When you visit Berkeley, you’re faced with many tempting options, from South Indian chaat at Vic’s to Michelin-rated California cuisine at Chez Panisse. Be sure, however, to reserve at least one morning for my absolute favorite brunch spot in the East Bay—La Note. In my college days, I spent leisurely hours between classes nibbling on baguettes with raspberry jam in the dappled light of the garden patio. Today, their provincial French breakfast plates are just as I remember them…easily worth the 500 mile drive from Los Angeles.
My favorite dish is the elegantly simple Tartine Mistral ($7.5). A skinny toasted baguette—slathered with *just enough* goat cheese—then topped with mounds of basil chiffonade and slick roasted peppers. Despite its minimalism, every mouthful is an event. With each bite, the crisp baguette crust crackles in your mouth, followed by a clingy pull of wooly white bread. As the sharp goat cheese prances over your tongue, sweet peppers burst between your teeth and your nose fills with the fragrance of fresh basil. It’s an edible symphony!
When I’m craving something more substantial, I head straight for La Note’s version of the Grand Slam. The Cote Est platter serves up two scrambled eggs, one pancake of your choice and bacon or homefries ($12). While all their pancake creations are near perfect, the Lemon Gingerbread Pancakes with Poached Pears are miles above the rest. This ¼” thick slab of gingerbread is like a moist slice of warm memory foam, garnished with soft yellow pears glistening in pale juice and a tumbling pile of plump blueberries. The tender eggs are lightly scrambled into velvety peaks and quiver with buttery sweat under parsley confetti. On the side, you’ll find a plate of red potatoes roasted to a caramelized crisp and speckled with shards of rosemary. Skin-on cloves of roasted garlic are mixed in with the potatoes, which you can squash into the dish (as I like to do) or suck from the skins directly into your mouth.
If you’re brunching with an omnivore, I understand the Cote Sud –two eggs sunny side up, spicy merguez sausage, homefries and choice of toast—is an acceptable alternative ($12.95).
My only complaint with La Note is the wait. On the weekend, all the intelligent folks in Berkeley (and there’s a lot of them) mob the restaurant. But on weekdays—no matter how many empty tables dot the dining room—the host will ask you to wait on the wooden bench behind her station. So as you’re anxiously checking your watch or tapping your toes towards open tables, try to savor the wait, anticipating the moment when your teeth sink into those fleecy pancakes.
2377 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704