East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Notable edibles: The sorrel and the pity

New dish of the week: sorrel and potato stew. It's more of a fall dish, though. Don't have any convincing sorrel recipes that don't involve potatoes, and new potatoes are still a season away...

If at first you don't succeed: This time I tried cutting away about 3/4 of my artichoke, then steaming it. It turned out a lot better: the outer leaves only had a tiny bit of edible flesh, but once I worked through those, what was left could be eaten without having to spit anything out. 4/10, maybe.

Sandwich of the week: We got take out from Gregoire while watching the Cricket World Cup final. The five of us each had a sandwich while sharing three boxes of the legendary potato puffs (so floury! so deeply fried!) between us. My baguette enveloped slices of grilled chicken breast topped with lemon goat cheese. What a match, unlike the cricket.

Value sandwich(es) of the week: Somehow I missed that Larkin Street, two blocks over from the Opera Plaza (my fave Landmark miniplex), has for three years officially been Little Saigon. Not sure what the demographics are (it's a sketchy area: I think I saw an actual pimp and ho in mid-afternoon, although they may have been ironic), but the well-known Saigon Sandwiches is staffed by Hoa. The $2.50 roast pork sandwich I got there was so much better than the price would suggest that I returned for another on Sunday, after seeing a movie at a theatre nowhere near (the Kabuki, in Japantown). The second time they didn't even have to microwave the meat to warm it up. (Nostalgic aside: best roast pork ever was at El Rincon Boriqua in Spanish Harlem, now apparently back in Puerto Rico. Six bucks for a heap of rice and beans and meat where there's tons of oil, but it was distributed evenly throughout the pork.)

Sometimes the basics are best: the tomato and onion pizza I got from the Cheese Board. No potatoes or cauliflower or what-have-you.

Need to eat here properly some time: Cha-Am: went there for the first time since '04 last week. Only had time for the excellent summer rolls.

East Bakery Project update: Forgot to mention we had the kalamata sourdough loaf from La Farine at my dinner w/ Frankar. Impossibly, it's BETTER than the plain sourdough.


All you non-Yankees are going to a May Day march, right? You should.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

My dinner w/ Frankar


Broiled asparagus spears: They didn't have the small, young ones at the Berkeley Bowl; the ones I bought were about 1.5 cm in diameter. Wasn't sure whether to peel them or not. I chose not to. Wrong! Shankenstein loved them, but I know I've done them better. (6/10)
Sauteed shiitake mushrooms: Again, F'wack liked these, but it was better with morels (duh). There was a slight acrid taste (lexicographers: can something be slightly acrid?), which I think came from the stems. Next time I'll remove them first. (5/10) Aside: shiitake prices at Berkeley markets vary by a factor of three, and there's a definite correlation with quality. Need to find my appropriate shiitake level.
Braised cabbage and potatoes: I burned the outer cabbage leaves, but the non-burned bits were really quite good. The potatoes were just there. (6.5/10)
Ling cod: You should've seen the face of emerging omnivore Shankenstein when he tried it. I ate mine, but put the rest back in the oven. (6/10)
Frankar's cake: Man, I need to borrow F's Joy of Cooking. (infinity/10)

No disasters, then, which is as much as one can reasonably hope for.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Fishing for Girls"

fat ones! thin ones! stout ones! trim ones!

One of my problems as a cook is that I find manual labour dull, whereas I find mental labour enthralling, as long as it's not actual work. When I was making tapanade on the weekend, I had pitted eight olives before I thought, this is stupid, let me just use the half jar of stuffed Safeway olives I have in the fridge. (I spread the tapanade on bread and toasted it in the oven with some asparagus. It turned out OK, it just filled me with three days' RDI of sodium.) On the other hand, I spent hours last night reading about different types of fish. This was probably a good use of my time, or at least it seemed to be, coming after the three hours I spent at the Stop BP meeting without really saying anything. Since I cook seafood most days now, I really should have a better idea of what I'm putting into my body.

After researching comparative healthiness, especially mercury levels, and environmental factors, I came up with a Fish List. The gist is I can eat Alaskan salmon and sardines all the time with negligible health risks and guilt (of course, these are already the species I eat all the time). Once or twice a week I can pick something from the "eat sometimes" list, while having "special occasion" seafood at restaurants. I picked black cod from the "eat sometimes" category, to follow ™'s pan-steaming recipe. And wouldn't you know, the fish turned out better than my previous inept attempts at seafood. Except the shiitake mushrooms I cooked with the fish were even tastier. At this point I think that, salmon and canned stuff aside, it's time to give up on supermarket seafood.


To elevate my calorie intake, I'm trying to get in the habit of cooking vegetables as snacks. Good: roast turnips, though it's getting warm now and I probably won't have them again until the autumn. Not-so-good: old bok choy quick-heated in a skillet. The leaves were done almost immediately, while the stems barely cooked at all.


The Brazil Cafe's vegetarian sandwich is almost as good as their tri-tip: same sauce, I think, with tons of avocado, as well as corn that tastes too good to be canned, though it probably is.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

"I Like Giants"

Especially girl giants.

Where: Vik's Chaat Corner
Who: Me, Frankar, G-Roc, 64 KB RAM

Dahi Papdi Chaat: Crisp flat puris with potatoes, garbanzos and lentil dumplings covered with yogurt, tamarind and mint. It seems so simple, but these cold dishes never turn out this good anywhere else.

Gobi Paratha: Shredded spiced cauliflower stuffed in a whole wheat flour bread served with raita and achar. I don't get Indian pickles, but I really do get Indian whole wheat breads -- can't understand why anyone would have naan when alternatives are available. The raita had a ton of coriander.

Along with my lassi, that was a lot of yoghurt.


Most fun I've had at a concert in ages: Kimya Dawson last night at 924 Gilman. You should know by now she's a brilliant writer; what was impressive was how she facilitated the friendliest atmosphere ever experienced at a punk club. No attitudes here: when one audience member was fielding an irate phone call from her mother, Kimya got on the line to tell mom everything was OK. Five preschoolers scattered through the floor-seated audience provided background noise while she sang "This isn't a come-on, but come on, let's face it/The come on your face is really just mayonnaise". With some unable to see, she invited the audience to sit on stage with her, and she was joined by miscellaneous nonconformists, with a notable concentration of nerdster girls, at least one of whom knew every word. When she and others partook in an impromptu Annie audition, belting out "The sun'll come out tomorrow", you could tell this'd one of her forever moments. We finished with a giant, spiralling mass hug. That exhausted my hug quota for the year, but it was worth it.

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"A Forest"

just follow your eyes...

When I saw morels at the Berkeley Bowl, the $29.95 a pound price only caused the slightest hesitation. I'd been looking for morels at the markets for a couple of weeks, and it wasn't like I wanted a huge quantity of them. But after picking a dozen of the mushrooms (2.4 oz, $4.49), I realised that to justify buying them again any time soon, they'd have to be the best mushroom's I'd ever had by a large margin.

They were the best mushrooms I've ever had by a small margin. I sauteed them in butter and olive oil with a shallot and some garlic, and the morel taste easily held its own. It's hard to describe exactly what this taste is: foresty, I guess. Still, if the price stays constant, they'll probably be a once-a-year treat. Now maybe I should try chanterelles, they're only twenty-five bucks a pound...


Since my formative restaurant experiences were in Chinese joints, I'm not one who expects courteous service, thinking of it as a bonus. Hotsy-totsies should avoid Tajine, the Moroccan restaurant recently relocated to Nob Hill. Eating at the counter, after my server brought my chicken bastilla, another server TOOK IT AWAY without saying a word, and gave it to the guy two seats down from me. To his credit, my friendly server replaced it almost immediately, though I think he miscalculated the tax on my bill.

So when I say the food was worth this nonsense, realise this doesn't take much. In fact, the food was worth several times this nonsense. The bastilla (nine bucks) was a filo pastry filled with chicken and nuts, topped with icing sugar and cinnamon. Ostensibly an appetiser, it was sufficient for a small main, and was agreeably succulent. The mint tea was, unfortunately, sugary in a less interesting way.

Coming: chaat attack.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Cleaning Out My Closet"

Earlier this week at the Yasai Market, opposite the Safeway on College, I got carried away. I returned home carrying a huge bag of vegetables, seemingly too much to finish before they spoiled. So on Wednesday, I decided to cook as much of it as possible. At first my dish was going to be a ragout, but midway through cooking I decided it'd work better as a saute/stir-fry. Included were a couple of snapper fillets, asparagus, turnips, a carrot and green onions. The star attraction, though, was a hefty bag of snap peas. I had a thing against legumes for the longest time, which I think was because I never had the good stuff. And this stuff was fab: there was hardly any string to peel off the fat, fleshy pods. Once again, the comparatively expensive seafood was outshone by the cheaper greens. It's enough to make one consider vegetarianism.

The East Bakery Project: La Farine

This place is just down the block from the Yasai Market. I bought a morning bun and a Sour Batard. The bun was non-notable, well-baked but using sugar in lieu of having actual taste. But OH, the sourdough. It was extremely chewy, with just the right amount of sourness. And the crust was lovely and thin, so it gave the impression of crispness while still being enjoyably masticatable. In the bread division, this'll be hard to beat.

Coming: can mushrooms possibly be worth thirty bucks a pound?

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Yet another catastrophic effect of Proposition 209

Further to the "Cal students have no taste" point, here's Facebook's list of top music for Berkeley:
  1. Coldplay
  2. The Beatles
  3. Jack Johnson
  4. Radiohead
  5. Green Day
  6. The Killers
  7. Red Hot Chili Peppers
  8. Sublime
  9. Weezer
  10. Death Cab For Cutie
The New Zealand network isn't much better (#1: Muse), but at least Donnie Darko is the #3 movie. The top movie in both places? Fight Club. For your own sake, please, please don't get me started.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"The Ketchup Song"

Like Zukofsky, only catchier. (Yes, I know they're not Mexican.)

Bad start to my food week. My foil-baked snapper turned out bland, while my attempt at the whole roasted garlic that looks so appetising at the Cheese Board (though I've never had it) was barely edible. And today I went to La Burrita, a place I've avoided for a while and hope to avoid in the future. Their veggie tostada was the worst meal I've had since, well, the concentrated tomato soup I had on Sunday. (No, there's no excuse.) To make things worse, Hurricane Higgins forced his remaining chips on me, as his contribution to my Weight Gain Project -- long story, another time.

Why is there no really good Mexican food in Berkeley? I don't mean authentic (and what does that mean anyway etc. etc.), I just want all the bits that go into a taco to be tasty, like at Tacos Moreno in Santa Cruz. Admittedly, Berkeley has plenty of reasonably good places. My fave is Mario's La Fiesta on Telegraph, but you have to know what to order (the MENUDO~! , the huge burritos) and what not to order (enchiladas, tacos). As you recall, the tamale I had at Tacubaya was promising but overpriced, and that goes double for everything I've had at Picante. On my block, Gordo's and La Cascada are good efforts, though not good enough to displace House of Curries as my can't-be-bothered-cooking joint. But they kill La Burrita, which somehow won the Daily Cal's Best of Berkeley award (I don't have many good things to say about Cancun, the runner-up, but it would be a zillion times more deserving), proving once again that students have no taste.

Apparently Mexican food is much better in Boulder. And that's just wrong. Oh well, at least this weekend I'll finally hopefully get to make my taco trek to the Mission. That's provided the UCPD don't nab me tomorrow for having molasses poured on me.

Coming: Clearing out my fridge in anticipation of my arrest and deportation.

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Avenue Montaigne: Your extra time, and your kiss

My review of Avenue Montaigne is up at Stylus.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Notable edibles

- Added to my cooking repertoire: fennel (which I messed up: I wanted to braise it but putting in too much liquid and boiled it to death) and sorrel (had been looking for this for ages, finally found some at the Farmers Market, made a gratin with inappropriate potatoes but oh my, loved the sorrel. It looks like a vegetable but tastes like fruit!)
- Second best sandwich of the week: the roasted vegetable focaccia from Gregoire. Third best sandwich of the week: the tuna salad at Espresso Experience. F'wack says it doesn't count as a real Espresso Experience unless I have a hot sandwich, so next time.
- Liked the couple of Pizza Rustica slices, the Ambrosia (sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes hearts) and the Prosciutto I think) I had at the Conga Lounge. Loved the $5 happy hour Mai Tais.
- Head-to-head: In-N-Out's burger is still absurdly good value. The burger I had at the Red Onion on San Pablo near the El Cerrito del Norte BART was better, but it was like four bucks. Still, it was big enough so that I wasn't hungry during the ten hours of Winning Eleven and Tekken Tag that followed at G-Rock and Ram's.
- Props to Ram for his egg white omelette the next morning.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Top ten: Piety funds terrorism

Two very strong song of the year contenders. A good month then.

1. M.I.A., "Bird Flu": Maya lifts her game again, the drum-chorus polyrhythms more complex than anything she's rapped over before, which makes her on-the-beat cheek more endearing. Barely melodic, pitch matters -- it's treble as feminism. I came up with a name for the genre: Worldtown! Turns out that's her YouTube handle.
2, 3, 4. Arcade Fire, "(Antichrist Television Blues)", "No Cars Go", "Keep the Car Running": Huh, Win Butler managed to more or less solve his vocal problems. This is partly thanks to better lyrics, but the remake of "No Cars Go" shows how far they've come in terms of power and grandeur (and budget). Neon Bible is pretty close to a great album, especially if you skip the tracks with the horror organ -- way too E. Power Biggs for my liking. But "Keep the Car Running" shows what a band can do with -- is it a harpsichord? Or a weirdly treated piano? The song is a peak among Butler's stories of unease, the backbeated momentum matching the confession of the archetypal wanted man. What's old is new again: a world where a fair trial isn't something you can expect anymore. Life is no longer about whether God and the government are on our side, it's about whether we're on their side. This inspires the album's finest song: the "Antichrist" is scared shitless of losing his groomed-for-CCM-stardom daughter -- to terrorist attack, but more likely to the secular, sexual world outside her cage. The song nails the fear that feeds religions and politicians. Nobody can afford to be rational unless they have some kind of personal security -- everyone needs a place where no cars go.
5. Beirut, "Elephant Gun": Zach Condon hasn't solved his vocal problems, but somehow having a real band, however temporarily, means this isn't as important as it was. Plus he can focus on his trumpet, from which he wrings a lovely, mournful tone. Love him while you can, before he starts singing cafe songs.
6. Lee Scratch Perry, "Fight to the Finish": Less UFC than Celebrity Deathmatch, Perry gets hold of a melody, like he does once or twice every decade, and atmospheres it until it taps out. Featuring the best "boo boo boo" since "Sweet Home Alabama".
7. James McMurtry, "Six Year Drought": It took me a while, but now I prefer this to "We Can't Make It Here"'s biting, tuneless commentary on neoliberalism. Literary but no less trenchant, "Drought" is more in his dad Larry's vein, with the labour of which a summer worker was so proud proving futile in the battle to keep a dry town alive.
8. Justice vs Simian, "We Are Your Friends": You believe in don't bore us, get to the chorus? Well, this is all chorus.
9. Devin the Dude ft. Snoop Dogg & Andre 3000, "What a Job": Over a "beat like a campfire" (more like a bong fire ha ha ha), the trio list the perks of their chosen careers. While Devin and Snoop extol substance abuse, Dre's pleasure comes from seeing what his work has meant to people. Even if they don't pay for it.
10. The Pierces, "Boring": Funniest song of the year to date -- "Sexy boy? Girl-on-girl? Menage a trois? Boring."

Ten more: Arcade Fire, "Black Mirror"; Battles, "Atlas"; CSS, "Let's Make Love (and Listen to Death from Above)"; Lupe Fiasco, "Hurt Me Soul"; Ibrahim Electric, "Pet Pettostan"; Junior Boys, "In the Morning"; Nils Petter Molvaer, "Kakonita"; Lee Scratch Perry, "I Am a Psychiatrist"; The Vandermark 5, "Silverization/Volunteered Slavery", "The Bridge".

Not a great song, but the shouty "elsewhere" bit at the end of the bridge is amazing: Marit Larsen, "Don't Save Me".


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?"

"every hour is like a day/every day is like a year"

Some days you just need a haircut and a really good sandwich. The reason I only let women cut my hair nowadays is that they always compliment me on it, often throwing in how they wish they had hair like mine, unlike male barbers, who complain, with justification, about how hard it is to cut. After getting a trim I didn't need at World Cuts on Bancroft, I caught the 40 down Telegraph to the Genova Delicatessen, which I hadn't been to in three years: even though the last sandwich I had there was terrific, the wait was ridiculous. In the intervening time, the congestion had only worsened: I took the number 47 while they were serving customer 97 of the previous cycle. I clearly had some time to kill, so I took off across the road to Bakesale Betty's, thankfully now open on Mondays, for a couple of cookies to snack on while I waited (see below). It was a half hour before my number was called, by which time I had decided upon an eight dollar prosciutto, mozzarella and anchovy whole wheat roll.

It was fabulous. I think the ingredients in isolation were good but not exceptional. What was exceptional was the design: a thick, comparatively neutral-tasting layer of mozzarella separated the meats, the dry prosciutto and the anchovies moist in their sour sauce each creating their own interaction. And props to my sandwich artisan: without squishing, the construction held together until the last bite. Worth the 90 minute trip? When I'm in the mood, which isn't that often.

At the deli I also bought some salami to go with my fava beans. Now, fava beans can kill you if you suffer from glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. So what better way to find out if I had this genetic disorder than by eating raw fava beans? However, after eating some of the beans, and not developing anaemia, I decided they weren't quite young enough to eat raw, and gave them a quick saute. That was much better.

The East Bakery Project: Bakesale Betty's

As great as my hair is, it's not blue. Not only does Bakesale Betty have blue hair, she also wears really neat glasses, thus satisfying the two publicly-mentionable fetishes I have. Plus she can bake. I got an oatmeal-raisin cookie and a chocolate chipper, a buck each; I preferred the former. The cookies do suffer from being crusty around the edges; I know some people love it this way but I want the outer rim to be as soft and sweet as the centre. Fortunately the cookie centres are almost juicy, rendering all objections insignificant. I would totally have a crush on Betty if she wasn't Australian.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

"Jamaican Style (remix)"

I bought Easter Sunday lunch at the Brazil Cafe, getting the tri-tip sandwich and a not-fresh mango smoothie for seven bucks. I wish they used better bread, but it's what's inside that matters. I have new-found respect for the tri-tip as a genuinely good cut of meat. Pedro makes the meat tender enough without cooking all the taste out of it, which, combined with the garlic sauce and the general funkiness of his shack, makes the place worth a visit.

Other meals of interest: as a tribute to the Cricket World Cup, endlessly ongoing in the Caribbean, I made jerk chicken. Powered by three-quarters of a jalapeno, instead of the recommended habanero, it didn't turn out spicy; instead, it had a feeble tanginess, much like New Zealand's victory over Ireland today... Yesterday I threw my leftover asparagus butts into a black bean soup. My efficiency was rewarded, with most of the butts boiled into submissive edibility and only a few having to be spat out. Plus it was spicy... Top Dog: still good.

Coming: how long would you wait for a really good sandwich? And do I have favism? (If I die of anaemia tonight, assume I do.)

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

"It Happened in Monterey"

"broke somebody's heart/and i'm afraid that it was mine"
  • The artichokes didn't work out that well. I found the California Artichoke Advisory Board's Basic Preparation page, followed the instructions, trimming and boiling a pair of them. When I tried the first one it seemed mostly inedible. I then found the advisory board's How to Eat page, which informed me that most of it was supposed to be inedible. So I ate the second artichoke correctly. It was pretty bad, tasting medicinal. I'll give artichokes another attempt in a couple of weeks; preparation and recipe suggestions welcome.
  • I shopped at the Monterey Market for the first time, getting some strawberries and a Belgian endive. Selection was admirable, though the checkout service was so surly I didn't bother to point out they'd overcharged me 30 cents for my endive. Berkeley Bowl will remain my go-to place: as a one-or-two basket shopper, the state of permanent melee isn't too hard for me to negotiate. The endive, by the way, was terrific cooked with butter and served with my remaining Bleu d'Auvergne.
New feature!

The East Bakery Project

What's the best bakery in the East Bay? There's no single answer, of course: one might be better at sweets, another at savouries. Over the next couple of months, I plan to stuff my face at the East Bay's most beloved bakeries, all in the name of research. This week:

Masse's Pastries, Shattuck & Vine

I bought a croissant ($2) and a Citrus Charlotte ($4). The croissant was very good if overpriced for its size, not too oily and with some solidity in the crust. The Citrus Charlotte looked beautiful, with a shiny glaze and a cute tiny raspberry on top. It's thus no disgrace that its honourable taste didn't quite match its looks: it was admirably light and smooth, but the fruit flavours were a little subtle for my liking. Pretty good overall, would strongly consider them in the unlikely event that I need to do any catering around here.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Reactions to the Donnelly's Chocolates I brought up from Santa Cruz and distributed to those of my posse I happened to see while I still had some left

Brandy: excellent
Raspberry wine: good
Five spice (this was me): excellent
Lavender: OH MY GOD
Irish Whisky: OH MY GOD
Earl Grey: good


"It's Too Soon to Know"

"am i the fire/or just another flame?"

I'd never broiled before, and Monday seemed like a good time to start. At the Berkeley Bowl I picked up two Really Freaking Huge Previously-Frozen Scallops, three ounce monstrosities whose freezing turned out to be not-so-Previous, plus a halibut steak for the next day, setting me back fourteen bucks together. To accompany the scallops, I bought a huge bunch of medium asparagus. The stalks were as thick as you can get without requiring peeling.

I blanched almost a pound of asparagus, then sprinkled some salt and drizzled some olive oil on top. I seasoned the scallops with pepper, dried parsley and basil, then topped each with a slice of butter. I broiled them pretty close to the flame for eight minutes.

Upon removing the tray from the oven, I was concerned that the asparagus near the centre of the tray was slightly singed. My worries dissipated as soon as I tasted the asparagus: such a hearty, asparagusy flavour! I abandoned plans to dress the stalks and started scoffing them straight off the tray. The scallops, on the other hand, were disappointing: they tasted like they had been frozen for too long. Still, when I tried to repeat the recipe without the scallops the next morning, it wasn't the same.

Yesterday I was in a braising mood. The key to braising is to know what liquid to use. Here's a bluffer's guide:

Red meat -- wine
Poultry -- wine
Vegetables -- wine
Seafood -- wine

To be honest, I used a half-and-half mixture of budget chardonnay and vegetable stock. First I braised red cabbage and red creamer potatoes, then the halibut. For the second day in a row, the vegetables tasted better than the more expensive seafood. The halibut was better than the scallops, still fresh after a day, but with fairly mild taste. The cabbage was pretty good: the wine-to-stock ratio was correct.

Coming: The East Bakery Project, and uh, which bit of the artichoke is the edible part?

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Better Than Nothing"

"It'd be just like here, but we'd be there..."

I like to think that on this blog, I'm recording matters posterity will find enlightening. For instance: Mike's Mess, as served at Zachary's Restaurant in Santa Cruz, contains three eggs covering a heap of bacon, mushrooms, and potatoes, topped with cheese and conveniently seasonal green onions, hold the sour cream, plus toast. But to quote Dylan, how many eggs must a hungry man eat before they start to taste bland? So I settled for the Junior Mess, which, though only 75 cents cheaper, seemed more appetising in its comparative modesty. Given the place's reputation seems to be based on their eggs, they didn't seem like anything special (i.e. not clearly better than I can make) but the mound as a whole was very satisfying. Their secret weapon might be the bread: my rye toast was excellent.

After some shopping on Pacific Ave (finally got the Jenny Lewis album, at Streetlight, and felt I had to buy Jen Trynin's chronicle of her rock biz adventures after zipping through the first 70 pages, at Bookshop Santa Cruz) I had time for a last meal. By the time I got through the queue at Zoccoli's Deli, I only had time left for half a meal. But the sourdough Mediterranean sandwich was worth the wait. The meats (salami and prosciutto) were standard, but the chopped-up mix of olives and peppers was mega tasty.

So that was my trip. Forgot to charge my camera, so the only memento I have is my Beach Boardwalk receipt, which I'll add to my collection of ticket stubs, now almost as large by volume as my collection of suitors of incompatible sexual orientations.

Coming: overpriced seafood, and two pounds of asparagus.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

"Secret Santa Cruz"

Coming from Berkeley, Santa Cruz's famed weirdness seems mild, Pink Umbrella Man notwithstanding. But everyone's so chillaxed that run-of-the-mill things turn out better. Consider local institution Tacos Moreno. The vege taco I bought from was enveloped in two tortillas, and they were wonderful, flexible without being floppy, the calmer outer flour wrap neatly complementing the more intense inner corn.

That was lunch on Saturday, and after wandering around town -- including a stop at Donnelly Chocolate, of which more later -- I checked into the hostel and chatted to my new roommate Steve up from San Luis Obispo; feeling that nagging obligation to be interesting, I eventually divulged that I was originally not from Berkeley but from New Zealand. After a round of isn't-this-world-amazings, I headed down to the Boardwalk and the Giant Dipper, the oldest still-operating roller coaster in California, opened in 1924. I'd rate it on a par with the Cyclone: there's more airtime but the laterals aren't as vicious.

At Cafe Limelight I had an excellent, rich cup of chicken, mushroom and wild rice soup. Then a rosemary foccacia panini with artichokes, red pepper pesto and mozzarella: the cheese-to-pesto ratio was perhaps too high, but it was satisfying nonetheless. Two other things to know: the service gets a big gold star, and they have a dog menu.

To the highlight of the day, and indeed of my life so far. Just after eight, Marianne's Ice Cream was ridiculously crowded, with three or four customers jiggling around each square metre of space in front of the counter. Still, the wait was only ten minutes before my number was called, and I plunked down my $4.10 for a double cup, a scoop of pumpkin on top of a scoop of macapuno (baby coconut).

Let's start with the second scoop. After clearing the pumpkin for a 6000 point bonus, getting transient whiffs of coconut towards the end, my expectations for the macapuno were sky-high. As I shovelled the first spoonful into my mouth, I thought, well this tastes like coconut, but shouldn't the taste be stronger? And then I passed the substance to the back of my mouth and I was like, ah, there it is. Tragedy followed: the ice cream near the sides of the cup had congealed into something coarse and not creamy. That makes it sound worse than it was, but it was a major come down. Next time I'm getting a cone.

As for the first scoop: the thought accompanying the first spoonful was wow, this really tastes like pumpkin. The thought accompanying the second spoonful was HOLY CRAP THIS IS GOOD. It was magnificently thick and viscous without losing its creaminess. Grant that I'm a sentimental fellow, but this is the first time ice cream has brought tears to my eyes. Who knew that varieties of ice cream were also varieties of religious experience?

Still to come: Junior Mike's Mess, and a nice sandwich. To be continued.

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