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I was out in Northern California for about a week visiting family and friends. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures this time as the weather was not great, a lot of fog, a bit of rain, and very damp. It was actually colder in San Francisco than NYC!

My usual first stop after getting of the plane is some Mexican food in East Oakland. There are plenty of taco trucks and taquerias to choose from. I used to always get tortas from Tacos Michoacanos on East 14th near 36th Ave. But it has not been so great the past few times. My close friend and driver decided on the Ojo de Agua truck which is next to the Fruitvale BART station. The carne asada was good and the other ingredients tasted fresh but they definitely could have put some more avocado on it.

That evening I went to the open house at the new location for the Judah Magnes Museum in downtown Berkeley. It is not in its finished state but you can get an idea of how fantastic the new space will be when completed. They had a nice spread of food too, salmon, falafel, beef brisket, chicken, salad, challah, the works. Had a few He-Brews and then headed home.

I would have stayed to eat but had plans to get some sushi with my brother-in-law and a good friend. We were going to Yu San Sushi in El Cerrito which is like a pilgrimage for me. I’ve been eating there for well over ten years. Every time I go back to the bay area I make sure to hit this place, usually my first night in town. It is a very small spot that seems like it has been there forever. The owner, Yuzo Sasaki, has pictures of his customers babies on the wall so it has a very homey feel. There is also a white record sleeve signed by the members of Metallica back when they were an up and coming Easy Bay band (the sleeve says “Yu San Sushi Rules!!!”). Yuzo has been getting up in years so his son, Kaz, has been cutting the fish the past couple of times I paid them a visit.

When the three of us entered the restaurant there was an immediate shock because an unknown man was behind the sushi counter, Yuzo’s wife was nowhere to be seen and the staff had changed. The pictures were not on the walls. The Metallica album sleeve was gone. I was ready to turn around and walk out but was convinced to stay by my companions. Eventually I noticed one waitress from the former crew and my brother-in-law mustered enough sense to ask her “what’s up? What happened to Yuzo and Kaz?” She explained to us that Yuzo had passed away due to stomach cancer in October. I was very sad to hear this unexpected news.

Yu San Sushi was about more than the food, which was always top-notch. Best sashimi and sushi I have ever eaten. He was a true sushi master and spent years as an apprentice before striking out on his own. He said he made rice for three years as an apprentice before ever touching a piece of fish and waited until his master died until he started his own place. He also claimed he invented the California Roll back in 1974

Beyond the quality, what really made it great was Yuzo’s personality and hospitality. He was so funny, always cracking jokes, always willing to sit down with you and have a drink, always giving you a taste of something you had never tried before. Even after I left the bay area and was not eating there nearly as often as I used to, he still treated me as if I was a true regular. I can still hear him saying, “ah, you’ve come back! No good sushi in New York, right?” I’m really going to miss him.


The next day I went with my mom to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco (pic above) to see an exhibition “The State Museums of Berlin and the Legacy of James Simon“:

James Simon (1851–1932), a German Jew, was a patron of the arts, connoisseur, collector and philanthropist best known for his sponsorship of excavations in Egypt, the Near East, and Central Asia that brought great riches from the ancient world to Berlin including the bust of Nefertiti and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and its Processional Way. Dedicating his life to public welfare, Simon displayed a remarkable social commitment and created an extraordinary cultural legacy. His gift of thousands of items to the State Museums of Berlin identified him as one of Berlin’s most important patrons and elevated Berlin to the ranks of museum capitals such as London, Paris, and Vienna. His support of archaeological excavations, including the Amarna and Mesopotamia expeditions, helped to preserve some of the most rare and important objects from antiquity.


We also saw some very small da Vinci drawings from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin. These mostly consisted of studies of human and animal movement in addition to a few portraits and one mechanical drawing.

No outing with my mom would be complete without food. We decided to get some dim sum on Clement St. I have not been to Clement St. for over ten years and did not have any specific spot in mind. We figured we would walk around and see what looked good. When we saw the steamers in the windows of Lee Hou, we knew we were in for a treat. We were not disappointed and at $1.88 a plate it was quite reasonably priced. We ordered a bunch of items, I can’t remember them all. The deep fried tofu skins stuffed with crab were memorable and the shrimp har gow were huge.

I made it back to San Francisco the next day to check out a friend’s apartment. He recently moved out of Oakland and I had not visited him in his new digs. He took us around the neighborhood, including a few pints at the local pub. Then a group of us went to an old stand-by of mine, Hong Sing. It is a nondescript, neighborhood Chinese spot in Glen Park. The sort of greasy spoon Chinese food that was quite common back in the day. I discovered it about 15 years ago and the menu has remained unchanged. Our crew had deep fried flounder with garlic sauce, spicy salt baked squid, beef with asparagus, and snow pea leaves. Everything was good but the squid could have been cooked a bit less.

The last restaurant to report on is Ruen Pair which is in Albany. Ruen Pair is located in the same place as my mom’s favorite Thai restaurant, Thai Thai. After Thai Thai closed down my mom avoided the new place because she had such fond memories of the old. But we have both read some really positive reviews and she was ready to give it a chance so we went there for lunch. It was very tasty. Spicy, but not too spicy. We had a couple of lunch specials, bbq beef (can’t recall the Thai name. Nua young?), prawns with eggplant and som tum which is a green papaya salad. NYC needs Thai places like this.

Before lunch we took a walk around Jewel Lake in Tilden Park, one of my favorite parks in the East Bay:


4 responses »

  1. I get the impression that your taste buds have a cultural preference run to oriental and Mexican food. I like Mexican food. I can eat Chinese but I’m reluctant to go into Chinese restaurants because of the frying. I tend to look upon fried food as I do hard candies for kids: strictly verboten except on rare occasions. I prefer Italian, Greek, Spanish, Lebanese food, you know, Mediterranean stuff.

    When we travel, it is always a problem to find a really good place to eat because my husband is a vegetarian, as well as being very incurious about food in general. He recently had to travel to Hong Kong and China for a few days. In HK, he ate at McDonalds(!) (fish and chips) and in China, his host took him to a very fancy restaurant where he couldn’t find anything to eat. So they prepared some white rice for him, which he said tasted like it was just rice boiled in water.

    Seems like you had a good time, family, friends and food. Happy holidays!

    For Hanukka the strict rule against frying has to be waived. I make very nice Sufganiot, with dough that I prepare according to a Panetone recipe..

  2. I have fairly liberal taste buds. When I cook at home I tend towards Mediterranean flavors. I also do Mexican and American dishes. I am not as good with Chinese, Japanese and Thai recipes so I like to go out for that.

    My wife cooks Indian food occasionally but I regularly prod her to do it more often. When we first met she had an aversion to cooking. I think she rather enjoys it now. She is vegetarian (although I have corrupted her to eat fish) and had similar experiences in China. She did not know how to say “I am vegetarian” in Cantonese but was able to say “I do not eat meat.” The most common reply was “Why not? What’s the matter? Are you sick?”

    As far as fried foods, I probably eat them too often. I have a soft spot for fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Made that at my brother-in-laws on Sunday evening. And of course Hanukka = latkes. We (my family) make them sort of thin and crispy, almost like hash browns. Not those thick lumpy things you get in restaurants.

    I’ve never had Sufganiot. Sounds delicious.

  3. glad we were part of your west coast itinerary. it was great to meet you @MAGNES…jazzed you got to see what’s developing…wish us luck. can’t believe we actually connected after google alerts triggered me to your blog.

    as promised, mine’s:

    i’ll rss feed you……….feeed me.
    happy hanukkah

  4. Pingback: Back to the Blog, Again « The New Centrist

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