This and That

I was just last night talking about the post-war German Economic Miracle (Wirtschaftswunder), and today I run across this: “But is the “Texas Economic Miracle” just an artifact of high energy prices and improving …” here 

Yes, I am the Paul Schindler who predicted, in 1985, when the Macintosh was a year old, that it wouldn't be a success in business. I stand by that opinion. You can see the editorial  at 23:13 in this edition of The Computer Chronicles. If you haven't seen it before. Or even if you have. 

We had lunch in Seattle with a high school friend of V's and her husband. We ate in a place on Pioneer Square that the friend has frequented for decades, Il Terrazo Carmine. Fantastic decor, fantastic food, but as always, the company was more important than the food. Still, if you like Italian food, you should try this restaurant. We had dinner in Seattle with friends at The Pink Door, a hard to find but quite excellent restaurant near Pike Street Market. The food was great; the lasagna is a speciality. It is open late; our reservation was for 10 pm. We stayed at the Alexis hotel in the heart of downtown (a short walk from the train station, but don't walk it at night; it's a heavy homeless area). Pricey but worth it. Free hot chocolate in the lobby during the wiuter.  The hotel's restaurant, the Bookstore Bar and Cafe looked like a nice place to have a drink, and served us a delicious breakfast.

The Counter

The Counter: Build your own burger in Walnut Creek
1699 North California Boulevard (Corner of Cole)


I am not quite sure what it is about southern California that makes it the center of American's hamburger culture, but it can certainly and firmly make that claim. The drive-in was invented there, in the homeland of McDonald's, Bob's Big Boy and In n' Out. And now, yet another new idea is sweeping over the nation: build your own burger. But wait, you may say. Red Robin, among others, has had that idea for years. Roam Artisan Burgers just opened in  Lafayette. True, but The Counter takes it to a whole new level. For one thing, they have an idea that is unique, as far as I know: get your burger fixings as a salad, over quinoa. Even if someone else has had that idea, I have not previously seen a place with the variety of meats and toppings offered at The Counter. There is even a "market menu" featuring a daily special meat, topping and bun. You can get bison, lamb, hamburger or veggie burger. Six kinds of cheese. Raw onions or fried onions. You build your burger on a form, which your waiter whisks away and converts into a delicious meal. Everything was quick, delicious and perfect. I didn't try the fries, but the looked good, and I did enjoy the pumpkin shake. Plus, the magic of franchising: a different menu, a different atmosphere, the thrill of a startup. I really enjoyed it.

I will note in passing that a cherished tradition of my youth has spread more widely. A tavern on Fremont Street near my home in Portland, Oregon served the Stanich Burger, most clearly distinguished from other burgers by the addition of a single friend egg on top. I notice this option appearing every more frequently on hamburger menus,  and at both The Counter and Roam.  It makes a burger extra delicious; if you haven't tried it, do!

A night in Berkeley: Build and David Sedaris

The Zellerbach Theater on the U.C. Berkeley campus is in the middle of a major construction zone. The closest parking garage has been closed. So it behooves patrons to get there early, or risk parking a LONG way away. Thus, R and I  arrived at 6:30 for the 8pm reading by David Sedaris. I expected we'd eat on Telegraph Avenue, but R told me that "Shattuck is Harvard, Telegraph is UC." And thus, at 6:30 on a Saturday night we went looking for a nice restaurant with an open table. No such luck; school is in session. Our eyes were attracted to a garishly modern corner place called Build. We weren't even sure it was a retaurant, but it had immediate seating, so we sat down. It is one of those places that has its own rules, and if you don't know them, you feel foolish as you try to navigate your dinner. Basically, you are given a chit which contains your table number information. You present the chit in the "Construction zone," to a cook who makes a custom pizza to your specifications. The brick pizza ovens are VERY hot, because your pizza comes to the table in 10 minutes. They expect you to order a pizza per person, but frankly, a half pizza (three good sized pieces) and a salad was plenty of dinner for me. I had the Caprese salad, R had the Endive. Both were lovely to behold and delicious to eat, as was our pizza.

Then to the mezzanine for a sold-out reading by David Sedaris, who generously plugged Ann Patchett's book, for sale in the lobby, and the CDs and book of  Dylan Brody, who actually opened for Sedaris. The show was so sold-out that R and I sat in adjacent rows, several seats apart. It was the best pair of seats I could buy. I own all of Sedaris' books, read all of his casuals in the New Yorker and listen to his BBC radio show, "Meet David Sedaris," so he doesn't have much material I haven't heard. R has an ap on her phone that plays animated versions of his journal entries, narrated by Sedaris himself. Sedaris is hysterical in person, with that deadpan delivery he made famous on NPR's "This America Life."  We were both in stitches for 90 minutes. Alas, David has started to work a little blue; there were two jokes that were just a smidge beyond the pale. I mean, Fudgy McPacker was a creation of  Sedaris' early in his career, but these remarks were a tad explicit for our taste. I hope this isn't a harbinger.

Chevalier Restaurant

A fine and fun four-star meal at this French restaurant in Lafayette, CA. Outside seating is lovely on a hot night like last Sunday, although the inside appears to be quite pretty as well. French Nouvelle cuisine, excellently prepared. Terrific service, and the owner has a French accent, which is always re-assuring. Highly recommended.

Opaque: Dining in the Dark

I very rarely write about restaurants I have eaten in, in part because more than half of my regular readers do not live in the SF Bay area, and so would be hard pressed to share the experience. But my daughter R instigated a visit to Opaque last Friday, and it was so different as to earn the sobriquet unique, at least in my experience. You eat in total darkness. And by that, I mean TOTAL darkness. The wait staff is vision impaired. You have a knife and fork, but, of course, you have to feel your food a little to find it. It is a European idea (Paris and Berlin), now available in SF and Santa Monica (near LA), of course. The theory, as I understand it, is that, robbed of the distraction of sight, you really taste your food. I suppose that's true; I just found it weird, and was glad by claustrophobia did not kick in. Comments included, "I feel like I fell into a hole for an hour and a half--Alice in Wonderland style!" ""I was claustrophobic for a bit in the beginning, but it passed. I'm glad we went, but I don't know that I'd need to do it twice." and "I agree, not necessary to go again, per se. Near the end I was feeling a little panicked that I couldn't see anything. Not uber-panicked just somewhat." Oh yes, and "You couldn't pay me to go there." I am going to protect the comments from my family by not attaching names to the comments.

The $99 price-fixed three-course dinner was nice, but not spectacular. I had the Ahi Tuna Tartare appetizer (with Green Onions, Diced Asian Pears, Shiso, Sesame-Soy Vinaigrette, Wonton Crisps, Wasabi Aioli), the steak and the bittersweet chocolate cake.

Espetus Churrascaria: Restaurant Review

4 stars out of 5

Espetus Churrascaria is a Brazilian restaurant. More to the point, it is a "meat buffet." For a fixed price, you can keep having slices of meat off each dish they bring by as long as you want. It isn't meat only; there is a lovely salad bar, including rice, but why would you want to fill up on greenery when you've come to a meat buffet. I first discovered this delightful genre in Manhattan with my older daughter while she was at college. The food was great, the atmosphere adequate but unimpressive. I enjoyed it so much I followed a review to a meat buffet out in Queens which was also great food in a so-so joint. A friend of Marlow's recommended Espetus Churrascaria, at Market and Gough in downtown SF, so we went last Friday. The restaurant is, ironically, a block from Zuni, one of San Francisco's best vegetarian restaurants. Espetus Churrascaria is beautiful, with a well-appointed interior and large windows that overlook--the slightly less seedy end of Upper Market. Now memory may be playing tricks with me, but the offerings--several cuts of beef, pork loin and pork wrapped in bacon, roasted chicken and chicken hearts, and beef ribs--seems a little more restricted than I remember from New York. But what they lack in selection they make up for in preparation (every meat was fantastic) and atmosphere--quiet, dark, friendly. If Ubuntu is five stars, then Espetus Churrascaria is four stars in my book. It is expensive: $49 a head. It is also worth it.

Neal Vitale Reviews: The Bazaar Restaurant in LA

[Ed. note: As a foodie, I am jealous...]

On Saturday night, March 21, six of us visited José Andrés’ latest restaurant, The Bazaar, on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. It was quite the treat! [Andrés trained under the renowned Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Catalonia, and has several Washington, DC, restaurants, including minibar, Cafe Atlantico, Oyamel, and Zaytinya. The Bazaar is his first West Coast venture.]

The restaurant is enormous, filling what was once the lobby of the Nikko Hotel. The lobby (of now the SLS Hotel, from hotelier and entrepreneur Sam Nazarian) is relocated around the corner from the old entrance, leaving an open space that is loosely divided into two main restaurants, Blanca and Rojo. [The image that kept coming to mind was the main floor of a chic retailer like Barney’s, strewn with lighted display cases.]  There is a central bar area, and a patisserie; there is also a Moss home furnishings store woven throughout. Typical of the modernist feel, there are flat panels with images of serious uniformed men…which slowly morph into animals (à la video artist Bill Viola). Visually, it is unlike any restaurant I’ve ever visited. We sat in Rojo, and had a table next to the kitchen. The tabletop itself was checkerboard patterned, with lines cut into the surface; illuminated from within with pink light, it gave the appearance of a  reverse checkerboard – dark squares, separated by glowing pink lines. Half of us watched the kitchen work (led by sous-chef Marcel Vigneron, runner up on Season 2 of “Top Chef”), while the others tracked the scene in the room.

 We decided to do the top tier tasting menu ($95/head), and started with some Sangria made with cava, Hennessey, orange liqueur, and fruits and herbs. Lovely. [NOTE- what follows is my best recollection of the meal, but I may have some dishes out of sequence – shoot me!] We had a dip of Greek yogurt with tamarind and star anise, served with sweet potato chips. Good, but underseasoned. This was followed by skewered cubes of watermelon and tomato (unexceptional), little one-bite puff balls topped with caviar, jamón ibérico on grilled bread that had been spread with finely chopped tomatoes, and cotton candy foie gras – lollipops of foie gras surrounded by a small nest of spun sugar. Incredibly good. [We had moved on from the Sangria by now to a Naides 2006 Verdejo.]

 Next came so-called tortilla de patatas “new way” – served in a hollowed egg shell standing (glued) to a piece of slate, a potato foam mixed with caramelized onions and egg (fabulous). Fingerling potatoes that had been boiled in highly salted water, so they come out dry-skinned and salt-patched, were served with a soothing, rich salsa verde (among the best single dishes I have ever eaten). Olives two way – “real” ones skewered and stuffed with anchovies, accompanied by spoons which held a small orb of manufactured “olive essence.” Shrimp skewered on a pipette of cocktail sauce that you squeeze into your mouth as you bite the shrimp. Boneless chicken wings served with a green olive puree. To celebrate Spain's tradition of fine canned goods, servings (in small tins) of mussels in oil, vinegar, and pimentón, and King crab with raspberries and raspberry vinegar (however weird it sounds, it was brilliant). [By now, we had moved on to a Crianza Pesquera 2005 (Tempernillo) from the Duero.]

 The hits just kept coming with “not your everyday Caprese” – tomatoes with liquid mozzarella balls (we ordered a second helping), braised veal cheeks with oranges, oven-roasted cippolini onions with celementines, passion fruit, and pumpkin seed oil. “Philly cheesesteak” was made with Wagyu beef. [We ended with a Chateau Montelana Cabernet 1992, from one of our friends.]

 Dessert was hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline, apples “Carlota” (warm apple tart with saffron sauce and milk ice cream) – my least favorite dish of the night – and nitro coconut floating island. This last dish was supposed to showcase the flashy “molecular gastronomy” of the restaurant and chef but, while the dish was good, its liquid nitrogen “smoke” dissipated between the kitchen and our table – the perils of a place that serves 200. An assortment of equally inventive and exotic candies ended the meal.

 It was a terrific, unique evening, and a meal that lasted well over three hours. [Even if you’ve tried Andrés’ cooking in DC - even the 31-course tasting at minibar that features some similar dishes - this spot is an entirely new and different experience.] I’m ready to go back as soon as possible!