By Meredith Brody
The irresistible programming of rather obscure British movies from the 30s through the 50s called Rare Treasures of British Cinema at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto drew me southwards for the first time in a long time. During the Stanford’s last program, Bette Davis: Complete Early Films 1931-38, I’d been about to drive over when I calculated the gas, tolls, and ticket price required, and decided that the total was too close to $20 for comfort.
Anyway, it was nice to park for free on a tree-shaded block of University Avenue and be reminded of just what a pleasant old-fashioned Main Street it is. I was an hour early – I was meeting friends at Andale (209 University, 650 323-2939), a Mexican spot a couple of doors up from the theater – so I stopped at Satura Cakes (320 University, 650 326-3393), a couple of blocks down, for a big cup of excellent coffee and -- I couldn’t resist, no matter how imminent the guacamole -- one of their adorable and exquisitely displayed Franco-Japonais pastries.
Difficult to choose among the line-up, which includes such delights as the Berry Blue Parfait (sponge cake layered with blueberry compote and low-fat yogurt mousse topped with fresh blueberries), Choc-misu (tiramisu made with Swiss chocolate and coffee cream mixed with mascarpone cheese atop sponge cake), and a Pistachio Bavarois (pistachio dacquoise cake with pistachio cream, raspberry preserves, almond praline, and gelatine), all $3.95 each. I went with the rather classic New York, N.Y.: a rather classic cheesecake on a pecan and walnut-crusted graham cracker base, not as light as I’d hoped from its description, which called it “soft and soufflé-like”. I was hoping for a confection like the amazing and indeed soufflé-like cheesecake I once had (and dreamt of ever since) at a bakery in Montreal that I can’t track down right now, despite earnest Googling. Next time I might try their Crème Fraiche cheesecake, which might be a little nearer the mark: it’s described as a “Japanese-styled cheesecake with a genoise sponge, cream cheese, lowfat yogurt and lemon juice.”
But the snack was light enough that it didn’t interfere with my appetite when lined up to order at the counter of Andale, an hour later. I got the guacamole, natch, $5.75, and an order of what they call sparerib carnitas, $10.75, which turn out to be, once delivered to my outside table, a heap of chunky carnitas with four smallish ribs alongside, as well as rice, whole pinto beans, guacamole, and salsa. Additional salsas, chopped onions, pickled carrots, and cilantro are available at a bar near the counter. One friend arrived shortly after I did (she got the chipotle shrimp quesadilla, $9.25, and a margarita, which I eschewed because I figured it’d put me under during the movies). When the third arrived I was not quite halfway through the carnitas, entirely satiated, and what was still on the plate proved to be enough for her with a little left over. I’ve had tastier and moister carnitas, but once tricked out with the guac and the salsa, these were perfectly fine. Only quibble: the guacamole and the good roasted tomato and chipotle salsas deserved better chips than the lowgrade commercial ones offered.
Bank Holiday proved to be a fascinating blend of low British comedy, sexual innuendo that wouldn’t have been permitted under the Production Code in force in the U.S. at the time, and dramatic tragedy. Afterwards we stopped by Satura (which is conveniently open until 11) and got four pastries to go: a mango-coconut mousse cake and flourless chocolate soufflé for my pals, and a signature strawberry shortcake for me and a chestnut Mont Blanc for my mom.
I was sufficiently intrigued by the movies and the Stanford’s proximity to so many interesting eateries that I bet by the time the British program is over, I will have eaten my way up and down University Avenue. More to come.