Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Berkeley, Bite by Bite

I've just returned from a scrumptious trip to Berkeley, where I slowly ate my way through two weeks. For those of you who haven't been, it is probably the most delicious place on earth. There are restaurants absolutely everywhere that serve foods from all over the world. Best of all, it is all moderately priced!

When I last lived in Berkeley, my house was next to the Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood, thus named because of the high concentration of globally renowned eating establishments found within a small area. True to California form, these restaurants focus on great fresh food, culled from local sustainable farmers and presented simply. Berkeley restaurants are not known for fancy decor, but for a warm, comfortable and happy ambiance.

Here is a little tour of the places I visited while in town

1) Crepevine

This is a fantastic breakfast place. There are two locations, one in the Gourmet Ghetto and one on College Ave. My favorite breakfast item is the Pumpkin Spice Pancakes - they are available all year round, but always taste of Christmas magic. Crepevine also does fantastically creative omelets, which will keep you going all day.

2) Smart Alec's.

I have sampled burgers the world over and these are by far my favorite! Smart Alec's is located a block away from the Berkeley campus and purports to produce intelligent fast food. The burgers and fries are delicious and satisfying, AND they are made as healthily as possible. Smart Alec's uses whole wheat buns, puts lots of veggies in the burger and bakes their french fries. Amazing.

This place was a staple for me when I was living in Berkeley. I'd go with Isaac (pictured below) at least twice a week - sometimes more if I was particularly grumpy about my workload.

3) Cafe Trieste

This place does great desserts and coffees. But mostly, their kooky performances are the reason to go. The night I was there, they had an amazing mandolin orchestra playing! It felt a little like we were back in the old country...

4) Ici Ice Cream

I was hesitant about Ici at first, because it was just so popular. On weekends, there is always a line stretching outside this little shop on College Ave. However, I have come around. This place is wonderful. All the desserts are displayed in the most beautiful fashion! Plus, the ice creams are very very tasty - there are always interesting flavors, like lavender and horchata, but there are also basic flavors, for people like me who like straight up chocolate.

Get your ice cream in a cone. They are well worth it - especially for the rich chocolate bit at the bottom of the cone.

5) Guerilla Cafe

This is massive favorite of mine. This little cafe tucked away in the Gourmet Ghetto. The place looks like a traveler's rest stop in India or the Caribbean. It also functions as an art gallery of sorts, displaying the work of some new up and coming artist.

One of my favorite aspects of the restaurant is that when you place your order, you get a little card with a picture and short biography of an important guerilla warrior - someone who has been important in the fight for global justice in some way. On this visit, I got Edward Said, and I was ecstatic! He is one of my heros! His book, Orientalism, changed my field (and my life)!

To top everything off, the food is fantastic. I always get the prosciutto plate, with two poached eggs on toast. This time, the chef made my toast into a heart! (See below.) The coffee is also said to be pretty great - they use Blue Bottle Coffee (another Bay Area gem). I'm not a coffee drinker myself, but Amy tells me that the Spicy Mocha is amazing.

6) Yogurtland!!

Okay, this place is not technically unique to Berkeley - they have branches in several states. However, it has become super popular among the Berkeley student set. There are two locations across from the Cal campus.

Alex and I went there every night for about ten days straight to chat over sugar. The concept here is that you help yourself to self-serve frozen yogurt that comes in a range of exciting flavors - Alex is partial to the pistachio, and I, of course, stick to the chocolate. Then you help yourself to a range of ridiculous toppings. There is lots of frozen fruit to choose from - but we stick to the less healthy options, like the M&Ms and the Oreos and the gummy bears. Alex tends to drown his pistachio ice-cream in sprinkles, which often leads to a very queasy ride home...

The most amazing thing? They charge 30cents an ounce! I have never paid more then three dollars for a sick amount of fro-yo. I love you, Berkeley.

Venturing slightly further afield...

7) The Fifth Floor, San Francisco

Simon and Amy wanted to check out this new restaurant in SF. It was a trendy spot indeed. The ambience was warm and chic. The food was mostly New American - although every so often there would be something fusion related on the menu. Every dish we had was fantastic. I had seared scallops that were cooked to perfection. However, I would say that the service was only passable. Our waitress was a bit brusque...

There are many more places to describe! Including, but not limited to, The Cheeseboard Collective, Poulet, Chez Panisse, Cioccolata Di Vino, Bobby G's Pizzaria, Anh Hong, La Note, Cancun Taqueria, Herbivore and Cafe Fanny.

Oh man - there is also Jupiter's, Brazil Cafe and Zatars. Really, the list is endless.

I haven't even begun to describe the amazing cafes that surround the Berkeley area...

There will be much more food blogging on my next trip out to Berkeley, which will be in April!