Nature’s Express (Berkeley)

Ken, January 28, 2010, No comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany
Tags: , , , , , ,

1823 Solano Avenue
(At Colusa, next to Peet’s Coffee)
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 527-5331

nature's express rating

Nature’s Express is a great new vegan restaurant that recently moved in next to Peet’s Coffee at the top of Solano Ave, in Berkeley.

With its modern, clean—almost sterile—interior, with splashes of vivid color, and a wide cashier’s counter in front of uniformed chefs at work, Nature’s Express is setup like a fast food restaurant. But that’s where the similarity ends. Well, that and the Air Baked Fries.

There’s a wide selection of appetizers, salads, wraps, breakfast burritos (served all day), soup, burgers, even dessert— amazingly, all vegan.

I couldn’t resist the Air-Baked Sweet Potato Fries, which are soft and delicious, almost chewy.

The first entree I tried was The Patrick-Goudreau, essentially a tofu scramble with veggies in a green tortilla wrap. It was really good, healthy tasting, not too large, and I’d certainly order it again. For $5.25, it’s a great deal! The burrito is named after local vegan chef, teacher, blogger, and cookbook author, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau [] Several of her cookbooks line the shelfs along the side of the store, giving you something to flip through while you wait for your food.

I asked, and found out that Ms. Patrick-Goudreau isn’t associated with the place. The burrito name is an homage, like The Alicia (Silverstone), The Moby, The Stella (McCartney, I guess), and The (Albert) Einstein. Ms. Silverstone’s book The Kind Diet is also available for sale.

Tonight I tried The Moby, a spicy, and fresh tasting burrito with potato, cilantro, black beans, guacamole, green chili, and salsa.

Nature’s Express is cheap, healthy, and fresh, and I’m happy to have it in my neighborhood. I hope they do really well!

Nature's Express

Nature's Express on Solano Avenue

2/27/2010 Update—I went back this week and they had changed their menu. Despite my best attempts to edify the public with this blog, no one got the references in the breakfast burrito names. Now the Stella is the Stellar. The Moby has had a makeover, and now comes with Sriracha sauce, but it’s still delicious. The Patrick-Goudreau now has a new name, The Kick Start.


JimTown (Healdsburg)

Ken, January 18, 2010, No comments
Categories: Near and Far
Tags: , , , ,

6706 Hwy 128
(Near the intersection of Alexander Valley Rd and HWY 128,
about 3.7 miles East of Lytton, and 6.5 miles NE of Healdsburg)
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-1212


The JimTown Store is a culinary oasis with antiques, Americana, sweets, toys, and hospitality on gorgeous HWY 128, about 20 minutes north of Calistoga, or 10 minutes from Healdsburg. For me, visiting JimTown is worth an entire trip into Wine Country. As the main road skirts its way along the edges of vineyards, look for the big American Flag and a restored, ancient car or truck, parked out front. That’s the place!

JimTown makes superlative vegetarian chili, served with warm tortilla chips. There’s a range of sandwich options with a few nice vegetarian choices—think Romesco sauce, eggplant, and fancy cheese on warm focaccia or a crispy baguette. If it’s available, I’m always going to get the root vegetable and white bean salad.

There’s a few seats up front at small tables and at the counter, but don’t miss the outside area in back, when it’s warm.

The small store’s shelves are filled with edible treats, books, cookery, and wooden, handmade, or fun little toys. In back there are antiques and more.

I try to time my trips to Wine Country to end up at JimTown for lunch. It’s a good stop for me on the way to Dry Creek, or Mendocino. The winding country drive from Calistoga, over the hilly county line into the Alexander Valley is a real treat—with the most wonderful hanging moss, and little farms tucked away into the hills. Too bad it’s not easy to find safe places to stop the car for photos along the way!


Berkeley Produce Center (Berkeley)

Ken, January 18, 2010, No comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany
Tags: , , ,

1500 Shattuck Ave
(on the corner of Shattuck and Vine)
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 848-8100

The Berkeley Produce Center is a friendly and quick little market, right in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto. Despite it’s relatively small space, they have just about everything I need, and their prices beat the big supermarket on the same block (you know who you are) every day of the week. The place is so convenient and reliable, that for those who live nearby, it’s really the anchor of the neighborhood.

They have great fresh veggies, with a respectable selection of organic fresh and bulk foods. Try the fresh-squeezed orange juice they make up in the back. And don’t miss the groovy mural on the North wall. I only wish that they wouldn’t run out of my favorite yoghurt so often.

The Berkeley Produce Center It’s a great place to pick up both the key ingredients and the inspiration for a great meal on your way home.


Doobu (San Francisco)

Ken, January 18, 2010, No comments
Categories: San Francisco
Tags: , , ,

1723 Buchanan Street
(In Japan Town’s pedestrian-only block, between Post St & Sutter St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
Doobu (Yelp)
(415) 292-6002


Doobu is a friendly Korean restaurant in the heart of Japan Town, not far from the Kabuki Theater. Signs near the door advocate tofu for good health, and tofu seems to be their specialty. The restaurant is long and narrow with geometric modern art on the walls, and a long row of roomy booths, like a cool Asian diner.

Kathryn and I found Doobu by accident, wandering around Japan Town, and I’ve been there twice. Both times there were other people in the restaurant, but it wasn’t crowded at all.

My eyes zeroed-in on the mixed vegetable Dolsot Bibimbap, which is my favorite Korean entree. Vegetables, mushroom, soy bean sprouts, and tofu, sizzling in a hot (!) stone pot. Stir in the (not very) hot sauce quickly, before the rice burns to the bowl. The rice they use at Doobu is a little different: tasty with a brownish hue. I loved it, but Kathryn preferred the white rice they use at other Korean restaurants.

On our last visit, we arrived a little bit before our friends, and ordered the Fried Tofu Salad as an appetizer to share with them. Somehow, the half of the salad we intended to save for them didn’t make it. It was too delicious. The tofu seemed somehow battered and fried, but wasn’t heavy or oily. It was more like the skin of the tofu slabs was cooked or boiled, leaving a chewy white tofu center inside the golden shell.

Doobu serves the kind of Korean barley tea that I really love. While they don’t serve as many vegetarian, side-dish appetizers as Shik Do Rock in Albany, there is something you have to watch out for. Unless you specifically tell them otherwise, they bring everyone at the table a whole fried fish. There are many reasons I’m a vegetarian, and that’s one of them. (No thanks!)

I’m looking forward to my next visit to Doobu!


Rivoli (Albany)

Kathryn, January 18, 2010, No comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany
Tags: , , ,

1539 Solano Avenue
(between Neilson St & Peralta Ave)
Albany, CA 94707
(510) 526-2542


Liberty Duck Confit Cassoulet and Slow Braised Lamb Shoulder—these are the entrees that jump out from the Rivoli menu when you sit down to scour the list for a vegetarian option. Look for a vegan option and you will only read more about various fish and flat iron steak. If you are vegetarian-not-vegan, there might be a ravioli with dense cheese in butter sauce, or a wedding-type vegetarian food: something green or yellow packed into filo. Of course, you can always ask the waiter what can be done “off menu,” and he will say he’ll “ask the chef,” as if your request is that outre.

The last time I went to Rivoli was with a birthday party. It turned out their reservation system was mostly an illusion. About ten of us stood crammed into a small bar area up front, where the smirking hostess assured us it would be “just a minute more,” for the full forty minutes that we waited.

They do have an excellent wine menu, and I availed myself of that, in addition to bread. I know a lot of people love Rivoli, but as a vegetarian, the food was disappointing, and the service was lacking. The ravioli was of that giant, buttery variety, which tasted good in my mouth and instantly left me queasy. Ken got an “off menu” vegan entree that seemed to be white beans piled on spinach, splattered with pine nuts. I tasted it—not bad—but utterly unimpressive.

We’ve been to a number of high-end fancy restaurants in places like Maui that make fantastic off-menu vegetarian offerings. I’m sorry to say Rivoli isn’t in that category. They seem more determined to turn the animal you once loved as a first grade classroom pet into something crispy on your plate. If that’s your thing, and somehow you are reading this blog, then Rivoli is the place for you.

Everyone at our table was animated by the arrival of the signature mushroom fritters. I found them bland and oily, like something you’d regret ordering at a children’s theme park.


Pasta Pomodoro (Oakland)

Ken, January 17, 2010, No comments
Categories: Near and Far
Tags: , , ,

5500 College Ave
(In Rockridge, between Forest St & Lawton Ave)
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 923-0900


Pasta Pomodoro is a convenient, reliable, chain of nice Italian restaurants with an excellent space and location on College Avenue in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. There’s indoor seating at regular tables, high tables, and at the curved counter, where you can watch the chefs at work. Outdoor seating on the sunny patio has umbrellas for daytime, and heat lamps for Oakland’s chilly dinner hour. It’s a busy street, so you can sit there and enjoy watching the world go by.

The menu changes around a bit, and I like a lot of dishes here. There’s a good vegetarian selection of soups, salads, and, of course, pasta. There’s always a vegan minestrone soup, and the various pasta dishes are made to order, so you can customize. I always love a side of Italian white beans, which they sometimes offer.

It’s almost impossible to resist the tasty, warm foccacia with olive oil and vinegar, that they bring to the table; practically the only way to stop eating it is to run out. (Run out of bread, that is, not run out of the restaurant, which we don’t advise.) Pomodoro is one of the few places to offer (organic) Farro, which is a specialty grain from Italy.

Even though I’m very partial to small businesses, and generally avoid most chains, Pasta Pomodoro does what they do well, and sometimes a nice Capellini Pomodoro (angel’s hair pasta with fresh tomatos) absolutely hits the spot.


Cha Am (Berkeley)

Ken, January 12, 2010, No comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany
Tags: , , ,

1543 Shattuck Avenue
(Between Cedar and Vine)
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 848-9664


Cha Am is by far my favorite Thai Restaurant. They’ve been on Shattuck since 1985, and they’re absolutely still going strong. They hit the mark with dish after dish, it seems you can’t go wrong. Their lunch specials are great, and I often go there with a group of people from work. Dinners are even better, especially when you can order with friends and try several different entrées.

There’s a wide selection of vegetarian items, with delicate spices and flavors that set the bar for me with other Thai restaurants. These days, I love the red and green curry dishes, Gaeng-Tofu and Gaeng-Pak, the most. For a long time, I was a Pad-Pak-J adherent, with every great vegetable and fried tofu. The Cha-Am Fresh Rolls are similar to other Thai restaurants I’ve tried, but the Vegetarian Po-Piah, their deep-fried cousins, sing with wonderful base notes, and a nice light crunch. It doesn’t say it on the menu, but you can order a vegetarian version of the Cha-Am Noodle which makes a superb alternative or complement to a rice dish.

My only gripe is that they recently stopped serving the lovely Thai tea that they had for years. I hope it’s just a temporary thing.

Let’s hope Cha Am will still be as great 25 years from now.


Cafe Fanny (Berkeley)

1603 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94702
(510) 524-5447

Café Fanny Restaurant Rating

If you are curious what kind of breakfast you might have the day after a meal at Chez Panisse, you can go to Alice Waters’ Café Fanny.

Every time I eat there, I’m surprised by both the simplicity of their food, and how delicious it tastes. I generally order Two Poached Farm Eggs On Levain toast, and because the ingredients are fresh and organic, it is incredibly satisfying. If you don’t believe this matters, try it yourself! I entered a skeptic and left a believer. In addition to eggs and toast, the menu offers things like Café Fanny Organic Granola (also available in local grocery stores), which I haven’t tried, though it looks tasty. There are Buckwheat Crepes in the morning, Sandwiches and Salads for lunch, and desserts and pastries all the time. There’s even a small coffee counter inside.

The downsides to this place are the limited indoor seating and the pricing—it;s not cheap. Further, for the purposes of this blog, I’d rate their vegetarian options as limited, and vegan offerings downright scant—Waters’ conception of the good life definitely includes fine cheese and prosciutto. However, if you are looking for organic and delicious, and you’re feeling a bit indulgent, this is the place for you. It also has a real Berkeley feel, and just writing about it makes me hungry.


Greens Restaurant (San Francisco)

Ken, January 09, 2010, No comments
Categories: San Francisco
Tags: ,

Building A
Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123>
(415) 771-6222


Now celebrating their 30th year, Greens is a veritable vegetarian institution. Their focus on fantastic ingredients makes every dish special, and every time I go there, I can’t remember why I’ve waited so long to return. Spacious and light-filled, with a view of the sailboats slipping across San Francisco’s waterfront, Greens is a destination restaurant for vegetarians, epicureans, and vegetarian epicureans alike.

Greens is one of those rare places where a vegetarian can stare at the menu for a long while and be absolutely stymied about what to choose—so many things appeal. Although everything in the restaurant is vegetarian, many or most dishes have dairy, whether butter, cheese, or cream. Still, it’s not difficult to find a few great vegan choices, and the wait staff are uniformly excellent.

I started with the Fresh Spring Roll with carrots, green papaya, jicama, Thai basil, rice noodles, mint and hoisin. It came with some incredible grilled oyster and abalone mushrooms. It was really nice to see Hodo Soy tofu mentioned by name (!) on the menu, since the owner, Minh, is a longtime friend from the Berkeley and San Francisco Farmers’ Markets. It was easily, the most delicious hoisin sauce I’ve ever tasted.

Kathryn got the black bean chili, and ordered up a pot of chamomile tea.

As a main course, I chose Green’s signature dish, the Mesquite Grilled Brochettes, which are two, flavorful skewers of veggies, mushroom, and tofu, served on a bed of brown and white quinoa. The quinoa was toped by perfectly roasted almonds, and infused with currants, for a little bit of sweet/sour joy. The best item on the skewer was a wedge of butternut squash. I wish there had been more.

For some reason, I only order dessert in great restaurants. Kathryn and I split a warm, flourless chocolate torte with two small scoops of peppermint ice cream. A winning mint-chocolate combo. My father got the Huckleberry, Pear and Apple Sorbets with meyer lemon sugar cookies. Wow.

Lunch with Ken's Parents

Lunch with Ken’s Parents


Fat Apple’s (El Cerrito)

Kathryn, January 08, 2010, 1 comment
Categories: Near and Far

7525 Fairmount Ave
(Where Colusa meets Fairmount)
El Cerrito, CA 94530
Fat Apple’s on Yelp
(510) 528-3433

Fat Apple's El Cerrito Rating

Fat Apple’s pumpkin pancakes are drool-worthy. They hit the spot when that craving for a sugary, nap-inducing breakfast takes hold. Surprising, they also have an excellent vegan/vegetarian option beyond the obligatory Tofu Scramble: a beans, rice, and corn-tortilla dish, with or without a poached egg on the side. This absolutely hits the spot, if you want to leave feeling great.

There are actually two Fat Apple’s: one on Martin Luther King in Berkeley, and this one in El Cerrito. The MLK outlet can get crowded, so I’d recommend the one in El Cerrito, which is less packed and also has a high-ceilinged, exposed-beam architectural charm, with an inverted-boat-hull-like vaulted wooden ceiling. They also have yummy fresh-squeezed juices.

(From Ken) There’s one brunch that I really like at Fat Apple’s, it’s the Vegan Heart Healthy (see photo). It’s essentially a plate of black beans, brown rice, corn, and tomatoes, with a dash of parley, and a choice of whole wheat toast or 3 corn tortillas. Everything tastes light and fresh. I was so hungry I probably could have eaten two plates. I used the tortillas to make little flutes.


About the Authors

Ken and Kathryn are the authors of VegJapan, a vegetarian TravelBlog in Japan.


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