Friday, February 27, 2015

Trip to the Left Coast

Monday, February 23, 2015
Since I am on vacation, I am allowed to waive the by-law provisions limiting my restaurant reporting to weekdays in Chinatown New York at lunchtime.  Saturday, as we were strolling down one of Oakland's main shopping streets, we were lured into Fenton's Creamery, 4426 Piedmont Avenue, a location that it has inhabited since 1960, succeeding its original site that had been operating  as an ice cream parlor since 1922.  It was a warm afternoon, and a line waited to get scooped.  A large restaurant area was also full, although I'm informed that the sandwiches, burgers and salads, unlike the ice cream, are ordinary.  One very generous scoop is $4.25, so I had two, Dutch chocolate chip and cream caramel almond crunch, very similar to Baskin-Robbins' immortal pralines and cream.  Both flavors were excellent, true to their names.  This afternoon delight occurred around 3:30 PM, so the fine dinner, at Wood Tavern, 6317 College Avenue, Oakland, at 7:45 PM, featuring pan roasted maple leaf duck breast, was not impinged upon.

Sunday began with a wonderful home-cooked brunch prepared by the Oakland Heartthrob.  We then drove into San Francisco to visit Gump's, that fabulous department store entirely filled with merchandise that nobody needs, but too beautiful to be ignored.  Accordingly, we purchased a lovely mirror as a housewarming gift for our favorite young couple. 

After strolling through North Beach and Chinatown, we four headed to R & G Lounge, 631 Kearney Street, for an early dinner.  R & G is arrayed on three floors, so I can't tell how large it is, but it is decidedly popular, and, in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebrations, it was very busy with many Chinese families.  We ordered salmon avocado egg rolls ($6.50), vegetable egg rolls ($5.50), roasted squab ($20, not the $16 listed on the menu, for some reason that I could not entirely discern), mu shu vegetables ($15), R & G special beef ($18), honey spareribs ($15), and seafood fried rice ($8.50).  On the whole, it was a good meal, but far from making the top of the Chinese food list.  The spareribs were appropriately sweet, but they were really pork chops cut into small pieces leaving the bone in.  The special beef in "chef's special sauce" was also on the sweet side, when we were expecting spicy.  The vegetable egg rolls were crispy, but bland, while the salmon avocado egg rolls were delicious.  The squab seemed to have been cooked a few days too early, and the presence of its head was not an entirely welcome sight.  Before dismissing R & G, I would have to sample more of its menu, but, so far, my loyalty to Wo Hop and its Mott Street brethren is secure.  

Today, we moved up to Napa Valley for a few days of exurban pleasure. Our first dinner was at Tra Vigne, 1050 Charter Oak Avenue, St. Helena, a restaurant we have visited before.  It is housed in a big square room, with very high ceilings, containing about two dozen tables and booths, comfortably arrayed.  A pizza oven is on the far wall opposite the entrance, and a large bar sits along the right hand side of the restaurant, with five shelves running 18 feet behind it.  The shelves are packed with wines, liquors, liqueurs, cordials, apértifs, and almost any imaginable potable except Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic.  

TV's menu is fairly simple Italian, but with extra care seemingly given to each dish that we tried.  My young bride had to be restrained from licking the bowl after finishing most of her roasted butternut squash soup.  I had maltagliati verde ($16), a wonderful creation that was previously unknown to me.  It is a herb-infused pasta, best described as a green chow fun.  It was sauced with shredded braised lamb (or maybe braised shredded lamb).  The house red, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Markham Winery, was a great pairing with my pasta.  Did I say that we liked TV?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
America's Loveliest Nephrologist and the Oakland Heartthrob drove up to join us for dinner at Archetype, 1429 Main Street, St. Helena, a large white space, that served very good food.  However, the conviviality left the strongest memories.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
We visited the California branch of the Culinary Institute of America, housed in a 19th Century castle that was actually built as a winery.  The local operation is only a fraction of the mother ship in Poughkeepsie, New York, although it contains a collection of thousands of corkscrews unmatched anywhere in the world.  We took a tour of the facility, peeking in on classes and cooking sessions.  While we did not eat lunch at the CIA café, I bought a mudslide cookie that may serve as a model for all time.

Dinner at Redd, 6480 Washington Street, Yountville, also achieved legendary status.  Owned and operated by Richard Reddington, not my dear colleague Alfred Redd, the medium-sized dining room is sparsely decorated, evoking a vaguely Asian mood.  The food adheres to no particular cuisine, but was genuinely superb.  We both ordered two small plates rather than a main course.  My favorite dining companion had rutabaga soup ($13), no doubt for the first time, and yellow fish tuna tartare ($15), with Asian pear, avocado, chili oil, fried rice and cilantro (according to the menu), that she pronounced fabulous.  I had a carefully prepared crispy chicken thigh ($14) following a superb risotto with lobster ($16).  

One commendable characteristic of all three fine Napa restaurants was free seltzer throughout the meal.  That's civilization.

Thursday, February 26, 2015
We moved down to a hotel just outside the San Francisco airport to reduce the prospect of my fouling up our departure on Friday.  After dropping off our bags, we took BART into the city to see the Asian Art Museum, housing a splendid collection in a splendidly repurposed building.  The project was designed by Gae Aulenti, the Italian architect who also created the Musée d'Orsay, another successful repurposing of a classic structure.  We took a guided tour in order to get an introduction to the enormous collection of art and artifacts from a very large portion of the world. 

We ate lunch at the museum’s café, but of course.  I had their banh mi, the signature Vietnamese sandwich.  The contents were excellent, but the bread was wrong.  A banh mi is properly served on a warm baguette, the crispness of the crust adding interest to the meat, vegetables and dressing it surrounds.  The museum’s bread was closer to a ciabatta, somewhat spongy.  A more significant negative concerning the museum, to my mind, was the role of Avery Brundage, world-class anti-Semite, in collecting many of the pieces, thus putting his name on frequent display.

After returning by BART to pick up our rented car, we were faced with the mystery of figuring out how to pay for the several hours parking in the adjoining garage.  No tickets, no barriers, no collectors appeared to collect the $2 rumored to be the going rate.

Friday, February 27, 2015 
We landed at JFK with the temperature at 22˚, a little better than when we departed.  However, this served to highlight the odd behavior of many people in the Bay Area when they learned that we were visiting.  Day time temperatures in and around San Francisco were in the 60s; it reached the low 70s in the Napa Valley.  Yet, rental car people, hotel people, restaurant people all apologized for how cold it was as they pulled their sweaters closer to their frigid frames.  Were they nuts?

Finally, I got a reminder of the cold, dark reality of American life that has substantially swallowed the Republican party when I read about the suicide of the Missouri state auditor, who was expected to contest for the Republican nomination for governor.  It seems that he had a Jewish grandfather and he believed that his opponents were going to mount an anti-Semitic whisper campaign against him among the state’s many evangelical Christians, although he was a practicing Episcopalian.  Silly me, I thought those folks read the Bible.


  1. I adore Tra Vigne and have Michael Chiarello's cookbook "Seasons" which is based on the menu. You have inspired me to pull it off the shelf. Now what's for dinner?

  2. I adore Tra Vigne and have Michael Chiarello's cookbook "Seasons" which is based on the menu. You have inspired me to pull it off the shelf. Now what's for dinner?