Snacking around in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto

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I don’t make trips out to Berkeley often, but when I do, I make sure to visit at least one restaurant or bakery to make my trip worthwhile.  Which is exactly what I did when I dropped by the city to fill up before seeing an evening play that Anne directed.  This time, I wandered off into the Gourmet Ghetto in search of victuals and ended up at two of Berkeley’s most well-known spots that anyone who has eked out their last four (or three in my case) years of their life should have been to.  Now, I can proudly say I’ve visited Cheese Board for pizza and Grégoire for potato puffs.

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Grégoire is a tiny French restaurant that consists of a narrow counter table overlooking the open kitchen where cooks bend over massive steel pots and pans to create mouthwatering sandwiches, quiches, and stews.  Attached to the walls outside are two small wooden tables and benches for seating.  Not wanting to smell like a BBQ festival after I eat my crispy potato puffs, I opted to share a table outside with some other girls.  The weather was too cheerful to coop up inside anyways.

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Nine potato puffs the size of irregularly large golf balls arrived in their signature box.

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The batter was extremely thin and crunchy, and when I bit into the puff, I could literally see the steam rise up.  The inside was buttery and light, the texture as soft as air and just as readily dissolved in the mouth.  The tangy aioli sauce was rich and creamy, which helped to tone down the saltiness of the potatoes.  My only complaint was that they were just a tad too salty, but it would probably have been perfect with a glass of cold beer.  The entire box was super filling, so I took my time polishing them off while listening to kitchen chatter and watching the cooks grill fresh asparagus and salmon for the other customers.

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My next stop was Cheese Board, which arguably serves the best pizza in all of Berkeley. Their menu varies every day and they serve only one type of vegetarian pizza each day, much like Sliver’s.  Perhaps because it wasn’t dinner time yet, but I somehow was able to avoid the famed queue out the door when I got there.

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Today’s pizza was asparagus tips with mozzarella and French Ossau Iraty cheese topped with arugula and snap peas tossed in lemon vinaigrette.  A pang of dismay hit me because I didn’t like asparagus, but I decide to have a slice anyways to test out if Cheeseboard stood up to its reputation.  I take a bottle of Bernie’s Best Organic Apple Cider too just in case the pizza was too salty.

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It was love at first bite.  I ate the extra slice Cheese Board serves as a lagniappe plain before adding the pesto sauce to the other one.  The asparagus was crisp and flavorful, and it made me rethink about eating the vegetable.  The cheese was hot and stringy, but surprisingly not too greasy.  My favorite part was the thin crust, whose interior is a little spongy like bread, yet crunchy on the outside.  The salad of arugula and snap peas added a nutty and tangy crunch, which was very refreshing when paired with its richer parts.

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I can’t say I loved the pesto sauce I added to the next slice, which is sour, oily, and a little spicy that tickles the roof of the mouth.  But I’m glad I tried it out.

My apple cider was more like apple juice, except it was a lot less sweet, which made it perfect for enjoying with pizza.  And perhaps any other meal.  By the time I was halfway through my pizza, I could see a queue forming out the door, which only seemed to get longer with each passing minute.

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I whittled down the rest of my pizza while listening to the live band jamming away soulful tunes across from me, watching a lady rocking her knee-high purple boots to the deep rhythm of the bass, glad to know I got here before the line.  When I got up to leave, I was deliciously full and ready to walk back to campus to see my friend’s play.

-Cynthia

Grégoire
2109 Cedar Street
Berkeley, CA 94709

http://www.gregoirerestaurant.com

Cheese Board Collective
1512 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709

http://www.cheeseboardcollective.coop

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