Blissful Basil Note: It is truly a pleasure to share this guest blog post by Dave Daversa with you. He is a close friend and fellow foodie that has immersed himself in cultural food experiences around the globe.
When I first moved to the epicurean utopia of Berkeley, California a few years ago, my abstemious east coast ideals stood no chance against this overwhelming foodie culture. Living in the heart of what is widely known as the “Gourmet Ghetto” I was daily exposed to the latest trends in dining. Once Pennsylvania eat-to-live puritan, I now found myself to be a self-proclaimed foodie.
Thus, my recent return to North Berkeley compelled me to contact Ashley about writing a guest post about this foodie motherland on Blissful Basil. Deciding which dining experience to write about however, was no easy task. The options for East Bay eats are endless. This area excels in all foods of Asian origin, and so Cha Am Thai restaurant would be appropriate. There is also Cesar, a reputable tapas bar that literally changed my life (long story). Of course one can not overlook the internationally recognized paragon of California cuisine, Chez Panisse.
So with all of these unique and lavish dining options, my choice to write about pizza may be surprising. No one could be more surprised than myself. As odd as the statement sounds, pizza was never one of my favored meal options. The cheesy triangles of dripping grease that make most people drool have tended to make my stomach churn with discontent. The quintessential American meal just never called to my taste buds.
Then I was introduced to Cheese Board pizza, and my perception of the Italian classic changed. The Cheeseboard Collective is a Berkeley institution, and its reputation is well-deserved. This business is a bakery, a cheese shop and a pizza joint, all collectively combined into one unique outlet for the finest and freshest of nature’s most fundamental food. The pizza section is particularly distinct. The menu leaves no room for decision-making; the customer has no choices. One kind of pizza is served a day. And each day the toppings change. Boring? Hardly. When that one pizza consists of unique combinations of seasonal local toppings, such as Cremini mushrooms, pinenuts, eggplant, olive tapenade, goat cheese, cilantro, corn or lime; one does not mind relinquishing the right to decide. Since all of these toppings are placed on freshly baked, preservative-free bread and drizzled with virgin olive oil more dark and viscous than Vermont’s finest maple syrup, options become obsolete.
As a non-lover of pizza, the Cheese Board pizza really excites me. So when my housemates brought home a fresh pie one recent evening, my hunger ebulliently approved. The toppings for this evening caused me to laugh with impression and approval: blue cheese, pears, walnuts cilantro, garlic olive oil and fresh mozzarella. Yes, I said pears. On a salad, the classic Californian pairing of blue cheese, pear and walnuts may seem appropriate, but as toppings on pizza this grouping may cause many people to run in the other direction. Nevertheless, this ambitious culinary endeavor produced a winner. Despite the strong flavors boasted by these ingredients, the sweetness and overall taste was surprisingly subtle, and this subdued sensation of flavors is one consistent quality of the Cheese Board pizza that keeps me returning. All ingredients appear artistically blended with modest and delicate proportions. These pies are never drowned with mozzarella, but rather modestly sprinkled with the soft slices. The base is never dominated by heaping globs of salty tomato sauce, but rather a gentle glazing of olive oil. While the majority of pizza I eat encompasses a disproportionate concoction of overpowering tastes that usually leave me dehydrated and comatose, the Cheese Board pizza, even this rendition of more powerful flavors, represents a soft, perfectly balanced harmony of contrasting flavor. When I eat the products from the Cheese Board, my appreciation for food is always rekindled. The smell of their baked breads reminds me that freshness really matters. Tasting their pungent cheese makes me remember to savor nature’s simple forms of nourishment. A bite into a Cheese Board pizza is a sacred practice in mealtime meditation.