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Berkeley afternoon review - Cafe Cacao, Scharffen Berger Tour, Chez Panisse Cafe

R.B. | Jun 15, 200512:55 PM

I’ve made many trips to the Bay Area but had been to Berkeley only twice, once to the Claremont for dinner with a view and another to the Saturday flea market near Cal. Here’s the story of our Friday afternoon in Berkeley.

Café Cacao
I was thrilled with my fried softshell crab sandwich. While I waited for mine to be served I was highly entertained by the young woman at the next table who appeared shocked and frightened by hers. Spouse got the ahi tuna rosemary salad sandwich. It was cooked way too rare for her, but perfect for me. Friend got the ham and cheese sandwich. It had a large amount of oil in the bread, but tasted quite good. We didn’t get dessert because we were headed to the 2:30 factory tour.

Scharffen Berger Factory Tour
Our tour guide was perky and fun and taught us much about chocolate cultivation and processing. You do get to sample chocolate but it’s only a few small tastes. Only one of their processing machines was operating at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon. Someone suggested going earlier in the day if you want to see more activity. The tour is remarkable in its openness. I’m a chemical engineer and have toured many facilities, and I was surprised that S-B shows equipment model numbers, identifies its ingredients vendors, thoroughly describes processing steps, etc. Most producers try to keep a few more secrets.

Chez Panisse Café
Spouse and I walked upstairs at 4:30 and asked if they could seat us that evening. “Sure, just come in at 5:00 when we open.” We watched Berkeley go by our bench in front of the restaurant for a half hour. Salads were: rocket salad with pecorino and hazelnuts (flavors and textures worked together so well) and baked goat cheese with greens (the cheese was definitely the star here). I was struck by how much I liked the very simple dressing. Spouse wanted the chicken al mattone (cooked with a brick on top) but they were serving deboned leg quarters, so she got the garlic pudding souffle with mushrooms and spinach. She enjoyed it, but said it was quite like the garlic cheese grits we fix for a simple supper some nights. My pork & duck sausage tasted better than it sounds, and the vegetables were perfect. We had a glass of Gigondas and a Languedoc. Dessert was only coffee then a S-B 70% bar on the drive up to wine country.

If we had it to do over again – I’d still get the softshell crab, but my wife probably wouldn’t go back to Cacao. I’d make a reservation at C-P Café to be certain we’d be served. We’d snack on a cheese or slice of pizza from CheeseBoard, and I’d buy some Rhone reds from Kermit Lynch.

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