Sunday, July 30, 2006

Epicuriousity Killed the Cat

I have a love-hate relationship the upturned gourmet noses of Berkeley residents. In Berkeley, I love that I can buy the freshest and best organic produce in California. However, I can do without the "uppidy" nature of some of the foodies or food servers.

Last month, as my friend and I strolled through the streets of Berkeley, we decided on a whim to sample the various restaurants the foodie-complex known as Epicurious Garden. Epicurious Garden is a commercial center that is home to gourmet take-out restaurants, a wine bar, a cooking school, and a tea house. In addition, nestled within the complex is a lovely, airy, garden area with simple wood benches, trees with wispy, willowy branches swaying to and fro in the Bay Area wind, and a flowing man-made stream that bubbles and gurgles into a gentle waterfall.

Our first stop was the Taste Wine Bar and Restaurant. Although we arrived during the weekend lunch hour, the restaurant looked like a barren wasteland with empty tables and an oily macaroni and cheese sitting forlornly in the display case under the glowing heat lamps. In terms of décor, of note was the sizeable cylindrical pipe that nearly extended to the ceiling with spouts that concentrically surrounding the pipe. From the pipe flowed their wine bar selections, but it wasn't being used when we strolled in. As we were admiring the interior décor, one of the bored chefs peered out of the kitchen, looked at us, and scornfully made a remark about the casual dress we were wearing. Thankfully, we chose to ignore him.

Hey man, you need all the business you can get, don’t alienate potential customers with your attitude problem.

Because the server and the chef-guy were acting up, we decided not to eat a full lunch there, but to only sample a few of the menu items. We ordered an appetizer and a side dish.

First was the side dish of fontina bread. When the dish arrived, I was impressed by the artistic presentation. The presentation of the bread reminded me of staggered Lincoln Logs or fallen Jenga blocks that protruded and jutted outward forebodingly from the center of the plate. The bread was covered in a melted sheet of fontina cheese that stretched off into wisps when you crunched off bites of the crumbly, crusty bread. The bread was so saturated with butter, that it refracted golden light through its translucent edges. It was a glorified, upscale version of cheese bread from Sizzlers, indeed.

Second was the appetizer of crab cakes. We ordered Maine peeky toe crab cakes which came with segments of ruby red grapefruit, cara cara orange, and lime that had been hand-carved away from the bitter pith and stringy citrus fibers. The segments were plumped and bursting with sweet citrus juice as if they were little water balloons.

The soft threads of crab within the crab cakes weren’t comparable to the marshmallow-sized chunks of crab at Faidley's, but they were relatively moist and tender. The crab dish included a decorative salad of frissee leaves that spiraled and twirled into gnarled strands and jiggly cubes of chilled mint gelatin that were plopped randomly across the rectangular plate. The interesting flavor of the gelatin was admittedly refreshing.

Given that we had just sampled an appetizer and side dish at Taste and were not yet full, our next stop was the take-out restaurant,
Socca Oven, which was also within the Epicurious Garden center. There, we ordered a socca pizza with a crust made from a pressed paste of ground chickpeas. The socca crust was the thickness of a baked matzo cracker and was moist enough to reveal a rustic, gritty texture. The tiny beads of ground chickpeas and the coarse consistency of crushed meal mirrored the consistency of morning grits or polenta. Crisp blackened patches of the crust were charred from red flames that had danced and licked at the socca's surface.

From the way the open kitchen was structured, we were allowed to watch the socca-assembly process. The server layered the socca with v-shaped strips of braised Mediterranean fennel, which had the fibrous texture of celery and the essence of licorice and anise. The cook used a restaurant-style squeeze bottle to squirt an interlaced design of sauce onto the surface of the socca and dotted the socca with bay scallops that gleamed like pearls as they perched atop the chickpea crust. The scallops were chewy and rotund, and permeated with the fishy essence of the sea.

Overall, the food at Epicurious Garden was okay, but I was pretty miffed with the way that my friend and I were received. So in concluding, I feel that Taste left a bad taste in my mouth, and was overpriced for their haughty swagger and the "I'm-too-good-for-tee-shirt wearers" parade they put on.

Because there is no picture of the socca or cheese bread, here, I included additional photos of my friend's outing to Taste including a hamburger (or as I call it, a "lamburger") with lamb bred at Niman Ranch with Acme baguette bread, New York white cheddar, Spanish onions; thinly-julienned pomme frites with a small dish of thousand island dressing; and an allegedly "tasteless" salade nicoise (also from Taste).


  1. yum, the queso dip looks awesome!

    p.e., its never a good thing to look on your blog with an empty stomach... but then again, i guess one can always view self inflicted torture as a recreational activity, right?

  2. It looks like queso, but it's not Rick James! Did you read the post? It's thousand island dressing!

    Just kidding about the "reading the post" part. This post is freakin' confusing, and I take full blame. I didn't take any pictures when I ate at these restaurants. However, my friend later ate here and took pictures for me, but she only ordered the crab cakes (and not the bread or the scallops socca). So the pictures aren't even of my meal! And I added pictures of random food I didn't even eat! To make matters worse, I didn't caption the pictures and the post is uber-long.

    Forgive me man, forgive me.

  3. omg, i would have walked out of the restaurant if i had heard that comment about my clothes. clearly those chefs should devote all their time and energy to the all those well dressed patrons in the empty restaurant. how rude.

  4. hey p.e.,

    pulled a comment and run!

    saw the cheese (or so i thought..duh) and was gonna come back to finish up today... ha ha... ;p

    but uh... shoulda walked out girl! or slapped em!

    too many options these days to take any crap from some loser chefs...

  5. Hi there The Mirth Mobile! I agree, I thought about leaving too, but I was hungry and thought it was worth a shot. I guess it ultimately wasn't. Thank you for visiting The Mirth Mobile, and I hope to see more of you around!

    My dearest Rick James, I love all of your comments and always laugh uproariously at all of them! I am going to call you My Lil' Dish o' Queso, that is, if you don't mind. I agree about walking out though, which is what I shoulda done.

  6. I am sorry you had to put up with that pretentious place. Who do they think they are making comments on how you were dressed!? A happy customer is a customer who spends more...and they did you wrong.

    There's a certain level of rudeness that I can put up with.

    Vietnamese places who are too busy to even recognize that I'm there, I can tolerate. Chinese waiters who scowl at every request, I let pass. But high class establishments with snooty attitudes that make me feel I'm not good enough to dine there? Makes me livid.

    You were right in just ordering the bare minimum!

    Okay...I'm done venting... ;-)

    Oh yeah, great post by the way!! Haha!

  7. Being the self-proclaimed fashionista that I am ( & my 5 min in the morning routine), I think you look quite lovely. Really, it's almost impossible to be any lovelier--esp. when paired up with your awesome posing-for-the-picture smile! So let me go back w/ you to that restaurant & tell them what I think!

    And...I loved the stir fry post (please, PE, give us some more cooking lessons! I never realized that you needed to add the vegetables in one "layer" at a time. No wonder I always get soggy stir fry.

  8. Whoa. I would have SO made a scene... even if there really wasn't anyone else there to watch it... but would have said some choice words, taken some photos of the place without eating... and LEFT. But yeah, you're much more patient and good-spirited than perhaps I. ;)

    Best crab cakes I ever had - were at a small French restaurant in Oakland years ago... A Street Cafe or something like that. Haven't been able to find another I really like - unless it's a Japanese style crab cake korroke. ;)

  9. eeew, I hate stuck-up foodies. That's why no matter if a restaurant has good food but makes you feel uncomfortable (e.g. Rubicon / San Francisco), it will never make me like it.

    The stuff your friend ordered looks really greasy, actually. But kinda tasty. :-P

    How's it going lately?

  10. I love your "continuum of tolerable service" Elmo Monster! I couldn't have said it better myself. I think that I am especially sensitive around pricer places though, because I am already a little self-conscious. Unfortunately, I think that the superciliousness of the high-end restaurant employees is how expensive restaurants maintain their "aura of appeal" to stay in the biz. Hmpfh!

    Goldfishy 526, you aren't just a "self-proclaimed fashionista," you are really are a "fashionista"! (Everyone I know will back me up on that statement!) And your heels and outfits! Baby, you ain't just hot, you is hot by nature! I too have a five-minute morning routine, but unfortunately, it doesn't work for me.

    Did you visit Epicurious Garden when you went to go eat at Chez Panisse Best of LA? I agree about the "leaving" part though, and I should have probably done that. I'll have to find out where that French restaurant in Oakland is! My beau loves crab (he is from Maryland), so that would be a treat for him to have deluxe (Maryland-quality) crab cakes!

    Jeff L, I agree with your statement about Rubicon! The Rubicon guy that served me had a stick up his rear! I didn't think anything was terrible at Taste, but I was seething in my seat the entire time because of the chef who commented about my friend's and my tee-shirts. So they were baggy. Fine. But I was still wearing closed-toe shoes and pants. Plus, given that I saw another patron wearing Birkenstocks and a furry flannel REI vest, I don't think I was more casual than the usual dress code. But ah well, I guess you win some, and you lose some.

  11. I'm with Elmo, there are certain things I'll let slide like:

    (1) visible fly catchers dangling over ceilings
    (2) waiters that grunt with every request of water
    (3) bean sprout-laden floors of noodle shops...

    but i really can't tolerate people with 'tudes. They don't have a right to treat ppl any less than they would like to be treated because of their restaurant status. after all, they are STILL servers.

    can't wait to meet up for dim sum or whatever. what other good eats should i go for this weekend? the orgasmic pizza place? haha.

  12. that lamb burger looks so good. i hate gourmands with attitudes, like the im too good for tee shirt people. ugh.

  13. Whoa Eat, Drink, & Be Merry, visible fly-catchers huh? Dang. But, I guess it is better than the 'tude!

    I love the way the burger looks too Pink Nest! Too bad I didn't eat it personally, but my friend told me that it was delicious!


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