Back to Lunching Down Solano…

bananas Foster Palace Cafe
Sorry, you can’t get this on Solano Avenue!

 

Okay, I didn’t post a Lunching Down Solano experience last week because I was eating all over New Orleans. But I ate well! (Photo is of my Bananas Foster at the Palace Café in the French Quarter.) In fact, I probably ate too well because I gained five pounds (!) even with all that walking around. But the beignets, jambalaya, hush puppies, and French 75s were awfully good…

To make up for it, I’m covering two lunch spots this week. (Although I really should be dieting pretty seriously.)

But before I launch into any actual reviews, allow me to preface this post by explaining a practice I learned while teaching elementary school. It’s called the compliment sandwich. The idea is that when you’re giving an evaluation of some kind, you begin with something nice and end with something nice. In the middle you fit in the negative bits. For example,

Johnny has wonderful energy! Think of what he could accomplish if he used this energy to complete school work. He should be proud of his spotless attendance record.

This technique is useful in parent conferences and progress reports, but I think it will come in helpful when I review King Tsin’s restaurant on Solano Ave.

The service at King Tsin’s was quite good, and the bathroom was clean.

As far as the food goes, I do recommend the dry green beans. The green onion beef dish was described by my eating companion as “lifeless.” The obligatory accompanying salad was like most others one finds at Chinese restaurants. (I didn’t eat mine.) The hot and sour soup wasn’t bad, and the egg roll was fine.

They don’t accept Solano Avenue Association cards.

The dining room was quiet, and the light fixtures looked like glowing concentric circles of spun sugar. (See below.)Image

Oh, and I noticed only one typo on the menu!

I’m happy to say that all those years of teaching equipped me for circumstances far beyond the reaches of the classroom.

 

Birds, balconies, and statues

birds Jackson Square Dave + Tanya Jackson Square

Inside the gates of Jackson Square is a quiet place to rest one’s weary feet from all the walking one is bound to do in a place like N’awlins. A few people lie right on the grass in the sun. Some take the obligatory photos of Andrew Jackson with St. Louis Cathedral in the background. And the birds are chirping about on the sidewalk wondering where all the crumbs have gone.

Once you exit the gates, you see street musicians, sketch artists, tarot card readers, and a guy with tails and a headset playing either the shell game or 3-card Monty. It’s a beautiful sunny (but not hot) day, and even the Dave on balcony NOLAlocals are probably playing hooky to be outside.

Wandering seems to be a favorite activity, and we do so until we discover Charter House, a restaurant where supposedly Tennessee Williams used to hang out. We sit at a narrow table on the balcony and watch the goings-on below. From our perch above Toulouse Street, we see men laying out cable across the street, setting up for what we first hear is an episode of an upcoming spin-off of NCIS but later find out is just a commercial for the Worldwide Wrestling something-or-other. I don’t know how wrestling connects to Mardi Gras, but that seems to be the theme.Since we get our cocktails in plastic cups, we could take them to go as many do in  the French Quarter, but we enjoy the view and finish them up before continuing our stroll. I indulge in a freshly made French Quarterchocolate praline from a confectionary.

Ah, New Orleans!

I’m in the Big Easy, baby!

Laurie@Bayona (NOLA)

Just walking down the street in New Orleans is like going to the wildest party you’ve ever been to. Especially if you arrive on St. Patrick’s Day, when Shriners in dune buggies are flinging green mardi gras beads—the natural offspring of two holidays that are centered around loud drinking and crazy behavior—to cheering bystanders. But I get the feeling walking down Bourbon Street that, here in Crescent City, any reason is cause enough to celebrate.

We were supposed to meet Kylie at Louis Armstrong Airport, but she missed her flight because snow shut down the light rail system in Baltimore. So Dave and I headed to our vacation rental spot on the edge of the French Quarter and let Kylie take a later shuttle to meet us there.

Women in green tutus and green furry leg warmers walked arm-in-arm with men donning oversized green sequined hats, and everyone had beads of all sizes and colors around their necks. Some wandered down Bourbon Street with to-go cocktails in huge plastic cups and toddlers in strollers. The family that parties together…?

We had a recommendation for Bayona’s on Dauphin street, so we called to see if we needed reservations. The earliest one available was 8:45, but it was 6:30, and we were hungry already. The hostess recognized the 510 area code and asked what part of the Bay Area we lived in. When I replied Berkeley, she told me she lived in Oakland for 15 years and worked at UC Berkeley. Then she asked me how quick we could get there.

Less than fifteen minutes later, we were being seated. And the food was heavenly. We started with a quail salad and a goat cheese crouton with mushrooms in a madeira sauce that melted in your mouth. I got salmon for my entrée, which came with perfectly cooked French string beans and a sweet potato puree. Dave got the tri-tip that came with brussel sprouts and crispy potatoes. And to top it all off, we split a mango cheesecake flan, which was incredible. Amazing food and great service. If you’re in the French Quarter, you should definitely check it out.

When Kylie arrived, she was exhausted and starving. We found a late-night sushi place where she got udon, Dave got sushi, and I got sake.

Then we fell into bed and slept until 10:30 the next morning!

Tangerine is a one-man operation

Tangerine's doorTangerine is one of those places I’ve walked by and for some reason just never gone in, even though there’s a photo of a baby encircled in a lemon wreath, which I find rather charming.

So Dave and I walked in and were immediately engaged by the owner/chef/cashier/server. He seemed happy with my choices because after each of my selections, he answered with an enthusiastic “Good!” I couldn’t quite pin down his accent, so I asked. (He’s Dutch.) It’s a one-man operation where you can see the day’s salads through the glass and order at the counter.

It’s pretty simple fare. There are a few sandwiches and six (I think)  salads to choose from, as well as a chicken plate, a salmon plate, and a soup. Tangerine's lentil soup & pastrami sandwich

Dave got a pastrami sandwich and lentil soup. I tasted the lentil soup and really liked it. He said the bread was good but was pretty big compared to the meat portion. (Sort of the opposite of La Farine’s very meaty sandwich.) The plates come with field greens and two side salads. None of the salads looked unusual or special, so I got a fruit salad and a Greek salad to accompany my salmon. The salmon was fine—it was salmon. It did come with a homemade tapenade. Unfortunately, I am pretty strict on my anti-olive stance. (Not for political reasons—I just can’t stand them.) So Dave got my tapenade to add to his sandwich—which already came with tapenade, but he likes it—so he was happy. And the cantaloupe and grapes were fine—no surprises there. The Greek salad didn’t seem to have any dressing on it, so it was very healthy.Tangerine's salmon plate

There’s a counter that overlooks Solano Avenue, but it’s mostly a place where people pick up food to go. Which is why even if you eat there, you get to-go containers for your food. But it’s not Styrofoam—it’s all compostable stuff.

Our host was very friendly and asked us how our meal was. His demeanor was the best part of our lunch there. I might go back just to chat with him.

On a totally separate note, the spell-checker on my laptop tried to substitute tamponade* for tapenade. Who programmed that?

*I had to look it up. It means “compression of the heart by an accumulation of fluid in the pericardial sac.” And that’s supposed to be more common than tapenade? Please…

Sweet Basil is a sweet lunch spot

George's lunch
George’s roast duck dish

One of Solano Avenue’s smaller and more elegant restaurants, Sweet Basil offers an extensive Thai menu and a quiet, pleasant atmosphere. Sweet Basil soup & salad

Lunch comes with a small salad, but because I had experienced some disappointing salads on earlier excursions to other Asian eateries on Solano, I asked about the dressing in advance this time. Our charming waiter brought me a salad with a wonderfully tart vinaigrette that I quite liked. Yay! We also got complimentary soup, which was simple and light—a nice warm treat while we waited for our appetizers.

Both George and Dave ordered the lemongrass tea, but I splurged and got a Thai iced coffee, which was delicious of course. (Never mind the calories…)

Their spiced corn cakes at $7 were tasty, but their fresh spring rolls ($6) were excellent. The satay was a perfect starter for either an indecisive diner or a group who liked different kinds of satay. An order is six skewers for $7 that you can mix and match from pork, chicken, mushrooms, and eggplant.

I ordered grilled skirt steak served over a bed of spinach and topped with lots of yummy peanut sauce, because you can never have too much peanut sauce. (Diet be damned!) George got the roast duck with tomatoes and pineapple in red curry and liked it quite a bit. (I tried it, but I’m never a big duck fan, so I’ll refrain from voicing my opinion of any duck dish unless it tastes like something other than duck.) Dave’s eggplant basil was good, and I don’t usually like eggplant.

Sweet Basil eggplant dishWhile we dined, I enjoyed the selection of mostly Motown hits playing quietly in the background. Aretha’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” is welcome accompaniment anywhere, and I admit to engaging in a bit of rocking out while consuming all that peanut sauce.

The bathroom was almost dark enough to rival Kirin’s, but without the sad dead flowers.

It wasn’t a cheap meal, but that was mostly because we’d ordered a lot of food. I think the prices were perfectly reasonable. The nice thing is that Sweet Basil accepts Solano Avenue Association cards, and I had $70 worth, so I treated.

I was so proud of myself for remembering to take lots of pictures this time, but after doing so, I set my iPhone down on the seat next to me and then left it behind! Luckily, our charming waiter ran after me as I was crossing the street. Whew!

Thank you, Sweet Basil, for a lovely meal.

For more info, go to http://www.sweetbasilberkeley.com/

Global Age Project a great success!

2014_Aurora's Global Age Project

I feel so lucky to live in the Bay Area where there is such great theater. Aurora Theatre, one of my favorites, sponsors The Global Age Project each year, which stages readings of new works that spotlight the 21st century and beyond. There’s no set, props, or costumes, but the acting is first-rate.

I got to see three out of four of them this year, and I enjoyed them all. The first one was #therevolution by Kristoffer Diaz, who also wrote The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, which was performed at Aurora in 2012. This humorous absurdist piece considered the possible outcomes of social media gone wrong. The blurb on the theater’s website describes it this way:

A young woman accidentally starts a revolution—and discovers it’s easier to overthrow the government than to actually govern.

It felt eerily real, and the four women who read all the roles did a great job.

Sagittarius Ponderosa by MJ Kaufman was a poignant play about relationships, played with heartbreaking tenderness by a wonderful cast. I was moved by this drama that considered the importance of a name and family ties. It all takes place between two Thanksgiving dinners, and illustrates how much can change in one year. I was able to congratulate the playwright, who was in the audience that night. (How often does one get to do that?)

As much as I liked them all, I have to say that Stephen Brown’s Welcome Home—a play about life, loss, love, and working at a corporate chain—was my favorite of the three. There was much laughter and many tears—signs of a great play, in my opinion. I was still crying as I jumped to my feet for a standing ovation. Again, the cast was amazing.

I stayed for the wine and cheese reception afterward, where I chatted with the playwright, the director, and one of the actors. It was probably terribly inappropriate, but I was so taken with the play and with Stephen himself that I gave him a big, motherly hug. And his mom had come all the way from Texas for this reading, so he had more than one middle-aged woman wrapping her arms around him.

But when you feel the urge to hug someone, why hold back?

Kirin’s lunch gets a mixed review

Kirin
the cherry pork dish

When we walked into Kirin on Solano at noon a few Fridays ago, we were the only patrons in the restaurant. I suppose that should have been a bad sign, but I’ve walked by Kirin’s plenty of times when it was packed, so I don’t think it’s hurting for business. It was quite cold inside, so I kept my coat on.

No matter what you order, everyone is served a cup of soup, which warmed me up a bit. We asked the waiter what he recommended, but he just responded that it depended on what you like. So we started with potstickers, which were good. I was intrigued by a cherry pork dish, and Dave ordered the Mongolian beef.

I guess because it was lunch, it wasn’t served family style as I was expecting, but we still shared everything. Another item that comes with lunch automatically is a disappointing side salad that came covered in thousand island dressing. I might have eaten it if I’d been given a choice of dressing, but since I abhor thousand island dressing, it remained untouched.

I visited the restroom and found it to be the darkest one I’d ever been in. I’m sure the shiny black décor was going for elegant, but the black tile, black toilet, black sink, and low light made for a rather spooky restroom experience. Plus the flowers were mostly dead. If a person were to, say, check her teeth in the mirror, it would be quite difficult to ascertain whether bits of cabbage or whatnot were visible.

The cherry pork looked yummy with its deep red glaze, but it didn’t really taste cherry-like to me, and I wasn’t that enthused with it overall. Dave’s Mongolian beef was pretty good but not terribly flavorful. Now, usually I don’t partake in lamb. (It’s part of my somewhat hypocritical stance on refusing to eat babies—I don’t eat veal either.) But George seemed happy with his choice, and Dave was raving about it too, so I broke my rule. All I can say is wow. It was by far the best thing we ate that day.

Because Dave had loaded up on Solano Avenue Association cards as part of a fundraiser for Thousand Oaks School, I tried to use them to pay for lunch. But no luck—Kirin’s doesn’t accept them. Oh, well.

So it was a mixed review, I suppose. My advice? Dress in layers if you’re dining in, order the lamb, skip the salad, and use the restroom before you go.