East Bay Best Bites

eastbaypizzaThe East Bay is one of the world’s finest fusion centers for gourmet cooks. With their proximity to San Francisco yielding urban edge and their closeness to rural California providing fresh ingredients any season of the year, this homeland of California Cuisine and fabulous takes on old classics is the only place to find some of the East Bay restaurants that will make you weak in the knees. If you’re looking for East Bay excellence, head to the Berkeley restaurant stronghold, the Gourmet Ghetto. Though there are many options, The Cheese Board Collective is sure to please one and all. The daily special is an East Bay favorite, with knowledgeable counter help eager to give recommendations. With over one hundred cheeses (twenty varities of Brie alone), gourmet honeys and pastries and pizzas to die for, there’s a reason why the Cheese Board is one of the most famous pizzerias in the college town. Playing live music at the pizza place while the shop next door doles out cheese samples makes the Cheese Board the perfect place to go for a leisurely lunch. Recommendations at the Cheese Board are plenty, but their sour English Muffins, gooey chocolate chip cookies and tomato, caper and olive focaccia are among those most often noted. If you’re on the Atkins diet, steer clear of this carbohydrate oasis, but otherwise, plan on stopping by at least once a week. Arizmendi Bakery and Pizzeria is an Oakland restaurant’s answer to the Cheese Board Collective. Sharing organic and vegetarian ingredients, sourdough crusts and a pizza philosophy with their neighbors to the North, both East Bay restaurants feature one pizza a day menus. Affordable at two slices for $5, with great mochas and bakery goods, Arizmendi Bakery and Pizzaria offers specialty pizzas for gourmets. Pizza toppings include marinated artichokes with red onion and basil-spinach pesto, roma tomatoes with arugala and balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and asparagus, goat cheese, red onion and lemon thyme oil, though their jalapeno cheddar rolls and cornbread blueberry muffins come highly recommended, should you walk out of this East Bay restaurant legend without a corn and cherry scone in hand, somewhere in Oakland, an Arizmendi Bakery aficionado will cry until you walk back into the workers’ owned café and come out properly equipped for the day. Though pizza places are everywhere in a college town like Berkeley, they’re slightly more scarce in other East Bay restaurant meccas; however, Pizza Rustica, an Oakland Italian restaurant, will not disappoint pizza fans. This kid-friendly location features tasty pizza with 16 standard toppings and 24 premiums, like chevre, crimini mushrooms and pancetta. However, Pizza Rustica devotees insist that the rotisserie chicken is the most fantastic topping to ever grace the optional wheat-free crust. Berkeley students will love the portion sizes for the prices should they venture so far up College Avenue, and those 21 and over will love the Conga Lounge above Pizza Rustica. With mixed drinks like the Dark and Stormy, Obama Mama and Mai Tai, in addition to beer, wine, and a full bar, fans of the lounge rave that these drinks are not watered down. Make sure to make a reservation if you plan on visiting Caffe Venezia, a favorite Berkeley Italian restaurant, on a weekend night, since this East Bay restaurant gets packed. Venezia fans claim that the food comes in the perfect size, with filling food for decent prices. Their Cosmopolitans and Pasta Carbonara come recommended, and patrons love that they can substitute traditional pasta with whole-wheat spaghetti. However, Caffe Venezia truly shines with their dessert plates. The panna cotta is mouthwatering, with custard topped with Grand-Marnier soaked grapefruit segments. Citrus is the high point of the restaurant, as their pate de ciocolata is dressed with a tangy blood-orange sauce. This Berkeley restaurant bridges the gap between kitschy and quaint perfectly, with laughable décor that creates a faux-Italian garden. Though fake pigeons perching on artificial balustrades, a clothesline hanging from the ceiling displaying lacy undergarments and a fountain gurgling in the midst of the restaurant may not appeal to all, Caffe Venezia is perfect for group and kids. For the finest in East Bay restaurants and cuisine, get your wallets ready for Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. This North Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto hotspot caters to the patrons who don’t mind dropping $100 a person, and leaving a deposit in order to get a reservation. With friendly service and fantastic dining, Chez Panisse offers a great wine list and food you’ll be dreaming about for weeks. Though the menu changes seasonally, your meal is sure to be delicious at this Berkeley restaurant. The Alice Waters philosophy emphasizes fresh ingredients over technique, with this restaurant, created in 1971, bringing French cuisine du marché, or market cooking, to the West Coast and renaming it California Cuisine. Chez Panisse Alumni have gone on to found César, Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread Company, and Ici Ice Cream. If you’d prefer to spend less on dinner, go upstairs to Chez Panisse Café. This less formal and less expensive incarnation of its downstairs neighbor features a $25 fixed price menu, Navarro Vineyards’ grape juice, and desserts that promise euphoric bliss after eating, this East Bay eatery has what it takes to keep Chez Panisse Café patrons smiling. Menu seasonally includes shoulder of lamb and halibut tartar, baked goat cheese and grilled yellowtail. The food is beautiful and with desserts like dark chocolate truffle tarlets with currant ice cream, stacciatella with bittersweet chocolate sauce and candied pecans, and Pink Lady apple and candier Meyer lemon tarts with vanilla ice cream, you’re sure to leave Chez Panisse Café, one of the Berkeley restaurants to remember, happy. Even Disney’s Up loves North Oakland restaurant Fenton’s Creamery and Restaurant. Perfect for late night celebration and lunchtime gatherings, this is anything but a simple ice cream parlor. Though they serve dinner, no one goes to Fenton’s for the hamburgers. They serve giant scoops of homemade ice cream, with unique flavors like pomegranate, apple pie (complete with chunks of pie mixed in) and the black and tan (vanilla and almond ice cream covered with chocolate and caramel syrups).