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BERKELEY’s BEST Restaurants

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Gather 2200 Oxford St./Allston Way; downtown.  The wide open interior here couldn’t be more welcoming, and, indeed, is the perfect place for diners to gather.  The hard-wood chair seats can be harsh, but comfortable banquette seating lines the curved outer wall (it is surprising to realize they are upholstered with recycled leather belts sewn together in a stripe pattern) and everyone gets a good view of something-- the room, the open kitchen, and/or the sidewalk activity.  Counter seating is also an option, and an outdoor patio is available in warm weather.  Sand and honey-hued colors blend with re-used leather and rough-hewn woods and blend with reclaimed wood and other materials that have literally been “gathered” from around the Bay Area.  A former water tank from Marin County has been turned into tables, counters and a door; bleachers from a Sonoma high school are now banquettes and tables; and bar lights have been crafted from recycled vodka bottles.  Carefully sourced local seasonal farm fare dominates the 50/50 vegetarian-vegan/omnivore menu; gluten-free items are also available.  In addition to fussy dishes such as a mushroom bruschetta topped with a heavenly leek-cashew sauce, and a tasty vegan “charcuterie” (a sampler of five salads served on a wooden plank), pizzas and a simple burger and fries are also an option.  A full bar focuses on organic spirits and cocktails plus biodynamic wines.  Do try the honey-soaked Bee Sting cocktail, but don’t ask for Peet’s coffee—it isn’t all organic, so the coffee served here is Thanksgiving from Fort Bragg. 

Update:  Charis Wahl was recently promoted to Executive Chef and has added some new items to the menu as well as her own touches to some existing items.  I began my dinner with an as yet unnamed cocktail made with Tequila, blood orange juice, habenero chiles, and cilantro.  It was shaken, served straight up, and delightful.  A starter course followed of Housemade Pickles and Ferments—a delicious and colorful array of six that included cauliflower with curry and mustard seed (my favorite) and pickle-like cucumbers with garlic and dill—served on a wood plank.  Keeping our own shared meal 50/50, we had more veggies in the form of the chef’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts spiced up with fermented jalapeno, pickled radish, and cashew butter.  Our next item was Roasted Half Chicken which couldn’t have been more moist and delectable; it came with scrumptious crispy buttermilk polenta and rounds of squash panzanella, one placed jauntily on the leg.  Our thin-crust Fontinella pizza with tomato sauce, blistered mozzarella, and pancetta was quite delayed, but it gave us time to prepare space for it.  We weren’t able to eat all of the last two items, so we took them home.  It turns out I was really pleased to have the delicious leftovers the next day, when I made wonderful sandwiches with the breast meat and a luscious dinner with the reheated pizza slices (unfortunately, they were stuffed into too small of a container and so were quite squished but still very good).  But we did wedge in a lovely little Pistachio Cake dessert enhanced with grapefruit curd.  Overall, I was impressed with the general full-flavoredness of the dishes. 

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