We would first like to make the point that we are still in California.
Yes, that makes it around four weeks and no, obviously we don't have any work to get back to.
And yes, we are having the time of our life.
One of the high spots is Psychotronic Paul, a friend of La Skolnique's with whom we happily picked up an acquaintance last year. Now Paul is a Pal and we have been "hanging" with him through the hot tubs, coffee houses, sushi joints and rented cars of our long NorCal vaykay.
A musician and cinema scholar, Mr. Paul is also an indefatigable eater although slightly slowed by a recent diabetes diagnosis (like ourself). He knows more about pre-code animation than any other three people living, and he is one of these soigne men-of-the-world with whom one enters an automobile at 5:30 not knowing whether the evening will bring food, pleasure, music, Greek dancing, hat-wearing, or a movie about the early years of the actor George Hamilton. Whatever happens, one is sure that it will be fun.
Of course La Skolnique has been along for much of this ride, usually telling us to walk rather than take a car. For the last week in Santa Cruz she has been on her own turf and loving it. If we have bought less than 95% of the contents of her local Trader Joe, it is not from her lack of selling us on the merch. (The TJ in Danbury simply doesn't have all this great stuff).
As for leading us to water, La Skol generally does that in order to make us float around and sometimes kick our legs, after which we feel better and can walk even further than before.
But you readers are interested in food, and why should we deprive you? Therefore, the rundown of our favorite places so far.
1) We have now eaten at Gary Danko twice, lifetime, and, although the food is wonderful and the service and ambiance pretty much the best we've ever experienced, we still call Ton Kiang the best restaurant of our stay thus far. It's a bright, modern dim sum house, built on the lines of a Hong Kong-style banquet hall; little did we know that it is usually jammed, with a line out the door to wait for table. When we discovered the place, all we knew was that it was clean and bright, and that's about all we needed right then, also, unlike most of the other places on this restaurant-heavy stretch of Geary Blvd., it was open. It wasn't until we were handed a dim sum menu and a regular menu, heavy on the seafood, that we realized we had discovered a gem--and one of the most popular restaurants in San Francisco.
There were dumplings, of course; pork and chive, shrimp and pea tendril, duck and the lightest possible veil of dough. There were pork buns with an interesting sweet dough. There were fried dumplings and steamed dumplings and other thing which weren't at all dumplings but were quite wonderful.
Best of all for us, there was a dish of Mu Shu Pork which, for the first time in years, brought back our memories of our mother's cooking. A Polish/Jewish cook by tradition, she hated cooking the heavy, fat-laden food of our people and re-created herself as a serious Szechuan cook.
If you don't believe that a City University professor living in the suburbs can produce fine Asian cuisine, you didn't know Mom--or the flocks of Chinese businessmen, business connections of our Dad's, who vied for invitations to our house, and a taste of home. Mom's Mu Shu (and it never was anything but Pork, as the traditional recipe had it) was light and greaseless. The "tree ear" mushrooms were chewy and the tender bamboo strips had a delicate flavor as well as texture, The scallions were never slimy, just fresh and pungent. And there was no slick brown sauce left on the plate, either; a simple, quickly-prepared stir fry like this isn't meant to have a sauce. You just roll it up in pancakes--not thick scallion pancakes like something from the deep-fryer at a country fair, but delicate, almost-transparent rounds of rice flour and water, lightly daubed with plum sauce. The finished bite should leave your mouth fresh and hungry for more.
So, to put the thing in simple terms, we REALLY liked the mu shu pork. And everything else. So far we've eaten here twice.
2) I Love Sushi, Santa Cruz. Please understand first that we are a veteran of sushi. Ever since that night in the winter of 1981 that La Skolnique erroneously pointed out that sushi had like no calories, we have been bolting the stuff like a cannibal piranha. It is, in fact, our default meal. So, on a night without La Skol or Paul, we wandered into this bustling joint which everyone knows about near the water at Santa Cruz.
We ordered three rolls, which made everyone giggle. Why? We soon found out.
Yes--it was, for the first time in our experience, that legendary monster of th West: CALIFORNIZATION OF FOODSTUFFS. This is what happens when something thhat might be, say, a lamb chop back in New York, becomes Meat Extravaganza on Hardwood in the West, after being accessorized with three vegetables, three sauces, a couple of starches and possibly something on the side called a "tian" or "compote". The heyday for such dishes has been over for a while now...so we thought...but this sushi bar (a great favorite amongst the starving students of Santa Cruz, as you can imagine) never forgot it. If something can be rolled in rice and tempura-fried, you'll find it here; if you were hungry when you came in, you can order two rolls and take home a doggy bag. Was it good? Yes, very. But it was a fish-chunk-mayo-and tempura-fried-rice joint, not a sushi bar. We are always willing to be educated, but this was ridiculous.
Next: The Farmers' Markets. Heigh-Ho!