I realize that I skipped a few days, but I’ve been traveling. I will make it up. But tonight I’m at a combination New Year’s Eve party and my sister-in-law’s renewal of her wedding vows with her husband of 25 years. I was at the first wedding, and I can hardly believe it’s been that long…
Well, my mile-long lunch journey has come to an end. I started at Jerusalem Organic Kitchen at the top of Solano in January, and I averaged one lunch per week for the entire year. It’s amazing that the math worked so perfectly, considering I didn’t count them all in advance. A few eateries closed in 2014 (Jodie’s, La Farine, and Sophia Cafe) and a few opened (Boss and Oori), but in the end, there were 52 places to eat lunch on Solano between the Alameda and San Pablo Avenue. I kept thinking that Montero’s (the former Mexican restaurant/salsa dancing place) might reopen before year’s end, but it didn’t.
I welcome the relatively new Troy for providing the only Greek food on Solano, but I sincerely mourn the departure of La Farine. I suppose life goes on…
My trek included disappointments, a few surprises, and many memorable lunch experiences that sometimes had nothing at all to do with the food. I am not going to put them in some sort of order, such as best to worst or cheapest to most expensive, but I do want to highlight a few and make some general observations.
Most represented among ethnic cuisines was Indian, and the range of style and quality was wide. From Khana Peena’s lackluster but economical buffet offerings to Ajanta’s fine dining to the new kid on the block, the eager-to-please Delhi Diner, Indian food is never more than a stone’s throw away from any spot on Solano Ave.
Merely because Kirin has the good reputation and is closer geographically to my house, it used to be my go-to Chinese place. But now that I’ve discovered the newly remodeled China Village, I probably won’t go to Kirin as often. And I may treat myself to Renee’s once in a while too.
My favorite overall everyday lunch spot is still Talavera, but that’s mostly due to my great fondness for Mexican food, the outdoor seating, and the fact that it’s a two-minute walk from my house.
There were several places that I’d never been to before where I want to return. (I want to take a group to Nomad and sit in the sunken area in back!) And there are definitely spots I have no interest in visiting again. (Sorry Café Valparaiso, King Tsin, Gordo’s, and Cape Cod!) Despite my usual lack of enthusiasm for Japanese cuisine, I enjoyed all three Japanese lunches.
This project reminded me of places I knew were good but had forgotten, such as the lovely Britt-Marie’s. It also got me to walk into places I otherwise never would have, such as Miyuki. (I still think they’d get more business if they repainted the outside and cleaned up their outdoor menu display.)
Longest lines? Gordo’s.
Funkiest authentic coffeehouse? Cafeina.
Best onion rings? Barney’s.
Most problematic bathroom sign? Jerusalem Organic Kitchen. (To be fair, it was probably temporary. I haven’t been back to check.)
Most interesting restaurant layout? Kim’s Café. It’s like two places in one!
Best place to take out-of-town vegan relatives? Nature’s Express.
I’m honestly relieved to be done with my lunching quest, but I’m definitely glad I did it. It got me out of my eating rut and introduced me to new eating spots that I’d passed by dozens of times without considering.
So it was a fun project. I learned a lot and I ate a lot. But I’m thinking that in order to offset the weight I gained from this year, my project for 2015 should involve some kind of exercise…
Okay, the holidays are a busy time. My daughter is home from college, there’s shopping, wrapping, decorating, and…let’s face it—I didn’t keep it up faithfully. So I’m going to make it all up now with a gallery of scarves to represent Days 23, 24, 25, 26 & 27. Plus, I’m so embarrassed—I realized that I wore the same scarf twice this month (days 6 & 22), so I’m posting a bonus scarf to ensure that by month’s end, I have indeed shared 31 scarves.
My daughter Kylie is modeling my brown scarf along with the brown sweater that she borrowed so often from me that I finally gave it to her.
My husband couldn’t wait for Christmas to give me this light-up scarf, so I got it a day early. (The lights no longer work on it, so now it’s just a lovely fluffy white scarf.)
This is a soft plain gray acrylic scarf, labeled “cashmink” that worked well with the white mock turtle, blue cords, red shirt, blue socks, and red shoes. I think it’s actually Dave’s scarf, but he never wore it, so I appropriated it…
Bonus: And this bright orange silk scarf has been worn many times over solid white or black tops for concerts. (The uniform for the singing group I’m sometimes in—the Berkeley Broadway Singers.)
Although Sugata is technically the eatery that is the furthest west on my tour, we reversed the order and finished up at Rendez-vous today. Because family was in town for the holidays, George was otherwise occupied, but Dave and I fulfilled our solemn duty to fit in our last lunch spot before year’s end. At the western end of Solano (1111), Rendez-vous is a casual French bistro with some outdoor seating and a theater menu for those who are trying to catch a show next door at the Albany Twin. They have a lunch/brunch menu and daily specials.
There is lots of décor to absorb while you’re waiting for your food, which is good because it does take quite a while to get served. When I searched out the restroom, I discovered that it’s a shared facility with at least one other business, with a common hallway entrance, which explained the high window from the dining room that had a view of a brick wall.
I had been to Rendez-vous a few times before, so I already know that I like their burgers, fries, onion soup, and their specialty of the house—daub. But today I ordered a steak sandwich and frites, so I will focus on those. Their French fries are very good. The steak was a bit fatty, and the meat to bread ratio was a bit on the skimpy side for my taste. The caramelized red onions were a nice touch.
Dave really enjoyed his ratatouille served on polenta, which of course is a more authentic French dish than my sandwich was. I liked it, but I thought the polenta was a tad lumpy. I stupidly forgot to take photos of our food before we ate it. I think we were so hungry by the time we got it that we gobbled it down before I remembered.
Our waitress didn’t ever come back to check on us, so I had to flag down the other waiter to bring me mustard and to refill my iced tea. The water was served European style, which is to say that it was not cold but at room temperature. Meh.
In the past I have greatly enjoyed my dining experiences at Rendez-vous, but I’d have to say that today was just above satisfactory. Maybe it’s just the post-Christmas blues and the fact that our waitress, though competent, was not particularly helpful or friendly. So I will return there, but I probably won’t order the steak sandwich again. (And I’ll probably try to be seated in the other waiter’s section…)
Stay tuned for my end-of-year round-up, in which I will feature highlights and low points of my year of lunching down Solano.
This is my annual holiday poem.
On 12/23 we filled bags with sand
And dropped in some candles we had on hand
As sunset approached we lit them all up
Dave made spiced cider—we all drank a cup
The flickering light put off a soft glow
A few caught on fire—which made quite a show
Old and new neighbors chatted together
Outside in the mild, warm Berkeley weather
On Christmas Eve, we ate vegan cheese
And Dave turned all of our napkins to trees!
We drank Ritz cocktails and had some mulled wine
And then the five of us sat down to dine
We ate spinach salad, we ate mushroom crepes,
We drank champagne made from fermented grapes
Almond asparagus, carrots, and rolls
Food for our stomachs and wine for our souls
Julie brought dough, which we were all lovin’
We got to eat cookies straight out of the oven
Then Rachel arrived, and we’re so glad she came
We played Loaded Questions, our favorite game
Amanda stopped by while we sang ancient songs
But she’s not a singer and did not stay long
The kitchen was messy, but we went to bed
While visions of dishwashers danced in our heads
On Christmas morn we had waffles and fruit
Then opened our stockings to see all our loot
Santa had left lots of chocolate and liquors,
Artisan paper and all kinds of stickers
Then we moved on to the gifts ‘neath the tree
Where a black leather backpack was waiting for me
Dave got some books and some bicycle gear
Kylie now has enough socks for a year
Cartwheel got a toy, and Rufus got bones
And everyone got mini-chargers for phones
We were too hungry to wait for our suppers
So we ate some Chinese food as picker-uppers
Then we all went for a walk with Rufus at P.I.
The air was warm and there was not a cloud up in the sky.
Dave began sautéing leeks to make his famed soufflé
To take to dinner in Marin at Chez CCGK
That’s Caroline, and Christopher, and little Ginger pup
And Kai is there, though just part-time because he’s growing up
Everyone is happy, and look—Aida’s here!
And it’s good to see Carina whom we hold so dear.
Asparagus and Yorkshire pudding—mmm, I couldn’t wait!
The homemade eggnog, leek soufflé, and roasted lamb were great.
Candy, cookies, and ice cream made our tummies merry
And Christmas ended with a rousing round of Pictionary
What can I say? It’s a busy season. So I’m doing a two-fer here. I did wear a scarf yesterday but didn’t post it. So today I’m doing a double post. Same outfit with two different colored green scarves.
I’d never before entered Sugata (1105 Solano Ave.), the family-owned Albany restaurant near San Pablo Avenue, probably because I’m not big on Japanese food in general. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself there today. My group was bigger than usual. George’s son Keith is home for the holidays, so he joined us. And our friend Peter came along as well.
Having five in our party meant that we were able to dine in the private dining area that is surrounded by shoji, those sliding doors one finds in Japanese homes. Dave made the point that the delicate little opaque rice paper windows in shoji were too tempting for him as a toddler in Tokyo, and he often gave into the impulse to poke through them with his fingers. They do seem to invite that.
I really liked our waitress, who was attentive without hovering. (And her complimenting my socks was a nice touch.) I also felt sorry for her because we sat on cushions just above floor level with our feet in the well beneath the table; so for her to serve us, she had to bend way over to put our dishes in front of us. I would think that would be hard on one’s back.
She brought us a pitcher of hot tea right away and wasn’t at all annoyed when our party took a long time to figure out what to order. (Okay, really it was just Dave who had difficulty deciding.) And she was also very nice about taking our picture.
I ordered the chicken teriyaki bento, which was a lunch portion size and just right. It came with miso soup, a small cucumber salad, rice, a side of cabbage salad, and an orange slice in its own little compartment. Dave, Peter, and Keith got udon, which did look like a perfect choice for a rainy day. George had a beautifully designed combo plate of tempura and sashimi. Dave ordered a plate of sushi for the table. (Except for me, because I don’t do sushi. I’ve never acquired a taste for seaweed and raw fish, and I see no reason to cultivate one now.)
Comments on the food ranged from George’s appreciation for the fresh ginger to praise for the crispy tempura to Dave’s admission that the udon was a little “boring.” Peter thought that maybe because the vegetables were cut into such big chunks that they didn’t have much of a chance to absorb the flavor of the broth. I thought it was interesting that each bowl of udon was served with its own bottle of chili pepper so that diners could spice it to their own taste. My chicken was good. It all seemed like high quality food.
My favorite quote of the day came from Peter, who proclaimed, “When I bite into ginger, it makes my TMJ tingle.”*
Having our own little room made it seem more like a party, and we had some lively conversation. And when it comes right down to it, that’s the best part of going out to lunch with friends anyway.
*TMJ = temporomandibular joint