A new wave of downtown eats caters to much more than Cal kids.
Dining tables and bar at Five Bistro and Bar
For years, downtown Berkeley was practically a fine-dining desert. But with commercial rents down, a new generation of restaurateurs has been livening up the birthplace of California cuisine.
“Berkeley is one of those cities where if you do something well and charge a reasonable price, the community will support you,” says Chris Blue, who launched Chocolatier Blue on University Avenue two years ago, then talked his friends into starting two restaurants, Eve and Slow, on the same block. Here’s a short guide to some of the newest spots in town.
»» Pass through the art deco lobby of the remodeled Hotel Shattuck to get to its bustling bar and modern American bistro, Five. Executive Chef Banks White shapes his menu weekly based on what he finds at the Berkeley farmers market.
Pork, Please: Try the luscious pork belly appetizer or, for an entrée, the Chairmans Cut pork chop with squash spaetzle, Jonathan apple, roasted chestnut, and parsnips.
West coast wines: The West Coast wine list features the best from California, Oregon, and Washington. Knowledgeable waitstaff will expertly guide you to a good match for your meal.
2086 Allston Way, (510) 225-6055, five-berkeley.com.
»» Husband-and-wife team Christopher and Veronica Laramie are perfecting their avant-garde tasting menu at the sleek black-and-white decorated Eve. Plates are small but complex and surprising, with some dishes layering five distinct flavors into one harmonious bite. The chefs often deliver and explain each dish.
Sous Vide Style: Check out any meats or fish prepared sous vide—placed in an airtight container then slow cooked in a water bath. Our lamb was dusted with hazelnuts and served with dates and a savory oatmeal risotto.
Outdoor Digs: The garden patio out back comes complete with umbrella-shaded tables, wood benches, and rose bushes.
1960 University Ave., (510) 868-0735, eve-berkeley.com.
»» Executive Chef Sean Baker is threatening to make vegans out of all of us with his creative, sophisticated shoot-to-root cooking. There are plenty of well-crafted meat dishes and dairy accents on the menu, too, but Gather really shines when it comes to making the most of local, seasonal, organic produce—all sourced from within 300 miles of the restaurant.
Vegan delights: The popular vegan charcuterie consists of five mini dishes that vary with the seasons. Ours included roasted carnival squash with sunchoke-cashew-bay leaf sauce, minutely sliced pear carpaccio with smoked persimmon-celery root salsa, and grilled watermelon radish with horseradish salsa verde.
Green Stuff: The locally sourced furniture and light fixtures are made from recycled bleachers, water towers, belts, vodka bottles, and fish nets.
2200 Oxford St., (510) 809-0400, gatherrestaurant.com.
»» After traveling through Japan and then cooking for izakaya restaurants stateside, Christian Geideman returned to his Berkeley hometown to open Ippuku—in the exact same spot where he once lost a wallet full of cash. The Japanese small-plates eatery specializes in grilled charcoal meats and shochu, with nearly 50 varieties of the distilled rice, barley, or potato liquor.
Chicken Sushi: Sasami ume—grilled chicken breast seared on the outside, raw (yes, raw) on the inside, with your choice of shochu on the rocks.
Spare Setting: The minimalist decor includes unfinished wood booths or traditional kotatsu tables with blue pillows, lighted by fixtures covered with empty shochu bottles.
2130 Center St., (510) 665-1969, ippukuberkeley.com.
»» Slow is the anti–fast food restaurant. Though counter service is quick with no frills, the food on your tray has likely been slow roasted for several hours. Chef Kyle Anderson invests his resources on quality meats and produce, not fancy china or white tablecloths. So you can eat braised short ribs for $13 instead of $27.
Comfort Food: Try the seasonal pizza—our Margherita flatbread with veggies and feta on a puff pastry was great—or a house-made iced tea or lemonade, with a scoop of fresh diced fruit in the bottom of your cup.
Cool Cups: In a nice Berkeley touch, what look like plastic forks, knives, and cups are all 100 percent biodegradable.
1966 University Ave., (510) 647-3663, slowberkeley.com.
»» Amy Murray, who also owns Venus restaurant, is at the helm of the new Revival Bar and Kitchen, a farm-to-table modern California bistro with turn-of-the-century styling. Early dinners and late-night snacks are perfect for theatergoers.
Pig Out: The menu is highly seasonal, but the trout is a flavorful constant. Also, look out for the mixed pig plate, consisting of stuffed pork tenderloin, tender pork shoulder, pork belly, and sausage served with scalloped potatoes, green beans, and pickled peaches.
Classic Cocktails: The artisan, seasonal cocktail menu features classics such as the bourbon and orange tea liquor Farmer Jane, the gin and Chartreuse Bijou, and the rye and absinthe Sazerac.
2102 Shattuck Ave., (510) 549-9950, revivalbarandkitchen.com. ■