by Anneli Rufus
Pocket-sized and sporting a navy-blue cover, the Berkeley Dining Passport resembles an actual US passport. But rather than being stamped when its holders enter and exit foreign countries, this "passport" is stamped when its holders eat at participating local restaurants. In return, holders nab freebies and discounts at these restaurants — while helping the homeless.
Unveiled yesterday, the BDP is a joint project of the Berkeley Restaurant Alliance and Visit Berkeley. Part of its $20 purchase price benefits the Berkeley Food & Housing Project, which provides aid — including permanent lodgings, whenever possible — for the local homeless.
According to BFHP executive director Terrie Light, the organization helped over 2,000 men, women, and children in 2009.
For an entire year, cardholders can visit participating restaurants as many times as they wish, taking advantage of an ever-shifting array of discounts and deals. (For instance, among dozens of other deals, cardholders can currently score $1 glasses of house wine at Riva Cucina, free tempura at Kirala, and free dessert at Corso, all with purchase of an entree.) Participating restaurants include Adagia, Anh Hong, Bistro Liaison, Breads of India, Cafe Plátano, Caffe Venezia, Cioccolata di Vino, Corso, eVe, Digs Bistro, Filippo's, FIVE, Henry's Gastropub, King Tsin, Kirala, La Rose Bistro, Rick and Ann's, Riva Cucina, Taste of the Himalayas, Thai Delight, Trattoria Corso, and Zatar.
"Berkeley's culinary scene is delicious and dynamic," said Barbara Hillman, president of Visit Berkeley. "The Berkeley Restaurant Alliance has created a great new way to showcase local and independent Berkeley businesses."
At the unveiling, Berkeley's Mayor Tom Bates proudly became the first Berkeley Dining Passportholder. He did not reveal where he would dine first. Several participating restaurants offered samples of the dishes that cardholders can later savor. Adagia proffered seasonal-vegetable pizza; Filippo's proffered fresh-mozzarella kebabs and artichoke pasta; Taste of the Himalayas proffered potsticker-like Tibetan momos with zesty secret sauce; Caffe Venezia proffered cute seafood sliders; and — among others — Henry's Gastropub chef Eddie Blyden proffered his hot-and-spicy "angry" mac-and-cheese.
"One of the things I love about the program is that it encourages people who have never tried some of our restaurants to check them out," said Daryl Ross, who owns Adagia.