Sunday, May 18, 2003

Some days echo with bliss: food and sun and laziness.

I woke late this morning, around 11, just missing the new Car Talk; I called Sarah and then I called Molly and we decided (it being too late to catch high tea in Pleasanton) to go to Toutatis in downtown Oakland (719 Washington at 7th St) for crepes. "Oakland is so depressing sometimes," I said, and Molly agreed, saying, "I wonder if it was always this way? I mean, I remember as a kid thinking, 'Oh, so that's what a prostitute looks like' but not feeling depressed by it." We drove on past the empty dead sunny streets, the high-rise apartment buildings like the outskirts of Barcelona drained of all the people, the clean square grass yards, and she said "Maybe I just wouldn't be depressed by it as a kid, but I'm depressed by it now." Seventh and Washington was similarly empty, as downtown Oakland inevitably is on weekends. Toutatis inhabits the ground floor of a Victorian, just beside the Oakland Library bookstore (which was closed); when Molly and I walked in, we were the only two customers, although an older lady and her husband came in a little later and sat down. We were seated in the table by the front window. Maps of Brittany (St. Lo, Mont St. Michel, Cherbourg, Manche) and postcards of fishing village harbors and windswept stone cottages were pressed under the glass tabletop, and magazines were arranged on the bay window's countertop--San Francisco Magazine's Cheap Eats issue and Us Weekly and CFO and many others.

I got a Galette Provencale with cheese--tomato coulis (thick chunks of tomato, not the thin jam I was expecting from the coulis served in Thailand), onion, Kalamata olives (pitted, which Molly pointed out is extremely inauthentic), and rosemary-fragrant, crunchy dried herbes de Provence strewn over the top. The thin, lacy, buckwheat crepe was folded into a triangle whose crispy edges pointed off the edges of the plate, and cheese was melted between the layers, bumping the price up to $8 instead of $6.25 for the vegan version. In the center of the crepe the coulis and cheese melted the crepe into a mush and I understood why their menu specified that they would not package their crepes to go. I had an Orangina as well. Molly had a cafe au lait served in a big bowl with a marshmallowy cloud of white foam dolloped on top, and a dessert crepe with caramelized apples and whipped cream.

Although the staff was hurrying us along a bit, I decided to get a dessert crepe as well--mine was topped with whipped cream and napped with a homemade caramel sauce--thick, luscious, sweet and voluptuous, making my pitiful hazelnut brittle hang its head in shame. The crepe had considerably less presence than the savory galette (it basically served as a soft thin sponge for caramel sauce).

Afterwards, we walked around the empty streets of downtown Oakland, past an art gallery with birds and a big brown boxer-type dog lying amidst the sculptures, and discussed LA and whether Molly would go crazy from moving there, and the relative merits of conferences versus those of business trips. Chinatown was much more populated and we looked at the beautiful blue-glazed dishes and cheap woks and packages of almond jello and tins of curry sauce in the big store on the corner, and frozen durians and longans in boxes on the street.

We went to Elephant Pharmacy and I got a Chimp Mint to benefit the Jane Goodall foundation. It contained a trading card of a low-ranking but ambitious chimp named Mike, who would display using four empty kerosene cans when other chimps only had one.

We went to Molly's and I ate walnuts and feta wrapped in mint leaves.

I came home and saw the Satsuki Arts festival at the Buddhist temple on Channing. Nothing of interest--fish prints with rubber fish were cool.

Made the following:
Line-caught wild salmon (2 fillets, $10.65, fillets costing $8.50 a pound): flesh so deeply colored it was still almost red when it was cooked, instead of anemic pink. I marinated it in white miso paste with a little soy sauce, sliced garlic, ginger powder, mirin, and bergamot juice. Scraped off the marinade and cooked the thick, wedge-shaped fillets skin-side down in the handleless nonstick frying pan at 500 degrees for about 20 minutes. The skin was blackened but tasty.

Purple asparagus (1 bunch) and 1 zucchini and 3 yellow sunburst squash. I cooked one white onion and 2 cloves garlic till soft, almost caramelized, then added a handful of pine nuts to toast in the pan and stirred in 2 spoonfuls of blackberry jam and a pat of butter to melt together. I added a little soy sauce and mirin. I added the veggies and stirred them to coat in the glaze and then cooked till crisp-tender and added salt and pepper.

Wild rice/brown rice mix. 2 cups rice, 4 cups water. Chewy but still a little too soft.

Meal greatly appreciated by all.

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