Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No hats off to Chapeau

One of the most consistently satisfying dining experiences in SF has been at Chapeau. The restaurant was very small, very reasonably priced with excellent service and food. It was on Clement just west of Park Presidio and you could always get a parking space along the frontage road there. Chapeau recently moved to the former Clementine site on Clement and 2nd and we just had a disappointing dinner. The food was still great and prices remain most reasonable for the quality (3 course meal selected from the menu is $38), but basically the service stunk. The chef/owner was at the door to overly greet everyone. He shook my hand twice. When you leave, he bestows a kiss on the cheek of the ladies and heartily shakes the men's hands. What he wasn't doing was keeping an eye on the service and the movement of food. I was reminded of the old Le Cyrano on Geary where madame kept her eye on all aspects of the food and service. You felt you were in excellent hands. We did not feel the same at Chapeau. A majority of our party only ordered entrees so I expected the service to speed up for those of us ordering appetizers; it did not. Drinks were slow to come and it felt certain tables were getting better treatment. Once the food came, it was great, although I had to calm down a little from my waiting furor. The mussel soup was delicious, the skate wing beautifully presented with excellent flavors. Desserts are OK (we were comped a couple of desserts, which was nice but unfortunately did not make up for the evening's shortcomings). Monsieur deeply apologized for the lapses in service and said he would be talking to the staff the next day. I held back (until now) saying the problem was him since he was emphasizing affect over effect.

Palo Alto is now home to a Sancho's Taqueria and the world's best fish taco is right downtown. Sancho's started in Redwood City and became an instant success, soon moving to larger quarters. The owners also ran the taqueria in an East Palo Alto market, but have now switched to Lytton and Cowper in Palo Alto. Although they have most of the standard Mexican fare done satisfactorily, their fish tacos, either fried or grilled, are just superb ($3.95). 3 make a good meal for 2 people. The ceviche is also excellent and their chips and salsas are fresh and tasty. They use sustainable ingredients and biodegradable paper products, which is very commendable for their reasonable prices. I wish them lots of success.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A few more great San Francisco meals

Had a rash (in a good way) of some fine SF eating. We had dinner last week at The Richmond, a small, chef-run dinner spot in guess where, the Richmond. On Balboa, near 7th, we met cousins for a 6 PM dinner and had no probem finding a parking space, although we hit lots of traffic getting there. Plus #1. A delicious amuse bouche of creamy leek soup left a nice mouth feel and opened the senses up for more. Plus #2. Shared appetizers of beet salad and ahi carpaccio were fresh and delicious and served with La Brea baquette and 3 kinds of butter. Bread was quickly replaced. Plus #3. Menu changes with what's fresh. Plus #4. Entrees included a chicken scallopini with chicken ravioli and a fresh Pacific cod with calamari. Entrees are all under $20 and just the right size. Plus#5. Service was excellent as were desserts, including an ethereal panna cotta. Plus#6. And a superb wine list, very reasonably priced. I want to come back and sit at the bar with a nice glass of red and order a burger with fries for $9.95!

We returned to Nopa Thanksgiving weekend and were thankful we did. Nopa is one of our favorite SF restaurants, reliably excellent and the service is always great. We know the owner- chef, but it's so great not to have to fake our enthusiasm for this restaurant. When we made our reservation we asked for a quiet table as it's noisy in there, but a few tables are under a balcony so you can hear your tablemates. Sheila calls it the senior section. We started with mussels (all open and very plump Penn Cove), flatbread with butternut squash, baked egg with tomato gratin, and litle fried fish. All superb. If you like pork, you must order their pork chop, consistently perfect, the best in the Bay Area. The lamb shank was also good but pales next to the pork; the swordfish was done perfectly. Warm chocolate cookies with sweet milk made a homey dessert and a thing I love about Nopa is you can get hot chocalate after dinner. I'm not a coffee drinker so it's quite a thrill having a rich, dark cup of cocoa. Vahlrona too! The wine list is superb, almost too long. Our server talked us into 2 great but for us pricey wines, an incredible white, Mathiessen sauvignon blanc-ribolla cialla-semillon, and an excellent red, a 1999 rioja from Lopez de Heredia. Both worth it and key parts of a great meal.

And now, presenting a fabulous breakfast, at Brenda's French Soul Food on Polk near Eddy. Small and mighty, Brenda's serves the best biscuit I have ever had and it came with a really fine hangtown fry(eggs, oysters, bacon), a daily special. The weakest part was a large serving of potato hash, but that would have been a star at another restaurant. Sheila had Bananas Fosters French Toast, another special, each under $10 (prices are great too), and it was wonderfully buttery and carmelly. I didn't try their beignets and hope to soon, although I may not be able to resist that incredible biscuit. A trip to the restroom takes you through the little kitchen, by Brenda cooking and past the biscuit and beignet stations. What a find!

And lastly, a good, cheap dinner in the Mission: Limon Peruvian Rotisserie, a sister to Limon which recently reopened on Valencia. This one's in a small corner buildng on So. Van Ness and 21st. The free-range rotisserie chicken is cooked perfectly and you know, there's nothing like a good roast chicken. A whole chicken is $16.95 including 2 large sides (we opted for excellent fried potatoes and sweet potatoes) and 2 dipping sauces. Our group of 4 also split a ceviche mixto, with prawns, halibut, and calamari (delicious) and an unusual but tasty ensalada de vegetales, cooked seasonal veggies in an orange/Dijon dressing. Also enjoyed the mango mojitos made with sake. We skipped dessert there and walked to Bi-Rite Ice Cream on 18th for my first taste of their famous ice creams. Wow! Salted caramel and brown sugar with ginger swirl both immediately entered my pantheon of great ice cream.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I've been away now, but now I've come back home. A week in Japan with many culinary delights. Unfortunately I don't the name of most of them. We were lucky enough to go with friends who lived in Japan and knew places and we just followed and enjoyed. Here's what I remember. In Tokyo we had donburi from the restaurant that supposedly invented it in the late 18th century-- Tamahide! Fresh and delicious with only about 5 versions on the menu and only open for lunch. Great home-made noodles are to be had at Sanuki served with tasty appetizers like smoked tiny sardines and tofu salad. We went to the Tsujuki Market and had really incredible sushi at Daiwa at 6:30 in the morning with beer. I learned beer goes great with sushi. Our last dinner was at a wonderful kaiseki restaurant near Rappongi, Nanao. The first course of chawan (egg custard) with fish sperm sac was divine and each course after nicely balanced. The woman owner/chef was one of the first in Tokyo and has been in business 25 years.
In Kamakura, we had a delicous soba with tempura lunch at Nakamura-an. In Nara, we had terrific okonomiyaki, a new favorite dish, at Okaru. A homey pancake-omelet filled with seafood or assorted meat and vegetables is made on a tabletop griddle. In Kyoto, we had a nice meal in a private room at Mame-cha in the Gion district where we stayed in a lovely, small ryokan, Uemura. Mrs. Uemura serves a fantastic American or Japanese breakfast. We had lunch in Ryoan-Ji temple at a tofu restaurant, Yudofu Seigenin, beautiful setting, pure food.
Other food highlights were a great fish cake from the Kyoto market, roasted gingko nuts and chestnuts, yakatori, lots of miso soup. But I'm not wild about sitting on a tatami mat while eating-- so uncomfortable. At one restaurant we asked if they had chairs and they were so insulted, they turned us away. We also learned to love saki and the nice induced drunken state.

And now, back to home territory. A lovely day today to go to Half Moon Bay where I found myself returning to Mezzalune. Their Mezzalune Salad with home-made focaccia and a glass of wine makes a perfect lunch and I always find myself ordering it. Their pastas are nice too, but for $8.50, you get very fresh greens topped with lots of just cooked and cooled calamari, shrimp, salmon, and a scallop. A perfect seaside lunch.
I was very excited to take a walk around San Jose State and spot a Korean taco truck on 10th near San Carlos. They're the rage in LA. I had just bought a good lengua burrito from the old stand-by, Super Taqueria, but I knew I had to return to the truck and try it. So I did and got a bulgogi taco and one spicy chicken taco, each $2. Bulgogi BBQ has a sign that says 2 tacos for $4 (duh) or 3 for $5. They were both OK, no Wow factor and nothing to make me think what a great combination Korean and Mexican food make. The truck kitchen is very clean. They also serve burritos and burgers for $5. I enjoyed my lengua burrito more.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A breakfast to remember

Whenever I have a really great breakfast, I want to immediately move to where that restaurant is. I want to be a regular so the staff know me and what I like and I know them. I just ate at Linda's Seabreeze Cafe on Seabright in Santa Cruz and I definitely want to move close to it. I had a perfect breakfast, the Scrambler for $7.50: 2 eggs scrambled with green onions, mushrooms, and cheese, served with home fries and a cinnamon roll (I chose that over a muffin). The eggs were done just right, ingredients balanced, not runny but a little soft. The potatoes, by which I always judge a breakfast place, were red potatoes cooked through and nicely crispy with lots of onion. I gobbled them up with the scramble and left the roll for dessert. It was filled with chopped pecans, very cinnamony but not over the top, layered and buttery and so satisfying. I also had a large glass of Odwalla orange juice for $2.50, pretty good these days. After this great breakfast I walked 2 blocks to the ocean where it was clear, sunny, but not too hot. Oh what a beautiful morning!

Monday, October 26, 2009

A few recent eatings

I'm always looking for a place to shine in the Palo Alto-Mountain View area where mediocrity rules. Often the tops are Mexican places and I recently had a couple of excellent tacos at Mercado Marlen Taqueria, attached to a Mexican grocery on California near Showers. I only had $3 with me, but was able to get one tongue and one chili verde taco for $1.39 each. Both had lots of lean, tender, flavorful meat in 2 small corn tortillas with good texture. The place appears to be run by a mother and her 2 daughters and they keep everything clean and efficient. They have a fairly large menu for a small place. Burritos are $5. 50 and I'll have to come and try more. I did notice they have a breakfast burrito for $8.50 which seems pretty pricey.
I also recently stopped in at Dittmer's on San Antonio. I adore their paprika sausage and also like to get a couple of turkey, chicken, and/or duck legs which are nice to have around for a quick lunch or snack. Everything is of very high quality, it's family-run, and a food highlight of the mid-Peninsula.
Xanh's in Mountain View is a beautiful neo-Vietnamese restaurant on Castro that now has only a buffet at lunch, but it's one of the best deals around at $12. Almost all of the favorites from the dinner menu are there. Things are refreshed regularly and everything is good, some great, and it feels like healthy dining. Highlights were the fried chicken wings, 2 soups, short ribs, papaya salad, brown rice, catfish, and different rolls. Their excellent shaking beef and eggplant are not on the lunch buffet so it's worth coming back for dinner.
We met friends in San Francisco for a walk through the Presidio to take advantage of a beautiful day and see the Andy Goldsworthy tree tower. It and the view were really beautiful and the Presidio is a great place to explore. We wanted to stay near there for dinner and found a great Burmese/Chinese restaurant, Mandalay, on California. I had never been there but it's been around since 1984 and says it's the first Burmese restaurant in San Francisco. It's 2 blocks away from the wildly popular Burma Superstar, but service was friendlier and we found parking close by (maybe just lucky). Service was so friendly we felt like longtime patrons. We had excellent fish chowder, tea leaf salad, chicken with pumpkin (actually kambucha), eggplant in basil sauce and seafood in a basket. The last 2 were more Chinese than Burmese, but everything was fresh and delicious. For me a new discovery I'll go back to.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

San Diego and Los Angeles remembrances and new roots

The Hungry book tour took us to my hometown of San Diego and my school town of Los Angeles. Sampled old favorite haunts and new food discoveries. I love returning to Balboa Park and walking across the Spruce Street suspension bridge west of the park. We ate deep dish pizza slices from Lefty's Chicago Pizzeria in North Park. It's nice to be able to get slices of deep dish pizza and the sausage slice was very good. The spinach/mushroom less so, but 2 slices and a drink for $6 easily feeds 2. I've been hearing great things about Point Loma Seafoods for a long time and finally got there to enjoy a fresh fish sandwich, a delicious crab sandwich, and a soft-shell crab sandwich. The bun had too much bread for the soft-shell crab and I don't like red bell pepper in my cole slaw. It was a nice day so it's great to sit and watch the boats and enjoy fresh food. They have a great selection of smoked fish which we took to go. The other downside is they only take cash or checks.
We were going to go there one evening but they close at 6:30 and did not think we would make it, so we ended up at Cafe Athena in Pacific Beach with no regrets. Excellent Greek food in a pleasant setting with good service. Prices are very reasonable and portions are large. The fried calamari was excellent, the Greek salad fresh and satisfying with lovely pita (must be homemade). The moussaka's eggplant was well-cooked and the Bechamel sauce perfect. The Cretan Salmon was broiled just right and served with 2 incredible sides, spanaki lemonato (cold spinach) and skordalia (garlic with mashed potatoes). The Shrimp Scorpio, broiled large shrimp in a tomato-herb sauce, was delicious. For dessert we shared a perfect galacto-boureko, rolls of filo filled with custard and orange zest.
We had a good lunch at DZ Akins, a real delicatessan, which seems to expand each time I go. It's no Carnegie Deli, but it has very decent corned beef and brisket sandwiches and each table had a great bowl of pickles at different ripenesses. They have a huge menu so there's something for everybody. It's also fun to see the photos of what passes for celebrities in SD.
Before the book talk in La Jolla, we had an always delightful meal at George's Ocean Terrace. One feels on top of the world looking out over beautiful La Jolla Cove. We stick with appetizers and end up with a reasonably-priced, delicious meal. The chicken and bean soup has great depth of flavor, the roasted mussles are superb, the fish tacos are OK, and the salads are fresh and lovely. The cocktail and wine lists are good and service is pleasant,
The other fine meal we had was at Kensington Grill. It's in a part of town where I had several relatives living and always seemed dull, but now it's a great neighborhood. Their hamburger is about the best I've ever had and really puts the one at DB Bistro Moderne (see NY restaurants) to shame. Their macaroni and cheese is superb with just a hint of truffle oil, but richly cheesy wirh orchiette which provide the perfect vessel. Their bruschetta appetizer is a great idea-- your choice of 3 different global types served on baguettes, such as fresh mozzarella with tomatoes, smoked salmon, or pancetta and fava beans. The ribeye steak is perfect and all accompaniments are really good. Very nice wine list with an especially pleasant Vouvray by the glass.
We hit LA in time to have lunch at Tito's Tacos in Culver City, truly one of my all-time favorites. It has been the same since I first went there in like 1976 even though they moved 30 years ago. Always a line and most get tacos ($1.70 without cheese, which I prefer). They are fried and then filled with lettuce and yoou get a cup of this incredible salsa that just makes it come alive. I also love the meat only burrito with large chunks of tender meat in a rich chili sauce. They always give you lots of chips to dip in the salsa, but their guacamole is substandard.
After the booktalk in West Hollywood, a group of us went to Angeli Caffe on Melrose, owned by Evan Kleiman. We have her coobook, Mare. Their pizzas and pasta were great, especially the gnocchi. They serve an amazing pizza bread. That plus a salad would be a nice meal and I suspect their sandwiches must be great. We also had eggplant croquettes and aggplant rotinis, both excellent.
We cannot leave LA without stopping at Beverlywood Bakery on Pico. I adore their chocolate chip Danish, mandel brot, and corn rye. Their bagels, however, are awful, bready and dull. Sheila's gone there since childhood. We miss the old Jewish ladies who used to work there and always say, "What else? no matter how much you ordered.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Orleans-- pig meets pig

What a great place for the Assn. of Food Journalists conference, so I had to accompany Sheila to New Orleans. Early October is supposed to have the best weather, but alas, it sucked. Hot, hot, humid, rainy, humid, hot. Thank goodness for air conditioning as I did a lot of walking finding what I hoped would be an ultimate fried chicken. And that I did. Willie Mae's Scotch House is justifiably famous for their perfect, thick-crusted, tender-meated chicken. They have other things on the menu like fried pork chops, but everyone I saw was eating the chicken. It's $10 for 3 pieces and a side. I had a very fresh and welcome romaine salad. Not a lot of green greens in NO. The place which really looks like nothing from the outside is cheery and clean inside with very nice service. My first fried chicken was a walk to McHardy's, which is basically a to go place with only a bench to sit on, which I did. 5 pieces of nice, thin-coated, peppery chicken was $3.80. Brought some back to the hotel and Sheila had some after being refrigerated and it was still good. And it was just fine until I tasted Willie Mae's. Our last meal in NO was at Dooky Chase, a classic Creole institution, also creepily not much on the outside but elegant and tasteful on the inside. They have a buffet lunch for $17 that includes fried chicken so I had to do that. Chicken was a nice midpoint between the other 2, nicely peppery and nicely crispy. Again not as earthshaking as Willie Mae's, but very decent. The catfish, potato salad, gumbo, and okra were all delicious too. Some pretty large folks take advantage of this stylish buffet.

Several people recommended Stanley, right on Jackson Square, where we had eggs benedict with and without fried oysters. Very good, but not awe-inspriing. We did partake of the famous beignets at Cafe du Monde and there really is something special about eating there. We were on our way to try Elizabeth's which many say is the best Creole place in town and a 2 mile walk from our hotel so Cafe du Monde was a good stopping place. Alas when we finally arrived, Elizabeth's does not open until 11 AM and we were there at 9:30. Check the hours at New Orleans restaurants!

Our first dinner, after an 11 hour flight from New York (don't ask!) was at NOLA's, an Emeril restaurant that I've eaten at each of my trips to New Orleans and it is consistently good. Locals seem to sneer a little but food combinations are great, portions are large, prices reasonable, and service strives to be excellent. We shared appetizers of barbequed shrimp, flatbread with duck confit, an arugula salad, and an entree of smoked duck over grits. We took home about 1/3 of the duck to leave a little room for a wonderful chocolate pecan tart, each bite better than the last. I had screwed up our reservation but they were very accommodating.

While Sheila gave a booktalk through the Garden District Book Shop, I took advantage of the conference's A Taste of New Orleans. Large tastes from some of the finest NO chefs, such as pickled shrimp from Susan Spicer's Bayona, Pork cheeks over dirty rice from Emeril (himself was there), pork belly with a mint sauce from Donald Link's Cochon, seared ahi from del Porto, Drago's BBQ'd oysters, and my 2 favorites, sweetbreads with bacon jus over truffled grits from MiLa and short rib over sunchoke/cauliflower puree from Patois. Famous cocktails like the Sazerac were also served. And a lovely pear cake from Milette was for dessert. I was so full that when Sheila got back from the book talk and we walked to the Roosevelt Hotel to have a drink and get her some food, I could only have a small portion of lovely fresh cold heirloom tomato soup, while Sheila had bresaola with arugula and octopus carpaccio at Domenica, John Besh's latest restaurant.

Speaking of Besh, the awards dinner was at his flaghsip restaurant, Restaurant August, in a beautiful banquet room on the 3rd floor. We started with fried oysters and caviar served in a spoon French Laundry-style, Fricos (a light pastry cup) with andouille mousse (the best), and rabbit boudin. First course was white shrimp carpaccio with a remoulade sauce and mache (what a ton of work thinly slicing the shrimp, but a great way to spread a few shrimp over many plates). The next course was my favorite, featuring pumpkin agnolotti served in a roasted quail pho with porcini-- elegant contrast of textures and flavors. Main dish was slow cooked venison over grits wth elderberries and graine de paradis ( a flavorful pepper-like spice). No thrill but pleasant. Dessert was a brown butter quince tarte. I'm a sucker whenever I see those words "brown butter" together. It was tasty but the crust was so hard it was almost impossible to cut with a fork. Each course was served with a matching wine; we ended with a reserve Muscat de Beaumes Venise, which always leaves me very happy.

A last New Orleans treat was Angelo Borcato ice cream where I had a deliciously creamy panna cotta gelato. It's right off the Canal streetcar line and worth a little trek. One needs weeks to try all the great eating possibilities in this unique, recovering, and special city.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New York New York, what a wonderful town

Sheila and I have had a whirlwind eating, walking, sightseeing tour of NYC including getting to know Brooklyn better. Our good friends M&R have moved there and there we mooched. We took a 2 1/2 respite in No. New Jersey to attend a wedding. Our kids' friends getting married; it's enough to make you weep. A fabulous wedding, altho NJ needs MANY more road sings. The rehearsal dinner was at Pourquoi Pas in Westwood. We took over the restaurant and the food was quite good and generously served. Nice to know there's a place in the wilds of NJ.
As far as New York, some great eating. We took a redeye and arrived early Wed. morning. After a nap, I took the subway to one of the holy grails of pizza, Di Faro's. One time I had a rental car and we went there but it was closed. This time it was open and not crowded. What luck! I had a square slice which is on a thicker base than the slice. Nice olive oil crust, a little crispy. Lovely tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh-cut basil, a little olive oil, some seasoning, all done by one guy who makes one pie at a time--no rushing. The more I ate the better it was, a great beginning to my days of NY repast. I can't say it's the best I've ever had, but worth the trip.
That night we went to see Hamlet with Jude Law, which was quite spectacular. He was great! Before the play, we and our friends went to db Bistro Moderne, a Daniel Boulud spinoff (I think the first). I had another of my "I have to try this before I die" dishes I've been reading about for years, their burger with foie gras and short rib. No socks knocked off, esp. for $32! The pommes souflees that came with the burger were a delight, crisp and puffy. Our party's favorite dishes were the coq au vin and the Moroccan tuna tartare. A very lovely room and good service, but not essential to return to.
But one that I did return to and would again is Jean-Georges, at least for lunch. Their $29 lunch is for any 2 courses. Each additional course is $14.50 and desserts are $8. The food and service are wonderful. Last time we went, I had the foie gras appetizer with roasted strawberries, one of the best dishes I have ever had anywhere. This time is had dried cherries and was delicious but not as spectacular as the strawberry. Sheila had their justly famous scallops with cauliflower in caper/raisin sauce, which I made once. Doesn't sound great, but it really shows what a great chef can do. It had a $8 supplement. Entrees were a spectacular rock cod crusted with nuts and seeds (made into a powder so it was light) in a broth with fresh vegetables and skate with Chalon sauce, marvelous. Desserts were fair, but they offer a lagniappe of fresh marshmallows and chocolates so I might skip dessert in future. The wine list has fantastic wines by the glass from $10-30. I'd go back.
Another New York lunch favorite is Gotham Bar and Grill, reliably excellent. They're celebrating their 25th anniversary and have a $25 3-course lunch special. The autumn squash soup was delicate and flavorful, watermelon and cherry tomato salad was refreshing, the Atlantic cod with chanterelles was perfectly cooked, as was the hangar steak. And for dessert, you can get their absolutely incredible chocolate cake. It's perfect, melt-in-your-mouth chocolateness. The sweet corn creme caramel was wonderful too, but I'll always take the cake.
And another NY favorite is Carnegie Deli. Their sandwiches are just so good and huge. Four of us ate 3 sandwiches and had lots of leftovers. I love their corn beef. Service is not great and I hate that they do not accept credit cards, but I still love it. We usually like to get a matza ball soup and sandwich and take to our hotel (no sharing charge!). Ate their before seeing Hair, which was also fantastic.
Besides Di Faro, the only pizza I tried was a slice from Sal and Carmine's which just got a great write-up on Sliceny.com. Feh, nothing great. Had a usually great lox and bagel from Ess-a-Bagel (although I prefer their 1st Ave. location), excellent bagels from Murray's, and very good bagels from La Bagel Delights and the Bagel Hole, the latter two in Brooklyn.
Our last dinner was at Scopello, a very good neighborhood place in Brooklyn. Excellent calamari salad and octopus appetizer, fresh pastas and a fine seafood risotto at reasonable prices.
Just a note on shows: Hair and Hamlet were both superb.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Seattle eats

Just returned from a 4 day trip to Seattle to promote Hungry. And we did not go hungry. We found a Vietnamese place, Tamarind Tree, that rivals any in San Jose. We went for lunch and it was so good we returned with a group for dinner. The menu is the same but prices are about $2 more at dinner. It's a lovely room plus a really nice patio with a waterfall in a pretty rundown shopping strip on Jackson and 12th Ave. S. A fantastic banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) with large shrimp and coconut milk in the batter, beautifully balanced green mango salad, and an anise infused pho at lunch. The highlight of dinner was Thanh Long yellow fish (tumeric seasoned catfish) to wrap in lettuce and herbs with peanuts and other goodies-- really amazing. The bon bon salad equalled the mango salad and shitake satay was very good. Any of the fresh rolls are recommended. Another amazing entree was the chicken ginger vodka, marinated in vodka overnight braised with ginger. Grilled beef short ribs were fine, but compared to the chicken and fish, don't bother. And their wine list is pretty good too. 8 people feasted for less than $30 each.

The other change-my-life find was the Cuban sandwich place, Paseo. I heard about this the last time I went to Seattle and was thrilled to try it this time. We went to the Ballard locks before we had to get back to the airport and fortunately there's one in Ballard on Seaview Avenue. OMG! We had to wait until we got on the plane to eat so they were a little soggy but the roasted pork sandwich is one of if not the best sandwich anywhere (gives the meatball sandwich at Mario's in SF a run for its money). Huge chunks of incredibly tender pork shoulder with a garlic aioli, carmelized onions, lettuce, jalapenos on a baguette roll. Also had their original grilled pork (very nice) and the seared scallop with a 3 out of 5 hotness request. Unique and very good but the pork shoulder was the clear winner. I want one now.

We also had a pleasant French meal at Le Pichet right near Pike's Place Market. Highlights were the roast chicken for 2, lentil salad, falafel, and sardines. The hazelnut-crusted fish was a real salty miss but they took it off the bill, a real service-focused thing to do. It's very French with an excellent apperitif and wine list and recommended. In Bellvue, we had a satisfying lunch at Tao on 110th Ave. NE, a block from the library. Good variety of Japanese food with a few Korean dishes. The bento boxes are a great deal for $8.50 and you get a little cup of frozen yogurt at the end of the meal, which was just perfect.

Breakfast at Jimmy's on 1st in the Silver Cloud Inn-Stadium (our hotel via Priceline) was better than one might expect. Bagel with smoked salmon was generously layered with wild salmon, tomatoes, capers and chives for $10. In Pioneer Square we discovered Grand Central Baking Company, which makes the excellent baguettes for Le Pichet, above. They have a daily coffee cake that was terrific as well as healthy tasting muffins and scones. Everything looks good and everything we tried had satisfying texture. We had an excellent, albeit a little pricey sandwich at the famous Salumi, run by Mario Batali's father. The meats were so flavorful complimented nicely by tapenade, although the rolls could have been better. I was walking along Broadway and saw a long line at Dick's, a classic looking drive-in. Tried a burger (OK) but thought the fries were really good. I wasn't hungry enough to try their 1/4 pounder, which most people were getting.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Chinese feast

I always enjoy Chinese banquet style eating. I usally ask to see the Chinese menu in "authentic" restuarants and have the waiter translate the courses. It's usually the best deal. Friends of ours have a tradition of going out to eat a Chinese meal before Rosh Hashana starts and asked us to join them this year. The choice was Joy Luck Place in the Cupertino Village shopping center on No. Wolfe Road (at Homestead), mainly known for their dim sum. What a great meal it was!
We got the lowest price family dinner, $268 for 10 people plus one other dish to make up for one of our party's being allergic to shrimp. The dinner consisted of generous portions of: a cold BBQ meat platter with jellyfish and seaweed too (pork very fresh), soup with seafood and tofu, glazed (giant) prawns with walnut, scallop and chicken in black bean sauce (scallops a little overcooked), braised broccoli and bok choy with black mushrooms, pepper fried whole crab (2), Peking duck (excellent), pan fried sea bass (very tender and fresh), seafood fried rice, and red bean soup. The added dish was beef tenderloin in capital sauce with lovely sauteed onions.
Their dinners for 10 are also available for 5, which is unusual and welcome. It was a great meal and a good start to a new year, albeit traif.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the BATS (Bay Area Theatersports) Theater at Fort Mason for a terrifc night of improvisation, Jane Austen Unscripted, by Impro Theater of Los Angeles. Before the show, we went to Yukol Palace, at Lombard and Scott for some very fine and pretty inexpensive Thai food. We parked near Fort MAson and walked. It's nice to know about it as it is away from the Chestnut Street crowds and so reasonable. Their Yum Ma Keur, charbroiled japanese eggplant in lemon dressing topped with shrimp, chicken, and accompanied with slices of hard boiled egg is a wonderful way to start. We followed this up with beef larb, pad thai, Panang chicken curry, and brown rice. All dishes were under $10. Look for the daily specials. They also have some easy drinking cocktails.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Anniversary treats

We spent our 30th anniversary in San Francisco with one truly great meal and a couple of new discoveries. The night was spent at the Clift which was too hip for our tastes. We got an upgrade to this oddly shaped studio with a small living room and then bedroom with another small room by its side. There are curtains and mirrors all over the place and "cool" but uncomofrtable furniture. The bed and sheets were very comfy tho. We had been to the old Clift and missed it. The Philippe Starck touch did not touch me.

But dinner at Ame in the St. Regis across from SFMOMA was sublime. I thought I would be disappointed after our great meal at Delfina but this was a totally different experience. I got the tasting menu, 5 courses for $85 with matching wines for $65-- worth every cent. Sheila got appetizers and dessert with 3 wines/sakes by the glass. First course was 3 sashimis--a fresh halibut crudo, a red ocean trout, and himachi. Each had its own tiny accompaniments. Sheila had Campechana, a ceviche-like assortment of seafood in an incredible tomato water gelee with hints of chile pepper. Sublime. My next course was a sweet corn soup with a lobster hushpuppy-- very fresh, inetense corn taste served with a lovely Foxen Chenin Blanc (I've got to buy some of that). Sheila then had ezo abalone with padrone peppers and mushrooms and other goodies--there were 5 small abalones, which I thougt wa spretty impressive for $17.
I then got the signature Broiled Sake Marinated Alaskan Black Cod and Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth and it was fantastic. We had this years ago at Terra, their sister restaurant in St. Helena, and have fond memories now refreshed. Light with intense flavor served with a Volnay, surprisingly appropriate. My last entree was Kurabata pork chop with a foie gras sauce, very tender, very delicious. Sheila's last course was Chawan-Mushi, a Japanese custard with urchin and mushrooms and geoduck clam-- I believe one should never pass up an opportunity to try chawan-mushi-- texturally comforting but with wonderful flavors and this one is a must.
I had a peach hand pie with a vanilla shake for dessert and Sheila had green tea affogato poured over pistachio ice cream, both great. The affogato was refreshing and felt cleansing, a nice touch after an intense meal. The pie had a light, crispy buttery crust with many chunks of peach, yummy. My dessert wine was an Adelsheim late harvest Pinot Noir. Ahh, glorious dining and an apt celebration.

And speaking of peaches, the next morning we stopped by the Sentinel at 50 New Montgomery, a take-out counter run by Dennis Leary, owner-chef at Canteen, another great SF place. We had a terrific piece of cinamonny coffee cake while we waited for the peach muffins to come out of the oven. The lovely muffin was filled with chunks of fresh peach. Both were great comfort foods. We wanted to return for lunch but the line was too long and we had to get our car before I got a ticket. After breakfast we went to SFMOMA and really enjoyed the Avedon show. Also saw the Georgia O'Keefe and Ansel Adams. I know we're supposed to idolize O'Keefe but I don't. But Adams is always great.

Here's my SF parking secret. If you're coming after 2 PM, drive to Glen Park and find a 4 hour space then take BART into town. $3.50 round trip is a lot cheaper than parking if you're going to Union Square area. Since we were staying the night, we had to get back by 1 PM to take advantage of the 4 hour morning parking. It worked out great with easy freeway access. This time I took Bosworth to Mission and we stopped for lunch at Joe's Cable Car for an excellent burger and patty melt. The burger is $9 and melt is $12 so it ain't cheap, but the burgers are fresh-ground and organic so they are special. And Joe is right there as he has been for 40 years. I was watching the in-house butcher cut up beautiful beef to be ground up for our enjoyment. Nice.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Delfina and Luna Park

At this moment at this time, life is great. Sheila and I are celebrating our 30th anniversary today, retirement is going well, and good things about the book keep happening. Both kids are in much improved situations and the dog is a delight. I got fitted for a demo hearing aid and the sounds are flowing in. Who could ask for anything more?
And life was made ever more grateful-inducing with a really terrific dinner at Delfina, the ever-popular Mission Italian on 18th near Gerrero. Dear, deeply dear friends Ellen and Neal took us there for retirement & anniversary celebration. Sevice is always perfect, everyone is nice, they serve Tartine bread (ask for it); it's just as a star restaurant should be. The food: Grilled calamari is their standard appetizer and it was terrific as ever with cannellini beans and the grilled sardines were plump and bursting with sea flavor. Too bad Neal doesn't like sardines so we had to eat his portion. A hand-stretched FRESH mozzarella with heirloom tomato salad was sublime, a perfect dish to share.
Then I had rosemary tagliatelle with a guinea hen ragu, like a lighter but more flavorful bolognese. It was great. The gnocchi were also lovely as was the fregnacce (strips of pasta) with Louisiana white shrimp. As an aniversary gift, they brought an order of the chicken tortellini, light and simply sauced. Again too bad that N&E don't eat meat so Sheila and I were forced to eat them. How we suffered!
We ordered the profiteroles to share and as a bonus they brought the lemon panna cotta which was sublimely wonderful. My mouth is watering writing about it. The profiteroles were very nice too, light but crispy shells filled with espresso ice cream.
And all accompanied by a smooth, fruity, yet dry Barbera d'Alba. Thank you E&N for a truly great meal and that wasn't all--a comfy terry cloth robe and slippers for my days of leisure.

A drinking note: Before dinner Sheila and I stopped at Luna Park (Valencia and 18th) for their justifiably famous mojito. I've been there 4-5 times and the mojito is always perfect. Well-balanced, lots of lime, mint, and just sweet enough. How do they do it. I asked. The lovely bartender said she muddles not only the mint but the lime. Could be the secret!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Banyan Tree-- deal of the week

After meeting Andy for a hike around the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont we had lunch at the Banyan Tree in Union City. The refuge, by the way, was fairly cool on a hot day with bay breezes and it's so wonderfully peaceful, even seeing the cars zoom by on 84. Continue on 84 East as it becomes Decoto Road and turn left just past Alvarado-Niles Road to a small shopping cenetr where Banyan Tree is (1771 Decoto, 510-324-8506). Sheila and I have been there for dinner and she reviewed it for the Merc. It's even talked about in Hungry. But I hadn't been there for lunch. They have an amazing assortment of $5 lunches. Wow. Soup, rice, choice of entree, and then sweet red bean soup. I had Singaporean fried pampano , a whole small fish in a chili, garlic, tomato sauce, so good. Andy had Thai salmon, which was not as good, although the sweet, sour, and spicy sauce was nice. These guys across the aisle had pork belly in taro sauce, which loked great and was as generous a portion as the entree portion at Flour + Water (see below) at $21. I've got to return to try more dishes; nothing to lose at $5. We also had their fine roti canai, crispy, wispy flat bread with a nice curry sauce at only $3.25.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Flour + Water

Had a fine meal at Flour + Water a new in-place at Harrison and 20th deep in the Mission. They only take reservations for 1/2 the restaurant so you can take your chances without one. We got there at 6:15 and were told they just had the first sitting so it would probably be 45 minutes. There were 2 parties with kids so they might be quicker. Since A&S were not meeting us there until 6:30 it didn't seem bad. And the receptionist was really nice-- she called me Ned as she gace progress reports. We had nice glasses of wine and waited it out. What's nice is they just add the wine to the overall bill instead of having to pay twice. Very nice Italian wine list-- had a very pleasant Rosato for $6.50. When we got seated after 55 minutes, we had already studied the menu and knew what to order and everything was great. My favorite was lamb's tongue salad with slices of fingerling potatoes in a mustard sauce with poached egg. Also had fresh heirloom tomato salad with sweet corn and a ricotta-filled fried squash blossom with a bite for each of us.
We then stuck with primi and skipped secondi, saving room for dessert. The pizza bianco with speck and arugula was very nice with a crisp thin crust. Then 2 pastas, a papardelle with lamb sagu in a tomato-based sauce and a pesto corzetti pasta. And we got a side of the roasted tomoatoes which were sublime. We asked for bread to sop up all juices. I could have eaten the plates too. We had a reasonably priced Barbera d'Asti at the table.
And then dessert. An incredible chocolate budino sprinked with sea salt and topped with a big wallop of espresso whipped cream. Perfect texture with a deep chocolate flavor. And a nice berry crostado.
The menu changes constantly it seems but everything seemed at the height of its season. We thought the service was great, that our server loved the fact we loved the food. And we were seated towards the back so it was about the quietest of the new popular and noisy restaurants. We got one of the tables with a kid, but the other table didn't leave until 1/2 way through ours. How rude! (415) 826-7000, http://www.flourandwater.com/

Monday, August 24, 2009

First weekend after retirement

Great Sunday. Mountain View Farmers' Market where I got some hopefully wonderful salmon and 2 giant Crenshaw melons (Happy Boy Farms) for $5, and my favorite arugula and other lettuce. I need to learn the names of my special vendors. Tomatoes and a cantaloupe from Swank Farms. Anybody want some melon? Took my sister, Elaine, who came up ffrom San Diego for the retirment party.
Then off to San Francisco, where we met Jake, and walked to Dol Ho for some great dim sum. A real dive on Pacific just west of Stockton. 4 of us ate for $23! Their har gow are excellent as is su mai and other dishes with shrimp. Parchment chicken just so so, and stuffed eggplant would be better if eggplant was cooked more. Always reliable and cheap.
Then saw August, Osage County at the Curran, which was one of those really enjoyable theatrical experiences that make you think this is what theater is all about. Great script, acting, set. Sat in balcony which was fine, although a little trouble hearing osme of the lines.
And then dinner at Colibri right across from the theater. A nice surprise. $10 for guacamole seems a bit steep especially when the menu says it's prepared at your table but it isn't. Very nice margaritas, home made corn tortillas, papas in gratin. I had duck in a green mole sauce that was very nice and Sheila had the special, a shredded pork dish from Quintana Roo. So convenient to the theters, we would go back.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My last hurrah blog

This is my final (and extremely rare) blog. I come to you with a heavy heart (LBJ) to say good-bye after a 35 year incredibly wonderful and enriching library career. I’m one of the luckiest men on the face of the earth (LG) and thrilled that I’m going out in the blaze of glory of the San Jose Public Library. Being able to be a part of the design and operations of 21 new buildings has been the apex of my career.

What do I love about this library system? Let me count the ways (EBB). I have been able to get involved with library problems that have always bothered me and San Jose gave me a chance to help solve in positive ways. Jane Light has the greatest vision of any library director in the country and allows us to create new library worlds without micromanaging, while she deals with the never-ending politics and depressing budget issues.

Here are my library wishes that San Jose has made great progress on:

1. Signage—should be intuitive and 8 ½ X 11 flyers kept to a minimum, and similar in all library facilities so you know you’re in a branch of the same system. And wayfinding intuitive. We do that!
2. Cross training of staff—look for people’s skills and encourage them to grow and thrive; try to listen to staff at all levels who are doing the work. Teamwork works best; not one of us has all the answers. Make the most of your professional staff. Single service points. We do that (most of the time).
3. Library as place—attractive buildings as real community focal points to do all kinds of things in a safe, delightful environment. People being comfortable. Our branches are gifts to the community. We do that.
4. Efficient processing of materials. Libraries spend a huge amount of staff and time resources handling materials without really analyzing how they can do it better and more efficiently. We do that.
5. Self-service and changing as customers’ needs change. A library needs to be flexible and use technology to save people’s times, both staff and customers. Our self-checks, self-registration, holds pick-ups are ways we do that.
6.Greet people. Get out from behind a desk and look to see if someone needs any help. A simple smile and greeting is the best public relations move we can make. And some people are afraid of service desks, although many of us feel safer there. We’re doing that, slowly but surely.
7. Hold onto our values. All improvements made preserve the wonder of the public library, free to all, a truly democratic place. We welcome everyone and even offer information on despicable subjects. How’s that for freedom of information? We uphold that.
8. Treat people equally. One quote that means a lot to me is from Plato: Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. Remember that when a customer seems especially grouchy.
9. Never be satisfied with the status quo. Create an environment of continuous improvement. We do that.
10. Lastly, have fun in your work. We are doing great things for people and although we work hard we should also be having some fun. Laugh at least twice a day. I do that. And I even recommend a song once a day, although anyone within earshot of my voice would probably not recommend it.

You are an incredible staff, resilient, smart, and reflective of our community. I have been so proud to be associated with all of you and genuinely feel we are the best large library system in the country for the resources we have. My special thanks to the Admin group with whom I’ve spent most of most days. They’ve always allowed me to “be myself” through many trying times.

And now some final food notes. I’ve had a lot of great and cheap meals in San Jose and recommended many, but I want to leave you with my final list of great eats. Most are near the King Library but some are near branches too.
Dakao, an excellent Vietnamese deli on the corner of San Salvador and 3rd, with very fine eggrolls, spring rolls, Sweet potato and shrimp fritters, banh mi (sandwiches) and a personal favorite of Banh xeo, which they call Vietnamese taco. This is a crepe with pork, shrimp, beansprouts, and onions. Take a piece and wrap it in lettuce with herbs and dip in sauce—wonderful and less than $5.
China Chen, right across 3rd from Dakao, has a wide variety of Vietnamese soups. I love their shrimp wontons. Their roast chicken is great as is their rice cake.
Chalateco (several locations including 10th and Reed and Alum Rock and King), has food from Mexico City and El Salvador. And that means papusas, a cornmeal pancake with a choice of filling and served with a spicy cabbage salad. Each is about $2 and 2 make a great meal. They also have delightfully light tamales.
Suvianda Market, the new store on Santa Clara and 7th, has a taco stand inside with 99 cent tacos, 2 small tortillas with a good-sized hunk of meat, including a tasty pork pastor and sometimes goat. Burritos are big and less than $4 and sometimes they have daily specials like a ceviche tostado for $1.50. They also sell superior tortilla chips and pan dulce.
Taqueria La Costa, on Monterey Hgwy and Senter and Alum Rock near King), has terrific ceviche tostadas, great lingua (tongue) tacos, and fresh fruit smoothies all at exceptional prices.
La Penita, on 1st and Reed, is a classic family-run Mexican restaurant, with a chile relleno that I can’t help but ordering. And it comes with fresh made corn tortillas. They are also justifiably famous for their cocida, a beef soup with all kinds of goodies.
Mexico Bakery on Santa Clara near 3rd. Great tortas on fresh made rolls and this terrific chocolate covered pound cake.
Kaito in Japantown at 215 Jackson, my favorite small Japanese restaurant, with very nice teriyaki, tempura, and daily specials.
Vung Tao, Santa Clara and 12th, excellent Vietnamese food in a fairly classy environemnet. Looks like a lot of Vietnamese businessmen go there. Love their egg rolls, carmelized chicken, beef rolls, and shrimp salad.
May you all have many wonderful meals in your future.