fighting the lack of good ideas


I love paella. Whoever it was that thought to harvest crocus pollen for flavor was a genius.

Last night after arriving in Sunnyvale CA for a training class, I started Googling for tapas places nearby. I had been looking forward to going to a restaurant in San Francisco, but driving an hour for dinner, when the folks I had originally planned to eat with were at work, wasn’t worth it to me.

I found one close-by in Mountain View. Cascal is located at 400 Castro St. They have extensive outdoor seating, as well as dozens of tables indoors.

One of my co-workers and I headed over to Cascal at about 8:15p, and when we sat down and perused the menu, I had the enjoyable, but somewhat unusual, task of getting to explain large chunks of the menu (thanks to both a food & culture class, and a Spanish culture class I took at Elon). We both ordered paella, which is roughly a Spanish saffron rice casserole. I ordered the Paella Rustica, which had chicken and rabbit, and he ordered the Paella Cascal, the house special which included sausage, and interesting vegetables. Our meals were about $25 each.

The small size orders, which we had, came out in pans about 10″ across. I was afraid to ask how big the “large” orders were, but they were about twice the cost. They must be meals for two or three. As it was, I wasn’t even able to make it through the whole small order, and I can pack food away.

Our waiter was attentive enough to make sure we had everything we needed, but didn’t hover. Overall, it was a pleasant meal with quick service, and I would recommend Cascal to anyone visiting or living in Silicon Valley.

bridge cafe

From 273 W 38th St to 279 Water St in Manhattan is a bit of a hike. The way I walked was about 5.4 miles. Yes, I walked. If I’d known better how to get there, I could have done it in 4.2 miles. But I didn’t, so I walked the long way.

The only reason I wanted to go to the Bridge Cafe was because I had seen it on a Food Network special a couple weeks back, where they had highlighted the fact that it has been in continual operation as a business since 1794, making it (most likely) the oldest bar/restaurant in New York City.

When I got there, though, I saw a sign on the door indicating that food was unavailable because of a kitchen fire. “Great,” I thought, “I walked all this way and can’t even have a sandwich.” Well, I had walked all that way, and figured I should at least go in, since I was there. I walked in just as a couple other folks were leaving the bar, and asked the bar tender for a drink: after a walk that long, I needed one.

The bar tender drew me a Sam Adams Summer, and I sat down to enjoy a little break before heading out to find “real” food. That was at about 8pm. At the end of the bar, a couple seats down from myself, there was a woman sitting who asked how I’d gotten there because she hadn’t heard a cab door close. I told her I had walked. From 38th & 8th. From midtown – all the way down to below the Brooklyn Bridge. On foot. Just then, the bar tender wandered back over, since there were no other customers, and he and Lisa were in shock over how far I walked. Then he asked me why I had come, because, after all, it was one heck of a hike: and I told him I’d seen the place showcased on the Food Network, and wanted to give it a shot.

New York, especially Manhattan, is an eminently walkable city – it’s just that “normal” people take the subway, bus, or a cab if they have to go more than 8 or 10 blocks, apparently. Guess I’m not normal.

Adam, the bar tender, who also turned out to be the owner, started chatting with myself and Lisa, who had arrived only a few minutes before I had (but by bus and a short walk). Turns out that Lisa is a pharmaceutical editor who lives mere blocks from where I ate Monday, Virage. Don’t quite know what that means, but that’s what she does. Lisa’s also a hobbyist filmmaker. Adam’s an eclectic music aficionado. For five and a half hours I sat at the bar chatting with Adam and Lisa, and the couple other folks who wandered in later.

I mentioned, in passing, that I nearly stopped at a place on 2d, but the waitress whom I’d had Monday wasn’t there, so I kept walking. When pressed for details on the name of the place, I told them it was Virage, and Lisa then launched into a lengthy discourse on all the food places within a couple blocks of where I had been Monday, down to a place that only serves macaroni and cheese, called S’Mac.

Topics ranged from funky music (including Tom Waits) to film festivals. Discussions of Scotch, cake, bourbon, beer, Korean chefs, and the list goes on and on. As a side note, it turns out I know more about whiskeys, scotches, and beer than any of Adam’s bar tenders – he even told me (half-jokingly, I think, but maybe not) I should come work there if I have free time when I’m in New York.

Having been told about S’Mac, my grand plan was to finish my drink, get a cab or bus back uptown a ways, and go try some of this off-the-wall mac & cheese. That plan gradually faded through the evening. At 00:24 I checked my cell phone for the time, and realized I had long since missed the opportunity to get food. At least, to get food and still get back to the hotel for at least a solid nap before my last day at my customer’s site.

Fortunately, though, when I sat down I sat at the Scotch end of the bar. I am a huge fan of Scotch, and I think I went into some form of intermittent nirvana when looking-over the choices. I had a Laphroaig 15. I’ve had the 10 before, but the 15 was so much smoother I was amazed – I hadn’t yet met a Scotch that outdid my favorite Laphroaig 10, and now I have. A little later, Adam poured a pony of Bruichladdich Infinity to try. The smoky depth was palate-sparking.

Having enjoyed the Laphroaig, and sampled the Bruichladdich, I slid back to something less heavy, and tried the Six Points Ale on tap. Six Points is in Brooklyn, and smacks the pants of Brooklyn Brewery any day of the week.

At 1:24 I finally had to call it a night so that I could get a couple hours’ sleep before work today. As I was standing to leave, though, Lisa announced that she needed to find an ATM so she could get a ride home. Her apartment is literally a half block out of the way for the ride I was going to need, so we did a very un-New Yorker thing to do, and split the ride back uptown.

I don’t quite know when I finally hit the sack this morning, but I know it was after 2. The next time I’m in Manhattan for more than a few hours, I’m definitely going back to the Bridge Cafe, and see what kind of food they do have.

Thanks, Adam (and Lisa) for an entertaining, enjoyable, enlightening evening. It was the best night I’ve had out “by myself” in years.

charley o’s

I’ve now been to 1611 Broadway twice. Once last December when I was interviewing at FogCreek, and then again Tuesday this week after hitting the Museum Mile Festival in Manhattan. As a side note,walking down the middle of 5th Avenue is a blast – what’s normally a bustling, jam-packed 20 blocks was cordoned-off by the NYPD, and open to pedestrians wanting to see the various museums on the mile-long stretch. I went into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and though several areas were closed-off to the throngs massing through the giant block party outside, it was still kind of interesting.

They advertise themselves as offering lunch, dinner, and pre/post theater drinks.

Both times I have been impressed. And both times I got nearly the same thing: portobello mushroom sticks. Last night I ordered a bowl of vegetable beef soup, too.

Mushroom sticks sound pretty weird first-off, but were awesome (both times!). They take strips of portobello mushroom, wrap them in cheese, coat them in batter, and deep-fry them – they’re like mozzarella sticks, but with no mozzarella and they add mushrooms.

I must say that I wasn’t as impressed by their vegetable beef soup, though, as I was the mushroom sticks. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t spectacular.

For you beer folks, they only have a couple on tap. Last night it was Guinness, Stella Artois, Bass, and Bud Light. (Not that the last one is “beer”, but it was there.)

I have no idea how their entrees are, as I’ve only sampled their appetizer menu, but the dishes I saw being brought out looked good.

When I eat out by myself (which happens a lot when I’m traveling), I like to sit at the bar because it’s not weird to just start chatting with the bar tender, other patrons, or passers-by. Whereas if you sit at a table, it’s kinda weird to just start chatting with someone a table or two over. As a little bit of “it’s a small world”, the bar tender grew up about 2 miles from where I did in upstate NY – he’s from Waterford, and I grew up across the bridge in Cohoes.


Continuing my new theme of including restaurant reviews of places I have been, I must praise Virage in Manhattan. On the corner of 2d Avenue and E 7th Street, is a self-proclaimed “mediterranean-style” restaurant.

I ordered their Monday special, which on that visit was lamb chops with roasted gnochhi and a charred tomato and pepper hot salad. For dessert, I went with their house sorbet – they had raspberry and lemon to choose from, so I got both: and the side-by-side presentation and flavor was delightful.

If you’re a fan of drinks, they have $5 margarita Mondays, and every one that went by on a tray looked really good.

As with most cities, there are hundreds or thousands of places to eat in New York. I can’t say I intend to try every one, but Virage was well worth my 45 block walk.


Since I now have a job that involves traveling quite a bit, I am going to start writing about the better-than-good places I find when I’m traveling.

Allora Ristorante, Marlborough Massachusetts. 139 Lakeside Avenue.

Entree prices range from $15-market (for fresh-caught lobster, etc). The first night I went, I had a fantastic lamb milanese.

Lamb milanese is like a parmigiana, but served over mashed potatoes. In the case of Allora, there was an arugula and caper hot salad with some sort of light dressing over the the top of the whole works.

I ended up eating at Allora all three nights I was out near Boston because the first night was so good. And each night I ordered something different, and was not upset with any choice.

If you have a reason to be out near where the Mass Pike and 495 cross, take a little time and pop north on 495 to exit 24A for route 20, and head east about a half mile.

You won’t be disappointed.