Let me first get this off my chest: I hate restaurants with low lighting (e.g., Burma Superstar and Bistro Liaison), red lights (e.g., Thanh Long and Mission Chinese), and yellow lights (Gather). Why can’t we have nice white neon lights? I don’t go there to film romantic dinner scenes or deal drugs under the table. I go there to eat food, I want to be able to see the true colors of what I’m eating, and I want to take good pictures of them. Is that really too much to ask?
Okay. On to the next business. A lot of people ask me what my favorite restaurant in Berkeley is. I can’t answer that. It’s like asking me who’s my favorite friend. But if you ask me where I would take someone out to dinner, I have a few cards to deal depending on what that person likes. If they like grilled meat and interesting food, I recommend Ippuku. If they’re vegetarian, I take them to Gather.
That said, unlike the consistently good Ippuku, Gather gives me ups and downs. My first experience with Gather in March 2010 was lovely (minus the terrible lighting). Subsequent visits were unmemorable, except for an oversized French toast that was way too sweet to finish even half. Just as I started to think meh another one bites the dust, Gather wows me with a few incredible dishes to prompt a write-up. That, and I think I should at least try to have some colored pictures of its food to complement my black-and-white review last time.
The seaweed that was paired with the fennel was of the Sargassum type, where a bite into the champagne-grape-like bubbles releases a burst of seashore flavor that did not belong. The purees are balanced and exceptional, with a floral hint of high-quality olive oil.
That reminds me, at Gather, bread and olive oil is available only upon request; of course, we requested, not just once but twice. The first time, our waiter brought us 4 slices, we finished it in a jiffy, the second time, he brought 8 slices. 😀 He was also incredibly patient when I asked “what gives the green color?”, “which one is the nukazuke?” and a dozen other questions. You know, the typical annoying foodie behavior.
This dish has everything I like: kampachi, squid ink, seaweed, citrus. The sea lettuce is mild and crunchy, the fish chewy, the squid ink, olive oil and lemon juice engage the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom in a harmonious dance in circle.
The design is a rocky shore with seaweed, fish and foam, I get that. But just because the plate depicts the sea, it doesn’t mean it should taste like the sea. The potato is too salty. The seaweed, once again, needs more prep work to tone down the seaside taste. But the lingcod filet was perfectly pan-fried, crispy on the outside and moist inside.
Of course, we wouldn’t go without desserts, and the desserts at Gather show a great deal of restraint: not too sweet, not too chocolatey to overwhelm the cardamom scent, not too tart either. I like that kind of balance. That night, my friend and I were most drawn by the sea lettuce smoked kampachi and the lingcod precisely because of their balance. Although Gather’s execution of seaweed left much to be desired, the “vegan charcuterie” also remained a reliable inspiration.
2200 Oxford Street
Berkeley CA 94704