Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Bay Area Sampler - Day Three


This was the one day without any appointments, so we were very leisurely. We had planned to bike to get some brunch, but then I cut my finger and the bike I was going to borrow was too big, so we just drove. Lazy, lazy Sunday.

Venus - I had wanted to go to the Thai Temple in Berkeley for brunch on Sunday, but Daniel, the traitor, had gone the week before with his brother, so we settled on more traditional brunch fare. We put our names down at both Venus and La Note, which are a block away from each other, and then we wandered back and forth waiting to be called. After about an hour, my name was called at Venus, but then a party who had given their names before us pointed out the oversight, and we were back to waiting. The hostess, feeling bad about the mistake, cleared a table that hadn't been being used right at the front of the restaurant and sat us a few minutes later. I had the Casper omelet (an egg white omlet with sauteed veggies) with a side of chicken sausage and whole wheat toast and Daniel had the 2x2x2, which was two pieces of challah French toast, two poached eggs, and two links of chicken sausage.

People waiting outside Venus

The verdict: It's hard to be a fair judge of this meal because we were so ravenous by the time we ate, but we were both very satisfied. The chicken sausage was nice and sweet with a tiny bit of a bite. My egg white omelet was pretty standard, although the veggies in it were nicely seasoned, perhaps with a bit of curry. Daniel's French toast was really, really good, even with all the syrup he drenched it in. Not sure it was worth an hour wait, however. Next time hopefully we can try La Note. I'm dying to try their lemon gingerbread pancakes...

Edible Schoolyard - this is not a restaurant, and I didn't eat anything, but it is food related, so I'll mention it. The flagship of Alice Waters' program. Since one of my goals on returning to teaching is to incorporate my love of world food and my interest in sustainable agriculture into the classroom, this program is incredibly exciting to me. I'm hoping that Daniel's and my upcoming stay at an organic farm in Ireland will give me some skills so that I can volunteer or something with the program. The garden was really great. They grow such an array of different fruits and veggies. Even in February, stuff was happening. In the very back, they have a pen of chickens, which Daniel says get moved around to help fertilize the soil. It was such a lovely place and open to the public. There were several people just sitting in the garden reading.

Signs for different crops

Berkeley Bowl - We decided to stock up on some snacks and to take a hike up Mt. Tam in Marin County, so we went to the Berkeley Bowl, this huge Fairwayesque grocery, famous for its bread and produce. I was stunned by the sheer magnitude of the citrus aisles. Row upon row of different kinds of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, etc. We bought a bunch of different kinds of citrus (including something called a golden nugget), a couple of pears, some Canadian sharp cheddar, two rolls made in a local bakery, and a loaf of cinnamon bread from San Jose. Then we hit the mountain.

Just some of the citrus at Berkeley Bowl

The verdict: We didn't eat it all then because we weren't starving after our latish brunch, but it was a lovely picnic looking out at the clouds that were actually below us. The cheddar was good and sharp. The rolls very fresh. Daniel was especially pleased with a whole grain number, which he said reminded him of bread he'd had in Israel. We shared a pear called an "apple pear." It wasn't the most flavorful thing I've eaten, but really, really juicy - similar in texture to an Asian pear. The big winner though was the cinnamon bread. Ewey, gooey, almost babkalike. It would make absolutely decadent French toast. My only complaint is that it was pre-sliced, which made it slightly less moist than if we'd been able to cut it ourselves. This was easily remedied though by taking pieces from the middle. I'd have felt slightly guilty about our feast, except that the "easy grade" hike we went on wasn't as easy as we'd anticipated. So we earned every bite of cinnamon goodness.
The apple pear

The view from our picnic

Spices II - We met some friends in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco for dinner. We'd intended to go to Burma Superstar so that I could finally taste a little tea leaf salad after Burmese Cafe's untimely closing here in New York. We waited for an hour and a half and then were told it would be another hour and a half before we could be seated. After waiting so long for brunch, I couldn't do it again, so we headed to Spices on the pretty favorable recommendation of our friend who has spent a lot of time in China. We shared pork kidney, Mongolian beef, dry braised string beans, tofu with hot pepper, squash soup, and cold poached in hot oil.

The verdict: I wasn't really in the mood for Sichuan, so I was a bit more critical than I might have been otherwise. But it compared pretty favorably to Spicy and Tasty in Flushing. The spice level was good. The food was appropriately oily the way Sichuan should be. I really liked the string beans (as I always do), and the Mongolian beef was good and tender and not too fatty. I also really liked the squash soup, which I got to have a nibble of from our friend Scott who had ordered it because he was ill. The squash in question was sort of fine and spongy, and the soup was a perfect salty broth. I wish I'd had more. The pork kidney was served cold as our Chinese specialist Adam (who ordered for us in Mandarin) had told us it would be. But it wasn't as flavorful or rich as I'd expected. All in all though it was a good time. I enjoyed practicing the lazy Susan manners that I learned in China.

So that was our trip to Northern California. We go back again in March for more interviews and to begin to check out possible neighborhoods to live in. Even though the job and friend and earthquake issues are still very much in question, one concern that was answered was food. Although we haven't yet checked out the high end cuisine (and probably won't for a while, given our recent Daniel extravagance) the combination of various ethnic options and the phenomenal produce options make me think eating in the Bay Area will be just fine.

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