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Occupation: BRPR (Bunrab public relations.)
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July 17-24, 2006
Nopa has become too popular for its own good.
Even during typically slow restaurant hours, the place is 3 deep at the bar.
Chubby and I came in for cheeseburgers ($13.50):
...they looked tasty, but were disappointing.
I got one with Cheddar and specified “extra crispy” for the fries. Chubby got his with blue cheese and fries (as they are normally cooked.) They arrived with a little ramekin of harissa aioli, pickled onions and some slightly wilty watercress. The meat patty was a perfect medium rare and was made with good cow, but a great burger has to be accessorized properly (and this was it’s Achilles veal.) The pickled onions were better left as a tangy side than a burger accent. Some tomato slices would have helped with a contrasting texture and acidic layer of flavor. The harissa aioli was too mild to maintain it’s identity on this beefy sandwich. If they had gone with the standard raw onion, tomato and lettuce along with some mustard and ketchup, this would have ranked much higher on the grail.
The soft bun had a matching diameter to the meat disc, but needed a slight hollowing out to have the correct bread to meat ratio.
My well done fries were superior to Chubby’s standard issue variety, but they both would have been better with moister interiors.
Ketchup was by request only. Unfortunately, it was busy and I ploughed through a significant portion of the fries before a small ramekin of Sauce Americaine materialized but it wasn’t enough to accommodate the large portion of potatoes.
The server was short on charm and surprised us with her retort after we pointed out that our bill was incorrect (there were a few extra entrées on it) she scoled, “well, it was partially right.” Huh?? Does that mean that I should have paid for the pork chops that I didn’t eat?
And while we’re on the subject of burgers, Chubby got an email
about the ones at Boca:
I just looked over your picks of posh burgers and I think you left one out. The burger at Boca in Novato is awesome (I don't use that word very often), the best thing about it is that if you go there for their happy hour between 4:40 to 6:30 its only $5.00. Just think a great burger and a pint of beer for $10 bucks. You should give it a try.
Boca is actually a Bunrab watering hole. Thanks for the reminder about the great burger deal (and that I still need to put Boca on the Grail.)
Me am done with Comic-Con, yo quiero Huarache Azteco
The common denominator of all Comic-con attendees is that they are all fanatics. People don’t just wake up and think, “hmmm, what should I do today? Oh look, there’s some sort of event related to comics taking place, shall we attend?” No, these are people whose lives revolve around the fabrication of costumes and strategies for the extraction of autographs from obscure characters of decades old sci-fi films.
Their internal monologues (no, not the vaginal ones) rehearse their Q & A queries to frame their depth of understanding to a question for which they already know the answer. Their fantasy extends to the adoration they will receive after their insightful statements.
It was time to say farewell to the hordes of backpack toting, cargo pants wearing, red bull drinking, convention goers and hello to the unconventional.
Sure it was fun, but I have exceeded my recommended annual allowance of vitamin geek and it was time to head back to the abomination that is the Oakland Airport.
Air travel is a source of great anxiety for many white knuckled worry warts. To assuage passenger doubts, the Airlines should try to present (at least) a façade of organization and efficiency. They need to demonstrate follow through on maintenance (for those mechanical bits on the metal tubes that shoot through the air filled with human lives) and have that commitment to excellence extend to all aspects of the company including the airport terminal (or you can just let it look like an open, infected scab for extended periods of time and say the hell with it.)
Oakland Airport’s Southwest terminal looks like you are going to be airlifted to an area outside of the war zone. I think it’s time for Extreme Makeover Airport Edition.
Luckily, there are people who pay attention to the appearance of their businesses nearby. Chubby and I grabbed some dinner at El Huarache Azteca.
This muraled establishment understands the importance of creating an environment. And this environment called for beer and chow.
I got the barbacoa ($10.50):
...slow cooked, smoky lamb, cilantro, cactus, onions, tomato, cucumber, rice and beans came with a basket of delicious, house made corn tortillas. Salsas and lime wedges completed the effect. They only serve this dish on the weekend so I owe my tasty lamb and cactus (menos needles) dinner to good timing.
Chubby was happy to see that they used that black fungus that grows on corn (also known as huitlacoche.) Some people call this “Mexican corn truffle” but that seems like a misnomer for this with earthy growth with a trace of smokiness. I just think it’s one of those hungry with rotting food situations that went right.
His huitlacoche quesadilla ($3.25):
...was a plump, filled tortilla (rather than the thinly sandwiched variety.) There was a crisp freshness from the lettuce to contrast with the black maize of tastiness within.
He also got a chicharron quesadilla ($3.25):
...this was also folded in half and placed on the grill. The rich and delicious piggy skin had sour cream, cheese….and some sliced lettuce (just to be healthy.)
We washed our yummy chow down with a couple of cold beers and reminded ourselves that we need to always make this pit stop on any Oakland Airport trip (they are open for all three meals.)
Costumes are an integral element at the San Diego International Comic-Con. What better way to outwardly express one's preference for living in a fantasy universe? There is a Saturday night Masquerade show that is taken with great seriousness (verging on scary, obsessive seriousness.)
I suppose it’s good to wear you obsessive fixation on your sleeve, but if you do, you really should take a long look in your mirror (or the mirror in the basement of your mommy’s house where you save a little rent.)
The winners were dressed as amputee-construction-worker-beaver Handy and post-traumatic-stress-vet-bear Flippy. Can you guess who won first prize?
The most annoying aspect of dining at the convention center is not just that the food tastes terrible, but that you have to wait in a huge line to get it. This proved too galling for me, so Cuddles and I went off-site and had a bunch of small plates at Red Pearl Kitchen in the nearby Gaslamp District.
This whole meal proved to be greater than the Dim Sum of the parts. We started with the Hamachi,Cucumber, Shiso, and Yuzu salad ($12.00):
... which was rich, crisp, and tangy. The fresh and tender yellowtail had a smooth non-fishy flavor. We enjoyed some potstickers, spring rolls, and calamari, though the favorite Dim Sum of the meal was the Spicy Tuna Tartare on Tempura Eggplant ($12.00):
...the raw tuna was top-notch, with a powerfully spicy sauce that was rich but not greasy. The requisite crispy bits were provided by the very lightly battered and deep fried eggplant platforms that acted like little vegetable-based toast points.
In the larger plate department, The Kobe beef and red papaya dish was excellent, but it was the Ginger-Scallion Scallops & Snow Peas ($17.00):
... that stood out. The scallops were lightly sauteed and spiced not hot, but with a flavorful tang. The veggies were crisp and delicious.
Out of our two desserts, the fave was the Chocolate Souffle with Mandarin Ice Cream ($8.00):
...It was rich and had a warm molten center. Its accompanying ice cream was the weakest part of dessert, it was too soft and lacked personality and flavor. The Banana Cake with Thai Ice Cream and Jasmine Caramel ($8.00) was a bit of a wasted wish. It was nothing special and in a blind taste test, I would have probably said that it was carrot cake, a dish who's texture this dessert shared, but not to good effect.
All things considered, this dinner was massively better than a convention center hot dog. Add the fact that we didn't need to stand in any lines made it even more of a pleasure.
Red Pearl Kitchen
Comic-Con is a huge International comic book, sci-fi and game convention.
They really need to consider a new name. I mean, do they really want to say that you are being “conned” by comics? There are those who pay big bucks for first addition Dark Knight graphic novels, I personally wouldn’t fork out the dough, but my Spidey sense tells me that if it’s worth it to them, it’s not a “con.” Still, they should change the name.
I’m here to support my buddy Cuddles:
You’d think that he would lead a luckier life since he is the proud owner of two rabbit’s feet, but ever since he got his new job, he’s incredibly accident prone. I came here to try to keep him out of harm’s way.
The problem with all large, non-food centric conventions is that you are pretty much guaranteed to have bad chow. The San Diego Convention Center is no exception.
Not only do most big venues require you to utilize their in house “catering” (I love that word because it implies that your desires somehow enter into the picture) you know that there are a few Tyler Durdens behind the scenes as well.
I got a Jumbo Hot Dog ($4.00):
... which tasted like the result of a food fight between Sara Lee and Oscar Meyer. I guess I could do worse. I stuck with the classic fare for this sort of event, fearing what horrors could be achieved if a dish actually required preparation. Anyway, a trip to the condiment bar with enough mustard and ketchup can work wonders.
Cuddles worked the crowd and managed to avoid major injury (for today at least.)
It was just too hot not to scream today, so I headed to Three Twins in San Rafael. It’s in a strangely sprawling shopping center/asphalt farm off the 101.
They use organic ingredients in their cold creations. They tolerate lactose from Strauss dairy in their creations.
My single ($2.75):
... came in a housemade waffle cone with a scoop of coco nib and one of Madagascar vanilla. The cocoa added a richness that pushed it higher on my list than the lighter vanilla. I liked the bits of crunchy nibs in the chocoball as well as the crunchy, slightly sweet, edible container of the freshly made cone.
There are a dozen choices:
... including a vegan rice milk based option, a sorbet, cookies and cream, coffee and the usual suspects. I tasted the rose ice cream (which was a little too girly for me.) It had rose petals scattered throughout the ice milk mixture and was nicely perfumey, but I’m basically a chocolate or vanilla cone type.
They are similar to Fairfax Scoop in that they use metal tasting spoons, potato starch cups and utensils and are eco-friendly. They are nice to their customers as well as the environment and have a step up stool for shorties to peruse the offerings as well as a micro-table outside for non-booster chair ice cream consumption.
Finnegan’s Marin is one of a few restaurants with Three Twins on their dessert list. They can also be found at Bay Area farmer’s markets, but you really should have a cone if you are going to have a scoop so it’s probably best to come to the source.
Three Twins Ice Cream
Mixt Greens is turning greens into green. Their FiDi salad counter has a non-stop line out the door throughout lunch. The customers are mostly feminine (not mesclun) in this ecologically conscious, eat-it-and-beat-it, health promoting, refueling station.
The well staffed counter:
... keeps the line moving and an aggressive busser will gauge lengthy fork resting periods to mean that it’s time to say buhbye to your salad remnants. This isn’t a place to nibble and natter.
There is obvious Bunrab appeal with all this local, organic, rabbit food. All the salads are under $11.00 and sandwiches are under a tenner.
I got the Baja ($10.45):
... which has a butter lettuce foundation topped with white corn kernels, ripe avocado, halved (so they don’t squirt on your FiDi clothing) cherry tomatoes and chopped red onion. It’s dressed with a citrus vinaigrette and capped off with slices of seared ahi. A cube of bland Foccacia sits on top of the pile of green. The tuna had a hint of stringy resistance, but it was nicely seared and coriander scented. The corn leant a fresh crunch against the creamy avocado and pleasant acid of the slightly over ripe tomatoes. As far as a quick salad goes, it was pretty good.
Chubby got the Cobb ($8.45):
... which was topped with skinless, white meat chicken. Unfortunately, his favorite bits are the dark meat and skin, but he managed to power through his leafy bowl with only one strong complaint “it needs more bacon.” To be fair, he says that about anything with (or without) bacon in it. The salad base was similar to mine with butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes and avocado but there were also chunks of blue cheese, cucumber and the (previously mentioned) crispy bacon. He also got a dull but boring carbo-cube.
I got an “all natural cookie” ($1.25):
... Isn’t that
like saying “all natural crack?” I mean, it’s a cookie,
let’s not fool ourselves here. I know, I know, it’s all
about the transfats too, but really. Just let me be realistic about
I don’t think that this place could have a stronger following if they gave away the food for free. It’s the sort of place that you go to if you work down the street, but it’s not trip worthy (the parking is more expensive than lunch!) If you are in a hurry, you can grab a ready made box from the cold case, but half the fun is watching the build-a-fare-workshop. You can also custom out your salad with a list of meats, veg, frults, cheese, nuts...
I saw several people look around for a restroom and give up. There is one stealthily hidden if you go through the door on the right of the salad assembly bar and follow the hallway to the left. It’s large, basic, clean and well stocked (I guess since it’s difficult to find, it doesn’t get that dirty.)
From today’s bunrab email, Aaron writes about our Crepe experience:
If your Crepevine is anything like the one in Berkeley, Steven C. is right...go for everything but the crepes. There namesakes are quite unimpressive, but I've had pretty decent other offerings... everything from the tuna melt (the best thing I've eaten there) to the pumpkin pancakes you referenced. Maybe worth a second shot?
Mmmmm tuna melt? That sounds good. I may need to take a trip back (and I guess I’ll have to stop snickering when I hear people order fish at a steakhouse now too.)
I returned to Sushi Lin for lunch and got a sashimi bento ($9.95):
... and delicious to boot. The fluke, mixed salad, rice and tempura were all tasty. I normally bypass tempura in Japanese restaurants, but the shrimp, zucchini, sweet potato and broccoli were crisp and not at all greasy.
I was impressed by the overall high quality of a set lunch that was made with care. Lunch combos are normally the lowest common denominator of Japanese restaurants and this one showed no sign of being phoned in.
The staff is friendly and attentive in this
clean and casual addition to San Rafael. Don’t expect a sushi
bar in this small dining room with well spaced, plastic topped tables.
Steven C. writes about the Crepevine:
Waiting for Crepevine to open in San Rafael I read everything I could find on the existing locations. They all seemed to say the same thing; Good breakfast spot, nobody seemed to love the crepes. (Although I am sure some especially the sweet must be tasty) So when they opened we went and had a pair of pretty decent breakfasts. Research!
Before Chubby and I headed to CV, I had read that their pumpkin pancakes were good, but I just as I struggle with the idea of ordering fish in a steak house, I couldn’t get myself to order anything but a crepe at this crepehouse. I guess I could just think of the American style pancakes as thick crepes since they are in the same food phylum. Perhaps I will go for breakfast to see if they live up to their reputation.
Thanks for the tip!
The heat had me in the mood for a salad, but while I scanned the menu at Oliveto Café the Ivory salmon sandwich ($7.25):
... socked my eye. Ivory salmon are white fleshed King salmon and I was anxious to sink my teeth into a buttery bite of this pigment challenged, spawn of spawn.
I was bummed out when I was presented with a pulverized
version of the fish (I envisioned a simple, grilled filet
on a slice of bread.) I was delivered what I would call a salmon
salad sandwich. It was topped with frisee and encased in an Acme
bakery roll. After my initial disappointment, I found that it was
still okay. The fish was flavored with bits of chopped celery and
flecks of Italian parsley. The pleasantly chewy roll was good, but
verged on a bready imbalance for the amount of filling. If there
were a few gherkins or olives on the plate, they could have helped
to interrupt the monotony of flavor. If I was thinking ahead, I would
have ordered a fennel, celery heart and radish salad to compliment
There are some sidewalk tables in addition to the indoor seating in this small café which doubles as a restaurant waiting area at night. The service is good, but can be overextended at times.
In reference to yesterday’s Crepevine post, Sam writes:
Maybe they should rename it "The Crapvine"?
While I was heading to Oliveto today, I walked by another Crepevine (on College Avenue) and thought about how many small chains there are in the Bay Area. I don’t think that a chain automatically makes something bad, but once you start spreading yourself thin (like a crepe) you have to be sure that your quality doesn’t suffer. I don’t know if Crepevine was, or will be good, but I think it’s difficult to make adjustments and corrections once you get big due to the deflavorizing-by-committee effect. Exceptions to this are some of the Middle Eastern and Chinese chains. Maybe these committees are not part of those cultures.
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