A one egg omelet for 12

I wanted to do something different for the brunch we had this morning for a few of our friends.  I wanted to cook an ostrich egg.

Ever since we got back from Africa in June, I’ve been wanting to experiment like this.  My friend Zina at the bridge club, who is from South Africa (and a fantastic cook), assured me that there is no significant difference in taste.  Nothing strange, weird or gamy.

You can’t get an ostrich egg at the grocery store.  Some Whole Foods purportedly carry them, but not in Lafayette.  Eventually, I bought one from a ranch Tucumcari, New Mexico.  It came Priority Mail, wrapped in newspapers, bubble wrap and two infant size diapers, which fit the curves very well.

Here it is before cracking:

The egg we had for brunch.

The egg we had for brunch.

Ostrich eggs are tough–that’s a 200 pound bird sitting on them.  You usually have to open one with a hammer and chisel.  I got lucky that all that packaging failed, and my egg was slightly cracked.  I was able to pick out a piece of shell, open the membrane and pour out the copious contents into a bowl.  The mostly intact shell went home with Harry Siter, who will create something special with it.

Not wanting to add much flavor, so we could savor whatever there was to savor, I scrambled the egg with just a touch of cream and scrambled it with butter an a bit of shallot.  It filled the frying pan:

That's a big frying pan very full of egg.

That’s a big frying pan very full of egg.

The key to making good eggs is to cook them slowly, on very low heat.  There’s some scientific reason that goes over my head about high heat polymerizing the proteins, I just follow orders and turn the fire down.

After 15 minutes of gentle stirring, I had a plate of fabulous ostrich eggs.  A very large plate:

The finished product

The finished product

Zina told me one ostrich egg is equivalent to 2 dozen chicken eggs, and that’s pretty darn close to right.  We had 11 for brunch, and just enough egg. If I had snuck a couple of chicken eggs in nobody would have noticed.

This has no significance, I just thought it was fun.

No buzz, just buzzwords


There’s a vacant storefront in Berkeley near Fat Slice. Walking past it yesterday, I noticed the windows were taped over and this help-wanted sign was posted. I had to share it with you.

Do you notice anything missing? What kind of business is it? A store? A factory? A restaurant? A massage parlor? You cannot tell.

There are plenty of buzz words to describe what they want. Just nothing that indicates real, necessary skills.

I question how much professionalism is required given that there are two typos on this page. They noticed at least the transposition in the area code, although they were too lazy to correct it and reprint. Of course, they may be making a metaphysical statement suggesting you can “be apart” of Berkeley’s newest adventure.

I am afraid I don’t have any faith that whatever businesses this will become will be a success. Little things like spelling and punctuation are important, just like Sister John Lucy said they were. The inability to communicate just what they are looking for seems like a dealbreaker. One would hope that this close to the University of California, they could find someone capable of writing a basic job posting.

I’m looking forward to finding out what kind of business will open here. I think I will have to look quickly, for I do not expect it to last very long.

Bistro Don Giovanni

Up to Napa tonight for dinner with Mike and Gretchen. Mike chose the spot–a place his family has patronized for decades.  Bistro Don Giovannia is a scary, barely marked turn off Hwy. 29.  Even on Sunday night, it was quite full and you wouldn’t get in without a reservation.

The facility has as many seat outside as inside, it seemed to me.  The first thing one notices is this large sculpture on the lawn.

A kinetic water feature--just what every garden needs.

A kinetic water feature–just what every garden needs.

We sat inside because Mike said it the best place to see if any local or international stars show up–this is the kind of place the Mondavi’s patronize in Napa, not that I would recognize a winemaker if I saw one.  I was considerably less than happy with the table they gave us–an insultingly small round number not fit for a fine dinner for four people.

This might be sufficient for a bar, but not for a meal.

This might be sufficient for a bar, but not for a meal. 

An upscale restaurant deserves an upscale menu, and Don Giovanni doesn’t fail.  The basic thrust is California modern meets Italian, starting with the carpaccio, then the caprese salad, through the pear and gorgonzola pizza all the way to the butterscotch panna cotta for dessert.

I’m a sucker for a caprese salad, and found this on to be particularly excellent:

A lovely geometric presentation, a panoply of color

A lovely geometric presentation, a panoply of color

James Bond complains that you can’t get enough toast with your caviar.  I have the same problem with the basil leaves on a caprese salad, but Don Giovanni is up to the challenge.  I love the green, white, red and yellow on the plate, and the proportions of tomato, cheese and basil were perfect.

Mike had a beet salad:

This presentation went for height.

This presentation went for height.

Mother tried to get me to eat beets, to little avail. She didn’t know how to prepare them the way people do now.   And maybe there are varieties of beet that weren’t available then.  In any event, I grew up and I’ll eat beets now.  You should too.

Gail had the Salmon–wild naturally.

Grilled Salmon, mashed spuds and tiny tomatoes.

Grilled Salmon, mashed spuds and tiny tomatoes.


I had the braised short ribs with risotto.  This was a daily special, not on the menu, that our server described so well I couldn’t resist:

Leek Risotto with short ribs.

Leek Risotto with short ribs. I wish I could find out what kind of flowers those are–they actually have a piquant taste.

Gretchen had the fritto misto–a plate of shrimp, calamari and veggies tempura battered and quick fried.  Good thing for me she eats like a canary–I got to try some and it was spectacular.  You wouldn’t think fried food could be this light and delicate.

Fritto Misto--the lightest, tastiest fried food ever.

Fritto Misto–the lightest, tastiest fried food ever.

Skinny people like me generally pass on dessert, but Mike wanted one and it was only polite to keep him company.  I went for the “Top Shelf Butterscotch Pudding”.

The most addictive thing you can put in a martini glass.

The most addictive thing you can put in a martini glass.

The pudding was incredibly rich and smooth.  I thought it was more chocolate than butterscotch, though.


On the way out Mike spotted the owner, and wanted a photo to show his 93 year old dad.

Mike and the boss.

Mike and the boss.

Bistro Don Giovanni is one hell of a good restaurant, the kind of place where the important movers and shakers of the wine country come to enjoy a good meal and to see and be seen.

It loses points for that ridiculously small table: I would refuse to be seated there in the future.  Loses a few more for self-righteously refusing to have decent sweetener for the tea, only Stevia because it’s organic and hip, it just doesn’t taste good.

Prices are steep.  Not French Laundry steep, but about as expensive as it gets for this level of dining.  Service was good until it was time to get the check, then it’s like we moved to Cleveland.  Still good enough for a 20% tip on a large check.

The bottom line is I’d eat there again. And bring my own sweetener, as usual.


Bistro Don Giovanni on Urbanspoon

A star is born

Okay, he was born a long time ago.

Chuck Wong, bridge player, raconteur and singer of songs, has been in the chorus long enough–now he gets to sing a solo and get his own line in the credits, right there with the Equity Actors.

Chuck is playing Uncle Chin in Flower Drum Song at the Woodminster Amphitheater in Oakland.  We went there Friday night with a group of friends, having planned the evening even before we knew Chuck was a big shot therein.

All these years in this area, and I’d never been to Woodminster.  I had a misconception that it was the kind of place you sat on the grass and watched bad amateur theater.  I was wrong on both counts.

Woodminster was built in 1938-40 by the WPA.  It’s a real theater, with lots of real seats, no grass.  The stage is impressively wide and contains a turntable to change scenes–because it is an outdoor theater there are no flies, which would block out the view over the bay to the bridges and San Francisco.

The performance is pretty darned professional–six of the actors (all of the leads save Chuck)  were Equity members.  There was a complete orchestra in the pit, lighting and costumes were expert, this was a big league operation.

Curtain time is 8 pm, but we got there way early to picnic.  There are tables outside the theater area, but for a piddling $10 you can reserve one inside, behind the stage area.  Our group of 8 filled up our table and spilled over on both sides, fortunately there was plenty of room as very few of the tables had been reserved.

Gail and Ed.  Colorful table setting by Linda Friedman

Gail and Ed. Colorful table setting by Linda Friedman

Linda made the salad, Nancy Munson brought the fried chicken and the pie, Sheryl Nagy created the crab dip, fruit salad and the devilled eggs.  I brought Diet Coke and white wine and a camera.

Danny is still an Indiana boy at heart, which explains the genuine Tupperware™ corn-on-the-cob keeper:

I've never seen one of these before.

I’ve never seen one of these before.  I may never see another.

Nancy Munson has the well deserved reputation of best pie cook in the county.  Bob asked me what kind I wanted, so I said “sour cream blueberry”, since nobody but Marie Callendar had ever made one I liked.

Nancy came up with this:

Not bad for a first attempt.

Not bad for a first attempt.

Nancy says she’s never made one like this before.  I suggested that she needs to make one a week for a couple of months to get good at it.  I don’t think she fell for that idea, darn it.

If you’ve got golden hour light, a camera and a couple of friends, you have to take pictures.  Here’s Sheryl

untitled (7 of 47)


And Bob

untitled (12 of 47)


Then we had a visitor:

Chuck was in a great mood, about to get his first solo in a big production.

Chuck was in a great mood, about to get his first solo in a big production.

Dinner over, things cleaned up, coolers walked back to the cars, we took our seats. I’m sad to report that the auditorium was about 25% full.  We had great seats, dead center and about 12 rows up the steeply raked facility.

The sun had just set, the house lights went down and the stage lights went up:

The opening scene

The opening scene

Flower Drum Song was written by Rogers and Hammerstein in the mid 50’s.  It was a hit at the time, but is very very out of date and politically incorrect today.  This production relies on a new book, written, with permission,by David Henry Hwang in 1998.  He was allowed a free hand with the book, but not permitted to change any of the lyrics.

The re-written musical was staged in Los Angeles in 2002 to good reviews, went to New York where it got poor reviews and closed in 6 months.

The version presented to us was cut down even more, leaving little drama and almost no plot.  Boy meets girl.  Boy doesn’t want girl, so she goes away. Boy realizes he does want girl, and she comes back.  Everybody lives happily ever after.  This is the lightest book since Great Swiss Naval Battles.

There are a couple of good songs–you’ll remember I Enjoy being a Girl.  and will like Don’t Marry Me. That’s about it for the score.

Here’s a gallery of photos:

Consider this a pleasant evening at a lovely location.  It isn’t great theater, but it’s good theater.  The production is excellent and the actors make the most of what they have to work with.  Take a good picnic–even if you can’t get Nancy to bake you a pie.


Hotel food done right


Lunch today at Tusca, the restaurant in the Hyatt. As opposed to the hilton across the street, this place knows how to do things right.

I had the above Caprese salad, made with heirloom tomatoes and burrata cheese. Micky instantly stole the Parmesan crisps before I could get a photo, just believe me they were there. It was a great dish and well worth the $8.

Gail and Linda split a huge chopped salad. Mike just nibbled.

Service was fast and first rate, prices relatively reasonable. We were all happy campers.

Sent from my iPhone

Forty Bucks of Mediocre

It’s Labor Day Weekend, so I’m in Santa Clara playing bridge.  We’ve been here for 25 years or so, and have a few more left on our contract with the hotel–but now that Levi’s Stadium is up, we’ll have to find another place.  Cheapskate bridge players cannot compete with free spending NFL Fans.

Between sessions tonight, Mike wanted to go across the street to the Hilton for dinner.  They have a restaurant named La Fontana.  I know I wrote about it a few years back, and wasn’t impressed.  It’s gone downhill.

Tonight might not be fair, I suppose, because the restaurant was closed.  Closed except for the fact that it was open, if you wanted to eat in the bar.  Well, there were 3 television with sports on, so Micky thought this was the greatest idea since chocolate Tootsie rolls.

The first thing to mention is hotel diners are expensive.  The second thing is that they tend to be very corporate and not especially good.

We got our drink orders.  Linda had red wine, and instantly noticed that it was quite cold–the bottle evidently is kept in the refrigerator.  That isn’t something you do with red wine apparently.

We all had the house salad.  A large triangular plate full of the weeds I picked for 75¢ an hour when I was 12, but now they are “micorgreens”.  Still taste like weeds to me.  $8 for the plateful.

The hamburger was $18, which seems kind of outrageous.  I opted for the salmon burger, which was $19.  Big mistake.  I was hoping for a piece of fish, but got the ground up odds and ends of what they can’t sell, on a huge bun.  One bite convinced me to toss the top half and try eating it with a knife and fork.  Then I gave up on the bottom half and just ate the fish.  The plate was finished with a fruit medley, good pineapple and not so good honeydew.

Here’s the best thing–the waitress smelled like an angel flew by.  I don’t have a particularly sensitive nose, but I sure noticed that.

A plate of weeds, a salmon burger with cheap salmon and waaaaaay too much bread and not-ripe melon, plus tax and tip, set me back forty clams.  I notice on Urbanspoon.com that the place get a 45% thumbs up–the worst I’ve ever seen.

If you ever hear Mike suggest the Hilton in Santa Clara again, please hit me upside the head and remind me that I hate the place.

La Fontana at the Hilton Santa Clara on Urbanspoon

You need to watch this tonight

One of the most famous photographs in American history, a migrant mother in a tent city in Nipomo, CA

One of the most famous photographs in American history, a migrant mother in a tent city in Nipomo, CA


There is a show tonight on PBS you don’t want to miss — American Masters: Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning.

Dorothea Lange remains one of the foremost American photographers.  Her work for the Farm Service Administration during the depression chronicles a time most would like to forget, but she brings a humanity to her subject that is irresistible.

The movie was created by Dyanna Taylor, an Emmy award winning film maker who is also Lange’s granddaughter.  Much of the research was provided by Elizabeth Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, a contemporary of Dorothea’s and a great photographer in her own right.  

Dorothea was 24 and headed out to travel around the world with a girlfriend when their money was stolen in San Francisco and they had to stop and make a living.  She befriended Cunningham, opened her own photo studio, and the rest is history.

The movie is great–I kn\ow because the world premier was last Saturday at the Oakland Museum and I got lucky and snagged a couple of seats.  Dyanna and Elizabeth were there to answer questions after the show, and it was fascinating.

Much of the movie centers on the preparations for Dorothea to have the first one-woman show of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and we get to see her as artist and just as a person facing life’s greatest problem.

It’s on PBS tonight at 10 pm, and sure to be re-run many times.  Don’t miss it.

Get rich quick

Okay, maybe that isn’t quite true, but it’s a good headline.

I run a football pool every season.  Gail’s son Ross got me into it, so many of the players are from the Fresno area, but that’s hardly a requirement.

It’s a simple pool–it’s called Pick One.  Every week you pick one team, to win.  No point spread.  No odds.  They either win or they don’t. (A tie is a loss, your team has to WIN).  If you win, you stay in. If you lose, you watch the rest of the season from the sidelines.

The next week you do it again, but you can’t use a team twice.  That means that if you stay in long enough, you will have to pick some dogs to win, and that’s where it gets really interesting and challenging.

It costs $100 to enter, and the winner takes all, minus my administration fee.  Last year I wrote a check to the winner for more than $5000–there’s a real good reason to be in this thing.

I’d always like to make the pool bigger and more exciting.  If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. You can get in by sending me $100 before the first game on September 4, or even September 7 if you want to choose a Sunday game.  Mail to:

Chris Pisarra

3175 Teigland Road

Lafayette 94549

Pretty hot and tasty

That was a very cool acronym about 20 years ago–PHAT, pretty hot and tasty.  Leave it to me to be cool, just 20 years too late.

PHAT also describes dinner at Lemon Grass Bistro in Martinez, where we ate tonight with Jan and Keith Gunn.  Right on the revitalized Main Street, with outdoor dining available where the city has taken out parking spaces to Europeanize the area.

Lemon Grass is decorated with a great collection of art–it’s one of the nicer looking places we’ve been.

This is a very nicely decorated eatery.

This is a very nicely decorated eatery.The art is local.

The menu is varied, with Thai and Indian dishes. In an italian place I’ll always have the caprese, in a Thai restaurant you can count on the green papaya salad coming my way.

Green papaya salad with shrimp.

Green papaya salad with shrimp.

I enjoyed the salad, but wish it had more shredded goodness and less lettuce.

We ordered a variety of dishes to share–seafood combo, garlic fried rice, red curry pork and some spaghetti/shrimp dish. They were all good, all spicy, all cooked to perfection. This is part of my effort not to always order the same thing–I like Pad Thai and Yellow Curry anything, but need to expand my tastes.

I like this restaurant; they put out an excellent Thai iced tea. Service was as good as you can expect in a local, mid-price ethnic joint. Even the bus boy was first rate, carefully sorting and packing the leftovers so we each could take what we wanted.

I think about a third of all Thai restaurants are named Lemon Grass.  Another third are called Basil Leaf.  The cuisine is inventive, why are the names so un-creative?

Martinez isn’t the first place you think of for a night out, yet Main Street has undergone a bit of a renovation, and Lemon Grass Bistro is decidedly a good choice when you are in the mood for Thai.  Give it a shot.


Lemongrass Bistro on Urbanspoon

I could have watched all night

(L to R) Irene Lucio as Eliza Doolittle, L. Peter Callender as Col. Pickering, and Anthony Fusco as Henry Higgins in California Shakespeare Theater's production of Pygmalion, directed by Jonathan Moscone; photo by Kevin Berne.

(L to R) Irene Lucio as Eliza Doolittle, L. Peter Callender as Col. Pickering, and Anthony Fusco as Henry Higgins in California Shakespeare Theater’s production of Pygmalion, directed by Jonathan Moscone; photo by Kevin Berne.


Mother took me to see My Fair Lady when I was 12.  It was my first experience with live theater.

On my first trip to London, I got lucky and scored a rush ticket to Pygmalion, starring an astoundingly beautiful Diana Rigg.  I can still picture her, in the whitest ballgown imaginable, sitting on the sofa with a single tear coursing down her flawless cheek.

I got to see Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins on his last tour in the musical.

So you might say I’m pretty well versed in this particular piece of the dramatic canon, and you can take my word for it that Cal Shakes has done a fantastic job in its current revival of Pygmalion.  It is closing this weekend, so you better hurry up and get your tickets.

They have the A team performing.  When the supporting cast is L. Peter Callender (Col. Pickering) and James Carpenter (Alfred Doolittle), you know you’re in for a treat.  The entire cast is strong, right down to the stagehands in full period costume as they change the bare stage into Covent Garden, an office or a drawing room.

George Bernard Shaw was an early feminist: Pygmalion is a story of self-actualization.  Eliza (Irene Lucio) might be of low station in life, but she is making her own way unaided.  Her “lessons” with Professor Higgins (Anthony Fusco)  improve her station at the likely expense of her independence, but in the end she refuses to live in the shadow of Henry Higgins and stands on her own.  

When Lerner and Loewe made a musical out of the play, they changed the ending, making Eliza weaker and had her end up with Higgins.

The Cal Shakes interpretation by Director Jonathan Moscone takes a much more modern view, not only portraying Eliza as strong and self-sufficient, but drawing Higgins as a misanthropic, unpleasant, unlikeable, self-centered ass totally devoid of social skills–a caricature of a stereotype. He is accustomed to getting what he wants by walking all over people, and can’t understand how it can be that this “piece of squashed cabbage” he has turned into a pseudo-Duchess can refuse to knuckle under.

Higgins is controlled by his strong and wise mother (Sharon Lockwood), who sides with Eliza in a strong show of sisterhood and takes her in when she flees the Higgins household.  Even Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce (Catherine Castellanos) stands up to him constantly with feminist righteousness so he doesn’t run roughshod over Eliza.

Costumes, as always with Cal Shakes, are exquisite.  The minimalistic Cal Shakes outdoor stage becomes a fussy Victorian office with perfectly set decoration.

Over it all, what shines is the acting.  The seasoned professionals of the permanent cast bring such quality, such expertise, that everything they do, every small motion, every inflection is perfect in service of the script.  Nothing extra, nothing superfluous, no showboating, just solid professionalism.

You’ve only got a few more chances to see this show.  Don’t let them slip by you.



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