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California Dreamin’ – Brown Sugar Kitchen

In my continuing quest to eat as many of my favorite foods as possible that will be difficult or expensive to get in Japan, I decided to make a stop at Brown Sugar Kitchen, home of what could be Oakland’s best chicken and waffles. This particular morning, I took our car in for service and the service manager said I had 3 hours to kill and a shuttle that would take me anywhere in a 3 mile radius. The decision was made in an instant.

Brown Sugar Kitchen is located in a part of West Oakland that you could charitably say isn’t the most desirable neighborhood. Signs posted outside the restaurant warn “Don’t Feed the Thieves”, meaning don’t leave anything valuable in your car if you don’t want to come out to a pile of broken glass on the street next to your shattered window. Inside, however, you could be in any hip neighborhood of Oakland, Berkeley or San Francisco. Hipster college students, retirees, and local residents all gather together to partake of a little bit of heaven: chicken and waffles.

These aren’t just any chicken and waffles. They are buttermilk battered chicken and cornmeal waffles with a dollop of brown sugar butter and warm apple cider syrup. Though the waitress tempted me with smoked pork hash (which smelled incredible when I walked in the door), I had my heart set on the chicken and waffles today. Focus, Todd, focus.

There is something amazing about the complexity of eating chicken and waffles together. Especially THESE chicken and waffles. First you have the flavor complexity: sweet syrup and butter, tart buttermilk batter, slightly salty chicken meat. Then you have the texture complexity: crunchy fried chicken batter and cornmeal waffle, slightly chewy chicken, and creamy butter. Put all that complexity together and it just explodes in your mouth. Seriously, how do two relatively simple dishes combine together to create something so incredible?

After my meal, I called for a shuttle back to the dealership and waited for my ride. When the driver pulled up, he smiled and said “I thought I might find you here.” As we drove back to the dealer, he pointed out a few other places he and his wife had tried around the neighborhood. “But,” he said with a knowing grin, “I’d pass them all up for Brown Sugar Kitchen.”

Brown Sugar Kitchen
234 Mandela Pkwy
Oakland, California
510-839-SOUL (7685)

Autodesk Design Night

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Full disclosure: I currently work as a part-time consultant for Autodesk and I worked as a full-time regular employee for many years before that. So yes, I’m a bit biased toward what I believe is a fantastic company, both to work for and for what they are contributing to the world. Biased or not, you should check out Design Night at least once and make your own decision about it.

One of the events I look forward to each month is Design Night, an event sponsored by Autodesk and hosted in the incredible Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco, which is a treat in and of itself. Design Night dives into various aspects of how creativity and design are impacting our world in the areas of art, engineering, fashion, architecture, you name it. Autodesk is not a household name, but its products our used to create much of what we see around us everyday: buildings, cars, household objects and even the special effects for movies, TV and video games. So it makes a lot of sense that Autodesk would host Design Night, given they have customers working in almost every conceivable field of the design world.

Design Nights are organized around a theme, from fields of technology, science and recently, even fashion. A well-known celebrity from that particular field presents on their work. One of the more popular speakers recently was Leo Villareal, the artist who created the beautiful Bay Lights artwork using the western span of the Bay Bridge. But Design Night is about interaction, so there are a few tables set up around the Gallery where participants can make something: LED jewelry, a clock made from recycled LP records or tree trunks, even homegrown oyster mushrooms!

Of course, no party would be complete without food and entertainment. There’s an open bar all evening, serving standard drinks and usually a special creation chosen based on the theme of the night. Catered food has ranged from Thai to Mexican to California fusion and is also complementary (until it runs out). A DJ spins theme related beats to set the mood.

And then, of course, there is the company of participants. Many of the Bay Area’s most brilliant and creative minded folk attend Design Night regularly. On nights I have attended or worked at Design Night (as a photographer or table volunteer), I have met authors, architects, fashion designers, and even a guy who worked in Information Technology at the Federal Reserve across the street (“Stressful work I bet.” I asked him. He just shrugged.).

Tickets to Design Night tend to sell out fast, sometimes within days of the event being advertised, so you’ll have to make a quick decision if you intend to go. Don’t forget the ticket includes food, drink, and anything you can make on that evening, so it’s actually quite a bargain if you fully participate. To receive information about future Design Nights, get on the Design Night mailing list.

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Making a clock out of recycled wood at Autodesk Design Night.

A model from Melange at the Designista! Design Night.

Playing with the body controlled ball maze in the Autodesk Gallery.

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Things To Miss About America – Half Moon Bay, California

Jumping on the freeway and heading due west from our home, we can be in the little seaside town of Half Moon Bay in less than an hour. As close as it is, it feels a world apart from the busy urban sprawl of the Bay Area. One cloudless Fall day, I decided on a whim to get in my car and take that short drive to the coast, to enjoy the quaintness of Half Moon Bay perhaps one last time before heading to Japan for a few years.

I certainly was not disappointed by my little diversion for the day. In the few hours I spent in Half Moon Bay walking around, enjoying an abnormally warm November day (Half Moon Bay is famous for it’s fog, which can often last the entire day, even if it’s completely sunny 15 miles inland). Strangers gave me genuine smiles as they walked past me on the street, and a few even struck up conversations and offered advice on scenic places I should photograph. Inviting public benches, donated by members of the community lined the streets of the downtown area, inviting me to stop and relax while enjoying a deli sandwich and the warm sunshine.

Half Moon Bay is as famous for its October pumpkin festival as it is for its fog, and there was plenty of evidence that the festival had recently ended. Pumpkins, some decorated in paint, some carved, and some just, well, naked, sat outside shops and houses alike.

A few miles north of the main part of town, an amazing little house/shop called Nest Gallery is hidden just away from the marina. Nest Gallery is filled with little objects d’art, some collected, some created. And as interesting as the art is, the artists who reside there are even more so. I had a wonderful conversation with one of the artists who used to practice architecture, and he regaled me with stories of the days he was involved in such high profile projects as the iconic Transamerica Pyramid and the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

I feel blessed to have spent so much of my life growing up in California, a dash away from some really incredible places. What Half Moon Bay may lack in size, it more than makes up for in spirit.

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Road Trippin’ – In Search of Santa Maria BBQ Heaven

Road Trippin' - In Search of Santa Maria BBQ Heaven

On our way to a meeting in Southern California, my friend Phong and I took the long road, Highway 101 from the Bay Area. We were craving some of that famous Santa Maria BBQ, native to the area between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. There’s no pretense in Santa Maria BBQ; it’s simply good local beef from the Central Valley and the smoke from California Oak.

We settled on a place highlighted in Sunset Magazine as one of the best tri tip sandwiches in the area, the Garey Store in, you guessed it, Garey, California. Population 68. Apparently the Garey Store makes sandwiches for local ranchers and farmhands and Friday is their only day for tri tip. They make about 150 sandwiches, sell them all between noon and 2pm and when they’re out, they’re done. We called ahead from San Jose to make sure they’d have a couple for us.

To reach the Garey Store, you drive about 7 miles off the 101 until basically you’re 1000 miles from nowhere. The place is frequented by locals who probably think city folk driving that far off the freeway for a sandwich must be out of their hipster minds. The sandwich comes with salsa (very mild, almost Pace style) and sliced jalapeno peppers. That is all. Phong found some delicious maple bacon potato chips and we got some bottled water and soft drinks. We ate outside, along the dusty highway, watching the trucks roll on by.

If you like your BBQ simple, just the flavors of the meat and the smoke, this is definitely what you’re after. It will not blow your mind, but the experience of finding this tiny little place and knowing you’re eating a sandwich only a handful of people outside the local ranching community have eaten is something in itself.

Oh, one other important thing about Garey Store. No public restrooms. Because that would be pretentious.

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The Garey Store in Garey, CA. Population 68.

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