Adventures in Dining
A Trip to Origen
Berkeley’s Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Works for Families
It was mother-daughter night when we tried Origen for the first time. Dinner out alone, without dad or the baby sister, was occasion enough to drive into South Berkeley and check out the new “farm-to-fork” restaurant.
We entered at the bar, where three couples held their wine glasses mid-air for a toast. With polished wood, suspended lighting and fabric-shade chandeliers, the atmosphere seemed a bit fancy for a dinner out with kids. My first impression was perhaps I should’ve saved this excursion for a date night.
But my date for the evening was hungry and happy to be there. We crossed the bar and passed through an adjacent dining room, then were seated at the end of a long row of cozy orange booths. The space, though awkward in its narrowness and seclusion, exuded warmth.
Owners Daniel Clayton and Tracy Leighton brought the farm indoors with earth tones, arrangements of autumn leaves alongside gourds of all shapes and sizes, fresh sage in bud vases and artwork starring many of the leafy greens that are likely to appear on the It was a Thursday evening, and there was ample space for walk-in guests. Origen started bustling by about 6 p.m., with professionals still dressed in work suits, couples and a diverse locavore dining crowd slowly making their way in.
We discovered it was the restaurant’s first Scottish Festival, so our dinner began with a mini history lesson on Robbie Burns, compliments of the menu that included a short bio of the Scottish poet laureate. My daughter and I read it aloud.
Then we browsed through a special selection of Scottish cuisine, which included the likes of heirloom baby turnip and potato clapshot, free-range venison or vegetarian haggis and Kattenberg Seville orange marmalade pudding.
If you offer your children haggis, they will probably look at you in the same skeptical manner that my 10-year-old did. Even the marmalade pudding sounded “weird” to her. I worried that the restaurant’s sustainable and seasonal options might translate to dishes that seemed too unrecognizable for her to attempt. But she studied the menu and immediately found several of her favorite foods: olives, a cheese plate and, of course, pizza.
I craved some of the more adventurous choices. Our server recommended the Nicolas bravas, which are essentially fancy fries, when I asked what he’d suggest for kiddos. Fries are typically a hit with the young ones, but keep in mind that these are highly seasoned and a bit spicy. My daughter couldn’t finish her first wedge. She did, however, devour the appetizer of artisan cheeses, a nice trio accompanied by a currant scone, McKeown quince and Meyer lemon marmalade. Such flavors are meant to be savored. I convinced my daughter to take her time, and before the appetizer disappeared, she had slowed down enough to compare the texture and flavor of the double-cream Sir Francis Drake with the prize-winning Rogue River blue.
The pizzas are big enough to share between two people. My daughter enjoyed half of her formaggio, which she described as “phenomenal.” I could not, however, visit such a restaurant and have pizza for dinner, wood-fired or not.
Origen’s menu features a range of intriguing international choices. An avid seafood fan, I had the challenge of deciding between the paella del dia, cooked to order, or the stir-fried Peruvian lantern scallops. I went for the scallops. Garlic-fried brown rice added a wholesome texture to the dish, while grapefruit salad brightened the flavor and appearance. There was something very rustic and appealing about its taste and simplicity. This is where the restaurant’s creativity and quality really become apparent. I’d definitely go back to try more dishes — probably for a date night and probably starting with the paella I passed over the first time around.
Kids should be part of the trend toward eating fresh, healthy and sustainably prepared food. Origen doesn’t have a kids’ menu, but there are several dinner options here that parents can share with their little ones. That evening’s possibilities included a Marin Sun chuck burger, an Oaxacan-style chicken mole tamale and hand-rolled potato and cheese gnocchi. And if the pecan blondie is still on the dessert menu, order it — delectable.
Our table faced the street and glass doors, rather than windows, separated us from the evening fog on Telegraph Avenue. In warm weather, those doors will open to the nice weather, and there will be sidewalk seating for up to 15. Weekends likely bring in a larger clientele of families who are up and about in search of a yummy lunch or dinner.
Heads Up, Parents
• Highchairs and booster seats
• Narrow dining rooms but there are wide walkways with room for stroller access
• Limited booth seating in a third dining area
• Straws available by request
• A wide-ranging menu and moderate to high prices (entrees are $12–$17)
• No drawing materials or similar entertainment for youngsters
• No changing tables
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Don’t live in Berkeley? These destinations also serve natural, organic and
locally-sourced dining options:
• Gregoire Restaurant, Oakland, www.gregoirerestaurant.com
• Chow Food Bar in Danville, chowfoodbar.com
• The Fig Tree, Pleasant Hill (same chef-owners as Origen), www.eatatfigtree.com
• The Boilerhouse Restaurant, Richmond, boilerhouserestaurant.com
• Tender Greens, Walnut Creek, www.tendergreensfood.com