Want 15 kinds of lettuce, 5 kinds of berries? Try the Berkeley Bowl
The cognoscenti around San Francisco Bay refer to the place simply as ''The Bowl.'' Not to be confused with football bowls or symphony bowls, the Berkeley Bowl at 2777 Shattuck is closer to a huge salad bowl.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A few miles down from Alice Water's Chez Panisse restaurant, a Berkeley landmark like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, The Bowl is a place where people once went bowling, which makes the name more edifying.
Now people come to shop for groceries, walking down from the Berkeley hills, taking a bus, or driving a car. But this is an exhibition of beautiful fresh products which has to be seen to be believed.
In California, a land of marvelous foodstuffs as far as the eye can see, you might wonder what all the fuss is about until you get inside and count the variety of lettuces available for tonight's tossed salad.
Six? Eight? Ten? Twelve? Can you count baby bok choy as a salad green? There are probably 15 kinds or more.
Grocery carts look as though they've been arranged for a gourmet magazine photograph, with half a dozen kinds of lettuce, three or four colors and kinds of peppers, and three kinds of bananas, including plantains.
Four or five kinds of fresh berries have just come in: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and a hybrid of what looks like a combination of all three.
Fresh coriander comes with two lengths of stem, the longer ones a little more expensive.
A crowd waits to get standing room in front of the fresh mushrooms. And what a selection. There are fresh shiitaki, packaged by the half pound or loose in a box, allowing you to pick and choose.
There are also tiny white enoki, charming clusters of abalone mushrooms, Black Forest, and more strange, unusual shapes and mysteries to make an Easterner's heart thump with the excitement of it all. It is a bazaar, not Oriental, but a Berkeley bazaar, something for everyone.
The question becomes, where to start?
It is early, and only a few customers linger around the fish cases in serious discussion with the men behind the counter. An anatomy lesson is under way concerning an enormous Dungeness crab.
The fish case is filled with your usual Pacific catch, including what looks like a mountain of sand dabs.
A white enamel pan in the middle is filled with odds and ends. The sign says ''soup fin shark,'' and one Pismo clam looks large enough to make four quarts of New England chowder all by itself.
In back, trucks of fresh foodstuffs seem to be arriving at five-minute intervals. Dan and Glenn, as everybody working there calls them, carefully examine each crate.
Back in 1977 Dan Kataoka and Glenn Yasuda took over the old bowling alley and carried in crates and baskets of the best produce they could find to set up shop.
One by one, the spaces around the edges filled up with other categories of the menu - fish, meat, cheese, and candy. Most recently a small room opened up for grains and Oriental packaged goods.
The new room is successful. In fact, with all the fresh-grown Oriental produce, the home cook need never go to San Francisco's Chinatown - except for the fun of it.