Friday, February 6, 2009

The Best 60 Bucks You'll Spend This Year

Admittedly, I am a food snob. I turn my nose up at the fixings in most non-Bay Area kitchens--can you believe people still eat American Cheese???--and a bad dinner can affect my whole weekend. So when I signed up for Lisa Rogovin's In the Kitchen With Lisa's Gourmet Ghetto food tour, I had high hopes. After having lived in the East Bay (and making special trips over the bridge for Chez Panisse, Cheeseboard, and Cha-Ya), I thought I could lead a tour about how the gourmet ghetto had earned its moniker. But my Epicurean Concierge, taught me more about the birth place of the food revolution than I could have imagined.

I was told to meet in front of the Cheeseboard rain or shine and I would not let the current downpour hinder my arrival. One of the co-op owners of Cheeseboard brought us back to the kitchen to taste French and Wisconsin cheeses as she explained the inner-workings of this Berkeley mainstay. Besides offering stellar cheeses (of which she said the one rule they have at Cheeseboard for the workers is that they have to taste the cheeses) the rich smell of fresh bread created the most refreshing and relaxing vibe--I wanted to hang out there all day.

But we had other stops to go--a lot Andrea told us. We headed over to Saul's deli, now run by a Chez Panisse alum. Peter brought us Niman Ranch pastrami on organic Acme bread with fresh made celery, cream and blood orange sodas (go out of your way for a celery soda--it is no joke!). He explained that he caters to his Berkeley population, offering tofu scrambles and pastrami, but with only the best ingredients.

Around the corner, we popped into Berkeley Vintage wine shop to taste organic small batch wines in the vintage water and power plant building. Then we headed across the street to the Juice Collective, where we were offered the finest polenta, black bean and cheese I've ever had.

They couldn't leave out a visit to the original Peet's Coffee (which will close for renovation this week and reopen in 7 weeks with a new museum inside). We got to chat with the manager and learn about Peet's unique small batch roastery (in Alameda). We tasted a new Sumatra blend and a mocha (delicious), before heading to the cupcake store around the way.

2 Mini lemon cupcakes behind me, I was starting to wonder if I could eat anymore (or hear anything else about good food) when we met the owner of Soop, who offered up his love for soup and a generous taste of his red lentil coconut soup (the perfect antidote for a rainy day). He exchanged recipes with others in the group before leading us towards the chocolatier in the back of the food court.

I will say this: I have never tasted such chocolate before. Not only is the owner's passion for the cocoa bean contagious, but the taste of these single origin Brazilian chocolates made everyone in the group giddy. Make sure to try the mustard and chocolate covered almonds. And as if we could handle more sweets, our next stop was Ciao Bella gelato for some rosemary olive oil, rose petal and Lebanese yogurt gelato.

I thought I would burst and then Andrea said the magic word: Gregoire--Berkeley's famed gourmet take out hole in the wall. We camped out on picnic tables and stuffed out faces with potato puffs, with views of the bay in the distance and the rain clouds making way for a bit of sun. Nothing made me forget the recession like an afternoon of food education, a dash of healthy gluttony and a passionate guide to food.


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