Archive for August, 2009

Happy Birthday, Calvin!

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Calvin’s World Famous South Philly Cheesesteaks on the Alameda is celebrating its namesake’s birthday on Monday, August 31. From 9:00AM to 8:00PM they’re offering a special price of $6.69 for their regular cheesesteak sandmich to recipients of their email list. (That’s right, sandmich—if you want a sandwich stay home and eat PB&J.) I think the intent is for you to print the email and bring it in as a coupon. Click the photo link below for a copy of the email. If you’re not on the list, let this be an incentive to you to go in and sign up.

From 6:00PM until 8:00PM they’re serving birthday cake. That got your attention.

The owner of Calvin’s is the playfully gruff but warmly gregarious Jonne Aleeson. He named the restaurant for his son Calvin. I assume it’s Calvin’s birthday and not Jonne’s nor the restaurant’s. I’ll try to confirm this because I’d hate for you to blunder in and wish a happy birthday to the wrong person or entity. I think you forfeit your cake rights if you do that.

My family all love Calvin’s cheesesteaks and other items. The uncompromising attention to detail make every bite deliciously authentic. We’re bummed we can’t be there Monday to enjoy some cake and steak but we promise to make it up to Calvin (and ourselves) soon. So please do go for us. And tell them All Camino sent you.


Sparing no journalistic expense, I made a call to Calvin’s to corroborate some details of the birthday. First, it is not the son’s birthday, it is indeed the owner’s birthday. Though his name is not Calvin, he’s happy to answer to “Mr. Calvin.” So, happy birthday, Mr. Calvin! Second, I tried to ascertain what kind of cake they’re serving, specifically if it’s cheesecake (get it?). The woman I spoke to wasn’t sure, but whatever it is I’m sure it will be tasty.

Calvins Birthday Special

Calvin’s World Famous South Philly Cheesesteaks & Hoagies
1411 The Alameda
San Jose, CA 95126

Planning the Beautiful Way

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

I take El Camino Real as it is. As long as it is and as storied I accept that parts of it are going to be funky, unattractive, or even downright depressing. Yet for all its sketchy stretches still there are delightful oases. I freely admit that my favorite slice of El Camino is The Alameda.

The Alameda is three miles long and spans from downtown San Jose to the Santa Clara border, roughly from HP Pavilion to Santa Clara University. Alameda is a Spanish word meaning tree-lined boulevard and traveling south on El Camino that’s the impression you get as soon as you cross Interstate 880. With its lush canopy of green and its historic buildings The Alameda has an elegant yet quaint and intimate character which sets it apart from neighboring stretches.

The Alameda, trees

The residents and businesses on The Alameda know they’re special. After all they had the cheek years ago to change their name. “El Camino Real” is good enough for 597 miles of the road, but for three miles The Alameda has to be different. In Spanglish, no less. I don’t mean to imply that they have a superiority complex. Rather they’ve long recognized their street’s unique appeal and sought to maximize its capital potential with a name change, like a Hollywood starlet taking on a more glamorous identity. They’ve got it, so they flaunt it.

For all its charm though The Alameda is not perfect so its stakeholders are doing something about it. In particular there are concerns about how safe and inviting it is to get to, from, up, and down the street, and how to preserve its historic heritage while growing and thriving. A coalition of residents, businesses, and non-profits has received a $250,000 grant from the California Department of Transportation and is working with the San Jose Redevelopment Agency to generate a 10-year plan for the Alameda immodestly titled The Alameda: A Plan for “The Beautiful Way.”

The Redevelopment Agency web site says:

Key elements of the final plan will include:

  • Walkability (including safe crosswalks)
  • Traffic calming
  • Pedestrian and bicycle access from the neighborhoods
  • Preservation
  • Promotion of the historic character of The Alameda
  • Transit integration including improved links to the Diridon Station

This project is community-driven so to engage said community there will be a series of public meetings. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the first meeting was August 19 at Westminster Presbyterian Church and the next one is scheduled for September 1 at 7:00 PM at the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center. I have not confirmed this event and I have seen conflicting dates so if you plan to go, you might want to double-check its details. Update: confirmed!

Regrettably I missed the first one so I’ll try to attend the upcoming meetings and of course report on them here. My natural tendency is to be a lurker but who knows, I may challenge myself to bring a few ideas to the table.

I hope that these community meetings will generate some great ideas to preserve what makes my favorite tree-lined avenue so especial.

Update: A representative of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency has confirmed that this meeting is indeed happening as reported. The next meeting is September 30.

The Alameda Transportation Project Community Meeting

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 7:00PM Confirmed! [update]
Billy DeFrank Silicon Valley LGBT Community Center
938 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126
(408) 293-3040

Sunnyvale Rocks!

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

I had lunch yesterday with an old friend, Dan Hugo. Dan and I worked together one summer at UMAX Computer Corporation. That was almost twelve years ago and I’m not sure I’d seen him since then. Still we intermittently kept in touch through the magic of the internet and finally connected for lunch.

It’s not like I needed a reason, but it was particularly timely for me to talk to him now because of a Really Cool™ project he’s launching: Sunnyvale Rocks! Dan has lived and worked in Sunnyvale off and on for a number of years. Being a civic-minded guy his growing interest in the affairs of the city culminated in his taking and completing the Leadership Sunnyvale  training course. Armed with a deeper understanding of the city and appreciation for its citizens he decided to bring his software and web development expertise to bear and launch Not a geology site, it’s a local community media outlet by, for, and about the people of Sunnyvale with genuine booster spirit. It’s still early but they have exciting plans for it.

A significant part of the project is a series of podcasts at Check out the inaugural episodes of the flagship program, “The Dan and Kevin Show.” You will be amazed at how much there is to learn about the city. In fact in the next episode Dan promised to give a shout-out. I sure hope he does it since I’ve put him on the hook here…

I’ve been following Sunnyvale Rocks! with interest and wanted to learn more about it as there’s a lot of synergy with what I’m trying to do with, thematically and geographically. After all, El Camino Real passes right through Sunnyvale and each imparts a lot of character on the other. So naturally we picked a place for lunch on El Camino…in Sunnyvale. At the intersection of our respective interests, if you will.

Dusita Thai CuisineDan recommended the restaurant: Dusita Thai Cuisine. He knew I liked Thai food from my very first post and he’s a longtime connoisseur. I went a different direction from my usual benchmark and ordered Pad Thai with prawns, an equally valid test of a new restaurant. Pad Thai is a nice, safe, conservative choice because I’m a nice, safe, conservative guy. Dan however, not so much. He ordered Mussaman curry…hot. The exact phrase he used was, “Thai hot.” Evidently that’s a code word that lets the kitchen know to bring the heat. Still the waitress cautioned, “It’s veerry spicy,” to be sure she wasn’t dealing with a novice. My man Dan coolly told her, “I like it spicy.” In Thai. I told you he was a connoisseur. The deal was sealed.

My meal came with vegetable soup, the same one as Tee Nee Thai. This time though the yucky stuff was in plain sight. I’m good with that because it’s easy to avoid; it’s concealed carrots that make me nervous. Now you might point out that noodles and spring rolls are prime hiding spots for yucky stuff and you’d be absolutely right but for some reason that doesn’t bother me. What can I say? It’s food. Logic does not apply.

Pad ThaiThe Pad Thai was delicious. I haven’t learned yet how to write convincingly about food so I’ll fake it. The sauce was piquant and the prawns were succulent and yet approachable. The noodles, inextricably intertwined with the bean sprouts, yielded to the bite like a willing paramour. Not buying it? Then I’ll go with the simplest and sincerest compliment: I’d totally go back again.

As for Dan, between searing mouthfuls and the occasional brow blot he was a treasure trove of fascinating information. Not just about Sunnyvale, but about his approach to the whole undertaking. He gave me a lot to think about and will be better for it. I approach El Camino as a consumer but he’s making a difference in the city of Sunnyvale through human connection. On our way out of the restaurant I wondered aloud what “Dusita” means and he made me go back inside and ask. (It means “heaven.”) It’s that personal approach that makes the difference.

It turns out that Dusita has two locations on El Camino: one in Santa Clara and this newer one in Sunnyvale. My wife has been to the one in Santa Clara and she reports it’s also very good. But I can’t say it any better: Sunnyvale Rocks!

Dusita Thai Cuisine
1028 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087
2325 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050

Julia Child’s Birthday Celebration

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Tonight only Kepler’s Books, El Camino’s treasured independent bookstore, is holding an open house and cook book sale to celebrate famed TV chef Julia Child’s birthday (she was actually born on August 15). There will be raffle prizes, champagne, and cake. I don’t know about you, but I have really really high expectations for that cake.

The biggest dilemma is afterward do you go watch Julie & Julia, or do you head over to Marché or Left Bank for a little French cuisine? Sacré bleu!

(She’s only 97.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009 Tonight!
6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Kepler’s Books
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025
(650) 324-4321

Open House & Cook Book Sale
to Celebrate Julia Child’s Birthday!

Thursday, August 20, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.

We’ll serve champagne and cake while you and your friends peruse our wonderful cookbooks!
20% Off All Cookbook Titles from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. (while supplies last)

There will be fabulous raffle prizes, including:

  • Two tickets to Draeger’s popular Cooking School classes
  • A red pate terrine donated by Le Creuset
  • Julie & Julia aprons, book bags, posters, and booklights
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking blank journals
  • Cookbooks
  • Discounts on local dining, including Oak City Grill and Trellis restaurants
  • and more…

Miss Cougar America Contest

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Friends, this is big news. The first ever National Single Cougars Convention is coming up at the end of the month:

What: National Single Cougars Convention
When: Friday, August 28, 2009,  7:30 PM
Where: Dinah’s Garden Hotel
4261 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA

See the link below for the press release. There will be speeches, vendors, dancing, and revelry. The highlight of the evening will come when one cougar in attendance is crowned the very first Miss Cougar America.

Miss Cougar America Contest Featured at National Single Cougars Convention

Yep, cougar. As in cougar cougar. As in Mrs. Robinson cougar. Think Eartha Kitt in Boomerang or pretty much anything she did after “Batman.”

If you’re still not following me, a cougar is an older woman romantically involved with or pursuing a younger man. It’s all subjective of course but the contest guidelines require the cougar to be over forty and unmarried. The younger men are referred to by the convention promoters as cubs; their age is unspecified but I think at least five years younger is a generally accepted rule of thumb. I personally wouldn’t have chosen the term “cub” as I think it introduces an Oedipal element which is out of place. “Cougar bait” has enjoyed widespread usage but to me it’s too passive and doesn’t capture the reciprocity of the relationship. I’ll go on record here and suggest a new term for the males of the species: toms. Cougars and toms. When you hear it on “The View,” remember you heard it here first.

The idea of a cougar started I think as a bit of a mean joke. A caricature of a pathetic divorcée prowling bars and nightclubs, abusing alcohol and sex to fill a personal void. But guess what. It’s changing folks. The cougars don’t see themselves as a joke anymore. They see themselves as independent and fabulous and they’re looking for men who can keep up with them. They’ve embraced the word “cougar” and are shaping it in their image. They’ve reclaimed it.

Take the convention keynote speakers. She is a 50-something shamanic sex therapist (with great skin by the way). He is a tantric yoga instructor. They are a couple and there are 14 years between them. You’d best believe their connection is deeply spiritual. What’s a few years’ difference when you’re dancing with eternity?

This convention is just the beginning. Cougars are going mainstream. This past spring B-side cable brought us “The Cougar,” a “Bachelor”-style reality dating show. This fall ABC airs “Cougar Town” starring Courteney Cox. There are books, seminars, even a line of lingerie (or maybe not…ahead of its time?).

This convention and its crowning moment will mark a major cultural shift from which there will be no going back. I would love to go and witness history but as the following chart shows, I am somewhat out of the core demographic. If you go, let me know all about it.

Cougars Toms Me

You cougars out there, I salute you and say, “Go ahead!” And to the toms I say, “Go to school. Learn something.” Be safe, have fun, and let the opposites attract! rrrrRRRAWR!

Tee Nee Thai. With a Name Like That…

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

I found myself near the Rose Garden in San Jose last week, looking for a place for lunch. I turned to Yelp and vetoed a couple good alternatives. Bill’s Cafe was nearby. I’ve been there and the food is good, but I passed because I would have felt a little narcissistic eating there. Calvin’s South Philly Cheesesteaks on the Alameda is always a solid choice, but I knew if I went there without my wife and boy I would never hear the end of it. It’s one of our favorite eateries on the planet. But Yelp came through for me, steering me to a restaurant a few doors up from Calvin’s called Tee Nee Thai Cuisine.

Tee Nee ThaiI can’t lie. I went because the name is infectiously cute. Tee Nee Thai. That’s probably the worst reason to pick a place to eat, but sometimes if it just feels right you go with your instincts. For sure sometimes names can be deceiving. There used to be a joint in Mountain View called Thai-Riffic. I went there once. It was Thai-Ribble. Firesign Theatre have a routine on their Boom Dot Bust album where they talk about a fictional establishment called Thai Food Mary’s. You won’t be able to resist their resistant strained noodles! (Yeah, it’s in Billville. There’s that darned narcissism again.) So let’s just say I was cautious.

Plus there’s a seamier side to the name. In front of the restaurant there’s a lovely and welcoming wooden statueTee Nee Thai Statue of a female figure, maybe a Thai dancer, wearing an ornately blinged-out off-the-shoulder midriff-exposing top. And she’s kinda hot, at least as wooden statues go. So one can’t help wondering what pleasures from the Orient await inside. Tee Nee Thai waitresses? Wearing Tee Nee Thai outfits? Oh come on, it’s not just me. You were thinking it too.

What I love about the name is its subtlety and humor. The online reviewers suggest the restaurant is called that because it’s small. I’m not so sure. It’s hardly a cavernous banquet hall but I’ve been in smaller places, and generally itty-bittiness is not regarded as an attribute to be lauded in the business name. And many small restaurants, if they’re good, expand as soon as they can. Tee Nee Thai had seating for about…oh…er…um…okay, I have to come clean. I don’t know how big it is because I didn’t actually go inside the restaurant. I ate there, but I sat outside at one of the sidewalk tables. I only got as far as the hostess podium which is separate from the dining area. The hostess met me at the door and I asked for a table outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. I caught a glimpse of the tables inside but I couldn’t tell you how big it is. So was it Tee Nee? Yeah, maybe.

I don’t know who owns Tee Nee Thai but I suspect it’s family-owned as so many of our favorite Thai restaurants tend to be. I have this vision of the proud family preparing to open their brand new restaurant and trying to find a good name. I’m sure they tried a bunch. Perhaps they weighed the brutally obvious: Bangkok Kitchen, Sweet Basil, Thai Noodle Shop. Perhaps they flirted with the obnoxiously puntastic: Thai One On, Thai Me A River, Thai Thai Again. But I prefer to believe that out of nowhere someone—ideally a doe-eyed child—spontaneously blurted “Tee Nee Thai” and sent everyone in the room into a fit of giggles. They looked at each other, wiped their eyes, and unanimously agreed that yes, their shared hilarity was a sign and that was the chosen name.

So how was the food? It was really good. The waitresses were friendly and yes, pretty, and happily not seamy at all. When I go to a new Thai restaurant I generally opt for one of my benchmark dishes like ground chicken or beef with basil and cashews so I can compare it to other restaurants. However they had a lunch special called Aloha Chicken which was similar to my benchmark but included pineapple. Now “Aloha” to my knowledge is not an authentic Thai word but again I was sucked in by its happy invitation and I confess I cannot resist pineapple so that’s what I ordered. It came with soup and salad. I’m generally not a soup guy but this one looked okay with its celery and zucchini and veggie broth. I didn’t see any yucky stuff so I dug in and was enjoying it until to my horror I discovered that the yucky stuff (tofu and carrots) was hanging out at the bottom of the cup and surfaced once I cleared the upper layers. What’s that you say? You love tofu and carrots and don’t find them yucky at all? I’m so happy for you. I’ll save them for you next time. This experience made me wonder if sinking or floating is a reliable test for yuckiness.

The Aloha Chicken was really tasty. Sweet and spicy and right in the pocket. The lunch portion was just right for a hungry boy like me and I cleaned my plate.

I had a good time at Tee Nee Thai. It was the right spot at the right time and I look forward to going back again. Maybe I’ll even work up the nerve to step into the actual dining room. What’s most gratifying though is that the name didn’t steer me wrong. By itself it promises nothing more than spicy basil-infused dishes with a dash of whimsy, but that’s enough to put me in the right frame of mind. It’s hard to think of a restaurant name more inviting. Except maybe “Bill’s.”