Economists have their favorite economic indicators. I think I just found mine. Restaurant equipment auctions.
When we put our place together 7+ years ago we were at the various Bay Area auctions constantly. During that period the dotcom frenzy was flying high. Those that should know said the economy was great. The used equipment was pretty good too. We've had to do some repairs and some replacement but we've gotten a lot of use out of the things we picked up at those auctions. Which would be every major piece of equipment from walk-in to dishwasher.
This last trip we visited American Restaurant Sales. They have auctions every two weeks or so in their spiffy (at least by the standards of their former location) place in San Leandro. They're family owned and the auctioneer, Gilbert, has probably equipped more Bay Area restaurants than Pat Kuleto, Pascal Rigo and Sam DuVall combined.
My hopes of finding that perfect, affordable range dissolved when I saw what was on the block. Everything there with the exception of a couple of sandwich prep tables and 2 20 qt Hobart mixers was tired and broken down. It wasn't Gilbert's fault, he's just the middleman.
My take is that the money is no longer flowing like Cristal at a hip-hop video shoot. Seven years ago even level headed restaurateurs, wait a minute, what the hell am I saying, that's an oxymoron. Even normally fiscally conservative operators were being seduced by the idea that the boom years were never going to go away and were replacing gear ahead of schedule, buying shiny new Jades and Montagues and expanding into new spaces. I hope they all fared well. I know their cast-offs have made me money. May those boom years come again soon. I'll need new equipment by the time they do.
Another indicator of economic health would also be competition. Seven years ago there were quite a few more restaurant supply houses. Now we're down to essentially one in SF and two in the East Bay, none of which offer any real bargains. I've never liked the pricing system at restaurant supply stores. They put some ridiculous "list price" on the item and then give you an arcane discount when they ring you up. Why can't they just put the price I'm going to pay on the item? I love auctions, but I hate negotiating price. At an auction I can see an item, set a limit and if I get it for my limit or less, great I feel good. If it goes higher I walk away and try for another item. Either way I feel good. When the salesperson is giving me my "discount", even when I'm paying a reasonable price I always feel ripped off, or that I could have shaved a few dollars off the price. And now, there are fewer options for comparison shopping. If only Kamei sold ranges. I'd be able to buy two, since they seem to be significantly lower on any item I can compare.
After much looking, I'll be getting my Montague. Granted, it's the entry level model The Grizzly but it's the best we're willing to buy. Now I have to see how much it's going to cost to get up here and from that information I'll determine who to buy from. No matter what I'm looking at at least three weeks because I need propane rather than natural gas.
City food was hit or miss.
The misses: We've been trying to find a great burger and have hit most of the burger-specific spots like Burgermeister, Burger Joint, Mo's, etc. Once in a while we try the burger at a restaurant like Chow and we have yet to find a great hamburger. Part of our dilemma is we're looking for different things. I like a thick, medium patty while the GM prefers a thin, well-done one. The other part of our dilemma is that people just don't seem to know how to make a flavorful burger. We tried Tony's Cable Car on Geary, I think at Lyon, just by Masonic. Not it. Not much difference from what I remember of fast food chains. We also tried a late night burger at The Brazen Head since one of my friends had always proclaimed it best burger in SF. The ambiance/lighting was great. Most burger places are way too bright, especially if you're looking for late night dining. The burger was not great. First of all, mashed potatoes are not a suitable companion for a hamburger. Then when you decide to mash the potatoes with water rather than butter and cream the mashed potatoes are not a suitable companion for anything. The meat itself had zero seasoning.
A non-burger miss was Katia's Russian Tea Room. Again, service problems. The door was open, the restaurant empty and no one to be seen. After waiting around for a while a woman appeared from the back. The menu wording is confusing, at least at lunch, leaving you wondering if all the items are available or not (they are). My blini was decent, the GM's stroganoff bland, the piroshki tepid and the tea not very good. Our waitress was mostly absent from the dining room. It is hard to strike a balance between attentiveness and hovering in a small room when there are few tables but absence is not the way to go. At $50 (after tip) for lunch it was definitely not worth it.
The so-so's: Our late night stop at Yuet Lee wasn't bad, in fact the flounder with long beans and black bean sauce was one of the better dishes we had on the trip but the meal wasn't up to their usual standard. The foul-tongued, youngish Southern harpy at the table next to us recounting her experience at a hotel didn't help the digestion either. The hotel ended up calling the police on her. Bravo for them. Before heading to the controversial Tibet exhibit at the Asian Art Museum we decided to try a new banh mi place called Wrap Delight on Larkin. The sandwich wasn't bad but the Saigon Sandwich shop is better. Eating on the side of the museum was a disaster with wind whipping around and sauce flying all over the GM. It was an OK experience for me though because I am usually the one with food all over me, so it was nice to see the tables turned. Normally Shalimar is great but I was irritated because 1. we actually tried to go to Sultan (on Taylor between O'Farrell and Ellis) which might be that combination of cleanliness and cuisine we'd like to find in a Tenderloin Indian restaurant, but they were closed and 2. everything I wanted on the menu they didn't have. Not that I never 86 things. I understand things happen. But when your menu is printed on newsprint and made to look disposable, as if you print every day, in fact including the heading Today's Specials, it's less excusable. As it turns out they only have goat on Friday, rendering that Today's Special only valid once a week. Then, they were out of two other choices and when I tried to order Kashmiri chai I was told, "we never have Kashmiri chai." Well, then take it off your menu pal. I'm tired of the racism which allows for a place like Shalimar to get away with things which would never fly in a Caucasian owned restaurant.
We gave the Blue Jay Cafe another try. Our last experience there was poor service-wise and the food got me riled up. Sauteed zucchini has no place in red beans and rice. They were trying to "improve" dishes which need no improvement. Anyway, while we were there previously we eyed a good number of decent looking fried chicken plates and thought we'd give them a try for the chicken. A friend was over and we needed some take-out and she really wanted fried chicken so... When we arrived to pick it up it still wasn't ready even though we gave them 40 minutes rather than the 20 they said on the phone. The waiter was a little snotty and it's possible they forgot to include 2 of our 3 orders of collards. It's also possible they packed them all into one container, but if so, they should have pointed that out. The chicken was adequate, the mac and cheese good, the collards were good and the biscuits were really nice. All in all, no compelling reason for me to go back.
The hits: The zucchini pizza from Gioia on Hopkins, near Monterey, in Berkeley. A nice blend of NY pizza crust and technique with California sensibility. That combo can often turn ugly, morph into something that is different from both but no better than either, like Pizzetta 211 or elevate both concepts which is what Gioia managed to do. Pizzetta 211 fans don't howl, I'm not dissing your pizza place, just saying it's somehow become something different than pizza.
Truly Mediterranean on 16th off of Valencia satisfied my shwarma craving for a while. I'd say until next trip but thinking about it makes me want one now. Juicy lamb, harissa, tahini, mmmm. I order two legs of lamb for specials on our return.
Bob's Donuts on Polk were great. Warm, nice amount of sweetness, big selection. So much so that we made the mistake of going again the next night. The second night there were no freshly fried doughnuts and the ones we got were lackluster. Not bad, but not a transcendent doughnut like the first night. So, if you go to Bob's only buy when they're still fresh and warm. However, they're open 24 hours, so it's great if you need a late night sugar high.
On the way home we stopped at Willi's Wine Bar in Santa Rosa. We've been 3 times and it's always been good and solid. No real missteps but nothing out of this world either. Parmesan, corn and bacon crusted baked oysters were wonderful, the pork belly potstickers were nice and crispy with shredded, fatty belly meat inside and the pomegranate glazed chicken meatballs with chickpeas and cucumber sounded like they'd be a mess but weren't.
So, now off to work.