Occupation: Financial Advisor
Favorite Restaurant: Gather
Reviewed Gather: Thursday, July 14, 2011
The dinner menu above illuminates the creative combination of quality, pristine ingredients that Gather is all about. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show you how artfully each dish is presented on the plate or how delightful the ingredients smell and taste. You’ll have to go and see, smell and taste for yourself. And, I highly recommend that you do.
I can easily say that Gather is my favorite place to eat. I have eaten there a couple of dozen times since it opened in the winter of 2009. I look forward to eating there like no other restaurant. Why? It’s mainly for the food, but I also admire the thought and care put into the decor where most everything is fashioned from something recycled — from the “bench” made out of worn leather belts to the wall art in the bar made of recycled packaging materials. I also love to watch the delight on my fellow diners’ faces as they bite into a slice of pizza or see and taste the famed vegan “charcuterie” for the first time. It’s obvious that the servers love the restaurant too, as they proudly recite where almost every ingredient comes from. And if they don’t know, they will find out for you.
I love Gather because I always leave feeling satisfied and happy. Not full and wishing I hadn’t eaten that last bite of pasta or pork or dessert. The chef, Sean Baker, knows how to make things like tofu skins, seaweed, purslane and watercress blossoms taste really good while also producing some the best pizza in the Bay Area, replacing cheese with cashew garlic puree. One of my favorite dishes on a recent visit was the Yuba “pappardelle” where the “bolognese” sauce was made from smoked okra, the “noodles” from nama yuba — a creamy soft cheese-textured soy milk skin with a nutty and sweet flavor — rapini and roasted porcini mushrooms. Pure genius in a bowl and healthy, too!
The salads are always a delicious surprise. One of my go-to dishes is the kale salad, which has been a staple on the menu since the restaurant opened. It’s made with blanched kale, roasted vegetables (carrots or squash), crispy capers, pine nuts, a tart lemony dressing and Fiscalini cheese floating on the top. It’s surprisingly filling, and a bargain for the portion that is served. Most times I will order a seafood dish from the starter side of the menu and I especially like the crudos — halibut or salmon — made with pristinely fresh fish and accompanied by flavorful ingredients like roe puree and beet vinaigrette.
On my earlier visits, I would always order the vegan charcuterie, which is served on a large wood platter and is a smorgasboard of small vegetable creations, such as “watermelon several ways, smoked olive, saba” or “pulled mushroom, charred peanuts, pistachio and seaweeds.” But more often than not now, I like to create a menu choosing items from each section of the menu — the starters, pizzas, salads, and soup and the large plates — or by choosing several dishes from starters and then a dessert. This really is the way to eat at Gather: choose what looks tasty and interesting to you and you can’t go wrong. If you’re particularly hungry, I find the spicy barbecued young chicken to be the most filling dish on the menu. It’s served with baked beans, greens, cornbread panzanella, and grilled bacon. The chicken is so incredibly tender at first I thought I might be biting into tofu!
The highlight of my latest meal at Gather was a “special.” It was a pork dish with a soft poached egg and fried cornbread with pepper oil. The pork meat was from the shoulder and formed into a terrine. It was so unique and flavorful that is hard to describe it adequately, but I hope to find it on the menu again at a subsequent visit.
My friend and I opted for wines by the glass, as it was a “school night.” We both had the 2010 Cinsault, Phoenix Ranch from Lodi and shared a glass of the Handley Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. Both wines were lovely with the food. For diners who like cocktails, Gather has an extensive menu of creative libations to choose from and my husband always finds a good brew to drink with his meal.
What else can I say? I can’t wait to go back! See you there.
Occupation: Research Scientist
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: DOSA on Fillmore
Reviewed Gather: Saturday, July 16, 2011
As vegetarians, my husband and I were very excited to see Gather’s commitment to local, sustainable, and mostly vegetarian and vegan options on their website. We immediately liked the open space, medium wood tones, and ambiance. Though we arrived significantly early for our reservation, the waitstaff was able to seat us after only a 10 minute wait, just enough time to order a delicious specialty cocktail expertly and swiftly made directly in front us by a mixologist.
Once seated, our meal began with the vegan “charcuterie,” which we had curiously been waiting to try. The charcuterie approached the fabled realms of molecular gastronomy, which was a new experience for us, and the highlight of the night. The dish came on a wooden plank and with helpful ”cheat-sheet.” The charcuterie consisted of 4 distinct piles: the “pulled mushroom” was the most traditional of all, seeming more like an Asian peanut slaw with small mushrooms than a pork product. The next portion appeared to be a combination of potato and mushroom puree served with a slice of dehydrated onion, which was packed with flavor and one of our favorites of the night. The next was watermelon served several ways, including watermelon foam and prosciutto-like watermelon, which was a bit overpowered by pungent olive flavor. Finally came the sliced seasonal stone fruit with sweet walnut foam, which was relatively simple, yet tasty. Although we certainly appreciated the unique flavors and textures of the dishes, we did not see the need to tout vegetable appeal by simulating meat. In fact, sometimes the “charcuterie” appeared to mask the naturally delicious flavors of the seasonal and local fruits and vegetables rather than bringing them out.
Throughout the night, we saw pizza after pizza being brought out, tipping us off to the popularity of this entrée. I have often said that if I had to choose one dish to have every day for the rest of my life, it would probably be pizza. Unfortunately, it would not be pizza from Gather. We ordered the vegan spicy tomato pizza with olives and capers and cashew “cheese.” The crispy yet chewy and slightly burnt crust was certainly the best part of the pizza. The olives and capers were not prominent, the cashew cheese had a bit too runny of a consistency, the tomato sauce was overly acidic, and the pizza was especially marred by the lack of any spiciness. Perhaps we could have overlooked our disappointment had it not been for the accompanying kale salad, which screamed lemon flavor but little else. I have many a night made vegan pizza with a side salad for dinner at home, and Gather provided no motivation to leave the house.
For dessert, we decided on the blueberry baked custard, which, though we enjoyed it more than the entrée, we were disappointed by the meager amount of blueberries, which are in full bounty. The pepper ice cream that accompanied the custard, however, was well executed with bright bell pepper notes and natural sweetness. In all, it is hard to know if we chose the wrong dishes or had unreasonable expectations. Throughout the meal, the staff was very friendly and service was prompt. The cocktails and wine were excellent, and the charcuterie certainly provided a novel taste sensation. We always enjoy an excuse to explore the East Bay, but with all the restaurants to try in the Bay Area, it is unlikely we would return to Gather without a pressing recommendation that we had missed some deserving dish.
Occupation: Football Coach and CEO
Favorite Restaurant: Sapore Italiano Ristorante
Reviewed Gather: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
To avoid the San Francisco city rush hour traffic, my wife and I departed Burlingame around 4:45 crossed the San Mateo Bridge and headed north toward Berkeley. Gather borders the UC Berkeley campus across the street from the football stadium. We found metered street parking a block away from the restaurant and we arrived at Gather around 5:30 for our 6:45 reservation. Their dinner service starts at 5pm so we decided to dine early. The hostess told us all their tables were booked from 7pm on, so she asked if we could complete our meal prior to the 7pm seating. The restaurant filled to capacity by time we left. Even at room capacity, table discussion was not inhibited.
We were seated at a table adjoining a long bench seat that runs the length of the street side glass wall. The room is spacious and has a high ceiling with an open kitchen area so food preparation can be observed. The bar is in a separate room adjacent to the kitchen area. The long bench seat cushion in the main room is constructed of donated used belts, buckles removed, attached together side by side. I asked our waitress Elizabeth, if the belts on the seat had anything to do with the restaurant name, “Gather,” as in cinching one’s pants, and she assured me it did not. Elizabeth is an original staff member and explained that much of the restaurant’s furnishings and interior decoration were made up of recycled items. The hanging ceiling lampshades are fishnets from Thailand. The tables are made from wood from high school bleachers and a watershed. The bar top is constructed from a single fallen tree. The wall tiles in the kitchen are from a kiln in Napa, and the check holders are recycled cutting boards. These are unique impressions that could be publicized as a notation on the menu.
After reviewing some of Elizabeth’s menu suggestions, I decided to go “all squash.” I started the meal with a house original cocktail named Humo Dulce. This was the only disappointing element of our meal. It lacked any distinct taste. My wife and I decided to share an appetizer, stuffed squash blossoms. The menu describes it as ricotta, corn, smoked olives, pollen puree, ratatouille vinaigrette, and basil. It was quite delicious. We chose for our entrées the Prather Ranch burger and I had the Young Squashes. My wife said the burger was absolutely scrumptious, especially the taste of the aioli, a caramelized shallot-tomato sauce. The vegetable risotto with the pesto accompanying my squash main dish was also delightful. A glass of red wine, Aglianico from Salerno, to accompany the meal was very pleasant. We each had desserts; my wife had the blueberry baked custard, and I had to try the chocolate ravioli. The ravioli was a rich dark chocolate with a marshmallow filling. I had a tasty dessert cocktail called a “Shot in the dark” that I recommend. Food portions are of average size and our courses arrived in a timely manner. The combination of the quality of the food, the preparation and the unique recipes provide an extremely pleasing dining experience. The food is very good.