Epicurious Garden is a new gourmet food court in North Berkeley, sort of a "Ferry Building Lite." I love it because the take out format makes organic, artisinal food far more affordable than a sit down restaurant. Over the past two months I've eaten there far too many times to count and honed in on the great chow. This post will guide you to the deliciousness. It's a bit long because there's a lot of material to cover, but I tried to keep it organized. Please add your own experiences with EG to this thread.
Taste is fast becoming my favorite restaurant in
Berkeley. The head chef is a master, and the food is often revelatory. My favorite dishes are:
The pork chop. The chef uses a type of pork that is raised like Kobe beef and the flavor and texture are incredible. Rivals preparations of pork I've had at Chez Panisse and Oliveto. Crispy skin coats luscious meat thal melts in your mouth with a perfect ripple of fat. Positively sinful.
Grilled foie gras with belgium waffle, maple syrup and huckleberry jam. Culinary ecstacy. Rivals foie I've had at Boulevard and Gary Danko. Waffle is the perfect starch medium for foie, why have I never seen this before? Just incredible. It's so good, and so close to home, I'm kind of scared. Great when paired with a taste of their dessert wines (ask the somm for a rec).
The lamburger. A delicious, juicy patty (I know I taste bacon in there somewhere) goes well with the spicy cheese and aioli. I love the crisp, delicate shoestring fries it comes with (some of the best skinny fries in the Easy Bay, they beat Rouge fries hands down.) My only complaint is the hard baguette, I'm a soft bun kind of guy.
Ceaser Salad is spot on, and I'm a Ceaser fiend. Rivals Zuni.
I'm not qualified to comment on the wine program. They have about 30 wines available by the one ounce taste (out of bottle ranging in price from $10-$300), another 30 by the glass and a large selection by the bottle (also avaialable retail). The somm is friendly and knowlegable, and so far his recs have been spot on.
They dropped the price on the chicken. Whole is now $15, Half is $8. It's a delicious chicken, just be sure to get it fresh off the spit.
They have indoor and outdoor tables. Be wary of outdoor tables, this is Berkeley and the local homeless/political activists will try to engage you. Food is available for eat in or take out. Dinner has full table service.
Lunch is good, but lacks the wow factor of dinner. I did like my grilled pizza with pesto, sun dried tomatoes and chicken.
Minuses: the floor needs some work to get up to the standard set by the kitchen and the wine program. I'm hoping that with time they'll get things together. When the head chef is absent the food lacks spark. Unfortunately, the head chef has been taking Thur and Fri off (whose idea was that?). Fortunately, as the kitchen is open you can look for the head chef (look for the embroidered shirt and five o'clock shadow) before you sit down to eat. And the city denied them a beer permit. (Reason #1 to hate the Berkeley City Government.) All that said, this place has the potential to become one of the most popular restaurants in Berkeley. They just need to get their floor in order and keep their chef happy.
Part of the concept of Epicurious is assembling a meal from ecclectic parts. Socca is a perfect addition to any assemblage. Delicious, healthy, substantial and priced well.
Socca is a chickpea pancake from South France. At the Oven they top it with a generous portion of fresh vegetables or meats and cook it under an open flame (though not wood fire by city law. Reason #2 to hate the Berkeley City Government). The result is like a pizza, but totally different and unique. My favorite is the lamb. Tender meat tops delicious eggplant and is finished with a nice sauce. Pork, scallop and eggplant are tied for second. I didn't like the cod (too salty) or the zucchini (too bland, will probably improve when the ingredients come in to season). At a very fair price of $5-$7 it's become a favorite lunch option for me.
Healthy, organic soups, stews, chowders and chilis made from scratch. It's clear that they're targeting a health conscious clientelle. All of their soups are low in salt and fat. Consequently, they lack the knee buckling wow factor I've come to expect from great soups. I just really like my cream and butter. However, many of the soups are very good and the important thing is that they let you sample everything. The selection changes daily so show up, try them all and get the one you like. My faves so far are the split pea and pork (Thurs) and the Thai Chicken and Coconut (Tues). You may want to bring salt to add.
Imperial Tea Court
Many of you are familiar with Imperial Tea in San Francisco. For drinking tea, I prefer Teance on Solano, but there is some great chow here. I don't know Chinese food but I love the Dragon Dumplings, the beef potstickers and the vegetable potstickers. Pork buns were fantastic once, kind of disappointing a second time. Rice and noodle dishes were less impressive. Stick to the dumplings and potstickers and you will be happy.
Please ignore the display of prepackaged sushi and bento boxes. Honestly, I don't know what the owners are thinking: it's one of the biggest turn offs I've seen at a food stand. Nigiri and rolls are available made to order from their menu. Fish is fresh and the portions are generous. I'm no sushi buff, but I've brought a few here and they've all really liked it. Stick to the simple orders, my tombo nigiri was a big disappoinment.
What I really like about Kirala2 is that I can fill get a roll and a couple of nigiri, round it out with a socca and fill my sushi craving without dropping $200 and going home hungry.
The chocolates are good, sometimes great, but no doubt too expensive when you order by the box. Best to order them a la carte so that the price drops in half. I just wish they'd get some sort of cheap bag so I didn't have to walk around holding my chocolate on a piece of paper. The selection changes, but I really enjoyed the pure milk chocolate, the cinammon and the espresso. But my favorite thing here is the box of chocolate covered almonds from Spain. I'm a chocolate covered almond fiend and these are the best I've found. The price is hard to swallow but well worth it.
Ciao Bello Gelato - I wont even sample this filth. Someone else will have to comment.
Dom Petrov Caviar - Is usually closed. Probably wont last 6 months.
Kitchen on Fire - Love the concept of a casual cooking school for the public but I'm not about to pay the price tag. Seems ideal for businesses looking for team building exercises or individuals looking for food related activites. Anyone been to a class? Care to comment?
Most of the complex has food available for take out. Taste and Imperial Tea have tables avialable for eating inside. They have outdoor seating available (some of which is covered) in benches or bleachers but no outdoor tables (denied a permit, reason #3 to hate the Berkeley City Government). I always eat food there, because hot food is important to me and I hate reheating. Best to go on a nice day so you can enjoy the outdoor garden area.
Very family friendly. Parents of picky children are thrilled to be able to assemble a meal where everyone gets what they want. The casual, outdoor seating is great for kids who want to monkey around.
Vegan and vegetarian friendly. Soop and Socca oven have great options for those with dietary restrictions (Socca is traditionally dairy and wheat free). Though there's plenty for the carnivores as well.
Prices are pretty reasonable. As long as I don't eat at Taste I usually eat lunch for under $10 and dinner for under $15. Lunch at Taste runs me $10-15 (I don't drink early). Dinner at Taste can run anywhere from $15-$50 per person (lots of splurge potential, but you can keep it cheap and order the burger.)
Parking is a nightmare, though not as bad as most of SF. Your best bet is on Shattuck north of the complex or on the sorrounding residential streets. ANDRONICOS IS CHALKING! You're safer parking in the Safeway lot. You may be better off taking public transit as it's a short walk from Downtown Berkeley BART
In conclusion: Lots of deliciousness to be had here. Definitely worth a visit for all East Bay hounds and a few advenerous SF and North Bay hounds.
1509, 1511, 1513 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709
Next up: I'm working on a comprehensive crawl for the entire Gourmet Ghetto. I'm almost done, just need to have a few more meals at newcomers Guerilla Cafe (lots of potential thus far) and Cafe Gratitude. The Ghetto is really developing nicely, and I'm really sorry to loose Phoenix Pastaficio.
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