Dining room photo from Gather.
The vegan “charcuterie” plate.
Kale salad with Fiscalini cheese.
Scarlett Royal grape trifle.
I know, it sounds like such a Berkeley restaurant name, ~GATHER~. And this place (it’s part of the eco-minded David Brower Center) is definitely greener-than-green, from its architecture to its hyper-local/sustainable menu (there’s even a “Source Book” you can request) to the wines that follow a biodynamic/organic credo—even the spirits are organic. Housemade sodas, and kombucha on tap, oh you know it. But even though it sounds like something we’ve all seen plenty of already, they’re doing something a bit different here—which is what led to chef Sean Baker (formerly at Millennium and the executive chef at Gabriela’s in Santa Cruz) getting one heck of nod from Esquire this past year.
The much-discussed vegan “charcuterie” plate ($16) really is something to try for vegans and omnivores alike. The creative dish is comprised of four-five different little setups on a wooden cutting board—on my visit, it included a mushroom tartare with horseradish salsa verde and Sicilian eggplant with Jimmy Nardellos, roasted garlic, orange rind, pine nuts, and currants—a twist to a caponata, but a bit deconstructed. Wait, what’s a Jimmy Nardello? Unless you go to the farmers’ market regularly or shop at “The Bowl,” you might not know it’s a sweet Italian pepper. The menu is actually full of items that assume you know what they are, so it could be a little off-putting if you’re not up on your bougie ingredient game. Example: Capricious. Is it: A) a goat cheese, B) a type of green, C) an herb, or D) whatever the hell you want it to be, just depends how strong that medical-grade pot is that you’re smoking, dude. (The answer is “A.”)
I heartily enjoyed the tangy kale salad ($9.50), such young, tender, baby leaves tossed with parsley, thyme, fried capers, the tiniest and whitest pine nuts, and a fluffy shower of Fiscalini cheese. I could eat that salad three times a week and not get tired of it. Then again, I’m kind of a kale fanatic. Actually, not kind of—it’s more like totally.
Gather has the kind of menu that helps makes it easy to be “good,” because you’re not tempted by a bunch of decadent dishes but then feel like you have to behave and suck it up and get the freaking boring salad because your jeans are too tight. Granted, the menu is 50% vegetarian, but it’s not all healthier-than-thou: there’s burrata, and bacon on a pizza, and wild boar terrine, and a burger. The burger ($14) here is a good one: well-seasoned Prather Ranch beef that is smooth, juicy, and ground just right. It’s also loaded with Sierra Nevada cheddar, aioli, and a caramelized shallot-tomato sauce, so it’s a bit saucy. The fries needed to be a lot hotter, but I appreciated that the burger came with fries and a side salad of arugula.
The overpriced pizzas, however, were clunkers. For $16-$18, I definitely expected more. A lot more. The crust featured a ring of dough balls (reminded me a little bit of the early Americano pizzas), and tasted exactly how I thought it would be: doughy (but at least the center was thin and crisp).
Dessert was also a study in contrasts: the polenta cake ($7.50) was wet and soggy, and the figs and cashew cream conspired to make what we called a “total hippie dessert.” Read: not exciting and tasted like something your mother would have made for you in the 70s. But the Scarlett Royal grape trifle ($8.50) was a beauty, with cashew cake, a lightly aromatic verbena mascarpone cream, and pine nut brittle. The only quibble was the narrow glass it was served in made it really challenging to eat—based on the chunky ingredients, it would have been much easier to eat out of a wider glass, or ditch the trifle name and serve it in a small bowl. Like granola! Ha ha. Sorry, Berkeley joke.
The space is relaxed and rustic-chic, with an open layout, lots of reclaimed wood, good lighting, and a cool rounded wall that flanks the street. So many cool design elements—I was crazy for the bench seats made out of 600 old leather belts procured from flea markets—the pattern and texture was quite beautiful (SillaPere Design Lab is behind the look). The crowd definitely sports a “come as you are” Berkeley vibe: it’s kid-friendly, with younger student types ordering so-so $10 cocktails from the bar (both the drinks we tried were unnecessarily sweet), while plenty of “Rep crowd” groups are having their pre-performance dinners. There’s also an outdoor patio that attracts quite a busy scene.
If I was in the neighborhood, I could see how this would be an easy place to swing by for a variety of meals and occasions. Especially if I was rollin’ with a mixed crowd of vegans, meat eaters, and vegetarians. But to be bluntly honest, while I’m glad I checked it out, this 415 girl wouldn’t be super motivated to make a special trip across the bridge for it.