Friday, June 30, 2006

Time for a little something...

Guess I should introduce myself, although that seems silly since I'm the only one here. But in case I have a reader or two in the future, some day, I should at least say "Hi".

I am over 40, female, and born and raised in California. Used to live in the Bay Area, but am now stuck in the L.A. area for work. Which is a different kind of work than I moved down here for, but still area-centric. Sorry if that's vague, but I can't get really too specific, as I do sometimes freelance for a major corporation that has in the past frowned on being mentioned, even tangentially and under veil of secrecy, in anyone's blog. Suffice it to say, I do perfectly legal stuff for decent money when the season is right. And poorly paying other perfectly legal stuff for far less money during hiatus. Which is now, and why I have time to start a blog.

Now why, you may ask, after a decade plus here in Sunny SoCal, do I still mention the Bay Area so prominently right out of the gate?

The thing I miss most about Northern California, besides the really great friends, is the FOOD. I love to eat. Oh, we've got food here. But it's not of the low-cost, highly spiced, interesting ethnic offering around every corner variety.

I miss restaurants that I'm sure aren't even there any more.

How do I love Berkeley/Oakland? Let me count the restaurants...

Best barbecue? Ever?
Flint's, hands down.
The preference in sauces down here in Southern California at the rib joints seems to be fairly sweet and bland. Eh. You can get great side dishes, a lot of places. But the sauce leaves me wishing they knew where the chilies were kept. I like my ribs to slide off the bone, but bite back on the way. Even Flint's medium is spicier than anything I've found down here.

Best Breakfast?
Homemade Cafe, Berkeley.
They made the best homefries ever. The ones down here are usually soggy, because apparently you just can't get them as crisp without the animal fat. Home fries - and hash browns too, while we're at it - should have fluffy potato inside and crisp-crisp crust outside. Soggy crust, no thanks. 'Cause if it's soggy, it's not a crust.

Thai? Plearn.
Their shrimp chips, and curry, and tom kah kai, and and and...!

Tsing Tao, on Solano. And any of the Dim Sum in Chinatown, Oakland or San Francisco.

And there used to be this wonderful Indonesian place near Jack London Square called "Dutch East Indies Trading Company", if I remember the name correctly. Gone, gone, gone.

And a Russian place in Berkeley called "Petrushka's", that had amazing borscht, black bread, and sashlik(sp?) to die for. Gone also.

And the Chocolate Decadence cake at Cocolat. ...whimper... The best dessert I have ever had. With the whipped cream outside, and raspberry sauce to pour over... Gone, of course.

Look, LA has great food. Really great, a lot of it. But you've got to have major coin and be willing to drive a minimum of 30 minutes to get anywhere in order to be able to go out regularly around here. And they're big on minimal saucing with light spices. I like me some heat and ginger and curry and...

If you've got the money, you can get really spoiled around here. AOC, of course. Michael's. Pinot Anywhere... The ceviche at Border Grill is wonderful, as are their other dishes. I could give you a very long list of expensive places I'd love to frequent. But I'd go broke if I made a habit of any of those restaurants, and I always end up with the table by the kitchen and get a little tired of the sound of clattering plates and silverware. (Yeah, that's me... next time you see me, wave from your fancy window seat! Or sneer. Either is fine, as I'm near-sighted anyway.)

I feel I must mention that the wait staff have invariably treated us well, no matter where we were seated. One waitress said to my boyfriend and me one day, "I love it when you two come in, because you really love to eat!" Now we don't sit there reverently debating pomegranate reduction versus balsamico. But we don't order our food without 95% of the things listed in the menu description, and then pick at it while discussing our latest colonic, food allergies and carb phobia. (Have luckily experienced none of the above, if you were getting worried...)

Sushi Nozawa sushi is beyond words. Better than the sushi I had on expense account in Tokyo, even. Worth every penny, but a rare occasion treat these days with what I laughingly call my "food budget" (lately getting to be a "food-less budget").

Monterey Park and China Town have great dim sum. But neither are close to anywhere anyone I hang out with lives. And Dim Sum is better with a crowd, so you don't do it much because no matter which place you pick, someone in your party is going to have to drive 40 + minutes on a Sunday morning. And after all week stuck in traffic here in LA, no one wants to drive on a Sunday morning.

There are some bargains, sure. You can find phenomenal Mexican or Middle Eastern cheap. But most local Chinese take out places you drive by are in mini malls, and fast food quality with salt and cornstarch standing in for flavor. There's really really good Thai if you go around the Temple in the San Fernando Valley. And E&E curry in Northridge is a great Japanese style curry place. But I really miss the sheer abundance of food places around Berkeley and Oakland. The choices, the exuberant spicing. The affordability.

And there's some good artisanal bread down here but LOUSY sandwich bread. Either people use gutless mushy bread, or french rolls so hard that when you take one bite, the sandwich filling squishes out the sides. How hard is it to make a sandwich?

And the coffee... When I first moved down here, they seemed to think that "bitter" was what made it "espresso". Very harsh and nasty. It's better now, and we at least do have some Peet's (yay!!!), but once again you have to drive a bit to find one. If you're not picky, there's a Starbucks on every corner, but their lattes are bland bland bland. Urth's organic coffee is wonderful, but 20+ minutes in line just to place your order sometimes (IF you can find parking)... When I need caffeine, I need it a little sooner than that.

I miss me a chewy bagel, real cream cheese (not those mini-tubs of spreadable that's butter pat sized), Intermezzo's biggest latte, and a Top Dog for lunch, with a Kips pizza chaser. Char Sui Bao off the lunch cart.... And don't get me started on the Gelato place that was blink-and-you-missed-it across from Kips.

As long as I've been here, and as often as restaurants come and go, there's only one or two where I think, "You know what I'd really like... Oh, shoot! They closed last month!"

And what's with the places where you call and ask "How late are you open?", they say 10, and then when you get there, they won't seat you after 9:25. If that's your policy, then when someone asks "How late are you open?", you should say, "10pm, but we stop seating at 9:25". This town stops eating promptly at 9, apparently.

Can you tell I like to eat?

Now, with the boom in costs of everything up north, I'm sure going out to eat is more expensive than it used to be. But all the great local joints can't be gone.

If you (my mythical future commenters) have any suggestions for when I finally make it back "home" for a visit, leave your suggestions. Or if you know of some great places here in Sothern California that I'd enjoy on a budget, let me know! But I won't promise not to drool!


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