Sunday, August 21, 2005

Berkeley, CA: Jimmy Bean's

Tortilla Eggs - 3 stars
August 20, 2005

I had ambivalent feelings about Utah and Nevada. On the one hand, we were in the desert, it was blazingly hot every time we stopped, and good food was hard to find. (Although Starbucks, always out to trap travelers, set up shop in the Red Lion Inn and Casino in Elko, Nevada.) On the other hand, we were somewhere between Elko and Winnemucca, I looked over at Sylvia in the passenger seat and Dauber in her lap, as the sun-baked desert flashed by through the window and the distant mountains barely moved, and I felt happy. It was partly due to not thinking about work for a week and a half, and mainly due to being with my family. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

After the flat deserts and bare mountains of Nevada, the forested slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains were a welcome sight. What a beautiful place California is.

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Originally uploaded by pygmygoat.

We arrived in Berkeley around 11 am on Saturday and drove straight to Jimmy Bean's, our favorite breakfast place the last time we lived in the Bay Area. The tortilla eggs don't actually have any chicken in them, but this is my blog, and they are my favorite breakfast in the whole world (well, on this continent, anyway): delightfully soft scrambled eggs folded with home-fried potatoes lightly baked in a tortilla, flavored with three sauces in the side: salsa, cilantro pesto, and some kind of flavored sour cream (I don't like that one). Sitting at Jimmy Bean's, eating the eggs with a side of sourdough toast (from Acme, I believe), I felt like I had finally arrived.

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Originally uploaded by pygmygoat.

After 3,480 miles, the final chicken sandwich lineup (some individually reviewed, some not) looks like this:
  1. Tuscan Chicken Sandwich, Panera (Topeka, KS)
  2. Chicken Fajita Burrito, Chipotle Mexican Grill (Sharonville, OH)
  3. Chicken Milano Sandwich, Quizno's (Colby, KS)
  4. Chicken Zuma Sandwich, Albertson's (Aubrun, CA)
  5. Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Sandwich, Subway (outside St. Louis, MO)
  6. Asiago Chicken Salad Sandwich, Borders (Champaign, IL)
  7. Roast Chicken Sandwich, Albertson's (Laramie, WY)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Topeka, KN and Colby, KN

Panera (Topeka)
Tuscan Chicken Sandwich - 2 stars
$6.50 for 1/2 sandwich with soup or 1/2 salad
August 16, 2005

Quizno's (Colby)
Chicken Milano - 1 star
$8.19 (large)
August 17, 2005

The Starbucks Tax. Starbucks has discovered a clever way to tax people driving through the state of Kansas. From Salinas to the Colorado border - a distance of 250 miles - there is nothing. A few cornfields, a few cows, a few abandoned farmhouses, and nothing. However, at 100-mile intervals, there are two Starbucks stores. Basically, everyone from either coast will stop at one of them and spend three or four dollars on his or her preferred drug. It's as reliable as a toll booth.

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Originally uploaded by pygmygoat.

The exit 53 Starbucks sits alongside a Baskin Robbins and a Quizno's in something called The Oasis, which makes you wonder what native Kansans think of the name. The Chicken Milano sandwich begins with chopped pieces of mediocre chicken, toasted on an overly cheesy bun with sun-dried tomato pesto, cheese, and tomatos and topped with lettuce and jalapeno peppers. It's really pretty good, especially when you're in Western Kansas, despite the strange touches - lettuce on a toasted sandwich? jalapeno peppers on an Italian-style sandwich? and what's Milanese about it, anyway?

The Panera in Topeka was our fourth in three days (twice for drinks only). It's our home away from home: soup and salad combinations (it's critical to get two vegetables per meal to have any shot at seven fruits and vegetables a day), outdoor seating so we can eat with Dauber, free wi-fi to make hotel reservations and get directions to the next Panera, etc. It could be the McDonald's of the latte-drinking, Volvo-drinking, freak show set.

The Tuscan Sandwich has slices of lightly peppered natural chicken that are actually good in themselves, fresh mixed greens, and that staple of the new millenium, pesto aioli. The only flaw is the spongy "focaccia" it comes on, but it still gets the coveted second star.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sharonville, OH and Champaign, IL

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Sharonville
Chicken Fajita Burrito - 1 star
August 14, 2005

Borders Books and Music, Champaign
Asiago Chicken Salad Sandwich - 0 stars
about $5
August 15, 2005

If you look hard, you can see the differences in the many places you see as you drive across the United States. But mostly you just see how everything is more and more the same. And while I could go on for chapters on the topic, it definitely has its advantages.

I'm currently sitting in the passenger seat, typing this while sipping from a Starbucks decaf coffee and half-listening to an episode of This American Life downloaded from iTunes. So while the Iowa cornfields speed by out the window, I can enjoy my nice coastal lifestyle.

7 years ago making this trip I think the common denominator of America was McDonald's. On this trip, we've been to Panera three times in two days (would have been four, except the one in Sharonville was closed) and Starbucks twice. We seek out large, new strip malls because, along with Wal-Mart and Lowe's, they also bring the new wave of high-end coffee shops and fast casual restaurants. (We just passed a highway sign for Starbucks - Sylvia said it was "comforting.")

The chicken fajita burrito was just what you would expect from a chain that was probably a New York banker's concept, targeted squarely at middle-American tastes. The oxymoronic name was a dead giveaway - fajita burrito? - as was the gleaming white rice. But actually, it tasted pretty good, partly because it was drenched in their hottest salsa. Sylvia and I summed up the place as a Californian burrito place with less selection, higher prices, and much nicer d├ęcor.

We resorted to eating at Borders because, even if the food isn't good, the place is familiar and the coffee is decent. My sandwich, unfortunately, spent too much time in a refrigerator, and the cold chicken salad was swallowed up in a huge and characterless white bun.

I'm not sure where we'll go for lunch today, but we already have the address of a Whole Foods for dinner in Overland Park, Kansas.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Amherst, MA: Bertucci’s

Chicken Marinara Sandwich – 1 star
about $8 with pasta salad
July 31, 2005

In addition to all the usual excuses for not posting to my blog, there are two others: first, I have been traveling less over the past two months and, thanks to my move to California, I am now on my last trip back to the office for a year; and second, due to my newfound obsession with eating at least seven fruits and vegetables a day, my sandwich consumption has declined precipitously.

But in the course of saying our farewells to our favorite places in Western Massachusetts, Sylvia and I stopped by Bertucci’s today for lunch, even though the South Beach Diet (hers, not mine) put our favorite margarita pizza (really, the closest I’ve found in this country to the original pizza of Naples) beyond reach a long time ago. At its center, the Chicken Marinara Sandwich features a tender, flattened, lightly breaded chicken breast, topped with Bertucci’s (how do you make a possessive of that?) fruity, fresh-tasting tomato sauce. All of that was good, but it was delivered in a somewhat spongy mock-focaccia roll with caramelized onions that absorbed more flavor than it provided. The side pasta salad had a nice lemony dressing, but underneath was a distinct core of blandness.

While preparing for the move, I also repeated the periodic ritual of going through my old boxes of various souvenirs I hadn’t opened since the last move and tossing out everything that seemed less important now than it did four years ago: notebooks from previous jobs, magazines recording French football games that no longer seemed that important, readings from courses that I will never teach again – and all of my notes and research files from my dissertation. Although the possibility had not occurred to me in years, now it really will be impossible for me to convert my dissertation into a book.

By sheer coincidence, I recently read Rosenzweig and Heidegger: Between Judaism and German Philosophy, by Peter Gordon, my closest friend and colleague among my graduate school classmates. Peter and I started together, shared the same advisor and field, did research together in Paris, etc., and now he is a tenured professor at Harvard (and he got tenure early, no less). Reading his book was intensely disconcerting, first because it exists in a completely different intellectual universe than the one I currently inhabit – and second, because I used to live in that universe. So at the same time that I was only partially understanding what I was reading, I could remember the younger version of myself who did understand Weimar-era German philosophy. Reading about Heidegger is a kind of experience that I first encountered when reading Derrida’s Of Grammatology in college: you make a leap into another conceptual framework, and then everything makes sense, but otherwise it is just words on a page. So here I was, sitting on a plane back from the wedding of the person I lived with in graduate school (someone completely different), thinking that I could understand this book if I really wanted to, but not sure it was worth the effort. But I read it for Peter, and I understand it’s an excellent book, so if you do care about Weimar-era philosophy, let me know and I’ll lend you my copy.

Dauber update

Apart from a little unexplained vomiting, Dauber continues to be in fine health – so much so, in fact, that my doctor friends at the wedding (I lived with medical students for a few years in grad school) said that it was highly unlikely that he actually has pancreatic cancer at this point, two months after the diagnosis. So in all likelihood, he will be making the trip with us to California, although it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll make the trip back in a year.