Thursday, December 23, 2010

36 Hours in Berkeley, Calif.

This week I found myself in Berkeley with a day and a half to kill between my family visit to Los Angeles and the start of the Hazon Food Conference in Sonoma County. I love the Bay Area but hadn’t spent much time in East Bay and was told that was the place to be if there was a chance of seeing sun. After weeks of rain, first in Seattle, then Durham, then Los Angeles, I would settle for partly cloudy skies.

Berkeley didn’t disappoint. From the moment I arrived not a drop of rain hit my head, though it did precipitate while I slept through the night. Armed with an empty belly, a few personal agenda items and a yoga mat, I made the most of my time in this foodie haven.


6 p.m.


After sitting through rain-induced flight delays at LAX and a (quick) flight to SFO I was ready to make use of the yoga mat I was lugging around California. To be fair, Leigh and I had experienced three different yoga instructors in the week I spent in Santa Monica. But to make it worthwhile I was determined to get in as much yoga as possible. I found Yoga Mandala, a studio nearby, and popped into a Vinyasa 2-3 class, a bit more advanced than I’m used to. The instructor was fantastic and made fun of us wannabe yogis in a sarcastic manner that I was not used to but it made me laugh and helped me get through the class. I felt long and limber when I left and purchased a beginner pass that would entitle me to 3 classes altogether, for a total of $30.

8 p.m.


After yoga I was fairly hungry and it seemed appropriate to get some Indian food. I was tired too so I decided to stay local and walked to Royal Indian Cuisine. I’d planned to sit there but was a bit intimidated when I saw no other patrons and all of the owners and wait staff standing by the door. So I asked if they offered takeout and placed an order. I’d forgotten how much I loved Indian takeout, how it had been part of an old routine I’d developed in NYU. But when I tasted my dish I remembered the disadvantage to takeout – you can’t send your meal back when it’s too spicy.

10 p.m.


While working on my presentation for the food conference I logged in to my boyfriend’s Netflix account to watch Julie & Julia, the mediocre movie based on the poorly written book based on the clever blog that I’d read years ago. The story of two strong and determined women who cook their way to personal, professional and financial success and freedom seemed like an inspired selection.


9 a.m.


With less than two days to use a 3-class yoga pass I was determined to start my day with another stretching session at Yoga Mandala. This class, taught by the pregnant studio owner, was much more forgiving and involved a good deal of relaxation. I left invigorated and ready to start my day.

11 a.m.


Though my time in Berkeley did not coincide with a farmer’s market day, I was excited to experience Berkeley Bowl. I satisfied my supermarket fetish by spending nearly an hour wandering up and down every single aisle, drooling over the produce displays, gawking at row after row of bulk bins and ended up purchasing far more than I could ever eat in the next few days.

3 p.m.


After a few hours of working on my conference materials, I put on my running shoes and headed toward UC Berkeley. The campus was fairly quiet since it was winter break and I imagine running there might be more challenging when classes are in session. I made my way up the hill toward the stadium, which was under construction and completely gutted with only a few random chairs remaining. From there I enjoyed a clear view of downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County.

4 p.m.


When I run in unfamiliar places I always take a credit card in case of emergency. Or in case I find some funky shoes on sale, as I happened on this particular day. Trying on the black and white T-strapped heels while wearing my running shorts accentuated how lengthy my legs could look in high-heeled shoes, which I hardly ever wear. But since I would be starting a clinic shift in just under two weeks I rationalized that this pair would be highly functional and far more professional looking than most of my shoes. I then continued my way back to the hotel but got distracted by Moe’s Books where I giddily basked in the used books section before making a few pointed purchases.

6 p.m.


After a quick shower I headed out to the Gourmet Ghetto, as North Berkeley is known, to see what all the fuss was about. I followed my nose right into The Cheese Board Cooperative, where the live music was only outdone by the enticing aroma of their signature pizza. I continued up Shattuck Avenue and was amused by the awning that asked “What Are You Grateful For?” I’d read about Café Gratitude, which reminded me of my beloved Chaco Canyon Café, though infinitely more laughable with menu items such as "I Am Thriving" and "I Am Sensational." If I’d had more time I would’ve eaten there but instead I headed toward Chez Panisse to read the day’s menu, an impressive literary if not culinary feat. I stopped for gelato at Lush in the Epicurious Garden and made my way down to a copy center where I printed my conference papers.

8 p.m.


I put my name on this list at Gather, a seasonal and “thoughtful” restaurant catering to both vegetarians and omnivores. With an eye-catching design and a central location, Gather is perfectly poised to appeal to everyone – which it clearly does, given the 45 minute wait for a table on a Wednesday night. Flying solo, I opted for a seat at the bar and read over the menu to learn that Gather offers gourmet dining without the pretension of other foodie establishments. I started with a glass of Syrah and then, on a whim, I ordered the Vegan “charcuterie” and it was truly a revelation, and the first time I understood how one could be completely satisfied – though far from full - with a relatively small portion of food. I did not want another taste to cross my palate, lest I lose the rich, deep flavor of the meal that had preceded. Satiated and content I walked back to my hotel and contemplated another movie. In keeping with the theme of the day, perhaps Big Night?

12 a.m.


I spent the evening catching up on phone calls, emails and blogging. Tomorrow morning I plan to take a third yoga class. Then pack and catch my ride up to Petaluma, where I will be out of contact until late on Sunday. Hopefully next time I will have more than just 36 hours to spend here. There are many more delectable meals to be enjoyed.

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