Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Return to Gather in Berkeley

This is an occasional report on return visits to restaurants that I’ve already reviewed.

When You Need to Get Your Veggies Fix
2200 Oxford St. (at Allston), Berkeley
PH: 510.809.0400
Open for weekday lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner nightly, 5 to 10 p.m.; and weekend brunch, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Original visit: March 2010

During my Mom’s and sister’s visit this past weekend, you know we ate day and night. Some of my choosing. Some suggested by other relatives. One thing’s for sure, I don’t want to eat out anymore. (OK, I exaggerate.)

I don’t know how restaurant critics go out every night. The rich dishes of some of the places we tried was really weighing on me by the end of their visit, so when my sister said we could go somewhere non-Chinese, I suggested the lighter fare of Gather Restaurant in Berkeley’s David Brower Center.

Gather is known for its seasonal and organic ingredients, sustainable cooking, and emphasis on vegetarian dishes (although it’s not strictly a vegetarian spot). I thought the vegetable dishes would help us balance the days of carnivores gorging.

We started off with restaurant’s signature vegan “charcuterie” plate ($16), which I remember to be a beautiful display of vegetable creations on a wooden plank. Like the last time, the tray had too many items to get all into one shot, so I had to shoot the plate in pieces.

Because Gather’s menu changes by the season, so do the charcuterie plate’s featured items. None of the items were on the platter I tried during my first visit. This time around there was a tofu skin “sausage” with pepper cashew “cheese” and pickled frigitellos, carpaccio of heirloom tomato with Puglian cucumber and tonnato sauce, compressed watermelon steak with smoked Canary melon lardo and nepitella, mushroom tartare with horseradish salsa verde and porcini oil, Sicilian infant eggplant, Jimmy Nardellos, and an entire roasted garlic bulb.

My Mom was a trooper in trying some of the items, but she didn’t find anything enjoyable. The cucumber with the tomato carpaccio was too tart, the watermelon too sweet, and the Sicilian eggplant bland. She did like the mushroom tartar that we used to spread on the toasted bread (it looked like caviar). I actually agreed that this round of the charcuterie was not as enticing as earlier this year. The tofu sausage was a bit tough to eat, and everything was bathed in olive oil. But I did like the watermelon and Jimmy Nardellos Italian pepper.

During my first visit, I was too full of pizzas at the time to try Gather’s version. But this time we went for the pizza, and not just one but two. The first is a special for the day (and because it’s a special, it’s not listed on the menu so I forgot the ingredients, but it was primarily a braised meat with cheese).

Gather’s pizza is in between a thin crispy crust and a thick crust pizza. So the crust is thin but not crispy but more doughy. I enjoyed the savory flavors of the special pizza, and the bubble edge of the crust was like eating puff pastry.

My sister wanted to try the Knoll Farms fig pizza ($18), which came out looking like a garden because of the bed of brilliant green arugula on top. Underneath all the greens were the sweet figs. I wasn’t a fan of this pizza because the figs were too sweet, so it was like eating dessert, but my Mom actually said she liked it.

We also ordered a couple of large plates to share, including the whole roasted sardines, which were four Monterey sardines topped with a heaping serving of breadcrumbs. The sardines were cooked perfectly, and I really enjoyed the braised shelling beans underneath.

But I think the star of the night was the Barbecued Young Chicken ($19.50) because it was perfectly cooked tender and served with a refreshing and bright summer panzanella salad of green beans, lemon cucumbers, and toasted bread. Everyone enjoyed the chicken and I especially enjoyed the salad.

We capped off our night with some desserts. My sister ordered the home-made frozen yogurt ($3), which was nectarine flavor with a pretty orange-pink hue. During my first visit a plum sorbet was too tart, but this nectarine yogurt was actually just right.

I went for the Scarlett Royal grape trifle ($8.50). As some of you know, a trifle is an English dessert with layered cake, cream and fruits. Gather’s version is a rustic layering of cashew cake, verbena mascarpone whipped cream and slices of the fresh grape. Adding a nice crunch was the bits of pine nut brittle that my Mom thought was too sweet. I agree, but I looked past it because of the nice crunch it gave to the overall dessert.

In my first visit, I talked about the service being a bit awkward, seeming like everyone was new and getting his or her feet wet. More than six months later, it still seems like the servers are finding their groove. While they were pleasant, they lacked the enthusiasm or friendliness at other professionally run restaurants. For example, our server welcomed us at the table but not once told us her name. Then she passed us off to another server because her shift was ending. Some of the other servers weren’t exactly sure of ingredients when we asked. Again, they were all pleasant, but still a bit rough around the edges.

You can guess my Mom, who primarily eats Hong Kong-style Chinese food, weren’t impressed. My sister and I welcomed the respite from the heavy dishes, but I did feel the limited seasonal menu has yet to find some true winners.

Update experience (previously 3.25 stars): Haven’t been able to progress much since opening, so stuck at 3.25 stars.

Gather on Urbanspoon


Nate @ House of Annie said...

Beautiful and delicious dishes! I really want to try that sardines dish.

I know what it's like, trying to please a mom's tastes while also not getting overloaded with Chinese food. It's not easy. But sometimes you just have to please yourself.

julieako said...

I never order chicken, because I find it hard to eat (bones!, but this one looks yummy. What part was it?

Single Guy Ben said...

Julie, the chicken was half a chicken, so it actually was a lot of breast and then some wing and thigh. Nice mix of white and dark meat.

Jenster said...

It's interesting that you brought your mom here. Whenever my Chinese parents visit us in Seattle, they primarily want to eat Chinese food (and then complain that it's not as good as what they can get back in Hawaii or in the Bay Area, where they visit relatives often) or seafood. I'm happy to eat seafood but all that Chinese food does get a bit heavy sometimes.

I thought the fig pizza looked beautiful, with all those greens on top. I'm not big on meat pizzas and prefer them with vegetarian toppings instead. In fact, I like to reheat leftover pizza at home with some fresh mushrooms or spinach added on top.

Ben, I'm enjoying your food photography. Sometimes I feel as is I could reach out and take a big bite out of some of those photos!

foodhoe said...

hmmm, too bad the charcuterie plate sounded interesting, I would have thought the summer selections would be more interesting. The pizza crust sounds good and I just love chicken and panzanella salad. It sounds worth going back to.

PMiller said...

I really don't think it is necessary for servers to introduce themselves with their names. It used to be the norm but it is no longer the case. Why should they? We, the diners, usually don't give our servers our names. However, servers should know what is in each dish and how the dish was prepared.

Anonymous said...

It looks like you're snapping the (great, BTW) photos as the dishes arrive. Yes? Doesn't this kinda scream "I might be reviewing this restaurant on-line soon"?

I started to wonder if that would compromise your review, except that it obviously didn't improve your service much here!

Just curious...

Single Guy Ben said...

PMiller, I think it's nice to get the name of the server because if you ever need something and you want to ask for him/her, it's nicer to ask for the person by name than to say "oh, that lady with the curly hair over there."

Anonymous, I snap the photos after the servers leave the table, which annoys my mom because she wants to jump right in and eat the dish. I think so many people are snapping photos these days at restaurants that servers don't give it a second thought. They probably think I'm a Yelper. I never find that I get better service, but sometimes the restaurant manager might swing by to ask how things are going. But no special treatment.