China Village rises gloriously from the ashes

China Village

I hadn’t been to China Village since they’d remodeled after the big fire, which put them out of commission for over a year. hey definitely took the opportunity to snazz up the dining room as well as replace the kitchen. And it’s the same chef and owner since it opened over 15 years ago, so the food is just as good. The menus were updated, though, to reflect what was always available but not necessarily advertised. It used to be one of those places where regulars knew what to order off the menu, but if you weren’t privy to the secret dishes, you wondered why the next table was eating something that you don’t remember seeing as an option. And the menu must have a hundred dishes on it! It’s truly the James Michener–epic version of menus. Factor in a little extra time for reading…

Everyone gets a complimentary bowl of hot and sour soup to start, which was very good. And hot tea is free, which is becoming less common these days. (You have to pay for it at another upscale Chinese place on the upper end of Solano that will here remain nameless.) We ordered two appetizers that came after the spicy chicken noodle salad that I’d ordered, but I didn’t care—it was all good, and the three of us were eating family style anyway. Don’t be fooled by the name—the “salad” had little in the way of veggies, but it was delish. And since it was essentially peanut noodles with some matchstick bites of sesame chicken and a few cucumber bits thrown in, I was happy, and George loved it.

Our onion cakes weren’t all that special, but they came in handy for reasons soon to be disclosed. The veggie potstickers were hot, fresh, and tasty, though, and the dipping sauce that accompanied them was perfect. I ran out of water and was already working on Dave’s glass when I got the waiter’s attention to bring more. I was happily surprised when he arrived with not just the communal pitcher but a carafe for the table, which totally made up for the fact that I had to ask for water.

And it’s a good thing that we had plenty of water because Dave’s spicy short ribs were indeed spicy. I like spicy food, and it tasted good, but I couldn’t handle that much heat. This is when I returned to the fried onion cakes because they counteracted the spice factor in a sort of alimentary balance act. George’s choice, the cumin lamb, was just the right amount of spicy. And it was presented with a lovely bright red radish rose. (See photo.)

It was quite a lot of food. (There was just so much that we wanted to try…) So we ended up with a full bag of takeout containers—enough for two to have another meal! But even so, it turned out to be only $17 per person (before tip). So if we’d ordered more appropriately for three people eating just one lunch, I think it would have been pretty reasonable. We’re going back soon for dinner so we can try more of the many dishes that looked tempting.

China Village (1335 Solano Ave., btwn Ramona & Pomona in Albany, CA)

Britt-Marie’s continues to delight

Britt-Marie's topinka & goat cheese
topinka + some goat cheese on bread with a bit of salad

Many places come and go on this mile-long thoroughfare that is Solano Avenue, but one place that has survived the many iterations of restaurants around it and has hardly changed is Britt-Marie’s. A black and white picture of Mother Jones hangs prominently in the front section of the dining room, where it has hung for decades. I’m pretty sure I had topinka there in 1985, not long after I moved to the Bay Area, fresh out of college.  And when I ate there a few days ago, it was the same delicious topinka I remembered.

Britt-Marie’s comes with an interesting history that you won’t find on any website. Apparently, before it was a restaurant, it was a lesbian bar that was painted all black and red. At one time, it was run  by a married couple, but when the wife caught the husband with one of the waitresses, Britt-Marie’s got sold as part of the divorce settlement.

Unpretentious but comfortable, Britt-Marie’s is the perfect spot to meet a friend for a quiet lunch. Britt-marie's gyroIt has a relaxed atmosphere where you don’t have to talk over loud music and you feel okay lingering over a glass of wine. Paper flowers adorned our table, and I noticed an interesting assortment of framed photos, including one of a modern metal chair sitting among some large rocks outside.

Even though it was lunch, we all decided to go for alcoholic libations. George ordered a Husch pinot noir that he already knew and loved. Dave surprised me by ordering a Mill Creek sauvignon blanc, which he liked. (He always orders red!) I went for the Pilsner Urquell on tap, which was just what I was in the mood for. We thought about trying something new, but why try something else when you know there are things on the menu that you know are delicious? We ordered two of our favorite starters—the baked goat cheese salad (with a raspberry vinaigrette, grapes, and glazed pecans-yum!) and the topinka. (Even though it’s not officially on the lunch menu, the chef made it for us anyway.)  What is topinka, you ask? It’s bread with toasted emmenthaler cheese, garlic, and olive oil. And I’m pretty sure it’s lo-cal…

Britt-Marie's chickenMy gyros was pretty good and so was Dave’s chicken. George was a tad disappointed with the dab of chipotle aioli that was barely on his burger, but eventually our waitperson brought out some more. This same waitperson did not notice my empty water glass, so I had to flag him down. Suffice it to say that the service this time around did not get high marks. (But I’ve been there before when the service was great, so it could have been an off day.)Britt-Marie's burger

Of course Britt-Marie’s holds a special place in my heart because we hosted our wedding reception there. (This was our second wedding, the one we had after much of Dave’s family couldn’t make it to our first one, which was a surprise backyard wedding. But that’s a story for another time…)

Britt-Marie’s Café & Wine Bar is at 1369 Solano Avenue, Albany, CA. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30am – 2:00pm & 5:00pm – 10:00pm, and on Sunday from 5:30pm – 11:00pm.

Marsh Berkeley offers Josh Kornbluth and the Piper

josh kornbluthI’m a big Josh Kornbluth fan.

I remember seeing him in the basement of LaVal’s Subterranean Café back in 1989 when Dave and I were the only ones in the audience besides his director. That was his first show, Red Diaper Baby. From there, he went on to the Marsh in San Francisco to develop several more one-man shows, including Haiku Tunnel, which was made into a full-length feature film, a project that included his brother Jacob, who incidentally just won an Emmy.

Since then, I’ve seen every new show of Josh’s, whether it was at the Marsh in S.F., at the Ashby Stage as part of the Shotgun Players’ line-up, or at the Jewish Community Center. (I even saw him perform at a Berkeley High fundraiser when my daughter went to school there.)

Right now he’s developing a new show, and I was lucky enough to see him at Marsh’s Cabaret in downtown Berkeley. (It was so nice to be able to stay in my hometown and not battle the bridge to get to the Marsh in the city…) His process is to  in front of an audience while he works on a new piece. So even though what I saw this past Thursday may be quite different from what he comes up with for his show, I got to see the seeds as they were sprouting. And Josh is so much fun to watch, whether he’s talking about his dad, past jobs, his (relatively recent!) bar mitzvah, or even taxes.  I’m excited about this particular show because it draws on rich material—his experiences as a volunteer at Zen Hospice in San Francisco. If anyone can handle such sensitive material with grace and humor, it’s Josh.

Go see it now while it’s in development and then again next year when it hits the main stage. I’ll definitely see it again.

But wait, there’s more!

The night after I saw Josh, I returned to the Berkeley Marsh to see Jinho Ferreira (aka the Piper) perform a one-man show he wrote called Cops and Robbers. Oakland born-and-bred alternative hip-hop artist and member of Flipsyde, Ferreira decided to go the police academy and graduated four years ago. According to his website:piper

The paradox of being a member of the Black community and a hip-hop artist, while simultaneously working in Law Enforcement, served as the inspiration to write Cops and Robbers.”

The show is particularly relevant after the recent cop shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. (He even made a reference to the case, which he must have added long after the show debuted.) He is a skilled performer, becoming 17 different characters and conveying each one’s point of view. Because the content is so serious, he did what he could to add a bit of levity via a female news reporter character; but that character didn’t work as well as his others. The show was not biased toward any one point of view—the circumstances were painted in all shades of gray. The piece doesn’t take any easy ways out and offers no solutions, but it raises important questions that unfortunately have to be asked.

A touch of Delhi in Albany

Delhi Diner dining room

We swung by to pick up George before walking down to lunch and saw his new solar panels, which have not yet been turned on due to impending inspections that must happen first. But when they are up and running, George predicts he’ll save a bundle. I think we’ll probably go that route soon too….But this is a post about lunch, isn’t it?

If a friend told you she was taking you to Delhi Diner and you didn’t see it written, you might think you were going to a casual place to pick up a pastrami sandwich and some potato salad. But of course this Delhi is Indian, so no pastrami awaits you there.

The dining room itself is lovely. The textured paint job is the same as when the restaurant featured wood-fired pizza, which was not even the most recent iteration of 1373 Solano Avenue before it became Delhi Diner.

sev puri
sev puri (served cold)

The first appetizer listed was sev puri, and the menu insisted this was a “must try.” So we did. It was tasty enough, but it was a bit of a shock. When I hear “crisps stuffed with chickpeas and potatoes,” I think hot. I don’t know why exactly—maybe it’s the “crisp” part—but I think it would have been prudent to warn us that it was served cold.

The next shock really wasn’t the restaurant’s fault at all. Dave saw an unusual beverage on the menu and was feeling adventurous. He probably should have inquired further. The jaljeera claimed to be a “flavorful” drink with mint, cilantro, pepper, and spices. It did look festive, but flavorful? Not unless you think of peppery ocean water as flavorful. It could have been in The Phantom Tollbooth—Division Drink, perhaps, named thus because the more you drink, the thirstier you get. None of us liked it one bit. Well, George fished out one of the little popped lentils in the drink and declared it edible. But it remained on the table with little danger of being consumed even if no other liquid were available. Luckily, our waitress never let our glasses stay empty for long.

Delhi Diner jaljeera
Beautiful, but beware!
chicken tikka kabab
chicken tikka kabab

When ordering our entrees, we were asked what degree of spiciness we preferred, which I appreciated. My medium was only mildly spicy, but George’s hot did have some heat. I had the chicken tikka kabab, which was served on some lovely aromatic basmati rice, with a small cup of delicious lentils, some so-so mint sauce, and the best damn naan I’ve ever tasted. It was all cooked fresh and served quickly. My chicken was a tad dry and a tiny bit too salty, but I would have been happy to pig out on their naan. Actually, I did pig out on the naan. They were also very generous with the amount of naan, which came with our lunches at no extra charge. George and Dave both liked the Rogan Josh (doesn’t that sound like the name of a singer/songwriter?)  better than the lamb curry. I dipped some naan into both sauces and agree.

So Delhi Diner is not as cheap as House of Curries and not as amazing as Ajanta, but the food was mostly good, and it is reasonably priced. Our waitress was very attentive, our food arrived quickly, the atmosphere was quite nice, and the bathroom was clean. I would go back just for the naan and lentils…

Their website is and their phone number is 510 528-5000.

Peace Day doesn’t let us forget


3 paper cranes

Eleanor Coerr wrote Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in 1977, and it has become a beloved children’s tale, translated into umpteen languages so that children all over the world can learn the heartbreaking true story of a little girl who lived in Hiroshima and was two years old when the United States dropped an atom bomb on her homeland. She seemed fine until she was eleven, when dizzy spells sent her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with leukemia. It was her friend Chizuko who gave her a paper crane and suggested that Sadako make a thousand of them, based on the Japanese legend that anyone who folded a thousand origami cranes would be granted one wish. In the book, Sadako was able to make only 644 before she died, but friends and family members completed the task and buried Sadako with a thousand paper cranes. However, others say that Sadako did complete a thousand and kept going, but of course she still died.

Sadako monument at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

A statue of Sadako and a crane stands at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to remind us of all children who have died as a result of war. Every year at 8:15 am (the time the bomb was dropped) the Peace Bell is rung and everyone says silent prayers on behalf of the atomic bomb victims. The Peace Declaration is read aloud, calling for an end to nuclear warfare and promoting peace worldwide. Rather than making the ceremony only about mourning the dead, Peace Day has turned a day of tragedy into one of hope.

And on the fourth floor in the children’s section of Berkeley’s main library close-up 2 of kotodowntown we commemorated Peace Day a day early by reading excerpts aloud from Coerr’s book, accompanied by four people playing koto, a Japanese stringed instrument that is truly marvelous to look at. After the reading, children and parents made origami cranes with out of paper provided by the library with the goal of folding one thousand to send to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Art and music librarian Debbie Carton arranged for the musicians and readers, and she even brought her own mother, Joy, and daughter, Audrey, to read portions of the story and fold cranes.

At the end of the story, all the readers said the prayer together:

This is our cry

This is our prayer

Peace in the world

Heiwa no inori

It was a beautiful way to remember a tragedy. By keeping the memories alive, maybe we can ensure that nuclear war won’t happen again.

Women Who are Ambivalent about Women Against Women Against Feminism

What a great post—it makes some excellent points and is incredibly funny.

The Bloggess

So...yeah.  Right now there’s a lot of talk about a tumblr called WomenAgainstFeminism.  It’s just pictures of some women holding up handwritten signs entitled “I don’t need feminism because...”  Some of the reasons they give for not needing feminism almost seem like a parody (“How the fuck am I suppose to open jars and lift heavy things without my husband?”) and some (“I don’t need to grow out my body hair to prove I’m equal to men”) just make me wonder where in the world they got their definition of feminism.

At first I considered starting my own “I Don’t Need _____ Because” tumblr with people holding equally baffling signs.  Signs like:



I don’t need air because LOTS OF IT…

View original post 780 more words

Cafeina is a fun place to hang out

Cafeina entrance

Number 31 on my journey lunching down Solano was Cafeina (1389 between Ramona and Carmel.)

It’s quirky. It’s homey. It’s not pretentious. It has a very Santa Cruz feel to it (or at least what Santa Cruz was like in the ’80s when I lived there). The atmosphere is quite relaxed. I had the feeling that a few of the customers were regulars, but the staff is friendly to everyone, and they seem like they’re happy to be there, which makes me want to be there too.

Open every day but Sunday 7am –4pm, Cafeina has a few outdoor tables for two, but today Dave and I opted to sit inside to better absorb the atmosphere.  It serves breakfast, lunch, and every kind of non-alcoholic beverage you could desire, including organic hot chocolate, mango lassi, and house-made organic Italian soda. The common theme here is organic. And the coffee is all fair trade. Their takeout menu promises: “We source local organic growers and vendors who are committed to sustainably produce the food we eat.”

Cafeina counterThe décor is funky and shows character: colorful homemade signs grace the dessert display case, a faded surfer film poster hangs on the wall, little black plastic skeletons hang just beneath the doorway into the dining room area, and KALX is playing unapologetically over the sound system. I didn’t use the restroom, but Dave says there was nothing noteworthy except for a little sign on the toilet that read: “Slow flush. Hold handle. Signed, the next person using this bathroom.”

I started off with a latté, which was served in a tall, blue ceramic mug that felt nice in my hands. While we waited for our food, Dave pored over Dan Savage’s column in the East Bay Express, sharing fun bits with me. (I love Dan Savage!)Cafeina's chicken wrap

Dave described his lunch this way: “It’s what a BLT should be.” Even though it had mayo, I took a bite, and I have to admit it was great. The bacon seemed extra good to me. It came with chips and salsa on the side, and Dave commented that the salsa tasted as if it came from a jar. I completely agree, but it totally took me back to college, when we always had salsa from a jar. So it wasn’t the best salsa, but it tasted like familiarity and nostalgia.

Cafeina's BLTI got the chicken/goat cheese wrap, which had black beans, avocado, caramelized onions, and lots of lettuce. Of course it was delicious—it had caramelized onions, so how could it not be?—but it wasn’t terribly filling, despite the $10.50 price, which should be enough to sate one’s appetite at lunch. But that just meant I had plenty of room for dessert!

The baked goods all looked delicious, and there was quite a variety, including a chocolate chip cookie that had bacon in it! I was torn between the salty caramel brownie with walnuts and the chocolate bread pudding, but in the end, I went for the latter. The woman behind the counter, who looked vaguely like Selma Hayek with a tattoo, warmed it up for me. It was heavenly. (Insert your choice of yummy noises here.)

At one point I heard what I thought were police sirens coming from Solano Avenue, and I wasn’t the only one who was alarmed. One of the women behind the counter was trying to see what was happening outside before someone figured out it was the radio. The loud beeping noises turned out to be something KALX’s had deemed as “music.” KALX was having an especially eclectic day, having earlier played some goth-rock followed by the ’83 top-40 hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” by Bonnie Tyler. (No, I did not remember the artist—I had to look it up.) But even though I could not say I enjoyed KALX’s musical selections, the  unpredictability of UC Berkeley’s campus radio station seemed totally appropriate to Cafeina’s vibe.

I loved the Cafeina experience, and I shall go back soon. Maybe I can try that salted caramel brownie next time…

Literary Death Match does Oakland!



literary_death_matchLiterary Death Match is the brainchild of Adrian Todd Zuniga, who has hosted it now in 55 cities across the United States. I saw my first one at the Elbo Room in San Francisco last year as part of Litquake. This time it was at Oakland’s Shadow Ultra Lounge. Dave and I arrived about twenty minutes before the show was supposed to start, and there were no tables left on the main floor, so we wandered up to the more lounge-y area off to the side where there were at least some comfortable cushioned benches.

We’d already had cocktails at home with some friends, so Dave sipped water while I nursed a Corona. I’m sorry that I can’t report on the cocktails that were especially for this event, but the mango mimosa sounded good… 

Our charming host introduced the three judges, then brought out the first round of competitors, who were both young poets. The first one, Tim “Toaster” Henderson, recounted the saga of (Keen-wa?), who had the rude habit of cupping, then slapping women’s breasts. (Don’t worry, the offender was the recipient of some poetic justice.) The second contestant was Jaz Sufi, whose bio describes her as “a performance poet and amateur dogwalker.” Her poem was harder for me to hear because there was a table of folks who waited until she was performing to loudly rearrange their chairs to squeeze one more at their table. But I do know it started and ended with “Praise the white girl.” And there was a pumpkin spice latté and some Uggs in there somewhere…

The judges gave their critiques in completely different styles, using varied random criteria, which is all part of the fun. Activist/author Joshua Safran devised a “Lake Merrit” alluvial scale and measured performances in centimeters. He also handed out personalized awards that he partially created on the spot from his pockets. Sonya Renee Taylor, poet, activist, and founder of The Body Is Not an Apology, usually started with the contestants’ appearance and how they used their space. Karinda Dobbins, a local stand-up comedian, found characters or situations that she could relate to and then shared her personal connections with the crowd in a random, comic way. For instance, when a character was described as having big, hard teeth, that reminded her of her ex-girlfriend.

While our host shared fun literary (and not-so-literary) facts about authors, the judges huddled to make their decision. I did not know that Lord Byron carried on an indelicate affair with Caroline Lamb (wife of William Lamb, who would be England’s prime minister) in which she sent her lover a token of her affection by post—one of her own bloody pubic hairs.

Between the two rounds, there was some unfortunate noise that was intended to be musical entertainment, but I found it pretty painful.Mac Barnett

Round two featured one of my favorite children’s authors—Mac Barnett (who also happens to be an alum of my alma mater, though he graduated decades after I did). As a New York Times bestselling author, Mac was certainly the most commercially successful of those competing and, in my opinion, the most entertaining. He read aloud his hysterical children’s book Guess Again and invited audience participation. He is just a funny, charming guy!

His opponent was Oakland-based writer Nancy Davis Kho, whose blog Midlife Mixtape is “for the years between being hip and breaking one.” Her humorous essay purported to be parental advice. Both competitors gave terrific performances, but the judges went for Nancy’s account of teaching her daughter to drive that also involved her husband’s colonoscopy—a pair of comic elements that is hard to beat.winner!

The final round was less about the writers and more about just having fun, as it involved audience members drawing book titles Pictionary-style. All the books were written by Bay Area authors, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I only knew one out of four (Packing for Mars, by the lovely and hilarious Mary Roach). The big winner of the evening was Nancy Davis Kho. Although the real winners were the audience.

It was a fun Wednesday night. I hope Literary Death Match returns to the East Bay. Considering the great turnout, I imagine it will.

Nancy Davis Kho gives a great account of the evening from her standpoint on her blog at  (It’s also where I snagged this photo of her winning. Thanks, Nancy!)