A Simple Red Sauce Joint

Not all dining is fine dining, sometime you just go out with friends for an easy meal.  That’s what tonight was, a bunch of friends having a bite, nothing fancy.

We ended up at Buon Appetito, a very simple Italian joint in Benicia, next to an nsurance agency and behind Subway.  The two saddest outdoor tables in the entire world are perched on the narrow sidewalk in front.  Inside there are no red checked tablecloths, but there should be.

The kitchen is open to the room, and chef/owner Martino gets to see everything that goes on in the dining room while he prepares the meals.

Chef Martino looks like a man who enjoys his work

Chef Martino looks like a man who enjoys his work

The menu is extensive, with everything from aioli to zabaglioni.  Pastas, of course.  Risotto.  Polenta.  Steaks, lamb chops and fish.  Soups and salads, carpaccio and caprese.  Wines domestic and imported.

In an odd coincidence, 4 of our party chose the calamari steak.  A pounded piece of squid, dredged in egg batter and gently sauteéd.

Calamari steak, Italian style

Calamari steak, Italian style

Four plates came to our table, not a scrap was left. It’s easy to overcook calamari, leaving it with the consistency of an inner tube patch kit.  These were perfect.

I chose the Fettucini Friuliana–housemade fettucini with Italian sausage, onions, fresh tomatoes and red wine sauce. Everything in it was fresh and clean tasting, not the muddled flavors you get with cheap red sauce.

Fettucini Friuliana

Fettucini Friuliana

It was a bad night for dessert, because they were out of the chocolate lava cake, the spumoni and the zabaglioni–that’s the danger of going out on Sunday night.  I had to make do with this:

Apple tart with creme Anglaise

Apple tart with creme Anglaise

The tart was probably not made in house, but the presentation was excellent and that plate ended up clean, too.

Prices are modest, service is friendly and efficient. the food is excellent.  Buon Appetito is not the place for your 50th anniversary romantic dinner, but it’s perfect for a simple, well prepared meal.

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Infinite Majesty

The law, in its infinite majesty, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing bread. ————Anatole France

Two more hours of sitting court this morning before they managed to empanel a jury without every needing my judicious services. All in all, I was more impressed by the process than I thought I would be.  The judge, one Bruce Mills, was incredibly thorough in questioning the prospective jurors and explaining the process and the types of judgement that are needed.  He made it very clear that policie officier testimony carries no more weight than anyone else’s and that there are good and bad cops. The first 18 people were questioned by the judge, then by both attorneys.  The “people” were represented by a certified clerk, a law student under the direct supervision of an assistant DA. He questioned every single person regarding their wilingness to convict on the testimony of a single person—I thought he was not really questioning by trying to manipulate the jurors into accepting uncorroborated testimony.  Maybe that’s an accepted technique. This morning, 7 of that first 18 were released, and 7 more seated.  The questioning continued, and 7 more were released.  Finally, they managed to get 12 for the jury and one alternate, and the rest of us were free to go. The idiocy in all this is the case, involving a 50 person jury panel, judge, DA, defense attorney, court reporter, clerk and bailiff, was all because some poor schmo was being tried on 3 counts of public intoxication. Not recently, but I’ve been publicly intoxicated. It’s likely that you have too, if only as a stupid college kid.  But rich white guys don’t get busted for that, they get driven home.  This defendant was, I believe, Vietnamese, and the ‘offenses’ occurred in Orinda.  Just being poor and non-white is a crime in Orinda, and has been since I moved there 53 years ago.

Doing my civic duty

Jury duty today. I got lucky and didn’t have to show up at 8 am, but the call-in system said I had to be here at 1 and here I am. 

There isn’t any parking for jurors. You have to find a metered spot, some but not all of which take credit cards, and pay for it yourself. They are clear that you are responsible for your own parking tickets. 

Courthouse security is tighter than the airport. My pocketknife is “contraband”, so I buried it in the bushes rather than hike back to the car. I think of it as a necessary tool, but the cops feel self important and righteous if they are confiscating (the police word for stealing) contraband. 

Entering the jury assembly room, I was given a clipboard and directed to the end of a long line of similar detainees, waiting to check in. The clipboard contains a mildly intrusive questionnaire, some of which I filled out.   I can’t imagine why they would ask questions like what does my former girlfriend do for a living, but it’s none of their business that she is a money smuggler for the syndicate. 

Thinking about how upstanding and self righteous these people are, it amused me to see the bins they use to hold the clipboards. 

  
As usual, the law doesn’t apply to those who administrate it, the smarmy bastards. 

It’s forty five minutes and nothing has happened. I think there’s an orientation video to come, then maybe a trial. Or maybe just an afternoon of waiting. I’ll let you know. 

A One Joke Town

Gail and I drove up to southern Oregon today.  We are going to pick up a piece of art we commissioned, and the artist has a gallery in Port Orford, very close to the California border and on the ocean.  She also has a couple of fancy rooms she rents out, and we are staying in “the loft”, a spectacular room facing the Pacific.

Along the way, we stopped in Redcrest for a bite.  Redcrest is just a wide spot on the Avenue of the Giants, the scenic route that parallels the freeway through the giant redwoods.

We went to eat at a place named “cafe”, which is attached to a business named “gift store”.  Little spot, seats about 20, seems to be doing a pretty good business.  I had a grilled ham and cheese, Gail had a kraut dog.  Nothing fancy here.

On the counter, next to a vase full of plastic flowers, is a bowl of water with a rock and a turtle.  I asked if the turtle is real and the waitress said she never answers that question, only tell people the critter’s name.

Other people came in, everyone asked the same question, everyone got the same answer.  I heard the joke 5 times in 20 minutes, God only knows how many times a day she amuses herself telling the same silly joke.

I’ve been in one horse towns before, this was the first time I was ever in a one joke town.

His name?  Rigor Tortise

His name? Rigor Tortise

Living artistically

The Oakland art community has a big event called Art Murmur the first Friday of the month, with every gallery open, food vendors, music, street merchants and hordes of people

A much small, quieter, saner event is the Third Thursday, which is celebrated mostly on 25th street among a half dozen or so galleries.  That’s where I went this week while Gail had dinner with her friend Reed.

Maybe I’m blasé, maybe I’m jaded, maybe there just wasn’t anything particularly special, but the art I saw didn’t greatly move me.  On the other hand, I did see something that resonated.

One of the open spaces is a communal work/show space. A number of artists share the rent and the use of 3 large kilns, allowing them to be in prime real estate for a fraction of the cost. Each artist has a couple of hundred square feet in which to create and show their work.  The artists design and build out their individual studio area as they choose, and that’s what caught my eye.

Being an artist is more than a job, it is a way of life. These people put their sensibilities into every part of their lives, and the varied way they have chosen to structure their workspace is as interesting as any of the art they create.

Unfortunately, they are better at art than promotion.  I could not find a name for this place, nor a website.  I don’t know the names of any of the artists.  You’d think that would be a priority, but you aren’t an artist.

UPDATE  Our friend Dave Larson left the information in a comment:

The studio is called FM Art Collective ( 483 25th St, http://fmoakland.com/home.html ).

We know this because one of the artists there, Josh Margolis (with the “monster series) used to be an instructor at Kids ‘N’ Clay. He is currently head of the Visual Arts programs at JCCSF.

Nonetheless, I have a gallery of photos of the various workspaces, and some of the art created therein.  I just thought it was all interesting.

One more interesting thing–a parklet.  A little tiny park, just two standard parking spaces turned into a place to sit and enjoy the passing parade.

A very nice idea from the city

A very nice idea from the city

Here it is:

Turning an industrial street into something more.

Turning an industrial street into something more.

The continued growth of uptown Oakland is a delight to see.  Check it out the third Thursday of the month, 25th and Telegraph.

So here is a gallery of photos

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Some people just have to be different

Some people just have to be different

Society want us all to be the same, to follow the rules and never make wave. I’m just not wired that way.

We bought some handmade coffee mugs from a woman in South Africa, and I had to pay her.  She refuses to make my life easy by getting a PayPal account, and insisted that I send the money to her daughter in New York–not by check, which would be normal,, but by transfer into her bank account.  Fortunately, the account was with CitiBank, so I thought I’d just go to the local branch and effect the transaction.

it seemed easy.  I plopped my credit card (also from CitiBank) on the counter and said please send some money to this account.  Silly me.

Rather than just making a payment, the bank decided they had to treat this as a cash advance, then make a cash payment.  OK, knock yourself out.

In order to make the cash payment, they insisted that I tell them my phone number.  It’s illegal in California to ask for that for a credit card transaction, but that doesn’t stop Citi.  Although I had my phone on the counter to read the email with the account numbers, I said I didn’t have a phone. (Citibank already knows my phone number from the dozens of times I have to call them about charges on our business cards)

Not satisfied with one impertinent question, they now insisted on knowing what I do for a living.  I guess most sheep just answer, but I’m not most sheep.

I told her I was a criminal.  I steal cars for a living.  For some reason, she didn’t believe me, and suggested that I might actually be retired.  I said sure.

Then, astoundingly, she told me that was insufficient and she had to know what I had done when I worked.  How can this be any of their business?  Why do they care?  How dare they ask such absurd questions before I spend MY money for MY purposes? I was incredulous.  I was incensed.  I was livid.

I told her I was a retired felon.

She gave up and completed the transaction.

There is nothing I can imagine that would justify this absurd inquisition, and no possible reason why I would be impelled to reply.  Banks get away with this crap because sheep just do what they are told, and don’t question the system. Don’t be a sheep.

==========

Giving up on home remedies, I went to Kaiser today.  The first step is to check in and pay the $20, so I walked up to the counter.

The woman working today was quite large, kind of like my size, clad in a skirt way, way, way, way too tiny. The mysteries of the universe are mysteries no more.

What she does on her own time is her business, but this was pretty clearly inappropriate for a work situation.  I mentioned it to the nurse taking my blood pressure :(130/84!!!!!!!!) and she said everyone in the office was talking about it, and they were hoping some executive would come down from on high and address the situation.

What has happened in the world? Why can’t one of the women who work there just go up and tell her that her skirt is too short and she needs to cover up?  The world isn’t interested in her panties.  You just can’t do that for some silly reason, this will take an entire human resources project, with reports and paperwork.

Maybe they are afraid the woman will be offended at being told she is being offensive, and rain bureaucratic hell down on everyone.  Maybe the world has gotten too involved in everyone’s feelings and needs to get back to the basics–you need to be dressed appropriately for work.

If only Kaiser had a black sheep who would speak up when speaking up was needed.

A good place to hide out

One of the benefits of bloggery is that people come up to tell me about new restaurants, places that haven’t even started advertising yet.  I was fortunate that Eva Hyman told me about Hidout in Lafayette this week, and we had to try it out.

Hideout is in the space formerly occupied by il Giardino, tucked away off Mt. Diablo Blvd. It’s a tiny spot, with seating for 26 indoors plus a 10 person banquet table in a lovely side room.  Four more tables outside will be delightful in clement weather.  The tables were all taken, so Gail and I sat at the bar, gaining a view of the busy small kitchen.

We quickly made the acquaintance of JB Balingit, the youthful owner and chef.  He started out in his family’s  restaurant in the Philipines at the age of 10, and just never stopped learning and growing until now he gets to run the show.

Mike the minion and JB the boss

Mike the minion and JB the boss

The menu is California modern, with an empasis on pastas, just the sort of thing I like.

We planned on splitting the pear and feta salad, but the kitchen sent out a Lafayette salad, so that’s what we had. The house offered to bring us the correct dish, but that seemed wasteful, and we appreciated that they had properly divided the dish and brought us two plates.  In any event, the salad was mixed greens with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and cheese–you can hardly complain about that.  I cleaned my plate and snagged Gails blueberries.

Originally, I wanted the salmon, but when the waitress told me it was farmed I opted for the pasta putanesca.  The owner later told us the salmon that particular day was wild, but it was too late.  Fortunately, the pasta was great:

“Whore’s pasta”–tomatoes, capers, onions, kalmata olives, anchovies and garlic

It takes talent to take what is basically a dish popular because it is cheap to make and turn it into a feast, but talent is apparently in abundance here.  I loved it.

The wine list is well chosen.  Gail chose a chardonnay with which she was unfamiliar and liked it so much we got the bottle back to take a photo:

A chardonnay to remember

A chardonnay to remember

The Napa valley isn’t the only place to get really good wine. The next time there is a girls weekend at Ed and Sheryl’s house in Cayucos I think there will be a field trip to Babcock winery.

Gail had the mac and cheese, and once again Hideout made pedestrian comfort food into a delight.  The dish is exceptionally heavy, so she was simply forced to bring half of it home for lunch the next day.  Darn.

The food is good, the wine is good, the service is friendly and helpful.  Hideout is too small to successfully handle reservations, so seating is first come first served.  The owner says you can call before you come down to be put on the wait list, which I’d seriously recommend.  They are open for lunch and dinner and Saturday & Sunday brunch, closed Mondays.  We’ll be going there again.

 
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Fine dining in Emeryville?

I wrote about the Townhouse in Emeryville a couple of years ago, when we tried it with Jack and Carol, and I remember liking the place quite a bit.

Recently, we’ve eaten there twice as it’s a convenient meeting point for management dinners with Kate and Brad.  “Management” is the way you say tax deductible in business school.

The food is good.  We are particularly fond of the avocado bruschetta, an enormous appetizer that is attractive, tasty and quite filling:

Sliced ripe avocado on toast with balsamic reduction.  Very close to a meal all by itself.

Sliced ripe avocado on toast with balsamic reduction. Very close to a meal all by itself.

Portions here are large–Gail has twice chosen just to have two appetizers (plus her share of the avocado), and twice thought she had too much food.

Last night the “specials” were a gazpacho with crab and a halibut with crab.  Both were very good, both were the same “specials” that were offered two weeks ago.  I do not think that word means what they think it does.

I had the pork chop stuffed with Italian sausage.

Stuffed pork chop with mashed potatoes and string beans.

Stuffed pork chop with mashed potatoes and string beans.

Hard to get more down home classic than pork chop, spuds and string beans, but the stuffing makes it sort-of original.  I wish the chop had been cooked a bit less or brined or both; it would have been more tender and juicy.  The potatoes and beans were decent, but pedestrian.

Here’s the real problem I have with the Townhouse—the reservation system.  They are on Opentable, of course.  But for some beknighted reason they have activated the system where you have to give them a credit card to hold you table.  Folks, The French Laundry.this place ain’t.  People are not clamoring to get in here months in advance.

On top of the credit card issue, they insist on 48 hours notice of cancellation or they threaten to charge you.  My life isn’t that easy; things are happening and changing all the time, people have events and trips and families and issues all the damned time and there is often much less than 48 hours notice of a dinner being changed or moved or cancelled.

I tried to talk to the host about this, but he claimed that sometimes they were busy and no-shows were expensive (that part is undoubtedly true–always, always, always call to cancel if you can’t make it).  He said Opentable would not let them ask for credit cards only on busy nights: it was all or nothing.  I call bullshit on this, other restaurants manage to get card numbers for special nights only.  He also claimed that the 48 hour rule was from Opentable, but I doubt that as well.  I think the Townhouse is just trying to bully their customers and make a few bucks with petty rules that in the long run make me not want to eat there.

So the bottom line is that the food is good, the service is decent, the location is convenient and the way they treat their customer base regarding reservations is miserable, insulting and unpleasant.  They were pretty darned empty last night, maybe you just don’t need a reservation, at least mid-week.

Ice Cream the new way

I’m still coughing like a superannuated Welsh coal miner, but we dragged out to dinner tonight at Lotsa Pasta in Danville with Lisa.  Nothing fancy there, just a very good plate of pasta with a goodly variety of sauces and well-turned garlic bread.  The restaurant is very small, but there ater 4 or 5 tables outside, and we enjoyed the beautiful evening for a proper meal al fresco.

I was ready for something interesting for dessert, preferably something very cold and smooth to sooth my tired throat.  Lisa said there was a new high-end ice cream place a block away on Railroad Avenue and away we walked.

Crafts Creamery is brand new, still in their “soft opening” phase where they are experimenting with hours and systems.  Nonetheless, on this balmy Saturday night they were packed to the gunwales and going like the pounding hammers of hell.  It’s hard to imagine them doing much more business when they really open.

Crafts is at the head of the latest trend in chi-chi ice cream–the make the stuff on the spot with liquid nitrogen.  You order one of perhaps 30 types of ice cream, and the put the mix in a bowl and freeze it right then.  Not only does this make some very very good ice cream, but it’s showy and dramatic as well.

A row of mixer/freezers churning out individual servings

A row of mixer/freezers churning out individual servings.  The clouds of condensation are all part of the act.

Any ice cream story is a good place to find kids, and the little ones like playing in the cool, billowing clouds of condensation that pour out of the machinery.

These are the 4 Nicholson kids, whose dad was in line just ahead of me.  I think they enjoyed the process as much as they enjoyed the ice cream treat.

Our timing was good–soon after we arrived the line snaked almost out the door.  Ordering takes a bit, with multiple choices of ice cream base, flavor and then topping.  Then you get a chair and wait, because somebody has to make your dessert on the spot.

The system needs a bit of refining at the finish.  The store is quite noisy and acoustically awful, so it is almost impossible to hear the your woman at the end of process try to call out numbers to get the finished produce to the customer.  I suspect they will end up with some kind of sign board that flashes the current number, or they will have to hire somebody like me to be heard above the crowd.  No, I won’t work for ice cream.

The show is good, but the most important thing is the product, and Crafts Creamery delivers.  I had chocolate hazelnut ice cream with banana, butterscotch and whipped cream, and it was pretty perfect. The ice cream is very smooth, cold but not  hard and with excellent mouth feel.  The bananas were fresh cut, the whipped cream had the right amount of sweetness, the whole thing was just what I wanted.

To put all that in visual terms:

Lisa with French Vanilla, peanuts and butterscotch

Lisa with French Vanilla, peanuts and butterscotch

Not surprisingly, very good cutting edge trendy is expensive.  Three cups of ice cream completely chewed up a $20.  In this world, you have to pay for your pleasures.

Crafts Creamery is already jammed.  Get there soon before you need a reservation for an ice cream cone.

A Man’s Gotta Ramble

I haven’t written much lately, and now I have a bunch of things to ramble on about–no big main topic today.

I was a bad boy this morning; I took a very long, hot shower.Not that I was being indulgent in the midst of a drought, but 6 days of ceassless coughing had me talking, again, to the Kaiser Advice nurce show suggested that the warm moist air would be good for unclogging my lungs.  It works–I’m breathing better than I have in days.

These damn summer colds are a slow, weary pain.  Viral in nature, they don’t respond to antibiotics so you can’t get them cleared up with a Z-pack or course of Amoxicillin.  You just have to miserably soldier through, powering down hot tea and honey, cough drops and hot showers.  Of course, at bedtime there is the best of all cures–Thera-Flu, tea, honey and bourbon.  Lots of bourbon.  A good nights sleep won’t cure the cold, but enough bourbon and you’ll feel better in the morning anyway.

PROPAGANDA FAIL

The situation in Greece has been very interesting this week.  The people were asked to vote on whether or not to accept a bailout deal which would include even more austerity cuts.  The last five years of austerity have cratered the Greek economy, leading to 25% unemployment, so it is no surprise that they aren’t eager for more of the same.

Big business and big banks, though, want the bailout on any terms because they will get back the money they have loaned Greece, at the expense of the populace.  If you noticed, all the new articles leading up to today’s elections have been rosy about the referendum receiving a “yes” vote, or saying that the election was too close to call.  Greek television only showed demonstrations for the “yes’ vote. That was pure propaganda, desperately trying to sway the election.

When the results came in today, NO won 61% to 39%.  The propaganda program failed miserably, just as the austerity program has.

I understand that the French and the Germans have no desire to continue funding a country where people retire at 50 and cheating on your taxes is the norm.  I also know that Lord Keynes was right, and you have to spend your way out of an economic disaster.  Yes, those two statements are in opposition, and that’s why I’m glad I’m not a central banker in Europe right now.

RESTAURANT FAIL

Some good news–our friend Nyles Gregory has been looking for a job in the Bay Area for almost 10 yeas (while working for the Park department in Pasadena) and perseverance paid off.  He is going to work in Berkelely, in a better job at more money.  Now he can stop commuting every other week to visit his sweetie, Gail’s friend Reed.

To celebrate, we went out to FARM at the Carneros Inn, one of our favorite places.  Instead of sitting down to dinner, we chose to sit in their outdoor arcade, where there are comfortable seats and sofas, low tables and a beautiful fire pit.  We started with some fancy champagne Reed brought:

This is the good stuff

This is the good stuff

The restaurant charges $25 if you bring in your own bottle, which is still much cheaper than what they mark up Dom Perignon.  This is a “brut”, which means sweet, which means I like it, since I have the sweet tooth of a 4 year old.  I have no idea why somebody thought it would be cool to use the word “dry” to mean not-sweet, and I never get the concept of a dry liquid.  IPerhaps the reason I don’t drink is that it’s just too confusing for me.  It looks nice, though.

Reed in the backgournd.

The wine looks beautiful, and so does Reed in the backgournd.

We ordered food, and things took a turn for the worse.  FARM has always had an excellent, thoroughly trained waitstaff, ready to explain all the intricacies of the complex dishes they produce.  I don’t know where they got the waitress we had, but she had no clue.

Because it was such a special occasion, we thought we’d start with the caviar.  Well, we ordered it first at least.  ALL the other appetizers we ordered came, at once, first.  They were excellent, as we have come to expect. They just weren’t caviar.

In fact, she forgot it.  We had to tell her again what we wanted.

Finishing the caviar, we ordered a couple more dishes, and a bottle of champagne.  The house was having some special event centered around Veuve Cliquot, so that’s what we ordered.  The waitress said they were out.  Then she went back to get the cheese plate.  Then we asked again about the champagne, and she managed to find a bottle.

The cheese plate arrived, but I was underwhelmed.  It sure looked like three servings of the exact same cheese to me, so I asked our server what we had.  She replied, “a goats milk scheese, a sheeps milk cheese and a cows milk cheese.”  You will understand if I didn’t find that answer either responsive or convincing.

Servers shouldn’t lie–if they don’t know, they are supposed to find out the answer, not make something up.  I asked her what one of the items accompanying the cheeses was, and she told me “those are pearls infused with tapioca.”  Gibberish.  The pearls ARE the tapioca.

I could go on, but you get the point.  We had an untrained, untrustworthy, less than acceptable waitress.  I still like FARM, but my respect has been considerably diminished.  The front of house manager has some work to do.

 

INFLATION

Am I the only one noticing our economy getting inflated as hell?  We bought 2 loaves of bread last week for a party and it came to almost $10–that’s absurd.  The corn that used to be 10¢ an ear is 3 for a dollar.

I see cities making a big deal out of raising the minimum wage, and then I wonder what difference it is going to make–employers just have to raise prices and the new wages don’t buy any more than the old.

Berkeley institued a tax on sugared drinks, and we raised prices to cover the tax, as did everyone else.

I feel like this is insidious, like nobody is particularly noticing that we’re all floating in money while the buying power keeps shrinking and we’re barely keeping even without being aware of it.

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