Solano Avenue: from sashimi to spices

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Nestled in North Berkeley, Solano Avenue at first glance seems oddly familiar, featuring well-loved Berkeley staples such as Zachary’s Pizza, House of Curries and Sunnyside Cafe, located within walking distance of one another.

But the street is hardly a carbon copy of our familiar campus streets — the atmosphere here is far more quaint, with an old-town-community vibe that is epitomized by a central, vintage clock named after Jerome Blank, a long-term resident who the locals lovingly refer to as Mr. Albany.

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Solano has a more mature and classy side as well. For an upscale, date-worthy night, check out Sushi 29 and Vanessa’s Bistro, both around Solano and Tulare Avenue. If things go well, consider following up a successful date with some wine-tasting at the Solano Wine Bar, an elegant store decorated top to bottom with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and more.

“Solano Avenue exemplifies what Berkeleyans treasure about all their neighborhood shopping areas: a community commons with great restaurants and small, diverse independent businesses,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.

Standouts include the Xocolate Bar, which focuses on artisanal chocolate, IScream, an organic ice cream store, and Zand’s, a specialty Persian store that sells homemade meals, tea and spices.
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A definite must-try at Zand’s is the saffron with pistachio ice cream — the smooth richness of the creamy saffron exquisitely balances the crunchy texture of the pistachio, and at about $3.50 for a container equivalent to two scoops, the price is reasonable.

A culinary trip to Iran and the Mediterranean isn’t your cup of Sadaf cardamom tea? No worries: Walk a few blocks down, and you’re likely to run into La Bedaine, a French bakery at 1585 Solano Ave. This tiny gem is distinguished by the pleasantly overwhelming warmth and hominess, evident in the window displays of paintings created by the young daughters of head chef Alain Delangle. More paintings line a shelf in the back, with prices listed above them.

“Well, the price is negotiable,” Delangle says laughingly. “We’ve sold a few … You know, they pay for rent.”

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Delangle has had extensive culinary experience working in Paris and Chagny prior to opening his own restaurant in San Francisco, Le Charm French Bistro — which was listed among the Chronicle’s Top 100 Restaurants in 1994 and also in the next three years. He sold the restaurant in 2008.

“Really, it was a choice between either family or the restaurant,” Delangle said. “In the restaurant business, you can’t have both. That’s why I opened La Bedaine (in 2009).”

Eager to involve the community, Delangle started hosting weekly baking classes that are free to the public. By signing up at the store and offering a $10 security deposit, you can spend an hour in Delangle’s friendly company and expertise. Those itching to learn the secrets behind the art of croissants and cream puffs, take note: These classes are hosted Sundays from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Family-motivated, family-run and community-driven, La Bedaine is a perfect example of the kind of heart and simplicity found in the businesses located on Solano. If you’re looking for a new food adventure on a slow Sunday afternoon, consider Solano Avenue the destination for some of Berkeley’s finest.

All photos were taken by Carli Baker.
Contact Kristie Chang at [email protected]

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