Gather Naked in Berkeley, CA

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In the Bay Area for the Thanksgiving holidays, we heard of a new restaurant in Berkeley that’s been receiving rave reviews and decided to check it out for ourselves. The name itself is inviting and warm: Gather. We’d heard it sources its ingredients with extra care and provides only local, seasonal fare. Always looking for restaurants that provide truly naked food, we thought we’d give it a try.

The menu was small, but had options for every taste, including a good selection of meat dishes and an equally plentiful assortment of vegan offerings. They clearly but subtly identify those dishes that are or can be vegan or gluten-free, handy for those who have strict dietary protocols and non-invasive for those who don’t. Their wine list is made up exclusively of California wines that are either organic or bio-dynamic (what I’d call “beyond organic” farming with special attention to planting according to astronomical rhythms and use of fermented herbal composts). Flipping through the “Source Book” – a comprehensive list of suppliers they use – shows their commitment to full transparency, small family farms with solid humane and environmental practices, and locally sourced food (the vast majority of the suppliers are within 100 miles of the restaurant). The ambiance is earthy and homey but still feels hip and upscale. There are even jars of preserved vegetables and fruit on shelves throughout the restaurant “so we can use them when that produce is out of season” explained the waiter. Ok, now I’m impressed.

Esquire magazine named Gather’s Chef Sean Baker as Chef of the Year and included the restaurant in its list of top 20 new restaurants; San Francisco Magazine described the restaurant as the “Omnivore’s Solution”; and a quick perusal through the press section of the restaurant’s website shows as many kudos for its eco-friendly design as it does the local and truly seasonal menu.

When the food arrived, we weren’t disappointed. To start we had the albacore, served raw and citrusy, and roasted squid with baby bok choy. We had two of their salads: the kale salad, which I’m still dreaming about it was so tasty and comforting, and the pickled beet salad, fresh and cold. Then we shared one of the vegan pizzas, a “creamy” mushroom potato pizza with a cashew sauce. Sounds a little odd, but it was delicious. Definitely knife and fork pizza. We were too full to try dessert, but the menu looked equally interesting and tasty.

Next time we’re in town, we’ll definitely go back. And if you find yourself in Berkeley, I suggest you check it out, too.

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