Tag Archives: Gourmet Ghetto

After 30 years, what’s next for Vegi Food on Vine Street?

Kim Phuong and My Chan, who have run Vegi Food on Vine Street for almost 30 years, may need to find a new home for their hole-in-the-wall. Photo: Sarah Henry
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My Chan and her husband Kim Phuong have been cooking Chinese vegetarian dishes to a loyal clientele in the small, unassuming Vegi Food in North Berkeley for 28 years. But that may be about to change.

Recently, the building housing the restaurant at 2085 Vine Street (between Henry Street and Shattuck Avenue) changed hands. Chan and Phuong, who rent on a month-to-month basis, are concerned that the new owner is looking to lease the space in this locale on the edge of the Gourmet Ghetto to prospective tenants who have more cash to invest in the restaurant-retail space than they do.

Make no mistake, there’s nothing fancy pants about Vegi Food, a no-frills, hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop shop with a drab exterior and a dining area begging for a makeover. It’s the kind of place that many local eaters likely pass by without notice on their way to the Cheese Board, Off the Grid, or the farmers’ market — let alone high-end joints like Chez Panisse. But it gets high marks from its regulars — many of whom have come for decades — for its inexpensive, healthy chow miens, stir fries, and soups, which feature loads of vegetables and bean curd, and avoid garlic, onion, MSG, eggs, and meat. … Continue reading »

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Chez Panisse contingent head to Cuba, public welcome

A Cuban farmer talks about growing greens with a visitor. Photo: Varun Mehra
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In the last year, Chez Panisse chefs, staff, and alum have embarked on gourmet global diplomacy trips to Japan (in an informal expedition under the auspices of a group known as OPENrestaurant) and China (in a formal affair the restaurant’s owner, Alice Waters,  presided over herself.) Now comes word that a contingent from the acclaimed restaurant are headed to Cuba to plant seeds of change on the food and farming front — and learn a thing or two about Cuban cuisine and growing greens from this Carribbean island country.

What’s more the trip, scheduled for December 4-12, coincides with the Havana Film Festival, and is open to the public. The delegation includes Chez Panisse downstairs chef Jerome Waag, former Chez Panisse pizzaiolo Charlie Hallowell, Steve Sullivan from Acme Bread (a former Chez Panisse chef), and Cuban-American line cook Danielle Alvarez, who will set foot on Cuban soil for the first time. … Continue reading »

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Mountain lion and her cubs spotted in Berkeley hills

Mountain lions have been spotted in the Berkeley hills
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UC police are warning hikers to be on the outlook for a mountain lion and her cubs that may be living near the Greek Theater.

In the past few weeks, hikers have reported several sightings of a mountain lion, including one on Thursday.

“In the past few weeks there have been several sightings of a mountain lion and her cubs near the Switching Station #6 construction site on the western side of Stern Hall,” UC Police said in a safety alert sent out Tuesday. “The latest sighting was of a female mountain lion which occurred on Thursday, July 19th.”

Stern Hall is located on Gayley Road right near the Greek Theater.

Last year, there were several sightings of mountain lions in the hills above campus, according to police. Hikers also found carcasses of deer and other animals, providing further evidence that mountain lions were living nearby. … Continue reading »

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When chocolate met cheese in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto

Berkeley's Bar
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At the Cheese Board on Saturday night, the bar for both chocolate and cheese was raised to new heights. Pairings of high-end dark chocolate with carefully selected foreign and domestic cheeses had local taste buds all atwitter.

The unusual tasting was the brainchild of Leonard Pitt, founder and president of the exclusive Berkeley Chocolate Club (BCC), and Laura McNall, a veteran Cheese Boarder and recent inductee into the BCC. Pitt is well known in the Bay Area for his work as a mime (trained in Paris in the 1960s by the teacher of Marcel Marceau), and his books, including Walks Through Lost Paris (Shoemaker & Hoard), about Parisian architectural history. His latest venture into chocolate is just another of his many autodidact passions.

For April’s BCC meeting, McNall wowed members with a carefully designed cheese and chocolate tasting. The idea was then hatched for a public tasting of her revelatory combinations in conjunction with the Gourmet Ghetto’s annual Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival. … Continue reading »

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Ethnic eats in Berkeley from A to Z: Part 3

High praise for Vanessa's Bistro and its tuna salmon poke. Photo: Anna Mindess
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Over the last two weeks Berkeleyside has listed almost 100 places where you can taste tachos, slurp soba, and make a meal out of momos (catch up with part 1, A to I and part 2, J to P). Down the track, we will bring you the back story to some of the people behind some of these places.

For now, you know the drill: Chime in below if there’s a nosh spot that’s missing from this list or if there’s a signature dish you want to single out at a particular place.

Oh, and as for the definition of ethnic (some readers quibbled about whether French or Italian joints should be in the mix) we’re thinking chefs who want to showcase a style of cooking specific to a region of the world — versus California cuisine or fusion food, though no doubt there’s some crossover.

Enjoy.  … Continue reading »

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Ethnic eats in Berkeley from A to Z: Part 2

Thai food abounds in Berkeley. Here a dish from Pin Toh
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Who knew there were so many ethnic restaurants around town?

Last week Berkeleyside chronicled choices from A through I, 32 picks in total, and today, in our second installment covering J through P, we bring you 33 more spots.

Careful readers noticed some omissions, including Cyprus, Dara, De Afghanan Kabob House, and Ethiopia. No doubt there are places missing in the mix here too, so feel free to add any favorites in the comments.

Not every country or region of the world is well represented in restaurants around town. East Bay Express food critic Jesse Hirsch would like to see more Polish and Balkan choices among the glut of sushi spots and curry shops. Hirsch’s two favorite local ethnic places so far — he’s relatively new to town — are featured this week. … Continue reading »

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Ethnic eats in Berkeley from A to Z: Part 1

Corso's signature chicken dish. Photo: Courtesy Corso Restaurant
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Berkeley is an ethnically diverse town. Anyone whose child attends public school here doesn’t need census tract data to know this for a fact. That cultural diversity is also reflected in the range of restaurant choices here. Global grub — from gourmet to grab ‘n’ go — can readily be found in many of our neighborhoods.

But who doesn’t reflexively head to their local curry shop or Thai takeout without giving a moment’s thought to the international offerings all over town?

What follows is the first in an A to Z guide to the many ethnic restaurants in Berkeley, with favorite dish recommendations and tidbits gleaned from local food critics, Berkeleyside interviews, and the restaurant guide by new Berkeleyside partners Lucille and Art Poskanzer.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to add your own global picks in the comments section that follows. Or weigh in with what world cuisine is missing in the mix. Bon Appetit. … Continue reading »

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Poulet: Serving the Gourmet Ghetto for 33 years

Poulet
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Marilyn Rinzler is that rare bird in the Gourmet Ghetto: a food purveyor who shuns the label foodie and shies away from fancy food. She doesn’t even like to cook much.

Back in 1979, Rinzler got the idea to start a food business when she was a busy graduate student in social work and single mother of two then teenage boys. She was frustrated she couldn’t find a takeaway place in town to pick up a simple, healthy dinner — say, roast chicken and salad — on her way home.

So the unlikely edible entrepreneur set up her own shop, Poulet, on Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley to provide just such a service. This was well before the term Gourmet Ghetto came into vogue. The deli, now in its 33rd year, is an anchor institution of that iconic food corridor, turning out made-from-scratch meals for those with who crave unfussy comfort food.

Rinzler, who lives near the Rose Garden, was so busy with her budding business that she never did practice as a social worker. But that training, as you might expect, has come in handy in dealing with both staff and customers. … Continue reading »

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Marc Kelly dishes on the story behind Berkeley’s Soop

Red lentil soupL In demand with new moms
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As mid-life crises go, Marc Kelly’s was a pretty productive one — with a little spice thrown in for good measure.

Seeking change after a 20-year career in the fruit and vegetable export business, Kelly was keen to open a food joint of his own. Something modest and manageable, a takeaway place that satisfied his culinary aspirations and cravings.

That’s how Soop, one of the original anchor businesses in the Gourmet Ghetto’s Epicurious Garden, came about.

Kelly, a self-taught chef, determined that soup was an unexplored market niche in the edible landscape. He sensed an opportunity. Six years into serving up soup every day, Kelly’s enthusiasm for the comfort food he sells is still apparent.

He has a loyal band of regulars — Kelly sees them coming and knows which ladle to reach for. And his years of global travel inform what he sells: every culture has a soup tradition and on the road he learned the universal language of soup. … Continue reading »

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What’s behind the Café Gratitude closure, what’s next?

Cafe-Gratitude0001-199x300
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Update, 01.26.12: We learn from Café Gratitude co-owner Terces Engelhart that the Berkeley restaurant on Shattuck may not close after all. “Wanting to let you know that we are planning on being able to keep Berkeley Café Gratitude open!,” she writes in a January 24th email. We will keep readers updated.

Original story: Last week’s unexpected announcement that all eight Northern California Café Gratitude restaurants — including the one in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto — will close because of former employee legal action prompted a range of responses from readers and eaters from “I am Sad” to “I am Amused” to “I am Indifferent.”

The raw-and-cooked organic, vegan food chain, where every item on the menu is an affirmation that begins “I am…” prompted one wag on Twitter to comment that the naming convention in itself was actionable.

Citing “aggressive lawsuits,” owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart revealed the pending shuttering on Facebook and, later, on their website, a few days after Thanksgiving. “Although we believe that we have done nothing wrong and our policies are completely legal, it will cost us too much money to defend them in court,” read the Facebook message. The margins in the food business are notoriously slim and, the couple maintain, they simply don’t have the finances to fight a protracted legal battle. … Continue reading »

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Snow in Berkeley? Yes, in the Gourmet Ghetto

Snow day 2
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On Sunday, the Andronico’s on Shattuck was transformed into a mini winter wonderland as kids, unaccustomed to seeing the white stuff in their hometown, donned boots and mittens to throw ice balls and build snowmen.

The free “Snow Day” event, which included holiday crafts, hot cider, cookies and a snow queen, was sponsored by the North Shattuck Association, AT&T and Andronico’s Community Market.

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Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses

Far and Few Again. Photo: Nancy Rubin
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LOCASODA In our recent story about north Berkeley’s new Local Butcher Shop, we made mention of a particular soda the store is selling alongside its cuts of meat and fresh-made sandwiches. Vignette Wine Country Sodas are non-alcoholic, sweetened only with the juice of California varietal wine grapes, and made right here on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley. The sodas come in three varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rosé, and they are all lightly sparkling. They can be bought online, or at the Local Butcher Shop at 1600 Shattuck Ave., Suite 120, in the Gourmet Ghetto. … Continue reading »

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Whole-beast butcher shop taps appetite for local meat

Aaron and Monica Rocchino, who opened The Local Butcher Shop in August, say they have been welcomed by the Berkeley community. Photo: Tracey Taylor
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It’s only been just over two months since former Chez Panisse chef Aaron Rocchino and his wife Monica opened The Local Butcher Shop in the heart of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. But the store, which prides itself on sourcing locally and embracing the whole animal, has already found a loyal clientele and two very local restaurant clients.

Chez Panisse, perhaps not surprisingly, is patronizing the newly established meat purveyor and buying its beef there, as well as “anything else they need when they’re in a pinch”, says Monica Rocchino.

Saul’s Deli is getting ground beef from its new neighbor and, as of last Tuesday, serving Local Butcher Shop bologna. Executive Chef Peter Levitt hopes this might go some way to appeasing his salami loving customers who, he says, are suffering while Saul’s searches for sustainable, artisanal salami it feels happy to serve. … Continue reading »

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