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Restaurants & Bars 4

Trip report -- Jerusalem Organic Kitchen, Gregoire, Vik, Cactus

Prabhakar Ragde | Sep 11, 200503:47 PM

Jerusalem Organic Kitchen -- I like the style of this place, with a
modest menu but high-quality ingredients. The falafel wasn't as good
as Zatar, but it was generous and almost half the price. I would also
put it behind Sophia Cafe's and Truly Mediterranean's (the one
opposite Zatar on Shattuck, apparently under new management with a
modified name of The Mediterranean); it could have used just a little
more crunch on the outside and a little more verve on the inside. The
lamb shawarma is Niman Ranch, but a bit dry and salty by itself on the
platter; in the sandwich with tahini and salad, it would probably be
quite good. Definitely a good lunch option at the head of Solano, if
you're tired of Cactus.

Gregoire -- A lunch stop on the way back from Berkeley Bowl, and it's
a good thing we didn't pull into the green zone, because it took half
an hour to get us our food, even with only a couple of people waiting
before us. I like the concept of the most open kitchen I've ever seen
(did you know they keep the mesclun in the bottom drawer under the
grill?) Most of us had the Chowhound-lauded pulled pork and grilled
bacon with tarragon whole-grain mustard on ciabatta; the mustard, alas
dominated, as it did in the accompanying coleslaw. (I like mustard,
but the French have a blind spot regarding it; the East Indian tactic
of infusing black mustard seeds in oil and using that is more subtle.)
The rest of the sandwich was quite nice, including the bread, which
held its crisp. Rock shrimp Provencal on pantofolina didn't survive
the cement-mixer-dodging dash up the hill (no, Robert, the roadworks
were not done on Spruce, and my family cursed you on every trip),
going soggy on the rather fluffy bread. Grilled chicken and Kalamata
olive salad on toasted baguette was decent but unexceptional; the
much-discussed potato puffs (deep-fried blobs of mashed potato) were
good, but the five of us couldn't finish a box of nine. On the side we
had Ella Bella dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes (the heirlooms at BB
were picked through and sad) and Ommagang ale, which tasted much more
Belgian (I guess being owned by Duval helps). Anyway, this is the best
sandwich I've had in Berkeley since Panini's heyday about twenty years
ago, but it doesn't compete with the banh mi from Saigon Sandwich at a
third of the price.

Vik -- "You know what I like about Vik? It doesn't get worse," my
younger daughter said. But I really should be critical of it once in a
while. So here goes.
1) My dosa this time was not perfect. The rim was a bit thicker than
the rest, and the exterior was a bit too blond. No one else at the
table had this problem.
2) My fingernails get stained yellow when I eat there.
3) The plastic sporks which are the only utensils they provide are
really awful. If you're not going to eat with your fingers,
bring your own.
3) They read my father-in-law's name off his credit card and used
that, thereby depriving me of the only opportunity I know of to
hear my name pronounced correctly in public.
4) The keema samosa was all lamb with a few peas and spices, and thus
too intense. It could have used a touch of potato filler. Yes, I am
complaining about not enough filler in the samosa. Scraping the
barrel, I know.
5) They've started serving their regular samosas with the chole on the
side instead of on top. Oops. That's an improvement. Never mind.

On our second visit, they had "veg dosa" up on the weekend specials
board, which is like masala dosa only it has a vegetable bhaji of
peas, onions, and carrots inside. This was a nice change.

Hey, did anyone notice that Patricia Unterman, in what is supposedly
the fourth edition of her book, still hasn't clued in that Vik isn't
still just a counter with card tables and folding chairs?

Cactus Taqueria -- I have been eating at Cactus since they started out
north of the Rockridge BART in '87. These days it's mostly the North
Berkeley location we visit; the menu has been updated as at the
Rockridge one, but the place otherwise has that shambolic Berkeley
look, with fewer specials and salsas, and the same crumbling tables
and chairs. Nothing is startling or cutting-edge at Cactus, but it's
solid, reliable, what they do they do very well, and my kids love
it. It feels like an extension of home to them. To me, too, I suppose. --PR

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