Tuesday, May 17, 2011

IEM Session #16.8

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

(Continued from 16.7)

Eating Day: March 19, 2011- one final time

SATURN CAFE- 2175 Allston Way, Berkeley- 10:03pm- Cobb Salad - $9.50

Except for Herbivore, none of the salad session's stops had catered specifically to the nonsensical sensibilities of vegetarians. Herbivore seems to target Berkeley's affluent meat-free populace. They attract a clientele composed largely of socially-conscious middle-aged women who have undoubtedly paid great sums so they can look natural, yet slovenly. The de facto uniform of most of the diners at Herbivore seems to come straight from Chico's. Saturn Cafe, on the other hand, draws a different class of vegetarian. Herbivore tries to look like an upscale place where one could entertain an important cruelty-free potential business client. Saturn, on the other hand, is cut from the same pretentious bolt of hipster cloth as Rudy's Can't Fail. The merits or deficiencies of Saturn's food notwithstanding, I felt more embarrassed within its confines than if I had gone stag to Chuck E. Cheese on a Friday evening.

The polished chrome and naugahyde booths and formica tables at Saturn have become so de rigeur at modern eateries, I can forgive these faux-retro fixtures within their restaurant. In fact, these accouterments have become as run-of-the-mill as the red and yellow color scheme at McDonald's. The look has ceased to invoke any bygone era, the same way the PT Cruiser no longer reminds anyone of a 1930's gangster getaway car. I am less forgiving, however, when it comes to other aspects of Saturn's decor. The walls surrounding the open kitchen are festooned with pro-looking graffiti that was possibly rendered by a dignitary from the local hip-hop culture in an effort to lend authenticity to an establishment that drips with phoniness. To add even more "street cred," another wall at Saturn is emblazoned with a Che Guevara quote, "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love." Oh brother. That kind of mishegos is just beyond the pale. That dead commie would have taken one look at this place and blown it up by attaching plastic explosives to the dozen or so futuristic, apron-clad mannequin torsos hanging from the wall. To top it off, there are Loteria cards affixed to the surface of the tables; a clear attempt to co-opt "edgy" Chicano culture. If all these gewgaws weren't enough, the wait staff at Saturn looks like the cast of a video for a band that would have sounded dated ten years ago. With the quirky waitresses sporting traditional tattoos and ugly footwear and a clientele heavy on lesbian poseurs, the whole scene is like a bit from Portlandia, but even more unfunny.

I could have gladly ignored all of these sickening embellishments, however, if only the salad wasn't such a fiasco. My family kept a kosher home when I was growing up, so the only way I could enjoy bacon or sausage in the house was by eating ersatz vegetarian analogs, usually products of Morningstar Farm. One would have thought that fake bacon technology would have advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1970's, but the counterfeit pork product on Saturn's cobb salad was identical to the abominations I remembered from my days in grammar school. The strips still had the texture and appearance of a manila folder printed with bacon-esque stripes. The taste is a liquid smoke overdose that continues unabated in one's urine for several days after consumption. From eating at vegetarian Chinese restaurants, I know for a fact that artificial chicken need not call to mind the salty foam matchsticks I found on my salad at Saturn. Other than the fake meat on the salad, the rest of the ingredients (avocado, tomatoes, hardboiled egg, and blue cheese crumbles) were unremarkable and the bowl was a little heavy on romaine, as opposed to the mixed greens. For $9.50, the least they could do is use some fancy greens and pilfer quality fake meat from a Chinese restaurant.

I slogged through the Saturn salad, but due to its smaller proportions, it required only a fraction of the time I needed to polish off its predecessor at Chick-A-Pea. I even made room to taste some of the Turkish Coffee ice cream Kelly had ordered. That stuff was out of this world. I have heard Saturn makes a great milkshake, too, so I might visit this ridiculous place again when/if I do a milkshake session.

When we finally arrived home, Kelly noticed my outstretched abdomen and screamed at me in horror, as if I was suddenly missing a limb. She demanded that I put a stop to this nonsense ASAP, lest I rupture my duodenum. While I understand her qualms with my mission, she must acknowledge my calling- my devotion to you all. Fear not. I will continue this pursuit as long it remains fun and as long as my stomach allows me.

When I woke the next morning, my stomach was in pain like after no other session before. For sheer volume, I reckon the salad session was ahead of all previous outings, although most of the salad ingredients were mostly water. My stomach had been stretched beyond its limits and appropriately sore, but it also felt empty. I had clearly aspirated most of the session's contents in my sleep, either via breath or flatulation. Consequently, I was starving the next morning, especially after emitting a rectal spray that approximated a fermenting bowl of Chef Boy-R-Dee ravioli. Completion of this session was never in the slightest doubt, especially since there are a few salad purveyors open late in the evening, but the repercussions I experienced were definitely unexpected. In the post Bin-Laden era, only a fool underestimates lettuce.

Actual Cafe

Coming June 14: Inhuman Eating Machine #17- Bibimbap

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

IEM Session #16.7

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

(Continued from 16.6) Eating Day: March 19, 2011- again.

CHICK-O-PEA'S- 1926 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley- 8:44pm- Chick-O-Pea's Salad - $7

Photo by Tigerlily

When I started the salad at Herbivore, I ate with almost the same vigor as very early in the session. I slowed down as I worked my way through that disappointment, but I never approached the sensation of distension I had experienced after the Smart Alec's salad. I was now roughly as full as I was prior to the salad at Maoz. This was apt, because I was about to eat at Chick-O-Pea's, a place with a very similar m.o. as Maoz, except in a non-chain package.

I have known about Chick-O-Pea's since they opened a couple of years ago, yet I was reluctant to try the place. Something about my perception of their business model had put me off of them. Perhaps it was their cutesy name, which I assume was derived from Jodi Foster's nonsensical wild-child utterances in her role in Nell. Maybe I found all of their grandiose statements about organic this and eco-friendly that a bit much for a falafel joint.

"Chick-O-Pea’s aioli is made fresh daily and we use only free-range organic eggs. We use rice oil for our deep frying and virgin olive oil for our dressings. Chick-O-Peas' mission is to bring an eco-friendly alternative to the disposable foodservice industry and bring social awareness of the need to maintain our environment. Our disposable products such as cold cups, lids, cup carriers, containers, clamshells, cutlery, plates, bowls and lunch trays are currently purchased from manufacturers and suppliers of 100% biodegradable and compostable (disposable) made from PLA (corn), high heat tolerant CPLA, Bagasse ( sugarcane) and recycled paper pulp."

Don't get me wrong. This stuff is all well and good. It just irritates me when eateries feel the need to blow their green health-horn in my face. It's the restaurant equivalent of a girl who wears a chastity ring just to brag about her virginity. Finally, I think Chick-O-Pea's location adjacent to the Gourmet Ghetto had me convinced that they would be unduly expensive and/or pretentious. I should not have stayed away so long, because the reality of Chick-O-Pea's is quite different than what I had envisioned. Since the salad session, I have eaten here (to go) on half a dozen occasions. I still get embarrassed saying the establishment's name, though.

Like Maoz, the Chick-O-Pea's salad is part full-serve, part self-serve. To start, they give you a plastic-like clamshell container that already holds a small bed of mixed greens. After you have paid, they fry up two large, made-to-order falafel balls. You build the rest of the salad at their do-it-yourself salad bar. As with Maoz, the items on the salad bar are Middle Eastern/Mediterranean-inspired, but Chick-O-Pea's offerings are generally far more flavorful than the relatively unadorned salads at Maoz. A few of the items on the Chick-O-Pea's bar are always present, but others seem go in and out on a rotating basis. On the day of the session, I chose a sizable heap of pickled cabbage, pickled peppers, pickled beets, seasoned cucumber salad, and lobio, a garbanzo bean salad in vinaigrette. I looked up lobio on Wikipedia. It apparently comes from the Republic of Georgia and usually contains kidneys beans, rather than garbanzos. Although I don't know how authentic this version is, it was certainly a zingy salad with a good deal of cumin, a little garlic, and maybe some citrus. It would make a great alternative to taboulleh on a falafel plate. All the other salads were equally delicious. Best of all, the falafel here is as good as the balls at Maoz. Once again, they are highly crunchy outside, well-spiced, and moist inside. And they're big. If Chick-O-Pea's has a good pita, the falafel sandwich here is undoubtedly stellar. There are also several squeeze bottles of dressings/sauces available for topping your salad. Unfortunately, they are unlabeled, so I can only guess what the bottles contain. I am quite certain that one of the bottles is a tahini sauce and another is yogurt-based, but I have no clue about the others, except for the harissa (Middle Eastern hot sauce.) I loaded up on harissa, which made the already-vibrant salad even more exciting.

About halfway through the salad, I slowed to a crawl. It was a miracle that I was able to finish this thing. I made the salad far bigger than I should have. At one point, I sneezed hard, probably due to the peppery ingredients in the salad. The force of the sneeze was so great, it nearly caused me to projectile vomit all over the restaurant. I had to close my mouth quickly to prevent the chunder. After this episode, I continued to plod through the salad one tiny bite after another until I was finally finished. I was nearly as stuffed as I was after the Smart Alec's salad, but this time, there was no beckoning turd on the horizon. Worst of all, my ears were now stuffed up, as if I had just disembarked from a twelve-hour flight. This sensation lasted until the following morning. Were my Eustachian tubes filled with lettuce? I expected to lose my equilibrium once I arose from the table to walk from the car. Luckily, I was able to waddle to my auto and attempt a final entry before calling an end to this foolish venture.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

IEM Session #16.6

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

(Continued from 16.5) Eating Day: March 19, 2011, duh!

HERBIVORE- 451 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, 7:20pm- Large Green Salad - $7.50 + $1.50 for Grilled Tofu add-on

Photo by Tigerlily

After Smart Alec's colossal salad and the out-of body defecation experience it triggered, I knew a lengthy interlude in my journey was imminent. I drove home somehow, which was probably not a safe endeavor, as the colon explosion I had undertaken at UC left me spent like I had run a triathlon in a kevlar track suit. I was falling asleep at nearly every traffic light. When I finally made it to the couch, I assumed catatonia for several hours straight. When I arose, I felt reasonably ready to resume the session. My distended abdomen had all but returned to its normal state and I even had slight twinges of hunger returning. I would meet up with Lily again in Berkeley for the final few stops of the expedition, accompanied by my wife.

I had only been to Herbivore once before, but exclusively to order a vegan chocolate cupcake from their bakery, which was shockingly delicious. I was a vegan myself in 1980's. Back then, vegan pastries were as dense as a gold brick with the consistency of dry steel wool. Due to some secret cruelty-free technology they've discovered, however, Herbivore has managed to make a cupcake that rivals the real McCoy. The salad here was another story.
I was somewhat surprised that Herbivore had a single salad that qualified for the sub-$10 cost ceiling, because from the outside, this place looks really expensive.

In the years since I quit the ranks of vegetarianism, my former cohorts have apparently made more changes than simply acquiring the ability to make edible baked goods. In 2011, it would seem that not only do vegetarians not believe in eating animals, they don't believe in prompt service, either. It took 15 minutes for somebody to take our order and close to half an hour to receive our food- a period they made even more interminable by playing Fugazi "Waiting Room" over their sound system. Are you kidding me? Why is it that Negro Spirituals recorded in the fields circa 1920 sound less dated than 1980s-90s alternative rock? I will take this opportunity to once again disavow any connection I ever had to said music. It is bad and you and I both know it, nostalgia be damned.

The salad looked good. I will give it that. It consisted of bean sprouts, julienned beets, avocado slices, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and about half a dozen small pieces of grilled tofu. The whole megilla was served on a bed of romaine and mixed greens. I opted for creamy hemp salad dressing on the side. I have never smoked marijuana before for several reasons, many of which are ridiculous. However, if reefer tastes anything like this dressing, I am quite certain that abstaining was a good choice. The stuff tasted like aspirin. Other than the analgesic flavor, I detected no other seasonings. This was easily the worst salad dressing I have ever tasted. I thought I had dodged a bullet by ordering the dressing on the side, but the greens were somehow equally acrid. It was almost a month before Passover. I had no interest in eating bitter herbs. (Look up the reference, goyim!) I saw no spinach in the bowl, but my teeth felt gritty like it does after eating a spinach salad. Most of the other toppings were fine, but the tofu was worthless. The pieces had grill marks, but the tofu possessed none of the smoky flavor you associate with grilled food. In fact, the tofu had no flavor whatsoever.

Kelly and Lily both enjoyed their meals, and all the portions here were larger than I thought a place like this would serve. I just don't see any reason to eat here. If I am trying to eat healthy, I don't need the kind of pretentious vibe a place like this exudes. I'd rather eat a bag of carrots and an orange and spend an hour on a treadmill. Yes, Herbivore have fake meats coming out the wazoo, but they also have a full bar. And you can bet your ass the ersatz meat here is only slightly less deadly than the animal flesh it impersonates after they fry the wheat gluten and add seasonings straight out of a laboratory. Health food, my eye.

In 1990, I might have deemed Herbivore a godsend, as long as I stayed away from the pharmaceutical-grade salad dressing. However, this was the same period when I was a proponent of the shitty music they played during my session visit here. That can't be a mere coincidence.