Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bay Area Eats

There are lots of ways to talk about travel: topography, ethnography, climate, flora & fauna. This is the John Mandeville approach, tho it appears he made most things up—however, that didn’t seem to present too many problems to the 14th century reading audience. Then, too, you can talk about the transformative aspects of being on the road & going to other places, both familiar & unfamiliar—the Kerouac approach to road trip tales. In my own case, I could talk lyrically or sentimentally or humorously about the Sunday night show at Café Du Nord in Baghdad by the Bay, which featured all sorts of musician folks from the wonderful 90s—like Joel Murach ex of Paddlefoot & Ray Halliday aka Earl Butter of the Buckets & gee-tar wizard Bernie Jungle of Warm Wires & Todd Costanza songwriter supreme of Granfaloon Bus & Virgil Shaw singer & guitarist ex of Dieslhead & other folks I’d mention except I don’t know or recall their names, but who included Jeff & Rachel Stevenson the grilled cheese makers from the Hemlock Tavern’s “Smallest Show in Town,” & also a very nice bass player & singer respectively.

& they’re also the folks who hire my best pal Dani Leone as a nanny, which is kind of important to the story, because one enormous aspect of travel when you live in Indian Valley is food (as I’ve said before & will again). Because if I’m writing about food on my recent trip to the Bay Area, I’ve gotta start at the beginning, which was homemade jambalaya chez Dani in her cottage amongst the redwoods; & Bernie Jungle was there, too, along with his dying Toyota van—which was later towed all the way back to Oakland courtesy of AAA plus. But Dani’s jambalaya was superb—she’d perfected the techniques just the day before at her nanny gig—fluffy rice, savory sausage & chicken, & spices to wake up the old taste buds even after a 13-hour drive.

But if you’re traveling to the Bay Area, & specifically deepest, darkest Sonoma County, you may not get invited to eat chez Dani—which is your loss, but we’ve gotta be realistic here. However, if you’re anywhere within shouting distance of Occidental, CA—a charming ex-railroad town amongst the redwoods & along the aptly named Bohemian Highway (once settled by Italian immigrants, now settled by hippies), & if it’s any time near either breakfast or lunch, you have to go to Howard’s.

Howard’s is one of the superior breakfast spots I’ve encountered in a lifetime spent seeking out same. Large savory omelets—fresh squeezed OJ—biscuits—home fries—waffles—& lots of other stuff, tho why you’d need to venture further the omelets is beyond me. The beauty pictured below is a Cajun Omelet, with spicy sausage & jalapenos & lots of delectable things; & check out those biscuits & home fries off to the side! Howard’s was named for “Dutch Bill” Howard, a 19th century settler who finagled a lifetime free pass on the North Pacific Coast Railroad by ceding a right-of-way. Actually, “Dutch Bill” Howard wasn’t Dutch, but German, & his name wasn’t Howard—he was a sailor who’d jumped ship in San Francisco back in the gold rush days & who then sailed a stolen boat up the coast till he came to the site of Occidental—where he stayed put.
So anyhoo, Dani was re-furnishing her cottage during my visit, & I had the pleasure of accompanying her on a major thrift store outing in search of rocking chairs (we did find them—including a lovely antique folding rocker!) This is hungry work, so we had no choice but to adjourn to Pho Vietnam in Santa Rosa.

When you live in Indian Valley, ID, it’s quite possible to spend hours daydreaming about the kind of Vietnamese food you can find in the Bay Area. & tho Pho Vietnam is improbably located in a strip mall (Stony Point Plaza), the food is definitely not strip mall quality (actually, strip mall restaurants get a bad rap—two of our favorite Boise restaurants are Madhuban Indian Cuisine & the Mongolian BBQ, both in Northgate Plaza). That’s Dani in the pic up top attending to some extremely savory eye round steak Pho; yours truly got the delicious BBQ pork dish you see pictured below.
We’ll skip over the tasty spaghetti & meatball Sunday dinner chez Earl Butter—with combo pork & beef meatballs prepared by Dani & a killer diller tomato sauce whipped up by Mr Butter himself—who knew what Earl could do when you got him away from his Telecaster? But Dani & I were starving when we rolled out of Café Du Nord on Sunday evening, & we rolled into New Chinatown—aka Inner Richmond—looking for any kind of car food we could nosh during the long drive back to redwood country. Fortunately for us, there was no shortage of options even at that late evening hour, & we pushed past a trio of slightly tipsy & very mildly rowdy guitar-toting youngsters on the sidewalk into Lee Hou Restaurant on 332 Clement Street.
Lee Hou has a sort of dour atmosphere, despite the lime green walls & the paintings of dolphins & a large screen TV showing a Chinese language adventure show. The waiter looked vaguely gangsterish (in an old school way) with his rumpled gray suit & kinda shifty gaze. But the food (chicken wings & lamb stick) really hit the spot, especially the former, served on a bed of cabbage & jalapenos & breaded & perfectly spiced & cooked to order. The lamb stick (which is just what it sounds like—lamb on a long skewer) took a bit of acclimation, especially after the wings, but once you switched gustatory gears they were also delightful.

tal is in the redwoods, but just a short winding drive up a steep hillside brings you to Bodega Bay—& that necessitates some form of seafood. On Monday, under gray skies filled with pelicans, Dani & I made our way to Spud Point Crab Co. They were sold out of crab cakes, but fortunately it wasn’t that long ago I’d gotten a fix at Cannon Beach’s Cranky Sue’s; & anyway, they really talk up their clam chowder (which Dani’s taking for a test drive in the pic below), & there’s good reason for them to do so—it’s creamy & tasty. If one were to quibble, one might say that the Styrofoam cup is a bit small for $6.95, but hey—this is really good clam chowder, & part of the quibble’s related to that fact.

Anyhoot, when I hit the road in the gray morning twilight Tuesday morning, I had a whole bunch of Bay Area eats to dream about until my next road trip down to those parts.

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