One of the things I loved most about Berkeley as a student was the café culture. There were literally three dozen cafés I could go to in Berkeley and Oakland, and I could go to any number of these shops to fit a particular mood. The standard was Caffe Strada, which being on the corner of College and Bancroft was the most convenient place to get caffeinated in the morning or between classes.
For a $10 meal of iced coffee and a fresh-baked pizza I would go south on College to Espresso Roma. Further down College Ave. was the great Cole Coffee with its poached eggs, toast, and jam, and way down College, near where College became Broadway, was Hudson Bay Cafe, which with its triangular nook and plate glass windows always seemed to me to be the edge of the world. Of course, there were a number of other cafes not on College (Free Speech Movement Cafe, owned by the same man as Caffe Strada; the International House Cafe; Nefeli; Au Coquelet; the original Peet’s Coffee on Vine Street). It’s something I miss in DC, where the only options for me are Peregrine Espresso, Big Bear (which is inconvenient as heck), SoHo (where I was once caught in the crossfire of a transvestite-lesbian catfight), Bourbon, and, thankfully, the excellent and recently-opened Filter Coffeehouse.
A very quick post on a wine I might forget otherwise. I took a friend out to dinner at Leopold’s Kafe a week or two ago. Leopold’s, which is a modern Viennese-style cafe/bar/restaurant, is one of my favorite places in DC: it offers very well-executed, delicious food at reasonable prices, as well as outside seating and the best Euro eye-candy you can find in Georgetown. It is especially good for brunch or dinner and is a great place to take a date, parents, or people you wouldn’t want to entertain at a TGI Friday’s.
I had the steak frites, medium rare. The “steak” in question was skirt steak, which is often used to make carne asada. It wasn’t the most tender cut of meat, but it was tender enough and very, very flavorful. It came with what I took to be caramelized shallots and a sort of creamy chimichurri on top, as well as Leopold’s breathtakingly good frites. She had the roasted chicken which came with potatoes, warm escarole, and some sort of mustard sauce. Both dishes were very good and very filling. After dinner we shared a topfentorte (cheesecake with passionfruit gel, mango, and berries) and each had a kleiner Brauner, which is basically like an Austrian machiato.
So the thermostat has been going up slowly but steadily–we now are in the high 80s here in SoCal. This means beer and white wine weather.
Yesterday, as we all know (or all now know) was Father’s Day. My family decided to stay at home and cook dinner instead of go out for some fancy affair. My brother decided upon angel hair pasta with a sauce of mussels, shrimp, basil, tomato (apparently from Canada and therefore 100% immune from salmonella), garlic, and white wine. He was in charge of buying the food: I, of course, was in charge of getting a wine to drink and with which to cook.
We found ourselves at Whole Foods, which apparently is the nation’s #1 wine retailer for 2007 or something. They do have a pretty good wine selection, and I spied a bottle of grüner veltliner, that spicy, peppery Austrian white that is one of the next big things in the wine world (though not according to David J. D. over at Horny for Food). It’s still relatively obscure–though almost cliché in some circles–so it’s a great bargain, especially given its quality. I picked up a bottle of velt.1 grüner for a cool $9.99. Excellent.