Sunday, December 21, 2008

Turquoise Grill (Orinda) = House of Kabob (Berkeley)

I had a bad addiction in college. Almost daily, I begged, borrowed, and (almost) stole to get my fix. It was a "grilled chicken rice plate with potato salad, with yogurt on top, a little bit spicy". During the first term of the Clinton presidency, I must have eaten this meal at least 250 times. I got it at House of Kabob, located in the infamous Durant Square food court on the southside of Berkeley.

It was a crazy time at Cal. There was the homeless lady who tried to kill Chancellor Chang-Lin "Go Bears" Tien. This was followed by riots on Telegraph when the UCPD shot and killed the would-be assassin. There was the Naked Guy and the nude-ins. And who could forget the cheers for Jason Kidd and the disappointed jeers for Russell White? Ah, the memories.

To the 90% of Cal undergrads who went to the food court, each had their favorites. King Pin Donuts. Yokohama Station (home of the rice with teriyaki sauce for $1 special). Steve's BBQ. Manuel's we-don't-check-your-ID Bar. And my favorite, House of Kabob.

In 2006, the owner sold the place and retired. It has not been the same since. I was in mourning.

House of Kabob in Berkeley became Meesha's Gyros

Last week, I walked by a new place in Orinda. It was called Turquoise Mediterranean Grill. As I looked inside, I immediately recognized the former owner of House of Kabob and his son behind the counter, in their open kitchen. I ran in and shook their hands. They're back in the biz.

I had my grilled chicken rice plate today for lunch. They do not serve potato salad anymore. The chicken is grilled, rather than roasted on a rotating spit. It was served on a big plate trimmed with turquoise paint rather than a plastic see-through carry out container. The meal cost $12, twice as much as what I paid in college.

And it was worth every penny. Its customers are no longer value-oriented (read: cheap) students. The chicken is fresher and healthier. The hummus, side salad, and sauces all taste familiar and probably follow the exact recipes as before. But everything tasted better, more refined, bolder.

With the economic downturn and Orinda's notoriously high retail turnover rate, the odds are against Turquoise. But I am confident that anyone who tries the place once will be a repeat customer.


1 comment:

Spike Spiegel said...

Me and the kids in the Granola Mine are doing what we can to keep Turquoise afloat. They're nice guys and we try to order from there as often as possible. The grilled chicken Caesar salad is excellent, and I'm not a fan of salad!