Frugal feasts - Page 3

Our resident budget gourmet picks the best of the Bay's thrifty dishes
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Penny of Penny's Carribean Cafe
Photo by Charles Russo

(I was afraid if I put them all in the same paragraph I might lose my readership.) And not to mention the meat itself, which kind of half seviches and half stays pink, and in any case is wholly succulent and tender.

If they put a bò tái chanh stand at either end of the Golden Gate Bridge, you would never again have to hear or think about the words suicide barrier in connection with the span. I'm convinced of that.

1007 Clay, Oakl. (510) 763-8495, www.lecheval.com

CURRY GOAT ROTI AT PENNY'S CARIBBEAN CAFE

I'm also, of course, a clown. The first time I ate at Penny's Caribbean Cafe in Berkeley, I was moved to go out to the van and get my steel drum and come back in and serenade the chef and the server and the proprietor, in fact the only person in the place, Penny.

Since then I have been back at least 30 times with at least 30 different people. My mission: to single-handedly or double-handedly or in any case greasy-handedly keep this place in business. Because I'm afraid it's too good to be true, like those dreams in which your dearly departed loved ones are alive again, in the yard, pecking corn and laying eggs.

I'll say it: curry goat roti ($8) is my favorite favorite thing to eat, and Penny's is my favorite favorite restaurant. And Penny is one of those rare people, like Fran of the late Ann's Cafe, whom I love even beyond her capacity to cook. If bò tái chanh literally did contain all the most fun pieces of the universe, Penny might be the universe itself. I just want to hug her, to disappear into her floury apron and kitchen smells, then decide for myself whether or not to come back.

Know what I mean?

Then maybe you should give this place a try. It's a dive, in the divine sense: it has two or three tables, and it's not always exactly all the way clean, or quick (she makes everything to order). Neither efficient nor organized, Penny's is not a well-oiled machine. But you will be after your roti, which you eat with your hands, like Ethiopian food.

Just so you know, West Indian roti is nothing like East Indian roti. It's a soft, layered dough with chickpeas crumbled into it and enough flavor to start or stop wars, even before the curry goat touches it. You can also get curry chicken, jerked chicken, or just vegetables. That's chickpeas, potatoes, and sometimes maybe some other things, like spinach. With or without your meat, it's ridiculously, eyes-rolling-back-in-the-headedly delicious.

But get the meat. The goat. Trust me on this. Goat is actually smoother and subtler tasting than lamb, if you're worried about it. In which case you must not have ever had it.

2836 Sacramento, Berk. (510) 486-1202

BEEF LARB AT MANORA'S THAI

Here's a dish, larb, that I had and had and had about a million times, on the East Coast and on this one, not to mention most points in between, since even small towns in Kansas have Thai restaurants now. Why I ordered larb so many times, considering that I never once liked it, is a big fat mystery, even to me. Theories include: 1) it's just an irresistibly funny word, and 2) maybe I knew, deep down inside (where all the weird, oniony dream images hang), that one day I would find Manora's Thai Restaurant in San Francisco.

Manora's is my favorite Thai place now. It looks like it's going to cost you, because the atmosphere is nice, as in fancy-framed pictures, cloth tablecloths, candles, flowers, chandeliers, and a waitstaff who all have good posture.

But don't be scared off. The food is great, and it's really not any more expensive than anywhere else — just nicer. Larb, basically a meat salad, goes for $7.50. However, whereas most places make their larb with ground or minced beef (or chicken or sometimes duck), Manora's uses chunks of grilled steak.

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