Back to the old days

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Gail had an appointment in Palo Alto yesterday, so I drove her down there too darned early in the morning–even with the holiday lack of traffic, it took an hour and a half to get there.

Since her appointment was supposed to be for one to three hours, Claudia and I went for a drive to find breakfast. Bypassing Starbucks and McDonalds, we found Jason’s Cafe, an old-fashioned, breakfast-all-day, cheery waitress kind of place.   It was just what I wanted.

I like pancakes.  They don’t like me, and sit like a brick in my stomach for the rest of the day.  That’s why I only order them once or twice a year; it takes me that long to forget.

The sausage went to my little red friend, who was sitting next to me in the booth. We just walked in together and nobody said a word. They know a cool customer when they see one.

See that orange thing-a-majig on the table?  That’s a stand for one’s telephone so you can read while you eat.  The waitress saw me trying to handle the phone and brought it over.  I think every diner in the nation will have them soon, probably with advertising attached.

Palo Alto is its own world.  As I was getting ready to leave, they seated a couple of bearded hipsters at the table behind me.  A couple of minutes later, I noticed the waitress bringing them short bottles of champagne.  Being the nosy/friendly type, I stopped as I was passing to ask them.

“Champagne at 9:30 in the morning?  Did you guys just get funded?”

“YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  they said.

And that’s Palo Alto–an old-style diner, dogs welcome,  with almost no parking, sausage, eggs and pancakes for breakfast and the next Google just got launched in the booth.  Life is good.

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Getting REAL

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This isn’t Walnut Creek, but it was pretty similar.

You may think you have a real driver’s license, but most likely you don’t have a REAL one, which is to say the new CDL that conforms to federal guidelines, requires much more documentation and will, sometime next year, be required to board an airplane.

I got my license renewed last February, but the bureaucratic nightmare conspired to just give me the old fashioned ID, and as much as we travel I wanted to have the REAL version.

The lines at the DMV are legendary, although they seem to have gotten a bit more funding and they are not as bad as they were a few months ago.  In September I made an appointment, and today, November 1, the lucky day came rolling around.

Gathering up my current license, passport, W-2 and social security card, I motored on over to the Walnut Creek office.  There was a line outside the building, but I was able to just skate on by. I was the only person in the “appointment” line, so I was being helped in seconds.

From reception, it was over to the computers lining the west wall, where I fille out the application online, then went back to reception and got a number.

7 minutes later my number was called–just enough time to go out to the car and bring Claudia in.  No problems with dogs at the DMV. The young woman at the desk took all my papers, made copies, checked the passport electronically, filled out forms, made more copies, had her co-worker check all the details twice, punched a hole in my current license and told me the new one would arrive in 2 weeks or less.

All this took about 5 minutes.

And 21 minutes after my appointment time Claudia and I were back in my car and on the road.

The moral of the story is two fold:

1: Make an appointment.  Make it early.  You can do it online, and waiting at the DMV is a pain. This system really works.

2: When you have to renew your license, make sure you bring all the necessary documentation.  Passport, social security card, proof of California residency, blood sample, first born child.  You don’t want to do this twice like I did.

If you don’t have one of the new-fangled ID’s, next year you will have to bring a passport with you to fly, even domestically. That’s just one more thing to forget or lose or even bring the wrong one.  I’ve done that, too.

 

 

Out with the old, in with the new

The Hotel Shattuck Plaza, on the corner of Shattuck and Alston in Berkeley, was home to Five restaurant for quite a few years.  Growing tired of the concept, management closed Five, remodeled the dining room and bar, brought in a new chef from New York, and opened Zino, a Mediterranean dining establishment, in the same place.

Hotels have to have restaurants.  They don’t have to make money, just be there to attract guests who will take expensive rooms.  People won’t stay in a $300 a night room if they can’t get breakfast, lunch and dinner on-site.

So, Zino!!  A very nice, modern, fresh Mediterranean restaurant with good food and service, as befits a 4 star hotel.

We had lunch there Sunday with a couple of the grandkids–if you can call successful adults “kids”.  The food was first rate, the service excellent.

We started with the hummus.

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House made hummus, topped with baked tomatoes and served over fresh pita.  Not quite like Habib’s House of Hummus in Israel, but not bad.

Granddaughter Tessa had the eggs and chorizo.

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She chose to have the eggs poached.  Served over potatoes, peppers and chorizo.  Beautiful to look at, tasty to scarf down.

Presentation and attention to detail are the hallmarks of fine dining.  See how they serve toast:

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Sure, it’s just warm bread.  And only 1 slice.  But the presentation!  That triple dish with butter and housemade jam, diagonally bisecting the bread.  It’s a picture–and you eat with your eyes first.

Strangely, Gail and I both ordered the same dish–the Za’atar Omelet.

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And we were both a bit disappointed.  Nothing wrong with this dish, but he Za’atar just didn’t have much flavor.  It is a North African spice mix of oregano, marjoram and thyme, mixed with toasted sesame seeds.  We were hoping for an exotic flavor, and got—nothing.  Eggs, feta cheese yes.  Strange African spices? No.  The potatoes were just cubes of fried spuds, needing spice or onions or cheese or something.  The arugula was, well, arugula.  There was nothing particularly wrong with this dish, but it’s just an omelet, nothing special.

Grandson Chris had the “tartine”–I’d be more specific, but the Zino website doesn’t have a brunch menu.  In truth, it was just fancy avocado toast.

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Toast, avocado, tomatoes, radish, something green, onions.  Looks good, tastes good.

Service was absolutely first rate, perhaps because we were the second table of the day and there was more staff than customers.

The new chef, Brandon Hicks, is also a Certified Sommelier, so there is a fine list.  I guess. What do I know about wine?

I do know about iced tea–and Zino is on the bandwagon of fruity, flavored, sport drink iced tea.  They were good about bringing me a pot of black tea and two glasses of ice.

Zino was fine for Sunday brunch, and will, I expect, do an excellent dinner trade because they are just a block from Aurora Theater and Berkeley Rep.  Prices were reasonable for being in a hotel, which isn’t necessarily reasonable at all, but I don’t have any complaint.

Five is dead, Zino is alive.  We liked it, you will too.

Not the best catch

A couple of months ago Gail and I wandered into Pacific Catch, a new restaurant in Walnut Creek, for lunch.  We liked it, so I wanted to go back for dinner.  Tonight, we tried it out with Mike and Linda,

The food was just as good as I remembered.  The service was execrable. Ghastly.  Random, bizarre, and incomprehensible.  We were not impressed.

Pacific Catch is part of a growing West Coast chain of reasonably priced, family-friendly, hip and happening fish emporiums.  The facility is bright and airy, open and modern, loud as a roaring freight train.  We had planned to sit outside, but they don’t seem to have very effective heaters so we moved indoors–by pleasant coincidence the granddaughter was home babysitting Claudia.

Drinks were ordered.  In a few minutes, Gail got her wine.

Then we waited

10 minutes later, Linda got her wine and Mike got the sissy cocktail of the day.

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If this just had a little umbrella it would be perfect.

The ‘iced tea’ at Pacific Catch is one of those tropical fruit/mango/peach/hibiscus/broccoli concoctions that restaurants for some reason inflict on innocent tea drinkers.  Fortunately, I’ve learned to ask first, and then order a hot tea and two glasses of ice.

So we ordered.  This restaurant has an interesting menu with ceviches, pokes, sashimi, tacos, fish and chips, grilled fish, and the odd hamburger for the unenlightened.

I started with the original Ahi poke, small cubes of raw Ahi tuna in a mildly spicy sauce, served in something like a martini glass with fried wontons to scoop it up.

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All well and good, but I was the only person at the table with food.  For the next 15 minutes.  The situation was utterly absurd.

Eventually, we got hold of the manager, who said they were swamped because 3 staff members had called in sick.  That might explain the slow service but not why they had brought just the one dish–they should have waited until all the dishes could be brought at once.

This silliness is further compounded by the fact that Linda was having the salmon poke,  Gail the soup and Mike the ceviche–all dishes that are prepared in large quantity in the afternoon, and need only to be portioned and plated, just like my dish.  Why they did not come out all at once is just a mystery.

The good news is that we all thought our food was extremely good.  We didn’t like to admit it, given how cranky we were with the place, but there was no denying that my poke was simply succulent, with just the right amount of spice.  Gail, a picky soup lover, was quite pleased with her salmon chowder. Linda loved her salmon poke and Mike left no crumbs of his fish.

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Mike’s fish platter, with a side of elote, Mexican corn.

I then had the two taco platter, with a salmon and a rockfish taco.

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Gail thinks it’s odd to serve fries with tacos.

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I thought the tacos were excellent, the fries crispy and the black beans just right.

I also ordered a side of the Thai brussels sprouts, both because I like them and because Mike hates them–memories of his frat house.  A very interesting treatment of the little green things, they were quite sweet with none of the bitterness often associated to them.  Linda took the leftovers home because she never gets them.

As we were all finishing, they dropped off Linda’s beet salad.  Another item it doesn’t take long to prepare.  It was a very good salad, with interesting pink beets, perhaps a cross between the usual red beets and they yellow ones.  If only it had come before her main dish…..

The waitress came to clear some plates, and I called for the check.  We made sure to have our credit cards ready when she returned to prevent her from dropping the tab off and then disappearing, and we were out of there.  Yes, we left a tip, but it wasn’t large.

I have to say that I’m crushed.  This place has so much potential and so little delivery.  They have a great menu if they could just get it to the table in some kind of reasonable order and time frame. The prices are reasonable, the room is clean and inviting, but I don’t think I’ll ever manage to get Gail to go back.

Half a century

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Class photo from Mrs. Schieble’s 8th grade

I graduated from Miramonte in June, 1968. Last night, we had our 50th reunion. Somehow, I feel old and young at the same time.

Old because the reunion was a room full of old people, talking about their grandkids, cataract operation, retirement plans and knee replacements.

Young because I grew up with these people, and I still see many of them, and myself, as the teenagers I remember.

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Chris and Greg not only look much like they did, but Greg still dresses like it was the Age of Aquarius.

APC_0339-EditThis is Sandy York Dierckman.  I followed her around for all 4 years of school, to very little avail. Now she’s a grandmother in Southern Cal.  She’s still the first person I look for.

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Alex Ablanalp.  He gets the prize for coming the farthest–he was an exchange student from Switzerland our senior year and still lives in Zurich.

Three teachers attended last night, with the star being Mr. Grbich, the art teacher who is now 86.  His passion is tap dancing, so he put on a performance for us.  He has tap danced across the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, and now at Orinda Country Club.

 

There was a table full of memorabilia, including cheerleader dresses, varsity sweaters, and the program from the senior play.  A group of high schoolers putting on an absurdist play seem so very 1968.

 

Gail stayed home–she wouldn’t dream of spending an evening with a bunch of people she doesn’t know and won’t see again.  I don’t blame her an iota–I took a couple of photos of spouses who seemed to have been dragged along, and it isn’t all that pretty.  Who wants to get all dressed up to sit and read their phone?

 

The timing of the event was strange, with cocktails at 5:00.  There was schmoozing, a dinner buffet, more schmoozing, and I was still home by 9:00 including a stop for frozen yogurt.  Except for Mr. Grbich, there was no dancing.  Eating and going to bed early is a sure sign of old age.  Will our 60th begin at 3 in the afternoon?

I don’t know about other people, but I’m pretty nervous about attending a reunion.  People didn’t much want to talk to me in high school, and I think they still won’t.  Time heals many wounds, though, or maybe they’re just surprised I’m still alive.  (Lord knows it surprises me that I’m still here.)

It was satisfying to see so many people I remembered who remembered me. Some look great, some less so.  The women are better preserved than the men. People have their story ready to tell, and they omit the parts they aren’t proud of.  You don’t hear of any kids or grandkids in prison, divorces, or business failures, but that’s only natural. Everyone had a fresh haircut; there were lots of new dresses and sportcoats–we all wanted to look prosperous and happy, and I hope they all are.

The same people who were the in crowd 5 decades ago still are, and they are the ones who form the organizing committee and make all this happen–which probably explains why they were the cool kids then and now.

Half a century, 2 score years and ten, is a long darned time.  Nobody is mad at anyone else anymore, we’re just glad to see each other and spend a happy evening together.  Perhaps the next one will be in 5 years, not 10. Have to see these people while we still can.

Puesto!

APC_0320Out to dinner during the Santa Clara Regional, we went to Il Fornio, and saw a place named Puesto next door.  It looked so cool, we had to go there the next night.

Inside a stunning $8 million building, is a very hip, slick and cool Mexican restaurant.

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Gail, Linda, Micky and Jerry.  I love the backlit plants at balcony level.

The design of this joint is spectacular.  The bar has huge, clear shelves holding all the back stock, which lower down to bartender level when a new bottle is needed.  The coolness level is off the charts.  I wonder how earthquake safe it is, though.

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The menu here is pretty basic–tacos.  The standard menu item is 3 tacos for $16, but that’s an illusion because many of the 12 different tacos they offer have an upcharge–$1 for the fish, $2 for the filet, $3.50 for the lobster.  That’s each taco, because you can mix and match from the menu to your tastebud’s delight.

There are also some bowls on the menu, but I think you come here for the tequila and the tacos. Stick with the basics.

APC_0322Gail also ordered the pickled vegetables, which were too spicy for me, but looked interesting.

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Puesto is a new chain starting out in La Jolla.  The good news is that there will be a branch in the new Veranda center in Concord.  All of us who went to dinner are looking forward to trying it as soon as they get the doors open.

As much as I really liked this place, I have a hard time imagining how they will pay for an $8 million building with $16 plates of tacos.  But I intend to enjoy it as long as it lasts.

Cool Shoes

Leo Bell stands out. It’s hard to miss a guy 6′ 3″ and more than 300 pounds in baby blue Crocs.

I guess he was feeling a little wallflower-ish, because he has new shoes, even brighter and more noticeable.

Nobody puts Baby in the corner. And nobody overlooks Leo.

The Best Things in Life

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Gail and Ann on a shopping trip to San Francisco while they were in high school.

 

Life doesn’t get much better than good food and good friends.  And if you can have both of them at the same time, so much the better

Last week Gail and I had dinner with Ann and Alf Brandin. Gail lived next door to Ann in high school, and they have been friends ever since. Brad and Kate joined us at Jason’s, a nice restaurant in Greenbrae near the onramp to HWY 101.

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Gail, Alf and Ann

Jason’s has a large covered patio area so we could have Claudia join us.  There aren’t many photos of me on this blog, but Alf took one I need to include:

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The food here is very good, and imaginatively created and presented.  I had the seared ahi, buried under a mound of mango salsa and accompanied by mashed spuds and tempura green beans.  It isn’t often that anyone raves about green beans, but Jason’s works miracles.

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I’ve become a fan of elote, Mexican grilled corn covered in cheese.  Usually served on the cob, it’s like dessert in the middle of the meal.  It’s a side dish I can’t refuse.

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Kate had the salmon.  A simple dish, very nicely prepared.  It isn’t always necessary to get fancy with the food, just do it perfectly and that’s enough.

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Abjuring his customary cheeseburger, Brad opted for the American classic fried chicken. Once again, the simple, clean presentation was a winner.

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Gail chose the lamb chops–three huge chops, so we had enough for lunch the next day.

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The service was friendly and first-rate.  We had a bit of excitement when a slippery bottle of wine oozed out of the waiter’s hand and shattered on the floor, but no harm was done and there was another bottle in the cellar

.All that makes me a happy camper.  Eating with family and old friends where the food is good, the location is delightful and the service is smooth is about all a boy can ask for.

Que Bella

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The California fires are a tragedy, but they sure give us interesting sunsets.  Looking towards the Carquinez bridge, and the smoke dimmed the sun enough that you could look directly at it.

We were in Benicia to have dinner at a new restaurant–Bella Siena.  At the end of First Street, an old building has been imaginatively refurbished, with phenomenal views of the Carquinez Straits, the bridge, and the setting sun.

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The interior matches the grandeur of the view.  Not too many tables, warm lighting, excellent sound-dampening make it an inviting place to enjoy a meal.

And then the meal is top-notch.

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Grilled Salmon

Reed had the gnocchi, with the shrimp sauce instead of pesto.

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Gail had capellini al pomodoro,  angel hair with fresh tomato sauce, that was so good we’ve had pasta the next two nights because she’s hooked.

Service wasn’t bad, and this is a new business still shaking out the flaws.  Prices are more than reasonable.

Bella Siena is busy.  There is a large outdoor patio area they aren’t yet using until they get running more smoothly, so there are more clients than tables sometimes.  You need to go to opentable.com and make a reservation, and that’s not a bad thing.  When they get the patio going, we’ll be there every night with Claudia.

On the street

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Walking to Fat Slice this week, I noticed this truck belonging to the guys who are painting the building.  It was so unique I had to stop, ask questions and take pictures.

It’s a 1963 GMC Step-van, still in use every day.  Originally built as a delivery van, designed for frequent stops, it still has the original seat which is hinged so the driver can get it out of the way to carry packages in and out.

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I think it’s strange to see older vehicles that have so little instrumentation, just a speedometer, gas, battery and oil pressure and temperature gauges.  There is a 3 speed manual transmission on the column. Turn signals are on the left.  High beam switch is the button on the floor.  Just the basics with no ornamentation at all.

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The owner (who thinks he is just the 2nd person to have this truck) keeps it mighty clean and neat–but that’s what you’d expect of a painter.

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The shelving is a modern addition.  No passenger seat–this is a working vehicle.

There is a world of interesting things out there, you just have to stop, look and ask questions.  Good thing I’m inquisitive.