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,

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.