Is it just me or is Berkeley really more there than most other places in the Bay Area?

Whatever it is, I shamelessly confess that I like having lunch all by myself at one of thesalad.jpg outdoor tables of Cafe Rouge. This hopelessly hip place holds down one corner of the 4th Street mecca, between Gilman and University. Upscale boutiques twinkle along a two-block section of this neighborhood along the main route to the UCB campus. Between the illegally luxurious Pasta Shop (sea salt from Wales and Sicily!) and relatively downmarket Peet’s, Cafe Rouge has always been ahead of the curve in terms of out-and-out chic, killer menu and artisan charcuterie.

So here was obviously the place for me to test drive a Niman Ranch hot dog. At $7, it was a dollar cheaper than my gorgeous organic salad, and two dollars cheaper than the glass of minerally niman.jpgGrüner Veltliner that went with the frank like Prada on Kate Moss. Loaded with garlic, the hot dog was sheer bliss (maybe it was the outdoor setting, warm sun, plus I was famished). But the secret weapon here was a relish of spiced cabbage so good I could have inhaled the container even without any accompaniment. The potato chips weren’t bad either.

Oh, did I mention that the hot dog had been mesquite grilled? That’s the sort of touch that makes Cafe Rouge one of my favorite places to have lunch in Berkeley. Plus it’s across the street from Sur la Table where I bought a few little chartreuse, square salad plates. Chartreuse is my favorite color.