I'm going to open this post with a bold statement and hope that it sparks some discussion...
I believe that Berkeley's Gregoire is one of the most innovative restaurants of our time. In the next five to ten years Gregoire will have a profound impact on restaurants throughout the Bay Area and beyond. Gregoire delivers superbly prepared, premium foods at a fraction of restaurant prices by eliminating the substantial overhead costs associated with running a gourmet establishment. Gregoire Jacquet is the next great food revolutionary to grace Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto.
Arriving at Gregoire, the first thing you will notice is how tiny it is. The seating consists of two small tables outside and three bar stools inside. Most customers order their food to go and rush it home. There is a small prep kitchen in the back and a small kitchen in the front where the food is cooked. The entire place is the size of a one bedroom apartment. Herein lies the brilliance. A small building means low rent. When you're located in North Berkeley cutting rent costs is crucial. To further cut costs, Gregoire only employs a soux chef, a chef, a cashier and a cleaner. A mere four to five people run a restaurant that serves hundreds of people in a day!
Gregoire serves take out food, but it is unlike any take out food you've ever had. Braised pork shoulder, seared Ahi, New Zealand lamb chops, New York steak, and quail stuffed with foie gras and chanterelles are just a few examples of menu items. Gregoire uses only the finest meats, seafood and vegetables. The menu changes monthly to reflect the seasons. I have my personal favorites, but everything is wonderful.
This all adds up to incredible food at absurdly low prices. All of the entrees are under $20, sides and desserts are under $5, and no waiter means no 18% gratuity. Gregoire's $17 steak is as delicious as steaks I've paid $30-40 for at good restaurants in SF. The sides are superlative: decadent potato dishes, including his famous puffs, and a creamy, perfectly balanced soup du jour. Desserts are impossible to resist. Lunch is great, and priced comparably to most cafes. Check out the menu on the link below. It's hard not to drool.
The one drawback with Gregoire is if you don't live in Berkeley, it's hard to get the food home while it's still hot. The food does comes in well insulated boxes but if you're driving all the way across the bridge you're going to wind up with cold quail. I recommend going during off hours so you can get seat and eat there. Come between 4:30 and 5:30 or between 8:00 and 9:00 and you should be OK. When the place is packed and the weather is good, you can always walk a short distance to one of the nice, nearby neighborhoods and sit on the grass. Personally, I like the steps of the church about half a block up the street. The Ritz it ain't, but for $15 stuffed quail I'd eat under a freeway overpass.
I have never seen a restaurant like Gregoire. I have never tasted food with such a high standard of quality yet priced so reasonably. I love this place, and the constant line of Berkeley foodies coming out the door tells me that I'm not the only one. Gourmet food at painless prices, this could truly be the next big thing.