(Continued from 16.6) Eating Day: March 19, 2011- again.
CHICK-O-PEA'S- 1926 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley- 8:44pm- Chick-O-Pea's Salad - $7
Photo by Tigerlily
When I started the salad at Herbivore, I ate with almost the same vigor as very early in the session. I slowed down as I worked my way through that disappointment, but I never approached the sensation of distension I had experienced after the Smart Alec's salad. I was now roughly as full as I was prior to the salad at Maoz. This was apt, because I was about to eat at Chick-O-Pea's, a place with a very similar m.o. as Maoz, except in a non-chain package.
I have known about Chick-O-Pea's since they opened a couple of years ago, yet I was reluctant to try the place. Something about my perception of their business model had put me off of them. Perhaps it was their cutesy name, which I assume was derived from Jodi Foster's nonsensical wild-child utterances in her role in Nell. Maybe I found all of their grandiose statements about organic this and eco-friendly that a bit much for a falafel joint.
"Chick-O-Pea’s aioli is made fresh daily and we use only free-range organic eggs. We use rice oil for our deep frying and virgin olive oil for our dressings. Chick-O-Peas' mission is to bring an eco-friendly alternative to the disposable foodservice industry and bring social awareness of the need to maintain our environment. Our disposable products such as cold cups, lids, cup carriers, containers, clamshells, cutlery, plates, bowls and lunch trays are currently purchased from manufacturers and suppliers of 100% biodegradable and compostable (disposable) made from PLA (corn), high heat tolerant CPLA, Bagasse ( sugarcane) and recycled paper pulp."
Don't get me wrong. This stuff is all well and good. It just irritates me when eateries feel the need to blow their green health-horn in my face. It's the restaurant equivalent of a girl who wears a chastity ring just to brag about her virginity. Finally, I think Chick-O-Pea's location adjacent to the Gourmet Ghetto had me convinced that they would be unduly expensive and/or pretentious. I should not have stayed away so long, because the reality of Chick-O-Pea's is quite different than what I had envisioned. Since the salad session, I have eaten here (to go) on half a dozen occasions. I still get embarrassed saying the establishment's name, though.
Like Maoz, the Chick-O-Pea's salad is part full-serve, part self-serve. To start, they give you a plastic-like clamshell container that already holds a small bed of mixed greens. After you have paid, they fry up two large, made-to-order falafel balls. You build the rest of the salad at their do-it-yourself salad bar. As with Maoz, the items on the salad bar are Middle Eastern/Mediterranean-inspired, but Chick-O-Pea's offerings are generally far more flavorful than the relatively unadorned salads at Maoz. A few of the items on the Chick-O-Pea's bar are always present, but others seem go in and out on a rotating basis. On the day of the session, I chose a sizable heap of pickled cabbage, pickled peppers, pickled beets, seasoned cucumber salad, and lobio, a garbanzo bean salad in vinaigrette. I looked up lobio on Wikipedia. It apparently comes from the Republic of Georgia and usually contains kidneys beans, rather than garbanzos. Although I don't know how authentic this version is, it was certainly a zingy salad with a good deal of cumin, a little garlic, and maybe some citrus. It would make a great alternative to taboulleh on a falafel plate. All the other salads were equally delicious. Best of all, the falafel here is as good as the balls at Maoz. Once again, they are highly crunchy outside, well-spiced, and moist inside. And they're big. If Chick-O-Pea's has a good pita, the falafel sandwich here is undoubtedly stellar. There are also several squeeze bottles of dressings/sauces available for topping your salad. Unfortunately, they are unlabeled, so I can only guess what the bottles contain. I am quite certain that one of the bottles is a tahini sauce and another is yogurt-based, but I have no clue about the others, except for the harissa (Middle Eastern hot sauce.) I loaded up on harissa, which made the already-vibrant salad even more exciting.
About halfway through the salad, I slowed to a crawl. It was a miracle that I was able to finish this thing. I made the salad far bigger than I should have. At one point, I sneezed hard, probably due to the peppery ingredients in the salad. The force of the sneeze was so great, it nearly caused me to projectile vomit all over the restaurant. I had to close my mouth quickly to prevent the chunder. After this episode, I continued to plod through the salad one tiny bite after another until I was finally finished. I was nearly as stuffed as I was after the Smart Alec's salad, but this time, there was no beckoning turd on the horizon. Worst of all, my ears were now stuffed up, as if I had just disembarked from a twelve-hour flight. This sensation lasted until the following morning. Were my Eustachian tubes filled with lettuce? I expected to lose my equilibrium once I arose from the table to walk from the car. Luckily, I was able to waddle to my auto and attempt a final entry before calling an end to this foolish venture.