MonthAugust 2004

berkeley food #5: stuffed inn sandwiches

1829 Euclid Ave
Berkeley
510-849-0378

Today is the first day of classes, though I don’t have any to go to until tomorrow. Still, there’s always something to do on campus, and today it was pick up my fellowship stipend check and go to a group meeting of a professor I’m considering working with.

There was a monstrous line at the check pick-up, and it really should have gone through EFT, but luckily I had a book with me for just such occasions–Black Sun Rising by CS Friedman. It was recommended by Les–unsuprisingly, CAMERON HALL is scrawled on the inside cover. After about 45 minutes in line, I got the check, which is supposed to sustain me until January, and went on a hunt for a new restaurant.

The place I found is on Euclid, a street on the north side of campus neer the EECS building (and the Goldman School). It’s called “Stuffed Inn,” and serves soups and sandwiches. I went for the deluxe $5 stuffwich; it contained (at least) ham, turkey, roast beek, jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, mayo, onion. All piled into whole wheat. Stuffed indeed. The staff was great–all smiles. Most of the people who came in seem to have regular sandwiches that the guy behind the counter remembered. The sandwich was delicious: very fresh, and almost enough to fill me (but not quite). Since the place is so close to Soda and Cory, I imagine I’ll be back.

This weekend was a blast. Saturday I planned on having Jeff, George, and Phil over for a simple dinner, but it turned out Josh (another UT->Berkeley transplant), Lisa (Josh’s SO), and Stefani (of RHPS fame) showed up to, enough to force me to make the red pepper and wild mushroom lasagna that was so delicious. Everyone was fed, and dessert was also excellent–George and Stefani brought strawberries, ice cream, and a delicious reisling dessert wine. I also learned and was bested in “big twos,” a game of asian origin, according to Phil.

Tomorrow: class.

berkeley food #4: saigon express

2045 Shattuck

Today I decided to go up to campus even though the only thing I had to do there was pick up my free laptop (IBM Thinkpad T41) from ITS (this was the purpose of attending the IT orientation yesterday). I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do with the computer, but I’m installing Gentoo Linux right now because I’m curious.

For lunch, we went to a Vietnamese place called “Saigon Express.” It was your standard college noodle house. In its defense, it was very clean, well-lit, and spacious, with curteous staff that spoke pretty good english. All the food was out on display, which is always a good sign. I got a dry vermicelli bowl with chicken, and George got spicy beef phó. Mine was alright, I guess it was pretty much in line with your traditional noodle bowl. As usual in Vietnamese places, the meat was a little sketchy, with plenty of skin and gristle to avoid (or boldly scarf, I guess). I didn’t get remotely full, partly because I got annoyed at the bad meat and partly because there just weren’t that many calories to be had among the bean sprouts and cilantro and whatnot. Maybe I’m just not a phó guy, but I wouldn’t go to this place again.

berkeley food #3: ann’s kitchen

2498 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
510-548-8885

Yesterday, after my IT orientation, George drove up to Berkeley to have lunch. We walked down telegraph again, and this time chose our lunch spot based on a recommendation from someone that George accosted on the street. The place is called “Ann’s Kitchen,” and it looks like it’s been there for a while. It’s a breakfast-all-day+sandwiches kind of place, which usually suits me pretty well, and we were told it was cheap, which is always something I’m in the mood for. I decided not to get breakfast, but instead a BBQ sliced beef sandwich with home fries and lemonade to drink. The sandwich was pretty tasty–much better than what I had at Smart Alec’s. There were no apologies at this place for grease, or pretentions of health food. The sandwich was big, but not filling (for a Bryan). The home fries were everything they should have been, which is to say fried and covered in oil. Yum.

The best part of the meal, though, was the lemonade. I’m an amateur lemonade aficionado, and I like to boast that at the least I can tell if lemonade came from a powder or frozen concentrate. This stuff, though, was clearly the real deal. Lemons, crushed into water, with assloads of sugar poured in. Magnolia Cafe in Austin also has good lemonade like this, but they serve it without sugar, so you have to sit there for five minutes dissolving about a cup of sugar into your glass to reach the diabetic-shock-inducing level required for truly good lemonade. Not at this place. The stuff came sour enough to make even George wince a bit and sweet enough to register on my jaded scale. I’d go back just for another glass.

berkeley food #2: smart alec’s

2355 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704-1615
(510) 704-4000

Well, I’m here today for my first official day of grad-studentness (for real, this time). Morning was your fairly standard miscellaneous information dispersal exercise: get this account here, that one there, here’s how to get paid, here’s how to register, whatever. After it let out I hit “The Missing Link” bicycle coop for more grocery-toting equipment–hopefully it will be put to good use. Then I set out to find what would be notch 2/100 in my Berkeley eatery belt. I was going to go to Intermezzo Cafe (as suggested by Nicole), but it was swamped for lunch with a line out the door, and I realized I’d been there before with Leslie and Clare. So I hit up a self professed “Health Food Fast Food” place also on Telegraph called “Smart Alec’s.” I got the basil chicken burger combo, which consisted of basil spiced baked chicken, basil mayo, tomato, lettuce, and red onions (I skipped those). It was middling… everything was fresh, but kind of bland and not really remarkable. The fries that came with it were the best part of the meal. “Air baked,” whatever that means, but presumably it would mean that no boiling in oil was involved. The little paper tray liner claimed that someone had voted them Berkeley’s best fries–I don’t think I’d go that far. Maybe the best “air-baked” fries. Anyway, you couldn’t argue with the price: under $6 for the entire combo (sandwich, fries, drink), and that wasn’t the cheapest there. I did walk away with a full stomach but I didn’t feel gross like I’d had a load of fast food, so they did at least succeed there. I’ll keep it in mind for times I’m in the area and short on cash.

let’s do the time warp again

Friday night kicked some ass. Leslie and I cooked up artichoke and mushroom lasagna to feed a cadre of teachers who graced us with their presence. Beer from several Asian countries was consumed, as well as tangerine fuzzy navels and plenty of strawberries, angel food cake, and whipped not-cream (though none of the latter by me, thank you). I eventually banished myself upstairs to remove the male element, though no doubt the fun continued.

Saturday night also had its intrigue. We went over to have dinner at Phil’s place. He had mentioned he’d also invited “a friend from UT,” and when we arrived, there was none other than George, arrived back early from his NYC escapades. A pleasant surprise. We enjoyed ginger sesame chicken, then definitely did not spend a couple of hours dance-dance-revolting. After that we caravaned back up to Fremont to get dressed for a traditional Saturday-midnight showing of RHPS in Oakland. It was fun… lots of effort on the part of the actors, with complete costumes, props, scene changes. Miles ahead of what I saw the last time I went in high school. We also met two friends of George from Livermore – Laura and Stefani. Didn’t get to talk much to Laura, but I did have a brief talk with Stefani, who’s an int’l relations and philosophy major at nearby Mills College. We even bought (or, I should say, George bought) little rocky supply bags to throw shit at appropriate moments. Alas, they have apparently phased out rice and now only blow bubbles for the wedding.

And this is officially my last day of vacation. Leslie was up and out of bed and off to school in a frighteningly familiar manner this morning, and tomorrow I go up to Berkeley and they tell me how to be a grad student. We’ll see how that goes.

berkeley recon

I took the train up to Berkeley yesterday to reconnoiter the climbing and yoga situations, to look for a credit union, to try to get cheap BART tickets, and generally to get the hell out of the house.

I was at least partially successful. Since I planned to do so much, and I needed to get from one side of Berkeley (campus) to the other (climbing/yoga), I was heavily laden. Honestly, I looked mostly like a Sherpa: big backpack with yoga mat threaded through, bike, helmet, and all, trying to look nonchalant on the train, exuding I-do-this-everyday vibes.

In truth, having all that stuff was a royal pain. One of the first things I did when I got to campus was find a bike shop (co-op, actually, employee-owned, as they were eager to tell me) and buy some bungee cords so I could strap the mat to the cargo rack. I also picked up a nifty bolt-on (read: marginally more difficult to steal), collapsible metal basket that I hope to use on our bike shopping trips. I then found the Berkeley credit union, called “C.U.B.S.,” (I’ll leave the acronym as an exercise for the reader). It was actually very sketchy; kind of a hole-in-the-wall in Sproul Plaza, which is a kind of on-campus strip mall integrated into libraries and stuff. Think the UT west mall with restaurants and pushy special interest groups, and you’ll get the general idea. In any case, I wasn’t very impressed with the place (the credit union, that is), and I’m seriously considering just signing up with Washington Mutual because their ATMs seem to be ubiquitous nationwide and they have sophisticated online stuff. As it stands, I’ve still just got all my money at the UT credit union, which proves how much it really doesn’t matter where your bank is physically located these days.

My plan was to then go to the Cal ID card office to get my “class pass,” a very weak nickname for the pass that gets you free on all the campus buses and also a lot of other bay area buses, mostly in SF. This plan was stymied by a quarter-mile-long line of freshman waiting to get their IDs. I was then stymied by another line at the post office trying to mail off my watch to get repaired. At this point I’d had enough of downtown, and started biking in the direction of the Ashby warehouse district where reside Berkeley Ironworks and 7th Heaven Yoga. I went ahead and signed up for a monthly membership at the climbing gym ($60/mo, ouch). It’s a great gym, but it’s out of the way and not cheap. I hope that I find some climbing partners soon to help motivate me and/or drive me there. It took about 15-20mins by bike to get there from campus. In any case, I climbed, mostly alone (sniff), but it felt good.

At 6 I went to the yoga place for a mediocre class called “Ashtanga Vinyasa.” It was supposed to be for advanced students, but it still wasn’t real ashtanga. I think what I’m going to have to do is buckle down and just do it by myself. The simple truth is I can do it by myself and I should, rather than letting time, distance, and expense be an excuse for not doing it at all. Our deck and the Berkeley rec centers have all the equipment I need: wood floors.

The evening was rounded out by a nerve-wracking ride up Ashby to the BART station in near darkness, the hour on the train, and more scary biking in the dark (need a decent light, I know). I got in about nine, ate, then collapsed in bed. A bit too much exertion for an everyday routine. Just maybe.

school days are here again

We got back on Sunday from Texas. I’d tell you all the stuff we did, but Cameron already wrote a great description. The only parts not included are the excellent dinner we had in Dallas the night we arrived to celebrate Susan’s birthday at a place called Iris, and some modest ranch-type work that we accomplished on Friday (fixing lights, planting gardens, driving tractors, waterskiing, the usual).

So now I’ve entered my last week of this odd year that started last August. The year without a plan (well, there were plans, but the were all just theoretical. Almost unbelievably, everything went off without a hitch. I found a job, a great one, at Apple. It only took a couple of months. I reapplied to grad schools, and actually got in this time, to Stanford and Berkeley, the place I wanted to go to all along. It’s almost like the entire net effect of the year was to transpose me from being about to start my Ph.D. in Seattle to me being about to start my Ph.D. here.

In any case, in less than a week I’ll start classes again. I wonder how different it will feel, how much the same. It’s an adventure but also a relief… new place, new people, but also going back to the life of a student, even if it is a student with a long commute for this year.

MI->CA->TX

The last couple days of Michigan were good. We went out kayaking on the Huron river that runs through Ann Arbor. It was pretty, despite running through the middle of town, mostly because it was lined with parks on either shore. Try as I might, I couldn’t manage to flip my kayak, either, which bodes well for future adventures. After kayaking we tried and failed to get sushi (the place was closed–again). We ended up heading home, puttered a tad, then started making dinner. We found some fresh, wild Coho salmon at Whole Foods for $10/lb and couldn’t pass it up. Plus, Ali had never had the parmesan-crusted spinach-mascarpone-stuffed salmon that we love so much, so we just had to make it. It turned out pretty damned well, but I did over-cook the salmon slightly. I blame it on the unfamiliar oven.

We then went out to Dominic’s, a local dive, to have some sangria in the early evening. Funny story about Dominic’s that Ali told me: apparently, there used to be two Dominic’s, but one was bought. The new owner was going to run it much as it had been, which is to say, a place to get pizza and beer. He was too cheap to get an entirely new sign, so he just took off the last two letters and added an ‘o’–Domino’s. And that’s where it all began.

When we got home we spent a shameful amount of time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. We didn’t mean to spend so long, but just after we’d finished two of the hardest missions in the game and went to save, the game crashed. And not only did it crash, it ate all the save games for GTA on the memory card. So we went from being more than halfway through the game to zero. I felt this was partially my fault, so it was clearly necessary to stay up until 2:30 regaining ground.

Sunday started late, and we headed out to pick blueberries. It was fun, if a little hot and thorny. I’ve never quite reconciled the taste and texture of blueberries. They are great, but have the inherent texture of soggy bran flakes. After picking, we went to the Ann Arbor rock-climbing gym, which kicked quite a bit of ass. It was huge, both in total square footage and height (55ft), considerably taller than Grand Ledge or, for that matter, Riemer’s Ranch. They also didn’t mess around on their ratings. I struggled up a couple of climbs rated at 5.11- that were a lot of fun but very tough. I guess I’ve been bouldering too much.

We headed home to turn our three pounds of blueberries into a pie. I was in charge of the crust and Ali did the filling. He succeeded, I failed. I suspect my downfall was a combination of two damning mistakes: first, I obstinately ignored proscriptions to use actual vegetable shortening (a.k.a. trans-fat, slayer of babies, raper of the Virgin Mary) when mixing the crust. I knew that it would make the crust “flake.” I knew that all proper pies used it. It was a sad example of when dogma blinds the faithful and causes them to do grossly immoral things. Compare my misstep to ethnic cleansing or the like. My second mistake was impatience. The evening was waning and we desperately wanted to make it out to the sushi place before it closed. So, instead of first chilling the dough overnight, then putting it in the pan, then chilling it some more, we just threw it in the freezer for 20 minutes. The pie still looked good; Ali has pictures which he should upload so I can demonstratively post them here. Taken on filling alone, the pie was delicious. The crust was a buttery oddity that I hope did not too much distract from the glory of the fresh berries.

After pulling the pie out of the oven, we were off to the best of the thirteen sushi restaurants in Ann Arbor, the name of which of course escapes me (Ali?). The important thing was that we had coupons. Hence, we ordered the $60 chef’s choice sushi boat, which came out on an honest-to-goodness little wooden boat (of which also I have a picture, but I’ll need to figure out how to get it out of my phone to show you). It took us a good hour or so to work our way through it all. The salmon was probably the pinnacle. We stumbled home with bulging guts, fuller on sushi than anyone should properly be, and playing GTA until the swelling had receded sufficiently to tolerate the addition of a slice of pie. Sleep.

On Monday we mostly wandered around downtown some more, and then I had someone I’d never met cut off almost all of my hair. I’m a punk rocker now, with potentially spiky hair that signals to all around me the latent rebellion in every move I make. I say potentially spiky because I do not actually possess the Crisco-like “product” necessary to make my hair dance and do tricks. But once I do, I know that before God and all that is Holy, it must be applied starting from the back and moving to the front. Amen. Hallelujah. I’m sure I’ll get a picture here for you of my new look soon enough.

I spent about nine hours on Monday night (made interminable by the fact my many planes were chasing the sun), getting in about midnight. Slept, woke, left at 8:45 to catch another few flights out to Texas. I’ll pick up that thread later.

a slightly warmer michigan

I’m in Michigan (Ann Arbor in particular) this weekend visiting Ali at UM and generally having a blast. I left midday Thursday packed only in my fabulous green duffel bag (such a perfect size!). I brought with me just one book: Quicksilver, the new Neal Stephenson book set (mostly) in 17th century Europe. My goal was to plow through as much of it as possible, at least enough to make it to what Leslie claimed was the better half. I did indeed finally make it out of courtier’s and Royal Society London to the Grand Turk’s siege on Vienna, which was laden with harem girls, ostriches, and Hedwig-style genital mishaps. Hopefully the going won’t be so slow from here on out.

Yesterday we mostly spent climbing. We didn’t actually climb until after spending a few hours locating sunglasses, nailclippers, and lunch. Then we spent about 2.5 hours on a 1.5 hour drive because of some lovely traffic jams on the way out to “Grand Ledge,” which pretty much describes the climbing place. It had quite a few routes on it, but it was pretty much just a ledge. Optimistically 30 ft tall or so, no bolts, all protected by affixing webbing to the trees at the top then hiking down and toproping. Still, it was a lot of fun. The rock was very soft sandstone, wet in places and with lots of water seeping through. This was good in that it wasn’t hard on your hands, and it was very sticky where dry, but it also meant that a lot of it was muddy/dusty/an annoying combination of both. We ended up trying 5 or 6 climbs each. The highlights were a nice little crack that needed only foot jams (5.10, I think), and a cool, very easy roof that might have been overrated at 5.10 called “Doug’s Roof.” Ali did an admirable job of making incremental progress, well past the crux to the big, overhanging jug-haul that is the second half of the climb. We bugged out at about 7pm and headed back in for dinner.

Dinner was going to be seared ahi burgers, but we were rebuffed by a 1hr wait for a table, so ended up at Arbor Brewing Company, a brew pub down the street. I had a mediocre black bean burger and some excellent beer. First, a pint heifeweisen that was cool and lemony and delicious. Then, we got the 10-beer sampler and plowed through it heroically. The most interesting thing, I thought, was a smoked beer, which was really more than anything else like drinking canadian bacon. Try it if you get the chance.

We stumbled on from there to a cafe with live jazz for coffee/chai, then on to a cute little independent video store where I picked out Glengary Glen Ross for the evening’s denouement. Ali did not seem pleased after I inflicted it on him. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

berkeley food #1: ethiopia restaurant

2955 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 843-1992

Yesterday, George and I went up to Berkeley to investigate the local climbing gym and take a class at Berkeley’s only ashtanga yoga studio, with plans to get dinner somewhere afterward.

The climbing gym was very nice. 45-foot lead walls, many, many routes, a complete attached fitness center, showers, everything. Along with the niceness came a nice pricetag: $60/mo. I suppose if I’m able to get down to it several times a week that will make sense for me, but a lower student rate would have been nice. We didn’t actually climb, since there was no time before the yoga class started at 5.

7th Heaven was great. It had all the things yoga studios that I’ve seen in the bay so far lacked. Multiple rooms, nice, hard-wood floors, heaters, a broad selection of classes. The classes run $12 a pop, or $10 if you’re a student. A reasonable discount, I guess… I paid $8/class at Yoga Yoga in Austin. Unfortunately, the ashtanga class we came in for had been cancelled, so we went to a “Vinyasa flow” class instead, which was good, but not quite as punishing as I’d like.

After yoga, wiped out and ravenous, we started trolling around Berkeley for a restaurant. What we found was Ethiopia Restaurant. The place was nearly empty when we walked in, and it never got much fuller. I always feel a little out of place eating Ethiopian, because I seem to inevitably be part of the only white table in the place. Still, the waitress was very nice and conversational, helped us pick something from the menu where our experience flagged, and came back several times to check on us. We ended up with a family-style combination of two combinations: vegetarian and meat. I don’t know exactly what it was called, but it was basically a huge plate with about eight different things on it ranging from mild lentils to spicy red lentils, spicy chicken, cabbage, spinach, and lamb all spread over a giant piece of injera bread. There were no utensils–just an accompanying basket of little rolled-up slices of injera you use (we guessed) to just scoop the different things up, curry-style. The food was delicious. It went across the whole range of spicy to mild, and it all had a slow-cooked taste and heartiness that really hit the spot after yoga. I also tried an Ethiopian Bedele beer, which I’ll just say was yummy because I’m really not qualified to describe beer in more complex terms.

It ocurred to me during dinner that I would probably be eating at many, many different and great restaurants while at Berkeley. So I decided to set a goal: before I graduate, try to eat at 100 different restaurants. And I’m going to try to write a little about each of them up here when I do. So consider “Ethiopia Restaurant” #1 / 100.

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