Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Last Meal

So Saturday we had our final meal around our dining room table (which sadly will NOT fit in our new apartment). The gathering consisted of our gang and J's mother who came to help us pack and clean (and she's the reason why we can move cross country without killing each other). It was a fitting end and closed the circle for the time we spent at the Cheverly house.

Our first night in the Cheverly house was two years ago when J's mom came to help us move in. We invited our gang to come over the night before the movers arrived to experience the joy of assembling IKEA furniture. My wonderful mother-in-law singlehandedly put together our dining room table and created a no-cook meal that consisted of hummus and pita bread, chips and salsa, sandwich fixin's, strawberries and cookies. Over a meal of paper plates and plastic cups we created a home. Our beautiful buffet was assembled and we hung our pictures and laid out the knick-knacks.

Over the same set of paper plates and plastic cups, our friends came to share one last night around the table. It was a table where we hosted a Thanksgiving. A table that held the love and fun from many parties, bridal showers, and open houses.

It's been such a gift to gather the people I love the most around a table and break bread with them. J made vanilla marshmallows. I made vegetarian and shrimp won tons and a pitcher of mojitos. J's Mom made cookies and Chili Cream - a divine concoction of chili, cheddar cheese, creme cheese and, surprisingly enough, unsweetened whipped cream.

Thank Heaven and her boyfriend
brought Indian cauliflower that just tasted brilliant. I've always had trouble making Indian food. It's never tasted as good as what you get in a restaurant.

Pauline brought her famous Nepalese potato salad. The best potato salad in the world. It was spicy with fenugreek and asefateda and fresh with cilantro and mint.

Slim and Connecticut Bob brought Bob's famous rolls with BBQ from Red Hot and Blue to go inside.

The Marrieds
brought sorbet and frozen custard from the Dairy Godmother in Del Ray. Dairy Godmother has been a key piece of our collective hanging out - talking about politics, pop culture, and youtube videos.

Stinkle was kind enough to bring herself, after coming in from a work trip that afternoon. Even better she was kind enough to host our last last hurrah. A night of beer and pizza the night before the movers came.

My Other Wife brought a wonderful strawberry cake. As a fellow Asian, she knew we Asian love fruit in our desserts and hate sugary frosting.

There were others who couldn't make it. Ron and Shyin and their baby Stonewall. Graphic Designer. Stinkle's boyfriend who we've come to adore.

It's a great way to spend your last days in a city. I'm grateful for our time together.

To you, our online family. Keep your eyes posted. We'll be starting a west coast blog.

Maureen at Barnacle Bill's

Every once in a while, I come across stories I've written in other journals. This was a favorite from an early lunch at Barnacle Bill's in Sarasota, Florida, a place I love to eat. This is not so much about food as it is about freedom.

Janet is the name of the waitress. She has stopped by regularly, filled my raspberry tea, brought me some extra bread, and in general been top-notch.

I came to Barnacle Bill's to enjoy a meal and to remember the time my partner and I had come there for our anniversary dinner after hours of soaking in the sun and sand. It was to be a quiet lunch.

That was until I met Maureen.

I wanted to grab Maureen. Rush out the door quick like an action hero, like freaking Tank Girl, like anyone who could really move up and out in one swift motion.

I wanted to grab Maureen and run down Sarasota's Main Street - home of incense-soaked hippy women, boatless people who dress for boating, and magical skaterboys who will dance in the street off one cup of coffee.

I wanted to grab Maureen and get her the hell away from her parents. To rescue her from a life of being pecked at and being shot down Whack-A-Mole-style by these scattered and smothering people.

They babied an adult child, pushed hard enough to where she could not even fit a sentence in edgewise because her breath was sucked down, forced there by the aggressive word bubbles they kept blowing up and bursting on her. She was against a window.

Maureen sits pliant with her naked salmon.

"Is it good, Maureen?" asks mom.

"It's fine. Just fine," says Maureen from the table on the other side of my booth. There's an odd lilt in her voice. It starts higher and ends low, like she is trying to reassure herself that her entire being in fact is "fine" like her salmon.

"We can get a sauce for it, Maureen. Where's the waitress? This salmon needs a sauce."

I can't see Maureen and her mother, but this was the fourth or fifth exchange like this. Mom knows best. Maureen has a throat full of socks.

I'm alone, reading materials for a board meeting. Before I noticed them I was engrossed in my conch soup and French bread that is so close to perfection it is almost Cuban. But the distractions were ongoing and mom and dad were not going to give Maureen or myself any peace.

A drill in the next room is putting the finishing touches on the bar where I suspect Maureen may want to spend a few hours, months, or years.

Mom yells across the restaurant towards the hostess stand. "I hope they're not planning to work all the way through lunch." She's uptight, old, cranky, and not interested in niceties.

I look at the clock on my cell phone. 11:00. Not even noon yet.

The hostess says, "It's worse in the early morning." She knows it was sassy. She glances my direction and we share a very quick wide-eyed moment of empathy for one another. And for Maureen.

I wanted to grab Maureen and take her out and celebrate disagreement, to hear her resistance or whatever subjective voice she had, if it was still possible. If they would just go to the bathroom or run out for a Virginia Slim. If Maureen could just be alone for a second maybe we could flee?

Would she go with me? Or even alone?

Janet stopped by with some more bread. Maureen's mother got up, preceded by "Do you have a lady's room? Is it all the way in the back? All the way back there?"

She looked pissed. At what, I am just not sure. She passed me in a slight breeze of baby powder and Estee Lauder makeup.

Maureen and I were alone. I edged myself over to the very lip of my booth. Pushed one ass cheek off the left side and leaned over just a bit so I could get a better look.

Brown hair, probably just a bit older than my thirty-two years. A Marcia Gay Harden from a beach town sort. My glimpse could not last long. I have an easily-read face and I am sure Maureen would be able to tell what I was thinking. She'd know I wanted to grab her. This might be disturbing.

I wrote a simple note on my sprial pad. "They'll be back from the bathroom soon. Are you okay?" I signed it, "The Guy in the Next Booth." It was like I was writing Dear Abby. I folded the note and was ready to toss it to her when it felt like someone was coming up behind me. I got back in my seat and turned around.

Just Janet.

But as soon as I recognized it was Janet, from the next table came an uproarious slurp. The end of a vanilla shake met with an eager Maureen wanting desperately to taste every last drop. It was as loud as the drill, a yawp of sorts. This was a hungry woman. Maureen was pulling every sugary drop into the depths of her.

I peeked over again. This time raising myself in my seat like I was leaving. Maureen was still alone and laughing her ass off.

I paid my check, left a double-tip for the waitress along with this story, and walked out the door without Maureen.

I think back on this now and wish I had gotten Maureen's address, but I know it's none of my business.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Lil' Bay Area review - Maritime East

So isn't weird when you and your siblings grow up enough so you're not just siblings but also friends? Stef, considering your brother is like super cool and you seem to get along, when did that happen for you?

When J and I were in the Bay Area, we got together with my brother who lives in Fremont and is some kind of entrepreneur (and not that kind of entrepreneur that says they're an entrepreneur as an excuse for slacking; he works his ass off and has the income to show for it). We asked my brother where we should all get together for dinner and he suggested Martime East in Berkeley. What he didn't tell us was that he was friends with the owner. It was a really enjoyable evening where we got to talk with the owner about the restaurant business and catch up with my brother.

The dining experience itself was really wonderful, even apart from the free appetizers and dessert. I will agree with the posters on Yelp that say the storefront sign does make it seem like Maritime East is an aquarium store. But the inside looks well designed and upscale. We were worried that we were underdressed but this really was a neighbhorhood joint and we saw people in jeans. The decor modern but warm and the onwer highlighted the showpiece which was a wall with 2-inch lines of colored sand. One thing I will have ot highlight is the excellent sound control. People never think about it unless it totally sucks. And this time the designers did a great job to make sure that the background noise was loud enough so that you didn't feel like you were in a funeral home but not so loud you couldn't hear your tablemates. That is the downfall of Cafe Asian in Arlington where you feel like you are ain a train station.

The food itself was truly excellent, and not just because we got a free appetizer and dessert. There was a clean and fresh quality to the dishes, even the burger tht my brother ordered. This was not a restaurant that depended on heavy sauces and overpowering flavors. Like a good seafood restaurant, Maritime East knew to choose fresh fish and get out of the way. Their flavors are very citrus and spice focused.

We started with cocktails. J got the Maritime margarita and I got the White Out, with citron vodka, white cranberry juice and cointreau. Both were excellent as I like fruity drinks. I ordered the seafood chowder to start that had clams, fish, mussels , bacon, and fingerling potatoes. The soup was resonant with fish broth and scallions. Rather than being heavy, the chowder broth was light and allowed for the individuality of each of the ingredients. As a bonus, we got an order of the dungeness crab gratinee. This is where I am a total west coast boy because dungeness crab RULZ! I find it interesting that they call this a gratinee becuase it's a fresh salad with apples. blood oranges, and micro greens. The sweetness of the crab really comes through.

For dinner, my brother got the burger, I got a wood fired pizza and J got the sole. Surprisingly, the burger was excellent. You would have thought it would be an afterthought but the burger was perfectly cooked. The wood fired pizza had the appropriate chewiness and crunch that you would expect. The toppings of bonito tuna, olives, and capers was wonderfully briny. Craving vegetables, I got the brussel sprout and pea sprout hash, a lovely combination of the two sprouts shreeded and sauteed. The best of the bunch was J's sole which was served with pureed cauliflower, capers, and brown butter. This was an earthy treat for a cold Berkeley night.

While we were all stuffed, my brother's friend gave us complimentary desserts - the chocolate pot de creme, the sorbet and gelato selection, and the apple and cranberry tart. All were excellent but the pot de creme was pure indulgence in a cup.
I asked about the lack of vegetarian options and the owner said that the chef made a vegetarian meal upon request. Knowing her skill with seafood, I hope they would let everyone know about that option.

It's very nice to have a go to place in the Bay Area. This is perfect for a quiet evening or a celebration. Thanks to the brother for a great choice!