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Mar 8, 2012 09:26 AM

Visiting Berkeley for the First Time - Need Critique's

Hi SF Hounds - even though I'm a Midwest hound, I regularly lurk on your board and pine for the amazing, fresh, local food you all enjoy. I'm attending a three day course at the David Brower Center and staying at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza with four free evenings for dinner! SO excited!

So far, I've made reservations at Chez Panisse Cafe, Plum, and Trattoria Corso. I'm also debating Gather, partly because it's so close to my hotel and I do love the concept. I'd love your thoughts on my choices so far and also any recs for that last evening - which is a Wednesday. Is this too much of the same? Do I need something more ethnic? I eat anything and am up for most any adventure - won't have a car but am comfortable with public transportation and will be solo, so places where I can get a good sense of the menu eating for one are ideal. I'd like to keep the total food bill around $100 (wine has its own budget). I'd also prefer to stay in the East Bay (unless there is a really good reason to venture out) just to maximize my time.

Thanks for your help, and for your infinite patience with these and similar requests! I do promise to report back - it may not be as eloquent or picture perfect as some (like uhockey!) but I will give it my best try.

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  1. I think you have made some nice choices, and they are all different from one another in a noticeable way. Gather feels like the epitome of a Berkeley restaurant to me and you may want to squeeze it in for an earlier meal (I think they're open all day?). If you want amazing Japanese izakaya food, Ippuku is within 1-2 blocks. I also enjoy Five, your hotel's restaurant, for a drink, happy hour or late night bite; they do a fine job. Near Plum is Dogwood, a nice, intimate bar that is perfect for a nightcap.

    1. Ippuku's great.

      I'd say stop in at the Punchdown for a glass of wine before Plum but it sounds like you won't be there when they're open.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Thanks, Robert and rubadubgub - Ippuku looks awesome and is certainly not something I have access to here in Iowa City!

        And my reservation at Plum is on Tuesday the 27th, so a pre-dinner glass of wine looks to be about perfect!

      2. You've already made some good choices. All of them are within walking distance, or a direct BART ride for you.

        For your last dinner, Gather might be interesting. Or, if you're tired and want something casual by then, Turkish Kitchen is nearby, good and informal. Down Shattuck Avenue--a bit of a walk from your hotel, but doable--is one of the better sushi places, Kirala.

        If you want to splash out on one more remarkable meal, try Commis in Oakland. It's my current favorite. If $100 is your food budget, with wine separate, it's within budget. [Figure about $150.00 total for dinner with wine pairings]. In fact, I could make an argument that you should swap out Plum for Commis--but that's not to discourage you from Plum, which is innovative and a good spot. [Commis will involve some transit planning, but can be done by bus, or bus and BART combo. We have a a good trip planning function that can help with this].

        Another casual option might be Hawker Fare, which is Thai street food influenced spin-off from the owner of Commis.

        Other 'hounds will have other suggestions, but that's my $.02.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Rapini

          I actually agonized between Commis and Plum and ended up leaning toward Plum because of the logistics. But if it is really worth the swap ...

          1. re: iowagirl

            Of your current choices I actually think Corso and CP Cafe will be the most similar if you are considering a swap. Pizzaiolo is a nice option but then again you can order pizza at CPC too. Commis is a special meal (tasting menu format) that I wouldn't discourage anyone from having, but it's not close to public trans. Plum has the advantage of being right off BART and close to Punchdown and Dogwood. BART should be fine. Just walk tall.

          2. re: Rapini

            2nd on Commis.

            For what it's worth, I was a bit underwhelmed by my one meal at Gather (didn't even particularly care for the much-vaunted vegan charcuterie) -- I would certainly consider subbing that out for something more "ethnic." And while I think Corso is a nice little restaurant, I wouldn't put it anywhere near the top of the list for Italian in the East Bay. I'd rather eat at Dopo or Pizzaiolo; Oliveto for a splurge.

            Wood Tavern is the other obvious BART-accessible pick.

          3. Check out the menus as your trip approaches. When certain types of produce peak, the offerings at the local/organic/Cal Cuisine places can get a bit monotonous.

            I 2nd (3rd?) adding Ippuku to your list. It's a small dishes Izakaya place, so you'll get to try a variety of dishes. That makes it more ideal for a solo diner than any of the other listed places. My favorites are the crabcake, chicken tartare, grilled mochi, & agedashi tofu. Getting the chef's choice mixed chicken grill is a must.

            rubadubgdub's suggestion for an early meal at Gather makes sense, but their lunch menu is more restricted than their dinner menu. The dinner menu has the major advantage of having the vegan charcuterie, a dish that will gives you a few dishes representative of what they do.

            Do you have lunch planned out? The gourmet ghetto might be too much of a walk for lunch (~1 mile), but some good casual spots in Downtown Berkeley are Turkish Kitchen (fresh pita), Cafe Tibet, and Slow.

            1 Reply
            1. re: hyperbowler

              Thank you SO much for the specific recs at Ippuku - I'm going to make that a definite stop. My course offers lunch, but I'd rather venture out if it's close! Thanks for those recs!

            2. If you have the time, you could go to Gather for lunch. You know, more chances.

              For Mexican food in downtown Berkeley, there's Cancun Taqueria. They use a lot of sustainable stuff and grow some of their own produce. Very good salsa bar. You could also go for lunch.

              Also might try Cheeseboard for a slice of pizza, across the street from Chez Panisse.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ML8000

                Gather's on the ground floor of the Brower Center. PiQ is another good quick place nearby. Second on Turkish Kitchen.