poor scientist. will blog 4 food.

the culinary adventures of a self-described foodie

Leave a comment

Return to Rivoli

For my birthday, TC offered to take me out to a restaurant of my choosing. Where to go? I racked my brain and decided on Rivoli, site of one of my favorite meals ever.

True to my previous experience, the service was impeccable. When we got to Rivoli, our table was ready but we were offered another by the window if we were willing to wait 10 minutes. We accepted their offer and while we waited, they gave us generous, complimentary tastings of sparkling riesling. Score!

We couldn’t decide between three appetizers, so we got them all. (You only live once, right?) Of course, we had to get the portabella mushroom fritters, my favorite dish from my first visit.

"Portabella fritters, get in my belly!"

We also ordered the smoked trout on a cornmeal blini with white corn purée, avocado, baby beets, cucumber, dill cream. It was amazing on many different levels — texture, taste, and aesthetics.

A mound of deliciousness: smoked trout blini with veggies and dill cream.

My favorite appetizer was the Gruyère soufflé, served with caramelized sweet onions, garlic croutons, and salsa verde. Imagine one of those baked cheese things (liked baked brie) but a million times better. Light, flaky pastry surrounding a cloud of melty, delicious Gruyère. The caramelized onions were a perfect complement to the cheese.

The Gruyère soufflé rocked my world.

Now on to the main course! TC got the grilled white shrimp atop a potato, leek and brandade gratin, with baby spinach, lemon butter, and salsa verde. It was good but a little too rich and decadent (read: creamy) for me.


I got the grilled pork tenderloin filled with prosciutto, sage and bread stuffing, served with olive oil braised corona beans, sautéed spigarillo with garlic, and Marsala jus. It was super savory, and as I was already full, I only had about a third of my entrée. Just fine with me — I took the rest home for gourmet leftovers. The spigarillo was a really interesting green — very flavorful and stood up well against the pork and prosciutto.

Pork wrapped around pork. Yum.

Even though I was absolutely stuffed, we had to get dessert. They stuck a birthday candle in the warm chocolate soufflé cake, which was served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate and caramel sauce. As you know, warm chocolate cake is my favorite, so it was a perfect ending to a spectacular meal.

Scary blurry picture of me and the cake. Happy birthday to me!



Gather ’round

A few months ago, LF and I went to try the hottest new restaurant in Berkeley, Gather.  In their own words:

We see food as a gift and a privilege. Every time we sit down at the table we recognize that food travels to us through the efforts of many. Each meal is the result of hundreds of farmers who spend their lives cultivating fruits and vegetables and raising animals, others who pick, pack, ship and sell their bounty, and those who prepare, cook, and serve our meals. These human efforts combine with the elements and cycles of nature to bring us our daily harvest. When we add to this list all of the people who designed and built Gather, the furniture, the dishware and every other aspect, we see more clearly the true privilege of every meal.

So very Berkeley. So very Omnivore’s Dilemma. I was excited to check it out and see what the hype was all about. The space is clean yet rustic; a mix of stainless steel and weathered wood. I liked its spaciousness and streamline aesthetic. I was also impressed by their cocktail menu, and made a mental note that, should I crave an after work artisanal cocktail, I will stop by Gather and take a seat at the gorgeous bar. (I should tell you that Gather is less than a 5 minute walk away from lab.)

LF and I shared the kale salad, vegan charcuterie, and wild boar. The kale salad, which was served with roasted heirloom carrots, pine nuts, Fiscalini cheese was tasty, but, unlike the other dishes, too voluminous. Both LF and I love kale, but we couldn’t finish it. There is such a thing as too much kale. At least we were sharing it — I shudder to think that any single person would have to tackle so much kale on their own.

Kale salad: too much of a good thing?

This is LF, before she overdosed on kale. Looking extremely happy is one of the signs of an impending kale overdose.

Next: the vegan charcuterie. This sounded the most unique out of all of the offerings, though I did have to keep telling myself that it’s not a regular (i.e. meat) charcuterie dish, so as to reign in expectations.

Vegan charcuterie. Very unique, but I would've liked a double portion.

The morsels featured in the charcuterie vary, depending on what is seasonal. Luckily, I kept the menu so I can actually tell you what we ate. From left to right:

  • Marinated clamshell and king trumpet mushrooms, saffron tomato sumac “mayonnaise”
  • Garbanzo panelle (a polenta-like cake), braised walnut miso puree, Cabernet sauce, black cumin
  • Grilled asparagus, broccoli di ciccio, snap peas, “tonnato” sauce, olive vinaigrette
  • Roasted beets and heirloom carrots, cashew creme fraiche, pistachio green garlic pesto, fried carrot tops
  • Shaved fennel with radishes, cucumber, Sausalito Springs watercress, cherry basil puree

I really enjoyed the mushrooms, and LF thought the garbanzo panelle was her favorite. We were both underwhelmed by the fennel.

Finally, we shared one of their specials: wild boar pork loin on top of more meat (pork again?) with greens and some sauce. (Sorry, since it was a special, I don’t have the details.) Again, it was really good but I could’ve eaten twice that amount.

Meat on top of more meat. A stark contrast with the vegan charcuterie and kale salad.

My final verdict? I thought the presentation, ambiance, creativity of the menu, and service were all superb. On the other hand, I thought portions were pricey for what they were (though, to be fair, we did order small plates and it is all organic, local, sustainable, etc.). I left with my stomach grumbling, even though I had just shelled out at least $35 (including one glass of wine and tip). Next time, I’ll go back and try one of their large plates. The burger is a reasonable $13, so that might be next on my list.


Lab Lunch @ Great China

I would definitely count lab lunches at Great China as one of the perks of my job. Sure, the lunch specials are pretty good when we go in small groups, but when we go as a big group (usually about 15-20), we order a lot of special stuff, like Peking duck and Double Skins (see below). Plus, the boss pays, and who doesn’t love a free lunch? We’ve even got ordering down to a science (pardon the pun): my boss carries a card with all of our usual dishes written on it, and he’ll recite it to the waiter. Then the waitstaff usually does portion control for us, so that we’re all perfectly satiated by the end of the meal.

The all-important menu.

The occasion for this particular outing was to mark the end of S’s rotation in our lab. I didn’t take a picture of everything — some of the dishes were placed on the other table, and half of the plate was devoured before I could take a photo of it. But luckily for you, I made sure to capture the special dishes before the hungry scientists got to them first!

The weirdest but most delicious dish: Double Skins.

We usually start off with soup (though we didn’t this time) and a dish called Double Skins. I’ve never had this anywhere else. It resembles a cold jellyfish salad, but they’ve also added shrimp, egg, chicken, black/ear mushrooms, noodles, carrots, onions, cucumbers, sea cucumbers… and some other stuff I can’t recall. One of the best parts is the “dressing” — a mixture of spicy mustard and soy sauce (and probably vinegar too) that really gives the whole dish a savory kick. Despite its odd ingredients, everyone loves this dish. As biologists, we also play a dorky game of “Name the phyla.”

Walnut prawns

Another lab favorite is walnut prawns, which are jumbo prawns fried in light batter in a sweet citrus mayo-based sauce. With walnuts, of course!

Peking duck

All dressed, with hoisin sauce and chives atop a pancake.

As I mentioned above, Peking duck is another old stand-by. It’s really good at Great China.

Da dou miao (large pea sprouts)

We usually like to order a few veggie dishes to balance out all of the meat. Dou miao is one of the green leafy vegetables that tastes great stir-fried with garlic, salt, and pepper.

Sauteed crab meat, with egg and ginger scallion sauce.

Crab meat, post-mixing

steamed buns for the crab

This sauteed crab meat dish is one of my favorites. It comes piping hot from the pan, and the raw egg gets cooked as it gets mixed in with the crab along with the sauce. Stuff the crabmeat into the accompanying steamed buns (mantou) and you’ll have yourself a tasty little sandwich. SO GOOD.

Not pictured: chicken with eggplant, braised tofu, and dry braised green beans. Because we’re a big group, they usually bring a large plate of navel orange slices and fortune cookies at the end of the meal. Even though the service is sometimes lacking, I love the food at Great China. Yay lab lunch!