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Two of my friends asked me recently when I would blog about food again. I guess it has been a couple of months since I did that--and I've had some good meals recently, too.

For instance, this weekend, I was in Berkeley visiting friends and doing research. Saturday night I had dinner at Zatar with Ben and Gigi. I told them I would cry if we didn't order hummus, so we did; the waitress teased us for licking the plate clean. We also shared the summer vegetable tagine which was out of this world and a chicken special in phyllo. Both main dishes contained the unexpected taste of cinnamon.

Then, yesterday morning I went with Jonathan to Brown Sugar Kitchen, a soul food restaurant in Oakland. I refused to have the unnatural combination of chicken and waffles. I'm sorry, there are some things that just shouldn't touch on a plate. The egg pie with veggies and mushrooms was delicious, though. I also liked their t-shirt with a waffle on it (though at first glance it could have been brains).

Both restaurants feature local, organic food--both have attractive interiors, both were packed, and in both I was in the company of good conversationalists.

I think I'm collecting restaurants I love in the Bay area . . . and I just added two more to the list. Happily, I'll be returning in a couple of weeks to attend the wedding of Steve and Rex. This time I'll try to remember to take pictures.

Zatar Restaurant
1981 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California

Brown Sugar Kitchen
2534 Mandela Parkway
Oakland, California
510-839-SOUL (7685)

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Last week I was in Berkeley for several days, working as a reviewer for the National Writing Project's Continued Funding Applications. This event was so well thought out--new reviewers were supported and mentored through the process of reading and writing responses to each site's CFA. Leaders emphasized the need to give feedback that would help each site to accentuate their strengths and follow the model of putting teacher expertise at the center of all we do. I have come to love all things NWP; I love spending time with positive, good hearted people who engage with current research about teaching writing and who are committed to making education better.

This post, then, is for some new friends that were intrigued when they found out that I like to blog about food. Kim and Amy had never heard of food blogs and were bemused when they found out that I have one (oooh, I guess "had" since this blog includes a little bit of everything). Anyway, here goes.

Berkeley has so many wonderful, organic restaurants. Since NWP provided food for breakfast, lunch, and one dinner, I only had time to fit in a few meals out. My first stop when I hit Oakland was Burma Superstar. I ordered "The Lunch;" the tea leaf salad wasn't as good as it usually is, but the samusa soup was so rich and flavorful--and the combination of chunks of samusa and falafel with cabbage created a nice depth to the soup.

After a long day's work, Friday night a group of us went to Venus, a restaurant that my friends Alex and Kyle recommended. I loved the interior of the restaurant which felt cozy and warm. My meal was good, but not great. I ordered short ribs, which were a bit too fatty though I liked the gremolata on top. I was much more enamored of the mashed yellow finns (potatoes), parsnips, and kale underneath the meat.

The real stand out of the meal for me was the toffee pudding which was rich and decadent with its topping of coriander cream. I shared with everyone, but the pudding was so rich that I still had more than enough.

Saturday night, my wonderful table leader Karen invited us to dinner. Her friend Pat really loves Five at the Hotel Shattuck, so that's where we ate. I decided to order the stuffed pepper and, oh, was it good! Filled with a combination of "ancient grains," pistachios and spinach and topped with ricotta cheese and romesco sauce, the stuffed pepper had a wonderful texture that was both chewy and silky smooth. I've never been a fan of stuffed peppers, but I am now. This meal was by far the best one of the trip.

To end my Berkeley food experiences, Joanne and I ate at Karma Kitchen (which runs out of the Taste of Himalayas restaurant on Sundays). My meal there was just average, but I loved the concept. Here's their description: "Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: 'Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you.'" A sense of giving permeated the restaurant, both from the volunteers who waited tables and the diners who felt part of a transitory community of givers. As I paid the check, I didn't care how much the food was worth, I just wanted to make sure this tradition continued.

As I drove home Sunday afternoon, I felt a glorious sense of well being. I suppose the beautiful weather and good food contributed to that feeling, but I also felt a sense of work well done and joyous camaraderie with like-minded people.

Burma Superstar
4721 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
510 652-2900

Venus
2327 Shattuck
Berkeley, CA
510-540-5950

Five
2086 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA
510-225-6055

Karma Kitchen/Taste of Himalayas
1700 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA