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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November Food Tour - Fourth Street in Berkeley CA

I have been long time fan of the retail area in Berkeley near Highway 80 and University Avenue known as the Fourth Street Shops. In fact we had such great food on our first visit to the Berkeley area on our May Food Excursion that I knew this East Bay sequel was a given so I called the first tour Best of the East Bay - Volume 1. Our biggest challenge was how to pick from so many great places to eat.

There was no doubt that this trip had to begin early with breakfast at the legendary Bette's Oceanview Diner. With so many great options on the menu we decided to try one egg and one pancake item to get a sampling of their most famous dishes. Bette's Diner is most noted for their pancakes so we ordered the Soufflé Pancake. Like any good soufflé it takes extra time to prepare so our server wisely suggested she first bring our order of Spicy Scrambled Eggs.

Spicy Scrambled Eggs with Home Fries and Pumpkin Spice Muffin - $11.95

The eggs were tasty but not as spicy as I expected. Our server was quick to mention they were cooked "soft" and asked if that was okay with us. I don't recall ever being asked how I liked my scrambled eggs cooked. The salsa was also mixed into the scramble which added the color and kept the flavors melded. The choices were toast, muffins or tortillas with our dish and we opted for a fantastic pumpkin spice muffin. I am potatoes-at-breakfast guy and the highlight for me were the Home Fries with a big dollop of sour cream and chives. I just had to zoom in on the sweet onions and perfectly seasoned potato heaven.

Home Fries that I call "I could easily make a meal out of this side dish"

Even though neither my foodie friend, Stacie Tamaki, nor I are really big pancake eaters we could not come to Bette's without trying their signature dish. Our server suggested the Soufflé Pancake and I chose the banana rum version. It took a bit longer to prepare but when delivered it dazzled us by completely covering the plate.

Bette's Famous Soufflé Pancake - $12.95

This dish has so many complex flavors and textures that it is like eating three different things at once. It is like a pancake, soufflé and crepe all in one. It surprises you with bite size chunks of banana buried inside the oozy goodness and dusted with powdered sugar. I had to zoom in to show the golden billowy top. Also available in apple brandy, seasonal fruit or chocolate swirl.

Look carefully into the holes and you'll see some of the sweet banana chunks

My final shot of this bigger-than-life pancake is one of several slices I ate. I will return to Bette's and try all of their other flavors. This dish is also perfect to share so you can pair it with so many other great breakfast items they offer. It is served with warm maple syrup and simply melts in your mouth.

Bette's Oceanview Diner also has a great sense of humor. The first thing you notice overhead inside the front door is a giant flying piece of pie. This place is just as much fun as it is delicious and I only wish they were closer to where I live.

Stacie decided to go really far out there (for her) at this month's Daring Beverage Challenge by trying a Champagne Cocktail. This version was made with pomegranate and lime juices.

An extremely rare champagne moment for Stacie

"Flying Pie" at Bette's Oceanview Diner

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! The only downside to Bette's is their wild popularity. We put our name in and waited 45 minutes for our table. So if you are in a big rush, right next door is Bette's To Go. They have an incredible selection of gourmet grab and go items like soups, salads, sandwiches and very tasty items from their bakery.

Our next stop is another long time favorite on Fourth Street called The Pasta Shop. For nearly 25 years they have been a purveyor of specialty foods for the East Bay. I didn't even have pasta on my mind when we ventured into the store because I was quickly overwhelmed with the other sights and smells of this beautifully merchandised market.

The Pasta Market is a foodie's paradise. Period.

As I was browsing through the cookbooks I starting chatting with one of the employees named Beaver. Before I knew it he was telling me the most amazing stories about living in Spain and handcrafting furniture. His knowledge of the regions of Spain and what food meant to those areas was huge. His love for the country, people and food was so apparent as he could not help himself but to roll his r's and launch into a Spanish accent. In a few short minutes I had felt like I had just been to Spain. People with Beaver's knowledge and passion make a trip to The Pasta Shop a true experience.

Beaver posing with his favorite cookbook at The Pasta Shop

Many of the staff were super friendly and very food savvy as you would expect. I came there to taste their prepared foods but was not about to leave without grabbing some of the many unique specialty groceries. Pictured here from left to right are three of my favorite finds at The Pasta Shop.

Green Olive Paté with lemon oil • Roasted Pepper Antipasto • Caramelized Onion Jam

Two deli items we wanted to try were the Cheese Rolls ($2.50) and a pint of Brussels Sprouts Salad ($2.95). We picnicked in front of The Pasta Shop which has plenty of outdoor seating where many shoppers kick back to enjoy their foods.

Loaded with Parmesan and Mozzarella these Cheese Rolls are almost like eating pizza.

Brussels Sprouts salad with a sweet honey mustard vinaigrette

Our next stop was at O Chamé where you immediately sense the calming Zen vibe on their patio even before you walk through the front door. With a great reputation for fusion cuisine this place was the perfect late afternoon stop for us to catch our breath.

The inviting front patio greets you first at O Chamé

Stacie let me do the ordering and my eyes went instantly to their appetizer menu. Without hesitation I chose the Arugula Salad with Golden Beets and Salted Egg to start. This small dish packed big flavor with the most perfectly hard boiled egg I've ever eaten. The arugula leaves and beets were perfectly dressed in a delicate vinaigrette.

Arugula Salad with Golden Beets and Salted Egg - $9.50

While we were enjoying the salad our server brought my other selection, White Corn and Green Onion Pancake. We while joked about having our second pancake of the day we were also exclaiming how completely delicious this savory one was served with a white sesame sauce. We learned this pancake is a signature dish at O Chamé and is seasonal based on whatever ingredients are available. It was my absolute favorite bite of the day and it had some serious competition from the many great foods we tasted.

White Corn and Green Onion Pancake - $8.00

Stacie and I were completely impressed with O Chamé. We agreed that these two appetizers alone would make a perfect lunch. I took this photo to remind me of exactly what I will be ordering as when I return here and it will be sooner than later.

A Perfect Lunch or Snack at O Chamé

On one more sweet note we decided to try their Wagashi for $6.50. Stacie reminded me how much my family loves it and the points I made when I brought some home from our April Food Excursion in San Jose's Japantown. As expected this soft rice pastry with sweet bean filling was the real deal at O Chamé. I was again a hero when I brought some Wagashi home from our frolics on Fourth Street.

We decided to go south of the border for our final stop at Tacubaya (La Taqueria de Dona Tomas). They were packed with customers inside and the description of their Chile Rellenos on the outdoor menu really caught our attention. It was well worth the wait with for a perfectly breaded and fried poblano chile stuffed with cheeses.

Chile Rellenos at Tacubaya -$7.75

I decided to take the Daring Beverage Challenge for a change and ordered an agua fresca. The cucumber lemon flavor sounded interesting and it was a lot sweeter than I expected. Somehow I was thinking the cucumber would be the predominant flavor but it turned out to be more like lemonade with the essence of cucumber.

Cucumber Lemon Agua Fresca - $3.50

As I mentioned this was not my first rodeo at Berkeley's famous Fourth Street Shops. However, every visit is fresh and exciting for me because there is always something new to see. Concerts and special events are frequent on their calendar. The stores are super unique so you won't feel like you're at a big box mall. We noticed that there is even an Apple Store now at 1823 Fourth Street. If you haven't experienced Berkeley's Fourth Street yet, I HIGHLY recommend it but do allow a few hours because there is plenty of great food and shopping to be had. Stacie also loved just about every bite we had and wrote a fantastic story about our time on Fourth Street. To read her recap just click here.


  1. Yum I can't wait to go back again! I want to try the apple-brandy Soufflé Pancake, order the exact same meal at O Chamé, get more cheese bread and try the Tamal de Calabaza at Tacubaya!

  2. I loved reading this.. I plan to go to Bette's tomorrow morning! Thx Les in Alameda

  3. Good food brings people together. Finger food is best suited for all occasions, it is light and people love eating it. Keep posting!


  4. Thank you Zonia. If you keep reading, I'll definitely keep posting! Happy Holidays!