eatzalot's Profile

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to chez panisse or to not chez panisse, that is the question

Mike, please look more closely at my postings. I'm a fan of both restaurants (and already cited the Tour's unique wine list); the comparison was on certain points, and took for granted the obvious differences (such as price).

Also, some people (including me) can reflect on meals at Chez Panisse over most of its 43-year history (not to mention the younger Chez Panisse Café, upstairs). Impossible with Tour d'Argent, it being ten times older.

Main commonality is that I often see criticisms now of both places, showing expectations or preconceptions both inappropriate and unattributable to the restaurants themselves.

about 14 hours ago
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Best Wineries in Sonoma County

Well, this was also the OP with the rigid preconception of what wine "quality" means ("We can go to a winery that has one or two wines that are below 90, but I'll ask that these wines be removed from the tasting"), then when informed by experienced veterans here that the picture of "quality" is more complex than that, expressed frustration that the question wasn't being answered in the desired terms.

2 days ago
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

to chez panisse or to not chez panisse, that is the question

Very astute observations, bbulkow -- which get, I think, at the expectations and preferences that many people nowadays bring to Panisse, and that help to explain some of the reactions expressed in online comments.

Jul 28, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

to chez panisse or to not chez panisse, that is the question

Yes, no time conflict there. As I mentioned, it is representative (also!) of a later common class of complaint, which also surfaces on Chowhound and other public fora. By people disappointed by the reality -- in its contrast not to anything Panisse did or claimed, but to their own assumptions, expectations, or acquired misconceptions about the place.

And as you point out here and elsewere (but some people don't realize, even in this thread), Panisse's great "fame" starting in the 1970s came not from within Berkeley, but from visiting writers and diners making a fuss. In fact, I recall some locals in the late 1970s being slow to realize that their local neighborhood "French" restaurant (one of several around the town in that era) was getting such attention.

Jul 26, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area
1

to chez panisse or to not chez panisse, that is the question

This stuff about Alice Waters as "chef" is an ancient straw-man point, a product of clueless media and public who assume it about her, then quote each other. (Like Julia Child's near-obsession with disclaiming she was ever a professional "chef" -- a clarification that missed the editors of her Wikipedia bio, though they even cited the sources where JC stressed the point.)

People arguing that Waters is no chef (which most folks knew already if familiar with the restaurant) rightly rebuke pop misinformation -- not from Alice Waters.

Waters has also said for decades that Panisse was modeled on inns of Provence with "simple wholesome good food" [1992]; I recall no claims from the restaurant to send people "head over heels" (another type of pop-culture presumption from afar).

Waters's 1992 essay that I cited earlier specifically promoted "the availability of these [ingredients], not the exclusivity of them."

It's natural (I guess) that people compare the 2014 Panisse experience with 2014 alternatives, overlooking that such comparisons didn't exist for Panisse's first couple of decades when it stood out so clearly from the US norm even at the high end. Or that so many of those alternatives today owe much, directly or indirectly, to Panisse (irrespective of anything Waters might say).

And no, frontzNskrontz, "people in Berkeley" don't generally all love it. (I'm from Berkeley, and I know.)

If people START with misconceptions unattributable to the restaurant, it's natural that those misconceptions will be disabused, but unreasonable to see this as the restaurant's fault. Much recent Panisse "criticism" fits that model.

On the other hand, I think moto's first comment here was the most enlightened and balanced _critical_ summary in a long while: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9800...

Jul 26, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

to chez panisse or to not chez panisse, that is the question

Part of this, I think, HoosierFoodie, is that Alice Waters sort of spilled into the mainstream celebrity world relatively recently, with appearances on "60 Minutes" etc., making a missionary or messianic impression on many people who'd otherwise barely heard of her.

Whereas for the previous 40 years (most of her career), she expressed herself mainly through her restaurant work, or print sources related to it (various cookbooks; essays like "The farm-restaurant connection" which appeared in a 1992 food-writing anthology). She was known more favorably by those earlier means, but to a smaller, food-focused public.

Jul 25, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

to chez panisse or to not chez panisse, that is the question

I also have some difficulty with the description of how the food and service "is," a phrasing that implies omniscience.

It is only given to any of us to describe how we perceived these things in our own finite experiences, and through the lens of our perceptions and tastes. We do not actually know how they will be experienced by others, or even ourselves, at other times.

Jul 23, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area
1

Cinchona bark source in Redwood City!!

Can't be too careful! :-)

But I'm wondering now if making your own tonics from cinchona (aka quinine) bark is currently popular, or a special personal interest. The stuff has been around for centuries of course, but I don't recall seeing it much in online food discussions.

Jul 22, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Cinchona bark source in Redwood City!!

Do you folks suffer from malaria, may I ask?

Jul 21, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Homemade Frozen Dumpling close to Palo Alto?

FYI, Queen's House (273 Castro St., downtown Mountain View, near the train station, telephone 650-960-0580) -- sometimes also spelled Queen House -- not only makes and sells several Chinese filled dumpling types in bags, frozen, but also, was famous for this specialty, in years past, among MV residents (since much earlier than the dealer who now appears at the farmer's market on Sundays).

It's a tiny, family-run restaurant. A few minutes by Caltrain from either the University or California Ave. station in Palo Alto. Closed on Tuesdays.

You may have to ask at the counter, but there is a printed list of available dumplings, which should also be posted at the counter. At times, the dumpling list has appeared as a large wall poster.

Jul 19, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Appeals court deals blow to Drakes Bay Oyster Co.

Additional, slightly earlier sfgate article by Lucchesi on the new lawsuit and its parties:

http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

Jul 19, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

kvass in berkeley/oakland?

Note that the word is occasionally also Romanized as Kwass.

Jul 19, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Voyageur du temps (Los Altos)

Interesting. Thanks for the detailed report.

Jul 19, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

Meanwhile back to Oren's, yesterday (Tuesday, its 2nd day open) in the early evening it was quite busy, and its outside tables were packed. So too with all the other restaurants on the block -- some now have tables both on the flex-zone near the street, and on the sidewalk right next to the restaurant, leaving a pedestrian corridor surrounded by tables.

The extent of both pedestrian and restaurant crowds was remarkable for a Tuesday evening. Just a couple of years ago, even this time of year, it didn't get that busy until Thursday and Friday nights. Local friends agree, this downtown restaurant scene is seeing a peak of popularity right now. Oren's's timing was good.

Jul 16, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

Actually the Alibi (formerly Ugly's) is part of a group of structures expected to disappear for a redevelopment project, according to my recent local information.

I don't know much about the Eagles Club in downtown MV, but it seems a convivial place -- its storefront door on Castro is often open and the interior visible. Sign does say membership required. Locals I talk to occasionally mention that they belong.

It was a conversation topic inside Mervyn's Lounge when I was there last week. Thank goodness the Lounge is here to stay (said one regular) -- otherwise, I guess we'd have to join the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and pay dues, since The Alibi is going, and there are no other old-fashioned bars near here today. (Or words to that effect.)

Jul 16, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

As recently as the early 90s, downtown MV also had one or two other, hardboiled-looking, bars on the 100-200 Castro blocks near Mervyn's, opposite side. One of them I never tried, but poked my head in around noon -- dark, crowded, no windows, door padded with red leather upholstery. On El Camino near Castro was the 101 Club, named for El Camino Real's old highway number. With a pool table or two, "Bud or Bud Light" beer list.

One of Mervyn's Lounge bartenders is lobbying the owners for a pool table for the new front restaurant, but I don't know if it fits their plans.

Jul 16, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Chad Robertson's influence on SF pizza scene

A helpful list.

(Might be a useful link too, next time some transplant exclaims on Yelp or some such site about the latest new neighborhood by-the-slice pizzeria: "Finally! Pizza by the slice arrives in the Bay Area!" and Arinell comes again to mind. I patronized it, by the way, in its first years, as fast food; vividly remember its pizza style then, which seemed unremarkable, less subtle / more doughy than those in the Northeast, the point was the pedestrian convenience of slices.)

Jul 16, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

Just to be clear, I used "Mervyn's" in two different senses here.

The hidden "dive bar," Mervyn's Lounge, continues to operate unchanged as it has since 1963. In that space, the "feel" has never been lost, I've been an occasional regular for years.

Stopped there yesterday evening. A change in direct control of the business (reportedly communicated tardily to its employees) recently prompted rumors of closure, and anxiety by regulars, but it is settling down again, employees and regulars returning.

Separated by a short internal corridor from the "Lounge" is the front restaurant space (Chef Liu in recent years and you knew about the pork with tofu! Did you try the pulled-noodle soups or stir-fries? another strength locally in a menu whose only real fault IMO was listing about 1000 dishes, as if the kitchen were equally adept at all). That separate space is due to be rechristened with the name Mervyn's too, as it was in the 1960s (long before anyone heard of the unrelated clothing chain, BTW), as a new modern restaurant with light simple "American" fare, also drinks.

So as the owners describe it, the restaurant on Castro will be modern and genteel, while the 1963 dive bar behind (also accessible directly by a blue door in the alley, currently unmarked) will continue as it has been, and is. Where they serve your beer in a bottle (glasses on request, no taps of course), cash only, low prices. It served a nearby naval air station too, the former NAS Sunnyvale (now "Moffet Field"), originally named Sunnyvale despite Mountain View location, on belief that a site with "Mountain" in its name would be hard to sell to Congress as an airfield.

Jul 16, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Thin sliced bread for tea sandwiches

Amazing. I used it so many times in the past, here in the Bay Area, that I took it for granted. Along with their similar looking but thicker-sliced "English-muffin" loaf that made great toast for things like club sandwiches.

Was just thinking about getting some the other day when I was at a small market that didn't stock much range of commercial breads and I thought, that would be one advantage of supermarkets. Scratch that off.

Jul 15, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

The former Chef Liu is about to re-open restoring the famous older name of Mervyn's [Fine Dining] -- originally a [Greek-] American café with liquor license that flourished from the 1960s to early 1990s as a downtown MV landmark -- mostly during a time, unfortunately, when downtown MV itself wasn't flourishing at all. Several of my downtown-MV neighbors have detailed memories. Anyway, four owners later, the (Chinese-American) family that operated Chef Liu decided to drop Chinese food in favor of nostalgia and simple "American" fare, to accompany an expanded bar presence in the front restaurant at 246 Castro.

What meanwhile set the downtown neighborhood alight with rumors and updates the last two weeks is the fate of the concealed, intimate, locals'-favorite, semi-autonomous bar (now MV's oldest, since Francesca's went) behind and connected to the restaurant. For 20+ years, separate owners operated it, under the main restaurant's rental and licensing, as "Mervyn's Lounge."

Consonant with the front restaurant's realignment and greater emphasis on refreshment (I've been inside, the prominent feature is now a cocktail bar), its owners also took over Mervyn's Lounge in the back, and will operate it directly from now on, promising to leave its style alone. There was some shake-up with the direct ownership change, and hours dropped back (the Lounge no longer opens at 6AM -- nor reportedly does MV have as much demand for AM drinking as it did 50, or even 30, years back) with an objective of 11AM daily, although I don't know if it has staffed up for that yet; so far the beloved little bar has been opening at 6PM.

Jul 15, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

(Whoa, bb, your post has evolved since I first posted this response. Will try to adapt!)

The MV Oren's definitely has a more clean, bright, welcoming ambience than many other places offering worthwhile $10-range meals.

Iliano Yuksel of Cafe Baklava has told me that he first opened the PA annex, then sold it to someone else, so I don't know the full story of its demise.

[Separating out the rest of this to its own follow-up.]

Jul 15, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Thin sliced bread for tea sandwiches

"Pepperidge Farm does not sell its thin-sliced bread west of the Mississipppi."

I wonder when that happened. I bought it in the Bay Area for years, including more recently (I'm almost certain) than the original 2006 post here. The only reason I haven't looked for it lately is because of seldom shopping now at the supermarkets (such as Nob Hill) where I used to get the Pepperidge Farm "Thin-Sliced Sandwich" loaves.

So this thread is the first mention I've seen of any Bay Area unavailability.

Jul 15, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

12 days of Christmas/Meadowood and Guest Chefs in Bay Area Restaurants

My own experience with celebrated guest chefs in the Bay Area last 10 years has been mainly at Manresa, where they did stand out as memorably good. Each was a chef who had past professional history and rapport with Manresa's own David Kinch, and the two teams in each case (the visiting chefs generally brought help) really delivered.

The main issue was just that they booked up so fast and furiously that unless you were both on the email list, and also dining there already often enough to hear word-of-mouth, the dinners could be completely booked up before you heard about them.

Jul 15, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

Yes I did notice an extremely smooth texture, almost like heavy whipped cream, at the new Oren's yesterday.

Though I admit I focused more on the flavor -- which seemed to me like many a respectable fresh hummus I've had elswehere over the years. Better than some, less memorable than others.

The pita bread thick, soft, and arguably underbaked or at least without much or any browning -- just as the OP described for Oren's Palo Alto in 2011 under Robert's first link above.

Jul 15, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

mdg: "I don't know of any place that does Oren's style of Israeli hummus and homemade pitas anywhere near. . ."

So, maybe everyone crowding Oren's in PA are connoisseurs of that particular style of hummus and pitas. bbulkow shed light on that style in this thread. But I'm also curious how many of Oren's PA customers (not necessarily there just for that exact style of those specialties) would also like the downtown-MV competitors I named, if they tried each a few times -- not specifically for hummus etc., but for overall gustatory experience, including other specialties offered.

For instance, Med. Grill House (a similarly casual venue) has done unusually-spiced family-recipe shawerma [?sp], years before a recent south-bay fashion for it appeared. Gyros House, not much to look at, has delivered a wickedly good "Iskendar plate," a meat-lover's joy, independently attested to be the authentic version found in Ankara. Olympus shows display cases of cheese, herb, and meat pastries I'd guess most Bay Areans have never heard of, let alone tasted. Each of those places, in other words, has locally rare specialties too -- each does draw its own connoisseurs -- and for overall taste offerings, is not exactly some everyday "Mediterranean" restaurant.

"What did you have at Oren's that was just OK? If Palo Alto is any guide the strengths are the namesake hummus and pita."

In particular, I thought the hummus and pita creditable, but unremarkable. Disclaimer: one visit to a restaurant on opening day precludes any serious criticism from me. I'll give it time to hit its stride, and return also to look for subtlety & consistency.

But, though willing to learn of real subtleties and rewards in hummus and pita, I've had hundreds of each (since student days when they were a common interesting fast food), in many US cities and a smattering of foreign ones, from cooks of many places including Israel, and what I tried yesterday was smack in the middle of the very finite range of each genre. Hummus and pita are genres as, say, bean salads or deviled eggs are genres. Each such genre admits a range of expression, yet any deviled egg remains a deviled egg. To get really interested in Oren's, I'd want more to like (for example, I don't consider gyros per-se to be the attraction at Gyros House either, though they figure in other dishes there).

Returning to my conclusion yesterday: Customers _specifically_ seeking a style of hummus and pita may find it at Oren's; I'd be truly surprised if that's the majority of Oren's customers; the rest in MV have access to major competition within short walk.

Jul 15, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View

Did manage to stop there, try a simple plate. What little I tried seemed OK, albeit several existing places on same street offer hummus, pita breads, and middle-eastern specialties, more on this point below. I must try more of the menu to learn strengths.

Decently smooth operation for a first day open. Meals all priced in the neighborhood of $10 (not unlike Asian Box nearby, another Palo Alto import, same basic customer format of semi-self-service, order from displayed menu with multiple panels). Has a cold case with deli tubs of its various specialties in packaged form.

Looks like it could easily become popular. I see buzz about the Palo Alto location.

Though, if people have been craving this kind of food around downtown Mountain View, why haven't they frequented Mediterranean Grill House, Café Baklava, Olympus (across the street), and Gyros House (next block)? All different but overlapping menus, all have serious strengths. MGH maybe the closest competitor menu-wise, and does some really subtle spicing in its marinated meat specialties -- probably the favorite for good-value middle-eastern meals among locals I know who stroll this street often for food.

Jul 14, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

South Bay Burritos

Thanks bb -- I have wondered sbout Rincon Saboroso for years. Haven't yet persuaded (Salvadoran-restaurant-addicted) circle to try it, may have to go there meself.

In fact from the later part of your account, Rincon sounds like a Salvadoran restaurant too maybe? I'd bee under the impression it was a Mexican taqueria.

Jul 14, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area

Tipping during happy hour

Right: Just be aware that the line-item service charge was a classic European format (exceptions being restaurants that added it onto menu prices, a policy that would be spelled out prominently on the menu, e.g. "Service est Compris"), even if it has faded, as people are reporting here.

European vs US "tipping" customs were so fundamentally different that they invariably featured prominently in publications for visitors. I see that my latest Marling Menu-Master for Germany (a pocket FOOD dictionary) mentions "German law now requires" service charges be factored into menu prices ("ENDPREIS") rather than as a separate line item as before. Another (Swiss-published) pocket reference has a table listing variations on service-charge customs among several European nations.

The relevant point of all this is not what any of us has experienced, but rather, that the European concept of "service charge" is fundamentally distinct from the US counterpart. Whether factored into menu pricing or added as a separate bill item, either way the European establishment has already included a basic amount for servers in the total presented to the customer. Anything further can be added voluntarily based on satisfaction, generosity, etc

In US custom, even that minimal provision for the server is left to the customer, both to calculate and to pay. That's the key difference, and the range of personal interpretations, preferences, etc. within the US method accounts for discussions like this one.

Jul 14, 2014
eatzalot in Not About Food

Chad Robertson's influence on SF pizza scene

" nobody recognizes San Francisco even had an old local pizza style (now mostly extinct) to begin with."

You expect any historical perspective from today's journalists??

It's like expecting them to know that people seriously compared California wines to European counterparts before the 1976 Spurrier tasting in Paris. Or the existence of specialty food shops in Berkeley's 1500-1600 Shattuck blocks before Chez Panisse -- that sort of thing.

Jul 12, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area
2

What happened to 231 Ellsworth? [San Mateo]

Thank you! The Mouton Noir. Now I feel like an idiot :-)

One is a horse, the other a sheep.

BTW I looked into the Mère Michelle once or twice in those days, it seemed like a more casual and "brunch" place, in the league of Palo Alto's Café Brioche -- any insight about that?

Jul 12, 2014
eatzalot in San Francisco Bay Area