Monday, May 25, 2009

Sunday Brunch

My other half is currently in Thailand for a few weeks and I'm thinking about food. While I may be suffering from a certain case of loneliness there's also the jealousy factor. Jealous because I know very well what I am missing food wise. Lucky for me my friend threw a fantastic and very American brunch on Sunday and at the time there was nowhere else I would have rather been and there was nothing else I would have rater been eating. Honest.

There was delicious french toast topped with yogurt and fresh seasonal berries.
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There were buckwheat pancakes with the same toppings as the french toast.
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There were chilaquiles, or Gringoquiles as I called them.
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There was an array of drinks including coffee, orange juice, champagne, white wine, beer, an later on, fine American whiskey.

Everyone was happy and well fed. Maybe a bit overfed but nobody was complaining.
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The food and the company was so good that it lasted all day and well into the night. Brunch became second brunch and eventually dinner. If that wasn't nice, I don't know what is.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Taqueria Pancho Villa and the Very Beautiful

Sometimes you just want a burrito. I tried to rally the troops to the Mission in San Francisco for burritos, a sit in the park, and maybe a few beers. No takers, but I was determined. I went to Taqueria Pancho Villa. Not the best taqueria there is, but one I have fond memories of, plus it was on the way.
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Burritos are the thing I miss when I'm out of the country and I never get tired of them. Even when they're bad, they are good. Really. This one was definitely good though.
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On my way out of the place a man stopped me and demanded that I take his picture. So I did. He wanted me to take more, but I declined. He wanted to tell me that there was more value in taking snapshots of ordinary people (like him), not Hollywood types and the decidedly beautiful. I told him he was beautiful. He wanted more photos and my philosophy on the matter, but I didn't really have it in me. I did consider telling him that one of my favorite subjects was dead insects but thought better of it. After failing to draw me out he cursed and asked the both of us, "Why am I wasting my time talking with you?" Why indeed. He told me that he wouldn't put me in his book. He's in mine though.
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3071 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 864-8840‎
panchovillasf.com

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Cherries of Chinatown

Cherries are in season, and like most other fruit of California, Chinatown has them in abundance. Now look: I shop at farmers markets, and get a CSA food box for local organic produce. This is a bit of a hardship for our household, but it's one we really feel is worth it. That is, until the very things we crave far exceed our price range. We run into this a lot, and usually we deal.

I walk near or through San Francisco's Chinatown four days a week. The produce taunts me. You've read about this before here. Well, on more than one occasion this week the temptation became too much and I carried home about three and a half pounds of cherries for about three bucks. The same price tag might not even buy a pint at the farmers markets or upmarket grocery stores.
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I grew up looking forward to the summers when I would get to eat almost bottomless bowls of cherries. I wasn't going to let this cherished tradition fall by the wayside. No way.

We've been eating a lot of cherries lately, and I'm a happy boy.
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Friday, May 15, 2009

A's Game, Hot Dogs, Horror Show

Baseball. The mere mention of the word strikes fear into the heart of many Americans. This once proud American sport (like most others) has gone too far. Ten hour long games, juiced up players, and subhuman fans have scared off the masses. In light of this, a couple times a month the Oakland A's lure curious citizens like myself for a two dollar entry and dollar hot dogs. The dogs should have set off alarm bells, but I was naive. We all were.

We arrived and the tickets were sold out. We bought some from a scalper who fleeced us for an extra couple of bucks for four. That equalled one or two fewer hot dogs. Finding the dogs was our next order of business. As we wandered the underbelly of the arena, we were treated to enormous and loud fans carting mountainous stacks of hot dogs back to their seats where they might have died from taking one bite too many. We could only be so lucky.

The cynic in me thinks that the dollar hot dogs are a clever way of trying to rope people into buying the very overpriced beer. If my memory serves me correctly, a Bud was something like six bucks, while a micro brew was eight. The fans are not fooled. Instead of saving money on their tickets and hot dogs and spending their hard earned money on the beer, people have found a simple solution. They get seriously bombed before entering the stadium. Men with too much aggression and frustration with their demeaning day jobs let loose and insult all of us with their unrealized frustrations with their long unrealized dreams. We saw a young girl in short shorts falling down drunk, being supported by her friends, and an older woman who I think was her mother. All she wanted to do was take her pants off. My companion just kept saying, "what must this place look like for a Raiders Game?" Neither of us wanted to find out.

After finally finding a concessions stand that would sell us some dogs, we loaded up for the group and headed to our seats.
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When we finally got to our nosebleed seats and opened up our little presents, we understood what a terrible terrible mistake we had made.
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There may in fact be a worse hot dog somewhere in the world, but I have no idea where that might be.

We didn't really let this dampen our already subdued mood. We weren't drunk, and we were at a baseball game for chrissake! We were on the verge of hibernation. Here's a picture of recently lapsed vegetarian eating her first, and possibly last hot dog.
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While neither the game nor the hot dogs were a hit with any of us, it was certainly a cultural experience. One that I heartily recommend.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Riding the Moscow Mule

While most respectable citizens go about their drab meaningless lives, selling their labor for below their believed market value, wishing they had taken their money out of the market months earlier, some of us are at home doing god's work. The pay is lousy, but the rewards, if even only temporary, are hard to beat.

Another Monday, another day off, another chance to catch up on my cocktail studies. I reached for good ole (thrice removed?) Uncle Blochman's book and got to work. A quick survey of the kitchen turned up a large bottle of vodka and not much else. A run to the store procured the necessary ingredients for a Moscow mule. Everyone loves a little Soviet kitsch now and again, so let's turn it over to the expert:

Moscow Mule:
2 Ounces Vodka
Juice of 1/2 lime
Ginger Beer

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"Put the vodka, the lime juice, and the lime peel in a sturdy mug (a 10-inch highball glass will do in a pinch) with a few ice cubes. Fill with ginger beer-not ginger ale-the murky British-type ginger beer if you can get it. Stir, garnish with a cucumber peel.

When Ansel E. Talbert, OPC Vice president and Aviation and Military Editor of the New York Herald Tribune, flew to Moscow with General Twining for the USSR air show in the summer of 1956, we asked him to investigate the rumor that the Moscow Mule had invaded Moscow. He returned to say the report was a gross exaggeration: he did not see a single mule at the garden party given by Comrades Kruschev and Bulganin for General Twining and the other visiting air-force brass. He did note, however, that some of the comrades were diluting their vodkas with gaudy effervescent liquids which seemed to be some sort of People's Soda Pop."

As I wrote the above with hazy vision and rumbling stomach I almost got nostalgic for the cold war's bipolar security with its guarantee of mutually assured destruction, as opposed to the uncertainties of the (seemingly fading) "war on terror." At least we can drink our Moscow Mules and remember the seriously ridiculous good ole day when our enemies were simply godless communists. Interestingly, our current bogeymen enemies' religiosity makes any rational citizen seriously question religion and its frequent flagrant rejection of rationality and at times decency. Current studies have suggested that religion is on the decline and has maybe run its course in Modern America. Times are always interesting. Seeing as some of you are pulling away from me here, maybe it's time to have another drink and not think too much about anything at all. We are at war with Eastasia. We've always been at war with Eastasia...
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Street Tamales in Berkeley

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Tired of Farmer's market indulgences and artisan style street food at gourmet prices I just about had a heart attack the other day when I came across a tamale vendor in the parking lot outside the Berkeley Bowl. I thought I was having another round of audio hallucinations when I heard the sound that make my heart leap. "Tamales! Tamales!" A quick glance up and I saw a sign that said something like "Ojo! Tamales! $1 each/12X10" This was cause for celebration!

Two women hold the fort down at the minivan tamales mobile. I bought a chicken and a cheese tamal. They ladies pressed me to buy one more with pineapple at which I told them I had no more money. Always a good move when unwanted but cheap merchandised is presented to the buyer. After a brief conversation, they threw a sweet pineapple tamal in for free. I will be back. Contrast this to the lady at the farmers market who shorted me and asked if she could owe me five cents. Some vendors just know how to endear themselves to the customers, while others... oh never mind.

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I got home and unwrapped the chicken tamal. It was moist with a nice consistency. Not too firm, not too mushy. I'm not certain if they had lard in them as just about all real tamales do, but they were not lacking in richness as most Bay Area farmers market tamales often are. Contrary to the present conventional wisdom, lard is in fact our friend.
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Ahem. I ate and ate, and forgot to get a shot of the innards until it was almost gone. I guess this is a fitting shot.

After finishing off the savory tamales, I dug into the sweet pineapple tamal.
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This was nice but unnecessary. Sweet, with small pieces of pineapple throughout. Would have been nice with a coffee, atol, or arroz con leche. An ideal comfort food on a cold night.

I'm really happy to have met these tamale ladies. They have filled a nice void we previously had in the area. We have a lot of Latinos in the area, but the prevalence of gringo tamales at the farmers markets are getting me down. Their steep price and repackaging for the oh so sophisticated Bay Area elite is a sight to behold. Maybe I've written it before, but it's worth repeating: I like my street food from the street and am weary to say the least of paying up for its inferior bastard cousin at a market or in a restaurant. Tamales are a much enjoyed snack in Mexico and further south as well. All over our southern neighbor I have enjoyed them for pocket change. Socioeconomic inequality aside, they are a cheap, simple snack. If I want a comida, I get a comida. If I want a little snack I get a tamal. It's that simple. This isn't fancy food. This isn't complicated food. Whatever labor is associated with forming and wrapping them is offset by the low cost of ingredients and recouped in volume produced. A good tamale vendor doesn't need a restaurant or even a store front. All you need is a basket or maybe a cooler. Or maybe even a minivan.

I worry about the future of our tamale ladies. Do they have the proper permits? I hope so but have my doubts.

Get your hot tamales before some uptight business owner or concerned citizen of Berkeley gets my new friends shut down on trumped up health code violations.

Tamales out of the Back of a minivan
Parking lot right outside of Berkeley Bowl
2020 Oregon St
Berkeley, CA 94703
10AM-6PM Monday through Saturday?