Berkeley, CA

At Berkeley’s Abstract Table, expect art on each plate

Clay Kallam

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Maple cotton candy tops quail on just another menu item at Abstract Table.Dana Plucinski

"We’re artists,” says Andrew Greene, “not chefs. Every dish starts with color.”

So no, Abstract Table isn’t your normal restaurant. It’s not even your avant-garde, high-concept, Afro-Nepalese-Thai-Russian spot tucked away on a side street with only a tiny sign outside – and that’s in Arabic.

What Abstract Table is, is special. Now located in the gorgeous garden in the back of Berkeley’s Cafenated Coffee, Greene and partner Duncan Kwitkor serve the unusual – and unusually delicious – every Thursday through Sunday, and their success is a testament to their unique vision.

Like all chefs, they started by paying their dues in other kitchens, learning their craft and yearning for their own space. In October 2018, they started using a kitchen on Franklin Street in Oakland, occupied during the day by Gastropig. They had a five-plate and seven-plate tasting menu three nights a week that aspired to rival Commis and the other elite restaurants, but priced it well below the going rate for such fare.

“There weren’t people doing pop-ups in the East Bay back then,” says Greene, but Abstract Table slowly found an audience. And he and Kwitkor also found out about themselves.

“It changed our perception of what our jobs are,” says Greene. “There’s no one to answer to but ourselves.”

And with that, they began carefully crafting menus around themes and regions, and layered taste on taste, course on course, with the same care artists apply to each brush stroke.

Of course, the pandemic changed everything. “When COVID hit, we were starting to do well,” says Greene, but Gastropig shut down – and there was no outdoor space there even when patio dining got the OK.

“A friend of mine called me one day and said ‘Let’s go to Berkeley’,” Greene recalls. “I didn’t want to go – it was a hard time – but he said ‘I’m parked outside, let’s go’.

“We went to the Shattuck Farmer’s Market and afterward he said ‘Let’s get some coffee – I know a cool place.’ And that’s how we found Cafenated Coffee.

“I had never been there,” says Greene, “but when I got a peek at the garden, I got excited.”

And for good reason. The garden is a complete surprise, lush, green, with avocado trees, herbs and the kind of luxuriant feel that Berkeley gardens are known for. There’s a glass roof with open sides, and the ambiance is a combination of forest and greenhouse – and it’s a perfect setting for chefs who are doing more than plating pasta.

After a false start in the fall, Abstract Table shut down in December when the caseload jumped, but as soon as outdoor dining was back, so were Greene and Kwitkor.

“We reopened on Valentine’s Day weekend,” Greene says. “Not only has our clientele from Oakland followed us to Berkeley, we’ve had really good word-of-mouth as well.” And for the last few months, Abstract Table has been packed, and Greene and Kwitkor have also been swamped with private parties and other outside gigs.

But despite all the work, the pair is primed to take on more. Should the long-awaited Oakland Food Hall ever get up and running at Jack London Square, look for an Abstract Table Lite to serve lunches and some of their more accessible dishes.

Also on tap is a plan to take over a much larger space in Berkeley. “We want to take the garden at Cafenated Coffee and move it inside,” says Greene, envisioning an indoor space filled with greenery.

“Our vision would be the same,” says Greene, “just bigger. We may not make as much money as other people, but that’s OK. We’re doing what we love, and there’s no one telling us no.”

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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