Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Nick's Pizza

I have to hand it to Nick's Pizza. It's the best pizza I can find in Berkeley (really North Oakland), and I'm willing to put up with their prices and idiosyncratic insistence that you eat their crazy pizzas without changing them.

I like everything about the food, from the chewy sourdough crust of the pizza, to the well-constructed seasonal salads. I think it's something like 20 bucks for a cheese pizza, but I'll be darned if I'm going to settle for what else passes for pizza in B-Town. I occasionally like a nice thick Zachary's pizza, but for a traditional pie, Nick's Pizza is my favorite now for some time.

They'll deliver (I use GrubHub online), but tonight I drove down for a pick-up, to save time. While I was there, I also couldn't help but purchase a fresh loaf of sourdough bread, and 2 giant cookies from their pastry wall.

Oh Nick's, you got me. Take my money, make me fat, I do not care.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Handy Oscar, Berkeley fix-it-man

Oscar Ramirez is all you can hope for in a fix-it man - friendly, honest, hard-working, and overwhelmingly handy. He may be the best handyman in the Berkeley.

Since my wife and I bought a house in West Berkeley, Oscar has repeatedly helped us with odd jobs. We started out with small things, but I have found that there’s really no job that is too complicated for Oscar. Here’s what he has done for us, in order:
  • replacing the faucet on the sink
  • installed a doggy door and re-hung the door too
  • hanging large white boards in my office
  • hanging a pot rack in my kitchen (he helped my wife with this for my birthday)
  • hauling away debris in his truck
  • putting in a slab of concrete, to house a new shed
  • replacing two windows with energy efficient ones
  • go to Home Depot and choose materials
  • restoring built in oak shelves, from unusable to gorgeous and stable

Oscar charges $30/hour, but I have literally had to insist he takes the full amount we agreed for the jobs. That's such a welcome contrast to every other handy man and contractor who quotes one rate and asks for more at the end.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

NSA surveillance damages the American brand

I think perhaps the shame we feel as Americans over our secret spy program is more viscerally felt as disgust and disenchantment elsewhere in the world.

"We tear up when an American president gives a rousing movie-speech and we cheer hard when the SEALs parachute in to save the day. We may not know our own national anthems but all sing along to the Star Spangled Banner when it plays."

What fearful animals we showed ourselves to be at the first attack, in the fall of 2001. And what a price we pay for the illusion of safety.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kirala - the Best Worst Sushi in Berkeley

As far as Berkeley sushi goes, I think Kirala is the place to beat, and I really wish someone would beat them. The food is really good - everything from the freshness to the fish choices to the portions of the cuts are just right. And also the decor and ambiance of the place is nice. But the prices are too high, the service is too slow, and it's hard to get a table.

Let's start with the prices. There are many good San Francisco sushi places that will give you nigiri for a $3-5/pair range, but Kirala is more like $5-6/pair for run of the mill stuff. I also thought the Rainbow and Dragon Rolls were over-priced, but looking at their menu online, the prices seem reasonable. I wonder if the prices are mis-marked online, or if I misremembered.

I'd happily pay Kirala's prices (occasionally) if everything about the restaurant were otherwise awesome, but the service sucks too. It's not the fault of an individual employee - I just think the management doesn't put quite enough waiters on staff. They should probably try paying the waitstaff the same for less hours, and bringing more on. It seems like they can afford it because the place has been slammed for years.

My final complaint is that you can't make any sort of reservation. I think it's a nice service for a restaurant to orchestrate some amount of advance seating, for people who don't just want to drop in and maybe wait an hour to sit down.

It's really hard to call Kirala a bad restaurant, and I might go there again someday. The Yelp reviews think it's pretty good too. But they could really do a bit more, or charge a bit less.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pizza Moda - Best sit-down Pizza in Berkeley?

Anna and I tried out a relatively new restaurant a few nights ago, and it was particularly nice because Adlai slept through the whole thing in his stroller, and then through the night when we got home.

The food was tasty, the service was crisp, and the owner, who spoke with us a bit, was charming with his scarf and laidback drawl. After the jaunt, I actually liked the shaved asparagus salad so much that I made a similar dish at home for us. Shaving the asparagus into a raw salad is perhaps my favorite treatment of the vegetable to date.

In total at Pizza Moda, we had the an asparagus salad, an arugula salad, a pizza with pancetta, a few beers, a cappuccino, and the apple/pear/cranberry crisp for desert. The pizza was very good - sauce, cheese, and crust - and I also thought the arugula salad was piled particularly high. Perhaps my only real critique is the desert could have left off the candied cranberries (craisins?) and that would have been slightly better.

I don't remember the exact price, but I remember being surprised that it wasn't that expensive, even with the tip. We'll definitely go back again, probably get much the same meal!

It doesn't surprise me the reviews for the place are so good on Yelp. Pizza Moda might be the best sit down pizza experience in Berkeley, since the decline of Giovanni's.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Force of Will

They tell you when you are growing up that you can do anything or be anything you want. At least I got that message sometimes, and I hope a lot of other people do too. But when I was a kid, for decades really, I didn't know what that meant. I thought it was a mindless platitude - a positive thing you tell children to keep them marching in the right direction. Like any cliche though, I realized that one was growing upon some fertile truth.

The truth is that things happen simply because we will them to, and the calculus effectively ends there. Sometimes, it's a chaos of intermingled wills that produce results - often tragic, unexpected results - but nonetheless it's just people wanting and and dreaming that makes the world what it is.

And that's a beautiful realization - it's a guiding insight. If simply wanting things to happen makes it so, then we must focus on wanting the right things, and let ourselves yearn for the future.

You see, I am no Calvinist, no believer in set destiny. Unpredictable chaos is effectively the same thing as non-determinism, and so when people have opposing wills, things get complicated and unpredictable. You can't predict all of the future, all of the time. But as an individual, you can will your own destiny, and those that do not instead get swept up in the wills of others.

So this insight is actually an actionable thing, a thought you can use. The obvious use is that by knowing this fact, you can start doing anything. It's mostly a matter of want, will, and time for anything.

But that's the obvious use. The non-obvious use is predicting other people's behavior. In any sort of business or political dealing, you simply have to analyze what people want, and then you will know what is going to happen.

The quintessential business example is a contract. You might think that a contract will tell you what is going to happen in a business relationship, and indeed it does sort of codify it and let the two parties probe each other's thoughts. But if you really want to know how the deal will play out, then the real question to ask is who wants what, and who has more will.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Moxy Beer Garden and the Future of Sacramento and Ashby

My wife Anna and I jabbered excitedly when we heard a new restaurant was moving in at Sacramento and Ashby. Having just moved to south Berkeley (Acton St.) recently, we are eager to see any new businesses around, and at .3 miles, Moxy Beer Garden is pretty close to our house. It's a great Berkeley burger place, beer garden, and has a outside seating area for lunch.

I think that Berkeley Bowl West is doing a lot to bring together the neighborhoods around San Pablo Park, but the Sacramento corridor is still a little roughshod, and Moxy is a great addition. We just need another bookend up up north, maybe to replace where the illegal dispensary was, and we'll really be set.

Before Moxy, there was a restaurant called Casa Vino that filled the spot, but it didn't fit the neighborhood, with its expensive wine and bland, yet hoity toity food. We only made it in once on a Groupon (do those things still exist?).

Moxy is great though! First, it makes a great spot for a family lunch. We brought our 6-month-old along, and there were a bunch of other families there having Saturday lunch. The food was all excellent too - we had a pair of medium-rare, perfectly cooked burgers, an over-generous basket of fresh cut fries, and a truly delightful salad made from arugula, sprouts, feta, olives, and vinaigrette. The salad was really impressively sized and quite tasty, and I thought the fresh butter lettuce made for a great burger topping. Service was fast and friendly too.

The only criticism I might offer of the place is that the iced tea could be better. There was nothing wrong with the iced tea, but I tend to think having a really good iced tea (passion fruit anyone?) reflects well on a restaurant, because the non-drinkers remember still getting a tasty drink. I hear they are listening to feedback too - apparently the fry baskets used to be less generous, but when customers said something, they fixed it.

Anyways, we are delighted to have Moxy Beer Garden down the street. I like to think that a vital part of Berkeley is springing up around Sacramento, San Pablo, and the area around San Pablo Park, and Moxy is part of that! Pretty good ratings on Yelp too.