29 May 2007

La Bruschetta

There is something to be said for the quality of a restaurant when the road leading to it is so curvy and long, you feel more like throwing up than eating when you finally arrive at its front door. This is the path to La Bruschetta for me, through the town of Santa Cruz and up the twisty, redwood tree lined highway 9 to Felton. It is when I pass the sign that reads “Curvy Next 26 Miles” that I start getting nervous. One mile later, my window is down and my head is out of it, attempting with all of my might to calmly, slowly inhale and exhale.

The magic of La Bruschetta is revealed when you walk through its decisively idiosyncratic front door, adorned with a life size, cross-legged, nude, wooden woman, into the dining room and the misery of carsickness seems to float away on the tail of an olive oil infused breeze. As we entered, a warm, smiling hostess immediately greeted us and honestly instructed us to choose the table we would like to sit at so that it could be cleaned and set. By the looks of the place we had obviously arrived shortly after a massive rush of customers had seized the place. We chose a quite table in the corner, were seated shortly and left to ponder the traditional Italian menu.

Wanting to adhere to Italian custom, our choices were based in the plain desire for a family style antipasto, insalada, pasta and dolce. We began by ordering mussels in a tomato broth and a daily special, the roasted beet salad. To accompany the light and easily digestible genesis of the meal, we selected a white Sicilian “Grecanico” wine to whet our palates. The wine list was, like the ambiance of the restaurant itself, simple, quaint and appropriate to the menu. The wine arrived shortly before the food. It was buttery in color and taste, hit the palate with soft, easy acidic bite and ended with a quick, creamy finish. It was a perfect accompaniment for the meal we ordered.

The roasted beet salad was quite nice. The red beets were tosses with large pieces hard-boiled egg, which lent a necessary richness to the dish. The tasty mixture was served atop a bed of fresh greens with some crispy bell pepper slices to contrast the softness of the salads premiere ingredients. The mussels were cooked to a perfect plumpness and I was left wanted to find a chipped or empty shell. Although the thick tomato sauce was flavored nicely, it was a little too heavy and hearty for the delicate mussels. It worked better as a savory dip for the foccacia bread served with our antipasti. Both dishes were of a generous size, not overly large, but not too small to share.

As usual, thinking we could eat more than we ordered, we decided to supplement our meal with an order of “Bruschetta del Buongustaio”. One of about the 10 house specialty bruschettas, this was a happy over-indulgence. It arrived on a large serving plate, which shone with the glory of a bruschetta to end all bruschette. Four thin, fire toasted slices of foccacia circled the plate layered with a paper-like slivers of Italian salami, topped by a slender carved piece of brie adorned with two fluted diameters of vinegary pickle. Separating the bruschette were generous half circles of freshly carved pineapple. It was decadent, it was tasty, and it was interesting. I loved it, a new favorite. The flavors went great with the wine. It was so good, the meal was over for me.

Soon followed the “Rigatoni Alla Norma” an al dente tube pasta with a roasted eggplant, tomato and olive oil sauce topped with crumbled ricotta salata. It was good, but my heart was taken by the bruschetta, so I ended up taking my pasta home for lunch the next day. We then found ourselves to be the last people in the restaurant, marked by the new Eminem song making an appearance on the I-pod play list. This, to me, was funny and made me feel like I was in my grandma’s house, just as Mario Batali would want it.

We finished our meal with a Tartufo Classico, a deeply flavored chocolate snowball, with a center of zabaglione and a dusting of hazelnuts and chocolate powder. How could it be anything but delicious? We left the restaurant feeling satisfied and comfortable. Not only was the food cooked, served and eaten well, but La Bruschetta exuded three qualities I have grown to respect from any good restaurant: 1) you can see the kitchen from the dining room, 2) the head chef came out and spoke to us, 3) (this is only for Italian restaurants) there was something delicious besides tiramisu for dessert.

It was well worth the drive there, and even the exceedingly uncomfortable drive home.

24 May 2007

Best Bad Man of the Year

Every year, the only decent, free weekly newspaper that exists in the semi-small town in which I live, publishes an anticipated “Best…Of” issue. Now, because of the size and business dynamic of this quaint town-by-the-sea, if your business is voted “Best…Of” for anything, you have gotten a big boost in the right direction. As I have discussed already, I work as a waitress in a small café that has an equally small staff. This humble establishment has about twenty tables, a staff of two cooks, one prep cook, one dishwasher, two bussers (the dish boy and the bussers only work on weekends) and three waitress, has been open for 35 years, has never expanded from its tucked-in–the-corner spot and barely has seemed to change the menu in the entirety of its existence. That’s right, all of the biscuits and gravy you dare to eat.

I am one third of the wait staff and I have been employed at the café for a little less than a year. As far as the other two thirds of the wait staff go, one is a little younger than me and has worked there about 4 months less than I; the other is a little older than me and has been working at this restaurant for seven years. It is the only job she has ever had, she has worked there longer than almost every other employee by a long shot. So, even though it is not really true, she is owns the place. People eat there to see her, customers ask her to housesit while they go to Europe, she knows almost everyone’s name and their kid’s names too. Neither I nor the other waitress can hold a candle to her popularity. We are merely by-standers watching someone else’s ship sail by.

Her ship really came in this year though. Guess who was the “Best Server Of” 2007---you don’t have to guess too hard. Not only did her victory prompt the owner to make several huge chalkboard signs proclaiming her amazing abilities in serving the best-meal-ever, but it’s basically over in all totality for me and the other "normal" server. We can no longer even pretend to think that we are good at our jobs. So—currently we (this is not the royal “we”) kinda wander through our day, heads down, confirming to our tables that----no, it is not us, it is the other one who is the Best Server Of The Year.

I am left to wonder, is this how George Bush feels? Does he look at Vice President Cheney and feel that, no matter how hard he tries, there will always be a politician who is eviler than he? No matter what, he will never be the “Best Bad Guy Of” any year? He is, and always will be, defeated in his mission to be the worst. Or, is he like me and whole-heartedly realize that, even though it is a bummer to be beat at your job hands-down, someone else really and truly deserves it.

15 May 2007

Singer, Sing Me a New Tune

At this point, there is more than a murmur in the air and a whisper in the ears of grocery store customers as they cross paths in the tangle of store aisles in the multitudes of American grocery shops. Their comments hint at, mumble towards and hesitantly discuss the subject of organic, sustainable foods. What are these confusing mystery foods? Where are they? What does organic mean? How can you be sure the food’s labels are telling the truth? Is local better than organic? Is organic better than sustainable? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!?

Good question. Unfortunately these questions are much easier to ask than to answer. This is for a least two very apparent reasons—1) there is a limited and difficult to find any functional, non-partisan literature on the topic; 2) the answers found are almost always far from black and white, much of the organic debate takes place in that complicated grey-zone shared by politics, religion and the like.

Luckily, I have found a lantern to help guide me through the dimly lit path of confusion that is the organic mental muddle of grocery store bafflement. The beacon I am speaking of is Peter Singer and Jim Mason’s, “The Way We Eat and Why Our Food Choices Matter”. This 296-page wonder of a non-fiction offers a fully-fledged discussion of organic issues including but not limited too--animal husbandry, agricultural farming, food labeling, seafood farming, and more, more, more. Happily this informative book does not bog you down with facts or inaccessible data. It is written in a familiar, friendly style, similar to the way you would hope an extremely knowledgeable university professor would speak to his class.

In “The Way We Eat and Why Our Food Choices Matter”, the co-authors follow three families through week or more of food choices; what they eat, where they shop, what they buy, and the reasons behind their food choices. One family is, what Singer calls, “the typical American diet”. They eat meat, shop at your typical American mega-mart, munch on fast-food chicken sandwiches, etc. The second family also eats meat, but “tries” to buy and eat only sustainable or organic meats and organic produce. They shop at what is considered to be ethically mindful grocery stores such as Trader Joes and Whole Foods. The third family is totally vegan and has raised their two daughters vegan. Throughout the book’s entirety, Singer and Mason very honestly, fairly and non-judgmentally follow, interview and discuss the choices made by the families and the ultimate impact of these choices.

This is what makes the book much more interesting than the average “Eat What’s Good For You” one-sided and obviously single-minded food book. Not only did the co-authors explore three diets-lifestyles, they also traced all of the foods bought and eaten back to its original source and then examined how it was produced. Along the way they explore the real meaning of organic, the way that words like “sustainable” are used and the truth about the environmental impacts of importing foods, green house foods, and local/seasonal foods.

Most people probably hear the name Peter Singer, role their eyes, think of “Animal Liberation” and assume that they know exactly what this book is about. This would be a mistake. Although, at times the content is gory, horrific, and reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s, “The Jungle”, Singer and Mason reach some unexpected conclusions to say the least. Logically, and to be frank, the book’s overwhelming resolution is one which urges the reader to make more conscious choices about the foods they eat. At the book’s conclusion the reader rests assured that the authors did an amazing amount of research, traveling and studying with the mission of writing a clear, honest, accurate account of the foods in America. Foods which ultimately reflect not only the people who eat them, but the culture that produces them, the companies that sell them and the way they are enjoyed—by us.

11 May 2007

Solidarity of Chauvinists

The other day I was having lunch at the sushi bar down the street. It is a come-si-come-ca restaurant, the air smells a bit fishy and the fish doesn't always look so fresh. On this happy day it wasn't the fish that smelled up the place as much as the patrons. One guy in particular. He walks in with his cell phone earpiece in, maybe talking a little in the restaurant (always pleasant to hear, someone else’s broken conversation with a phantom, and with the ear-piece of course, he sounds like a manic). He takes a seat at the bar, orders a beer, a large amount of sushi and proceeds to get comfortable in his ill-fitting shorts.
Altogether not too bad yet.
Then as a group of early twenty something girls finished their quick lunch, stood up and walked to the door, Joel the Mexican sushi chef said good-bye to them. This also is not too bizarre. It is a local, neighborhood restaurant, most people know each other. The earpiece clad man then looked at Joel and said, "Le mujeres, que bueno," in probably the worst Spanish accent I have ever heard. Joel, who certainly heard the man, registered he mans remark with the least reaction possible. He simply looked to the side a little, and then looked down, back to his work, with a very annoyed look on his face.
How strange it is that a man who clearly has no previous experience with another, no friendship, no relationship, no nothing, thinks it is OK to perve out on some girls who are way too young him, and then make a comment about it to this total stranger. Like 'this is what he is thinking too'? I know that I think the same as everyone in my gender? Please tell me where this bizarre thought process come from, it does not make sense. I hope that every woman I pass in the street doesn't think that she knows what I am thinking because we share a gender. Please!!!
Not much later a news story came out in my hometown about a city councilman who clearly felt this solidarity of chauvinists. His ride along took place in the middle of the night when the bars were closing up downtown and, to top it off, the police officer he was with was brand new to the town. In the middle of the ride along he starts spouting inappropriate comments to the police officer. "Look at that fat ass, that's great," and comments such as this erupt from the councilman. The poor police officer just sat through it thinking that he was getting set-up, (which makes sense) and tells his boss the next day. A couple months later, it is the front story in the daily news and that councilman is apologizing to everyone in town.
Looks like the solidarity of chauvinists is actually a one-way ticket to some bad self-marketing.

02 May 2007


There are many things that I love and hate about my job. One of the things I love is Jorge.
I never expected that in my life I would form any sort of friendship with a 40-year-old Mexican immigrant. But I have, and now my Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday would not be complete without an appearance from my beloved latino friend Jorge. Every morning when I show up to work, blurry eyed and trying to muster the strength to face the somewhat grueling and often difficult day ahead, and am greeted by my amusing friend. He waits to make a joke about my hair, if it is up in a ponytail then I have brushed it and I look pretty--I get a compliment from Jorge. "Oh, bonita Yacky," he chirps. If it is down, and delicately messed up from the previous night of sleeping I do not receive a compliment. "No se pieno Yacky, you lazy," he laughs and makes fun of me (for no reason) and lives on in a black and white world.
He just turned forty and has been repeatedly approaching me and asking concernedly, "Soy viejo? Si Yacky?" "No, no Jorge, you are a spring chicken," I tell him, I don’t think he knows what I am talking about. He barely speaks English and I barley speak Spanish. Despite his age, Jorge works seven days a week, everyday he opens the restaurant at 6 am, and basically without him, the delicate balance of the little cafe will fall to pieces. He has a strange, gristly mustache and the pores on his face are deep and troubled, perhaps telling the story of his past.
He came to the States from a beach town in Mexico years ago, but almost everyday he tells me a romanticized story about his hometown. He delights in recalling the magic of Mexican women salsa dancing, moving fluidly, unlike the gringas, “muy stiff," he says with a smile. Then he does a little impression of a woman dancing mannishly, moving like a robot, hinges hungry for oil.
Jorge seems to always be in a good mood, decidedly marked by the all-to-common mischievous grin buried under that rough mustache. He has more energy in the morning than anyone I have ever met. He always greets me with a big embrace and a laugh, he knows how funny it is--him, an exuberant 40 year old Chicano and me, a 24 year old gringa--two separate worlds and states of mind, getting ready for work together.
Sometimes, Jorge escapes into his own perplexing inner world. He becomes quite, somber, and unsmiling. He does not want to joke, or laugh, or tell me who is loco and why in our very broken Mexican/English conversations. Then a week will go by. He will cheer up, and make my day at work a little sunnier.