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).