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A Visit to Berkeley and San Francisco (December 2012)

27 Dec

claremont1

My home base for this brief 3-day visit was the historic Claremont Hotel in the hills of Berkeley. What a beautiful property. The views off the back of the property were simply amazing. You could watch the sunset over the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge and the SF city skyline in the background. Stunning.

gilroy

I arrived late and quite tired on the first night. I decided to stay close and dine at the hotel restaurant. The food turned out to be pretty good. I especially enjoyed the Gilroy Garlic Fries, but boy did my breath stink afterwards. Had to brush and rinse several times that evening. It was all well worth it.

napa smith

Napa Smith Lost Dog Ale was my beverage of choice that first night in town. It was mighty fine — and mighty powerful. The brew’s 7.2% alcohol content (I had 2) knocked me for a loop, especially after traveling all day. I decided to call it a day and head for the rack.

grocery

I was in Northern California for a conference, but was able to bust loose during a long lunch break one day for some exploring beyond the walls of the Claremont. I walked about a mile (pretty much all downhill) to the first signs of commercial and culinary civilization. The first spot of interest I encountered was the Star Grocery. A classic corner grocery updated for the modern age. It had something of a hippie, granola vibe to the place — totally what you would expect for Berkeley.

star bakery

Star’s bakery goods looked impressive. So much bread, so little time!

sandwich

I ended up grabbing lunch at a place called Southie — a very hip little California bistro. The atmosphere was contemporary with a menu full of fresh and healthy local fare. My Roast Turkey with Applewood Bacon sandwich really hit the spot. The focaccia bread was obviously fresh and the sandwich was completed with locally grown romaine, sliced avocado, and a totally on-point rosemary aioli. It all was quickly polished off. It came with a bag of chips, but I chose not to consume them. I was saving room for the far more interesting treats that lay ahead.

nom nom

The next day was even better. The conference concluded before noon, so I bounded down the hill once again and grabbed the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) for San Francisco’s Financial District. Shortly after I got off the subway, I spotted the famous Nom Nom truck (best known from its time on Food Network’s THE GREAT FOOD TRUCK RACE). The line was rather lengthy, but I took a deep breath and plunged into the cue.

viet sand

Service was actually pretty swift and my Vietnamese sandwich (aka “Banh Mi”) was a tart, tangy joy. The price wasn’t bad either.  The pickled vegetables and green leaves of cilantro were a perfect match for the chunks of grilled chicken and the crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside bread loaf. I added a little bit of Sriracha for some added zip. It was a chilly day in the City By The Bay and the bright red condiment warmed me to the bone.

tadich ext

Determined to eat my way across town, my next stop was the Tadich Grill. It is also known as “The Original Cold Day Restaurant.” And now I know why. It is a warm, welcoming spot — a favorite in this town since 1849. All the restaurant seating was occupied, so I bellied up to the bar.

tadich nap

I ordered a bowl of chowder, a pint of Sierra Nevada, and took time to check the old place out. The servers look they they have all worked here for quite a while. Most were well north of 5o years old and all were decked out in classic white smocks. My bespeckled bar attendant was super friendly and very attentive. He even gave me some strong touring tips — the best one being to avoid walking the city’s steep hills and to purchase a day pass for the cable car system.  Thank you, sir!

chowder

My Clam Chowder (New England style) was rich and creamy, the brew just the right flavor note and temperature. Yet it was the bread served alongside my soup bowl that was the real revelation at this stop. My server told me the rustic looking loaf was baked daily by the legendary Boudin Bakery of San Francisco. He added that it was a proprietary recipe only sold to area restaurants and not the same as the Boudin Sourdough bread found all over town and in the local airport gift shops. My day was humming along nicely.

china ext

My next stop on the trolley line was Chinatown.

china

Chinatown is nice for sightseeing. I was tempted, but not ready to eat again.

trolley

After wandering about Chinatown for a half hour or so, I jumped on board a cable car headed for the intersection of California & Polk. The trolleys are a great way to get around town — even on a brisk day. I chose to sit in the car’s open air seating to get the full ambiance of city sights, sounds, and smells. A bum approached me for some money and I was in such a good mood that I flipped him a couple bucks and wished him a Merry Christmas.

depot

The Swan Oyster Depot was featured in Tony Bourdain’s The Layover TV series.

swan2

Their display of fresh local seafood lured me inside.

swan cala

The marinated squid salad looked like something out of a Japanese horror flick. But it tasted like the gastronomical equivalent of a Shiatsu massage. That alone should have been enough. The accompanying Anchor Steam beer and more fresh-baked Boudin bread had my taste buds singing like another famous Tony — Tony Bennett.

colin

Later that same evening, I met up with my childhood friend, Colin Jewell (pictured above). Colin and I had not seen one another in over 40 years (yes, we’re old). I believe I was about 10 years old or so the last time we crossed paths. We grabbed a beer or two and started catching up at the Tadich Grill. The reunion continued over a great Greek meal at Kokkari, an Italian biscotti in the North Shore neighborhood, and a nightcap (“Surfer’s Punch”) at the world famous Tiki bar known as the Tonga Room.

atonga2

The “room” (shown in picture above) is actually cavernous and includes a full-size swimming pool as a focal point. Precisely timed thunder and lightning cracks are occasionally heard over the Tonga Room’s sound system. That is immediately followed by a faux tropical rainfall that is thankfully confined to just the pool and not the bar tables and hightops along the periphery. Pretty cool, huh?  

boudin

And yes, I did end up buying some Boudin sourdough bread to take back to Alabama. Sure, it’s a very touristy thing to do. It is also a very wise thing to do. The bread in the SF Bay Area  is truly amazing. Foodies who live around here are extremely fortunate. As for me, I’ll soon be inquiring about any Bread of the Month Clubs that might exist for poor suckers like me who can only visit once in a blue moon. What a wonderful town San Francisco is. I may not have left my heart there, but I surely left my bread  there.

“Give a Hoot” — Eat at West Mobile’s The Hungry Owl

10 Dec

The Hungry Owl is a relatively new addition to the West Mobile dining scene. Although I work in the immediate vicinity, it actually took a somewhat recent episode of TV’s Man vs Food to alert me to the Owl’s delicious culinary offerings. The object of host Adam Richman’s carniverous desire was Chef Tony Nicholas’ Ultimate Tony Burger.  

The chow at the Hungry Owl is Nappie Award Winning (as the above banner obviously implies). And the Ultimate Tony rules the roost. This bulging burger is absolutely massive with toppings like a fried egg, two kinds of cheese, crispy bacon, and jalapenos.

This retro van sits outside the Hungry Owl — too cool!

There’s even a Doggie Park outside – how’s that for added value?

The Owl accents are evident at every turn — inside and out.

The Owl wing door handles are a very creative designer touch.

This (above) is the Original Tony Burger. Big? You’re dern tootin! This baby was priced at $11.99 (c0mes with one side). My side this day was the mashed sweet potatoes — pretty tasty. The taters were served in a tin cup, which briefly reminded me of an old Warner Brothers prison flick. Ha! I must try the smoked gouda grits next time. Now that sounds just dandy. The burger may look well done in the picture, but it was actually cooked just right. Nice and charred on the outside, a little pink on the inside. It’s blending of quality ground beef and Alabama-made Conecuh sausage is pure genius. Mad scientist genius, even — and I mean that in a good way, Tony.   

 So, you may inquire, just what makes the Ultimate Tony so, well, ultimate? They basically take the the Original Tony and further accessorize it with a slippery fried egg, a big ole slab smoked gouda cheese, and a mess of chopped jalapeno peppers. The Ultimate Tony will set you back about $14 buckeroos and also comes equipped with one side item.

Now don’t get me wrong. I may have led you to believe that this is nothing more than a glorified burger palace. If I have, then I should apologize. It’s quite a bit more than that, folks. The menu, which I’m quite anxious to further explore, is surprisingly adventurous. Some of the Cajun and Creole dishes look especially interesting. You might say the non-burger portion of the menu is Southern with a gourmet flair.

So here’s wishing Chef Tony continued success.

We give a hoot about The Hungry Owl — you should too! 

I hope to catch you nesting here soon.

The Hungry Owl – 7899 Cottage Hill Road, Mobile, AL 36695

(251) 633-4479; www.thehungryowl.com

Open for Lunch and Dinner; closed Sunday and Monday

Day Trip to Bayou La Batre – “Alabama’s Seafood Capital”

20 Nov

The sign says it all — and there is a lot of truth to this. I was expecting a little town dominated by the seafood industry. That is pretty much what I found. But there were plenty of surprises during my brief weekday visit. I was only in town for a couple hours. And part of this time was spent on business. However, I did find enough time to scout around, snap a few images, grab some lunch, and just generally get the vibe of this sleepy, little fishing community.

Even BBQ joints take on nautical themes in Bayou La Batre. Case in point: Capt. Frank’s Smoke Shack. I didn’t try the good Captain’s Q on this trip — I was holding out for some local seafood. I did take a moment to peek in the window. Cozy little joint. Wonder if the food’s any good? Drop me a note if you’ve tried them out.

They may want to work on that slogan – not the best we have seen.

I’m partial to this salty swine in the window at Captain Frank’s.

Seafood Gumbo — certainly a local favorite in these parts.

There is a pretty significant Vietnamese population in BLB. Many of these folks are employed in the seafood industry. Working on the shrimp boats, picking crabs, etc. Their presense becomes obvious as I motor thru town. I came across this Vietnamese grocery (above), which is located next door to a Vietnamese bar/pool hall. I popped in just to check out the ambience. To say it was authentic would be something of an understatement. Exotic fruits and veggies could be seen at every twist & turn. They had a fine selection of Asian DVDs. The owner barked at employees in a manner that oddly reminded of that scene in “The Deer Hunter.” Thankfully, no Russian Roulette was involved.  

Shrimp chips seemed right at home at Vien Dong. Especially in BLB.

The Eat Alabama Wild Shrimp campaign has recently morphed into Eat Wild Alabama Seafood. This latest, more inclusive strategy seems to be paying off. The organization’s marketing office is located in an older strip mall on the edge of Bayou La Batre. I spent about a half hour chatting with office administrator, Rosa Zirlott. Very nice lady. What a pleasant visit we had. Rosa really knows her stuff, that is for certain. And she is extremely passionate about her job. Rosa currently owns 2 shrimp boats and has been involved in the seafood industry for most of her life. She seemed fairly satisfied with the results her leadership is producing. Lots of work still remains and we are determined to do our part to assist Rosa and the countless area fishermen and shrimpers she represents. Learn more at http://www.eatalabamawildshrimp.com

As our brief meeting wrapped up, I asked Rosa Zirlott two quick parting questions:

1) “What is your favorite local seafood market?”

2) “Where can I get some good local shrimp for lunch?”

The answers followed, but not without some explanation. It turns out there are currently no retail seafood markets in Bayou La Batre. “How can that be?”,  I inquired. Well, Bayou La Batre apparently does not enjoy much traditional tourism — in part because of its rather remote location. Local residents either work in the seafood business or know someone who does. They tend to go straight to the source … cutting out the middle man. This also guarantees the exact origin of the product. Commercial fishing operations in BLB only tend to sell wholesale – and in large quantities.

As for my lunch plans, that answer was easier for Rosa to process. “We really only have 2 seafood restaurants in the vicinity. But one recently closed.” So process of elimination led me to The Lighthouse Restaurant, located a short drive away in nearby Irvington, AL. Rosa suggested I try the crab claws. She also urged me to stop by Jubilee Seafood on my way out of town … thinking they might sell me a couple pounds of fresh wild shrimp for the road. I decided to proceed directly to lunch at The Lighthouse. Maybe next time, Jubilee. I’ll be the dude with the flat top toting a giant ice chest.  

Jubilee Foods — “For All Your Seafood Needs”

The Lighthouse Restaurant is your typical Southern seafood dive … minus any water views. It is found a mile or so inland on Padgett Switch Road. The marquee out front (a scaled-down lighthouse that would be at home on a miniature golf course) was promoting the premiere of History Channel’s new BIG SHRIMPIN’ series. The show is sort of a DEADLIEST CATCH spin-off and it is being shot in and around Bayou La Batre.  

The hand-painted mural out front provides an old school touch.

The Lighthouse menu offers local seafood choices in abundance.

The lightly fried shrimp at The Lighthouse were just as scrumptious as I had anticipated. There just weren’t enough of them! The lunch platter, which costs $9.95 plus drink and tip, included 6 shrimp and 2 sides. The shrimp were the first to go. That took all of 2-3 minutes. After that, I was left with some frozen krinkle cut fries, a boring side salad with thick Thousand Island dressing, a few Captain’s Wafers, and 2 average hush puppies. And I swear the iced tea tasted like water. Next time I’ll order the large shrimp platter for $13.95 or maybe spring the additional two bucks for $15.95 Seafood Platter (see menu above). I’m sure that’s great. Sounds great. I’ll also skip the tea and order an ice cold beer — unless it’s a work day, of course.    

Lighthouse Restaurant – 12495 Padgett Switch Road, Irvington, AL

(251) 824-2500

Vintage Allan Sherman Re-Issues from Collector’s Choice

1 Aug

Collector’s Choice has just re-issued several classic comedy recordings by Allan Sherman. Some of you may have never heard of Sherman before, but he was absolutely huge in the 1960s. His LPs sold millions and made Sherman, a once-struggling TV comedy writer, a wealthy man. The radio hit that pushed him to the top was the unforgettable parody, “Hello, Muddah, Hello, Faddah!” (aka Camp Granada) from the LP “My Son, The Nut.” The album’s cover featured Sherman’s pudgy, bespectacled mug surrounded by a mountain of real nuts (see the picture above).  Baby boomers will surely remember the big hit – either from frequent radio play at the time of its original release or via Dr. Demento’s popular syndicated radio shows.

But before you start thinking of Sherman as another “one hit wonder,” I am here to tell you that Sherman was a very talented comic in the Jewish tradition whose fine catalog of work richly deserves this retrospective. I will admit that “My Son, The Nut” is the best of the bunch, yet other releases with titles like “My Son, The Folk Singer,” “My Son, The Celebrity,” and “For Swingin’ Livers Only” all have their shining moments. I am especially partial to wacky Sherman send-ups such as “Automation,” “Al and Yetta,” “One Hippopotami,” “My Zelda,” “Mexican Hat Dance,” “Your Mother’s Here to Stay,” “Hungarian Goulash No. 5,” and “Harvey and Sheila.”

“And when Ben Casey meets Kildare that’s called a paradox!!!”

Yes, Allan Sherman was surely a force to be reckoned with in the early to mid 1960s. He is remembered fondly by many Americans and rightfully so. His sharp wit and silly, childlike innocence not only still make us chuckle, but also whisk us back to a simpler time when comedy didn’t have to be filthy (or shocking) to be funny. Come to think of it, Sherman helped pave the way for everything from “Schoolhouse Rock” and The Smothers Brothers to Dr. Demento and Weird Al Yankovic. And that, my friends, is an impressive legacy of lunacy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Sherman

Grading The Food Network Stars

20 Jul
 
I’m gonna do this very quickly — call it a “gut” reaction:

So let’s hear it, folks. I want your own ratings on this.

Who’s first???

Buck Owens & Don Rich in Their Technicolor Prime

8 Jan
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