Cheap and Happy

Friday, October 5th, 2007

cimg7158.jpgOfficially, this wine has no name. That, perhaps, should have been our first clue. The fact that it has a smiley face instead of a label, and that the description on the back speaks of the “flavour of happiness” should have warned me against buying it. I don’t know what I was thinking except that we needed two more bottles of wine in order to get the bulk discount at Trader Joe’s, this one was $5.99, and I was being lazy and silly. I have learned my lesson. Better to have been short a bottle and to not have gotten the discount rather than buy this swill and have to drain it down the sink. After the first puckering sip, I hoped that it just needed air but that was a fool’s hope. It was heinous. Not since Shanghai have we had to pour an entire bottle down the sink because the wine was simply awful.

Speaking of China, though, we ordered chinese take-out last night after we opened a fresh bottle. With a name like “Andy’s Chinese Cuisine”, what is one to expect? It’s kind of hard to know because the eponymy could be on purpose, giving the illusion of humble when it is really divine. Of course, it could be genuinely humble, a hole-in-the-wall with a greasy kitchen, mismatched tables and chairs and cheap, too-thin paper napkins. One cannot necessarily judge by the name or the look of the restaurant- the food from either could turn out to be a fabulous bargain or a disastrously bland, or MSG’d mistake. Sometimes, the nastiest of dives makes the tastiest of take-out and the places that look posh could serve sad, Americanized imitations of the original cuisine. cimg7159.jpgIt turns out that Andy’s is someplace in between. After Marc had placed our order, we noticed that our photocopied menu had been trying to tell us that Andy’s had been voted as the Best of the Bay for its Kung Pao chicken. Luckily, we had ordered it. I don’t exactly know what Kung Pao chicken is supposed to taste like (unless I count the version we ate while in China, but I can’t, really, because it was likely a tourist-ized version of the original), but Andy’s was pretty good: a little spicy, nicely oniony, lots of chicken. The best part about the meal was the take-out boxes. You just don’t see these in Canada where every place seems to use styrofoam containers. These are the classic Chinese take-out containers, the kind you see in the movies, the kind I thought were perpetuated only by movies and TV but were not actually in use anymore. How very quaint.

Speaking of “quaint” and “dive”, it turns out that a purveyor of food can be both. A couple of weeks ago, we took the car in to have its smog emission test which left us with about 20 minutes of waiting time in a gas station. Rather than sit at the picnic table in the parking lot, we wandered off for a snack and went into the first shop we saw that served coffee: The 5 Star Truffle Cafe. It’s a small, dark place with an old espresso machine, an ancient glass display case and a guy making a mountain of truffles behind the counter. It’s the truffle store next to the gas station on Divisadero. While we waited for the guy in front of us to have his order for 60 truffles filled, we perused the flavours: mocha, cognac, coconut, espresso, hazelnut, orange… there were at least 10 or 12 different kinds. The man in the front of us asked to taste the Earl Grey truffle; when he nodded and held up 10 fingers, I concluded it was good and said as much. He continued to nod and rolled his eyes to say it was fantastic. I joked he must be the most popular guy at his office to bring in so many truffles, but he corrected me, saying that his partner had just died and that he was collecting some of his favourite foods for the celebration of his life taking place that afternoon. Wasn’t really expecting to hear sad news, but I guess it means that at least these truffles were somebody’s favourite. We ordered 20. They were exquisite, especially the Earl Grey.