:30 PM

Gourmet Ghetto: not so much any more?

Recent posts by tourists planning to spend time touring Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto" (Shattuck around Chez Panisse) made me think maybe the name's out of date.

Lots of the places that made its reputation are gone (Pig by the Tail, North Berkeley Wine, Cocolat, Vivoli), dated (Juice Bar Collective, French Hotel, Poulet), or no longer unique (Peet's). More recent attractions like Phoenix Pastificio and Shuna Lydon's desserts at Poulet are gone too. What's left?

Chez Panisse is great (if you have a reservation).

The Cheese Board is a great cheese store.

Cheese Board Pizza is unique, fun, and cheap.

Cesar is good upscale bar and tapas place, but the branch on Piedmont is better.

Vintage Berkeley is an excellent wine shop but not exactly a tourist attraction.

Some people love Gregoire, I don't get the appeal. (Doesn't help that on my first and only visit I ended up with grease all over my lap from lack of seating and the weird octagonal box.)

Maybe a couple of the places in Epicurous Garden have some good food, I dunno. I'm too creeped out by the Disneylandish claustrophobic space.

I think that's about it. Are any of the other restaurants of interest unless you live in the neighborhood? Barney's? Cha-Am? Saul's? Not really destination sorts of places.

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  1. Agreed. A diaspora of sorts has occurred, and great food destinations are now scattered more evenly throughout the Bay Area.

      1. I still think you should give Gregoire another chance. If you're dining alone, it's usually pretty easy to score a spot at the counter. The corned beef and lamb patty on the March menu are both great. And I had a perfect basket of fries there last weekend.

        But I agree with you. I do my shopping and eating all over Berkeley - downtown, 4th St, Hopkins, Solano, and beyond. I live near the GG, and my visits are pretty much limited to Cheeseboard, Cheeseboard Pizza, Vintage, Andronico's, Gregoire, and the occasional bottle of coconut water from Cafe Gratitude. I do think that Cheeseboard alone makes the area a worthwhile destination.

        The new Rivoli venture will be a welcome addition:

        19 Replies
        1. re: Morton the Mousse

          A meal at Chez Panisse or cheese and olives from the Cheese Board justify a trip, definitely.

          When I'm in the mood for a sandwich more or less along the lines of the ones Gregoire makes, I go to Wood Tavern, Cafe Rouge, or Eccolo.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I love Eccolo, but their sandwiches literally cost twice as much money (or more) as Gregoire's. But if you can afford to drop $20pp whenever you're craving a sandwich, I can completely understand why Gregoire wouldn't interest you.

            1. re: Morton the Mousse

              Wood Tavern's pastrami sandwich is $9.

              Gregoire's corned beef is $7.50, the lamb patty is $8.00. No plate, no utensils, no guarantee of a seat or table.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Smoked Salmon sandwich at Eccolo: $17
                Smoked Salmon sandwich at Gregoire: $7.50

                Pulled Pork Sandwich at Eccolo: $14
                Pulled Pork Sandwich at Gregoire: $7

                Steak Sandwich at Eccolo: $16
                Steak Sandwich at Gregoire: $7.50

                Cheeseburger at Eccolo: $15.25
                Cheeseburger at Gregoire: $8

                There's a reason Gregoire is always mobbed with students; low overhead costs directly translate to smaller markups on the food.

                To my taste, Gregoire uses superior beef and pork than the Niman standard. This is not intended to disparage Eccolo, I just tend to spend twice as much or more there than I do at Gregoire.

                Oh, and Gregoire does give you utensils, albeit shiny plastic ones.

                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Eccolo's burgers are oddly expensive.

                  Cheeseburger with fries at Wood Tavern: $11

                  Cheeseburger with fries at Gregoire: $12.50

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yes, but those are some freakin' amazing fries at Gregoire! Also, its enough fries for at least two, maybe even three people to share, and I'm a die-hard french fry lover.

                    1. re: chemchef

                      The past few times that I've tried the Gregoire fries, they have not been good at all. I won't get them anymore.

                      1. re: JasmineG

                        Maybe it makes a difference that I ALWAYS order my fries well done (ie. extra crispy), no matter where I go.

                        What was wrong with the ones you got at Gregoire?

                        1. re: chemchef

                          Each batch tasted like the oil was a little off. They didn't make that pleasant eating.

                        2. re: JasmineG

                          Depends on who's frying. During the day, look for the guy with the 5 o'clock shadow and tattoos. He knows how to fry - last batch he did for me was perfect. Both of the current dinner cooks are expert at frying.

                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        900 Grayson Bacon Cheeseburger with Crispy Shoestring Onions and Fries. $10.50. Game, Set and Match.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Ahh, the famous red herring: Wood Tavern vs. Gregoire, when the debate was about Eccolo vs. Gregoire. :)

                          1. re: Jeff

                            No red herring. I said "When I'm in the mood for a sandwich more or less along the lines of the ones Gregoire makes, I go to Wood Tavern, Cafe Rouge, or Eccolo."

                            Eccolo's $11.50 croque-monsieur is probably twice the size of Gregoire's sandwiches.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              and yet, not really a croque monsieur. My husband was very disappointed to get a ham and cheese sandwich when he ordered the croque monsieur. That said, we still love everything else we've had there.

                              1. re: chemchef

                                In Paris, they call that variation a croque-Poilâne. I suppose for full disclosure Eccolo should call it a croque-Acme.

                                1. re: chemchef

                                  Isn't a croque monsieur a ham and cheese sandwich? Was it not grilled?

                                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                                    In the original version, there's cheese on the outside.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      and bechamel, which is the main thing that Eccolo's is lacking. Also, the broiling after the bechamel is applied for the caramelization of the cheese/bechamel topping.

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Also, the servings at Gregoire are at least 2/3 of what you would get at Wood Tavern. Those are some small sandwiches, with very little meat inside.

                  2. It's a natural occurance compounded by real estate prices, change and opportunity. Besides people and places moving on, the price of rent and overhead has gone up, hence new places and innovators go where the rent is "reasonable". GG success and stability probably has kept innovators out due to available space and cost. Also that stretch of Shattuck isn't that long, what 4 blocks and not all of it commercial.

                    Another issue is a place as a destination rather then just a regular neighborhood. Many neighborhoods in the Bay Area have experienced this...from a low key service area to a destination.

                    Add in the fact that the upping of overall quality in the BA and jaded people looking for a new buzz and yeah, things get old. Everyone gets old, nothing stays the same, expect perhaps a few hippies in Berkeley but even they change.

                    1. I agree with all your assessments.

                      But, Masse's Pastries is definitely destination worthy. For a 60 cent cookie, an individual cake or a fabulous party dessert, it is worth going out of your way for.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: milklady

                        Masse's is a good bakery but Crixa (on the other side of town) is better.

                        I'm not sure there's anyplace currently as good at chocolate stuff as Cocolat was when Alice Medrich owned it.