BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Son of a Butcher

Snaking past the illuminated case of thin-sliced meats and artisan cheeses, spilling out the door and onto the sidewalk, the line is already at least 15 deep, and it’s not even noon yet. Any respectable food establishment in downtown Berkeley will inevitably experience the usual lunch rush on any given day, but The Butcher’s Son is guaranteed to be more or less a mob scene no matter the hour. After a year and a half of slinging sandwiches to these hungry hordes, their popularity shows no sign of waning, nor the excitement from dying down. Eavesdrop on the masses already tucking into their oversized sandwiches for encouragement to endure the wait; exclamations of deep, primal joy echo off the walls, speaking louder than any formal review.

Salads and fried snacks round out the menu, but make no mistake, it’s all about the sandwiches here. Overstuffed with plant-based meats and dairy-free cheeses, these generous assemblages transcend the boundaries separating vegans and omnivores. Scores of staunch meat eaters have been shocked to discover that this old school deli is entirely flesh-free, even after devouring a full meal. There’s a certain finesse to the casual fare that reveals dedication to the craft that can only come from passion and attention to detail.

Each towering creation is a feat of culinary architecture. The Fried Mozzarella & Meatball could comfortably satisfy two diners, and the Roast Beef Reuben piles on thinly shaved beefless slices and sauerkraut with the same enthusiasm.

Bestsellers include the BLAT, a classic combination of bacon, lettuce, avocado, and tomato, straight to the point and sure to satisfy any nostalgic cravings. It’s tough to leave without ordering the Pulled Pork though, a saucy, smoky barbecue sensation that’s crowned with tender strings of caramelized onions and creamy coleslaw.

Groaning, straining within the confines of one’s previously well-fitting pants, it would behoove the average diner to reach for a takeout box early on. Resist the temptation of cleaning the plate, no matter how strongly the urge strikes. Besides, there’s still dessert to consider. Don’t overlook the pastry case, stocked with a rotating selection of pies, cheesecakes, cookies, doughnuts, cannoli, flaky croissants, and all variety of other sweet surprises. Just in case you need a meaty fix throughout the week, cold cuts and cheese are sold by the pound, right alongside house-made sour pickles.

Come hungry and early to secure a table, especially for the epic weekend bunch menu. This isn’t your average delicatessen, but the overall experience wouldn’t lead you to think it was any different.

The Butcher’s Son
1941 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704

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Eat Real, Drink Real, Really Fast

That’s all, folks. The manuscript for Real Food, Really Fast is locked in, speeding out to the printer as we speak. It’s been a brief but intense journey to this point, but now one of the most difficult parts of the process lies ahead: The wait. January 16th, the tentative release date, feels like a lifetime away, especially as I’m bursting to spill the beans on all these fresh new recipes. Even the slightest provocation will send me scrambling to my phone to flaunt a sneak peek of the rough PDF to anyone I’m speaking with. Every subject seems to remind me of something going into the book, and like an over-caffeinated child at show-and-tell, I just can’t contain my enthusiasm.

Capitalizing on an abundance of fresh honeydew melon, a sudden heatwave, and a serendipitous opportunity to spread the word, this unconventional gazpacho took that impulse towards oversharing to the next level.

Cucumber-melon was a hand soap, a home fragrance, or a body lotion as I knew it growing up. Naively failing to connect the dots to obvious origins, it took an embarrassing number of years for me to realize that it could correlate to an actual food combination. Even then, the discovery did little to tempt my taste buds, the concept ranking right alongside the suggestion of biting into a scented candle. What works for cosmetics doesn’t necessarily merit culinary consideration, but this is one rare case where the two worlds collide with great success. Gazpacho is designed specifically to deliver the ultimate cooling palate cleanser on a hot summer’s day, which just so happens to define the essence of both cucumbers and honeydew melons as well. Mind you, this is no dessert soup, with the notable twang of garlic, onions, and vinegar swimming peacefully amidst the pale green puree, but a careful balance to bridge discordant components of a menu.

Flavor pairing is an important element well beyond the bowl to complete a harmonious meal. I’m no sommelier, but I do understand the importance of matching a complimentary drink to a delicate dish such as this one. Nothing too loud or brash to cover up its subtleties, and nothing too sweet to skew the overall impression towards the saccharine. Few options other than plain water fit the bill, until I discovered the effervescent delight that is Lavender Melon KeVita Master Brew Kombucha. Yes, a sparkling probiotic powerhouse infused with the essence of watermelon, a touch of ginger, and a gentle floral note! Invigorating black tea will power you through the heat of summer’s last hurrah, and won’t let you down with a terrible crash later on. Could there be anything more perfect or refreshing to enjoy with this soup?

Happily, I’m not the only one who seems to think so. KeVita and I will be joining forces to showcase this cool couple at the Eat Real Fest on September 23rd and 24th. Bay area natives and visitors, this is your chance to get an early taste of Real Food, Really Fast while enjoying Kevita’s carefully curated kombucha options! I’ll be there in person from noon to 4:00pm to share free samples of my Cucumber-Melon Gazpacho, complete with exclusive recipe cards as an early preview for the book. Join us for real food, real fun, really fast!


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Silent Sunday: Sichuan Situation

Tofu Clay Pot

Turnip Cakes

Hot and Sour Soup

Steamed Bao

Big Lantern
3170 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

Garlic Pea Shoots

Fish-Fragrant Eggplant

Vegetable Dumplings

MaMa Ji’s
4416 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114



Sizzling Eggplant

Bean Curd with Mushrooms

Pot Stickers

Crispy Taro Rolls

Lucky Creation
854 Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94108


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Rush Hour

Rhythmically, persistently, a small child is kicking me in the shins. Propelling his legs with blissful abandon beyond the constraints of his stroller, the rubber-soled shoes strike with a dull thud as regularly as a metronome. This is the least of my concerns though, as I struggle to find an open pocket of air in the overcrowded BART car. A nauseating bouquet of sweat, cologne, and Chinese takeout infiltrates my lungs, mingling together in one pungent, irrepressible plume. Each inhalation skews slightly to one or the other, though none holds particular appeal. Breathing becomes a careful, measured effort, akin to meditation.

Hurtling through tunnels, cutting across highways and open fields, chasing after the fading sun, the train starts and stops, yet not a single person moves an inch. Wedged firmly in place, it would be impossible to fall, even if one gave up standing on their own volition. Familiar vistas flash by through smudged windows, but from my vantage point staring directly into some tall man’s armpit, the scenery looks all the same to me. Somewhere between Embarcadero and West Oakland, I find myself wearing someone else’s headphone wires. Perhaps the whole mob, myself included, is beginning to merge into a single person.

Compared to many, my trip across the bay is mercifully short. Swimming upstream against the current of writhing arms and legs, it takes many gentle shoves, a few accidentally trampled feet, and many profuse apologies to disentangle myself from the mass when the doors finally open at my home station. The stagnant but open air has never felt so good. To all the faithful, tireless workers who continue forward on their journeys, to repeat the trip once again the next day, again and again with no end in sight: I salute you. That onerous commute is a full time job, in and of itself.