Danh’s Garden – Vietnamese pub foods

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Pub foods for Vietnamese are pretty diverse (**). The menu at Danh’s Garden in San Jose is basically a book, plus some handwritten ones on the wall. I single-handedly narrowed down our choices by a page when I refused anything goat or lamb (I often wonder why my friends can be so kind and still go to eat with this oddball). We picked 5 dishes at first, thinking it should be enough for a party of 5 – Vietnamese pub foods are no tapas or izakaya, things are not served in dainty palm-sized saucers, they’re entree-portion. With them come a plethora of dipping sauces and salt-and-pepper mix for who knows what. Honestly I don’t think we even used all of those sauces. The food were plenty seasoned already. Mực dồn chạo tôm – squid stuffed with shrimp paste. Light on the seasoning. Rating: 8/10. (It’s tasty and I can’t think of any flaw, but will I crave it? Probably not.) [...]

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Pretty Good Number One bucket list

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Go to Tokyo. Visit the Odaiba Takoyaki Museum. Practise using chopsticks correctly and buy a (few) pairs at Kappabashi. Eat shave ice and watch fireworks (and people) on the Sumida river bank in July. Eat pan-fried soup dumplings in a neighborhood dumpling restaurant in Nakano. Eat “hone” (pronounced |hoh-nay|, meaning: deep-fried sea eel backbone). Stop eating eel because they’re in the red on the Seafood Watch list. Thanks to Matthew Amster-Burton’s book, I’ve had the first 7 items on my bucket list figured out (it’s a bucket list, not a to-do list because of the stop-eating-eel thing). I can’t wait to do them (except the stop-eating-eel thing). If a few months ago I was complacent with imaginatively traveling through books, Pretty Good Number One throws one delicious, chuckle-inducing paragraph after another to my face and say “go to Tokyo, you lazy donkey”. Just about the most expensive place to visit in the world, thanks, Mr. Amster-Burton. Except for the part where he describes Chinese green tea as having “a hint of smoky barbecue” and how red bean paste is an acquired taste for Westerners (because beans are supposed to show up in savory [...]

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Two scientists take on all Indian restaurants in Berkeley

Hull and Surendranath examine the inscription on a spoon at Bombay Cuisine.

Hull and Surendranath examine the inscription on a spoon at Bombay Cuisine. What do grad students do? Some of us write, some of us teach, most of us don’t sleep, all of us eat. For Astronomy PhD student Chat Hull and his friend Yogesh Surendranath, a Chemistry postdoctoral fellow, eating at every single Indian restaurant in Berkeley and writing about it is high on the priority list. Berkeley has no shortage of Indian restaurants for the duo to review. “We stay within the city limit”, said Surendranath. Their blog, Masala Chaat, has been regularly updated for roughly a year. When I meet them in the office, they seem like the normal physicists: friendly, calm and full of physics. When I joined them in a trip to Bombay Cuisine, the restaurant-reviewing mode was turned on full-force. The inner comedians were revealed. [...]

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Andy Warhol, kokeshi dolls, and oden

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In Europe the royalty and the aristocracy used to eat a lot better than the peasants – they weren’t eating the same things at all. It was either partridge or porridge, and each class stuck to its own food. But when Queen Elizabeth came here and President Eisenhower bought her a hot dog I’m sure he felt confident that she couldn’t have had delivered to Buckingham Palace a better hot dog than that one he bought for her for maybe twenty cents at the ballpark. Because there is no better hot dog than a ballpark hot dog. Not for a dollar, not for ten dollars, not for a hundred thousand dollars could she get a better hot dog. She could get one for twenty cents and so could anybody else. – Andy Warhol Why is that ballpark hot dog the best hot dog? Because the ballpark hot dog seller sells nothing but hot dogs. You can’t beat someone who does it day in and day out, a thousand times and another thousand times more often than you. [...]

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Duck for Thanksgiving! (Stealing ideas from Double Duck Dinner at Bay Wolf)

Today. Big glistening birds. Crimson cranberry sauce. Mashed sweet potato with a crusty marshmallow top. Green bean casseroles. Gravies. The all-American classic holiday dinner table that every grocery store has a picture of on their website. Once upon a time I was enticed by such beauty, much like how I engulfed a chunk of ham the first time I saw real ham after years of seeing ham in old American cartoons (Tom and Jerry I think?). To be fair, save for the turkey, I do like the marshmallow sweet potato, the green bean casserole, and sometimes the stuffing if the gravies’ done right. But the turkey… I don’t get it. In a bird, the best part is the brown meat: legs, thighs, wings, that’s all. (Ah yes, I love the offals too, but today I’ll speak from the American perspective for a change.) Yet, the turkey leg is a monstrosity of toughness that my weak 20-some-year-old bone-gnawing cartilage-grinding gizzard-and-heart-loving teeth have trouble handling. Were all the turkeys I sunk into Olympic weightlifters or something? Well they have to lift their 30lb+ body every minute anyway, so no wonder. Conclusion: I don’t like turkey(*). I like duck. [...]

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Summer Festival in Concord

Clockwise from top left: Master Hideko Metaxas (in blue) and two assistants arranging an example of Rikka Shofutai; a free-style arrangement in honor of the victims and the philanthropists in the Tohoku Tsunami 2011; an Ikenobo sensei arranging a free-style display; Shoka (left) versus Rikka (right) Learn something new everyday. At the Japanese American Summer Festival in Concord this year, I absorbed an hour of Ikenobo ikebana art, which is really, really, really rudimentary, but at least now I know that the Rikka style involves nine elements, and the Shoka style three elements (heaven, earth and man). That day was also the first I’ve heard of the “Three Friends of Winter” sho chiku bai (pine, bamboo and plum), and this astonished me because 1. I’d never encountered any old Chinese things that my mom hasn’t told me about, and 2. it involves plum blossom, which is my name. There’s no way I wouldn’t know that my name is part of a trio that appears in Asian arts and folklores at lunar new year time. My memories must have been failing. Anyhow, Nancy made a beautiful onigiri box that [...]

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The Duck Restaurant in Piedmont

Ever since the steamed duck at Shanghai Dumpling King, I’ve been haunted by the juiciness of a duck done right. When my friend Kristen and I walked down Piedmont looking for dinner, we passed several doors but like shopping for clothes, as Kristen pointed out, none “jumped out” to us. There was one sign that we read “Pork Avenue” and crossed the street all excited for, but it was “Park Avenue“. On the way was also the curiously crowded Fenton Creamery, to me their selections aren’t that interesting. When the street started to look devoid of both restaurants and humans and hope had dwindled from a tteok in tteok bokki to a strand of angel hair, we found Bay Wolf. The duck liver flan and roasted duck with polenta sold us. Bay Wolf specializes in duck. Their menu changes weekly but they always have two duck dishes, one appetizer and one entree. Both sing. Even the polenta was good, must be that honey-lavender gastrique that we had to wipe clean with bread after we ate the duck leg [...]

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Miso Omakase at Nojo

Is it miso season? (Miso has a season?) Berkeley Bowl puts out about 10 different kinds of miso in their “international” aisle, and Nojo advertises a seasonal 5-course miso omakase menu on Black Board Eats. Usually the Black Board Eats emails go straight into the trash, which I kinda feel bad about because I signed up for their newsletter after all, but thank goodness I did read it that morning. That night I got the code, called my friend, and we went to Nojo. We were seated at the counter, but not the one facing the chefs, that would have been nice, this was a small counter facing the wall near the door. The wall looks pretty cool but we felt kinda weird at first, what with the other customers crowding the tables and here the three of us facing a wall next to a middle-aged man. We felt outcast. But Nojo doesn’t take reservation for party under 6, only a phone call an hour before you arrive to put your name on the waiting list, guess I should have called more than an hour earlier, what was I thinking following the rules? [...]

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FIVE and a Flavor Giveaway

Dressed in black and white patterns from walls to chairs, FIVE spots a slightly older, more refined atmosphere for casual hotel dining just above the Berkeley BART station. I meant to go here after someone said that he finally understood the rave behind “chicken and waffle” after he had it during FIVE’s After Hour Happy Hour. If that dry white meat and cake-like bread at FIVE was that good, then surely the other things wouldn’t disappoint. Now nothing on the regular dinner menu costs 5 bucks like the Happy Hour (7-9 pm) nosh, but I got hungry before 7 pm, so I dashed in on what seemed to be a busy night. The hotel is hosting some conference. Nobody wanted to eat with me today, but one beauty of going alone is that you can always get a table. That said, if you have a party of 4 or less and would like to raid FIVE, which you should, I have a FIVE Vip Card “valid for a 20% discount in FIVE” to give you. Here’s how to get it: Leave me a comment below by midnight March 31, and if [...]

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The night before Christmas at Kata Robata

Last night I was reading this manga, Oishii Kankei (“Delicious Relationship”), and two things there reminded me of my family: a family of three who love to eat out and explore new restaurants, and the girl who can’t cook (but she has a better sense of taste than me, it’s a story after all ;-)). I also got reminded of a ton of Japanese food, although the main plot revolves around French cuisine and a fictional restaurant in Tokyo called Petit Lapin (“Little Rabbit”). I’ve been in the mood for something comforting, and Little Mom wants to have some Japanese food that isn’t sushi, so we decided on Kata Robata for our Christmas Eve. Actually Oanh recommended this place to me just before my flight to Houston, and I trust her when it comes to the Land of the Rising Sun. My dad’s opinion today? He had to come whether he wanted to or not. That’s Beauty #27 of a family of three: odd number makes decisions come easy. Thank goodness, he liked it here. Or should I say, he *loved* the kakuni don. The rice, wet [...]

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