Comfort and joy

Pub date December 21, 2009
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap Eats

CHEAP EATS The guy who runs the ukulele shop suggests I pray before going to Ikea. It works every time for him. He got those big shelves that way, the ones with all the chord-books on them. And the nice wood table. He says he prayed for those things. Then he went to Ikea. And not only did he find them, he found them in the discount aisle!

Merry Christmas.

The god I don’t believe in, turns out, is a loving god. A caring god. A thrifty god, a sexy and strong god, who impresses virgins and moves not only mountains but furniture. Slightly dinged furniture, to boot! With a retail record like that, surely there can be no other god.

Check him out.

I don’t know that I’ll ever muster up the courage to go to Ikea, let alone the piety to pray beforehand, but I sure do like the guy at the ukulele shop. He accidentally insulted my uke, but also bought me an espresso on purpose. I go talk to him as often as possible.

Then there are Romea’s parents, who played ping pong with us, showed us Super 8 footage of my lover as a cute little tomboy, plied us with osso buco for lunch and sausages for dinner, changed my mind about mustard, and sent us on our merry way with a tin of homemade Christmas cookies flaky and delicate enough to make a believer out of Richard Dawkins Himself.

I tell you, if His mom had made those little heart-shaped ones with pointy green pistachio bits stuck into the white icing like tiny Christmas trees poking through the snow, well, He would not today be nearly as famous as He is. They pack a punchy, tangy sort of sweetness that makes me see stars, snowflakes, and angels, these ones, but — alas — there are only two left.

Hold on. Make that one.

Oh, did I mention the head massage? With all due respect to all my ex-ma-and-pa-in-laws, whom I still love like my own parents, I have never felt more immediately welcomed, warmed, and accepted — as was — than I felt with Romea’s folks. And think about it: my previous in-laws only ever had to deal with my weirdness. These ones faced my weirdness and my queerness, and responded with kisses, massages, and sausages, declaring me immediately simpatich.

Happy Hanukkah. And I mean that. I’m not generally Jewish — just at Christmastime. But this year, you know, I kind of mean my Merry Christmases too. And not only because Romea is the biggest Scrooge I’ve ever stomped with.

It’s those cookies. Those insane, divine, little crunches of pure comfort and joy, comfort and joy. And of course the ukulele shop. And Romea’s new coat and shoes, and my new used bike, which with its tight light generator and loose bell makes me sound like a cross between an ambulance and the ice cream truck. Which pretty much sums up what I am, probably.

But did I tell you about my new favorite Thai restaurant? It’s Ruen Pair, on San Pablo in Albany — a friendly little restaurant with friendly little waitressperson people and really really mean-ass cooks. I mean that in the most positive way.

Among lovers of the hot and the spicy, Ruen Pair is no secret. Sweet Baby Jesus is it spicy! Even if you get it medium, it’s almost too hot to handle. It’s just on the edge, which is where I like to eat, if not live.

I ate there once, and had it once to go, so I can vouch for a lot of dishes: the duck salad, green curry, pad prik king … And not only do they have my favorite of favorites, duck noodle soup, which is awesome, they have tom yum noodle soup, which is awesome, and a brilliant idea, because tom yum is so good but never really enough of what it is, as an appetizer.

Whereas with noodles, pork, ground pork, and pork balls …

You get the picture, yes? Everything I had here was great, and spicier than you think it’s going to be. You can leave your hot sauce at home. Where it belongs. For the holidays. Happy.


Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

1045 San Pablo Ave., Albany

(510) 528-2375

Beer & wine


L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.