The Parable of the Secret Talent

Once there was a young boy (or possibly a young girl, only the sky and the pen know for certain) who did not do things the way that other boys and girls did them. He did not herd the sheep in the usual way; he did not sweep the floor in the usual way; he did not store the bread in the usual way.

The people who he loved, or at least took very seriously, came to him and said, “That is a foolish way to herd the sheep, sweep the floor, store the bread. That is the wrong way to do it. Do it the right way.” And because this young boy loved them, or at least took them very seriously, he tried to do things the way they said. He herded the sheep in the usual way; he swept the floor in the usual way; he stored the bread in the usual way. And he was Extremely Bad At It.

The people shook their heads and said, “That boy is not very good at herding the sheep, sweeping the floor, storing the bread. He never was.” The boy was miserable, until one day, after he had grown up and moved to a cottage far up in the hills, he decided to throw caution to the wind (caution was later found hung up on a clothesline in the valley below, but that is a different tale entirely) and do things the way he had done them when he was a young boy.

He herded the sheep his way; he swept the floor his way; he stored the bread his way. And he discovered that his way of doing things was just as good as the way he had been taught; indeed, it was even better! It was the best way ever of herding the sheep, sweeping the floor, storing the bread! The man that had been the young boy was ecstatic, and he lived out his days herding his sheep and sweeping his floor and storing his bread, just the way he liked.

Some say the moral of this parable is that every person has a secret talent deep within them, which ought to be nourished. Some say the moral is that people ought not to get up in my business, I know what I’m doing. Some ask how the man knew his way was the best way when he wasn’t any good at the other way. Some say that the boy was a damn fool to move far up in the hills just because someone said he wasn’t sweeping the floor right. And some say it’s a stupid parable anyway and to pass the jug.

Impression: Le Petitt’s Kitchen: Recommended

265 Golden Gate (between Hyde and Leavenworth)

Le Petitt wins points for convenience, though I can’t say I’m crazy about running the gauntlet of random guys with shopping carts. I went for a slightly late lunch on a Friday, having passed a few other times on grounds of crowdedness. They don’t have a lot of space, and the line gets long around noon. I had a roast beef sandwich ($5.75) and macaroni salad ($.95).

The sandwich fillings were your standard sandwich shop fare: lettuce, tomato, red onion, cheese, mayo, mustard. They say they roast their own beef, and I believe it. The fillings, however, are not the noteworthy part of this sandwich. The reason to go to Le Petitt is the bread.

They bake their own sourdough rolls, and these are some damn good sandwich rolls. The crust is crunchy and chewy enough to give some heft to the roll, without being so tough that you squirt your sandwich’s innards out the back with every bite. It’s a mild sourdough, lending a nice twang to the sandwich while letting the other ingredients have their moment in the spotlight too. (Yeah, I like bread. You got a problem with that?) Some of you out there who may be fond of whole grains might be tempted to order your sandwich on wheat; don’t. You’ll get two slices of supermarket-grade whole wheat sandwich loaf, and miss out on a lot of what Le Petitt has to offer. The macaroni salad, meanwhile, was fine. If you like something like that to add some variety to your meal, go for it; I’m not sure I’ll bother next time.

They also give you a chocolate-covered mint with your order, which is a nice touch.

Originally published on Tournedos

Close Calls

I haven’t been posting a lot lately because my days all pretty much run like, “I got up, took the train to school, went to class, read a bunch, came home after sundown, watched some TV, and went to bed.” Yesterday, however, I nearly killed someone, which is a bit more interesting.

My wife and I decided to go to dinner last night at a bistro in Menlo Park we’ve been meaning to try. So we get in the car and get on El Camino heading south. On this particular stretch of El Camino, there is pretty much always some guy tooling around on a bicycle, casually moving down the side of the road towards wherever. Last night was no exception. As we head down El Camino, however, this guy abruptly starts drifting across all four lanes. It took me a fraction of a second to register that he was drifting. It took me another fraction of a second to accept that yes, he was actually changing lanes. One more fraction of a second to recognize that he was going really, really slow. Then I was standing on the brake.

There are few moments with the clarity and focus of the half-second before an auto accident. I couldn’t swerve; we were in the middle lane, and there were people in the other lanes. I suppose I could have pulled the emergency brake, but I think I need at least a full second to think of that. So our brakes screamed and I watched him getting closer. With a couple yards to spare, I resigned myself to the collision.

Miraculously, with maybe a foot or two until contact, our speed dropped to less than his, and he started to gain ground. Then, finally, he looked behind him as we screeched to a halt. Perhaps I should mention he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Fortunately, there was no one else in our lane, so we didn’t get rear-ended. Instead, I just sat there for a moment as the smoke from our wheels drifted up and blew away. After a few seconds I had the composure to honk as our bicyclist friend wobbled back to the side of the road from whence he came.

If I’d been looking somewhere else — hell, if my reactions had been fractionally slower — we would have hit him. If we didn’t run him over, we would have knocked him into the next lane where the truck passing us would have hit him at speed. Best case scenario, we knock him flying forward and succeed in stopping before running him over. And remember, no helmet. He’d be toast.

Having reflected on all this, however, I realized that I was still stopped in the middle of a busy road, and should probably move on. By now, I had that sort of shaky fidgety feeling that you get when your body has dumped a big shot of adrenaline into your system that you don’t really need anymore. So when we noticed the guy still cruising along the sidewalk about half a block down, Jen rolled down the window and I screamed at him a bit.

“Sorry,” he called back.

On the other hand, dinner was nice.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Impression: Amy’s Cafe #2: Not Recommended

Golden Gate between Hyde and Leavenworth, next to GAAP
San Francisco

I’ve mentioned my soft spot for small chaotic restaurants, and Amy’s Cafe definitely fit the bill. When I went in for lunch today, there were hand-written menus on every wall (making one wonder if they have an absurdly large menu, or just a large menu repeated in several places), a couple of cabinets strategically placed to block off part of the space they’re not using, and eight bars of Asian pop skipping on a CD player. My kind of place.

As I said, they have an extensive menu — mostly Chinese food, with a section for breakfast and American food selections. I ordered the broccoli beef rice plate ($4.25), which tends to be a pretty safe bet. Sadly, Amy’s Cafe let me down pretty comprehensively. The broccoli beef cowered by the side of a massive expanse of rice — more than I could finish, and I can eat a lot of rice. The sauce was bland and watery, and the beef was rubbery. The broccoli was fine, but a plate of steamed broccoli and rice is not a meal, but a joke about 70s macrobiotic cuisine. The hot and sour soup that came with it I didn’t even finish.

I feel like I should give the place another try some time — the American dishes looked better, and I tend to reserve judgment on a Chinese place until I try their fried rice. Still, at this moment, I can’t recommend Amy’s Cafe.

Impression: Law Cafe: Recommended

Lobby of 198 McAllister

This was a difficult meal to rate. I ate, from the Law Cafe (I can’t say “at” on account of the lack of seating), a turkey club wrap ($4.50) and a fruit cup ($2.50). Now, I have only good things to say about the convenience factor, and I have no complaints about the service. The wrap was merely OK. The insides were fine; the turkey was good, the lettuce and tomato seemed fresh, the bacon was bacon. They went a little overboard on the green condiment (some breed of aioli, I guess), but even with the ample saucing, I thought the wrap itself was sort of dry and heavy. This may just be a personal thing between me and lavash. It wasn’t terrible; it wasn’t great. I’d eat there again if I didn’t have time for anything else.

However — and here the difficulty arises — I cannot sing the praises of the Law Cafe fruit cup enough. Sure, $2.50 is a fair chunk of change, but you get a full pint of fruit, and the fruit is fresh and varied. Too often, a fruit cup is a small cup of soggy melon chunks, but the Law Cafe delivers strawberries and pineapple and grapes (and I have to say, this has been a damn good year for grapes) and bananas and yeah, some melon, but it’s fresh, sweet melon. It’s been my favorite afternoon slump snack for the last month or two. (I’m not sure they’re still doing it, but the fifty-cent hard-boiled egg was a pretty good snack too if you just need to put some food into your body between classes.) Sadly, as we move into winter, the fruit quality is ebbing a bit. The strawberries are not so good, and more and more melon appears. Even so, it’s still pretty good. Hence, the fruit cup elevates what would otherwise earn an OK rating into the Recommended band.

And the apple danishes are pretty good too. But those are mine, so back off.

Originally published at Tournedos