Lunching and Gathering

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.

From the building it lives in to the interior decor that screams "Napa County," Gather's conveys a rustic yet elegant vibe that makes me feel very comfortable.


The gloomy weather called for soup of the day, which was a Puree of Brassicas with creme fraiche and cilantro. With lots of pepper to compliment the spicy vegetables and the creamy drizzle to balance the heat, this hot soup hit spots I didn't know I had.

The lunch combo (11) included the soup and half a sandwich, which in my case was a Spicy Chickpea Summer Vegetable open face sandwich with Hen of the Woods, olives, chicory and Mozzarella. I got the cheese on the side in case it was too much, but ended up eating most of it. Though the sandwich didn't feature any unique flavors, it was the best healthy comfort food I could have asked for. Probably because every component, from the bread to the greens, were of utmost quality and freshness. My biggest complaint is that the dish was almost too salty, especially those mushrooms.

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.

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8th Street Cafe

It’s M’s last week here before she moves home to Italy, and I thought that July 4th would be a great time to show her what America was all about. So off we went to Chinatown in Oakland—the city that never sleeps on holidays. I wanted to run some errands but it turns out the optometrist does sleep, so we went straight to the food.

Being unfamiliar with the restaurants and unsure of what to eat, we decided to go to the most crowded restaurant we came across. This place left its competitors in the dust.

3 o’clock and we still had to wait ten minutes. The waitresses were brusque but efficient, like a grouchy, well-oiled machine. They made no eye contact and literally threw our utensils on the table. Our water glasses weren’t once refilled. Even though I don’t understand Cantonese, I felt right at home.

Order food from one of several menus, with hella entrees that range from $3-6. I have complete faith that anything you order will come fast and fresh.

Our Sichuan style eggplant (5) came with rice and the soup of the day. Okay, I have very little experience with Cantonese style food, but my impressions are that it is meat-heavy, creamier and sweeter than Mainland cuisine. This strange soup was made from a strong meat broth and milk. (Let’s all hope that’s why it was opaque.) And MSG, the seasoning of the gods.

The eggplant came with strips of bamboo, wood ear, onion and pork. I have a Sichuan grandmother and this was one of my favorite dishes as a kid so believe you me, I know eggplant and this wasn’t Sichuan style. Cantonese style--mild and sweet--yes.

I’m always a fan of rice noodles with sauce (3) for dim sum, and M was intrigued. I’d never seen it served like this, with thick beany sauce on one side and sesame on the other. Again, it was super sweet but absolutely divine with lashings of hot chili oil. This is what all comfort food strives to be.

Going back tomorrow to get my eyeglasses. No question what I’ll be having for lunch!

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Three In One

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.

best bread of the weekend

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.

without parm, this soup was surprisingly vegan

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.

When pressed for vegetarian options, I seem to get beet salad a lot lately.

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.

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The real CIA.

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).

We peeked into their fancy lecture halls, which look just like the ones in school, but with a huge kitchen and presentation area in the front!

At lunch, where all the employees seemed to be students, we had another never-ending bread basket.

The butter stole my heart.

I preserved the chicken though, because I was too busy discovering one of the most delicious foods known to man.

Fried green tomatoes, chow chow(?) and burrata with chives.

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.

A comforting meat loaf sandwich was the day's "Green Plate Special".

Spaghetti with scallop meatballs.

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.

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Tru dat.

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.

Who needs a basket when you have perfect French bread?

This bread was nothing like Poesia’s but so tasty in its own right. I can’t stop looking at this photo.

The waiter accidentally dropped our plate of fries and half of them flew across the table, one into my drink. He brought us more fries later. I kind of love when these things happen.

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.

Tamales are one of my new favorite foods. I had a kick-ass vegan one two days earlier, which I kick my ass for not documenting.

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.

Done dealin'.

I think everyone else was still eating as I scraped my husks clean like a plebian.

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soup’s cooling

quick post while i wait. i was totally not in the mood for soup, or anything else today. meals here are so repetitive. but i am freezing and threw together very random bits of food around the house and was kind of amazed at the combo of tomato paste and japanese curry in soup. very flavorful and thick, with a lot less sodium than canned!P1010172

serves 2

3 cups water

1/2 small tin of tomato sauce

random veggies (zucchini, mushrooms, onion)

2/3 cup black beans

1/4 cube of japanese curry

dash salt

avocado for garnish (and life)

throw it all in a pot until it simmers to the consistency you like. of course you can do something fancy like stirfry the onion/veggies first, or put in pepper and other herbs. but it’s pretty unnecessary. the beans and curry thicken it a lot more than one would expect. it reminds me of tortilla soup!