Monday, August 14, 2006

Memories... I can smile at the old days.

My neighborhood is bizarre. This thought is never far from my mind while I'm at home, but two nights ago it became even clearer. That incident, coupled with the fact that Mr. Island of Misfit Toys and I have found a place in SF and are soon to leave this neighborhood behind, has inspired me to put together an impartial list of what I'll remember and (in some cases) even miss about this Lorin District of mine.

[in no particular order]

1. The cacophony that is the drum circle at the Hash-by Bart.

2. The ice cream truck that can only play that one, oddly familiar, but extremely annoying song.

3. The business hippies, oh the business hippies. It must be hard living the indie-rock-art life in this run down neighborhood with daddy paying your rent while you drive his old Lexus that's tragically missing a hub cap.

4. "De Thang" (the sweet black cadillac down the block with the quotation as its vanity plate) and "Mo Thang" (the massive black van down the block with this quotation as its vanity plate). The owners of these two vehicles, awesome in their own right, have a spectacular jazz band that practices Tuesday night. I will miss their weekly practice sessions and the crowd that's started to gather on their steps to listen to the free show. I'll also miss my roommate's phone calls when he was home and I was out and Mo Thang was driving down our street. The totality of his call, "MO THANG ON THE MOVE." Then he would hang up.

5. El Nopal, your food, rather crappy, but ever so cheap.

6. Lois the Pie Queen. I will miss your gritty grits, your bacon, your egg salad sandwiches, and especially your lemony ice box pie.

7. The Bowl. I'm torn up about this one. Too sad to write an adequate adieu.

8. The Berkeley Tool Lending Library, and its neighbor, the Thai Temple Brunch. What a combo!

9. The kind and friendly grandma who lives down the street and cheered for me and Rordog when we were in our graduation robes on the way to the bus that took us to Commencement.

10. And finally, the incident I mentioned above involving an axe wielding neighbor. The other night, Jotina, Rordog, and Misfit and I went on a walk to the corner store (where, incidentally a drunken woman once grabbed my butt) in search of Reddi-Wip for the pumpkin pie I had baked. Berkeley Bowl's inferior Berkeley Farms whipped cream had betrayed us. Its product had no "wip," so to speak. Most likely some kid had already depleted its nitrous stores before I even purchased the can.

In any event, on our way down Woolsey, this crazed blond man walked up along side us. He was muttering to himself and, slung across his shoulder, was a sawed off electric guitar. His axe. He asked us if we had seen a guy in a t-shirt, wearing a hat, riding a blue mountain bike. He informed us that the police were looking for him.

Evidently, this poor soul's bike had been stolen and to wreak his revenge, he was going to wail on him with his axe. To our relief, this man proceeded on his way and left us alone to complete our mission. Our mission failed, the convenience store carries more in the way of alcohol, pork rinds, cigarettes, and canned chili. Even without the whipped cream, we were happy to have escaped unscathed.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Me: "My senses are filled up right now."

Response: "Must be the taco."

Today my two friends and I went on the aforementioned taco quest. It turned out to be more than a simple taco expedition. The adventure was a resounding success and turned into a mini-road trip replete with Americana, lengua, and breathtaking views.

We headed off for Pescadero, CA at around 4pm. To experience the longest (?) Bay Area bridge, we took the San Mateo, and arrived in tiny Pescadero from Hwy 1. Hwy 1 was scenic, as its signs suggest. The sky was grey and matched the color of the ocean. Only the tiniest sliver of sunshine broke on the waves, far out, near the horizon.

In Pescadero we missed the taqueria on first pass. The taqueria is quite literally in the gas station and no signs mark its location. Fortunately, we doubled back and found it next to the cash register at the only gas station in town (regular gas: $3.49/gallon!!)

To my chagrin, there were no tamales dulce. To A (my mascot)'s disappointment, they were also out of cabeza and ojos. We ordered two fish tacos, one lengua, one al pastor, one carne asada, and the carnitas. Dear God, the carnitas. The carnitas reigned supreme. The pork was juicy, perfectly charred to a crisp on the fatty bits, and bursting with flavor. Paired with the jalapenos/carrots, cilantro, and salsa, this taco was unbelievably good. I also enjoyed the chips, which I thought were perfectly salty, rather oily, and nice and thin.

We dined next to seemingly local teens and a local family discussing quinceaneras. The atmosphere was very small town and friendly. I felt like a total idiot when my cell phone rang. Hello? Not cool.

Post-mountaintop taco experience, we headed across the street to Duarte's Tavern. This place is o-l-d and well-established. We were totally full from the tacos and ordered only pie and coffee. Between the olallieberry and the strawberry rhubarb the olallieberry won. At first I was skeptical about the crust. It looked kind of thick and prone to being dense and dry. I was pleasantly mistaken and found the whole thing to be kind of toasty flavored, light, and flaky.

Duarte's would be a good place to hit up for dinner or lunch. It won (what appears to be) a pretty phenomenal award three years ago: the James Beard Foundation Award - granted to only four restaurants a year! Duarte's also has a tavern in back complete with fake leather stools and swinging doors.

More to be continued...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

No, I was not on a cruise

But, I have partaken of at least 4 buffets in the past 2 weeks.

Yes, between Vegas and Chicago I've recently eaten quite well. In Vegas, it was more that I ate a lot. Quantity not quality. While in Vegas, however, I did manage to eat at Lotus of Siam. Little Lo is a member of my favorite class of restaurant. Class members are usually located, like Lotus, in a seedy strip mall next to a wig shop. Lotus looks like the type of place one would be wiser to forgo. Inside, multilingual reviews of the Lotus' supreme mastery of Thai cuisine papered the entryway. The reviews did not betray. Something larb-like was excellent and the pad see ew was perfection. The wide noodles had a texture no other restaurant I've been to has attained and the tofu in the dish was delicate and somewhat sweet. To top it all off, we had an amazing (but somewhat expensive) Thai desert trio of a coconut sorbet (disappointingly granular texture), what I considered to be a deep-fried banana twinkie, or more appropriately a banana egg roll, and some spectacular mango sticky rice. The banana egg roll was good, but I would travel back for the mango sticky rice. That, dear readers, is saying something. I have reached my Vegas saturation point, and I don't see myself returning soon. Nevertheless, when I think of that rice, I consider checking SWA for cheap flights...

In Chicago, I had a fabulous bachelorette party meal at Sapori Trattoria in Lincoln Park. My dear friend's sister treated us to kir royales, a memorable appetizer with portobello mushrooms and some really really decadent bread pudding. My favorite entree was the equally decadent butternut squash ravioli. A lot of restaurants won't serve that dish year-round. For traditionalist reasons they confine (or rather, imprison it) to colder seasons. The emphasis in this particular ravioli was on the butter. I appreciated that as a butter devotee. The ravioli was sweet, nutty, crispy (was that pine nuts?) and yumtastic. Service at Sapori was also top notch.

The next night in Chicago, my sister, her main squeeze, and his roommate took me to Polish-town on Milwaukee Avenue. While there I saw what appeared to be the nicest laundromat... ever. It was next door to the Red Apple (aka Czerwone Jabluszko) Restaurant. My hunch is that the Red Apple owners also manage the laundromat. The laundromat was very clean and had a tiered tray of free (that's right, free) desserts out for the taking. These desserts were both free and looked awesome. At the Red Apple our awesome waitress pushed us to order beer (the Polish nickname for the brand is O.K., and it was, O.K.). The buffet, for $8.99 (weekend rate) was rad. The meaty pierogies were scrumptious and I enjoyed the apple pancakes as well. The meat and potato varieties were also good, I'm afraid I can't describe the dishes since the restaurant was not so accomodating to us non-Poles as to place names near the buffet trays. Despite that minor pitfall (and with the exhortation to step away from the fruit tray - the plums were bruised and mushy, food looked spoiled), I wholeheartedly recommend the Red Apple.*

Before I sign off, some of you may be wondering, why has Dirteens spent an entire post discussing food? What's up with that? Well, on the one hand, tomorrow I'm replicating part of the recent NYT taco quest feature [see "Chasing the Perfect Taco"]. In Pescadero, I hope to try a pineapple tamale, some tacos with scary meats in them, and track down some olallieberry pie. On the other hand, I'm trying to avoid thinking about wedding planning and fuming about my recent denial of short-term health insurance. Apparently, if you take any prescription medication (i.e., asthma inhaler) you are categorically denied short-term coverage by Blue Cross.

I digress.

The real inspiration for all of this was the newly revamped Chowhound site. I visited Chowhound every now and then before the onset of the Bar. Post-Bar I returned to find that the site had sold out, but to my surprise and glee, it is much easier to navigate these days and conducive to hours of browsing. Good times.

* Eating at the Red Apple brought back many happy memories of the Pierogi Fest in Whiting, IN. You really must go. In addition to the widest variety of dumplings this side of heaven, you can take your picture (for FREE) with Mr. Pierogi and Mr. Kielbasa. Now that is a treat. And while I'm on the subject of weird festivals and events... if you weren't at the Anvil Drop at Gardner Hardware in Mpls, MN today, you missed out. I may plan my wedding around it next year.