Happy Wanderer: Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto ‘like Disneyland’ to Nico’s chef


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This cozy booth is one of the features of Nico’s 1508 (formerly Nico’s Hideaway) in Walnut Square on the corner of Walnut and Vine in Berkeley. (Courtesy of Nico’s 1508)

EAST BAY TIMES: October 13, 2017

When it comes to celebrated food districts, Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto takes the cake — and most every other food category. It’s one thing that convinced Chef Munther Massarweh to open Nico’s 1508 (formerly Nico’s Hideaway) in Walnut Square on the corner of Walnut and Vine. Another was the restaurant’s built-in charm.

On a recent evening in one of the cozy booths, a couple drew the curtains that have long framed that section of tables, and committed their lives to one another. Head waiter Jefferson Silva says the marriage proposal wasn’t the first at the restaurant — and the staff helped facilitate by passing each dish under the lace veil in the back of the booth.

The story speaks to the charm of both Nico’s and the neighborhood, where neatly kept homes and fragrant gardens line the eastern border of blocks filled with innovative eateries and family-owned shops.

Here, you can stroll along sidewalks past quirky coffee shops and collectives, listening to solo musicians and tasting seasonally inspired dishes that are uniquely Berkeley. “As a chef,” says the Jordanian-born Massarweh. “It’s like Disneyland. California has it all.”
FYI: Nico’s 1508, at 1508 Walnut St. B, serves American farm-fresh cuisine and has patio seating and a roof top deck with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. They’re open nightly for dinner, weekdays for lunch and weekends for brunch. All cocktails, bottles of wine and appetizers are half off during happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. nightly. For more information, go to:www.nicos1508.com.

Speaking of the Gourmet Ghetto, the longtime floral artist for Chez Panisse, Carrie Glenn, has just published her first children’s book on plants. Glenn spent 35 years foraging for foliage to create the unique arrangements for Alice Waters’ celebrated restaurant.
The book, “Clever Cybèle,” tells the story of a fallen apricot who becomes a “goddess” in a garden of snails. With one book signing already (Chez Panisse hosted it and Alice Waters wrote the cover endorsement), “Clever Cybèle” is already getting the attention of parents who want to share the joys of nature with kids.

And Glenn, who grew up in Iowa farm country before moving to Berkeley in the 1960s era of “flower children,” has written several more books for her series. She just needs to illustrate them — no easy task when you’re trying to paint snails and they keep retreating into their shells.

You can find Glenn’s book, “Clever Cybèle,” online at https://apologuepress.com and at The Gardener on Fourth Street in Berkeley.

What are your favorite local adventures? Drop me a line, and I’ll share them with readers. You can reach me at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or online at http://www.” ginnyprior.com.

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