Mondays are the toughest night to find a restaurant open for dinner. It’s even tougher for those with special diets, like vegan or gluten-free. Any diner, special diet or not, can rest easier knowing there is a delicious Mexican restaurant in the East Bay that caters to all clientele – AND it’s open on Monday nights! Picante in Berkeley is open seven days a week with extended hours on the weekends for brunch, so you’re bienvenido no matter what day it is.
August was recently working with some of her students on compound words, and manchamanteles is one of them. It’s a style of meat called “tablecloth stainer” because the sauce of the chicken will surely make the linens dingy. The tostada salad can come meatless and even gluten-free if you request it without the tostadas, even though it would no longer be a tostada salad if you didn’t have the fried tortillas; without the meat and tostadas, though, it would be one of the healthiest, most nutrient-packed items on the menu. We love our vegetarian friends, but for ourselves, we had to try the special manchamanteles. The sauce is made with a grilled pineapple red mole, so there was a deep earthiness from the array of chiles used, plus a mild sweetness from the caramelization of the pineapple. Chunky pico de gallo had its own tomato-based tangy acidity, and the cabbage also was faintly sweet. All together, those three elements on the sweet side fooled the palate into thinking it was a lighter meal than it really was. In reality, it was super filling and beyond satisfying. Fresh, crunchy greens, locally made Mexican-style cheese, and stewed and lightly spiced black beans completed this salad. There was enough going on that we didn’t need the dressing, but it added a delightfully fresh bite.
Ordering is done at the counter before you seat yourself, and we asked our cashier lady what she would recommend. August had already been eying the sopa de mariscos, so when the cashier said it was good, that finalized our decision. There was a little bit of heat, but it wasn’t uncomfortable (although it may be for the timid). At least the heat didn’t travel past the mouth, making our faces flush or throats burn. Beyond the heat, it was a very rich broth with intense seafood flavor, tangy tomato, and a slight buttery quality. Hunks of tender rockfish swam with lots of clams, mussels, and prawns, and it was a pleasant surprise that all the shellfish was very clean as well as fresh – prepared well, there was no hidden sand to grind our teeth. That would be an unwanted texture, while the carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes were cooked just right so that they retained a touch of their natural textures. With the fog coating this part of the Bay tonight, it was a wonderful way to warm up.
While ordering at the counter, we chanced an encounter with the manager, who offered us samples of different meats. They all tasted great, but the pork chile verde was one of the most impressive. It must have been intuition that that was the third item we ordered, before trying the meat samples. The pork was fork tender, almost to the point of melting in your mouth. Its sauce was made with tomatillo and Anaheim chile, marrying the flavors with the perfect balance to enhance the meat without overtaking the plate. On the side came rice cooked with tomato, garlic, onion, and mild spices, and Zach called it “spot on with flavors.” The pinto beans were both salty and smoky; the flavors were basic, but extremely well done for what they were. Between the beans, rice, and pork sauce, this dish required the use of tortillas for sopping. One of Picante’s claims to fame is their corn tortillas – GMO-free corn is used daily to make masa for the restaurant’s housemade tortillas.
The GMO-free corn goes into the tortillas as well as chips and masa for other dishes, so eat those corn-based items without worry. For diners who appreciate in-house, scratch cooking, this restaurant will meet or exceed your expectations. If you really love the food, catering is available for your next fiesta. Picante nos place and we bet you’ll be pleased, too.
Spenger’s is a landmark of Berkeley with a history spanning over a century, famous the world over for its seafood. Zach ate here often growing up, and not much has changed in nearly thirty years of his experiences. Some restaurants simply know how to please their customers and keep them coming back for generations with tried and true practices. In terms of service and attention, this restaurant shines like the Sather Tower campanile at night.
One of the favorite starters here is the spinach, crab, and Parmesan dip. It was extremely rich, creamy, and thick with a cheesy top that was nicely browned. There was an abundance of spinach and artichoke heart morsels to balance the shredded crab meat. The bread wedges were like a buttery flat bread, with a crispy exterior and fluffy center. It looked like a lot of bread at first for the amount of dip, but to savor the starter, just a little on each wedge went a long way.
August found it very challenging to make up her mind among three different entrees, their descriptions all sounded so good. She went with the salmon and mushroom sauté and was very happy with her selection. The shallot sherry cream was delicate and worked well to marry the salmon, mushrooms, and asparagus. Hunks of moist salmon were plentiful and substantial, not to be broken by the tender asparagus spear bits. The mushrooms brought an autumnal earthiness, and the rice helped to add another texture and sop up all the juicy remains.
Zach’s entree, the Captain’s Platter, had a selection of Spenger’s best seafood, fried. Oysters, fish filets, and “shrimp scatter” (a handful of bay shrimp) were turned into crisp, succulent morsels and nibbles. The shrimp were mildly sweet, and the crunchy panko breading did wonders for the oysters to offset their soft creamy insides. The flaky fish was perfect for dipping into sauces, including ketchup, tartar, and cocktail. Sweet, tangy, and creamy cole slaw with fresh vegetables provided a refreshing break between bites of fried goodness.
Chef Dan came out to meet us and present this masterful creation. Decadently rich dark chocolate was melted, painted, and cooled to make a “bag” into which sweet cream chantilly was loaded. On top of the chantilly and garnished all over were bright strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, some of them resting in stripes and swirls of chocolate sauce and strawberry syrup. Two waffle cone “chips” perched in the “bag,” but this was as far from snack food as we could get! To satisfy the post-dinner sweet tooth with something not too heavy, this refreshing dish does the trick.
Our server Emily was patient and professional with our every request. We hope that patrons sitting in other sections received service as good as ours. In reality, we’re fairly certain they did – what else could bring people back for 123 years? Food can be replicated, but experience never.
So much has changed on and around Telegraph south of the UC Berkeley campus. Alumni, no matter what year they graduated, often return to their stomping grounds and lament the losses of what used to be, of what college was like for them. College is a very personal experience, hence the uber strong feelings of nostalgia, but one thing that Cal students have all enjoyed for the last 35 years is Yogurt Park.
Despite the name, there is nothing “mini” about the flavors at Yogurt Park even when served in a mini cup. The frozen yogurt is so creamy and rich, even though it’s low fat (and there are occasionally non-fat varieties), so a mini cup should be enough to satisfy most sweet cravings. However, students and alumni familiar with the Freshmen 15 are likely well acquainted with the larger cup sizes. The crafty confection creators know just how to manipulate the frozen yogurt, even in a mini cup, to pack in the toppings. From candy crumbles to wheat germ, dozens of items provide texture and taste variance to make your treat fully customizable.
August got herself a mini cup with Ghirardelli chocolate frozen yogurt and Reese’s cup chunks, which is how she ordered at Yogurt Park almost every time as a student attending Cal. To show you what’s available, reader, Zach went for a waffle cone with vanilla frozen yogurt and Oreo crumbles. There are even milkshakes, but we came here for what put this place on the map.
Every day the frozen yogurt flavors cycle from over a dozen, with six on tap at all times. There is always at least one that is sugar-free (like tonight’s English toffee) in addition to the low-fat and non-fat, so there truly is something for everyone here. Plain or with toppings, it’s hard to go wrong with whatever you choose here. Thirty-five years is plenty of time to establish a well-founded reputation of quality.