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Back Buzz - April 11, 1997

pumping heart Zio Ricco European Coffee House, 1415 4th Avenue, Downtown

All right, I'll be the first to admit I'm attracted to the letter Z. I like zoos, zebras, Zippy the Pinhead, zoom lenses, zippers, zinnias, zymurgy, zinfandel, zucchini, zwieback, zydeco, zoosemiotics, and the English letter z (pronounced "zed"). So when Zio Ricco first opened several years ago with its invitingly luxurious decor, I had to try the place right away. At the time I was still fairly virginal and uncorrupted in my espresso habits, drinking nothing stronger than a single shot at a time. But already well into my zest for espresso and the strength of the well-tamped shot, I liked my single cappuccinos and lattes short, i.e. with just enough milk to distinguish the drink from a macchiato or a straight shot. Imagine my horror when the woman at Zio Ricco told me they served talls and grandes only! "What?" I gasped. "But I don't want all that milk!" The woman behind the counter shrugged. "Okay," I said, "give me a single cappuccino, only leave out half the milk. And I'll pay for the goddamn tall."

Needless to say I didn't return until this week. I decided it was time to give Zio Ricco a second try. They still use the same gargantuan cups, but they now have SHORT as a column on their drink menu. Sure, my double "short" cappuccino arrived in a massive cup which could probably hold a week's worth of cappuccinos; but the coffee, or at least the double shot, seems to have improved a great deal. The heavyhandedness with the milk, however, is still evident. If you come here, no matter what you order, be sure and use these two key words: short and dry. Otherwise you'll be faced with more milk than the average adolescent drinks in a sitting.

Although Zio Ricco seems to attract mostly suits and small portable business meetings, the big leather chairs, the classical fixtures, and the warmly-colored mural lend a wonderfully rich and soothing atmosphere. I felt as though I were lounging in an opulent hotel lobby, waiting idly for some out-of-town friend to show up and take me out for a cocktail or a pint of cask-conditioned IPA or. . . but that's a different column -- this one is about caffeine. And it's always nice to find a comfortable place to luxuriate while one refreshes one's synapses and recharges one's heart. The music was a nice surprise, too -- early Tom Waits -- but, since musical tastes change with baristas, I can't guarantee consistency in this regard.

All in all, Zio Ricco offers a pleasant enough cappuccino experience. But what's the deal with the oversized cups, anyway? Why do so many places think big is better? Sure, there's a place for big things in this world; but what about small things? Certainly some of my best friends and relatives are large people; but I'm not! And I get really sick of the futility of trying to find clothes and shoes that are small enough for me! Furthermore, I'd much rather have a small, delicious meal created by a master chef than be faced with mountains of mediocre food at an all-you-can-eat price.

The problem is our culture has turned into a bigger-is-better culture. We've got oversized clothes, oversized cars, oversized cities, oversized appetites, oversized pets, oversized databases, not to mention all those superstores that sell oversized amounts of everything. Who in their right mind would choose to buy a 24-roll pack of toilet paper, anyway, except for maybe someone with a zillion kids? I sure don't need that much toilet paper at once, and I'll bet you don't, either. Why can't I find a 12-ounce bottle of seltzer water anymore? Why must I be forced to buy an entire liter? Just a few months ago I found myself purchasing a 10-pound sack of flour even though I only wanted the 5-pound sack. Why? Because the 10-pound sack was twenty-five cents cheaper than the 5-pound sack! Does this make any sense at all? It's a goddamn zany world we live in...

Which, of course, reminds me of an e-mail conversation last year with my Bay Area friend:

I went to Bartell Drugs a few days ago to buy some Vitamin E. I always buy the store-brand Vitamin E, 400 iu, 100 capsules. When I got to the vitamin section, I found a sale sign which announced the 100-capsule bottle of Bartell's Vitamin E, 200 iu, was on sale for $5.29. Hmmm, I thought; but I'd much rather get the 400's so I wouldn't have to take twice as many pills.

And then I looked at the 100-capsule bottle of Bartell's Vitamin E, 400 iu. It didn't appear to be on sale. The regular everyday price was $5.29.

I stared at both bottles and their respective signs for quite awhile, looking back and forth and re-reading, wondering if I was hallucinating or not comprehending or simply faced with some kind of giant scotoma. No, it was true: the 100-capsule bottle of Bartell's 400-iu Vitamin E cost exactly the same as the 100-capsule bottle of Bartell's 200-iu Vitamin E.

When I got to the checkstand, it turned out my bottle of 400-iu Vitamin E was on sale for $3.70.

Why are they paying me to take more Vitamin E?

I don't know -- maybe less is more. Maybe Vitamin E comes in naturally high concentrations and it takes more processing to dilute it to 200-iu strength.

Or maybe the prices are set according to the same airline logic that charges $500-$700 to fly from Oakland to Dallas but only $300 to fly from Oakland to Houston.

While I'm on the subject, here's a few BIG sights: