Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

So Blessed

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

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Today we were shocked and deeply saddened to read in the Mercury News that Jonne Aleeson, owner of Calvin’s Philly Cheese Steaks on The Alameda, died at home of an apparent heart attack one week ago, September 19, 2010. “Mr. Calvin” as he is affectionately known was 67.

I’ve written often of Calvin’s because our family has eaten often at Calvin’s. It’s a special place to us because the sandwiches are amazing and we always looked forward to seeing and catching up with Mr. Calvin. He effused Love. I’m not finding the words right now so I’ll re-use what I wrote in July when I learned Calvin’s had suffered a fire:

Readers of this blog will surely know that we love Calvin’s. The sandwiches are second-to-none, but what makes the place so very special to us is Mr. Aleeson. We’ve been privileged to spend some time with him in his restaurant and get to know him and watch him interact with the community. He’s a remarkable guy, warm and generous. He’s also tough—not with people, but with life. Even before this fire he has endured challenges and trials that should not be asked of anyone, but his faith in God and the love of his family and friends have brought him through. In heartfelt moments he openly shares how Blessed he considers himself to be, and listening to him teaches me what Blessed truly means.

Mr. Aleeson will be missed, and The Alameda and El Camino Real have lost a giant. Calvin’s will go on and every sandwich served to a satisfied customer will be a tribute to his memory.

Jonne Aleeson

August 31, 1943 – September 19, 2010

[A statement on http://www.calvinscheesesteaks.com/]

Dear Family & Friends,

On September 19, 2010 Calvin went home to be with the Lord.

Services are being held on Monday September 27, 2010.

Maranatha Christian Center
1811 S. 7th Street, San Jose, CA.

The viewing is from 9:30 am to 10:30 am. The services will begin at 10:30 am to 12:30 pm
The Celebration of life is to follow at Calvins’s Cheese steaks restaurant at 1699 San Carlos Ave. at 1:00 pm

In lieu of flowers, monetary donations are being accepted at Bank of America account #0157171276

For additional information please call 408-286-5626

The Family of Calvin

While His Guitar Gently Fandangos

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

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On my second Menlo Monday adventure I did make it (on time) to a Music@Menlo chamber music event. It was a lunchtime “Café Conversation” titled “Spanish Spirit: Spain’s Influence over the Guitar’s Concert Repertoire with Guitarist Jason Vieaux.” I learned all about the history of classical guitar composition and performance in Spain and was treated to some spellbinding pieces performed by a virtuoso.

CIMG1413The presentation was held Monday, August 9, 2010 at Martin Family Hall on the Menlo School campus which hilariously is in Atherton, just off El Camino Real. I managed to get there without making any wrong turns this time. I had never been to Menlo School so I allowed myself a moment to take in the grand sweep of the opulent grounds. The centerpiece is the magnificent Stent Family Hall, formerly Douglass Hall, an Italian-style mansion built in 1913 and nearly demolished after the effects of the Loma Prieta earthquake, but saved by the efforts of the community.

The Music@Menlo Café Conversations are billed as free informal discussions on a variety of topics. Martin Family Hall is an intimate but very comfortable 180-seat theater. By the time the talk started nearly every seat was full, including the five rows in the center section which were reserved for young musicians participating in the festival’s Chamber Music Institute, an intensive program that pairs world-class instructors with teenaged prodigies. CMI at Menlo has been described as a sort of Hogwarts School where they teach music instead of magic.

The talk was given by Jason Vieaux, a young American classical guitar phenom. He was performing at a formal festival concert that evening but at lunchtime he sat alone on the stage and gave a lively lecture on the history of Spanish guitar music, highlighting key performers and composers from the last 400 years. He explained how early figures like Alonso MudarraGaspar Sanz, Fernando Sor, and Dionisio Aguado were tremendously influential in promoting the guitar as a serious instrument, but their compositions were generically European, emulating the styles of cultural powerhouses like Germany, Italy, and France. Still he pointed out how elements we typically identify as Spanish were evident even in the early works, such as hemiola rhythms (think “I Want to Live in Amer-i-ca”) and Moorish muezzin fanfares reflecting Spain’s period of Arab conquest. Then in the early 20th century composers like Julián Arcas, Isaac Albéniz (piano), and Francisco Tárrega came along and proudly tapped into the folk idioms of their homeland, incorporating flamenco dance flavors into their music, and the Spanish revolution was underway led by superstar players like Miguel Llobet and the great Andrés Segovia.

Vieaux illustrated his talk with a few YouTube videos but of course he simply played many pieces for us live, and I was awed by his mastery over the instrument. His fast and powerful technique is balanced by exquisite expression, and he’s able to coax a wide range of timbres from the guitar by controlling everything down to the angle he holds his strumming fingers. I chatted afterwards with Art, an amateur guitarist in attendance, to get his opinion. Art told me he was really impressed with Vieaux’ lyricism and that the day’s performance compared most favorably to or outshone others he had seen. Watch the video below for a sample of what we were treated to.


YouTube

While he played, for a few mortified moments I thought I heard someone snoring loudly in the front row but humorously it turned out to be Vieaux himself breathing loudly into his headset microphone. At the end he took questions from the audience and expounded on topics such as the space-age construction of his own instrument—a Wagner spruce and cedar Nomex sandwich with a rosewood back and titanium-nylon strings in case you were wondering—and the care and feeding of his gnarly guitar-plucking thumbnail, as big as a pick. I was there with my own agenda. I knew from various accounts that in the Mexican days, the most popular instrument in California was the guitar. I asked him if he was aware of any classical guitar music making its way onto the Californio ranchos. He didn’t know but he was intrigued by the question and guessed that the tunes probably stayed in the realm of popular folk music. Click here for a video of a wonderful group I just found, The Alta California Orchestra, that recreates the music of the fandangos or dance fiestas that brightened the lives of early Californians.

CIMG1417After the program I drove down El Camino to the Menlo Park Safeway, my first time there since they remodeled, to do a little light shopping and grab a late lunch smoothie from the Jamba Juice embedded inside the store. I didn’t love that experience. The Jamba Juice is a small satellite so they didn’t have the apple cinnamon pretzels I always get, they didn’t take my prepaid Jamba card (I’m a Jamba junkie), and the line at the counter inconveniently blocked shoppers with carts trying to exit the store. After I finished my drink I got a terrible headache and ended up going home early feeling sick. Next time I’ll stick to full-fledged Jamba stores and get nothing but groceries from Safeway. An unfortunate ending but overall another magical Monday in Menlo.

Old Counting Road

Monday, September 20th, 2010

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Sorry, I didn’t mean to leave you hanging. As I completed my reverse bus trip down El Camino Real earlier this month I tallied many chain stores like fast food restaurants and grocery stores as well as other categories like gas stations and bike shops. I also kept track of every El Camino Real bell. I tallied everything on the southbound trip, but I didn’t count them until now. Here are the totals for both the southbound trip and the northbound trip last November. I got some nice results.

Name

East Bay East

Peninsula East

Peninsula West

Peninsula Total

Gas Station 4 24 23 47
El Camino Bell 1 25 18 43
Subway 2 5 8 13
Taco Bell 2 7 4 11
Jack in the Box 0 7 3 10
McDonald’s 3 1 9 10
Safeway 2 5 4 9
Blockbuster 0 7 1 8
Kragen 0 5 3 8
Burger King 1 5 2 7
KFC 0 5 2 7
Bicycle shop* 0 5 1 6
Lucky 0 4 2 6
Carl’s Jr. 0 2 2 4
Togo’s 0 2 2 4
In-n-Out Burger 0 0 2 2
The Off Ramp 0 2 0 2
Wendy’s 0 0 2 2
Midas* 0 0 1 1

* Under-counted due  to inconsistent counting between trips

On every leg of the trip I only looked out the windows on the right side of the bus so I only saw one side of the road. The East Bay East column counts the businesses I passed heading north from San Jose to the Fremont BART station. It’s a short trip so the counts are low. I only made the trip in one direction so I only counted the east side of the road; I don’t have counts for the west side of the road at this time. The Peninsula East and West columns are for the long rides between San Jose and San Francisco. On the northbound trip I looked at the east side of the road, and southbound I looked west. The Peninsula Totals column is just that and does not include the East Bay counts. The main anomalies are bicycle shops and Midases because I didn’t count them consistently between the two trips so I know they are underrepresented in my table.

CIMG0229 I’m delighted to see that bells are pretty much at the top of the list, outnumbered only by conglomerated gas stations regardless of brand.  The original vision of the bell marker project in 1906 was to place them one mile apart on El Camino Real. It’s a 50-mile trip from San Jose to San Francisco and I counted 43 bells. There’s room for plenty more since I only saw one bell in San Francisco. It’s amazing how faithful Caltrans and the California Federation of Women’s Clubs have been to that original vision.

In the food department I’m surprised to see Subway at the top of the list with 13 stores though I shouldn’t be since they really do seem to be everywhere. I remarked on the northbound trip how there were 7 Taco Bells but only 1 McDonald’s. The southbound trip equalized the disparity with 4 Taco Bells but a whopping 9 McDonald’ses. Taco Bell still edges out McDonald’s with a total of 11 to 10, but that’s within the margin of error. The weird thing is how Taco Bell dominates the east side and McDonald’s dominates the west. The bell and the arch; the perfect symbols for the modern mission road.

My picks for which businesses to count were arbitrary.  I don’t know why I didn’t count Starbucks; I regret the omission. On the southbound trip I wished I had been counting Walgreens and CVS drugstores because I saw a lot of them. Another unusually frequent chain was Holiday Inn Express. I think I saw half a dozen on the southbound trip alone. Car washes, car dealerships, hotels, and banks would also have been interesting to count.

The purpose of this is to embrace the vast stretches of El Camino which are zoned as commercial strip and celebrate the beauty in their homogeneity. They are home to pretty much every national and regional brand I can think of. Even so all these chain stores combined are a drop in the bucket. El Camino as I saw it is made up primarily of small businesses of every description from mom & pop dry cleaners to favorite local chain eateries. There are also homes, schools, municipal buildings, and open space. I can try to reduce this Royal Road to simple numbers, but the whole will always be greater than a count of its parts.

Your Coffee Cups

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

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I don’t drink coffee. Never have. I don’t know why; it’s just on the long list of things I never bothered with. When upscale coffee consumption exploded in popularity in the nineties, I kind of missed the whole thing but I understand that competition is fierce and new companies have to come up with a hook to compete with the big boys. A new drive-through coffeehouse in Fremont called Your Coffee Cups believes it has a winning formula: premium product prepared by beautiful baristas in bikinis.

Bikini baristas aren’t a new concept. Not surprisingly it was pioneered in the Seattle area at the end of the 20th century and has spread to cities around the country. Your Coffee Cups is however the first to bring it to the Bay Area. They opened about eight weeks ago in a parking lot kiosk at a strip mall (ha!) at the intersection of Warm Springs Boulevard and Mission Boulevard. This is located on what I call El Camino de San Jose, the historic road to Mission San Jose.

So what is the Your Coffee Cups experience? The kiosk has two drive-up windows and a walk-up window. As you approach it’s an unassuming little pink and white building but when you pull up to the window you’re greeted by a friendly, shapely young lady in skimpy attire: your bikini barista. “Bikini” is an oversimplification. Y.C.C. features a different theme every day:

  • Military Mondays
  • Heroic Tuesdays
  • Steamin’ Hot Wednesdays
  • Tantalizing Thursdays
  • Fantasy Fridays
  • Surprise Saturdays
  • Sports Sundays

So while there’s certainly a place for classic two-piece swimwear, primarily you’ll see lingerie and costumes of the “sexy Halloween” variety. Your Coffee Cups gets its outfits from Yandy.com.

Continuing with the experience, the barista takes your order and prepares it herself, furiously working all the complicated knobs and buttons with all the requisite hissing and gurgling. The kiosk offers a full range of the typical mocha-chocolata-yaya coffee drinks that I don’t understand. A cute touch is that the available sizes are “B Cup,” “C Cup,” and “D Cup,” Your Coffee Cups. The menu includes tea, smoothies, cold drinks, and assorted baked goods. The quality of the beverages and food should be high since they use premium ingredients from top shelf vendors. Their coffee beans come from Oakland’s Mr. Espresso whose unique fire-roasted beans are featured in some of the Bay Area’s finest restaurants. Vienna Bakery in Fremont provides fresh pastries daily. Between you and me I think Your Coffee Cups goes to great lengths to serve excellent food to provide cover for customers who can legitimately claim to go there “just for the coffee.”

As you pay and your barista serves you your order, hopefully she has brightened your day with efficient service, some pleasant small talk, and a smile. You are encouraged to leave a gratuity. Your Coffee Cups wants you to understand that these are college students working for tips. They’ve put more effort into their appearance and frankly flashed you more skin than you’re likely to see in any other coffee shop. The value added is not reflected in the price of the java and there’s no cover charge, so drop something in the jar to make it worth their while.

CIMG0349_croppedYour Coffee Cups held a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, September 16 and I stopped by to check it out. This is a tough job…you know the rest. They had closed off the drive-through lanes and decorated the kiosk with balloons so the scene was festive for visitors mingling in the small seating area normally reserved for walk-up customers.  Radio personalities from MOViN 99.7 set up a booth and boomed some tunes while handing out free toothbrushes (?) and other promotional materials. One of the baristas wearing an awfully grown-up girl scout cookie costume circulated with a tray of pound cake and brownie tidbits. I tried the cake; it was tasty but a little dry which is understandable since it was late in the day. In addition to the scout there was a naughty nurse, a scantily-clad schoolgirl, and a couple of cup-a-licious cowgirls, one of whom wielded a can of whipped cream in her hip holster. The stand was open for business and it was quite a sight to see women dressed this way scurrying inside the kiosk, hard at work.

CIMG0357I chatted with the owners, Robert and Irene, an engaged couple who describe themselves as life partners and business partners. (They were modestly dressed, in case you were wondering.) They are Bay Area natives who researched the concept extensively in Seattle before opening the shop here. They chose the Fremont location simply because it was the first parking lot kiosk to come available and it’s working well for them though they wish it were more easily visible from busy Mission Boulevard. I asked if the job description was a tough sell and they said not at all; in this challenging economy they got plenty of applicants from their Craig’s List ad. Irene impressed upon me the quality of the food and Robert explained how they favor hiring responsible, sympathetic college students who will be motivated by tips. Your Coffee Cups has hosted local fundraisers and in fact the radio station was collecting donations for victims of the tragic San Bruno gas explosion.

So is this a good idea? That’s difficult to answer. It’s certainly a sound business proposition. There’s no shortage of demand for good coffee, drive-through convenience, and peeks at pretty women. Your Coffee Cups fills a niche among El Camino’s existing exotic entertainment venues, from Hooters to The Hiphugger. On the other hand many will not approve of its exploitative race-to-the-bottom nature. In Washington State there has been a backlash from people in the community who feel the “sexpresso” joints are too risque, especially in school zones. Traditional full-dress coffee vendors bristle at the loss of business. Coffee kiosks have been around for a long time but the addition of an elaborate theme reminds me of the ascent of the gourmet food trucks and strikes me as classic disruptive marketing in which there will be winners and losers.

My personal experience at the grand opening was mixed. The women were sure attractive so that was a plus and they were friendly enough, but as it turns out the less they wore, the more self-conscious I felt. It was ironic. They were half-dressed, but I was the one worrying about saying or doing the wrong thing. The women had elevated themselves to our society’s standards of stylized super-sexualized beauty and as a result a mere schlub like myself suddenly felt unworthy and unseemly to be there leering at them. If the nurse or schoolgirl had been wearing an over-sized tee shirt and pair of old jeans instead, I would have been much more at ease. To a large extent my complaint is unfair since I was there under atypical circumstances, an extended grand opening celebration. The standard model is to drive up, cop an eyeful and a cupful, and drive off. Gone in a couple minutes; no time for over-analysis.

You might wonder why I don’t have any pictures of the women here. There were signs posted prohibiting photography without their permission and even then, they were charging money for posed photos. More barriers. Happily the folks at MOViN 99.7 took a ton of pictures, baristas, belly buttons and all. There’s even one of me. Cheese!

Overall I think Your Coffee Cups is a fun and innovative addition to El Camino. Robert and Irene are delightful and sincere and I have no doubt they are working hard to create a win-win situation for their staff and their customers. Does sex sell coffee? Should it? Go by and judge for yourself. Check their web site first for discounts and promotions. The novelty alone of meeting the Bay Area’s barest baristas is worth the trip.

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Around the Bay in a Day

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

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Last November I took a bus ride up El Camino Real from San Jose to San Francisco and blogged my impressions and observations. To avoid giving myself whiplash, that day I only looked out the right side of the bus at the eastern side of the street and doggedly ignored the left side so the job was only half done. Last Friday, September 3, 2010, I completed the task, taking the reverse bus trip from San Francisco down to San Jose, observing the west side. Back in November I scribbled all my notes on the bus by hand in a notebook and ended up taking four months to type them all up. It’s not that I’m a slow typist, it’s just that the scope of the project was much larger than I anticipated. For the second trip I found a more efficient way: I live-tweeted my journey.

If you’re unfamiliar with tweeting, it means I used my cell phone on the road to type and send text messages to the Twitter service. Twitter messages, or “tweets,” are limited to 140 characters each so it enforces brevity. A great advantage is that every message was timestamped and geocoded by GPS so I have a complete record of what I saw, when I saw it, and where I was. I tried to live in the moment and just write what was on my mind which means whatever happened to catch my eye out the bus window. I know it’s a pretty pedestrian read (irony intended) but I hope I conveyed a sense of El Camino’s diverse profile.

Follow allcamino on Twitter

Below are my 167 tweets from that day from my brand new @allcamino twitter account. It took some effort to extract them all from Twitter’s web site. There are web apps that do this but they didn’t work for me because they rely on Twitter’s search engine which failed me, returning only six tweets (?!). I wrote a Perl script to convert their HTML to the format I wanted for the blog. To improve the readability I put each time stamp and location stamp against the right margin above each tweet. You can click the location links to open a Google map. My live-tweeting strategy worked great. Last year it took me four months to finish the writeup. Here I’ve done it in less than four days.

I cleaned the text up, fixing obvious two-left-thumb typos and grammar issues, but the content is largely raw and uncut. I’ve put a few editor notes in [square] brackets and added hyperlinks for your reference. I’ve written broader post-trip comments in between tweets in italics. You’ll see a bunch of the photos I took, many from the windows of the buses. Please excuse their quality. (more…)

Menlo Mondays

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

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Last month I hung out in Menlo Park at lunchtime three Mondays in a row. Despite my best intentions I tend to spend most of my El Camino Real time in my home county of Santa Clara. I don’t get up to San Mateo County often enough so I put forth deliberate effort to remedy that. I didn’t mean to make a series of it but once I realized what a cool title “Menlo Mondays” is, I had to go with it.

What started it all was the Music@Menlo festival and their free lunchtime events. Monday, August 2 I had the  urge to go catch a mini-concert but didn’t get an early enough start. I made the decision to go to Menlo Park anyway and just experience the town. It’s not that I never go there, but I figured this time I’d open my eyes a little wider and try to discover something new.

I drove up via US 101 and took the Willow Road exit, reflecting on how devilishly obscure it is to get to downtown from the freeway. None of the major roads go straight through to El Camino Real; they all dead-end at Middlefield. Sure enough, like a self-fulfilling prophecy I goofed and made a wrong turn into SRI International‘s parking lot. D’oh!

I extricated myself and took Ravenswood Ave toward downtown. I parked near the Caltrain station and walked up to El Camino. It was deep into lunchtime and I was hungry so I started walking south on the west side of the street, looking for a place to eat. There are many great eateries in the vicinity of El Camino and Santa Cruz Avenue so I followed my nose. I passed Lisa’s Tea Treasures (so that’s where it is!), Crêpes Cafe, Phil’s Treasure Pot, Sultana, Stacks, Mextogo, Trellis, Su Hong, Oak City Bar & Grill, Cafe Borrone, Applewood Gourmet Pizza, Cook’s Seafood, and the heart-tugging vacancy where Chili’s used to be. I scanned menus as I went but nothing was speaking to me. Then I saw it: Jeffrey’s Hamburgers. When I took my bus ride up El Camino in November, 2009 I had made a note of it and resolved to give it a try. This was the time!

CIMG1295I had walked quite a ways so I was now starving. Jeffrey’s has a sleek retro diner look on the outside which is matched by a classic 50′s car theme on the inside complete with a slice of a car hanging on the wall. I ordered a pineapple teriyaki burger and took a seat at the bar, eavesdropping on the conversations around me while oldies played over the sound system.  My burger came and it was tasty, but honestly it’s difficult to judge it fairly because it was dominated by sauce, just like I wanted. I’ll have to go back and try a plainer burger to see how it compares to those at my longtime local favorites Kirk’s, Clarke’s, and Kal’s. (Alliteration is good for the digestion, don’t ya know.) Jeffrey’s was good and I’d go back but I’m not in love with the diner decor. All the chromeCIMG1296 and stark white formica come off a little cold and clinical; it’s like eating in a morgue. Plus the employees don’t really commit to the theme. The other burger joints I mentioned are all funky and dingy but they are unpretentious and have warmth. This preference might be my subconscious working through the trauma of all the McDonald’s meals I ate as a kid.

While I was eating I noticed something unusual, a sign across the street that said Lydian Academy. It didn’t look like a school; it was a small commercial space above a Jenny Craig Weight Loss center. I Googled it and discovered it’s a boutique high school, fully accredited but very small, offering personalized instruction tailored to each student’s needs.

CIMG1304After lunch I ambled back up El Camino, admiring sights along the way like the Ravenswood Triangle Redwood Grove with its unique yoke-mounted El Camino bell. I had to cross a few streets and noticed something: the traffic lights in this part of Menlo Park are really really long. These intersections are quite busy so I guess the timings are optimized for maximum car movement. It’s a good thing it’s a pleasant stretch of road or else there would be a plague of peeved pedestrians. (Alliteration helps pass the time while you’re waiting for a walk signal, don’t ya know.)

CIMG1308I paused at the Trees for Menlo marker in front of Cafe Borrone and realized how prevalent the oak tree motif is in the city. It’s the city logo and is on all the street signs. Oak City Bar & Grill named themselves after it. Indeed I strolled up and down El Camino that day between Oak Grove Avenue and Live Oak Avenue. I guess unfortunately for Menlo Park the name “Oakland” was already taken when they incorporated.

I walked up to a used bookstore I had never been to, Feldman’s Books. I was on a mission to look for the Signposts books by recently-deceased Patricia Loomis and actually found one on the well-stocked California history shelves. I bought two more El Camino-related books. The first was Stanford: from the Foothills to the Bay by Peter C. Allen. Bonus—it’s signed by my old Stanford president Don Kennedy. The other book was Telling the Santa Clara Story: Sesquicentennial Voices, edited by Russell K. Skowronek. It’s a history of Santa Clara covering the mission, city, and university. I was wavering on whether to buy it but when I thumbed through it I found it ends with an essay by Paul Locatelli, S.J., the former chancellor and president of SCU who just passed away in July. It was a sign. I didn’t mean for my first visit to Feldman’s to be so morbid but really that’s the power of used book stores. In their dusty corners the whispered voices of the past are given new life when they change hands and find new eyes.

That was the end of my first Menlo Monday. I knew I’d be back soon for some music. Stay tuned.

Bike Party Loves El Camino

Friday, August 20th, 2010

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San Jose Bike Party is tonight and once again they are taking it to The Street, El Camino Real. To finish out the route the riders will be hopping on El Camino in Santa Clara at Los Padres Blvd and following it all the way down through The Alameda into downtown San Jose, ending at City Hall. The theme Hot August Lights is a play on Reno’s Hot August Nights so there will be bikes tricked out in their finest regalia and sporting plenty of lights (a sly way to promote bike safety). If that’s not El Camino love, I don’t know what is.

Indeed the ride starts tonight at San Jose City Hall, located at East Santa Clara Street and South Fourth. The food trucks will be there in force to send them off fully fueled: MoGo BBQ, QuickDog, Kalbi BBQ, and The Louisiana Territory. Treatbot would be there but sadly they’re having vehicle trouble. One commenter on Facebook quipped they should find some bicycles to tow the truck; there will be no shortage of pedal power tonight!

In addition there will be something special at the kick-off (roll-off?): a performance by Japanese drum troupe San Jose Taiko. They are promoting their Rhythm Spirit 2010 Concert, coming September 10-11 to the Campbell Heritage Theatre. Ei ja nai ka!

Bike Party. For those about to roll, we salute you!

Sunnyvale Art Gallery

Monday, August 16th, 2010

My wife was lucky enough to win tickets to the San Jose Jazz Festival this past weekend and I’m smart enough to be married to her in a community property state, so on Saturday the family headed downtown to enjoy some sunshine and great music. I could go on and on about our new favorite thing, chimney bread, or the delicious Creole food we ate, or my spectacular mudd pie brownie sundae, or Paulette’s authentic East Coast Italian ice.  You’d have to physically shut me up if I started to describe Maceo Parker‘s funkdified set, or Marcus Miller‘s transcendent recreation of Miles Davis classics. But I’m not here to tell you about that. I’m here to tell you about the Sunnyvale Art Gallery.

While we were at the Jazz Festival, the Sunnyvale Art Gallery was holding the “Trash to Treasure” event I plugged on Friday. I really wanted to check it out so we left San Jose and hightailed it up to their location on El Camino in Sunnyvale, across the street from the Cherry Orchard. We caught the very end of it. Sadly we missed the live music, but it’s not like we were starving for tunes that day. Three painters were still hard at work on their masterpieces so I had a chance to chat with them.

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CIMG1446Oscar’s a computer scientist who’s currently studying art. His piece depicts a child begging on the streets of his native Mexico City. I told him, a little embarrassed, that my first impression was of a soccer player because the stark white shirt reminded me of a jersey. It’s done completely in spray paint and he was adding the final circle elements with a stencil as we showed up. I was amazed at the subtle skin tones he achieved. I have no idea how he did that with spray paint, though I can tell you he had an awful lot of cans with him. I’m guessing they were labeled something like “flesh #1,” “flesh #2,” “flesh #3,” etc.

IMG_0425Graphic designer Angela was halfway through her painting, a tribute to imagination in which a young woman puts pen to paper and creates limitless visions with tiny capoeira dancers giving body to her flights of fancy. Angela and her subject were inspired by the Shel Silverstein poem “Listen to the Mustn’ts.” Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

IMG_0431_cropHeather created a dramatic landscape in two halves, one side showing a flaming sky behind living flora, the other showing charred trunk skeletons on a cool evening. I loved the sense of opposites in balance, a multi-dimensional yin and yang. Her day job is producing artwork and lettering signs for Trader Joe’s grocery stores, but it was clear she enjoyed letting loose here.

All the artists I talked to enjoyed their day making art in each other’s company though it was grueling. Oscar worked on his painting for about seven hours and was exhilarated but exhausted. Tim the owner of the gallery told me the event was a success. Five bands performed throughout the day, and other painters were there earlier to decorate some erstwhile “trash.” Everyone looks forward to coming out and doing this again.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gallery’s cafe. We all ordered sandwiches, though I neglected mine for a bit while I was chatting with the artists. Tammy, Tim’s sister, whipped up some fantastic paninis: pastrami for me, bulgogi and a salad for Paulette, and grilled cheese for our son. I had eaten there earlier in the week and had the barbecued roast beef, also delicious. Their sandwiches are all named for artists: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Dali. I’ll leave it to you to guess which is which.

It was yet another winning event on El Camino Real. I have to smile at the creative spirit which continues to thrive on this Grand Boulevard. I hope they have another Living Art session soon. When they do I’ll be there because I want to check out the live music. With apologies to Vincent, I’ll be all ears.

Trash to Treasure

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The Sunnyvale Art Gallery is putting on a unique interactive art event tomorrow. This is a great place that has an inspiring vision of fostering a community of South Bay artists. Their gallery showcases local artists but they also provide studio space for work and for classes, an art supply store, and a cafe for mortal sustenance. Beyond the canvas they host open mic nights every Thursday for musicians and poets. Valley creatives…this is a place for you.

Saturday’s event will feature live painting and performances. They’ll have young artists bringing street sensibility, green painting where discarded items are turned into art, music, poetry, and a silent auction. Here’s their announcement:

Living Art Flyer

‘Trash to Treasure’ Living Art: An emphasis on Street Art

AUGUST 14, 10 AM – 8 PM

Join us Saturday August 14th, for a grassroots art event that will be like none before in the city of Sunnyvale.

Our goal for this event is to bring the young art community together with art, music, and spoken word.

Help us create something Amazing. We invite you to join us for this special event. The theme is LIVING ART: ‘Trash to Treasure’. This event will highlight ‘green painting’ as we turn discarded trash to beautif ul pieces of art. The event will last from 10am-8pm in the back parking lot of the sunnyvale art gallery. This is a FREE event, so let’s blow up the spot.

For artists, we will provide wooden panels as big as 8 x 4 feet to paint ‘STREET ART MURALS’. Panels will be limited so register early to hold a spot. For all other artists, we will provide discarded furniture, boards, and other elegant ‘trash’ items for artists to paint on. Bring your own if you have anything you’re inspired by. At the end of the day, there will be a silent auction where each artist can auction off their piece starting with bids at $10 if they want. The gallery will take a 10% commission for all pieces to help cover costs for the day. Please bring your own medium if you have (i.e.: paint, etc.) Otherwise, we’ll have extra household paint and brushes for sale at the gallery.

For musicians and poets, please sign up in advanced to secure a time slot during the day. A PA system will be provided. An open mic time slot will be available for all late registrants. Performers are allowed to promote their music with CD’s and merchandise.

Everyone else, come and enjoy.

To sign up or help volunteer, please send your info and/or comments to tim@sunnyvaleartgallery.com to reserve a time slot for music or an area to paint.

THANKS!!

Sunnyvale Art Gallery

http://www.sunnyvaleartgallery.com/
251 W El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408) 737-8188

Asphalt Gourmet

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

CIMG0980

I’ve written about Treatbot a few times, San Jose’s own Karaoke-enabled ice cream food truck. We first learned of them in April at Calvin’s Second Anniversary celebration. I’m not normally very observant but I surprised myself by noticing that the address printed on Treatbot was the same as Calvin’s! Ryan the owner explained to me that food vans need a permanent address, so his is Calvin’s. Personally, I think Treatbot just wanted the upscale The Alameda address. I was very impressed by the whole concept—and the ice cream sandwich—but I was soon to learn it was just the tip of the iceberg.

A month later while at work I saw a very random message on Twitter retweeted by @aroundfremont:

MoGo BBQ Lunch time! Join us for lunch 12pm at 399 S main st milpitas! Come out be featured in PACMAN”S 30th anniversary video! they will be giving out free stuff today and cool PACMAN gear! 

I like lunch, I like Pac-Man, and I work in Milpitas, so at the appointed hour I was there.  That’s when I learned about MoGo.

CIMG0974Like Treatbot they are a new-wave mobile food vendor. MoGo serves up Mexican-Asian fusion cuisine such as Kimchi Quesadillas and Tofu Burritos. I tried a couple pork tacos with MoGo vinaigrette with a side of Kimchi rice. Very tasty.

A coworker told me that these gourmet food trucks are very popular in Los Angeles and now they’re on the rise up in the Bay Area. They can be found all over the country. They even have their own elimination-style road trip reality TV show, “The Great Food Truck Race” with Tyler Florence on The Food Network. Obviously food trucks have been around forever, known colloquially by an unflattering rhyme I won’t repeat here (hint: it’s not “broach poach”), but they’ve always been plain unimaginative affairs, more a convenience than a culinary experience. This new generation has found a formula to energize the whole concept of meals on wheels.

The first element is food with a hook. Treatbot sells locally-made hand-scooped ice cream, not packaged frozen novelties like your typical music-box-cranking ice cream truck. MoGo and Bulkalbi have the Mexican-Asian fusion thing going on which is exotic even in multicultural San Jose. Other trucks go high-end, serving dishes you’d normally only find in fine restaurants.

The second element is marketing. Each truck works hard to create a unique identity and memorable customer experience. Treatbot…Karaoke…say no more. They have clever names, flashy paint jobs, and bubbly servers. They’re most known for using social networking sites to attract and retain clientele: Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, you name it. (Humorously their mobile nature defeats Foursquare; it can’t keep up.) I follow them all on Twitter and let me tell you, when I get that daily deluge of lunchtime locations and menus du jour, it gets the juices flowing. Last week three of them showed up within walking distance of my job on three different days; I took the bait and ate at all three.

CIMG0830Check out my Twitter list:

Let me know if I missed any. I haven’t tried them all yet, but I will. I know where to find them.

Naturally these trucks often find their way to El Camino Real. Heck, Treatbot “lives” there. The MoGo Pac-Man event was on Main Street in Milpitas. It’s not an opening at The Usuals unless Treatbot is there. A few nights ago MoGo and Curry Up Now were both on El Camino at the same time for dinner, a couple miles apart. They know what’s up.

CIMG0973Here’s what I really like about these trucks: when they show up, they create an event. Namco chose to tag along with MoGo, tapping into some street excitement to celebrate Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary. They filmed this video behind the truck. It works both ways; the trucks go where the action is, often in pairs. Bike Party, National Night Out, festivals, holidays. Social networks in tow, every time they park it’s an instant meet-up.

I feel we’re right at the beginning of this movement and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an explosion of variety in the next couple years. There’s plenty of room for innovation too. This is Silicon Valley. How about online ordering? GPS tracking? Electronic payment? Alternative fuel vehicles? (Treatbot is propane-powered!) Um…chairs! The sky’s the limit and the road is open.