3 Thumbs up for Nomad Tibetan Restaurant

Nomad dining roomAt 1593 Solano Avenue is Nomad Tibetan Restaurant, just a block down from Everest Café, which serves Nepalese food. I would have thought the two cuisines would be pretty similar, and so I thought it was strange that the two were located so close together. But Sushi 29 and Miyuki manage to coexist peacefully on the same block, so I guess Nomad and Everest Café can make it work too.

Nomad windowI took more pictures than I usually do on my lunching quest because the restaurant itself was just so adorable and because the food was so beautiful to look at. There’s a sunken dining area in the back that would be perfect for a celebration or a large family get-together. (See above photo.) And there are little windows that don’t actually go anywhere but provide a lovely ambiance, and everywhere you look, there’s a stuffed yak. I don’t mean that there is a dish of yak stuffed with dates or rice; they’re cute little stuffed animals giving the place a warm, friendly feel.

George, always the bravest diner of the three of us, ordered the Tibetan tea, which our waiter told us was buttery and salty, akin to “liquid popcorn.” George really liked it, saying, “It’s actually kind of great.” I tasted it, but I have to say that I prefer my popcorn crunchy. I guess Tibetan tea is just not my cup of tea.

There were so many fun items on the menu that it was difficult to decide, but we finally ordered twosteamed buns @ Nomad appetizers and three entrees to share. The egg rolls were perfectly crisp and quite hot. (Truth be told, I probably should have waited a minute to let them cool down.) They were served on a bed of mixed spring greens that was not just garnish. Delicious! (And thankfully not a drop of Thousand Island dressing in sight.) The steamed buns were a gorgeous saffron color. They didn’t have a lot of flavor on their own, but they were great for dipping into various sauces. And their texture was just the right balance of chewy and doughy—a great comfort food item.

Dave’s basil chicken was pretty good, but my sizzling beef was better. And it arrived true to its name. I don’t generally take videos of my food because it’s usually just sitting there. But the sounds and rising steam of this yummy dish called for more than just a still photo. It’s too bad my camera doesn’t have Smellorama technology. I tried loading the video here for your pleasure, but it wouldn’t cooperate.

And my favorite of the day was George’s beef momo, which are big dumplings, similar to gyoza, or potstickers. They were accompanied by a flavorful chili sauce that had basil, ginger, and cilantro in it—which I dipped my steamed bun in when I figured I’d eaten enough of George’s entrée.

Approaching the restroom, I felt as if I were in Santa Cruz entering the Mystery Spot. Because the ceiling slopes down toward the door, I experienced the optical illusion that either the room was shrinking or I was growing. Once inside, though, the bathroom was clean and quite lovely. The live orchid was a nice touch and almost made me forget my brief Alice in Wonderland experience.

I think we can say that Nomad was an enthusiastic three thumbs up! I will definitely go back with more people so we can sit in the cool sunken dining room. Maybe I’ll even get to pet one of the yaks…

Subway—tasty, cheap, and fast!

Rufus wants Subway sandwichWhen I told Dave I was going to get a sandwich from Subway on Solano as part of my lunching quest, he was surprised. Yes, it’s part of a chain and I suppose it could be considered fast food, but it’s on Solano and it offers lunch. It’s situated on that strange corner where Tacoma meets Solano at a rather acute angle. (Not a cute angle, but at an angle that is not obtuse. I do remember bits of mathematical information.)

Anyhoo, I chose to get it to bring back since I wasn’t planning on evaluating the dining area. It looks pretty much like every other Subway across America, I suppose, which is not unpleasant or crowded or anything like that; but if I took it home, I could watch Bob’s Burgers on TV while I had my lunch. (I’m not sure what I’ll do when I run out of episodes. Maybe by that time the weather will be nice again so I can eat lunch in my back yard.)

But back to the food… I got a turkey and jack cheese sandwich on wheat with all the fixin’s—and there are many to choose from! Well, I didn’t actually ask for all the options because that would involve eating olives and mayo, which I’m unwilling to do. But I had cukes, lettuce, tomatoes, pepperoncini peppers, jalapenos, bell peppers, spinach, salt and pepper, mustard, and even a dash of vinegar. They have lots of sauces to choose from, but I love mustard and vinegar, so why would I ask for anything else?

It was tasty, cheap, and fast. I enjoyed every bite as I watched the Belcher family antics on the tube. My dog, Rufus, was very interested in my sandwich, so I had to keep close watch.

Oh, and I discovered that as of a few months ago, Subway announced that it would no longer be using azodicarbonamide in its bread. I have to say, I have been to Subway before, and I’ve always liked the variety of bread available and how wonderful it smells when it comes out of the oven, freshly baked on the premises. So, as far as I’m concerned it’s a bonus to learn that their bread will no longer have a chemical in it that is used to make rubber for shoes and yoga mats.

Barbara Ehrenreich, God, and mystical experiences, Part I

B. Ehrenreich sittingLast night I went to hear Barbara Ehrenreich talk about her latest book, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything. I was excited to see this legendary journalist, author, and avowed atheist since  I, too, am an atheist and was curious what she had to say on the subject. We nonbelievers are a dime a dozen in Berkeley, so I figured the church would be packed. Oh, did I not mention that her reading was being held at Berkeley’s 1st Congregational Church?

Of course it wasn’t a church event exactly—it was hosted by Berkeley’s City Arts & Letters, but I was still sitting among Bibles and hymnals and pews. And I have to admit it was a bit odd seeing the large crucifix behind her on stage as she begged her interviewer and lifelong pal, Deirdre English, to refrain from dubbing the central event in her memoir as “spiritual.”

Already a deep thinker before she turned 13, Ms. Ehrenreich had set out on a quest—basically to figure out what she began to call “the situation,” which essentially was what most philosophers would call the human condition. But having been raised by staunch atheists herself, it was never even a consideration that she would turn to religion to answer these burning questions.

Yet at 16, she experienced a mystical event on a camping trip that she never told anyone about, one that involved her feeling the presence of an “other.” As articulate as she seemed to be even as a teenager, she claims she was unable to find the words to properly describe it, even in her journal. But it was a life-shaping experience that she always meant to come back to when she felt more equipped to explore it. Confident as only youths can be, she was certain she would have everything figured out in time.

But of course life gets in the way, as they say, and she wrote many books, lived in many places, and married more than once. Then at 59, she was facing mortality in the form of a breast cancer diagnosis and felt an urgency to get her papers in order. That red folder packed with journal entries from her younger self that she had always carried in the bottom of a box every time she changed residences finally seemed ripe to open and revisit.B. Ehrenreich signing book

Thirteen years later, we are the recipients of her diving back into her attempt to find the truth in her book, and I can think of no better person to tackle such big questions. I look forward to reading it.

Part II: When the audience  takes over…

Aurora’s Wittenberg really is a crowd pleaser

WittenbergIf you haven’t yet seen Wittenberg at the Aurora Theater, run now and get tickets. (Okay, it’s probably easier to call the box office, which is only open during business hours, so if you’re reading this before 9:00 or after 5:00, then you may have to wait.)

I highly recommend this witty, energetic, smart production. The setting is Wittenberg University, a sort of UC Berkeley of the early 16th century. The cast of characters is full of familiar names, but it will be the first time you see all of them portrayed on the same stage at once. First, there’s a young Prince Hamlet, back when he was still a student, before the whole tragedy of his uncle killing his father and marrying his mother. (Oops, I should have given a spoiler alert…) Wittenberg‘s Hamlet is a promising tennis player who (not surprisingly) is having difficulty with a weighty decision—he has to declare a major.

Enter his philosophy professor, Dr. Faustus, who questions authority, the church, and, well, everything. Faustus does his best to convince the future king to study philosophy and—playing the role of the devil before he makes his own bargain—take drugs. Of course Hamlet’s theology prof, Martin Luther (future father of the Protestant Reformation) is encouraging the young prince to follow God. Let the wackiness ensue.

Bay Area veteran actor Dan Hiatt deftly plays Martin Luther, a man whose faith tells him that the Catholic Church is going astray but who loves the church and genuinely wants to reform from within. Luther has a love/hate relationship with his buddy and nemesis, Faustus, and many of the play’s strongest moments are their debates.

New to Aurora, Michael Stevenson is great as Faustus and performs with abundant energy and exuberance—the cool, funny prof with a mischievous streak and the best weed. But he also shows vulnerability and heart as the hopeful bridegroom.

Jeremy Kahn may have the most difficult role to pull off, considering Hamlet is a character with whom the audience is already quite familiar. But this is Hamlet when he was still innocent, before he has to avenge his father’s murder, and so can be played with a lightness and humor that Olivier could never have considered. I’ve seen Kahn play two other roles that were vastly different from this one, and he performed all three quite convincingly. (His Bill Gates is certainly worlds apart from the young Dane.)

Infused with several references to Shakespeare’s rather more somber play, Wittenberg turns well-known lines from Hamlet‘s soliloquy upside down, squeezing comedy from unlikely sources. Director Josh Costello uses the intimate theater space to the play’s advantage, transforming audience members into Hamlet’s classmates at Wittenberg, where we experience his dilemma of being torn between his two mentors.

Despite the laughter—and there is much of it—several serious themes arise as well, including faith versus knowledge, rebellion versus authority, the power of free speech, the complexity of love, and the question: what is true independence?

Due to a playful under-the-sheets sex scene that is quite funny, this is not a show for kids. But it is wonderful theater that made me laugh out loud and think about serious issues. How many plays can do that?

Food at Everest Cafe scores high*


As I was beginning this post, I kept trying to think of a headline using the restaurant’s name  in a clever way but couldn’t come up with any good enough to use. You know, like “Everest is the peak of Nepalese cuisine” or “You don’t have to climb a mountain to get good food at Everest.”

Lucky for all of you that I settled for a boring title rather than one that would offend your sensibilities or make you groan out loud.

Let me take just a momentary side trip to say how nice it is when George lunches with Dave and me. Not only do we get to try more dishes that way, but we have someone else to talk to. Now I adore my husband, and we are perfect for each other. But after working together all week and eating almost every meal together, another person with experiences outside our house/office is a welcome addition to the conversation. Besides George knows more about food than I do, so he’s well suited to accompany us on this lunching journey.

But on to the food! I started with a nice hot Nepali chai. I couldn’t tell how it was inherently different from a non-Nepali chai, but it was especially good. George perused the wine menu and had a glass of chenin blanc from Sula Vinyard, which he recognized as an Indian wine that he’d had before and really liked. (I myself have never had a wine from India, but my sense is that India is known more for its samosas than its wine.) Dave just had water until he tasted my chai, and then he ordered a chai of his own.

The lunch menu had specials that included papadam, naan, the obligatory salad, raita, basmati rice, a soup, and a cold potato cucumber dish—all for $8.99. The cold dish probably isn’t something I would order on its own, but it was fine as accompaniment. The obligatory mini-salad was edible but not exciting. (At least it didn’t suffer from Thousand Island dressing or some awful equivalent.) Everything else was great.

I ordered a pumpkin garbanzo dish that was spicy and delicious. (See photo.) George got the goat curry and pronounced it “really good.” Dave also enjoyed his noodle dish a lot, which had all kinds of stuff going on, and the broth was quite flavorful.

The only oddity was my plate, which looked like it was stolen from a prison, or at the very least, a cut-rate summer camp. I imagine an uprising at a penitentiary where the inmates have flung their food off their metal plates and have started bashing them against the prison bars, inciting a riot of major proportions. “ATTICA! ATTICA!” or maybe more along the lines of “NO MORE THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING!” At least that’s what I would be protesting. But I’m sure they are economical to use, since one of these divided plates holds six different food items without having to worry that the raita and the soup will flood the rice, and the dishwasher has way fewer dishes.

The bathroom was tiny but clean. When I was in it, I thought I was overhearing someone on the restaurant staff talking on a phone just off the kitchen, but when I opened the door to return to my table, I realized that the voice I heard must have been coming through an air duct from whatever is behind (or above?) Everest. Now there’s a mystery for someone out there to solve…

The service was good. (I never had to call over our waitress to get refills on water.) The food was very good. And the prices were reasonable. (Especially since I had purchased a Groupon, which allowed me to order $22 worth of food for only $11.) I give Everest Café a hearty thumbs up!

*even though the plate it was served on was kind of weird…

Neo-Futurists long on laughs, high in energy

Matt PineSteven WestdahlAmy Langer

You know the name of a theater piece is long when it doesn’t fit in the space for the headline. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is a memorable name however, and one I’m likely to remember for awhile.

I mainly use Goldstar to get cheaper tickets for events I already plan to attend and don’t usually bother perusing the multitude of offerings. But something made me scroll down. And there, just below an event celebrating two generations of Bach at Davies Symphony Hall and just above a magic storytelling show was this:

30 Plays in 60 Minutes:

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

 I was intrigued, so I clicked on it. This was the description given:

Created by Greg Allen, and written and performed by the Neo-Futurists, the original production in Chicago has been continuously running since the Reagan administration, and now San Francisco has its own sibling company. This innovative show is an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in one hour. The “menu” of plays is strung up on a clothesline and the audience determines the order by yelling out which piece they want to see next. Every performance is a unique experience, and the Neo-Futurists are masters of creating funny, personal, abstract, political and poignant plays.

TMLMTBGB's Apollo 11 lunar landing
“Apollo 11 Lunar Landing” (Yes, that is an American flag in those buttocks.)

I really wasn’t sure what to expect. But at the basement bargain price of $5.50 (via aforementioned Goldstar) I figured, what the heck? I love theater and enjoy seeing it in various forms. And I admit to being curious about how anyone could stage thirty plays in an hour. And my husband, Dave, is always up for anything.

I am so glad we went! Everything about it is quirky, down to the little plastic army men that are distributed to those who show up at the theater who have not bought tickets in advance. And the price at the door is $10 plus whatever you roll on one of their big foam dice. (Because I had paid online, I received a golden token rather than an army man.)

Ryan GoodWhen you enter the performance space itself, you are given a name tag with a name created for you on the spot. My name was Prince, and Dave was dubbed Jamz. I’m pretty sure I saw one person’s name tag with the word bookshelf on it.

The five actors had high energy and seemed to be having a great time. (I guess I should refer to them as actor/playwrights since they not only performed thirty plays but wrote them too.) Now, these were not plays in the strictly traditional sense. But actually I think the word play is perfect for what we saw last night. There were no Aristotelian story arcs, and nobody is going to mistake any of the language for Shakespeare—although one of the mini-plays was “Things that Sound Like Hamlet”— but there was definitely an atmosphere of play, in that they were playing around, playing with the audience, and playing a game in which they attempted to get through all thirty plays in the allotted hour.

TMLMTBGB clothed chaos crowd control
Steven & Dave in “Clothed Chaos Crowd Control”

Informal audience participation was a big part of the production.  Each of the players pulled a partner onstage for “Clothed Chaos Crowd Control,” in which they manically put on clothes from a pile and danced short spurts at specific intervals to some fast-paced music. Despite having completed a 28-mile bike ride earlier in the day, Dave danced up a storm when he joined Steven.(See blurry photo.)

I was bestowed the honor of calling out the title of the first play of the evening: “I want to watch you eat a peach in slow motion,” which I loved. Steven was the player closest to our seats (against the wall and next to the stage), so we could clearly see that he was eating a brown peach that was way past its glory days. But he did so with relish, making nummy noises that could have been a soundtrack to a porn film, while the peach juice dribbled down his chin.

Micael BogerI could go on and on about last night’s experience, but I think that I’ll just provide the link so that you can buy tickets and go see it yourself. My sincere apologies to those of you who don’t live anywhere near San Francisco and so cannot go. But I’m going back. And I’m taking friends. Their website: http://www.sfneofuturists.com/

For tickets: http://www.theatermania.com/san-francisco-theater/shows/too-much-light-makes-the-baby-go-blind_300169/


Mary Roach is so funny!

Mary Roach @PegasusLast night Pegasus Books on Shattuck hosted local treasure Mary Roach, bestselling author of Stiff, Packing for Mars, and her most recent offering, Gulp. 

Arriving a half hour early to secure a seat in the front row, I had time to read the first few essays in one of the two books I’d just bought while I waited—My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places, which is a collection of columns she wrote for Reader’s Digest. I laughed out loud as I read. It was like she was her own warm-up act.

By the time she took her place behind the podium, the bookstore was packed with adoring fans, standing against walls and sitting at the foot of bookcases. She started out by telling stories (no notes) with the ease of a friend you’ve known your whole life. Then she read a few hilarious yet informative passages from Gulp and fielded a range of questions that covered writing, science, her family, and her next book project (which is a secret).

Mary Roach book coversNever one to shy away from what the average person might consider gross, Mary has written about dead bodies, fecal transplants, saliva, and the wonders of the anus. She has interviewed a prisoner whose unique talent is smuggling objects where the sun don’t shine, and she spent time on a pig farm and lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately her boots didn’t survive—she was never able to get the smell of pig farm off them and had to throw them out. Ah, the sacrifices we make for our art…

Because I bought two of her books, I was the lucky recipient of a most unusual door prize—a small cloth bag that has the same capacity as one’s rectum, imprinted with a quote from her book.Mary Roach signing

Should circumstance prevent a man from carrying his cigarettes and cell phone in his pants pocket, the rectum provides a workable alternative.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll put this bag to use, but rest assured, it will be given a special purpose.

If you ever get the chance to hear Mary Roach in person, by all means do so. I’ve enjoyed her interviews on radio and TV, but seeing her in person was the best.

Sushi 29 is a real treat

teriyaki salmon don @sushi 29When I realized that the next restaurant lunching down Solano was another sushi place, I thought it was a bit strange that two Japanese restaurants would be so close together. (Just three doors down on the same side of the street is Miyuki, which I reviewed last week.) But they’re really different, so maybe it’s not that strange.

Giant cheerful daisies greet you on the walls of Sushi 29.  (Which match the menus!) I wondered what the name referred to—Sushi 29. Dave surmised that the first 28 sushi places they opened up failed. But our waitperson explained that it’s actually 2, 9 (not twenty-nine), which in texting lingo is “tonight.” I never would have guessed that, but then I’m a middle-aged woman who refuses even to shorten words when she texts, let alone substitute numbers for letters, so perhaps I’m not the demographic they were thinking of…

It was cold and rainy that day, so being served hot tea immediately was quite welcome as was the yummy miso soup. Both my lunch companions ordered the chef’s choice plate because they are adventurous eaters and love sushi. Unlike me. If I weren’t on a mission to eat at every lunch spot on Solano, I never even would have entered a place with sushi as part of the name.

But there was plenty that was not sushi on the menu for me. I got the teriyaki salmon don, which was wonderful. Entrées aren’t cheap, but shelling out an extra $3 for eight adorable and delicious gyoza makes it a better deal. And George proclaimed them the best potstickers he’d ever tasted. And I’m happy to report that I was not served one of those pointless obligatory salads that are never any good anyway. That’s definitely a point in their favor. Another bonus was the refreshing slice of cucumber in nice tall glasses of ice water that got refilled without having to hunt down someone.

Because I don’t do sushi, you’re going to have to trust Dave and George when they say the sashimi was very good and several steps above the last sushi place we visited. To me it was still just various lumps of cold, raw seafood with some seaweed thrown in, though even I have to admit that the fresh flowers and slivers of ginger coaxed into roses made for a lovely presentation.

Dave reports that the bathroom was dark but assured me it was clean. I still don’t understand why restaurants would design restrooms to be purposely dark unless it was their plan not to clean them very well, but maybe I’m just overly suspicious…

Interesting side note: the sushi chef was wearing a Bluetooth. I thought it was so he could talk on the phone while working. Dave suggested that he probably wasn’t grooving on the pop music that was playing in the dining room and was piping in his own soundtrack that fit his particular rhythm of fish chopping.

Sushi 29 is another restaurant that does not accept Solano Avenue Association cards. If I had limited my tour to eating establishments that do take them, I probably would have finished by now.

All in all, a lovely, if rather expensive, lunch. But I guess you get what you pay for. I would say it’s a good spot for special occasions. (Or people with more disposable income than me.)



Don’t judge Miyuki by its cover

miyuki front

I didn’t have high hopes walking into Miyuki for very shallow reasons—one of them being the unappetizing shade of green paint one sees walking down Solano Avenue. The second was the neglected window box that housed an ancient faded menu, some dead bugs, and even some trash.

But the inside tells a different story.

Our foodie source (okay, George) recommended the lunch specials, which we ordered—$6.95 for soup, salad, tempura, rice, and a teriyaki dish; $9.95 for all that plus sushi. I’m not a sushi eater, so I got the cheaper one while Dave relished the opportunity to get sushi. And since I was famished that particular day, we ordered gyoza to start.

Our miso came right away, which took the chill off, in addition to getting food in my stomach quickly. The potstickers were a pretty good deal, I thought, at 6 for $4.50, though Dave thought they weren’t hot enough.

In the background we heard the sushi chef chopping, but other than that, it was quite peaceful, with only a few other diners sharing the large restaurant with us. I read the small promotional card that promised, “You can taste 3 kinds of sake!!!” I guess that’s one exclamation point per type of sake. The menu also pictured several different colorful Han cocktails, but I had a lot of work to do after lunch, so I declined.

The salad suffered from what I have come to call “the obligatory salad” condition common in Chinese and Japanese restaurants, which is a sign that they just shouldn’t bother. (Note that I did not lump all  Asian-inspired restaurants in this category because I have not noticed this in Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, or Korean dining establishments.)

The tempura was perfect—crispy and light at the same time. My teriyaki chicken was tasty, so I was happy. Dave got the beef teriyaki and was less pleased, but he’s not a teriyaki fan in general. Dave, having been born in Japan and raised in a family who knows its sushi, was also unimpressed with the artificial crab in his California roll, although he conceded that this is common. He wasn’t bowled over by the sashimi either, but hey, it’s a lunch that includes sushi for under ten bucks—whaddya want?

The waiter was thrown by my attempt to pay with Solano Avenue Association cards but kindly asked management, who also didn’t know what they were and therefore didn’t accept them as payment. But it was a filling meal for two for only $23 dollars, so who am I to complain?

miyuki menu
faded menu outside restaurant

The bathroom was light, airy, squeaky clean, and modern. It looked as if it had just gotten a fresh coat of paint. It was the antithesis of the restaurant’s sad outward appearance to passersby.

So don’t write off Miyuki because from the street it looks slightly abandoned. A pleasant, inexpensive lunch experience is on the other side of those sickly green walls.