Since it's the time of year I celebrate my birthday by eating out with different groups of friends and relations, I thought I would write up a little report on those restaurants.
Flora, in downtown Oakland, is a relatively new restaurant by the folks behind Dona Tomas. It was just listed as one of the top 10 new restaurants of the San Francisco Bay area by the San Francisco Chronicle. The menu (and cocktails) were inventive, the food was great and I really liked how most dishes came with lots of greens and other vegetables, many with vegetable or herb-based sauces as well. My sweetbreads appetizer came atop a potato and Brussels sprouts base that I seriously considered writing poetry about. Our service was a little erratic and the ambiance is on the casual side. It's a bit noisy. Flora is in the old floral depot and its owners preserved the wonderful blue tile exterior. I can't find a website for Flora, but here's the link to the Chronicle article and reviews.
Herbivore in Berkeley is kind of an upscale, vegan diner. Prices are reasonable and portions are large. My vegetables in red curry with brown rice felt virtuous and was tasty. I was less impressed by my companions' watery pasta and sauce or pedestrian looking portobello mushroom sandwich. However, the menu has international flare, the dining room, while not exactly charming, was not charmless. I'd go again just for the giant appetizer plate of roasted and grilled vegetables with a trio of dipping sauces. There are also two locations in San Francisco.
Vik's Chaat House in Berkeley is an old favorite that never fails to please me. My friend Mona helped me decipher the menu and the specials. One new dish to me was Pav Bhaji, a Bombay street food speciality made with vegetables and lots of ginger and served with grilled or toasted bread.
Last but not least, I ate at Lalime's in Berkeley, an old favorite I have eaten at for more than 20 years. The food, as usual, was impeccably prepared, but the plating was dull after all the color and zing of Flora's. Service was exquisite. The highlight of the meal was the dessert. We ordered two to share and although they were not particularly exotic (chocolate fondant cake and vanilla creme brulee), the presentations were unexpected. The cake (the kind with the "lava" liquid center) came on a plate with a small scoop of caramel/brown sugar tasting ice cream, a shot glass of custard topped with fresh whipped cream and a large chocolate frill. The plate also had a golden "loop" of sugar candy. The creme brulee came with three perfect little cookies -- a meringue, a citrusy tasting French macaroon, and a butter cookie.
A special thanks to Jody, Art, Gary, Seth, Mark, Karen, Mona, Noah and Leora for helping me celebrate my birthday.
Please note: I don't "do" restaurant reviews, I just write about my experiences. I feel to do a true review requires multiple visits and a more varied tasting of the menu than I do. If you have had a different experience than I did, you probably went on a different night or ordered differently. Want to share your thoughts about these restaurants? Please leave a comment below.