Wednesday, November 2, 2011

E is for: Edible Education 101 {& Gather Restaurant Review}

Last night, my friend Kim and I had the opportunity to attend a lecture in Berkeley called Edible Education 101. It's a credited course for Cal students, but they also reserve seats for the general public, which is pretty cool. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame spoke about her project, The Edible Schoolyard, which is aimed at transforming the health and values of kids by sharing a food curriculum in the school system.

For those of you who don't know about Alice Waters, she is considered a pioneer for starting the slow food movement, which maintains that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally. Basically, it's the philosophy used by just about every great restaurant in the Bay Area these days. (And most other places for that matter.)

After the lecture, we decided what better way to celebrate this concept than to check out one of the hottest new restaurants in Berkeley which is the epitome of this philosophy, Gather. All of the ingredients...from the vegetables to the meats to the wine are organic and local. Their menu is constantly changing to reflect the freshest ingredients of each season. Even the liquor they use for their cocktails is organic. (We sampled a few of these concoctions, and they were all fabulous).

Full disclosure: Gather is part of my friend Kim's company, Back to Earth Catering, so they treated us very well on our visit. But I can honestly say that regardless of her affiliation with the restaurant, it was one of the best meals I've experienced in a very long time.

One of the coolest things about Gather is that almost everything in the space has a story and almost al of it is reclaimed or re-purposed in some way. For example...see those lights hanging above the bar? They are actually recycled Square One vodka bottles. The benches in the dining room are made out of leather belts from local thrift stores and old bleachers from a nearby high school are now beams and tables.

Sean Baker is the executive chef and co-owner of Gather. If Alice Waters is that respected, regal Aunt in the family...then Sean Baker is sort of like that cool, edgy cousin you always look up to. He was generous enough to send over a couple of dishes in addition to the bounty of food we ordered on our own. The plate on the left is Monterrey Bay Squid with avocado, sesame, seaweed, and Fresno chili. It was excellent. My mouth is watering just writing about it.

The one on the right is crispy cardoons with frisee, chopped duck egg, pancetta, and aioli. It was so good that we got halfway through it before I remembered to snap a photo. In case you were wondering what cardoons are, (because I certainly wasn't familiar with them), they are in the thistle family, so they are similar in taste to an artichoke, but they grown in long stalks, sort of like celery.

As for what we actually ordered on our own...we started with this Kombu-cured local halibut with avocado, lemon leaf, and Esplette chilis. It was probably my least favorite out of everything we tried, but it was still very, very good. (Which tells you something about just how amazing all of the food was).

This is their signature dish...the Vegan "Charcuterie." It's vegan, so of course there's no actual meats or cheeses on the plate, but it is probably the most creative mixture of flavors, textures, and presentation that I've ever seen. If you go, you absolutely MUST get this dish.

From left to right: turnips with young Butternut squash, smoked persimmon and carrot. Up next: rutabaga, sweet potato, parsnips, and horseradish leaf salsa verde. Next was a beet tartare, Pugliese sel Otrantina pesto, and Desiree potato lardo. And finally, excotic mushrooms, Tonda Padana smoked tomato puree, carrot escabeche, and seaweed. (Don't worry, we googled half of this on our phones as we were eating it).

This one was Sean's take on a Romaine salad. But clearly it is unlike any Romaine salad you've ever fact, it will blow all of the other ones out of the water. It included roasted root vegetables, pear, a beet-black lentil vinaigrette, and creme fraiche...along with delicious fried garlic on top.

We got the guanciale pizza that also included young Potimarron (a French squash), Mareko Fana peppers, and mint. As you can see, we got an obscene amount of food, so we didn't finish all of the pizza, but I can tell you it was just as good cold today as it was hot out of the oven yesterday.

And even though we were so incredibly stuffed, we couldn't leave without ordering dessert. We got this chocolate budino with toasted fig leaf ice cream, braised cherries, and Sonoma salt with a little olive oil on the bottom. If I could only eat one dessert for the rest of my would be this one. was out of this world good. Even better than the Delfina panna cotta I recently had...and you know how much I enjoyed that.

Anyways, long story short...Gather is a great place to do exactly that. Gather. Gather with friends and get ready to have an amazing meal with ingredients gathered locally.

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