Hi, I live in L.A. and am active on the board down here. I was recently staying at a friend's house in the Berkeley Hills for a week, had some excellent food experiences and so thought I'd post about them here.
For my birthday dinner, the girlfriend took me to the cafe, upstairs at Chez Panisse. We've been before and always enjoyed it. This time was no different. Strangely, we realized afterwards, neither was our order. (On our way back to where we were staying, we realized we'd had the same main courses the last time we were there - well, at least the same main ingredients, assembled slightly differently.) She had pasta with "wild" (I have my doubts that anyone actually went out and foraged for them) mushrooms and I had quail. They were both excellent, perfectly cooked, just interesting enough without being so interesting as to detract from the ingredients - the kind of thing that Chez Panisse has been justifiably famous for for a long time. We had an antipasto plate that was good, though nothing exceptional and a perfect, refreshing garden salad. The plate of olives and the plate of anchovies were okay, but no more than that. We also did have a very nice bottle of Jurancon - a wine from Southwest France that is not easy to find in the U.S. Service was friendly and impeccable. All told a very nice evening with no real surprises.
The next day I had lunch at The Brick Pig's House - a bbq place a friend had recommended - on Shattuck between 60th and 59th (sort of the Berkeley-Oakland border.) I had a brisket lunch and it was excellent bbq. If it was down here in L.A. I'd have a tough time choosing between it and Bludso's - my favorite L.A. bbq. The sauce was flavorful, though not quite as spicy as I usually like. It is run by the third generation of a family that started smoking meats in Arkansas about 95 years ago. The experience shows.
After that I went shopping - I was cooking dinner for friends that night - at the newer to me - Berkeley Bowl over near Ashby and San Pablo. I walked into the place and almost burst into tears. While I do believe that we in Los Angeles have a much greater, broader, higher-quality selection of ethnic markets than you do in the Bay Area, we have absolutely no one-stop-shopping, comprehensive supermarket that comes even close to the variety, quality and prices of Berkeley Bowl. The best of our general supermarkets is like a run down Safeway in comparison with Berkeley Bowl. I could go on and on about the bakery and the cheeses and the meat, fish and fowl and the vegetables and fruits, etc., but I don't want to depress myself. I hope you all realize how lucky you are.
Wednesday night - our anniversary - the girlfriend and I went to Commis in Oakland. Wow, what a fantastic meal that was. It was fun, highly innovative, fresh, tasty, surprising at times and the set menu was perfectly coordinated so that each dish complemented and built upon the one before it. Because of that, no one or two dishes particularly stand out in my memory. Sorry, but all I can recall is the meal as a whole and it was wonderful. I regret not taking notes at the time, but I was too busy enjoying the flavors. I do remember that the amuse bouche was very amusing - a parmesan ball dusted with ash, set on a small bowl of similarly colored rocks. Commis is definitely high on the list of places to go back to whenever I'm next in your neck of the woods.
Those were the highlights, and as highlights go they were awfully high.
One low note - on the way out of town we stopped at In-N-Out Burger for lunch. I wanted to try something off of the "secret" menu - an animal style burger with chopped chilies. It was fine, probably as good a burger as I've ever had at a fast food burger chain. And the well done fries were at least somewhat better than their normally done fries - which are awful. But that isn't really saying very much. I still don't get the whole revery over In-N-Out. In an emergency maybe I'll go back, but frankly my dears, I don't give a damn.
2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709
Brick Pig's House
5973 Shattuck Ave, Oakland, CA 94609
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611