Downtown Berkeley are these two-faced blocks between Shattuck Avenue and Fulton Street. Facing Shattuck, they are adorned with picturesque lamp posts, shops and pubs, neon signs casting shadows of hustling pedestrians and huddling homeless men. Facing Fulton, they quietly gaze at the lush green west end of campus through glass windows of modern apartments. The quiescence called for some gathering, and Gather burgeoned.
It gleams with efficiency and environmental awareness. All ingredients are bought from local farmers. Seats are made with used suede and leather belts, candle covers are rolled up wine menus, diners and waiters respect the intimate spacing between tables, and food was served within a few minutes of placing an order, but not without intricacy.
Starting with the vegan charcuterie:
Clockwise from top left:1. (Yellow, red, and purple) beet tartare on horseradish almond puree, topped with arugula flowers; 2. Baby potato celeriac salad dressed with olive sauce, served on “marrow” bean puree; 3. Braised mushroom bruschetta on sunchoke puree, adorned with leek fondue; 4. Bread; 5. Roasted “graffiti” cauliflower on almond pepper puree and a vegan “aioli” touch; 6. Roasted purple haze carrots, pea tendrils, and Jerusalem artichokes on cashew ricotta.
Surely you can tell from the picture that 3 and 6 were my favorites. The cashew ricotta was best among the five bases. The cauliflower had an odd hint of Indian food, or Mexican according to Mudpie. The bread was airy, chewy, and crunchy. The finely chopped beet tartare was plain, refreshing and texturally amusing. The flowers were earthy like all flowers you ever chew.
As soon as we used up the last piece of bread to wipe clean those tasty purees, our large plate rushed to the table. They call it the seared fava leaf chickpea cake, one of the restaurant’s new and proud assemblies. We daintily shared two mushy, tofu-like wedges with hidden leaves, lots of vallarta beans, tender baby artichokes, and crunchy frisee bathed in caramelized funnel rosemary vinaigrette.
Then we washed it down with a scoop of saffron tangelo sorbet, a clever mix most resembling of citrus seeds or grape seeds. Doesn’t one scoop seem too few?
That might just have been my only complaint about Gather. Its careful measure in both the source and the product of taste makes it lovely and fashionable. Gather was gratifying. But was Gather amazing? It’s hard to strip meat off the meal, there’s something in the condensed texture of muscle and the fatty taste of skin that makes vegan dining similar to black and white food photography. Now, the aesthetically appeasing B&W photographs are regaining popularity.
Gather Restaurant in Berkeley
2200 Oxford St. (at the corner with Allston, where Fulton becomes Oxford)
Berkeley, CA 94704