Low overheadI've known several aspiring chefs, and have never envied them their career paths. While there are always restaurants, to work your way up to having your own restaurant (or cookbook, or food column in a magazine, or workshops, or television show) has always involved an eternity of cooking in anonymity within a highly hierarchical kitchen system that... ouch! That's hot! Be careful with that!
Anyway, all that work in the kitchens of others doesn't necessarily lead to having a kitchen of your own. That takes a lot of money up front. You need to lease space, outfit a kitchen, hire staff... And you never stop working. You're shopping, menu planning, hiring, taking reservations, ordering supplies - it's not something you can ease into, because of that big outlay up front.
If only you could just rent a space now and then and have a part time, occasional restaurant, you could get some serious cooking done without needing a huge outlay of cash. This clever idea occurred to some clever people: At Pop-Up Restaurants, Chefs Take Chances With Little Risk (NYTimes.com, 2/12/10).
It's a rather neat idea. I've heard that the execution favors trendy diners: my spies tell me that these places don't take reservations, and so they rely on people waiting around all night in hopes of getting a table, which makes the event look like quite a "scene" but means that a lot of hungry people need to stand around.
I'm not cool enough to stand around. But I like this idea, and hope some good chefs leave a trail of happy diners in their wake.
(Like the book publishing community, these chefs will require some sort of system for them to publicize where they go and what they do, so their fans can find them, but that's probably easier to work out now than it would have been a few years ago.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Vietnamese under the garage
Who can resist a Vietnamese restaurant menu with vegan lemongrass chicken? Not me.
Green Papaya Vietnam Cuisine Restaurant (greenpapayadining.com) at 825 Mission Street is one of the storefronts that has improved the street-level experience at the 5th and Mission Garage. You used to walk along what felt like a gloomy concrete car bunker, menaced by random driveways: now there are brightly lit storefronts with a coffee chain (guess, go ahead, just guess), a beauty parlor, and some sit-down restaurants. Green Papaya is one of those.
I was lured in by their proper vegetarian section, and the frequent appearance of the word "vegan." (At some restaurants (like an infamous one on Kearny), the "vegetarian" section didn't translate over correctly, and might include something like "eggplant with ground pork.") The word VEGAN is rarely mistranslated, and having a multiple items labeled with that word got me interested.
The photo if of item #83 on the dinner menu, vegan lemongrass chicken (ga xao sa ot chay). "Vegan chicken" is not very much like chicken to me, though it routinely fools my omnivorous friends. I suppose it's like the chicken of TV dinners: it seems like something that has been pureed and then pressed into dense slabs. This was mixed with tofu, onions, a few dried chilies, and a tasty sauce. It was not complex - there were no bright flavors from fresh herbs, the lemongrass was subdued, and the dried chilies weren't joined by tangy fresh chilies - but it was satisfying in a 'brown foods' kind of way. Filling. Hot. Well-seasoned.
One issue I had is that you're looking at about $16 worth of food in the photo. If you are like me, you're used to paying less than half that for this amount of food. It was satisfying, but I'm not sure it was $16 satisfying. They only had white rice. In comparison with Golden Era, my dish wasn't VERY lemongrass-y. I think I would prefer more of that fresh, lemongrass flavor.
I'll likely visit to try other dishes on their menu, but I'll likely do so at lunch, where the prices are closer to what I'd expect.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:40 AM
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Downtown Oakland DiningWhen I think of eating in the East Bay, I usually think of Berkeley. Over the years, my friends and relatives who went to UC introduced me to several restaurants which are local institutions: Zachary's Pizza, Cactus Taqueria, Plearn Thai Restaurant... Standby, solid eateries that have been around since at least the late 80s.
When I'm in downtown Oakland, I usually think of a Cambodian restaurant I used to love, but my last visit resulted in some alarming bland, slightly gross dishes that convinced me to cross it off my list. So I drew a blank when trying to decide where to eat before attending Oakland Art Murmur (oaklandartmurmur.com), the gallery walk that occurs the first Friday of every month.
Thanks to the Internet, I found Golden Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant (goldenlotusvege.com), a sister restaurant to SF's Golden Era (goldeneravegetarian.com). Although Golden Lotus' website doesn't do it justice, and the menu lists items that look like they contain meat, the actual menu makes it clear that it is a vegan place - no eggs, no dairy, no meat. Joy!
Do you want to hear me gush about how delicious the lemongrass tofu is? How perfectly spiced and tasty it is? About how good the brown rice was? Or of how wonderful it is to order a Thai iced tea, and have it be dairy-free?? I could go on at length. It was WONDERFUL.
I should have restrained myself just a little: I left overstuffed when I had planned to leave only stuffed, but the entree was too good to leave unfinished.
A vegan pal of mine used to eat there three times a week when he lived in the area, and he insists that Golden Era (which he lives near now) is slightly better than Golden Lotus. I think I'm going to have to 'force' myself to do research on this point to establish if this is true.
I [heart] pan Asian vegan food!
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:27 PM
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
This is where you place an order. Please place an order. Please.I get some entertaining rants from a friend of mine, who has difficulty dealing with people who fail to emulate the urban model we identify with, which could be summed up in a word: decisive. We (like to think that we) walk in straight lines to specific destinations, rather than slaloming the sidewalk with our mouths hanging open; we exit through exits, rather than block them; we step completely off the escalator, rather than marvel that the ground is no longer moving; we know how to order coffee and other foods in venues that serve same, pay, and then step aside. We know these are skills. We value and respect these skills.
Not everyone does. Hence, fun rants, sometimes complete with phone photos of the offending parties.
Here is a sample, stripped of the photographic evidence:The same two [expletive] people have been at the register for the past 5 minutes. I don't think they know what the [gentle expletive] they want and are asking the cashier to repeat the menu and then asking for substitutions. The [breakfast all day] menu is pretty simple. Not a [fancy pants European] restaurant serving small plates.No, we should not switch to decaf. We are not addicts - we can stop anytime we wa...
I am a control for the staff. My transaction takes about 80 seconds.
But I digress. I also fail to understand people who go into restaurants - especially, but not limited to, CHAIN restaurants with limited and set menus - and want some dish that isn't really on the menu, but it is what they are in the mood for. I always assume these people were raised in places where they had to flat-bottom-boat their way to school, or where bears might have eaten their homework, and they simply don't know why restaurants have menus. Or perhaps their smart-ass cousin told them that there are 'wonderful restaurants where they serve anything you could want' in big cities, by which she meant that you can choose a restaurant that happens to serve what you want, not that ANY restaurant will serve ANYTHING you want, and that nuance was lost upon these folks when they left their caves.
I say these things for humor, but I know these people are not from caves, or swamps, or bear-country: they are from our own suburbs and even some of our own neighborhoods - they look the same as everyone else, they have our local accents, they have the same silly haircuts, they are only rarely dressed as lumberjacks. However, I still suspect this may be why cities used to be built surrounded by high walls: so people just outside the densest districts wouldn't be allowed in to waste everyone else's time while ordering food.
I've been in line behind people who had difficulty ordering a BAGEL. And I don't mean once they ask if you want it sliced or toasted, I mean they struggle to get to that phase.
I've heard people cite studies about how there are optimal LOW numbers of choices, after which people become vexed by having too many options. Because people are SILLY. But I didn't catch the details, because I had ordered my food quickly and efficiently, and was already enjoying my appetizer and beverage.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Mango MedleyIt sounds like a dessert place. It looks like a dessert place. But it is actually a full-service restaurant with a complete food menu, including a separate and extensive vegetarian menu! Mango Medley, at 3911 Judah St near 44th Avenue in the Sunset, was a place I popped into for lunch on a weekend photo walk. The vegetarian menu drew me in, but when I found out they make their own soy milk and have a hot ginger soy milk drink, I knew I'd picked the right place.
You can see the main Mango Medley Menu at allmenus.com, though there are a few dishes that seem to have been left out. Did I have a dish that claimed to be part Portuguese? Maybe? I think I did. I think it was amazing: powerfully redolent of garlic (and perhaps asafoetida?), full of potatoes and other filling veggies... it was heavenly, and nearly overpowering in flavor.
I highly recommend the "Tamarind Tofu And Veggies Over Rice," which is a fresh, spicy stir fry that is more interesting than nearly any dish I've ever had in any one-culture Asian restaurant. Then again, this is "Asian Fusion" in a really good way, so there are multiple influences that you can taste, without pinning a dish down as solely Thai, or solely Cambodian...
Did I mention the hot ginger soy milk? Get that. It is AMAZING.
I know the Yelp reviews complain loudly about the slowness of the service, because the restaurant is largely a 2-person, family operation. It was a little slow, but it was worth the wait. So, don't go there if you are about to faint. But do go there.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM
Friday, December 19, 2008
Pastry and ClothI don't have a sweet tooth, but I was excited when I was invited to Tartine (tartinebakery.com) for breakfast. The way people talk about it, especially other foodies, you'd think they'd lost their minds.
I was wise enough to go with my favorite cousin, who invited me to meet him there at a precise time, a time at which he had observed that, for mysterious reasons, the line out the door suddenly becomes a "normal" queue of reasonable length. He nailed it, dead on.
I sampled three things.
The double soy latte was large and delicious. I am a coffee snob, so this was pleasant, though I had expected it to be good anyway. My cousin noted that the omnivorous bakery is run by purists: they refuse to make soy mochas on the grounds that the cocoa contains dairy, and thus isn't vegan anyway, so it offends them to make it nearly vegan. Which is silly, but there you go.
I had half of a "morning roll," which is a cinnamon roll, but good. No no no, you aren't taking this seriously. I mean, REALLY good. Cinnamon rolls are often undercooked rolls of dough drowned in sugar frosting, indistinguishable from doughnuts. Tartine's morning roll is GOOD: it has a firm texture, just enough frosting, great cinnamon flavor... It goes well with coffee, of course. It was the best cinnamon roll I have yet had.
I also ordered the bread pudding. It was covered with stewed fruit in a light syrup, and the fruit drew me in. However, it wasn't the right dish for me, because it had an eggy-pancake sort of texture, and I'm not keen on that. I should have known better, I suppose, but... really, the fruit on top was just too lovely.
Added bonus: just down the block from Tartine is The Language of Cloth (thelanguageofcloth.com), a small, wholesale shop for gorgeous imported textiles. Those of us with scarf fetishes could easily blow all of our future income there, but luckily it is a cash operation, and so you can't throw yourself into debt there.
This is a seasonal shop: this weekend is the last for the month, so be sure to go now, before I make you jealous over my purchases and you are frustrated that you didn't go yourself.
posted by Arlene (Beth)12:10 AM
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Gestalt HausIt's not often that I comment on a bar, but it's not often that a bar offers both a wide range of beers on tap that I am willing to drink AND vegan sausages cooked on a separate grill/sandwich press from the animal sausages. This is noteworthy enough that it merits mention here.
Gestalt Haus is just a block or so down 16th Street from THE favorite dive of one of my favorite "mean law firm girlfriends" (as I advertise them), and after a round at that dive and commentary on bars to avoid in the area, we both realized that we hadn't been to Gestalt to drink, either together or separately. She was concerned that, being a "German" bar, it might be too meat-oriented for me, but I had already has assurances from a brown-eyed, hipster bike-boy in the office that vegan sausages are available there. And how many places can you say that about?
My girlfriend was immediately thrilled: she drinks Speakeasy beers, of which there is an unusual abundance of there, and so she had a wide range of choices that she loves. I had some trouble choosing from the dozen or more taps that were protruding over the heads of the boys with uncombed hair at the bar, but only because there were so many of them. (Both uncombed boys and beers.) I went with Blue Moon, a wheat beer that I adore, but I could have also happily had Fat Tire, or Franziskaner Weissbier, or... other good choices that I have forgotten, but which were promising. (Yes, I like white beers, wheat beers, and Belgian beers, but actively dislike regular beer. My immediate family would look over their Buds with me in confusion.)
There were two vegan sausage options, Italian or Kielbasa, and about 8 meat sausage options, all of which come on organic rolls. I went with the Italian vegan with sauerkraut and a bit of mustard, which was exactly what I needed. As with all good vegan sausages, it did not taste like icky meat, but was its own tasty thing. My girlfriend assures me that her animal sausage was both enormous and delicious.
I've actually spent a lot of time in the space where Gestalt now is. I loved Cafe Macando (in which the walls were covered with odd colors of paint and framed black and white photographs of left-wing heroes) and Cafe La (L)Onda (which carried over the mismatched tables with individual, mismatched bedside table lamps, which gave the place a warm, comfortable glow that I swore I would one day commit to paper with pastels, but never did), and was really bummed when the latter closed. Now, I am not as bummed, as I would happily spend time at Gestalt also.
The music was fine. No one hassled us for having combed our hair. My girlfriend got to watch the A's game, and we both were amused by the skateboard videos.
Bonus: the reviews of Gestalt Haus on Yelp are a riot. Everything they say about the bathroom is true.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:15 AM
Thursday, April 24, 2008Plearn on University Avenue in Berkeley is closed. Don't go there all worked up about the green veggie curry only to find a gutted storefront, like I did.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:17 PM
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Fire damages closes favorite sushi restaurant: film at 11.No Name Sushi on Church near 15th, whose actual name is Yokoso Nippon, is closed indefinitely due to a serious fire in one of the apartments upstairs. (The building isn't habitable.)
We are so bummed.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:52 PM
Sunday, September 23, 2007
RamblasIt's been quite a week of eating out for me! Which is not so good for my budget, but I had fun just the same. Saturday, in between films, we went to Ramblas Tapas (ramblastapas.com) at 557 Valencia Street here in SF. Ramblas serves small plates of fresh dishes prepared in a Spanish style. (I remember telling someone that 'i went to a tapas place,' and they wanted to know why people weren't wearing shirts (i.e., they were topless). Most people don't ask me things like that now.)
I enjoyed the meal very much.
We had an heirloom tomato salad, which was a series of small slices of a delicious red tomato, served with some kind of cress and a fresh bean puree in a light dressing. We had wax beans tossed in garlic and spices, which had a wonderful, fresh texture and a great garlicky flavor. We had roasted eggplant slices with a mixed sweet chutney, and a "Spanish tortilla" which is more like a fancy potato gratin, with thin layers of tender potatoes held together with egg, baked and served at room temperature. The bread and dipping sauce (redolent of red pepper and garlic, which I'm saying just so I can use the word 'redolent') were delicious (the bread was VERY fresh).
We were seated quickly and the service was good. The dishes came out just quickly enough so we could clear room on the table for another plate, but not all at once, which worked well. The prices were quite reasonable, and the food was fresh.
I hope to eat there again. I think the food is prepared a bit better than at nearby Picaro - it's less fried and more fresh-tasting, with more crisp, green options. In general, the list of veggie options is much longer at Ramblas.
I failed to order the sangria, however, and I'll need to do that for a complete comparison - I'm quite fond of Picaro's sangria, but I was tempted by Ramblas' exotic peach vodka drink special, and so failed to perform a sangria comparison. So I will return to Ramblas to research that item.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:35 PM
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Cafe GratitudeA friend of mine periodically "goes raw:" she goes onto a raw vegetarian or vegan foods diet. Raw foodism has been around... well, literally forever, since people have eaten fresh and natural foods since the most ancient times.
What makes "going raw" novel is largely the extent to which modern Americans eat heavily processed foods which are sometimes cooked repeatedly. (That frozen dinner you just popped into the microwave has been cooked more than once, and some of its components have been cooked separately, then assembled, then cooked, then frozen, and now will be heated by you again.) When you look at some of the alarmingly-non-food-like dishes that most people consider normal, breaking out of your routine to eat something you recognize in its original form seems completely sensible. Eating ultra-fresh foods has an obvious appeal.
Eating GOURMET ultra-fresh foods has even more appeal, and so my friend gathered a group of us, and we went out to Cafe Gratitude (withthecurrent.com), at their location on 9th Avenue near Irving.
This is a fabulous, fabulous, fancy-food place. The level of skill and complexity of presentation of raw ingredients is really stellar; the dishes we sampled were all delicious and subtly novel in some respect; the desserts were heavenly; and I left feeling full, cozy, completely satisfied, and believed that the folks who work there shared a very pleasant affection with us and everyone else present.
The restaurant is about positive living, and so the menu items all have positive affirmations as names. (Before you begin to fuss, note that you didn't carry on when the place down the block from you made you order in faux-Italian, you probably don't flinch when that junk food place you go to makes up fake not-Mexican snack names, and you probably use made-up names when you order coffee, so just relax and run with this.) It's not just the names, of course: the workers are pleasant and welcoming, and the food is made with affection and is amazingly good for you.
On this visit, I had the delicious "I am inspired," a delicious chai tea, served hot, with a lovely aroma and even better flavor. As appetizers, we had "I am bountiful," a collection of delicious spreads on seeded crackers, which we could happily have eaten all evening; "I am happy," a tasty hummus; and "I am generous," a smooth and flavorful guacamole. My entree was the enchilada of the day, which includes the daily special as a filling: it's called "I am elated," and of course I was. (Especially because of the fabulous rice that came with it, which inspired another adventure at home.) We also shared desserts, all of which were divine.
Aside from the obvious freshness that came out in all of the dishes, there was nothing about them that was so far removed from ordinary experience that the cooked-food-eating omnivores at the table couldn't handle. They knew what enchiladas are, and hummus, and guacamole; the sure as heck recognized cheesecake in its special incarnation here! Though there was some wide-eyed alarm upon our arrival, that faded once we settled in and started eating.
Actually, one of the entertaining aspects of this was seeing the omnivores in the group struggle conceptually with the very idea of uncooked foods. For example, lemonade was on the menu, but the whole 'raw' idea was so alien that one friend asked if it was going to be like NORMAL lemonade. To which I asked, "So, you COOK your lemonade??" I also had the privilege of explaining that guacamole, which was familiar to everyone at the table, is traditionally not cooked, and thus should be no surprise to anyone present. (I think being afraid of new things is like that: you try to view them through a filter of new-ness that obscures how familiar they are to you.)
Wait... hot tea? Enchiladas with rice? This isn't like that other raw food place you went to with us, is it? No, it isn't. According to my friend, there are a variety of approaches to the use of heat, and she subscribes to a theory that involves heating foods up to a point (103??) which provides warmth without destroying certain nutritious enzymes. This was that kind of place, so everything I expected to be warm was warm.
It's a great place, and I'll be taking friends there. You do pay for quality, and this is a quality place, but the cost is reasonable for the skill with which the dishes are prepared.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:55 PM