Tokyo Fish Market, Berkeley

A trip to Tokyo Fish Market on San Pablo Avenue in Northwest Berkeley will make you want to  run straight home and attempt feats of Japanese culinary greatness.

Like our other fave on our side of the Bay, Nijiya Market in San Francisco’s Japan town, Tokyo Fish Market stocks everything you could ever possibly need to cook up even the most elaborate Japanese recipe — noodles, sake, snacks, sweets, frozen and prepared foods, seasonings and condiments… you name it. But what puts Tokyo fish market way over the top is the absolutely gorgeous fresh fish and produce, the friendly and knowledgeable service and the wonderful selection of take away, ready to eat items. If you have any kind of problem with impulse buying at the grocery store, this place might just be your undoing.

In addition to filling our cart with teriyaki roasted seaweed, ponzu, quick dashi and konbu, we caved to the pleas of our kids  for snacks in super cute packages, ogled the fresh sardines and sushi grade fish and walked out happily munching some tempura-filled onigiri (rice balls) which were so expertly packaged that they included a 3-step instruction guide for unwrapping. The gift store next door is worth a visit, too. You’ll find a nice selection of books to browse, hand painted kokeshi dolls, tea sets, trinkets, gifts and imported goods.

Onigiri that comes with instructions.

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East Bay Bliss: Cheese Board Collective, Shattuck Avenue and Tilden Park

Ever have one of those days when you leave the house with no plan and your day just magically falls into place one perfect piece after another? We had one of those, East Bay-style this week. It’s only a short BART ride or drive from home, but Berkeley feels like a world away. Almost like a mini vacation especially when our neighborhood is encased in fog and I know that somewhere out there summer is happening. Swimming, ice cream, shorts? When you put up with foggy, gray summers you can sometimes forget that for most families, that’s just a typical summer day.

You too can experience some summery East Bay bliss:

Pack up your family and throw an ice chest and a few ice packs in your trunk. Grab some swimming gear, some towels, lettuce, celery and maybe a few snacks. Throw a jacket in too, because you just never know!

Head straight for Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective (Shattuck and Vine). We hit it on a weekday and there was ample 2 hour parking in the neighborhood. The Cheese Board has a truly impressive array of cheese and the cheese mongers are very friendly, knowledgeable and can guide you through any of your cheese-related conundrums. Luca, grandma and I focused on cheddars ultimately selecting a fantastic Iowa cheddar with the excellent name Prairie Breeze. (The ice chest in your trunk is mandatory because you can’t come here without picking up at least a little something). The bakery items are worth trying too. We sampled a Parmesan breadstick and a (not at all dry) cornmeal, sour cherry scone. One of the bakers called over to Luca while we were browsing and he got to go in the kitchen and play with a gob of baguette dough. Now that’s kid-friendly!

We only had to stumble next door to find our next adventure at the Cheese Board Pizzeria. They make only one flavor each day and you can get it by the slice, half or whole pie. The crust is just the way we like it — thin and crisp — and we detected a note of sourdough. Yum! On the day of our visit the pizza featured roasted cauliflower, red bell peppers, capers, Mantalban and Mozzarella cheeses. You can check out their website to see the weekly line up and plan your visit accordingly. We grabbed a slice to share and basked in the sun out front listening to a jazz group and doing some quality people watching. They randomly throw in an extra mini piece for some reason, which is just plain cool.

This section of Shattuck Avenue has lots of top notch amenities: Philz Coffee (everyone I know will tell you I live for Philz coffee!), Chez Panisse, a roast chicken place called Poulet, Virginia Bakery, Baubles and Beads (a well stocked bead store that has classes too). Across the street from the Cheese Board you’ll find a small food mall with a patio and mini Japanese-style garden that kids will love. Here you can find hand-pulled noodles and traditional tea tastings at the Imperial Tea Court, Sushi, Mexican fare or a scoop (or two) at Lush Gelato.

Feeling fat and happy, we took the short drive into the hills to Tilden Park to continue our summer fun. There so many activities to choose from, especially in summer when most attractions are open daily (check the websites for hours and entrance fee info). You can ride the 100-year old carousel; take a ride on the Redwood Valley Railway (a scale replica of a narrow gauge steam train of the 1800’s), stroll the Botanical Gardens; hit the playground; feed  Little Farm’s sheep, goats and rabbits the lettuce and celery you brought from home; or take a dip in Lake Anza. The day was so delicious we couldn’t resist a turn on the merry go round, some log rolling on the big lawns and a little splashing in the lake for good measure.

This day was about as perfect as they come and we were truly sad to see it end. Three generations spending a lazy day together and enjoying some of our very favorite things. Three cheers for summer!

Ici Ice-Cream Rocks!

There is always a line out the door at Ici Ice-Cream in Berkeley – it is just a question of how long the line is (don’t let that deter you, you won’t regret the wait).  There are times when the line is better – weekday afternoons which works great if you want to take the kids on a summer adventure to Berkeley or after school.  Having grown up in Singapore I have come to associate long lines with great food and I never walk away from an establishment that has a crowd trying to get in.  Drives my hubby insane but he is starting to buy my theory.

This little gem of a shop is one of our favorite places to get ice-cream.  Even my father who is opposed to fancy gourmet (read: pricey) food loves this place and actually professes his admiration out loud.  What we like best is that this ice-cream, aside from having great flavor, texture, the perfect amount of sugar, feels kind of light.  No after ice-cream heaviness here and no regrets for having eaten it.

We love the interior of the shop (once you finally get in) – it’s white, cool, immaculately clean and simple and almost a “reward” for enduring the line.   They are happy to let you sample and then decide what you want.  I am known to get to the front of ice-cream lines and freeze (words literally don’t come out of my mouth) because I can’t decide what I want (it’s tough when you want everything!).  Ria is steadfast in her love of chocolate concoctions .

Ici is run by a former chef from Chez Panisse and features fresh market flavors and some unique twists.  On our last visit they had orange-rosemary toffee and candied meyer lemon.  We went for the relatively “safe” options of milk chocolate caramel and caramel pecan.  Ici always has a couple of ice-cream sandwiches, bons-bons and bombes – how can you go wrong with bons-bons and bombes!  The best part and worth every extra penny and then some are the home-made cones – thin, crispy, light and with a little chocolate surprise at the bottom.  Ria and I shared one and towards the end I forgot I was her mother and we were fighting over the last bites with the chocolate.  My parents had to intervene and remind me that I was an adult and it was okay if she ate a little bit more cone than me.  Maybe, you shouldn’t go to Ici with your kids. 🙂