An icon in Berkeley.
Amod Chopra likes to joke that the arc of his family-owned Vik’s Chaat cafe and grocery in Berkeley is best symbolized by an old TV set.
When the original 200-square-foot cafe opened in 1989 at a time when few non-Asian-Indian-Americans were familiar with the tradition of chaat or snacks, his father, for whom the business is named, put a TV in the dining room.
In the beginning, when few customers came through the doors, Chopra remembers watching shows on that TV to while away the hours of boredom. But then something happened as word began to spread of the vibrant, chili-inflected, palate-popping puffs, crepes, breads and chutneys that could be enjoyed at bargain prices.
“We got busy. And we moved the TV to another room,” he recalls. “Then, when we got really busy, we got rid of the TV.”
That was then. This is now — when a startling 1,000 people or so dine here on a typical Saturday or Sunday.
Owner Amod Chopra, whose father Vik, started the business.
Some have been regulars since the beginning. It’s a good bet that for many, Vik’s was their first taste of Indian food beyond the requisite curries. What started out as a wholesale grocery still supplies the majority of Indian restaurants in the Bay Area today, too.
In my happy place at RT Rotisserie.
Dear Chefs Evan and Sarah Rich:
Please open an outpost of your RT Rotisserie in the South Bay or Peninsula. Pretty please.
Your Number One Fan, aka the Food Gal
If you have tried the roast chicken and fixings at RT Rotisserie in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, you’ll be tempted to implore chef-owners Evan and Sarah to open a branch in your hood, too. One taste is all it takes to find yourself swooning over what is the most glorious roasted chicken you’ll ever experience.
After all, these are the same chefs who own the newly minted Michelin-starred Rich Table in San Francisco.
Chef Evan Rich manning the rotisserie.
My husband and I ordered a veritable feast — and paid our tab though Chef Evan threw in a few extra dishes gratis — when we visited this more casual establishment recently. You order at the counter, then take a seat to have your food brought out to you when it’s ready.
Ginger cookie, Nutella brioche, and kouign-amann from Jane bakery.
On bustling Geary Street in San Francisco, a former KFC/Taco Bell hybrid has been transformed into something far sweeter.
Jane bakery opened its doors in December, producing glorious long, slow fermented loaves and fabulous flaky pastries in this former fast-food franchise spot.
This is the third outpost in the city for Jane, which is named for founder Amanda Michael’s now 18-year-old daughter.
A couple weeks ago, my friend Deborah and I were invited in as guests to sample some goodies on the menu.
You’ll find it hard to narrow down your choices here.
Michael, who grew up in San Francisco, once wrote reviews of computer hardware for a tech industry magazine. She hated it, and found solace in cooking. So much so that she went on to take classes at Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco. It wasn’t long before she turned her back on the tech writing to pursue pastry gigs working at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, and PlumpJack in Squaw Valley and San Francisco.
Mediterane (pistachio and almond) at Coletta Gelato.
It’s a familiar Bay Area story: Two guys in business school meet, hatch an idea, then launch the next big thing.
Only this time, it’s not the latest whiz-bang tech invention.
It’s dreamy gelato.
Antonio Massimini, 31, and Henri Waltenspühl, 28, met in business school in Milan, and soon realized they shared a passion for gelato. The next thing you know, both enrolled at Gelato University in Bologna. (Now, that’s where I’d like to get a PhD.)
After doing their research, they decided to open in San Francisco because they figured the city’s discriminating, gourmet palates would appreciate it. It also helped that Antonio had family in the Bay Area, and was familiar with the area.
Founders Antonio Massimini and Henri Waltenspühl beside a mural of Henri’s grandmother, for whom the shop is named.
The sweet mural on the garage.
In January, they opened their Coletta Gelato, a production plant and a retail shop on Harrison Street, where Ciao Bella used to make its gelato.
The whole duck confit at Cosme that takes four days to make.
When planning this trip to New York, one of the places highest on my list to dine was Cosme.
A couple of years ago, while attending the “Worlds of Flavor” conference at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone campus in St. Helena, I had a chance to try a little of Mexico City-chef Enrique Olvera’s innovative cuisine.
Ever since, I have been hooked. And craving more.
Complimentary purple tortillas and Marcona almond dip.
This is not your standard tacos and burritos taqueria. This sleek establishment is all about modern Mexican cuisine with star power. The prices reflect that. Yes, guacamole is $17 here. It’s a beautiful bowl of deeply rich smashed avocados strewn with micro herbs and served with huge purple tortilla chips that you break apart to scoop.
If you’re already balking at that price, then this isn’t the place for you. When you walk through the doors, you have to vanquish the notion that Mexican food has to be cheap in order to be worthwhile.