Skip the shrimp rolls at Emeryville's Comeback Cafe, but do dig in at Berkeley's Khana Peena
CHEAP EATS I keep finding myself in Emeryville, which is a problem. Once I was running early so I stopped at the Comeback Café and ordered a Vietnamese sandwich, pork, no mayonnaise.
The young guy at the counter wrote it all down, passed it along to the kitchen, and I picked up a Giants' schedule from a stack by the cash register. It made me feel at home.
This is the thing about me: whenever I am running early, I wind up late. Even later than when I am running late. At least I know myself. So I called Crawdad de la Cooter, and let her know. It was a prediction, disguised as a question: "Do you want me to bring anything for the kids?"
"What do they have?"
I read the menu.
"Shrimp rolls," she said. So good, so now I had a proper excuse for being late. And it would be in the kids' best interest, because shrimp rolls, as a rule, rock. Everybody knows, give or take two- and three-year-olds.
It was already taking them forever to make my sandwich, and now it was going to take foreverer.
I read the whole 2010 S.F. Giants season, April to October, in one sitting, only I was standing up. And finally, my order was ready.
Not wanting to run the risk of having to share my pork sandwich with the children, I decided to eat it in the car. And that was how, just one bite in, I learned why they call the place the Comeback Café. I did an immediate U-turn and went back.
"Mayonnaise," I said.
"So sorry, I forgot to tell them," he said.
So they made me a new one and I was even later. The sandwich was great this time, plenty of grilled pork and fresh cilantro, shredded carrots ... On the minus side, the jalapenos had very little heat, and: $5. Did I miss something? Is that the going rate for Vietnamese sandwiches these days? Even in the Tenderloin?
Well, leave it to Emeryville.
The fresh shrimp rolls ($5.50 for three) were lame. I don't think I ever tasted a non-vegetarian Vietnamese cold roll with less flavor. Too much lettuce and not enough (if any) other green things. Cilantro? Basil? Mint?
Well, the kids enjoyed their stickiness: the rice paper wrapper and especially the rice vermicelli noodles, which they were delighted to find inside, and spread all over.
I was about to spend five days and four nights with them. In fact, I did. It's Day 5, mom's on the airplane home, as we speak, and I am still picking vermicelli noodles out of her two little uns' hair and wardrobes.
Besides taking them on their first-ever BART train ride, which was the highlight of at least two of our lives, my favorite time was on Sunday when their father took us all out to dinner at Khana Peena, this great Indian restaurant at the Berkeley Hills end of Solano. I'd seen it a million times but had never eaten there because Zachary's is just a couple doors down.
Anyway, they have this great happy hour special between I think 4 to 7 p.m. every day, where you get 50 percent off on all your food. Which I'm guessing is overpriced so maybe it comes out to "about right."
Well, the chicken tikka masala was so good we had to order it again. And probably would have ordered it again again, if the kids weren't starting to get fussy. Soooooo good, but I gotta say: tiiiiiny portion. Half price, order twice ... Again: I don't know, you do the math.
All's I'm saying is I don't remember ever loving chicken tikka masala so much. Nor do I remember ever feeling so thoroughly momlike as I did eating out with two small kids and their dad. I can't speak for the girls, but I think I might have goofed around a little less than usual.
KHANA PEENA INDIAN CUISINE
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.;
Dinner: 5 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
1889 Solano, Berk.