Photography by Yuri Krasov
If Berkeley is not making headlines by blocking a navy recruiter‘s office, nude-sitting on trees designated for removal, or protesting against tuition hikes with a siege of a faculty building, it quietly lives its rather comfortable life. Consider a relaxing weekend in Berkeley expressed in its new motto, Come for the Culture Stay for the Food. Enjoy what farmer’s market entrepreneurs, creative restaurant chefs, and hotel designers offer for visitors in this world-famous university town. Spending a couple of days in Berkeley can turn into a rewarding and educational experience.
My glorious weekend in Berkeley began at the newly renovated Hotel Shattuck Plaza (hotelshattuckplaza.com) designed by Ziv Davis team and owned by BPR properties (bprproperties.com, started by B.B. Patel more than 35 years ago).
A bold statement made by a peace sign at the entrance, right on the Carrara marble floor; a decadent red glass chandelier, and dramatic black and white columns throughout the lobby were all part of a site-specific design, also defined by feverishly bright wallpaper and carpeting in clashing colors and patterns. Moderately toned rooms and suites welcomed travelers with serene beds and squeaky clean white marble-clad bathrooms. A top floor meeting room opened to a rooftop sunset view…
Saturday morning started with a farmer’s market (ecologycenter.org), brimming with then seasonal apples and pears, homemade cheeses and Saint Benoit yogurt, Hog Island oysters, and Blue Bottle Coffee. Scott Howard, Executive Chef of Five Modern American Bistro and Bar located in the Hotel (five-berkeley.com), took us, a small group of inquisitive reporters, on his market walk. He picked Warren Pears for salad, kale for a roasted halibut course, and sucrine du berry squash for a decadent soup.
That night, we indulged in Chef Scott’s haute cuisine, but not before we experienced some street-friendly food options on a Gourmet Ghetto Culinary Tour (gourmetghetto.org). Two Israel kibbutz-inspired collectives still thrive here, four decades after their inception – The Cheese Board (cheeseboardcollective.coop) and Juice Bar (thejuicebar.org). Berkeley residents and visitors alike queue around the block for the Cheese Board famous pizza and for Juice Bar‘s delectable vegetarian fair. All decisions are made collectively here; there are no managers to oversee the conscientious workers; everybody has health insurance, and no one was laid off in the worst economic times… an [otherwise unattainable] communist ideal in addition to highly marketable capitalist quality of the product!
Another historical institution – Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen – forty years and counting of succulent brisket pastrami, velvety chopped liver, celery seed soda, and other Jewish deli gems (saulsdeli.com) is packed every day of the week, but well worth a trip. The original Peet’s Coffee & Tea (peets.com) was also founded in Berkeley in 1966 by Alfred Peet of Holland whose quiet coffee revolution is now preserved and presented in his memorial room here.
On the same tour, we stopped at Vintage Berkeley Winery (vintageberkeley.com) where good wines from all over the world are priced at $25 or less, and where a bathtub filled with champagne acquired a whole new meaning. We tried Tasmanian honey and habanero flavored truffles at Alegio Chocolate (alegio.com), and picked through lemon, strawberry, and pumpkin cupcakes at Love at First Bite Cupcakery (loveatfirstbitebakery.com).
The last but not least on our way was Gregoire, serving addictive potato puffs with daily changing sauces and founded by M. Gregoire Jacquet. Legend has it that a Michelin-starred restaurateur once tired of white tablecloth and waiters in tuxes and thus opened a couple of madly popular locations of his namesake take-out (gregoirerestaurant.com).
Our Sunday brunch was served at Skates on the Bay (skatesonthebay.com), complete with a spectacular view of the Berkeley Marina. House-baked bread, pastries, and flaky croissants preceded frittatas, huevos, and omelets, as well as delectable buckwheat blinis. Next, we embarked on a tour of Trumer Pils Brewery (trimerbrauerei.com) led by lead brewer Jeff Eaton. First opened in Salzburg in 1601, the brand made a smooth transition to Berkeley in 2004, and started winning away gold medals at World Beer Cups year after year.
Should you have some underage individuals in your party on your Berkeley adventure, Lawrence Hall of Science (lawrencehallofscience.org) is a must; however, anyone would turn into a child in this amazing place of hands-on science and up-close discoveries, where you can study the dynamics of an earthquake, Forces that Shaped the Bay (an outdoor exhibit opened in 2003) or pet a live and possibly venomous snake.
Another great place to visit with a family or on your own – University of California at Berkeley Botanical Gardens (botanicalgardenberkeley.edu) – the oldest in the U.S. started in 1890. Bask in the sun in the midst of South American of African shrubbery; marvel at monkey puzzle tree, or study nicotiana cordifolia – a tobacco plant, once seriously considered for hybridization and spreading in California.