Timeline: December 25, 2016 – January 5, 2017
Today’s hotel/motel industry has evolved from its early days when what you got when you booked a stay was hopefully a clean room and good night’s sleep. Now most of the places we stay at feature a flat panel TV, refrigerator, often a microwave and universally, some form of a breakfast. The Best Western Inn at the Vines partners with the Denny’s next door to offer a meal in the morning, a nice change from the typical cookie cutter “hot breakfast” usually featured in-house.
We’ve come to find that Denny’s as a breakfast option is as good as any with reasonable pricing, generally good service, and decent food. Many years ago this wasn’t always the case; in fact we avoided this chain like the plague. But they’ve improved their menus and overall business plan and given the choice we now will often stop in at one should we be stepping out for a morning meal. After eating we wandered down Soscol Avenue stopping in at an RV merchant, as we went in search of a Ford dealership we’d visited in the past that had an impressive collection of high performance Mustangs (Rouse, Cobra, etc.).
It was a further walk than we wanted to take that morning though and so we returned to the car and drove back into the East Bay, with a quick stop at REI (note to this blog’s followers, our car didn’t get broken into this time around) before heading to the apartment. We checked in with Jessica and agreed to meet she and Kris in San Francisco soon thereafter at a new place they been to once before, Biergarten in the Hayes Valley neighborhood.
We took the BART across the bay and then walked about a mile to Biergarten. It was a cool and windy day and yet this outdoor venue was crowded; we sighted Jessica and Kris and took the last two seats with them at a long picnic table. I went up and ordered our first round of beers, a half liter of Andechs Vollbier Hell, a 4.7% typical example of a Bavarian style lager while Joanna helped Jessica with the liter of beer she had ordered.
We settled on some food, ordering a Currywurst (Grilled and sliced Prather Ranch pork sausage with house curry ketchup-sauce and toast) and the Pork Belly Sliders (2 Prather Ranch pork belly with red kraut salad and Russian dressing on challah buns), not a typically German selection but tempting to say the least. Along the way I got a second beer, this time a liter (Mass) of the Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel, pleasantly malty with a robust body and the recognizable sweetness one associates with a bock beer. The sliders weren’t to my taste unfortunately, a little to fatty but a charateristic I’m sure others love.
We finished up our food and beer and slightly chilled walked back towards the BART station through Hayes Valley, a highly sought after section of San Francisco where the rent for a single can run well over $3,000, per Jessica and confirmed with a look at Zumper. Back at the apartment we settled in to watch a movie and get ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve the next day.
The day broke with some bad news; we had planned to join Lydia and Walter to resume our New Year’s Eve tradition of many years, this time venturing to Great China. Battling illness for more than a week, our good friends decided that they weren’t up physically for an outing and would need to cancel. Not the end of the world but it did send us scrambling for an alternative for dinner, making reservations at Parlour, a place not too far from the apartment that Jessica and Kris had been to before.
We killed time during the day by heading over to Emeryville to take in a movie, then set out in the early evening for our dinner. Upon arrival at the restaurant we discovered that although it had not been mentioned at their website that the menu that evening was a quite limited Prix Fixe at $80 per person. It took us no time at all to decide that this was not an option we wanted to pursue and so thanked them for their consideration and left.
Jessica and Kris immediately suggested an alternative that would end up saving the day and providing us with a very memorable meal at Duende, known for their modern Spanish cuisine. Although they take reservations, they have a common table that is open to folks that show up.
We started with a round of cocktails and a couple of small plates to get the taste buds functioning, the Patatas Bravas (potato quarters, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside with a spicy aioli sauce) and one of my favorites of the evening, Bunuelos de Queso (Gruyere fritters with chilies, scallions, and honey).
Next up was an order of Pincho Moruno, a Moorish presentation of pork rillettes marinated in a adobo with spiced yoghurt and nigella seeds. Simply pork on a skewer and yet they were moist and tender with that delectable adobo seasoning for an absolutely delicious taste in the mouth. Accompanying this round was the Canalones Blancos (Pasta stuffed with ricotta, leeks, spinach, and orange zest), a Spanish take on ravioli that made you just want to eat another plate of it.
We ordered a bottle of Pado de Capellanes, a fine Tempranillo red wine to compliment our final dish, which we’d ordered earlier so that it would be ready when we’d finished up the small plates, the Paella de Carne (chewy Spanish bomba rice, whole cippolini onions, chunks of rabbit and salsa Diablo). I’d last eaten Paella in Tossa de Mar(near Barcelona) in 2014 and was disappointed with the offering. This time there would be only delight, perfectly cooked rice, more than enough added ingredients and at the end, you’d spoon down and you get the crunchy bits off the bottom that mingled with the moist rice and the slight chewiness of the meat.
We finished with a slice of Buttermilk Cake and an espresso apiece, pleasantly full but not stuffed. We left remarking on the quality of the meal and how lucky we were to have ended up at Duende given the circumstances of the last minute change of plans on New Year’s Eve. I’m looking forward to a return visit one day, that is, if we can forgo any of the other great spots to eat in the East Bay.
Later that night we saw the New Year in, kissing at the stroke of midnight, a ritual Joanna and I have practiced for nearly 35 years, a tradition one never tires of. One thing I can say without hesitation is that each kiss seems to mean more, graced by my appreciation for the gift of life, knowing that this celebration means another year of adventure and memorable experiences that she and I will share together. It really doesn’t get any better.