Stateside Restaurant Review - The NZer, Alameda

Published: Tue 21 Sep 2004 11:20 AM
Stateside with Rosalea: Restaurant Review
The New Zealander, Alameda, CA

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But first:
**Addendum to W Ketchup story**
On account of a luncheon engagement, I dashed out the door before commenting that surely the W Ketchup thing is a complete hoax. The evidence is really on the web page where you can see the barcode label. It starts with the numbers "412" so was obviously issued in Germany, wherever the heck the food itself was made. If at all.
In a UPC-A 12-digit barcode, which this is, the first digit, zero, merely indicates that it's a trade item. The country code begins with the large numbers. Country prefixes for barcode labels are available here:
Hoax notwithstanding, the comments page I directed you to really does encapsulate the major thrusts of the arguments between Republicans and Democrats and the general tone of the debate between ordinary folks here in the States.
**The real W Ketchup is made by Heinz**
Shock! Horror! The ketchup (which is what tomato sauce is called here in the States - "tomato sauce" being reserved for what you use for spag bol)... let me begin again. The ketchup that was brought to our table at lunch today was immediately recognised by my American companion as being made by Heinz, because of the shape of one of the design elements of the label.
But it had a big ole W on it, and I begged the waitperson to bring it to me to slather on my pie and spuds. Yes! It was Watties Tomato Sauce, in that good old plastic bottle, and this was a real meat pie such as I would eat out of a brown paper bag from the tuck shop at school lunch time. New Zealand then, I guess, must be one of the alleged 57 countries that make Heinz ketchup (57 actually being the number of varieties Heinz claimed in its advertising campaigns from since way back when).
Are you still reading this? It's awfully long winded and I can only attribute that to the Steinie that I had while waiting for the pie to arrive. And waiting. And waiting. I'm not sure why it took so long but my poor old pie was quite dried out and needed a double drench of Watties to be palatable. Not only that, but steak and kidney pie wasn't on the menu so I ahd to have plain old steak instead. But don't let that put you off. Read on.
"The New Zealander" restaurant has just recently opened on a busy corner site on Alameda Island, which sits just off Oakland and used to be home to a large naval air station. A city of about 90,000 people, Alameda is a very popular place for families with young children to move to, as the housing is better quality than comparably priced homes in either San Francisco or Oakland. It has wide tree-lined streets and the houses are on quite generous sections.
The building in which the restaurant has opened was originally a hotel and has been there since 1883 when there was an amusement park across the street, and the nearby public gardens were training grounds for famous boxers of the time. Including the author Jack London. Vaudevillians used to stay in the hotel - which is much like the two-storied weatherboard hotels from the same period that you see in New Zealand - and used to perform there as well.
The mosaic floor of the interior reminds me of the swill-friendly tile floor of Australian pubs, but the decorative glass is definitely local to the area. The artwork that's been put in has nothing whatsoever to do with New Zealand, apart for one small sorry-looking carved figure. On one wall there is a huge ceremonial mask that looks Papua New Guinean in origin, a cloth hanging in a doorway is Indonesian ikat, and there are some Australian Aborigine artifacts on another wall. Well, I guess the decorators are just being neighbourly.
Our waitperson, however, was a Kiwi who's been living in the States for a year, and the chef also is a Kiwi. The menu has a lot of lamb, along with a choice from about eight types of pie. Here in the States when you say "pie" it is a fruit pie that comes to mind. You can find frozen chicken "pot pies" at the supermarket, but the individual-sized meat pies that Kiwi kids grew up with are unknown. Top of the menu is a vegemite and cheese sandwich!
I had a beer and pie and red potatoes done Coromandel style; my lunch companion having already had a large breakfast, she had a cup of tea - which arrived with a gingernut and Krispie biscuit on the saucer - and bread and butter pudding. She found the pudding too heavy for her taste but it was beautifully presented, and she said she'd go back there again. The restaurant is kid-friendly and has various books about New Zealand as well as kids books on the shelf in a little lounging area.
There's a patio out the back where you can sit in the sun to eat, and the place still functions as just a bar. So you could go in there when you fancied a spot of Lion Red and sit up at the wooden counter and just have a drink. The New Zealander is on the corner of Webster and Central, which is part of the so-called West End shopping district of Alameda and easy to get to by public transport if need be.
It has only recently opened, within the last month, so I imagine there are a few things yet to be ironed out, and I wouldn't take my negative comments about the dried-out pie as a reason for you not to go there. I think the kitchen staff were just caught off guard by the number of people who had turned up there for Sunday lunch, which is recommendation in itself.
Particularly if you are visiting the Bay Area and want to treat your hosts to some Kiwi tucker beautifully presented in a nice ambience - white linen tablecloths, no less - then you should give The New Zealander a go. And for Americans planning a trip to NZ, you can get a taste of what awaits you. Just don't forget to ask for the Watties Tomato Sauce!

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