Friday, February 6, 2009

Bottom Feeding

I'm cheap. And I love cheap food, which is why I cook so much. Just moving an 8 ounce steak costing $10 at the butcher into the kitchen of a fancy restaurant turns it into a $30 steak. Add a 30 cent potato and 6 string beans and it's a $40 entree. So when I go out I want my food more labor intensive that I am willing to do at home, and cheap. Cheap dives are transient, so you have to use them while they are there and then move on and try to keep the regrets at a minimum. My favorites at the moment are:

House of Soul
1526 Solano Ave.
Vallejo, CA
(707) 644-3792
This place has the only cast iron pan fried chicken in the San Francisco Bay Area that I know of. But they won't start it a fryin(g) until you order it, so don't expect to get served in five minutes--it's not Colonel Saunders. But the chicken, collards, mac n' cheese are great. Great unsugared cornbread. Mostly a lunch place, but it is open in the evening. A rule of thumb is that you go to a soul food place for the chicken and you go to a barbecued ribs place for the ribs, so don't order the ribs. No matter what any web sites say this place is never open on Sunday because it is Mama Soul's ministry. The Martin Luther King family portraits on the wall made it a nice comforting place even before the Obama era.

Mi Tierra
324 S. Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA.
(415) 252-8204
Very good Salvadoran food. I'm not expert on papusas but this place seems great to me. I also love their fried yuca (cassava) with curtido (coleslaw). My wife likes something that looks like a collapsed loofah. Usually empty in the evening

El Taco Zamarano
4032 Foothill Blvd.Oakland, CA 94601(510) 536-3146
This is my favorite semi local place at the moment. It is in dangerous East Oakland, but because the Hell's Angels headquarters is across the street it is safe. Hell's Angels generally seem like very nice old guys. Someone once pointed out that you often see them in Zamarano sipping on Diet Coke, and speculated that they are diabetic recovering alcoholics, a funny image, but they seem to be loyal customers. I love Zamarano's burritos which are the size of a large premie and are easily a meal for two. The dinners are equally big, and I usually go for carnitas plato, and my wife goes for the seafood or octopus cocktail and then we split the two. We used to try eating the whole thing but now I unembarassedly ask for a carton to take the rest home. Did I mention that their corn tortillas are home made, and that the have Modelo Especial (beer)? Booths make it a very comforting, if loud place

Vik's Chaat Corner
726 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA
(510) 644-4412
This place started out as distributor of ingredients to Indian restaurants and stores. Then they started serving lunch so it is located in a warehouse. But soon, in April 2009 they say they are moving (to another warehouse, I think). I go there for Masala Dosa a huge crispy pancake wrapped around a potato filling with Dal a lentil sauce. But all the food is great but at this chaotic, loud place. It does not have a single ounce of gemutlichkeit.

Bauerntanzgäßchen 186150 Augsburg, Germany
This is real Swabian farm food that has been around forever--Mozart's grandfather ate here. I love the place particularly in October or early November for the goose a with huge Swabian softball sized dumpling. The venison with schupfnudlen, which are small torpedo shaped dumplings fried in butter or goose fat and served over sauerkraut which had Riesling and bacon in it, was delicious. The Kasespatzle are transcendental and will have you smiling with satisfaction for days, but I could see where they would become addictive. This is the cutest, most ambient place I have ever eaten. You regret leaving.

Osteria Ardenga
via Maestra 6
Diolo di soragna
near Parma, Italy
0524 599337
This is not really bottom feeding, but is isn't expensive either. How could I not love a place where they tell you to drink the local wine (6 euros) as the food is designed to go with it. "The wine list is for tourists." Take an Italian food dictionary with you but everything will be good. Ardenga is out in the country and the building has been a restaurant for 300 years. We started with antipasti of really good fried polenta cubes, pickled zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, haricot vert, celery, chipolini and red peppers. Also a plate of the local prosciutto, salami, and culatello; all of which were just perfect. They really wanted to show off all their pastas so we got tasting plates which seemed like 4 half portions instead of quarter portions. They included pumpkin ravioli which were the best Ive had, green ravioli filled with force-meat and in a walnut sauce, chestnut gnocchi with chestnut and truffle sauce, and some simple cheese and chard ravioli in butter. We've been twice and were dazzled both times. We plant trips to Italy around this place.