Monday, April 30, 2007

The East Bay Today: April 30, 2007

Mon, Apr 30, 2007 at 4:54 PM

Today's Top Event: Malcolm Margolin, founder of Heyday Books, discusses the "Art of the Book" with Pegasus/Pendragon owner Amy Thomas and local historian Chuck Wollenberg at the Berkeley Public Library's Central Branch.

Brainiac: Learn something new every day. Today's lecture: Sonya Renee headlines tonight's Poetry Express at Berkeley's Priya Indian Cuisine.

Is It Lunch Yet? Express food critic John Birdsall recommends: Brennan's in Berkeley

On the Town: Going out tonight? Practice your chops or just enjoy the impromptu tunes with a free open rock jam at John Patrick's in Alameda.

Hardly Working: You've got time. We know how to waste it. Check out the Church Sign Generator.

Feed Us: Got an East Bay news tip, photo, video, or link we need to know about? E-mail us.

New Restaurant Adds to West Berkeley's Destination Status

by John Birdsall
Mon, Apr 30, 2007 at 12:06 AM

A big-profile northern Italian restaurant opens today in West Berkeley, a neighborhood slowly establishing a reputation as a notable place to eat. Riva Cucina, a breakfast, lunch, and dinner café whose press materials emphasize the northern Italian and the sustainable, joins a short roster of glossy eateries that also includes 900 Grayson, Sea Salt, and Café Cacao. Riva Cucina's husband-and-wife proprietors are chef Massimiliano Boldrini, a native of Emilia-Romagna who's been catering and teaching cooking classes at Napa Valley wineries, and Jennifer Boldrini, who'll manage the front of the house. Oliveto alumnus Tyler Rodde is sous chef. Riva Cucina's opening menu promises stuff like a salad of favas and Berkeley-made Fra' Mani soppressata, as well as carpaccio with artichokes. Last Wednesday, the Boldrinis helped plant a garden at nearby Aquatic Park School. Once established, says a PR spokesperson, it'll help supply the restaurant's kitchen with herbs. Riva Cucina is at 800 Heinz Avenue.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Food Coverage From Beyond the Bubble: Laurel Miller Responds

Fri, Apr 27, 2007 at 4:54 PM

In February, a Grease Trap post on this blog lamented shrinking local food coverage in some Bay Area dailies - a common theme of the weekly feature. As evidence of this trend, John Birdsall pounced on an announcement that the Contra Costa Times would be publishing "Fork in the Road," a syndicated food-focused travel column by Colorado-based writer Laurel Miller. You can read the original Grease Trap item here. In the following letter exchange, Miller breaks it down, and Birdsall responds.

4-21-07 Dear Editor, I was the subject of a recent Grease Trap on local food coverage and how it has expanded to outside sources.

As I write this I'm on assignment in a mountain village in Morocco researching Berber walnut farmers. As a freelancer, I retain the right to live wherever I please. As far as my ANG Newspaper column, "Fork in the Road," goes, Birdsall is mistaken in his facts. My column changed to a food travel format focusing on sustainability issues as they pertain to regions all over the world in January 2005. This was at the request of my editors at the paper. Birdsall's reporting that my column changed simply because I moved is inaccurate, and damaging. For the record, I moved in October 2006.

The reason for the column change was because, after over three years of profiling local product and farmers, I had largely exhausted local column topics, and my editors felt that my work as an eco-adventure travel and food writer would better provide a forum for me to write about global culinary topics with a sustainability or food artisan focus to create a better awareness of these issues to educate readers. I always include mail order or Bay Area sources for product or applicable links whenever possible.

I would also like to call out Birdsall on his comments about my recent Kangaroo Island column, and how I was writing about what I ate on a "free junket." Again, Birdsall wasn't there, and doesn't realize (because he never spoke to me) that I have done a lot of work in conjunction with Tourism Australia in order to promote their family farmers and regional foods and products because I have such a strong respect for their burgeoning food industry and it's eco-conscious methods. My KI story was a piece on a remote location that is a dedicated wilderness preserve, and the hardworking and innovative farmers who are creating an responsible and viable economic industry amidst one of the planet's most fragile ecosystems.

Since Birdsall at least learned where KI is located, I think I can rest my case. We live in an increasingly homogenous, shrinking world due to technology and urban development. Not being a Bay Area-based writer or exclusively writing about Bay Area culinary topics isn't an excuse for ignorance. My mission as a food and travel writer is to educate readers about how the rest of the world eats, farms, and how what they consume affects those who produce what's on their plates. What you eat in the Bay Area generally affects someone else in another part of the world.

Sincerely, Laurel Miller

4-24-07 Hi, Laurel: I apologize if you felt the post was a swipe at you for being a travel writer focusing on food (or a food writer who travels, whichever). Like I try to do with all Grease Trap posts, I meant to make a point about the Contra Costa Times food section, not you. I completely respect your skills as a writer and a journalist, more now perhaps than when you were writing about things near the Bay.

My lament was that page three of the CC Times' food section, traditionally given over to community food criticism and journalism, is now less rooted in the local. Pre MediaNews days, page three was the place to read about local hot dog stands, where to get fish and chips, or where to score a cheap lunch. I should know, having been a regular freelance contributor to the Times. As I say, my lament was about the changing nature of the Times, not your piece. Excuse me if I gave that impression. My blog post did include the following praise: "Miller's a talented food writer and cooking teacher . . . She deserves big props. Miller was writing about local growers long before it was a food section cliche." It's a small point, but I didn't say "free junket," but "free chow on a journalist [sic] junket." I did point out that you'd moved to Boulder in October 2006, a fact I gleaned from your website. I didn't mean to imply cause or timing: that you started writing about the world in October 2006. I wrote merely, "Now she's focusing on travel writing with a heavy food component . . ."

I used your interesting piece about Kangaroo Island as an example of something you have nothing to do with: editorial decisions that happen above the level of contributor. The "bittersweet flavor" I mentioned, the one the editor's announcement about "Fork in the Road" appearing monthly provoked in me, wasn't about the quality of or journalism behind your pieces, but precisely that they're good stories appearing where the food section once focused hyper-local coverage. I have no argument with your defense about making connections in a shrinking world. In fact, I agree.

John Birdsall

4-24-07 Hi John, I really appreciate your reply, and I would greatly appreciate your posting my response. While I didn't overlook your compliments regarding my writing (thank you, by the way), my ire was that I felt I was being targeted, when really, the budget restraints with various newspaper groups are such that I have no control over amount the syndicated content, and given my years in the Bay Area, and considerable work I've done and still do to promote the farmers and food artisans there, I still consider myself a local writer. Regardless of that fact, my main point was the one I made in my letter: I am trying to educate readers about these issues outside the Bay Area bubble. I also felt the "free food junket" comments were damaging to my reputation, as I pride myself on not being a "journo whore." I am very specific about any press trips I take, I will only write about what I believe in, and most of my travel, as with my current stay in Morocco, is independent travel.

Best, Laurel

Buy Curious: Grillin', Chillin' and Struttin' the Catwalk

Fri, Apr 27, 2007 at 4:54 PM

What clothing label makes Berkeley High guys drool? (Hint: It's Australian.) Where can you fly if you've only got $20 to throw down? What are local fledgling fashion designers whipping up these days? This week, the definitive guide to downtown Berkeley style, two key events that should be on every trendsetter's weekend agenda, and much more...

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Kaiser Busted Dumping Medical Waste

by Chris Thompson
Fri, Apr 27, 2007 at 4:54 PM

A San Jose hospital owned and operated by Oakland's Kaiser Permanente is being investigated for dumping medical waste, including bags of human blood, at a local landfill. According to a story in the San Jose Mercury News, Kaiser's Santa Teresa and other hospitals did the dirty deeds between April 6 and April 19, dumping perhaps more than 100 pounds of the viscous stuff on seven different occasions. Roughly thirty tons of contaminated garbage had to be specially treated, the reports adds. We know the '80s are back, but this is getting ridiculous.

The East Bay Today: April 27, 2007

Fri, Apr 27, 2007 at 4:54 PM

Today's Top Event: The Battle of the Romantically Dysfunctional Songwriters at Spud's in Berkeley.

Brainiac: Learn something new every day. Today's lecture: Marta Acosta discusses her book Midnight Brunch at Cody's in Berkeley.

Is It Lunch Yet? Express food critic John Birdsall recommends: Wood Tavern in Oakland.

On the Town: Going out tonight? DJ Electro spins old-school reggae, soca, salsa, and R&B at the Island Paradise Club in Alameda.

Hardly Working: You've got time. We know how to waste it. Check out James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge.

Feed Us: Got an East Bay news tip, photo, video, or link we need to know about? E-mail us.

You're a Better Flack Than We Are, Jesse D.

by Chris Thompson
Fri, Apr 27, 2007 at 12:06 AM

Never failing to disappoint, Berkeley Daily Planet columnist Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor has offered yet another apologia for the Ron Dellums do-nothing regime in Oakland. This time, he's decided that writers for this very paper have been scurrilous and mean to the long-suffering mayor, at least when we're not too busy cultivating an air of mediocrity. Referring to reporter Robert Gammon's latest column on Dellums' numerous task forces, and the undeniable fact that the mayor's office has refused to reveal who sits of them or even what they are working on, Allen-Taylor makes the decidedly entertaining claim that this doesn't necessarily mean they're "secret" or anything. Sure, Dellums may not be giving the public any information on the task forces now. But back when they were just getting started in the summer of 2006, Allen-Taylor writes, anyone could join. "Under those circumstances, how difficult would it have been for local reporters to get information on the task force membership or deliberations in a town, like Oakland, that so dearly loves to gossip?" he writes. "Not very. So why didn't they?"

So magnanimous is Allen-Taylor that he doesn't for a moment entertain the idea that we're just lazy and inept. No, he suspects we're all just too overworked, thanks to brutal newsroom budget cuts. And in the case of Bob Gammon, Allen-Taylor claims that after joining the East Bay Express, he has "become spread so thin in trying to cover so many areas of concern that [his] work has suffered." Since I sit next to Gammo in the newsroom, I can tell you just how tragically gaunt he's gotten lately. Seriously, the man's skin is friggin' translucent.

But if Allen-Taylor really wants to know why we didn't get information on the task forces in the summer, here's the answer: we tried back then too, and were given the big stinky finger. In the late summer/early fall of 2006, columnist Will Harper repeatedly tried to get information on the task forces; he even sat in on a few that were held at City Hall. But when he asked Dellums' representatives to give him a comprehensive list of the task forces, he was endlessly told, "next week, we promise." In his column, Allen-Taylor guesses - really, he just guesses - that this latest lack of public accountability is simply due to a temporary culture clash (or "creative tension," as he calls it) between old and new staffers. But from the day he announced he was running for mayor, Dellums made two things perfectly clear: He wasn't going to work very hard, and he wasn't going to tell you what, if anything, he's doing on your behalf.

Take Dellums' town meeting last night - the first such meeting he's held since taking office, and one that almost certainly was only organized after newspapers hammered him for doing nothing but hiding under his desk. According to this morning's story in the Oakland Tribune, here's what the mayor said he's been doing. He intends to ask the state of California, which is struggling with a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit, to give him a lot of money. He intends to ask the federal government to give him a lot of money. He's negotiating with a few charities to give him about $1 million for some social programs. He intends to hire someone to "coordinate" some anti-violence programs. He intends to hire some people to increase "civic participation," a make-work job if ever there was one.

At the same meeting, Dellums repeatedly sneered at local newspapers for having the temerity to criticize him. Fortunately, he'll always have the Daily Planet to watch his back.

Sneak Peak Inside Pixar (and the Only Major Summer Flick that's 100% Original!)

by Lauren Gard
Fri, Apr 27, 2007 at 12:06 AM

An editor from the Web site MovieWeb toured Emeryville's very hush-hush Pixar this week, and what he discovered is worth reading about ... if you like to torture yourself, that is. "Hellbent on squeezing every ounce of creative fluid out of every employee, the campus is complete with pools, grassy valleys, an in house massage parlor and a spaciously designed interior layout (they even sport a giant indoor bridge) that would make even the most functional of feng-shui masters feel inefficient and lazy," writes Stephen Reedy. "Perfectly put by Ratatouille's lead, [comedian] Patton Oswalt, 'It's like Willy Wonka's place without the creepiness.'" Sigh! Some of us clearly chose the wrong career.

If you're eagerly awaiting the June 29 release of Ratatouille - a comedy about a French rat who aspires to be a top chef (alongside actual human chefs, that is) - you'll soak up Reedy's descriptions of the seven clips he viewed at Pixar. He also relates some info direct from director Brad Bird (who wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning "The Incredibles"). "Bird assures us that it'll be good despite the fact that it's one of the only summer movies that is not a sequel," he reports. Said Bird, "Just think of it as the prequel to the sequel!" (To hear Bird interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air in 2005, click here.)

If you ask us, the fact that it's not a sequel - and that Pixar has largely avoided creating them for the big screen thus far - is a major plus. Because the number of big budget sequels being released this summer - 14 - is mindboggling. (It's the second highest number ever.) The well-worn franchises include Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, The Fantastic 4, Bourne, Ocean's and Harry Potter, among others.

The only other non-sequel major releases you'll have the chance to see apart from Pixar's rat tale? Transformers and The Simpsons Movie. How's that for originality?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sandre Swanson Backs Down

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 4:54 PM

When freshman Oakland Assemblyman Sandre Swanson introduced legislation earlier this year to return local control of Oakland schools, it looked like a ballsy move. His bill would have mandated the state give up complete power over the district by January 1, 2008. But in recent days, Swanson backed down from his tough stance. He watered down his bill to say that school district cannot return to local control until auditors from the state's Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team agree to do so first. Today's Oakland Tribune, calls FCMAT "independent," but a 2003 Trib story showed the agency is anything but. In fact, there's evidence that FCMAT helped orchestrate the takeover of Oakland schools in the first place. To view that story (fee required), click here to get to the Trib's archive search page. Then scroll down to the "fee based" search, type "FCMAT" into the search terms box, and specify August 2003. Then scroll down and click on the story "Phone logs link 'politics' to school takeover."

The East Bay Today: April 26, 2007

Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 4:54 PM

Today's Top Event: Marian McPartland, the grand dame of jazz piano, applies a lifetime of swing and bebop chops to her improvisations at Yoshi's in Oakland.

Brainiac: Learn something new every day. Today's lecture: Richard Lang, president of Trillim Press in Brisbane, CA talks about helping artists build their reputations locally and nationally at Swarm Studios + Gallery in Oakland.

Is It Lunch Yet? Express food critic John Birdsall recommends: Arinell in Berkeley.

On the Town: Going out tonight? DJ Hamouris leads a women's song series at Berkeley's Epic Arts Studio.

Hardly Working: You've got time. We know how to waste it. Check out the Hubble Telescope Movie Theater.

Feed Us: Got an East Bay news tip, photo, video, or link we need to know about? E-mail us.

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