900 Grayson Birthday Brunch

The day after my birthday, the amazing Y and J got me brunch at oft voted Best Brunch in Berkeley, 900 Grayson. Not a breakfast food lover, but love this place for its location in the middle of (what used to be) nowhere. It’s unassuming industrial name and building. Its arrogant owners. Its fervent loyalty to local bread, meat, coffee, dairy, furniture, forks. Gritty, smug, super crowded, one-hour waits, servers who judge what you order–It’s a Berkeleyan’s wet dream. Just don’t come in search of vegan chicken and waffles, because they still haven’t brought it back.

The Demon Lover made a double appearance at our table, with syrup and gravy. I tried a piece this time and YES. Half of that chicken is actually bold, peppery fried batter. It tasted so much like something from my childhood that I still haven’t put my finger on.
My seared Ahi burger with a side of hash browns instead of fries, even though I asked for home fries. These were tastier. The tuna is lightly flavored, making this a great place to load on the condiments. I wish it had some tartar instead of the fancy wasabi aioli, but doctored it up with their great homemade hot sauce. I couldn’t get into the bun, which was probably from Acme. Dry and spongy with papery skin. Maybe this is what people like, since they won a best burger contest, with ostensibly the same bun. 

Even though I don’t love most of the things on their limited menu, this place is fun. They even have a meal for Hobbits!

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When at a Crossroads…

Go in.

K is finishing his last semester at Berkeley and invited me to brunch at Crossroads, one of the main dining halls on campus. Hard to believe that the last time I was there, I was a pudgy Freshman waddling from the dorms with my motley crew of dorm-mates. Five years and fifteen pounds lost later, I return on a mission of reminiscence. Did it taste good? Absolutely not. But I rose to the all-you-can-eat occasion and ate with gusto, from salad to soft-serve.

The dining hall is open almost all the time and is pretty impressive if you don't come regularly.

Our first round included a pork adobo with stirfry that K inhaled already, an apple which got taken away from me (I retaliated by tossing a pear and some scones into my bag for later), boring bland eggs, spicy sausages that were actually alright, and fries that were fried but tasted dry and healthy (Instead of my favorite tater tots? This is a new level of low, Crossroads). On my end, you see the vegan goulash, salad medley and sweet potato soup. Nothing really tasted like food but it also goes down easy if you don't think too hard about it. I ate the soup because I was cold.

Moreover, this food tastes exactly as I remember it five years ago. K's second serving of Asian slop, two scones, Christmas-style tortellini and vegan pizza. All just as bad as before. Quality control at its finest.

By this point, we would've loved to go home and nap it out. But I forged ahead, taking on the DIY waffle station that took twenty minutes to wait for. Other than the "Cal" logo, I topped my waffle with whipped cream, syrup and vanilla soft serve. I'm not incompetent at ladling--I just like thin and crispy waffles. Of course, we couldn't really eat the thing. Being a realistic creature, I knew this. Even though these waffles suck everyone still lines up for them because they're fun to make.

Like Chuck E. Cheese’s, Crossroads serves horrendous food but adds a dash of collegiate entertainment that makes me forget its sins. It captures the purest definition of “mediocre” which, if you know my college career, I’m perfectly satisfied with.

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Saturn Cafe

I’ve been to Saturn Cafe several times, the first time at its flagship in Santa Cruz, but never ate a proper meal until this week. Finally, moving onto main courses without being distracted by the many appetizers and salads. (Because how does anyone say no to Nacho Fries?)

Here is E, a fellow veggie, who’s particularly on a Saturn Café kick lately. With a well-deserved milkshake after a long day of work (for both of us).

E’s favorite burger, the Space Cowboy (9.50) with BBQ sauce, onion rings, fakin bacon, and cheddar. I’m love kitchen sink burgers, but this didn’t work for me. So oftenfake meat tastes too processed unless it’s done really expertly (aka made in-house) and I always think I like BBQ sauce more than I actually do. Glad I tried it, but next time I'm sticking to my standby—the portobello burger. Our delightful waiter offered to split this in half for us, with a huge pile of fries for each plate. Everyone I know who’s been to Saturn falls in love with its fried items. I think they coat it with cornstarch to give it that extra crisp.

We also split a Tuesday special—crunchy potato tacos with black beans and the house salad with cilantro dressing (7.50). I liked the variety. If you didn’t already know, I can rarely resist black beans if they’re on the menu. The tacos were a tad greasy, and next time I might ask if they could keep them soft/unfried for me. Even so, they were bland and begged for a ton of tobasco and cilantro dressing. Gringo tacos to the max.

At the end of the day, how can I complain about a meal after I’ve managed to devour it all? I'm generally not a huge fan of diner food, but I'd come back if I ever needed a hearty meal.

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Yeah, Chaya!

Hello, dear friends. My avocado is still a-go-going but I just haven’t been planning out the eats and photo-taking as well as I should be. Plus, I don’t think the Whole Foods salad bar or another post of Intermezzo needs to be added. I want to bring only what’s new and imperative. So yeah Chaya! This lovely little place was just remodeled and I waited for months to bring you the latest in vegan sushi. What is there to bring, you may ask? Frankly, not a whole lot of surprises. Which is why I did not go for the sushi, but for the wide array of special noodle and rice dishes. What I loved most was that every item on the menu had at least seven different ingredients, many focused on sea vegetables and macrobiotic darlings, such as burdock, daikon, lotus root and kabocha. Totally exciting yes!

Beautiful day in the gourmet (ghetto).

After much deliberation, I went with the Taku-Sui ($8) served with rice and miso soup. That's gyoza and tofu, zucchini, napa cabbage, snap peas, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, silver noodles, and mushrooms in a light broth and served with a ponzu citrus sauce. How could I resist! Alas, and this is the hardest part to write, I did not love it. The soup was bland and the potstickers were the same frozen ones my dad buys from the Asian market. It tasted like a mediocre version of something my mother makes for me when I'm sick. Granted, she does make a mean pot of soup.

I should've realized that noodles rarely satisfy me, and ordered one of their gorgeous fried dishes. Like this one above, for E. Why yes, that's a fried stuffed eggplant with satsuma potato, corn, hijiki, carrots, and soy beans. It looked amazing, though E said that without the flavorful sauce, the dish would have been just okay. But those beautiful layers seem like a culinary feat worth tasting for yourself. Move over, turducken.

To sum up, Chaya didn’t exceed my expectations, but there are more exotic dishes to try. For such beautiful, high quality food at such a low price, I will be back for another round.

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Nature’s Express, Berkeley

When I eat at home and grocery shop it’s easy to be vegan, but when eating out with people obvs don’t expect them to choose vegan places so I usually don’t bother. That’s why I was over-the-moon when I got to choose this 100% vegan place! Mmm, the power of choice.

Cute and welcoming on a beautiful nearly-Spring day. I think they could've done better than a turnip mascot though.

I’ve made the lofty claim that my favorite restaurant in San Diego is Nature’s Express, because I honestly don’t think another restaurant could offer so many of my favorite foods under one roof and support such an admirable food philosophy. So when I recently heard about a new restaurant with the same name (and why is that? I’m not tickled by it) that just opened five minutes away on Solano Ave., I ran over there. I did not really run on foot, but let’s pretend I did take that extra step to improve my cardiovas health in addition to noshing vegan goodies.

suprisingly, everything is vegan even though they don't change the names of popular sandwiches like "BLT" or "Tuna Melt". The fact they had another sandwich called "Tuna-less Tuna" confused me even more. All this means that I wanted to try every single item and will have to come back several more times. Their breakfast burritos sound amaze.

I chose the Express Combo (6) for maximum food sampling, with the butternut squash soup and half a mock-tuna sandwich. I tried a sample of the other soup du jour (veggie cilantro) as well, but both lacked zing. Vegan food usually tastes more flavorful to me because people try to overcompensate, but these soups were both too bland. The sandwich probably had a ton of Veganaise and crispy bits of unidentifiable veggies. Overall, neither component of this combo was winning. Just thinking about this two hours post-meal is bumming me out.

I couldn't resist a side order of mashed cauliflower with mushroom gravy (3.5) and good thing I didn't! I don't think anyone would argue that this is the most unappealing colored (and sounding) food one could order, but I've always been curious about mashed caul and am too lazy to make it myself. It was actually a delicious vegan version of one of my fav comfort foods. The garlic punched me and I liked it.

C was very impressed by her Southwestern burger with avocado and salsa and strawberry mango smoothie. Very excited to go back and choose from their selection of 8 burgers

J’s hummus sandwich which looks like it has some kitchen sink version of hummus. I think she said it was satisfactory

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