Soft opening at Epicurious today, the entire complex will be open tomorrow.
Loved the Socca. Soccas are thin chickpea pancakes. Hearty yet light, crispy yet moist, with a subtle nutty flavor. We had one with lamb, green olives and eggplant and one with zucchini and tomatoes. The soccas are baked to order in the oven, covered with toppings and then finished in the oven. The lamb was tender, juicy and loaded with meat - you can always rely on Gregoire for good lamb. The zucchini was piled high with thinly sliced squash and warm tomatoes. The menu also includes caramelized onions, eggplant-basil, bay scallops, cod, lemon-chicken, and pork shoulder-mushroom. Prices ranged from $5.25 for veggie to $7.75 for lamb. A very satisfying lunch and the perfect thing to combine with other dinner options.
Loved the rotisserie chicken at Taste. Seriously, this is some of the best I've had. It put Cafe Rouge to shame and was even better than Roli Roti. Tender, juicy, flavorful from the thigh down to the breast. We requested a "fresh" one and the chef gave us one straight out of the oven (this is perfect if you're getting it to go because the chicken needs to sit for a few minutes anyway. By the time you get home, it will still be hot.) Also tried the Ceaser - I always order Ceasers and this one was spot on. Crisp, fresh Romaine, excellent dressing, quality parm. The chicken Ceaser was particularly good as it featured generous pieces of moist chicken. Finished it off with a Valrhona brownie - easily the best saran wrapped "to go" brownie I have ever had (though I didn't care for the dried fruit bits).
Taste has a limited menu for opening week and they plan to expand as they get more popular. We chatted with the chef a bit and he has some fantastic ideas up his sleeve. Right now there's the rotisserie chicken with Meyer lemon, garlic and rosemary (Rosie organic - $21/whole and $11/half) you can get the boxed lunch ($10)- leg and thigh, cous cous, slaw and naan (yes, they actually have a tandoori oven in there). They also have a Jamon Serrano sandwich ($7) and a Flatbread sandwich with asparagus, chanterelles, goat cheese and tapenade ($7). Caesers are $7 with anchovies, $10 with chicken and nice, large portions. The wine machine wasn't up and running yet but they said it will be ready soon.
Alegio was the surprise of the evening. They have an assortment of Spanish chocolates and hot chocolates but the real treat are the house made chocolates. We got a box of four ($12) with raspberry, cinnamon anise, habanero and espresso caramel. Simply amazing. Without a doubt some of the best candy I have ever had. Very subtle, pure flavors. A texture that isn't too thick but simply melted in your mouth in a smooth pillow of heaven. Yes, they're pricey, but I could easily see myself getting addicted. They have some interesting flavors, including single malt scotch, and they said the selection will rotate. I felt as if a lot of folks passed them by because they are expensive and Ciao Bella (ich!) is right next door. I hope that people just try them out (you can get a two piece "sampler pack") and find out how delicious they are. They also have beautiful packaging making it an ideal gift.
Soop and Kirala are opening tomorrow (Wednesday) but I managed to snag menus for both. Soop will feature 7-8 soups a day, each made from scratch with fresh, premium ingredients. They have a set of soups that changes each week, a special weekend meat stew and a standard soup of the day for each day of the week. The offerings look delicious and I couldn't help but think of rw when I saw that every Friday they will have New England Clam Chowder "Lots of Clams, potatoes, onions and cream seasoned with boquet garni make a simple, straightforward chowder. Brothy. No artificial thickeners in this classic." Check out their website for a detailed menu to drool over - sooptogo.com They also say that if you are craving a soup that is hard to find they will make it for you.
Kirala's menu is huge! Rolls, Nigiri, Sashimi, Donburi and Bento Boxes. Basic rolls are all under $7, with veggie rolls at $4 and tuna and salmon at $5. Fancy rolls top out at $14 Nigiri ranges from $4 to $7 for two pieces. Very exciting!
Imperial Tea Court and Kitchen on Fire are also scheduled to open tomorrow. Both are on the second floor of the complex which was still closed today. Imperial Tea Court has a nice, large space and will be serving organic dim sum and other Chinese food in addition to tea. Kitchen on Fire will offer cooking classes, food lectures and seminars. They will have free "Open House" classes for the first two weeks. The caviar stand, which is simply a tiny stand with tins of caviar for sale, will also open tomorrow.
Excepting Ciao Bello, everything is organic, fresh, sustainable, made by hand, from scratch, etc.
Seating is limited (Berkeley wouldn't grant the proper permit). Taste has a counter with seats but I imagine folks will be fighting over them on weekends. There is "bleacher" style seating in the garden on the second floor that could accommodate quite a few people but there are no tables. We were comfortable eating without tables and most of the food is pretty ideal for a "to go" format. Of course, there's always the median.
The building is 100% handicapped accessible. There are bathrooms. There is a very nice garden on the ground floor and another garden upstairs that was not yet opened.
The thing really lacking is parking. Yes, there is Andronico's but I imagine that they will step up enforcement soon. For now, Safeway is probably the safest bet (just a few blocks away and they have a huge lot). There is street parking available in the surrounding residential area, you just have to look for it and maybe walk a few blocks. It's also accessible by public transit - a few blocks north of Downtown Berkeley BART.
Final impression: well worth the wait, thrilled to have this addition to my neighborhood, now the Gourmet Ghetto truly is a culinary destination, I can't wait to really dive into the offerings.
Tomorrow: soup, sushi, dim sum and more!
1511 Shattuck Ave
In North Berkeley, next door to Chez Panisse and across the street from Cheese Board.
Credit cards accepted at all the stands.
tastefinewine.com (website under construction)