On my last official day living in Berkeley (or Oakland, if you want to be a stickler for accuracy) I had lunch at one of my standbys, Intermezzo. I have been coming to this place at least once a month with E, so it was great to have her come along before she moves to Santa Barbara for school. I’ve been eating a lot of salad, my good mood food, since right now my brain’s mushy from job and apartment hunting. Here is my tossed green from Intermezzo in Berkeley, Niçoise from Caffe Centro in San Francisco and a Roncado (which is actually an open-faced sandwich) from Cafe Delmarette in Santa Cruz.
Since the locally sourced, seasonal and very Californian restaurant Gather opened a year ago, I’d wanted to try their ultra-modern veg food. Until today, I hadn’t been able to either because of the budget or the ever-lengthy waiting list during dinnertime. Then the brilliant idea of going for lunch occurred to me, and the rest was gastronomic history.
We completely wiped our plates, which were portioned perfectly. Gather’s the gem of Downtown Berkeley that makes delicious food that I feel good about eating, on all accounts. I’ve gotta get back there for the dinner menu, where they offer a vegan charcuterie among other curious delicacies.
In continuation of our Saturday smorgasboard, S and I met another friend at Nojo that evening. Guys, I cannot emphasize the gravity of this dinner enough. This was probably the largest quantity of impeccable food I have ever eaten, all thanks to my roommate who works there and hooked us up like rockstars.
I will never forget how welcoming A made me feel at Nojo, introducing me to the staff and ordering all of us her favorite dishes. Customers have said that she is the best server in San Francisco, and I obviously concur. I’m super excited that she’s thinking about her own food soon, as well. This whole meal was on the house, and even though we tipped her over 70%, I still feel indebted to her amazing generosity.
I should get paid to write blog titles.
A couple weekends ago we took a few jaunts around Sonoma county, with a pit stop in the Castro. As far as I’m aware, all incriminating photos of being a total fag-hag in da clubz have been eradicated and what’s left is a nice collection of the eats we enjoyed. Aren’t we lucky for such an advanced filtering system nowadays.
Because I wrote ten Elfster posts yesterday, because the lighting in the restaurants were horrible, and because Groupon just told me I wasn’t the best candidate to work for them even though I submitted a kick-ass application, I’m consolidating three meals in one post today.
First up was the Italian joint called Poesia. G used her impressive trip planning skills to choose and reserve all these restaurants, by the way. Anyway, Poesia was a classy but casual place that was situated above a fortune teller or a porn shop (too many to keep track) in the Castro, which seemed to only employ Europeans. At least, our waiter had an accent and they all dressed with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.
This was the first of many bread baskets, but my absolute favorite. It reminded me of the no-knead homemade bread I try to make once in a while, with an impossibly soft and warm center and chewy, oilve-oily crust. Half the pieces had olives studded in them, and for an olive overdose you could dip it in the fruity plate of oil nearby. I wish they’d had some balsamic, but truth be told I ate most of the bread plain because it was that good.
It was, as usual, a cold foggy evening in San Francisco. I went with a chunky tomato soup (~8) that had pieces of bread. (Thank God, more bread) cooked into the soup, almost like they were dumplings. Instead of cream, the bowl was almost drowned in olive oil, which was like my dream come true. No tomato soup is too acidic for me, so it was probably one of the best bowls I’ve had, but probably not for the faint-of-palette.
S and I shared a beet salad with greens on endive. I know beets are supposedly delicious with goat cheese, but I can’t really stand the stuff. (More on this later.)(Edit: actually, I didn’t get a photo, but I subbed parmesean for goat cheese at the CIA.) S likes it so I figured I’d eat around it, but it was actually more of a sauce mixed into the beets. Luckily this was one of the mildest goat cheeses I’ve ever tasted, so I rolled with it. Sweet beets can never go wrong. One of my favorite restaurant standbys.
Ambiance (If I’m in the Castro, I’m happy.)
On another day, we kicked off a Napa trip with lunch at the Culinary Institute of America. We got there a bit early, which gave us free time to browse their museum of wine-openers and extensive gift shop (where they sold a “Bean Slicer”, which G proceeded to kill me with).
At lunch, where all the employees seemed to be students, we had another never-ending bread basket.
I preserved the chicken though, because I was too busy discovering one of the most delicious foods known to man.
For once, a cheese I don’t hate! I’d heard of burrata before, but didn’t expect anything because it’s just a milder mozzarella, whipped with cream. However. Goodness, it was the most creamy, soft, texturally strange food I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating (with lots of bread). It looked and felt like a poached egg white, but it also sort of broke apart like Gak. (Remember Gak?). I know it’s the grossest comparison ever, but trust me that sweet, creamy cheese Gak is the best invention ever. It’s nothing like brie, which I can’t really stand. The “chow chow” provided a nice crunch and some mystique to lunch, as we read the menu and wondered what the heck it meant before being served.
Oh yeah, and the whole reason we got this dish was because E (a fellow veg) and I had never tried fried green tomatoes. These were what I expected, which wasn’t much. Deep frying always sounds appealing but the super sour tomatoes had the common problem of falling away from the batter, which was the actual tasty part. With this, I also had a salad that was so unremarkable, I forgot to take a good photo of it. The meal consisted mainly of me stuffing my face with bread and burrata, trying to wave the waitress down for more bread, and stealing everyone else’s bread. But other people ate nice-looking dishes.
The CIA was entertaining but the food was pretty expensive, and had very few vegetarian options and zero vegan. I asked if they were open to making substitutions or changes for vegans, and it seemed pretty difficult to do so, unless you’re just taking off the cheese or something. They did say they were developing a full vegan entree though…Overall, not the best place to eat adventurously because everything is pretty strict in order to best teach the student workers.
But I thank it for introducing me to burrata.
Okay, we’re close to the end! That evening, after stopping by various Napa food landmarks such as Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and The French Laundry, we ended at Mustards Grill, made famous by Bobby Flay who said it cooked his favorite pork chop. This menu looked promising and it took me forever to decide which dish to get, unlike at the CIA.
This bread was nothing like Poesia’s but so tasty in its own right. I can’t stop looking at this photo.
E and I were in the mood for more fried goods so we got a plate, with watercress dipping sauce. These fries didn’t meet my standards, though. Rather mealy inside (I don’t care if you’re not Belgian. Twice-fry! Always twice-fry!), under-seasoned, and soft. I was jonesing for ketchup but the service was less than attentive. The place looks casual but the people and the vibe is kind of uppity. The decor and cramped space felt like a Marie Callendar’s but the prices did not reflect.
However, I did relish watching the middle-aged Cantonese couple to our left eat plate after plate of food like their lives depended on it. They had at least two apps, three entrees, dessert, and coffee between the two of them. Gloriously gross.
Everyone agreed that my tamales (10.50) were delicious. Two pillows of sweet corn and mushrooms drenched with butter and topped with avocado-tomatillo salsa, pepitas, and greens looked small, but definitely started getting to me towards the end. It’s meant to be an appetizer so I’d split this with someone in the future. E’s mushroom burger, which I’d debated getting, was fantastic, if not also too rich to enjoy in mass quantities.
I think everyone else was still eating as I scraped my husks clean like a plebian.
This weekend C and I took a day trip to SC which is the only vacation I’ve had so far, but I’m planning another trip there at the end of the month! As usual, I was behaving like the bad blogger I am and missed two avocado photo moments. I’ll explain later.
I know, I was craving more salad. I will soon lose all my readers but at least I will have my roughage. Why am I a disgrace to blogging? Because I added my own avocado and also my leftover dressing from “lunch” on top of this salad and didn’t even take a picture. It was totally justifiable to whip out an avocado from my purse because they had NO avocado in the establishment. This place really was like Saturn. But for the most part, SC has a great variety of vegan/veg restaurants. I was also saving myself for this cute food stand in downtown called Alfresco that had an amazing vegan menu with customizable wraps, grain bowls, etc. When we got there for dinner, it was closed 😦 so I got dinner at a fancy grocery store. It may or may not have been salad…
While eating outside, some hippie sitting behind us was snacking on a plain avocado with a spoon. Strike two – I didn’t ask to get a picture of him or take out my own avocado so we could have a moment. This is 55% why I’m going back again to do it right. Next time there will be more avocado, Alfresco and coffee!
Oh, the ‘mezzo. There’s no better way to show how much it means to me than the twenty or thirty times I’ve returned for tossed green salad with poppyseed dressing. I defended it when elitists complained that it was unfresh, sloppy and low quality. And also when they raised prices from 3.75 to 4.50, because who can even compete with that addictive dressing, not to mention the massive portions and thick, squidgy honey-wheat bread they’re constantly sliding out of the oven?
This was the first restaurant I went to in Berkeley when I moved three years ago, though I don’t remember it making a huge impression on me. But sometime soon after, I started jonesing for that dressing. I don’t care if they put opium in it (no proof) or about sanitation horror stories (no proof) or that there are junkies outside asking for money/salad (proof, but it’s fun to watch through the window). Also, they have a tree in the center of the dining area! I love foliage indoors and can not get over how brilliant that is. Every sandwich I’ve tried there is wonderful, though the pie and soup aren’t stellar enough to distract me from the other items.
also: sobs! this was my last meal together with G and C as roommates. best i’ve ever had.