April 27, 2011
It's just the spot on the left. Five stools at the counter, or outside.
On Friday, while my step-brother took me to each of my childhood homes in Berkeley, we made a stop on Solano Ave. Haven’t heard of it? Think of Carytown, without empty storefronts. With flamboyantly progressive values. Extremely good tastes in food and stuff in general. And yes, it kinda trends toward the high end. That’s why Jodie’s Restaurant sticks out like sore thumb. Make that a sore pinky, cuz it’s tiny in there. But he does have good tastes, even kinda high prices. But, it’s the opposite of pretentious.
For 22 years, Jodie has had to lure people 50 yards off the main drag to his little hole in the wall food counter. Now, they’re beating a path to his doorstep. This is Jodie. If you even peer inside his open door, he’s got you. (more…)
April 25, 2011
Despite living in Berkeley, basically until I was 9 years old, I’ve been holding onto a stereotype of a community of crunchy intellectuals. In the two days that I got to soak it up, I couldn’t really confirm or debunk that stereotype. It seemed like a pretty normal place. Almost Richmond-like in its relaxed attitude, maybe even beach-towny. But, there was such ethnic diversity and a familiar regard for one-another, even strangers, I had to wonder about Virginia’s racial climate and self-consciousness.
Of course, the thing that grabbed me most of all, was the mainstream status of vegetarianism, or at least it’s commercial viability. My journey began getting off of BART near UCal, and I was immediately surrounded by college town shops: record stores, tattoo parlors, cafes, and bookstores. The wide ethnic range of restaurants was impressive (there were even hybrid Mexican/Pakistani places). If one thing was over-represented, it was one of my very favorite foods: falafel. What gives? I thought I was the only vegetarian obsessed with fried chick pea balls. Mauz Vegetarian? Their primary product is falafel, and the secondary product is that comfortable feeling people seek out in their favorite fast food chain. The corporate aesthetic didn’t appeal to me, so I went on.
Since I was pretty hungry when I arrived in Berkeley, every falafel I saw on every menu was tempting and forced me to deliberate. Especially a name like Fa-la-la. How charming. Oh, and it’s natural. Buzz-words make my mouth water (according to focus groups on the subject). Also, they sell chocolate falafel!
Stumbling upon this sight let me know that I’m not in Virginia anymore, or Kansas. This vegetarian thing really must be a big deal around here. (more…)
April 21, 2011
Seeing this stylized lunch truck in The Haight told me it was time to head back to the hotel. This vehicle may have been plucked from the TV screen of the Food Network, but in the mix of modern day psychedelic consumerism, it was just too much. Plus, my legs were starting to throb a little. I’d clearly earned a decadent meal. So, I headed back.
Back in the Union Square shopping district, I made a bee-line for Millennium, one of San Francisco’s premier vegan restaurants. They sat me at the bar, where I could watch some of the plating and drink-making. Among the beer list, a few had asterisks, denoting “large format” brews. The beer I chose was a tall-boy of the local (Santa Cruz made) Uncommon Brewer’s Siamese Twin Ale – a Belgian style dubbel, with Thai spices of corriandre, lemongrass, and kafir lime leaves. Does that sound too cool, or just cartoonishly Californian?
The beer was mild and kinda flat. Smooth, and lacking any of the promised flavors other than coriander contributing to the aroma. But, it was uncommon, and that’s what matters in a culinary counter-culture. I resolved to amuse myself watching the other diners, most of whom were cooing audibly over their food. The dim lighting and the stunningly plated food whizzing past me (relative to your average vegetarian food arrangement), both fueled my assumption that I was about to have some really good food
Rather than spend $23-29 on an entree, I opted for three small plates totaling in the same range. The roasted beets couldn’t have been a better start. They were dressed with hazelnut oil, fresh thyme, balsamic and hazelnuts. Though I didn’t see any caramelization to indicate that they’d been roasted, these fleshy looking beets melted in in my mouth with a softness and a fresh subtle sweetness that made me think these out-sexied figs. Not quite carnal. More in the foreplay arena. But, I digress. Put thyme and nut oil on beets. That’s the takeaway here. (more…)
April 20, 2011
After a painfully long day of airports and airplanes, I made my way to the Hilton Union Square bar and sat down to find this rare red handle among the beer taps. Pliney the Elder, mythologized in beer circles in Richmond (cuz it’s not distributed to Virginia) is a 8% double IPA. Beyond that, I didn’t know what to expect. The aroma hit me. Of course! It smells like sticking your nose in a plastic baggie in Humbolt County. A little sweet. Very smooth. And aromatic in a way that’s sure to launch a thousand beer geeks’ wet dreams as they recollect on their stoner days. By all means, enjoy it.
Just two blocks from my hotel, sits Millenium. One of the most highly regarded vegetarian restaurants in the US. People had been pushing me to go there. But, seeing the prices and the vibe inside (thru the window), I decided against it (or did I?). (more…)
April 14, 2011
3 lbs of garlic, roasted.
You’re probably wondering what kind of self-congratulatory story would make me blithely state that my cooking skills are on a professional level. Regardless of heaps of praise at the end of several days of prep work, ingredient sourcing adventures, stretching dollars, and cooking in volumes that I’m not used to, the headline is meant to be facetious… sorta. It all started with a conversation between Matthew Freeman and Matt Sadler. Freeman wanted to explore alternatives to hiring an expensive caterer for his and Tiffany Jana’s wedding. The idea was to save money and still have the food contribute to everyone’s enjoyment of the wedding reception. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Jason can make some vegetarian stuff. I’ll do the meat. It’ll be a cinch.” Those were approximately Matt Sadler’s famous last words of reassurance.
I don’t know what made either of them think I should be involved in wedding catering. My only experience cooking in volume was largely free food for the homeless. If Matthew wanted service along the lines of The Black Panther Party’s afterschool meal program, I may have been able to oblige. But, (more…)
April 5, 2011
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and felt paralyzed trying to decide what to order? Or maybe you suspected that half the dishes are only on the menu to satisfy demand , and not really reflective of the restaurant’s signature. It’s like menus are designed to make you return repeatedly to really understand the chef’s perspective. You know, “what makes this place special?”
Local food blogger, Matt Sadler, aka “The Marinara,” usually finds himself wishing he could bypass the polite formalities and just have the kitchen send out a few plates that best conveys their culinary culture and tells the unique story of their cuisine. It’s a distinctly “foodie” impulse to make this kind of request, but believe it or not, they oblige Sadler almost every time (though it may not always be convenient for the kitchen).
Lucky for you (and the chefs involved), Matt has decided to invite a small crowd for these occasions where the house distills the essence of its menu into a multi-course meal. He calls them Sunday Suppers and the first one recently went down at Bistro 27 with Chef Carlos Silva. (more…)