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Feb. 24th, 2011

Restaurant Review: North Bay

Noodle Bowl 

817 Russell Ave
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 843-5256

Noodle Bowl is tucked away at the back of a little strip mall off Russell Ave, an obscure practically invisible location that has defeated a number of prior tenants. The friendly family that own the place have obviously invested a lot of time and money in this small space, turning a rather lackluster dining area into something more upscale. As you might guess from their name, they offer the standard selection of pho noodles, but also a nice range of Vietnamese Thai and Cambodian cuisine, as well as very tasty Vietnamese sandwiches for only $3. I had a sandwich with grilled chicken this afternoon, and was amazed by the taste and the amount of meat included - easily the best three dollar lunch item in town. After a few more visits to Noodle Bowl I might have to revise my opinion, but I honestly doubt it. Based on my experience today I think the quality will be maintained, and this restaurant will be a permanent fixture in north Santa Rosa. I look forward to being a regular here for years to come. If you're into Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, or looking for a great lunch under $5.00, look no further. This is worth the trip from any part of town.

Nov. 12th, 2007

Travel Review: A Day With Famous Fat Dave

Famous Fat Dave 

It was my family's first trip to the Big Apple, and my first opportunity to play tourist in NYC, so everything had to be 
perfect. In seven days I was going to do all the things I'd been dreaming about: The museums, the Met,
Carnegie Hall, Broadway, an affair with Salma Hayek. Well, four out of five is not bad.  But most important of all, I was going to eat my way across the five boroughs, trying all the great foods you can't get in California. One thing for sure: I wasn't going to cover all that territory in just one week riding the subway. I needed help. I needed Famous Fat Dave. I don't remember how I learned of Dave Freedenberg and his eating tours of New York. I may have stumbled onto his website one night while researching New York nightlife, or I may have seen the issue of People where he was selected as one of the sexiest men in America. At any rate I found him, and thank goodness I did, because our 
five hours with Dave was the highlight of our New York vacation. Dave has a very simple and straightforward
business model. For a hundred clams per hour (with a four hour minimum) he drives you around Manhattan,
Brooklyn and/or the Bronx, and takes you to all manner of wonderful eating establishments, places where the 
food is delicious, plentiful and C H E A P. My kind of tour. While he enjoys taking people to some of the famous
New York eateries, like Katz's Deli, he really specializes in helping you discover the out-of-the-way little places 
that help make this a Real New York Experience. He picked us up at our hotel on a Friday morning, and the 
noshing began even before we pulled away from the curb. He handed me a small parcel wrapped in butcher 
paper and said "Here's your appetizer". It turned out to be a tasty hunk of gouda from Murray's Cheese Shop.
By the time we had passed that around we had arrived at our first stop "H & H Bagel", right up the street from 
our hotel on Broadway. I guess some people say that H & H bagels are not the genuine article. I don't know 
if they're authentic or not, but they're damn good, especially when they're still piping hot. There may be a better
bagel out there somewhere but if there is, I promise you it's not in California. From there we moved on to our 
first orgasmic experience of the day: Tres leches doughnuts at The Donut Plant. I'm not a doughnut fanatic,
I buy them for my staff at work because they insist it's my responsibility, but beyond that I want nothing to do with
those little artery-clogging rings of fat. But The Donut Plant's tres leches doughnut is a small miracle, a delicious treat that elevates the doughnut into the realm of the gourmet. I casually asked the owner how he goes about 
making these delectable products, and he casually pointed to the door and made a suggestion involving a doughnut and a member of my immediate family. On that note we piled back into Dave's Wayback Machine and cruised over to Chinatown, for sesame pancakes with beef at The Dumpling House on Eldridge. This was something I'd been looking forward to for many moons, and it was worth the wait. This item is essentially a thin beef sandwich, but no description can possibly convey the overwhelming rapture you experience with your first bite of this freshly
made masterpiece. And once again, this is one of those things you CAN'T FIND IN CALIFORNIA. For Pete's sake, we have the highest crime rate, the highest gas prices, the highest state taxes, the worst roads, the worst schools, at least let us have some sesame pancakes!! Well, back to the tour. It was time for a bit of old New York, a landmark that has stood proudly in the Lower East Side for over a century,  yes of course I'm talking about Regis Philbin. No I'm not. I'm talking KATZ'S Deli. The REAL Katz's!! A REAL NEW YORK DELI!! Now I was in heaven. This makes it all worthwhile, I thought, the 8-hour flight, changing planes in Denver,going through security and having to take our shoes off, my son asking me fifteen times why do we have to take our shoes off, the old lady in line ahead of us who refused to take her shoes off, it all seems forgettable now as that first bite of pastrami begins to caress my taste buds. Katz's is everything a deli should be, it's the best deli in New York, and it's closing soon to make way for high-rise apartments. My guess is it will re-open somewhere in a new location and it'll be just as good. But if you're coming to New York anytime soon make the pilgrimage to the original classic Katz's, the Carnegie Hall of Delis. After one of these sandwiches we definitely 
needed something cold and frosty, but since Leona Helmsley had just passed away a few weeks earlier, we had 
to settle for orange drinks at the Reben Luncheonette in Brooklyn. The drink was called "Morir Sonando" which sounds like the opening act for Ricky Martin but actually means "to die in a dream". It was a drink to die for, no question, a simple concoction of milk, sugar and orange juice that reminded me of Orange Julius, back when 
Orange Julius was actually good. At this point Dave was getting a little frustrated with my kids. My teenage daughter is a strict vegetarian, and my son only eats pizza, so he was struggling to maintain their interest in the tour. He finally suggested a trip out to the original Nathan's at Coney Island, and we immediately agreed. If you've only experienced Nathan's products at the local grocery, you haven't had a real Nathan's hot dog. What you get out there in Coney Island is the real thing, without a doubt one of the best hot dogs you'll ever eat. It was interesting to see all that's left of the boardwalk --obviously Coney Island will soon be only a memory. Enjoy it while you can. When we left Coney Island both my kids began to chant from the back seat "We want pizza. We want pizza. We want PIZZA!" Dave & I tried to ignore them but to no avail. We went first to L & B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst, a great neighborhood joint straight out of a Scorsese movie, which serves thick square Sicilian slices and delicious spumoni, then to a classic New York pizzeria, Patsy's in East Harlem, for Real New York Pizza. As my daughter would say OMG. Good stuff. Now my kids were happy. We could safely slip into the Bronx and visit New York's REAL Little Italy, Arthur Ave. I could have spent a whole day in this neighborhood alone, enjoying the overwhelming array of Italian delicacies. We had fresh raw clams at Randazzo's, prosciutto and mozzarella from the Arthur Ave Retail Market, and finished the tour with hand-piped cannolis from Madonia Brothers Bakery. Abundanza! What a day. All I can say if you want a real New York Experience, the ability to sample as many different varieties of food in as many neighborhoods as possible in the shortest possible time, there is only choice: Famous Fat Dave. Dave will give you a day to remember, whether you're a first-time visitor or you've been to NYC a thousand times. He is a genuine New York cab driver, but he's also a genuinely nice guy. You would enjoy his company even if you were driving around Billings, Montana instead of New York.  He talks to you as a friend, not like a tour guide talking to a group of tourists. I can't recommend this tour too highly. As I said it was the highlight of our trip, and it will be for you too.          

Sep. 20th, 2007

Restaurant Review: East Bay

Genova Delicatessen
5095 Telegraph Ave 
Oakland CA 94609
(510) 652-7401
Mon-Sat 8:00am-7:00pm
Sun 8:00am-6:00pm 

There's nothing on earth like the aroma of a Real Italian Deli. The meats, the cheeses, the peppers, the coffee, 
even the Brylcreem on the guy behind the counter, it all blends together to make your mouth water and your brain
flash back to the old days. When I was a kid walking into the deli with Mom meant WE GONNA EAT GOOD TONIGHT.
It meant ravioli or lasagne, fresh sourdough bread, tiramisu or spumoni for dessert. Although Genova is now 
located in a modern strip mall, it is the Real Deal. Everything they sell is top quality and authentic. The prosciutto 
must be one of their specialties. If you love that stuff as much as I do, this is the place to get it. The salads are 
fresh and delicious. There is so much to enjoy here it's impossible to single out just a few. There are plenty of 
places to buy deli meats and the like, but the number of Real Italian Delis is dwindling. If you have kids bring 'em 
here so they can experience the joy of being surrounded by all these wonderful sights and smells. Worth the drive 
from anywhere in the East Bay. My highest rating: Cinque stella!
Rating: ***** 

Sep. 18th, 2007

Music Review: New Pornographers

New Pornographers
Warfield Theater
San Francisco CA 
September 17, 2007

At one point during the NP's smoking show at the Warfield last night, AC Newman made a passing reference to the 
Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, saying "it's all f---ing BS". My response to that was "Yeah, but someday 
you'll BE there." After four outstanding cd's with the group and one excellent solo album, he's well on his way 
to rock's Pantheon. I can't think of another artist today cranking out such consistently great records. Every song is a
solid well-crafted piece of work, and on stage the band plays the hell out of that material, creating a sound that rivals
the early Who or Velvets. Last night the group literally exploded with energy, blasting out one pop masterpiece after
another. Although not sold out the theater was packed with fans, and they got their money's worth. Opening the show was NP's guitarist Todd Fancey with his group, running through about ten passable tunes, and Matador recording artists Lavender Diamond. I hadn't heard them before this concert but I bought their cd at the show and I'll be playing it alot in the days to come. Their vocalist Becky sings (and looks) like an angel, and some of their songs are outstanding. If you haven't heard them go to http://lavenderdiamond.com and learn more. 

Sep. 16th, 2007

Special Event: Glendi Food Fair

Glendi Ethnic Food Fair 
Saint Seraphim Orthodox Church
90 Mountain View Ave 
Santa Rosa CA 95407 
September 15-16 2007

When this festival began back in the 80's it was a small scale event, a few tiny food and craft booths, and maybe
two or three hundred attendees. Over the years it has grown into a major festival, offering a wide array of great food 
and music. People come from all over to enjoy Greek, Russian and Middle Eastern cuisine in a very congenial
atmosphere, then listen to the choir or dance to Greek folk music. For me the main draw is (of course) the food, 
and there is always alot to choose from. We started off with Macedonian Roast Lamb, a generous helping served
on fresh bread. It was perfectly done, tender and juicy, just right. We moved on to the Balkan food booth, loading 
up with potato salad, green beans, and "tarator", a cold cucumber soup with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of 
dill on top. All this would have been a meal in itself for most normal human beings, but this is me we're talking 
about. The day was heating up at this point, so the cold soup really hit the spot. Next on the agenda was the Greek booth. We had a pork kabob, loaded with grilled meat, peppers, mushrooms and onions, and along with it some tabouleh from the Middle East. By this time my wife was ready to explode, but I reminded her we hadn't done either
the Russian or the Eritrean booths yet. After some heated discussion we agreed to split a combo plate from the 
Eritrean vendor, and then (she said) "you're on your own". Even though we were already stuffed we enjoyed the 
combo dinner, with zigni (spicy beef stew), timtmo (spicy lentils) and alitcha (vegetables), all served over delicious injera, the sponge-like sourdough bread they use in place of utensils. After this I looked over at the Russian booth, thought about a bowl of borscht and a piroshki, and said to myself "There's always next year!" Our kids were ready to hit the play area, so we moved over there for a while, then I ventured into the church to meet Fr. Patrick Doolan and hear a little about the ongoing process of painting the interior of the building. The new church here at St. Seraphim was built in 1996, and the painting of frescoes has been going on ever since. There are many beautiful paintings to see here, all done in the same style that has been in use for many hundreds of years. The artwork is being added gradually, as time and money permit, so it may take another ten or twenty years for the project to be completed. While I always enjoy seeing historic churches, and marvel at the diligence of the artists who spent a good part of their lives decorating them, it is so much more inspiring to see a work in progress such as this, to see living breathing artists like Father Patrick creating a beautiful place of worship that will be used and cherished by generations to come. If you go to the Glendi Festival, don't miss the oppurtunity to view the inside of this simple but very beautiful Orthodox Church. And (unlike my wife & I) save room for dessert.    

Sep. 14th, 2007

Music Review: The Mixers

The Mixers
Classic rock and originals

One of my former co-workers fronts this six-member combo, and I finally got to see them in action last night at a 
great pub/sports bar in San Leandro called The Englander. These five guys (and one woman) focus mainly on 
the music that is now referred to as "classic rock": the Stones, CCR, the Doors, etc. But they also reach back to 
the 50's occasionally for a rockabilly rave-up, or briefly into the 70's for something mellow from the Buckingham-
Nicks Fleetwood Mac era. So I guess you could say there's something in their set to please everyone. I was 
impressed with how they approach the old stuff, breathing new life into it without losing the original spirit of the 
tune. Some might argue this point, but their versions of the Stones material sound a helluva lot better to me than
the Stones themselves these days. These musicians know their stuff, but they play in a low down roadhouse 
manner that demands that you get up off your fat butt and dance. In addition to the classics, The Mixers have a 
repertoire of some truly fine original songs. Check them out on their website, and while you're there you can 
find out about upcoming shows. This group is here to satisfy your craving for great rock 'n roll, whenever 
you're ready!    

Sep. 11th, 2007

Restaurant Review: East Bay

The Hot Shop
909 San Pablo Ave 
Albany CA 94706
(510) 528-9011

You might think a Mexican restaurant run by folks from the Middle East couldn't possibly be any good, but you'd be
wrong. I had never heard of this place until today, when I was driving through Albany and was suddenly smitten
by the captivating aroma of grilling meats. Of course I had to pull over and check it out. The owner greeted me like
a long lost son and suggested I try a "tropical" burrito, which I did. Mine had lamb (delicious), black beans and all the usual ingredients. I guess I shouldn't say "usual" because there was more than a hint of curry there, not a typical South of the Border seasoning, but well in keeping with the idea of marrying Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine. 
If you're in the mood for a burrito but also want something a little different, make the drive to the Hot Shop. 

Restaurant Review: East Bay

4869 Telegraph Ave.
Oakland CA 94609
(510) 654-9292

There are dozens of Korean restaurants in the Bay Area, but there is only one Sura.  Walking into this brand new
restaurant for the first time, I was immediately impressed by the decor, how it all blended together to create a 
relaxing atmosphere. But I knew this place was special once I had ordered, and the friendly waitress started 
bringing over the banchan.  Most restaurants give you 4 or 5 little side dishes, and the quality is usually so-so.
At Sura, I was presented with no less than FOURTEEN different items, including not only twelve small dishes,
but also a larger plate of cold noodles, and a cast iron skillet containing delicious scrambled eggs. I was stuffed
even before the main course arrived. And the waitress even offered me seconds on the banchan. Amazing.
The specialty of the house is good old Korean BBQ, but elevated to gourmet status thanks to the superior 
quality of the food and the presentation. But vegetarians can do very well here. I was told "Sura" means "royal
cooking", and that's a perfect name for a restaurant where every diner is treated like royalty, and the food is fit 
for the king's table. Highly recommended.
Rating: *****      

Sep. 8th, 2007

Event: Cajun/Zydeco Festival

Cajun/Zydeco Festival 
Laguna Youth Park
Sebastopol CA 95472
September 8, 2007 11:00am - 7:00pm

The problem with any celebration of Louisiana food and music is that it just serves to emphasize the fact that
you're not in Louisiana. But the festival organized by the folks in Sonoma County every year is the next best 
thing to being there. The food and drink are excellent, and they always bring in some of the best zydeco bands
for your dancing pleasure. This year Chubby Carrier was the headliner. After a few hurricanes and some red
beans and rice, it's not hard to pretend you're down in South Louisiana, letting the good times roll.      

Aug. 24th, 2007

Restaurant Review: North Bay

Simply Vietnam
966 N. Dutton Ave.
Santa Rosa CA 95401
(707) 566-8910
Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00am-9:00pm
             Sunday 11:00am-5:00pm

For several years I was a regular customer of the previous tenant of this building, Cam Ranh Bay. The decor 
was minimal, and there was a big-screen TV blasting CNN at all hours, but the food was delicious, plentiful
and C H E A P. I was sorry to see it go, but now that Simply Vietnam has come along to replace it I must say 
I'm not sorry any longer. This is without a doubt the best Vietnamese restaurant in the North Bay. The food is 
consistently excellent, and the service is likewise. These are people that obviously care about quality and 
work hard to maintain a high standard. The pho is as good as it gets, the noodle dishes are outstanding,
and although the restaurant is sometimes packed to the gills, the service is always great. And the dining room
has been beautifully redone in muted colors to provide a nice relaxing atmosphere. 
Highest rating: *****         

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