Major organic restaurant planned for – where else? – Berkeley

| Publication: San Francisco Chronicle

The Bay Area has been at the forefront of organic cuisine, but an East Bay catering company is upping the ante with plans for an ambitious fully organic restaurant. It will be the centerpiece of the David Brower Center, the building going up in downtown Berkeley that developers are calling “the home to the environmental movement in the 21st century.” The restaurant, as yet unnamed, will be run by Back to Earth Organic Catering, owned by Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster. It will be the first restaurant for the pair, who have run the catering company for the past six years. They plan to open the restaurant when the building opens, in spring 2009. How organic is completely organic? “If it’s not organic, we won’t use it,” says Derfel. That means everything from spices to grain to oil to wine. The only exception will be fish, because fish cannot be deemed organic. The fish will be wild, however. The restaurant, which will be open all day, will include a 130-seat sit-down dining room, a year-round patio seating another 100, a takeout counter and a cafe. San Francisco architect Cass Calder Smith’s CCS Architecture will design the uber-green space on Oxford Street between Allston and Kittredge. He’s thinking about dishes such as pizzas “a la Cheeseboard and Arizmendi,” he says, along with yellowtail ahi tartare, grilled sirloin skewerettes, roasted vegetable tartine, local seafood bisque, pumpkin-crusted California sea bass and Riverdog Farm’s Little Gem salad – to name just a few. A chef has not yet been chosen. Derfel wants to keep the menu, and prices, accessible and affordable “so people can eat there three times a week.” It will cater to the building’s employees, workers in nearby buildings and the university, and the public. He envisions the restaurant as more than a place to simply sit down and eat. He wants diners to learn more about how the food gets to their plates, but “in a playful way.” That means, he says, the flat-screen behind the bar will show videos of the farmers, instead of basketball games. Although Derfel grew up in a restaurant family (and his brother, David Derfel, has been a chef for 25 years), he’s tapping into some current luminaries such as Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Charlie Hallowell of Pizzaiolo, and Tony Gulisano of Chow, all of whom, he says, are helping “so we don’t repeat any previous mistakes.”

(original article)