Volume 41 Number 16

January 17 – January 23, 2007

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JAN. 23


Black Lips

Atlanta quartet the Black Lips proffer reverb-y, jangly
rock that’s coated in contemporary sleaze; if you ask
’em, they’ll call it “flower punk.” The overall effect
is snotty voiced, overtly psychedelic, and straight
outta the garage — if that garage were located on The
Twilight Zone’s monster-infested Maple Street. (Cheryl

With the Gris Gris and Hank IV
9 p.m., $10
12 Galaxies
2565 Mission, SF
(415) 970-9777


Beth Custer

Beth Custer is all over the place. One day she’s
leading a classical string quartet in a song cycle
about Bernal Heights, the next she’s playing jazz funk
clarinet with members of the Roots, and on other days
she’s providing live musical accompaniment to
Soviet-era Georgian silent films. For this show she’ll
join a talented ensemble on an improv-heavy tour of
jazz, blues, funk, folk, and world music. (Aaron

With Corbi Wright, Sharon van Etten, and Coconut
9:30 p.m., $6
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923



JAN. 22


Tall Firs

Quiet is the new loud — all the cool kids are saying
so! Take New York’s Tall Firs. Evoking visions of
Sonic Youth road-tripping through the most sorrowful
of rustic landscapes, this three-piece fashions a
narcotic folk blues out of dazzlingly haunting
twin-guitar interplay and broodingly languid vocals.
(Todd Lavoie)

With Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton
8 p.m., $18
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750


Roe v. Wade anniversary party

Celebrate with Planned Parenthood the 34th anniversary
of Roe v. Wade with a discussion on the status of
reproductive rights in the United States,
multigenerational and multicultural reports on
abortion experiences, and performances by local
artists. (Deborah Giattina)

7 p.m., $10 El Rio
3158 Mission, SF
(415) 282-3325



JAN. 21



When I was young, white guys playing the blues made my
bowels angry. Mercifully, my gastrointestinal health
was restored by Led Zeppelin, and eventually a diet of
the Gun Club, Nick Cave, and then the White Stripes
kept me in the clear. Now I feed myself great big gobs
of Entrance. Mastermind Guy Blakeslee’s ominous fever
dreams are a vein-melting rendition of the blues
inspired just as much by punk nihilism as the demons
of the Mississippi Delta. (Todd Lavoie)

With White White Quilt and the Dryspells
9 p.m., $8
12 Galaxies
2565 Mission, SF
(415) 970-9777


Return to the Caffe Cino

Off-Broadway, let alone off-off-Broadway, wouldn’t
exist without the great Caffe Cino, the ill-fated Joe
Cino’s pre-Factory underground mecca. This week brings
Return to the Caffe Cino, a near-encyclopedic tome
featuring play excerpts, photos, and memoirs, with an
intro by Edward Albee. Join editors Steve Susoyev and
George Birmisa at a book-launch bash that’s the
literary equivalent of the premiere of The Cockettes.
(Johnny Ray Huston)

Sun/21, 2–4 p.m., free
San Francisco Main Library, Koret Auditorium
100 Larkin, SF



JAN. 20


Ocean Film Festival

You can keep your March of the Penguins — I’m more a
march-of-the-creepy-crawlies gal, so I’ll be happy as
a clam at the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival when I
check out The World of the Gastropods, by Danny van
Belle, a slow-motion video on the deep-sea environment
of the nudibranch and the sea snail. The second
ocean-related film festival in the world, this series
of seven programs of short films ranges in topic from
life in an Australian whaling village to a slumside
surfing school in Rio de Janeiro. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Also Sun/21; see Web site for times
$10 individual programs; $60 festival pass
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center
Marina at Laguna, SF
(415) 561-6251


Rhett Miller

Rhett Miller is probably as well known for his great
contributions to alt-country as he is for being an
indie heartthrob. The singer and principal songwriter
for the rock-laced country quartet the Old 97’s wrote
the melodic title track on his recent solo release,
The Believer (Verve Forecast, 2006), as a reaction to
the tragic suicide of his friend, musician Elliott
Smith. Don’t worry: the album has a lighter side. The
rest of The Believer, according to Miller, was
inspired by “sex, war, love, and death … but mostly
sex.” (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

With Gran Bel Fisher
7:30 p.m., $25
Swedish Music Hall
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016



JAN. 19


Experimental Audio Research

Experimental Audio Research sounds more like something
that would happen in a top-secret section of Lawrence
Berkeley National Lab, not at a rock show. E.A.R. is
the project of avant-rock eccentric Sonic Boom, whose
bombastic pseudonym conveys his distortion-heavy
musical niche. Boom, one of the founding members of
the now defunct Spaceman 3, brings together science
and rock ’n’ roll, dissonance and structured harmony,
and premeditation and improvisation to fuel the
creative process. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

With LSD and the Search for God and Fuxa
9:30 p.m., $10 Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-9023


Tales of the San Joaquin and Affluenza

Liberals and conservatives may clash on politics, but
both extremes love hot, sweaty guilt. So when
proactive media comes along to help the wayward masses
channel guilt into action, it’s worth driving past 85
McDonald’s to find out how you too can save our
dissolving, decomposing, and devolving nation.
Humanist Hall’s double feature of Tales of the San
Joaquin (about river pollution) and the snarkily
titled Affluenza (about the sickness of American
consumerism) should help ease the self-reproach. (Sara

7:30 pm, $5
Humanist Hall
390 27th St., Oakl.
(510) 451-5818



JAN. 18


Piers Faccini

Could there be a more unlikely combination of
characters than an introspective, globe-trotting
European (Piers Faccini) who creates delicate
dreamscapes as both a songwriter and a painter; a
multicultural DJ (DJ Felina) with a tropical vibe; and
a couple of brash local indie bands (Boy in the
Bubble, Sir Salvatore) all sharing one bill? It’s fun
for the whole family — those over 21, that is. (Nicole

9 p.m., $7
Hotel Utah
500 Fourth St., SF
(415) 546-6300


“Henry Wessel: Photographs” and “R. Crumb: Drawings”

Just one look is all it takes to become smitten with
the 65-year-old photographer’s singular, sardonic
perspective on subjects such as real estate and
settings such as San Francisco. Henry Wessel’s images
of California in the ’70s are as laconically sharp and
languidly iconic as David Hockney’s poolside paintings
from the same area and era. This gallery show of
selected early work — paired with café placemat
drawings by R. Crumb — is a fine appetizer for an
upcoming Wessel exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Through Feb. 24, 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., free
Rena Bransten Gallery
77 Geary, SF
(415) 982-3292

The secret spies


› tredmond@sfbg.com

To view the TALON documents in PDF format (524 pages) click here.

To view the full ACLU report click here.

The Pentagon has released to the Guardian and the American Civil Liberties Union 534 pages of documents reutf8g to domestic surveillance — and we don’t know much of anything new about the notorious Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) program.

The vast majority of the documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, are entirely blacked out or heavily redacted. It’s clear there has been a lot of high-level discussion about policies and procedures related to military spying on civilians — but the government isn’t coming clean about more than a sliver of it.

One thing the records do show is that the Pentagon at one point had between 12,000 and 13,000 files in its TALON database — and 2,821 contained information about "U.S. persons." At least 186 of the reports in the files involved antiwar or antimilitary protests.

The Guardian and the ACLU went to federal court in 2006 to demand access to Pentagon records related to domestic surveillance after Santa Cruz Students Against the War and the Berkeley Anti-War Coalition compiled evidence to suggest that they had been the subject of TALON spying.

TALON was originally designed to monitor threats against military bases, but its mission expanded to encompass, for example, protests against military recruiters on the Santa Cruz campus. Pentagon officials admitted in December 2005 that the Santa Cruz student group was spied on under the TALON program.

In fact, documents we received earlier show that data about the student group were shared with the Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which works with local police agencies (see "No End to Pentagon Spying," 7/5/06).

Initial documents received last year showed that, as of early 2006, there were no clear rules barring the military from conducting surveillance on peaceful protesters. The new documents indicate that in January and February of that year top Pentagon officials ordered a review of procedures and set some restrictions on retaining files on people who were not considered imminent threats.

One document states that information on protesters "has not been provided by recruited sources of information" — in other words, the military wasn’t sending spies to watch protests — but concludes that "this statement is not intended to state that TALON reporting could not result from recruited sources or tasked personnel."

That only confirms what we had learned already: that there is no formal ban on armed forces personnel spying on protesters or planting sources inside peaceful groups or peaceful protests.

However, the operation seems to be winding down a bit. By June 16, 2006, one of the few uncensored documents shows, TALON reports had dropped by 80 percent.

It wasn’t easy to get even these highly censored records. The Guardian-ACLU request was stymied at first, and only after Federal Judge William Alsup on May 25, 2006, ordered an expedited review did the US Army, Navy, and Air Force begin to grudgingly release a few tidbits of information.

It’s astounding how heavily redacted the documents are. Page after page after page shows that high-level policy discussions around TALON and domestic surveillance were taking place at the Department of Defense in January and February 2006 — but military officials won’t reveal a bit about the nature of those talks or the policies that resulted.

"The amount of information that’s redacted is significant," ACLU police practices lawyer Mark Schlosberg noted. "We understand the need for certain information to be kept confidential, but discussion about policies involving domestic surveillance is something the public has a strong interest in." *

The devil wears Nolan Miller


TRASH TALKING BIO, TAKE ONE There are so many exquisite moments in steward Desmond Atholl’s tell-all that tells all. This ain’t no roman à clef, in other words; it’s a cutting, richly detailed, tension-filled diary of overseeing the Marlo Thomas–Phil Donahue household. Neither my favorite chapter title (“Free to Be … Me Me Me”) nor my favorite existential dilemma (“Each day as I rode up the elevator, I wondered, ‘Will I be greeted by Joan Crawford or Joan of Arc?’ “) comes close to my favorite anecdote, spilled in the ominously titled Chapter 26, “Who’s Got the Cookies?” Seems Marlo’d gathered her posse (which included Gloria Steinem) for a cruise on the couple’s yacht, the Mugsy (named after Marlo, of course). An oversight by the chef results in a snack smorgasbord that omits Marlo’s favorite dessert. “Nooooooo cookieeeesssss!!!” she screeches at Atholl. “No fucking cookies?” His reaction: “I had an irresistible urge to laugh, overwhelmed by the absurdity of the situation. Standing before me was an adult woman throwing a temper tantrum over some forgotten cookies…. I had visions of her floating through the sound, screaming to the seagulls, the fish — any creature that would listen — about her lost cookies.” After reflecting on his knee-jerk desire to spank her, he punch-lines by referring to the That Girl star as “that cookie monster.” And mighty tasty too. (Eddy)

TAKE TWO For anyone who’s been kicked while down, been laid low by an overbearing boss, or simply had to cope with some behemoth beeyatch, That Girl and Phil is the dog-eared paperback to keep by the bedside. Laugh yourself to sleep — or into a tumescent fantasy state over what you might poison-pen someday. My fave excerpt centers on Atholl’s primo turf — party planning — his sympathy for Thomas’s put-upon hubby, and a post–yacht cruise soiree for staffers on the 20th anniversary of Donahue. A disagreement over whether to sufficiently water the guests with cocktails turns into one of the volume’s more memorable tiffs:


It wasn’t difficult to locate the source of the scream. Marlo was in the dining room glaring at the buffet, her face pale and contorted. “How dare you serve cold cuts in my house!” she exclaimed. “It’s just so low class and common! And white bread and pickles! And, my God, meat lasagna!! Fucker, you’ve done it again!!!”

Tired of her constant abuse, I replied, “Miss Thomas, please do not use the F word in my presence. It is not a word I am accustomed to hearing. In fact, I find it quite offensive. Phil requested this buffet, and these were his explicit instructions.”

Marlo pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen and loudly announced so that all the help could hear, “Take no notice of Phil! He knows nothing about being graceful! And never, never serve cold cuts in my house again! Even if the guests are common enough to eat them!”

Later, waiters hired for the evening express astonishment that the hollering hoyden could really be that beret tosser they had seen on TV. Atholl’s response: “Television is just a fantasy. This is real life!” Drama queens, start your sheep. (Kimberly Chun)

TAKE THREE I was a Borders book-shelving slave, making certain that Fiction, Mystery, and the all-important Film-TV-Radio sections maintained a sterile, organized-by-robots appearance. I did my time in the pre-Amazon, halcyon early days of the business, before it even chain-snaked out of Michigan, back when there were a mere two or three stores. (Oh woe, the lost income opportunities.) Somewhere up near the top of my overstuffed grab bag of Borders memories is the day the hardcover version of Atholl’s That Girl and Phil arrived. Anytime I was literally on my knees with a new batch of Leonard Maltin guides, I could reach over, and there was that girl — looking like she was going to jump out of her skin and race mad-skulled toward me! Nothing cured the Borders boredom of shifting the same books a few inches up and down the same shelves better than a quick look at Atholl’s huffily related tales of cold-cut and cookie rages and a glance at photos of his subject in full-on maniac mode. The only thing funnier: the day one of Paul Harvey’s mass-market paperbacks arrived with a printing error so extreme that the cover photo made him look like his face was melting from nuclear fourth-degree burns. And that, my friends, is the rest of the story. (Johnny Ray Huston)


Live free or die hard


KIDS’ TV GONE WILD There’s a scene in Half Nelson — a top contender for most depressing scene in a movie loaded with ’em — in which Dan, Ryan Gosling’s drugged-out high school teacher, trudges home for a meal with his post-hippie parents. As the evening shuffles into boozy awkwardness, his mom throws Free to Be … You and Me on the hi-fi, and the sounds of "It’s All Right to Cry" fill the house. It’s the perfect choice for so many reasons; for Dan, a product of the 1970s, any song off that iconic ’72 album would signal bittersweet nostalgia. But the Rosey Grier–crooned "It’s All Right to Cry" — which follows the skit "Dudley Pippin and the Principal," an intense two minutes packed with sand table–tipping drama and flute-playing guidance — is also the pitch-perfect choice for an educator on the downward spiral.

I’m also a child of the 1970s. When I was in high school, a friend made the casual observation that everything he needed to know in life he’d learned from Free to Be … You and Me. And that’s basically true, isn’t it? If everyone took the lessons of Free to Be literally, there would be no gender stereotypes. People would share a lot more, and they’d be kinder to grandmas, parents, and crybabies. My favorite Free to Be cut was always "Ladies First," penned by Shel Silverstein (himself an avalanche of nostalgia material, what with Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, The Giving Tree, and the rest). Read by Free to Be‘s guiding force, Marlo Thomas, it’s the poignant tale of a greedy girl who learns it’s not always best to be first in line — especially when the line ends at the dinner plate of a hungry tiger.

I didn’t realize until years later — when I read That Girl and Phil, poison-penned by her former majordomo Desmond Atholl (with Michael Cherkinian) — that the sweet-voiced Thomas was so worthy of being a tasty tiger snack herself. The knowledge adds a certain cynical slant to lyrics such as "In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman." Her own bitchy woman, that is. It’s unclear whether the artists participating in "Free to Be … You and Me Invitational," the first in the PFA’s "Together Again: Collectively Created Compilations" series, take the personality of Free to Be‘s figurehead into consideration. Curated by Thomas Beard (who’ll be there in person) and Nick Hallett, the 55-minute program features fresh takes and mashups of original 16mm copies of the 1974 Free to Be film by video artists such as Big Noise Films, Nao Bustamante, and Lynne Sachs. Intriguingly, the program also features a short "joint jest" that takes on Mary Worth, one of the more inscrutable soap opera comics ever to take up funny-page real estate. (Cheryl Eddy)


Wed/17, 7:30 p.m., $4–$8


2757 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249



Control of resources


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Among the usual tidings of war and occupation, the recent holiday season brought news that hundreds of people had been burned alive in a pipeline explosion in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria and its largest city. They were gathered around a section reportedly ruptured by a criminal gang of "bunkerers" siphoning petrol from the state-owned oil company prior to selling it on the black market.

In a cutting irony wasted on few in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer (the fifth largest importer to the United States — and rising) has struggled for years with a serious fuel shortage. Within the crowded Abule Egba district of Lagos, where December’s horrible scene took place, low-paid workers and their families often forgo caution in the event of a pipeline rupturing to fill pails and cans with the desperately needed liquid, either for use in their own vehicles and home generators or for resale on the black market, where a small amount can equal several weeks’ wages.

To read the news reports on these accidents (if that’s the right term for such acts of desperation) is usually to miss much of the complex picture lying behind the scenes in Africa’s most populous and oil-rich country. The politics of oil in Nigeria reaches deep into an increasingly fractured society and far beyond its national borders.

Needless to say, it’s a lot for a lone actor-playwright to take on, even one playing multiple characters over the course of two hours. But young solo performer Dan Hoyle seems to thrive on such challenges. Developed with and directed by veteran solo performer Charlie Varon, Tings Dey Happen brings the 25-year-old Hoyle’s American theater audience a powerfully etched human-scale impression of the scope of oil politics in Nigeria as he discovered it during a 10-month trip in 2005 as a Fulbright scholar.

Without benefit of costume or scenery and with merely an atmospheric sound design (courtesy of David Hines) and some key lighting shifts (by Patti Meyer), Hoyle soon establishes his setting with a series of quick-change characterizations amid a bustling city street in Lagos. Affecting the pidgin English that is the lingua franca of Nigeria and smoothly transitioning through various postures and demeanors, Hoyle re-creates his reception as a white American sore thumb. From there we travel with him widely, from stops at the US Embassy and local bars frequented by expat oil workers to the network of swamps and streams in the delta known simply as "the creeks," the territory of dozens of militia groups at war with the state and one another for the liberation of the delta and a share of the oil money.

In all, Hoyle plays more than 20 characters based on people he met and interviewed. There’s also a friendly Nigerian stage manager who does not hesitate in taking exception to the character Dan’s sometimes overly downbeat treatment of the subject matter or spurring the crowd to let go of its Bay Area mind-set and try to adopt a more Nigerian one.

Hoyle also gained access to some highly placed people in Lagos. In addition to a somewhat unctuous US ambassador, for instance, Dan memorably meets the antigovernment rebel leader and Ijaw warlord Asari (a.k.a. Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, or Asari Dokubo), the Muslim militant whose forces have declared war on the Nigerian state and the oil companies who they (with justification) say have usurped and wreaked havoc on Ijaw land.

Throughout, Dan is glimpsed only in stories told by those he met. He’s the young white American who’s (remarkably) neither a Christian missionary nor a petrochemical engineer; who wants, crazily, to study oil politics (prompting one wag to advise him to practice ducking, as he’s sure to be shot at); who, to one local’s amazement and consternation, doesn’t know how to fix a computer.

Tings is a history lesson and a political lesson — even a geography lesson (the Niger Delta "is like your Mississippi Delta," the stage manager explains with knowing understatement, "but there are more guns"). But the show is also very much an entertainment and a display of performance prowess. Hoyle — whose first solo endeavor, Circumnavigator, was followed by Florida 2004: The Big Bummer, a report from a front line in the last presidential election — has made this multicharacter reportage-bricolage his forte, backing it with the limber facility of a physically disciplined actor and natural mimic.

There’s a certain admirable audacity in Hoyle’s Nigeria project, not just in his fearless reconnaissance of deeply troubled waters — especially among the battle-hardened rebels of the creeks — but in his willingness to boldly assume the voices and personae of ordinary Nigerians, to step inside their perspectives and encourage his American audiences to follow.

In what’s perhaps an overly eager attempt to please, however, his characters tend to be eccentrics. And in some cases the characterizations feel more put on, along the lines of caricature, than fully embodied. While invariably absorbing, the sum of these parts may also lend a skewed impression of the average Nigerian. There’s no mention, for example, of the nonviolent resistance led by women and student organizations against the exploitation of Nigerian people, land, and resources. (The only female character essayed in Tings is a sympathetically indignant prostitute.)

Moreover, the play’s two hours could stand trimming and focusing (a malaria-fueled fever dream in which Dan is visited by competing advice givers Graham Greene and Richard Pryor, for example, is only weakly funny and hence all the more tangential). These quibbles aside, Hoyle’s work brings a burgeoning talent to a still woefully neglected subject that, as presented here, is both absorbing in its dramatic complexity and urgent in its political import. *


Through Feb. 10

Thurs.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m., $15–$22


1062 Valencia, SF

(415) 826-5750




Idol musings


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Is there any escape from the tractor beam–pull influence of American Idol? Can someone do me a favor and put a plug in Paula Abdul’s histrionics, leash the dawgs of Randy Jackson, douse the frat-boy smirk on Ryan Seacrest’s mug, or, reluctantly, hold back the refreshing wave of honest harshitude rolling off Simon Cowell? And while you’re up, get me a High Life, hand me the channel changer, and take a socket wrench to that persistent leak of CDs by Idol alums. Winners and also-rans are far too prevalent on the charts — they’re essentially ruining my poppy good times, apart from the odd Kelly Clarkson guilty pleasure. The past few months saw the release of a second album of almost too stolidly respectful R&B by Ruben Studdard, The Return (J); an already gold-certified, lustily voiced and eclectic but undistinguished pop-rock self-titled debut by Taylor Hicks (Arista); and my star-studded fave, Fantasia, by Fantasia Barrino, who put together a contempo, Kelis-like, pop Afro-futurist collection with input from OutKast’s Big Boi, Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo, Missy Elliott, and Swizz Beats. If I hadda listen idol-ly to someone, I guess I’d pop the baby mama on — you’ll be thinking you’re dreaming, girl, when you realize Fantasia actually sounds better than B’Day.

Adore it or abhor it, the phenom starts all over again Jan. 16, playing to our fondness for rags-to-riches stories and let’s-put-on-a-show moxie, our identification with those kids belting their hearts out in gladiatorial thumbs-up-thumbs-down cutthroat competition, our cynical identification with the judges’ stringent assessments, and our resurgent belief in a seemingly democratic process (know anyone who has ever voted?). Despite the scrappy likability and self-conscious modernity of Barrino’s second disc, it’s not to Idol fans’ tastes, methinks, judging from the supposed 230,000 or so CDs sold, in contrast with the 5-mil-plus number Clarkson is bringing down. Yippee, it’s the return of the blockbuster-minded music industry! So, barring catfights and embarrassing "hee-haw at Hung" moments, I think I’ll pass on season six, despite the benediction of approval bestowed by artists such as Prince and Mary J. Blige in season five.

Why? Maybe I like my idols weaned on something more original and less cliché than the Motown and Beatles songbooks. Maybe idols shouldn’t be quite so predigested and programmatic — so that contestants like Tamyra Gray won’t be dropped from their labels when they demand to write their albums.

There’s a place for pop, perhaps — this is a popularity contest, after all — and the fact that the show includes a songwriting competition this season should throw a new wrinkle into the mix of predictable boomer standards. Well, hell, why not ask aspirants to write their own songs? At the risk of turning this into a teary-eyed singer-songwriter showdown, I’d venture that approach would weed out a slew of vacuous, empty-vessel warblers.

Anyway, singing for your supper or at least your next career change seems pro forma. The game-ification of the pop cult draws amateur hopefuls and sporting observers alike, and the Recording Academy’s entry into the ring with its "My Grammy Moment" campaign, in which a dozen finalists vie to play beta pup to Justin Timberlake’s alpha dog at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, seems to bear me out. Watchers can log on to Yahoo! Music and view the audition videos of prospective sexy backups and vote online or via text message for the top five finalists, who will be announced Jan. 17. Voting continues, sports fans, till the lot are winnowed down to the top three on Super Bowl weekend, with the winner announced live at the Grammys on Feb. 11 before his or her live moment with Timby (who seems to be surfing the trend of recent celeb breakups right into In-N-Out).

Among the oodles of original video submissions are entries from Bay Area–esque finalists Jayne Rio of Vallejo, Mandy Ventrice of Pittsburg, and Philip Ray, formerly of Oakland. I asked the 28-year-old Ray, a graphic designer now living in Los Angeles, last week about his simultaneously unusual and mundane clip, in which he fluidly multitasks behind the wheel, driving through a medley of Whitney Houston and other Grammy-winning songs (the branding never sleeps). "It was a time thing," he ‘fessed. "I knew a deadline was approaching, and I have a tiny camera. I was on the way to El Pollo Loco, and I thought it would be a different way to approach it. That was my effort to make me stand out — most people sing in cars, so I thought … people would relate to it."

The son of Rev. Dr. CJ Anderson, who Ray says staged numerous musical events to raise money for the needy in the Bay Area, the contestant recalled catching benefit concerts at Pete Escovedo’s club until he moved south in 1996. Nowadays he writes songs and dreams of developing community centers that will cultivate unsigned vocalists and musicians. Praising Timberlake for the "way he navigated his career" and citing "Losing My Way" as his favorite JT song, the earnest Ray isn’t petrified by the possibility of working his wiles on a Grammy mob of pros. "It’s my ultimate dream. Aside from just being hungry for the opportunity, I think I’m going to try to use any opportunity to carve out a career as successful as Justin Timberlake’s."

Maybe I listened to too much punk as a tot, but as amiable as Ray is, that sort of bald careerism — as much a part of American Idol as actual performance — gives my perhaps rockist-tinged heart pause. I know pop has other uses beyond validating my romantic notion of self-sabotaging, autodestructing, doo-doo-dappling antistars, and American Idol and "My Grammy Moment" may be opening the playing field to new voices, but how fresh can it all be, given the validating arena they’re competing in? When I see, for instance, Big Boi, Elliott, Devendra Banhart, Prince, Thurston Moore, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Radiohead fill the judges’ shoes full-time, I’ll climb back on the couch. *


Silex Appeal


As the recycling truck hauls away the last of the year’s emptied wine bottles, we pause briefly to reflect. Winter is supposed to be the season of red wine, and this year’s red wines were good — from a fine St. Emilion with the New Year’s Eve rack of lamb to an excellent Groth cabernet with the New Year’s night cassoulet — but the whites, I thought, were at least as distinguished. A Hafner Reserve chardonnay held up to the cassoulet as well as the cab did and maybe, with its clarifying acid, was even a little better as a strong but cooperative accompanist. And a throaty Vouvray (Domaine d’Orfeuilles Silex, 2004) went beautifully with a plate of canapés (guacamole and blue cheese on crostini — but not at the same time) devoured en route to one last blowout at Harris’ Restaurant.

Vouvray wines are made from chenin blanc, and silex indicates flinty soil, and so we are talking here about a dry white wine whose composed intensity compares favorably with that of its Loire cousins (of sauvignon blanc extraction), the Sancerres and Quincys, and its nearest Burgundian relations (made from chardonnay), the Chablises. It might be that someday our own viticulturalists will figure out how to do right by an impressive grape that has been largely misused here, grown in bulk for jug wines. I like Husch’s chenin blanc, though it tends toward sweet and, lacking the French wine’s bass notes, the sense of feet planted firmly on the ground, can seem a little untethered. The Vouvray, incidentally, was far more impressive than another French chenin blanc wine I served at Thanksgiving, a savennières called La Jalousie. I brought it forth with considerable fanfare, but it tasted rather watery and got lost amid the other big guns at the table.

The unexpected ability of a white wine to cope with cassoulet struck me as notable. Of course, cassoulet is something of a hybrid in a wine pairer’s eyes, a light-but-heavy blend of white beans and various kinds of meat. Conventional wisdom says you should choose a robust red with good acid, maybe a tempranillo or pinot noir. Conventional wisdom also says that oaky California chardonnays are too much for many foods, at least the sorts of foods (such as fish) conventionally paired with white wines. Conventional wisdom says a lot of things, and sometimes we do better not to listen.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com



Jan. 17


“RiffTrax Live!”
From its humble beginnings as a late-night show produced at a local television station to cult classic status, Mystery Science Theater 3000 endeared itself to fans. Following the adventures of a man marooned in space, his only distraction a group of wisecracking robots and a seemingly never-ending supply of B-movies to watch and make fun of, the show featured the writing, directing, and acting talents of Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, among others. MST3K may be no more, but you can join the three comedians as they perform a live version of their hilarious critique. (Sean McCourt)

8 p.m., $25
Cobb’s Comedy Club
915 Columbus, SF
(415) 928-4320


“Destination Dance SF”
In the Bay Area, movement in idioms from modern to hip-hop is based in experience as much as biz-based striving. If you want to try to capture the breadth and power of local dance in one night, you could do a lot worse than a lineup that includes ODC/SF, Robert Moses’ Kin, and SF Hip Hop DanceFest founder Micaya and SoulForce. These are just some of the names involved in “Destination: Dance SF,” a concert that also includes Smuin Ballet and Paco Gomes and Dancers’ blend of contemporary approaches and folklore-based forms. (Johnny Ray Huston)

7:30 p.m., $8–$18
Also Sat/20, 3 p.m. gala concert
San Francisco State University
McKenna Theatre, Creative Arts Bldg.
1600 Holloway, SF
(415) 338-2467

Open mind music


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Not to misinterpret the question asked by a sneering Johnny Lydon of a San Francisco crowd as his band was self-destructing onstage at the now-defunct Winterland Ballroom almost 30 years ago, but seriously, folks, life seems unfair sometimes. In other words, here’s a sensible afterthought for your musical mind: there are simply too many damn bands at our fingertips, and sometimes we’re only lucky enough to encounter a handful of the really good ones. You might find yourself uttering regrets like "Fuck! I missed them play at that dingy hole-in-the-wall last year," and unfortunately you now have to settle for the mega-rock-star treatment as the same group works its charms on an enraptured crowd arena-style. So the story goes — rock ‘n’ roll can be a bitch.

The Curtains’ Chris Cohen is more optimistic, however.

"I try to let chance determine what I get to hear now because there’s so much music to choose from," the vocalist and guitarist of the Oakland trio confesses over coffee at Atlas Cafe in the Mission District. And though Cohen is reluctant to put his finger on any particular band that might get his musical juices pumping, he does divulge that most of the combos he encounters nowadays are his friends’ groups or supporting ensembles on tour.

"I really like when you don’t have any prior knowledge of the band, because then you can go at it with an open mind," he adds.

Such was my experience with Cohen’s project. My first exposure to the Curtains was on a chilly November night last year when I roamed over to Oakland to catch Mount Eerie’s performance at a packed 21 Grand. With no particular expectations, I leaned against a wall and watched the threesome set up their instruments. But as the band greeted the crowd with chiming keyboards and palm-muted guitar strums, my semi-inebriated attention was held and then kicked into deep interest.

Onstage, Cohen — along with guitarist-percussionist-vocalist Nedelle Torrisi and keyboardist-percussionist-vocalist Annie Lewandowski — exchanged smiles and jammed on quiet, twee pop–imbued ditties. The band’s lighthearted enthusiasm mirrored Beat Happening, while their cheerful harmonies and bubblegum-savvy melodies channeled the Softies and the Vaselines. The mood was buoyant and comfortable as the members sat in place and toyed with electric guitars, a single drum, and a wood block on one song after another.


The aural beauty that floats from stereo speakers on the Curtains’ fourth album, Calamity (Asthmatic Kitty), tells a different story. Performed and recorded almost entirely by Cohen during December 2005, the album is drenched with sunny, ’60s-style psych pop and art rock experimentalism. Calamity at times evokes Smile-era Brian Wilson and early T. Rex with songs such as "Green Water" and "Invisible String," while treading into cozier-sounding territory on the opener, "Go Lucky." As intimate piano strides and acoustic guitar glide forth, Cohen’s Neil Young–ish chirp complements the melody: "Go, go, go you lucky one / You, you, you stop anywhere that someone sets you down / No, no, no spots anywhere / You, you, you will just spin me around."

But to Cohen, the Curtains aren’t trapped in a musical time warp. It’s all about what’s accessible to him at the moment.

"For that album I made a conscious decision to make something that wasn’t too fancy as far as the sound goes," he explains. "I wanted to use the sounds that were most easily available to me, which are guitar, bass, and my dad’s piano."

"I wanted it to sound very warm and personal," Cohen continues. "However, the sound of it wasn’t something so much that I had in mind but the effect that I wanted it to have on people, which was to be uplifting and make the listener feel happy. The music I value the most is the kind that takes me out of my life and makes me feel hopeful."


Since 2000, Cohen has had the Curtains in his crosshairs. Cofounded by Cohen and Trevor Shimizu, the group went through a couple of incarnations, occasionally including Andrew Maxwell, Satomi Matsuzaki, and Greg Saunier. After releasing three full-lengths, Cohen put the Curtains on hiatus in 2003 so he could join Matsuzaki and Saunier in Deerhoof. After several albums with that band, Cohen left last year to focus on his own projects.

"The Curtains before was something we would do in really brief spurts," Cohen says. "We would have a show, do a tour, and then rehearse for two weeks. I didn’t want to do it like that anymore. I wanted to make it a regular thing."

According to Deerhoof drummer and ex-Curtains member Saunier, Cohen had recorded 99 percent of Calamity before he revealed that he wanted to leave Deerhoof. "We listened to it in the car on tour, and I was stunned. It was like a garden of ideas and melodies — no two alike — everything asymmetrical and ravishingly beautiful," Saunier writes in an e-mail. "Every night I’d go to sleep fantasizing about how great the next Deerhoof record was going to be with all these hits on there. Then Chris shattered my dreams. But it’s OK, the Curtains deserve an album this beautiful in their catalog…. The Curtains are like the Jean-Luc Godard of the SF music scene, everything is so human and exposed, which, of course, takes way more nerve than any hipster’s posturing. The Curtains know no rule book for how you write songs — they write their own rule book from the spasms of the imagination. They have my undying admiration."

Cohen admits that while recording the album, he wasn’t sure whether to stamp the Curtains’ name on it, because his approach to the recording was so different from his past endeavors.

"Everything with the Curtains has always been done out of necessity," he says, going on to explain that he only had a limited amount of time to work on the music, so he played all the instruments himself.

Though Calamity includes guest vocals by Torrisi and Yasi Perera as well as musical contributions from Half-Handed Cloud leader and Sufjan Stevens chum John Ringhofer, Cohen had to rethink the album in terms of its live re-creation. "When I was making it, I wasn’t thinking of anybody else performing the music, which has made it difficult to now perform it as a band," he says. "I didn’t think anyone else would be interested, and then Nedelle was, like, ‘I want to play in a band again. Can I play in your band?’ "

After Torrisi and Lewandowski joined the Curtains, Cohen says he became "excited about playing new music again in a band with new people."

"Something that’s been really fun now is that everybody has been singing and working on harmonies," Cohen says, "and that’s something no other version of the band has done." The band doesn’t have a big repertoire, he adds, so the trio keep throwing out the songs that don’t work.

Cohen also admits that the idea of even having vocals in his band is relatively new. "I really wasn’t interested in vocals for a long time. I felt like I just wanted to make music that was really abstract, and I just didn’t have anything I wanted to sing about."

But Cohen’s vision seems to have changed with the addition of Torrisi and Lewandowski. In essence, the Curtains are starting over from scratch and fashioning Calamity‘s catchy pop into their own.

"To me, the Curtains has always been a pop band," Cohen explains. "I want it to be music that anyone can understand and enjoy. It fits into the limited amount of time that pop music seems to inhabit people’s lives." *


With Sic Alps and Okay

Fri/19, 10 p.m., $7


3223 Mission, SF

(415) 550-6994



Dine Listings


Welcome to our dining listings, a detailed guide by neighborhood of some great places to grab a bite, hang out with friends, or impress the ones you love with thorough knowledge of this delectable city. Restaurants are reviewed by Paul Reidinger (PR) or staff. All area codes are 415, and all restaurants are wheelchair accessible, except where noted.

B Breakfast

BR Saturday and/or Sunday brunch

L Lunch

D Dinner

AE American Express

DC Diners Club

DISC Discover

MC MasterCard

V Visa

¢ less than $7 per entrée

$ $7–$12

$$ $13–$20

$$$ more than $20


Acme Chophouse brings Traci des Jardins’s high-end meat-and-potatoes menu right into the confines of Pac Bell Park. Good enough to be a destination, though stranguutf8g traffic is an issue on game days. (Staff) 24 Willie Mays Plaza, SF. 644-0240. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Café Claude is a hidden treasure of the city center. There is an excellent menu of traditional, discreetly citified French dishes, a youthful energy, and a romantic setting on a narrow, car-free lane reminiscent of the Marais. (PR, 10/06) 7 Claude Lane, SF. 392-3515. French, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Fleur de Lys gives its haute French cuisine a certain California whimsy in a setting that could be the world’s most luxurious tent. There is a vegetarian tasting menu and an extensive, remarkably pricey wine list. (PR, 2/05) 777 Sutter, SF. 673-7779. French, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Mandarin, though a Gen Xer by birth and a longtime resident of touristy Ghirardelli Square, still offers a matchlessly elegant experience in Chinese fine dining: a surprising number of genuinely spicy dishes, superior service, and wine emphasized over beer. (PR, 9/04) 900 North Point (in Ghirardelli Square), SF. Chinese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

*Mijita shows that Traci des Jardins can go down-market with the best of them. The Mexican street food is convincingly lusty, but in keeping with the Ferry Building setting, it’s also made mostly with organic, high-quality ingredients. (PR, 4/05) 1 Ferry Bldg, Suite 44, SF. 399-0814. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.

Tlaloc rises like a multistory loft on its Financial District lane, the better to accommodate the hordes of suits crowding in for a noontime burrito-and-salsa fix. They serve a mean pipián burrito and decent fish tacos. (Staff) 525 Commercial, SF. 981-7800. Mexican, L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.

Tommy Toy’s Haute Cuisine Chinois is a cross between a steak house and The Last Emperor. The food is rich and fatty and only occasionally good. (Staff) 655 Montgomery, SF. 397-4888. Chinese, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Gondola captures the varied flavors of Venice and the Veneto in charmingly low-key style. The main theme is the classic one of simplicity, while service strikes just the right balance between efficiency and warmth. (Staff) 15 Columbus, SF. 956-5528. Italian, L/D, $, MC/V.

House of Nanking never fails to garner raves from restaurant reviewers and Guardian readers alike. Chinatown ambience, great food, good prices. (Best Ofs, 1994) 919 Kearny, SF. 421-1429. Chinese, L/D, ¢.

Maykadeh Persian Cuisine is a great date restaurant, classy but not too pricey, and there are lots of veggie options both for appetizers and entrées. Khoresht bademjan was a delectable, deep red stew of tomato and eggplant with a rich, sweet, almost chocolatey undertone. (Staff) 470 Green, SF. 362-8286. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Moose’s is famous for the Mooseburger, but the rest of the menu is comfortably sophisticated. The crowd is moneyed but not showy and definitely not nouveau. (Staff) 1652 Stockton, SF. 989-7800. American, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Rose Pistola cooks it up in the style of Liguria, and that means lots of seafood, olive oil, and lemons — along with a wealth of first-rate flat breads (pizzas, focaccias, farinatas) baked in the wood-burning oven. (PR, 7/05) 532 Columbus, SF. 399-0499. Italian, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Washington Square Bar and Grill offers stylish Cal-Ital food at reasonable prices in a storied setting. (Staff) 1707 Powell, SF. 982-8123. Italian, $$, L/D, MC/V.


Hawthorne Lane remains at the top of the city’s restaurant heap after more than a decade. Bridget Batson’s modern California cuisine is first-rate, the ambience a perfection of understated elegance, and the service knowledgeable, friendly, and smooth. It is not possible to ask more from any restaurant. (PR, 9/06) 22 Hawthorne, SF. 777-9779. California, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Julie’s Supper Club and Lounge II preserves the name of a longtime SoMa institution while bringing a new fusion menu to the table. The food at its best is innovative — a sushi-like presentation of somen noodles, an asparagus version of pigs in a blanket — but prices are a little high for what you get. Excellent atmospherics. (PR, 11/06) 1123 Folsom, SF. 864-1222. Fusion/eclectic, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Koh Samui and the Monkey joins a high-value Thai menu with a spare, hip SoMa warehouse look. The sweet-hot food tends more toward the former than the latter but is excellent nonetheless. As for heat, check out the youngish crowd in their crest-of-1999, dot-com finery. (PR, 1/07) 415 Brannan, SF. 369-0007. Thai, L/D, $, MC/V.

Oola gives Ola Fendert his own platform at last, and the result is a modern, golden SoMa restaurant with a menu that mixes playful opulence with local standards. (PR, 10/04) 860 Folsom, SF. 995-2061. California, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Roy’s Restaurant promises "Hawaiian fusion" cuisine, but while there are island touches (macadamia nuts turn up in various guises), the place seems right at home on Mission Street. The cooking, once noted for a certain overwroughtness, has become elegantly restrained, and a three-course $35 prix fixe dinner is one of the better deals of its kind around town. (PR, 12/06) 575 Mission, SF. 777-0277. Hawaiian/fusion, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Salt House offers a nice Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-tours-a-19th-century-factory look and utterly up-to-date California pub food, an entertaining hodgepodge that ranges from a crock of house-picked vegetables to panko-crusted mackerel to an oozingly moist chocolate Bundt cake, still warm from the oven, plus interesting proprietary-blend wines. (PR, 12/06) 545 Mission, SF. 543-8900. California/pub, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.


Ah Lin offers Mandarin-style Chinese cooking in an easy-to-take storefront setting on Cathedral Hill. The dishes are well behaved and tasty, with only an occasional flare-up of chile heat. The roast duck is one of the best deals in town. (PR, 10/06) 1634 Bush, SF. 922-5279. Chinese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Alborz looks more like a hotel restaurant than a den of Persian cuisine, but there are flavors here — of barberry and dried lime, among others — you won’t easily find elsewhere. (Staff) 1245 Van Ness, SF. 440-4321. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.

East Coast West Delicatessen doesn’t look like a New York deli (too much space, air, light), but the huge, fattily satisfying Reubens, platters of meat loaf, black-and-white cookies, and all the other standards compare commendably to their East Coast cousins. (Staff) 1725 Polk, SF. 563-3542. Deli, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

La Folie could be a neighborhood spot or a destination or both, but either way or both ways it is sensational: an exercise in haute cuisine leavened with a West Coast sense of informality and playfulness. There is a full vegetarian menu and an ample selection of wines by the half bottle. (PR, 2/06) 2316 Polk, SF. 776-5577. French, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

O’Reilly’s Holy Grail, a redo of the old Maye’s Oyster House that strikes harmonious notes of chapel and lounge, serves a sophisticated and contemporary Cal-Irish menu. (PR, 10/05) 1233 Polk, SF. 928-1233. California/Irish, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Ananda Fuara serves a distinctly Indian-influenced vegetarian menu in the sort of calm surroundings that are increasingly the exception to the rule. (Staff) 1298 Market, SF. 621-1994. Vegetarian, L/D, ¢, cash only.

*Bodega Bistro has a certain colonial formality — much of the menu is given in French — and it does attract a tony expat crowd. The food is elegant but not fancy (lobster, rack of lamb, both simply presented); if even those are too much, look to the "Hanoi Street Cuisine" items. (PR, 11/05) 607 Larkin, SF. 921-1218. Vietnamese, L/D, $$, DC/DISC/MC/V.

Mangosteen radiates lime green good cheer from its corner perch in the Tenderloin. Inexpensive Vietnamese standards are rendered with thoughtful little touches and an emphasis on the freshest ingredients. (PR, 11/05) 601 Larkin, SF. 776-3999. Vietnamese, L/D, $, cash only.

*Saha serves "Arabic fusion cuisine" — a blend of the Middle East and California — in a cool, spare setting behind the concierge’s desk at the Hotel Carlton. One senses the imminence of young rock stars, drawn perhaps by the lovely chocolate fondue. (PR, 9/04) 1075 Sutter, SF. 345-9547. Arabic/fusion, B/BR/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Arlequin offers light Provençal and Mediterranean food for takeout, but the best place to take your stuff is to the sunny, tranquil garden in the rear. (Staff) 384B Hayes, SF. 863-0926. Mediterranean, B/L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Canto do Brasil The draw here is lusty yeoman cooking, Brazilian style, at beguilingly low prices. The tropically cerulean interior design enhances the illusion of sitting at a beach café. (Staff) 41 Franklin, SF. 626-8727. Brazilian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Destino reweaves traditional Peruvian flavors into a tapestry of extraordinary vividness and style, and the storefront interior has been given a golden glow that would have satisfied the most restless conquistador. (Staff) 1815 Market, SF. 552-4451. Peruvian, D, $$, MC/V.

Hayes Street Grill started more than a quarter century ago as an emulation of the city’s old seafood houses, and now it’s an institution itself. The original formula — immaculate seafood simply prepared, with choice of sauce and French fries — still beats vibrantly at the heart of the menu. Service is impeccable, the setting one of relaxed grace. (PR, 7/06) 816 Folsom, SF. 863-5545. Seafood, L/D, $$$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Sauce enjoys the services of chef Ben Paula, whose uninhibited California cooking is as easy to like as a good pop song. (PR, 5/05) 131 Gough, SF. 252-1369. California, D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Ararat Mediterranean Tapas affords the view-minded a good setting from which to scope the foot traffic at 18th Street and Castro, along with a Turkish-scented Mediterranean menu rich in small plates and some bigger ones too. The menu’s smash hits include coins of lavash-wrapped beef (a kind of Middle Eastern beef Wellington), an enslavingly good shrimp casserole, and a coil of baklava with lavender honey. (PR, 8/06) 4072 18th St, SF. 252-9325. Mediterranean/Turkish, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Eureka Restaurant and Lounge combines, in the old Neon Chicken space, a classic Castro sensibility (mirrors everywhere, fancy sparkling water) with a stylish all-American menu that reflects Boulevard and Chenery Park bloodlines. Prices are high. (PR, 12/06) 4063 18th St. SF. 431-6000. American, D, $$$, AE/MC/V.

*Firefly remains an exemplar of the neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco: it is homey and classy, hip and friendly, serving an American menu — deftly inflected with ethnic and vegetarian touches — that’s the match of any in the city. (PR, 9/04) 4288 24th St, SF. 821-7652. American, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Toast welcomes families with little children — pancakes from dawn to dusk! — as well as monied young adults, who tend to gather for weekend brunch. The deli-ish menu emphasizes sandwiches, but care is taken in the details, from a bewitching bit of paprika in the lentil soup to generous parmesan shavings and fresh croutons on the Caesar salad. (PR, 1/07) 1748 Church, SF. 282-4328. American, B/BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

2223 could easily be a happening queer bar, what with all that male energy. But the American menu joins familiarity with high style, and the ambience is that of a great party where you’re bound to meet somebody hot. (Staff) 2223 Market, SF. 431-0692. American, BR/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.


*Frankie’s Bohemian Cafe has Pilsner Urquell, a Bohemian beer, on tap for a touch of Czech authenticity, but the crowd is young, exuberant, Pacific Heights, het. Follow the crowd and stick with the burgers. (PR, 2/05) 1682 Divisadero, SF. 921-4725. Czech/American, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Grandeho’s Kamekyo Sushi Bar Always packed, Grandeho serves up excellent sushi along with a full Japanese menu. (Staff) 943 Cole, SF. 759-5693. Japanese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Hukilau brings a dash of Big Island conviviality — and Big Island (i.e., big) portions — to a wind- and traffic-swept corner of the big city. Spam too, if you want it. (Staff) 5 Masonic, SF. 921-6242. Hawaiian/American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

Kate’s Kitchen dishes up the best scallion-cheese biscuits out west. The lines on the weekends can be long. (Staff) 471 Haight, SF. 626-3984. American, B/L, ¢.

Metro Cafe brings the earthy chic of Paris’s 11th arrondissement to the Lower Haight, prix fixe and all. (Staff) 311 Divisadero, SF. 552-0903. French, B/BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

New Ganges Restaurant is short on style — it is as if the upmarket revolution in vegetarian restaurants never happened — but there is a homemade freshness to the food you won’t find at many other places. (Staff) 775 Frederick, SF. 681-4355. Vegetarian/Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Tsunami Sushi and Sake Bar brings hip Japanese-style seafood to the already hip Café Abir complex. Skull-capped sushi chefs, hefty and innovative rolls. (Staff) 1306 Fulton, SF. 567-7664. Japanese/sushi, D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Zoya takes some finding — it is in the little turret of the Days Inn Motor Lodge at Grove and Gough — but the view over the street’s treetops is bucolic, and the cooking is simple, seasonal, direct, and ingredient driven. (PR, 12/05) 465 Grove, SF. 626-9692. California, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Aslam’s Rasoi reinvents a gently fading curry house as a high-powered rival to Dosa, in the next block. The food is fiery and elegant, and the menu strikes a fine balance between fleshly and fleshless choices. Desserts are not bad, particularly kulfi, a house-made cardamom ice cream presented like a frozen sliced banana. (PR, 8/06) 1037 Valencia, SF. 695-0599. Indian/Pakistani, D, $$, MC/V.

Baobab Bar and Grill serves great-tasting West African specialties like couscous, fried plantains, and savory rice dishes for a reasonable price. (Staff) 3388 19th St, SF. 643-3558. African, BR/D, ¢.

Baraka takes the French-Spanish tapas concept, gives it a beguiling Moroccan accent — harissa, preserved lemons, merguez sausage — and the result is astonishingly good food. (Staff) 288 Connecticut, SF. 255-0370. Moroccan/Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Blue Plate has a diner aura — bustle, clatter — but the Mediterranean food is stylishly flavorful. A great value. (Staff) 3218 Mission, SF. 282-6777. Mediterranean, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Bombay Ice Cream and Chaat Stop in for some Indian chaat — cheap, delicious fast food such as samosas and curries. (Staff) 552 Valencia, SF. 431-1103. Indian takeout, L/D, ¢.

Caffe d’Melanio is the place to go if you want your pound of coffee beans roasted while you enjoy an Argentine-Italian dinner of pasta, milanesa, and chimichurri sauce. During the day the café offers a more typically Cal-American menu of better-than-average quality. First-rate coffee beans. (PR, 10/04) 1314 Ocean, SF. 333-3665. Italian/Argentine, B/L/D, $, MC/V.

Chez Papa Bistro sits like a beret atop Potrero Hill. The food is good, the staff’s French accents authentic, the crowd a lively cross section, but the place needs a few more scuffs and quirks before it can start feeling real. (Staff) 1401 18th St, SF. 824-8210. French, BR/L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

*Delfina has grown from a neighborhood restaurant to an event, but an expanded dining room has brought the noise under control, and as always, the food — intense variations on a theme of Tuscany — could not be better. (PR, 2/04) 3621 18th St, SF. 552-4055. California, D, $$, MC/V.

Dosa serves dosas, the south Indian crepes, along with a wealth of other, and generally quite spicy, dishes from the south of the subcontinent. The cooking tends toward a natural meatlessness; the crowds are intense, like hordes of passengers inquiring about a delayed international flight. (PR, 1/06) 995 Valencia, SF. 642-3672. South Indian, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Front Porch mixes a cheerfully homey setting (with a front porch of sorts), a hipster crowd, and a Caribbean-inflected comfort menu into a distinctive urban cocktail. The best dishes, such as a white polenta porridge with crab, are Range-worthy, and nothing on the menu is much more than $10. (PR, 10/06) 65A 29th St, SF. 695-7800. American/Caribbean, BR/D, $, MC/V.

*Little Nepal assembles a wealth of sensory cues (sauna-style blond wood, brass table services) and an Indian-influenced Himalayan cuisine into a singular experience that appeals to all of Bernal Heights and beyond, including tots in their strollers. (Staff) 925 Cortland, SF. 643-3881. Nepalese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Lombardo’s Fine Foods is the little café that could, in Mission Terrace. The menu is heavy on pastas and casseroles, many made from owner-chef John Lombardo’s family recipes. The orzo salad is particularly good. (PR, 9/06) 1818 San Jose, SF. 337-9741. Italian/American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V

Maharaja offers romantically half-lit pastels and great spicy food, including a fine chicken tikka masala and a dish of lamb chunks in dal. Lunch forswears the usual steam-table buffet in favor of set specials, as in a Chinese place. (Staff) 525 Valencia, SF. 552-7901. Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Maverick holds several winning cards, including a menu of first-rate New American food, a clutch of interesting wines by the glass and half glass, and a handsome, spare Mission District setting discreetly cushioned for sound control. (PR, 9/05) 3316 17th St, SF. 863-3061. American, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Medjool doesn’t offer much by way of its namesake date, food of the ancient pharaohs, but the pan-Mediterranean menu (which emphasizes small plates) is mostly tasty, and the setting is appealingly layered, from a sidewalk terrace to a moody dining room behind a set of big carved-wood doors. (PR, 11/04) 2522 Mission, SF. 550-9055. Mediterranean, B/L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Mi Lindo Yucatán looks a bit tatty inside, but the regional Mexican cooking is cheap and full of pleasant surprises. (PR, 3/04) 401 Valencia, SF. 861-4935. Mexican, L/D, ¢, cash only.

Moki’s Sushi and Pacific Grill serves imaginative specialty makis along with items from a pan-Asian grill in a small, bustling neighborhood spot. (Staff) 615 Cortland, SF. 970-9336. Japanese, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Pakwan has a little secret: a secluded garden out back. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the fiery foods of India and Pakistan. (Staff) 3180 16th St, SF. 255-2440. Indian/Pakistani, L/D, ¢, cash only.

Papalote Mexican Grill relieves our Mexican favorites of much of their fat and calories without sacrificing flavor. Surprisingly excellent soyrizo and aguas frescas; sexily varied crowd. (Staff) 3409 24th St, SF. 970-8815. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Regalito Rosticeria offers spanking-fresh versions of Mexico City street-cart food in a warm setting of glossy wood, stainless steel, and glass. The long counter, backed by a busy exhibition kitchen, is epic. (PR, 12/06) 3481 18th St., SF. 503-0650. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/DISC/MC/V.


L’Amour dans le Four gives a nice local boho twist to classic French bistro style. Many dishes from the oven. Tiny, noisy, intimate. (Staff) 1602 Lombard, SF. 775-2134. French, D, $, AE/MC/V.

Betelnut Peiju Wu is a pan-Asian version of a tapas bar, drawing a sleek postcollegiate crowd with its wide assortment of dumplings, noodles, soups, and snacks. (Staff) 2030 Union, SF. 929-8855. Asian, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Dragon Well looks like an annex of the cavernous Pottery Barn down the street, but its traditional Chinese menu is radiant with fresh ingredients and careful preparation. Prices are modest, the service swift and professional. (Staff) 2142 Chestnut, SF. 474-6888. Chinese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Rigolo combines the best of Pascal Rigo’s boulangeries — including the spectacular breads — with some of the simpler elements (such as roast chicken) of his higher-end places. The result is excellent value in a bustling setting. (PR, 1/05) 3465 California, SF. 876-7777. California/Mediterranean, B/L/D, $, MC/V.

Sushi Groove is easily as cool as its name. Behind wasabi green velvet curtains, salads can be inconsistent, but the sushi is impeccable, especially the silky salmon and special white tuna nigiri. (Staff) 1916 Hyde, SF. 440-1905. Japanese, D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Taste of the Himalayas is primarily Nepalese, but the Indian influences on the food are many, and there are a few Tibetan items. Spicing is vivid, value excellent. (PR, 10/04) 2420 Lombard, SF. 674-9898. Nepalese/Tibetan, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Tortilla Heights brings the Pac Heights, blond-het-frat vibe into the Western Addition and nourishes it with surprisingly good Mexican food. The menu is familiar, but the dishes are executed with care and panache, and there are some regional specialties. Open late. (PR, 9/06) 1750 Divisadero, SF. 346-4531. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Bullshead Restaurant offers buffalo burgers in various guises, and they are worth the price of the ticket (about a dollar more). The West Portal location is a slice of Route 66 Americana, while the newer Castro operation has an upstairs-downstairs, creaky-Victorian-staircase aura. The menu boasts good fries and a surprisingly convincing vegetarian burger. (PR, 11/06) 840 Ulloa, SF. 665-4350; 4230 18th St., SF. 431-4201. American/burgers, L/D, $, MC/V.

Le Charm might be in San Francisco, but it has a bistro authenticity even Parisians could love, from a wealth of golden wood trim to an enduring loyalty au prix fixe. The chicken liver salad is matchless, the succinct wine list distinctly Californian. Ponder it in the idyllic, trellised garden. (PR, 9/06) 315 Fifth St, SF. 546-6128. French, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

*Dragonfly serves the best contemporary Vietnamese food in town, in a calmer environment and at a fraction of the cost of better-known places. (PR, 8/05) 420 Judah, SF. 661-7755. Vietnamese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

KL Restaurant is a Hong Kong-style seafood house that presents its wide array of creatures from the deep in an equally wide array of guises. Particularly good: the sampan-style dishes. If you’re not in an oceanic mood, the land-based stuff is good too. (PR/ 11/06) 4401 Balboa, SF. 666-9928. Chinese/seafood, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Pisces California Cuisine brings a touch of SoMa sophistication to an Outer Sunset neighborhood in need of paint. (You can’t miss the restaurant’s black facade.) The kitchen turns out a variety of seafood preparations — the clam chowder is terrific — and offers an appealing prix fixe option at both lunch and dinner. (PR, 8/06) 3414-3416 Judah, SF. 564-2233. Seafood, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

So Restaurant brings the heat, in the form of huge soup and noodle — and soupy noodle — dishes, many of them liberally laced with hot peppers and chiles. The pot stickers are homemade and exceptional, the crowd young and noisy. Cheap. (PR, 10/06) 2240 Irving, SF. 731-3143. Chinese/noodles, L/D, ¢, MC/V.


*Aziza shimmers with Moroccan grace, from the pewter ewer and basin that circulate for the washing of hands to the profusion of preserved Meyer lemons in the splendid cooking. (Staff) 5800 Geary, SF. 752-2222. Moroccan, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Be My Guest Thai Bistro offers tasty vegetarian-friendly food in a campy-hip setting reminiscent of an old Woody Allen movie. Tofu larb is surprisingly successful. (PR, 9/06) 951 Clement, SF. 386-1942. Thai, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

*Chapeau! serves some of the best food in the city — at shockingly reasonable prices. The French cooking reflects as much style and imagination as any California menu. (Staff) 1408 Clement, SF. 750-9787. French, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Spices! has an exclamation point for a reason: its Chinese food, mainly Szechuan and Taiwanese, with an oasis of Shanghai-style dishes, is fabulously hot. Big young crowds, pulsing house music, a shocking orange and yellow paint scheme. Go prepared, leave happy. (Staff) 294 Eighth Ave, SF. 752-8884. Szechuan/Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.

Sutro’s at Cliff House has a Miami-to-Malibu feel and offers a "California coastal" menu that appeals to tourists and locals alike. You can get everything from gumbo to seafood red curry to falafel while resting assured that the kitchen is honoring the local-seasonal-sustainable imperative. The setting — a glass house perched at the foamy edge of the Pacific — is timelessly spectacular. (PR, 7/06) 1090 Point Lobos, SF. 386-3330. Eclectic, L/D, $$$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Cliff’s Bar-B-Q and Seafood Some things Cliff’s got going for him: excellent mustard greens, just drenched in flavorfulness, and barbecued you name it. Brisket. Rib tips. Hot links. Pork ribs. Beef ribs. Baby backs. And then there are fried chickens and, by way of health food, fried fishes. (Staff) 2177 Bayshore, SF. 330-0736. Barbecue, L/D, ¢, AE/DC/MC/V.

Old Clam House really is old — it’s been in the same location since the Civil War — but the seafood preparations are fresh, in an old-fashioned way. Matchless cioppino. Sports types cluster at the bar, under the shadow of a halved, mounted Jaguar E-type. (Staff) 299 Bayshore, SF. 826-4880. Seafood, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Taqueria el Potrillo serves one of the best chicken burritos in town, if not the best. You can get your bird grilled or barbecued or have steak instead or tacos. Excellent salsas and aguas frescas, and warmer weather than practically anywhere else in town. (Staff) 300A Bayshore Blvd, SF. 642-1612. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢, cash only.


Breads of India and Gourmet Curries The menu changes every day, so nothing is refrigerated overnight, and the curries benefit from obvious loving care. (Staff) 2448 Sacramento, Berk. (510) 848-7684. Indian, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Café de la Paz Specialties include African-Brazilian "xim xim" curries, Venezuelan corn pancakes, and heavenly blackened seacakes served with orange-onion yogurt. (Staff) 1600 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-0662. Latin American, BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Locanda Olmo Fine versions of risotto, gnocchi, and soft polenta pie, terrific thin-crust pizzas, and good traditional desserts have made Locanda Olmo a reliable anchor in the burgeoning Elmwood neighborhood. (Staff) 2985 College, Berk. (510) 848-5544. Italian, D, $, MC/V.


Le Cheval Shrimp rolls and peanut sauce, the fried Dungeness crab, the marinated "orange flavor" beef, the buttery lemongrass prawns — it’s all fabulous. (Staff) 1007 Clay, Oakl. (510) 763-8495. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Connie’s Cantina fashions unique variations on standard Mexican fare — enchiladas, tamales, fajitas, rellenos. (Staff) 3340 Grand, Oakl. (510) 839-4986. Mexican, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Rockridge Café offers bountiful breakfasts, a savory meat-loaf special, and hearty cassoulet. But the burgers, wide-cut fries, and straw-clogging milkshakes remain the cornerstones of the menu. (Staff) 5492 College, Oakl. (510) 653-1567. American, B/L/D, $, MC/V. *

The ballad of Carmelo


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

By the time you read this, a whole lot of filmmakers, publicists, journalists, and miscellaneous affiliates from Los Angeles will have once again descended on Utah for the annual feeding frenzy known as Sundance. Just what the aforementioned feed on isn’t always or exactly movies — the original raison d’être can get lost in the general scuffle. Classic old-school festival films — those quiet, starless character dramas and vérité documentaries sans hot-button topic and celebrity endorsement — tend to get elbowed to the back of the crowd by more pushy types.

Such was the case two years ago for Romántico, which finally gets a theatrical release this week. As good as if not better than anything else in Sundance’s 2005 American Documentary Competition, it nonetheless attracted no awards and scant interest. Admittedly, a film about undocumented immigrant Mexican musicians in San Francisco didn’t sound so compelling next to docs about mentally ill indie rock heroes, death row exonerations, Enron, kick-ass jock paraplegics, clergy sex abuse, and every comedian in the world telling one dirty joke. Plus, there had been a lot of documentaries about undocumented Latin Americans in the States of late — like Iraq (and clergy sex abuse), it’s an inevitable subject du jour for nonfiction cinema.

Most similarly themed docs before and since Romántico have had a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, tackling specific issues with activist zeal. Several (Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary and Un Franco, 14 Pesetas among them) have been very good. But despite the concern they share, they’re like well-crafted news bulletins, while at core Romántico seems like something else entirely — soulful and poetic, its tone and narrative oddly reminiscent of ’40s Italian neorealist classics.

Part of the reason is that it simply looks great. A frequent cinematographer on other directors’ projects, Mark Becker shot his own first feature himself. Not only does he have a definite eye, but he also made the deliberate decision to shoot on film (16mm and Super 16) — an approach practically unheard of for a documentary these days. Yeah, yeah, new formats have done a great service in making the so-called seventh art more affordable, immediate, flexible, democratic, and so forth. But anyone who tells you video can look just as rich as film stock is high. It (still) just ain’t so.

Though he’s since moved to New York City, Becker was living in the Mission District when he became intrigued by Mexican émigré musicians who play for tips in the area’s restaurants and on its streets. They form a subterranean "bachelor culture," making enough money to support the wives and children back home they might not see for years on end.

Becker had a short film in mind until he met a protagonist worthy of long-form scrutiny — Carmelo Muñiz Sanchez, who serenades diners with familiar tragic love ballads as half of a duo with Arturo Arias. When Sanchez abruptly returned to Mexico for the first time in four years in late 2000, after hearing that his diabetic mother’s health had worsened, Becker followed.

Romántico was shot sporadically over a three-and-a-half-year span, time enough to capture dramatic changes in the lives of both Sanchez and Arias. When we first meet them, they’re sharing a minuscule flat with two other Mexicans and four Guatemalans who all work at the same car wash. (The number of roommates seems limited only by the amount of floor space on which to sleep.) Our protagonists also log long hours as entertainers, making as much as $50 each on a good night. This might seem a threadbare existence, but it allows Sanchez to support his mom, wife, and two daughters (both preadolescent when he left in 1997) in relative comfort. In their town of Salvatierra, less fortunate families routinely compel female members into prostitution to survive. Sanchez will do anything to shield his loved ones from that and from privation, even if it means painful separation from them. The more footloose Arias has fewer responsibilities. In fact, his tendency to fly off on benders of unpredictable duration is one of Sanchez’s biggest headaches.

A dignified but unpretentious man nearing 60 at the film’s start, Sanchez makes an engrossing hero, and he’s very interested in telling his story. His whole life has been a struggle, its only goal that his children’s lives not be. The reverse immigration journey of sorts that he undertakes is joyous because it leads to a family reunion. But it also soon underlines why he left in the first place: his earning prospects in Mexico, where his job options are limited to playing in mariachi bands and selling flavored ice from a pushcart for far less income, are a fragment of what they were off the grid in the United States. With getting a legal worker’s visa near impossible, he must consider a second dangerous border crossing at an age when many Northern gringos mull retirement. This isn’t a matter of creature comforts — it’s about money to keep his daughters alive, in school, and off the streets.

At just 80 minutes in length, Romántico doesn’t dawdle. Yet it has a contemplative tenor seldom found in contemporary documentaries, and the frequent beauty of its images is amplified by Raz Mesinai’s ethereal instrumental score as well as the mini–passion plays Sanchez and Arias sing. Like those theatrically despairing, sometimes suicidal, and frequently sexist songs of love gone wrong, Romántico is seductive in its melancholy — and so easily overwhelms emotional defenses that you’ll probably find yourself desperate to know what’s happened to Sanchez and Arias since the end of filming. *


Opens Fri/19


Shattuck Cinemas

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com



CineKink 2007


The simple act of witnessing can transform sex into politics, so it’s not hard to see why privacy (like permission) is sacred. The quaint notion of the boudoir is ingrained in most acts of physical intimacy — whether lovers seek haven in the bedroom or take joy in rejecting it. More like Wild Kingdom than Girls Gone Wild, the CineKink 2007 series at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts neutrally observes sexual transgression: the forms it takes, the relief it offers, and the privacy it (often jubilantly) breaches.

More fun than watching actual webcam girls, Aerlyn Weissman’s doc WebCam Girls (Thurs/18, 9 p.m.) looks at three successful mavens and frames their stories with academic analysis. These women all began their journeys in the world of semivoyeurism from a place of corporate exploitation, so it’s ironic that they, like their patrons (commonly nine-to-five cubicle dwellers), are surveyed at work … well, at their home offices. In this surveillance their homes are as public as their patrons’ cubicles — to the 15 people (as opposed to 15 minutes) for whom they’re famous. Their identities are their brands, putting them in vulnerable positions both figuratively and literally.

Almost a brother film to WebCam Girls, Damon and Hunter: Doing It Together is a short feature nested in the Passion Plays Program (Fri/19, 9 p.m.). For the women of WebCam Girls, the issue of individualism is essential (Anna Voog makes Rorschach-inspired videos for her word-association songs, and Ducky Doolittle puts on fashion shows), but Damon and Hunter are like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: porn stars with protected identities as opposed to global brands. Primarily composed of one talking head interview with the two lovers, director Tony Comstock’s documentary intercuts a XXX scene that is more sweet than erotic. The footage feels deliberately contrary to a porn aesthetic, giving the impression that we’re observing, with anthropological so-called neutrality, the well-worn sex life of a couple. One partner asks, "Are you comfortable?" and the request for consent is like a demonstration of love.

Unlike the docs in the CineKink Series, Going Under (Sat/20, 7 p.m.), a sensitive and occasionally vague narrative feature, expressively represents the erotic and ultimately calmative values of nonvanilla sex. Psychoanalyst-turned-filmmaker Eric Werthman’s movie is about a relationship between psychoanalyst Peter (Roger Rees) and his dominatrix, Suzanne (Geno Lechner). Exhausted by her field of work, Suzanne announces her retirement, which signals an opportunity for them to see each other "outside." The two bond over childhood trauma: for them, history is a tragic theme. "I can never forget how we met" is an important sentence: not so much shamed as burdened, Suzanne struggles with the couple’s desires outside the security of her leather-bound workplace.

Fans of Going Under will find a good companion piece in Howard Scott Warshaw’s documentary Vice and Consent: The Art of Wrapping Intimacy in Very Scary Paper (Fri/18, 7 p.m.). Offering a more incisive view of BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism) than Going Under, Vice and Consent initiates a remarkable dialogue about the transcendence that results from this highly rigorous discipline. The hour-long doc has a homespun production value that gives a kind of authenticity to its interviews but also somewhat clouds its dialogue about sex as an exploration of human consciousness. Exhaustively, this film discusses the means by which the community rejects "vanilla" — and poetically, the world outside vanilla is as infinite as the characters who go searching. (Sara Schieron)


Thurs/18–Sat/20, 7 and 9 p.m. (Thurs/18, 6 p.m. free reception), $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787



Eat Global


› paulr@sfbg.com

As a fellow traveler of the Luddites, I am obliged to treat the phrase "digital arts" — as in the Letterman Digital Arts Center, in the Presidio — with some skepticism. Of course I have a cell phone and a computer, a pair of digital apparatuses, and I do regard them as essential to life as we know it — as essential tools. Tools are servants, and although they are not devoid of value, their value is in their usefulness. Whatever value art has, it isn’t usefulness.

"Digital arts" might be considered an oxymoron in some quarters. The classic example of an oxymoron — Herb Caen’s phrase was "self-canceling phrase" — is "military intelligence." On the slightly more ornate side, we now have "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Interestingly, the word oxymoron includes the word moron. As for digital arts: I have an impression of busy-bee activity in the Pixar–Toy Story school, the use of computers to make more vivid monsters or car crashes or intergalactic Armageddon or other of those visual splendors from which, with the atrophy of plot and character, so much of contemporary cinema is constructed.

But … I might as well be trying to rescue the word hopefully, and that would be a waste of time, especially since there is, in one of the LDA buildings, a brand-new and fabulous restaurant and wine bar, Pres a Vi, that cries out to be described. The restaurant occupies a long, L-shaped space on the ground level of Building D (an unfortunate designation more appropriate to a prison). Part of Pres a Vi’s ceiling consists of wine-barrel ribs, giving one the sense of looking up at a segment of the world’s longest reinforced straw, while its eastern wall consists almost entirely of window glass. Through the dinnertime panes glows the pink specter of the Palace of Fine Arts, afloat on evening’s ink as if in a dream, and proof that not all great views in this city must involve bay or bridge.

Chef Kelly Degala’s menu is "global" and is oriented toward smaller plates, and the question presented is whether this diversity is polymathic or dilettantish. I incline toward the first view, since almost all the dishes are rendered with style and verve. But you can order yourself into incoherence, no question, and the little plates from around the world can start piling up as if at some buffet at an Intercontinental hotel: ravioli here, lumpia there, a hit of Thai papaya salad, some potatoes roasted Spanish-style.

If Degala is a culinary globalist, his heart is clearly in the Pacific. He has spent a lot of time in Hawaii, and his cooking reflects the islands’ mix of tropical and Asian influences. He is also attentive to Filipino cuisine, which doesn’t get much attention in the Bay Area despite a large Filipino population. His lumpia ($10 for four bite-size pieces) are exemplary: rolled cilantro crepes (somewhere between taquitos and flautas in size, and not much cilantro flavor, in case you are passionate either way) filled with rock shrimp and served with a spicy peanut dressing. He also offers a version of another Filipino dish, prawn adobo ($12), with the peeled shrimp braised in a slightly sweet soy-vinegar bath and presented on a pad of electrifyingly tasty fried jasmine rice.

Europhiles will not starve. A set of ravioli ($12), like sand dollars, are filled with duck meat and goat cheese before being gently inundated with an earthy (and gorgeously smooth with a smoothness only butter can provide) wild-mushroom sauce. The kitchen had run out of croquettes on one visit, so we jumped to plan B: jo-jos ($6), a good-size bowl of Kennebec potato wedges roasted with shreds of Serrano ham and topped with romesco, which looked like melted Velveeta (for a potato-nachos effect) and carried a slightly-too-harsh charge of smoked paprika.

Degala even manages a nod in the direction of California whimsy. How about a club sandwich ($13) on brioche, with Dungeness crab salad instead of roast turkey? (And plenty of crisp bacon!) If it’s not quite as fancy as Postrio’s lobster version, it’s at least as good. In a similar vein, there’s an ahi tuna melt ($8), the cooked fish here mashed up with red bell pepper dice and bits of cornichon into a kind of salad.

A few of the dishes seem to hold dual citizenship. An example: lobster bisque ($4), rich and creamy, spiked with brandy, topped with crème fraîche and minced chives, and served in a tall shot glass, like a miniature cappuccino. French? New Englander? Excellent, certainly. No aura of vague cosmopolitanism, on the other hand, surrounds the duck buns ($12). Here we have a classic Chinese treat: shreds of poultry, slow-cooked to moist tenderness, set between halves of little steamed buns, like tiny duck burgers. Versions of this dish aren’t hard to find on menus around town, but Degala’s duck, moist and rich and with unmistakable five-spice breath, is superlative.

Although the restaurant opened shortly after Thanksgiving, service is already at a high level, with bread and water flowing liberally and the staff knowledgeable about specials and shortages. Timing from the kitchen can be a little erratic, though, and this matters more than it might at some other place because dinners tend to be improvised arabesques rather than the more usual first course–main course–dessert ballet. You can never be quite sure which dish will show up next, but that’s not such a high price to pay when it could be coming from any place in the world. *


Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.

1 Letterman Dr., Bldg. D, Ste. 150, SF

(415) 409-3000


Full bar

Muted noise


Wheelchair accessible


Make a wish


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Sockywonk came back from Florida completely bald and we sat in the waiting room at the Kaiser lab, looking at pictures. In fluorescent lights, in the hospital hum, in the stony glare of disease … here was Florida, her Florida friends, her Florida sister, sunshine and tank tops, big smiles, water. Here was Sockywonk sitting in the haircut chair clowning for the camera, yanking fistfuls of hair right out of her scalp, waiting for the shave.

The last two things she did with her hair, when she had it, and knew she only had it for a couple more weeks, was she cut it into a Mohawk and then bleached it blond. Nowadays she wears a Davy Crockett hat with a tail, some kind of animal, and you know that I love her for this.

She took the hat off and showed me. There were lingering patches of black stubble, random and Rorschach. I put my hand there. It was warm and bristly.

I made a wish.

Once when I used to shave my head and people, including me, always wanted to touch it, I told a coworker while she was rubbing my snow dome that she could make a wish and she did and got pregnant. This was 20 years ago, more or less, in another time zone, and I can’t remember the mother’s or the father’s name, but I imagine the child of that wish, now more or less an adult, tracking me down and appearing at my door one day with a basket of fruit or a cheese tray.


It had been cloudy and drizzly but mild all morning, and when we came out of Kaiser it was brilliantly sunny and freezing. "What do you really really want to eat?" I said. "More than anything in the world right now, for lunch."

"Soup," said Sockywonk. "Japanese."

It’s not like her to be decisive and I was thrilled. Soup, in particular Japanese style, is one of my favorite things in the world. On our way to my car she stepped in one of my least favorite things. I found an old copy of the Guardian in the back of the truck, opened it to Cheap Eats, and laid it out on the passenger floor.

In Japantown Center, sucking down edamame outside of Suzu because there weren’t any open tables inside, we looked at more pictures while waiting for our noodles. One of Sockywonk’s Florida girlfriends is pushing 60, and looks like she’s 35. There’s a big house, a deck, a river. Sockywonk says something about maybe moving back there.

"Would you do it?"

She doesn’t know. She’s been living in a rent-controlled apartment here for 15, 20 years. Has a lot of cool and beautiful San Francisco friends too. Some of whom, if not all of whom, are bigger than her and will chain her to a parking meter, if that’s what it comes to.

Here was a picture of Sockywonk flashing her boobs.

And here was our soup, finally, and oh-sweet-Jesus I have a new favorite restaurant! Not only do they have karaage ramen, which is fried chicken noodle soup, and not only are the noodles homemade and perfect, but the fried chicken comes in a separate bowl on the side so that, for slow eaters like me, you don’t wind up eating sog-monster mush.

I chopsticked a crispy chunk of chicken, dipped and dunked it into the dark, salty broth, and came up with an unexpected spot of ginger hanging on somewhere, a stowaway. Biting into it was like sex, if I remember correctly. Sex, not soup; the soup I remember perfectly, almost tearfully. The most succulent, deliciousest thing you can even imagine.

Fried chicken soup. Sockywonk had a combination plate, tempura over rice, and udon soup. Oh, and we also had shrimp dumplings and they were pretty good too. But how can someone who’s 60 look 35?

Chemo conks you on the head and makes you move a little slow.

Fried chicken does the same thing to me, so I had no trouble keeping step with Sockywonk on our way up the stairs to the restrooms, which of course are gender specific: one for this kind, one for that. But in this case I didn’t mind, ’cause we got to pee in harmony and wash our hands in harmony and look together into the mirror, thinking about Florida. *


Lunch: Mon. and Wed.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.

Dinner: Mon. and Wed.–Fri., 5–10 p.m.; Sat., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun., 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1581 Webster, SF

(415) 346-5083

Takeout available

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Skin Flick


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

Your question form says to "try to be interesting." Hmm, performance anxiety … and I’m only talking about sex!

My wife is very sensitive to tastes, and she gags on my pre-come. On the other hand, I really don’t like the reduced sensation of using a condom during oral sex. So I was considering temporarily sealing my urethra with some of that "liquid bandage" stuff — no mess for her, plenty of good feelings for me.

I have several concerns. This stuff is used on small cuts, so it should be safe, but are there any nasty solvents that would make it problematic? After it’s dried, are there any risks if it’s ingested? If it works, I hope to use it often, so how can it be removed without lasting damage?


New Skin

Dear Skin:

Well, you succeeded. Your idea is interesting, and (this hardly ever happens) it is new. We oughtn’t let the fact that it’s also kind of crazy stop us from celebrating its novelty.

Dude. New-Skin contains alcohol and oil of cloves. Fingernail polish may dissolve it. It can, apparently, stain floors and countertops. It is labeled for external use only, of course, and also as not for use on "mucous materials." Is the inside of your urethra not a mucous material? My guess is this stuff will not permanently damage you but will hurt like hell and be difficult to remove if it gets inside. It’s not designed to fill holes anyway, so it wouldn’t even work.

Or did you mean the newer, higher-tech liquid bandage, the stuff that’s basically Dermabond, a.k.a. superglue? Have you not thought through the ejaculation problem? How, exactly, do you expect this to work?

This leaves us with three possibilities: The spray-on latex condom, although offering many opportunities for hilarity, won’t work, because it’s supposed to cover your entire penis (you stick your dick in the can, I believe) and because it isn’t on the market yet. Paint-on sex latex (google "liquid latex" or "deviant") is nontoxic and more or less meant to go naughty places but also is not meant as a gap filler — not that your urethra is a gap, precisely, but you know what I mean. Plus, latex is meant to be kept out of body cavities.

Last up: using a regular condom but rolling it down to cover just the glans. This is probably your best bet. It’s not creepy-cool like fake skin nor especially innovative, but it’s also not likely to maim you or require dramatic and embarrassing medical intervention, which, if you think about it, is really the least we can ask of our marital aids.



Dear Andrea:

I love having raspberries blown on my tummy — you know, when the lips are placed against the tummy and then blown, causing a vibrating and tickling sensation. I’ve loved this ever since I was a child and also love doing it. I don’t know how to bring it up with friends because I’m afraid they’ll think I’m weird. I only like women to do it to me, not guys! Is this unusual?



Dear Herb:

Not at all. I know a number of people who are fond of the zerbert, at least one of whom can be instantly yanked out of the deepest, sloughiest slough of despond by the judicious application of sputtering lips to belly — but they are all babies. The reason nobody talks about this is that it’s something we do to entertain infants, like making faces or putting unusual objects on our heads. Few adults continue to laugh hysterically every time you put a stuffed pig on your head, and most would look askance at you for doing so.

Look, I don’t think this is even sex — it’s just something you do with your body that isn’t eating or excreting or sports, and we have trouble categorizing bodily acts that aren’t sex and aren’t any of those things either. We’re just weird about bodies. Perhaps we should all try to get over that, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

All that aside, though, nobody wants to hear you talk about this. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself frolicking naked with a likely female prospect, you can probably get away with it as a lighthearted, jokey thing, but do not bring it up over dinner, the way one might broach the topic of, say, S-M. People who wouldn’t blink on hearing that you are fond of pain or sex parties or any other normal kink like that might never feel quite the same about you after hearing you wax rhapsodic about belly raspberries. Probably because of the association with babies, the only people whose shirts we are allowed, even encouraged, to yank up without prelude or permission to shmoozle their tummy-tum-tums, it just seems a little unseemly.



Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.

Air play


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW There is something about "The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air," the de Young Museum’s current retrospective of Ruth Asawa’s work, that initially feels a bit like a natural history museum display. The darkened space, punctuated with spotlights, showcases Asawa’s floating woven wire forms, which look like giant representations of diatoms or plankton. The shadows this installation creates are an important factor, illustrating the concepts the artist considered during their making: positive and negative space, organic growth, and continuous line. One of the first pieces greeting visitors at the entrance resembles a hanging column of ballooning onion and bell shapes. It’s made of woven aluminum and brass wire, and Asawa describes it as a test to see how large a sculpture she could create in crocheted metal wire without it collapsing from its own weight.

A nearby glass case displays sketchbook pages from her formative art-school years. On one page a sentence stands out boldly: "DRAW AIR WITH NOTHING." The lacy forms of industrial metal wire are paralleled by the pen-and-ink drawings on the walls, some of which Asawa calls "meanderings." They’re images formed in an intuitive yet mathematically exponential process — not unlike the route her lifelong career of object making and art activism has taken.

Born in Norwalk, Calif., in 1929 and raised on her parents’ vegetable farm, Asawa was one of thousands of Japanese Americans interned during World War II. At the Santa Anita racetrack camp, she had her first formal lessons in art, taught by several Walt Disney studio animators who were also interned. After the war she attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she studied with legendary artists and thinkers including Josef Albers and Buckminster Fuller. There she met the man who would become her husband and father to her six children, architect Albert Lanier.

After college Asawa studied in Toluca, Mexico, where she learned to crochet baskets. She pushed this traditional craft into the realm of fine art during the 1950s. Her work was chosen to represent the United States in the 1955 São Paolo Biennial, and soon after the Whitney Museum of American Art acquired her work for its collection. However, in the Bay Area, where she has lived since the ’50s, Asawa has remained relatively unknown.


At the de Young the viewer traipses past Asawa’s complex, bundled copper-wire tumbleweed puffs; wiry snowflake configurations; spongy Möbius strips; plump, electroplated copper, cactilike works; and graphically bold, obsessive-compulsive-esque lithographs and drawings. Some of these date to the late ’90s, but nonetheless, we are really wandering in a realm of late-modernist works. So by today’s postmodernist and post-postmodernist values, Asawa’s pieces don’t readily leap into a contemporary critical arena. They are, for the most part, graceful and avoid the taint of macramé kitsch, although a subtle whiff of hippie-era flavoring does hover over the exhibition. Yet before one judges her art by today’s standards, let’s look at why she merits a retrospective.

This is not Asawa’s first overview: the Oakland Museum of California held one in 2002. One dramatic mandala sculpture on display — Wintermass, from the late ’60s — is similar to the bronze gracing the front entrance to the Oakland Museum. And this isn’t the only Asawa piece available for free viewing in the Bay Area — she is far more ubiquitous than many locals realize. Over the days following my visit to the de Young exhibition, I stumbled upon several of her public works — many of which in no way resemble the art chosen for the show. Rather, they seem to be created by an almost evil twin. Asawa’s public objects generally tend to land in a goofier, now quaint public-art aesthetic. The list includes that tourist mecca mermaid fountain at Ghirardelli Square, the sea lion statue (generally hidden under climbing children) at Pier 39, the whimsical San Francisco landscape fountain outside the Grand Hyatt San Francisco at Union Square, the pair of occasionally functioning giant origami fountains in Japantown — and the steel origami doughnut fountain (titled Aurora) near the Gap’s Embarcadero headquarters. She also helped with the design of Children’s Fairyland in Oakland and more recently a San Jose memorial dedicated to the Japanese American internment.


Asawa was a public sculptor to be reckoned with during city upgrades in the 1970s and ’80s. She was also the force who created the revolutionary Alvarado School summer art workshops in the early ’70s. She spearheaded the creation of San Francisco’s School of the Arts High School and actively served on both state and city art boards. This exhibit includes photo documentation by Asawa’s close chum Imogen Cunningham of her early work and bohemianlike family life. Asawa saw little difference between making art and teaching it to children, which could easily make her one of the godmothers of the social practice genre. The format in which Asawa chose to display her objects early on could also make her something of a forebear of installation artists.

In a period in which homespun crafts and the DIY joys of creation — think ReadyMade magazine — are so prevalent, an appreciation of Ruth Asawa is a timely thing. Captured in the wonderfully dated 1978 documentary by Robert Snyder that’s screening at the exhibition, Asawa declares that "a line can go anywhere" and talks of the importance of being like a bulb planted in soil: she should always be growing while here on earth. Much like that enormous New England mushroom discovered expanding for miles underneath the soil, Asawa planted herself here and flourished quietly, germinating an idealistic sense of the importance of art in the community — something I hope never grows out of style. *


Through Jan. 28

Tues.–Thurs. and Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m., $6–$10

De Young Museum

Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., SF

(415) 750-3614



The Stop Online Expression Act


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Now that Congress is back in session, I’m bracing myself for the resurrection of the Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act. This is yet another bill, in a long line dating back to the Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act, that attempts to curtail free expression online by raising the specter of child abuse. First proposed at the end of last session, the bill is the brainchild of Sens. John McCain and Charles Schumer.

Leaked drafts of the Stop Online Exploitation of Our Children Act read like a speech squasher’s gift list. The bill requires the government to create a list containing the e-mail addresses of known sex offenders — probably compiled from various state databases of sex offenders. All online publishers, including bloggers and blog aggregators like LiveJournal, will be forced to police everything posted on their sites, searching for e-mails from this list. If they find a match, publishers must delete the accounts associated with the offending e-mail address — as well as anything the owner has published on the site. Failure to do so will result in steep fines. Fines will also be imposed if publishers fail to report behavior that might involve child porn or obscene behavior.

Here are four good reasons to oppose this legislation:

1. It imposes an undue burden on small publishers. Under the proposed rule even small bloggers, chat room operators, social networking sites, and webzine publishers will have to comb through the content on their site, looking for things that appear to have been written by people on the list of sex offenders that the government will compile. In practice this will probably mean that sites offering community forums, such as Alternet and even Slashdot, simply have to stop allowing people to post. There will be too great a risk that they’ll be fined if they miss a post by an alleged sex offender.

2. It misses the target. Keeping e-mail lists and deleting things written by "sex offenders" is dangerous because the category is very capacious. In states like Texas, people arrested for streaking or public nudity are classed as sex offenders. In Illinois, convicted skinny-dippers (i.e., people engaging in "public indecency") must register as sex offenders. In addition, many databases of sex offenders have been shown to be full of errors — and it’s possible for two people to have very similar e-mail addresses. Too many innocent people will get caught up in this net and find their words deleted from the Web.

3. It will not stop people who are currently committing crimes. This proposed law focuses on persecuting people who once engaged in criminal acts, rather than people currently engaged in criminal acts. If a former sex offender is posting appropriate messages in a therapy group, or talking with other model-train hobbyists, there is absolutely no reason — other than sheer prejudice — for deleting what he or she has written. In fact, preventing convicted sex offenders from having a social outlet online might lead to more recidivism. Moreover, if publishers are throwing all their energies into hunting down and deleting convicted sex offenders, publishers may not have enough resources to track down nonconvicts who are posting comments that are genuinely harmful to children.

4. It sets a bad precedent by asking untrained citizens to report on one another. Certain groups, such as doctors and therapists, are required by law to report if one of their clients is a danger to him- or herself or others. Schools are required to report suspected child abuse. But these groups are full of professionals who are trained to identify dangerous behavior that may affect children. Publishers are not trained to identify such behavior, nor should they be asked to do so. If we force Web publishers to turn in or silence their fellow citizens, which group will be forced to do it next? Sales clerks? Librarians? Rental car agents? Forcing citizens to turn against one another is not going to prevent crime. It’s only going to spark prejudice and lead to greater social injustice.

Be on the lookout for the next version of the McCain-Schumer "Stop Online Expression" bill — especially as election season draws a bit nearer. Don’t let it fool you. This isn’t about saving the children. It’s about scapegoating and censorship. And it will let the real criminals go free. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who isn’t in your database.

Why insurers love the new health plan


OPINION If you’re one of the 6.5 million Californians without health coverage, get ready to find a lot of hands in your pocket.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s much-trumpeted health plan is the most ambitious overhaul of the state’s health care system since … well, since SB 840, the far simpler, more universal, more comprehensive, single-payer health plan sponsored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, which the governor vetoed last September.

Unlike a single-payer system, with one entity that pays for everything using existing private hospitals and doctors and offers one standard of quality care for all, the Schwarzenegger plan is a mishmash likely to saddle more Californians with unaffordable, inferior coverage while opening a new gilded age for insurers and banks.

Once the legislature prunes away the proposed new tax on employers, hospitals, and doctors (which is likely) and eliminates the laudable pledge to assure coverage for the undocumented, the governor’s plan is apt to end up stripped down to its worst elements — a mandate that all individuals have to buy health insurance and the dubious promotion of a Bush administration scheme, health savings accounts.

Individual mandates turn the whole purpose of health care on its head — they criminalize people, rather than helping them. If you don’t sign up for a plan, you could become ineligible to get a job and enroll your child in school or face tax penalties.

With no controls on skyrocketing premiums, comprehensive plans will be out of reach for millions of Californians. Most could end up with junk insurance, with up to $10,000 in out-of-pocket payments for any medical care, meaning the average person will likely pay for all his or her medical expenses on top of the premiums. And many may forgo any medical care, risking worse health problems and greater health costs down the road.

Even lower-income people who qualify for the state subsidy could end up paying out 6 percent of their income. Presumably, they’ll just cut back on food or rent — at the same time that the governor has announced plans for welfare cuts.

Then there’s the $2 billion now used for indigent care at mostly public hospitals that will be siphoned off into the pool for buying insurance, ravaging our public health social safety net.

But the insurance companies will suddenly get millions of new customers, who will be buying insurance at gunpoint. No wonder Blue Shield CEO Bruce Bodaken says of the plan, "There’s a lot to like."

If nothing else, the Schwarzenegger plan — and the lite versions proposed by the Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly — should be a call to action for the rest of us to press harder than ever for the enactment of the soon-to-be-reintroduced single-payer Kuehl bill. *

Zenei Cortez

Zenei Cortez, RN, is the vice president of the California Nurses Association.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I remember watching Jimmy Carter make a speech on TV back in early 1980, when he was trying to deal with a wrecked economy, a national "malaise" that was only partially a figment of his imagination, and the Iran hostage crisis, and all I remember telling my college roommates was this:

The guy looks like a goddamn ghost.

Carter had aged at least 20 years since his upbeat 1977 inauguration. His face was creased and haggard. His eyes were empty hollows. He appeared to be having trouble focusing on what he was saying. It was pretty clear that Carter was burned toast.

I never got that feeling about Bill Clinton. Through the health care mess, the Newt Gingrich era, Monica Lewinsky, and impeachment, he always seemed to have a grip.

But like Jimmy Carter 27 years ago, George W. Bush is falling apart.

W. was never terribly bright to begin with, but he always had that confident swagger, that tone in his voice that suggested he believed in what he was saying. On the night of Jan. 10 it was all gone.

Even on TV, with all the makeup and careful background and lighting, the president was a wreck. He looked like hell. If the guy weren’t a sober, reformed alcoholic, I’d have sworn he’d been shit-faced for the past three days. He’s just falling apart. If he weren’t such an evil prick, I’d actually feel sorry for him.

The military escalation in Iraq is such a brainless notion that I can’t figure out how Karl Rove and co. ever let it get out of the Oval Office. This is a no-win deal: even the mainstream news media, including the papers and commentators who supported the invasion and stuck with the war for years, are now pointing out that Iraq has no functioning government, that the place is run by sectarian militias and is in a state of civil war. Twenty thousand new American soldiers won’t help a bit — they’ll just be another group of targets for extremists and opportunists. Too many of them will soon be filling body bags, and too many more will be in military hospitals trying to rebuild their lives with missing limbs, near-fatal injuries, and the kind of scarred psyches that can only come from realizing you might very well be John Kerry’s famous last man to die for a mistake.

As we note in an editorial, this is probably the greatest political gift an incumbent Republican president has given the Democratic Party since Richard Nixon had his pals engage in a third-rate burglary in the Watergate office complex. The worst president in modern history is finally on the defensive, way on the defensive, and unless Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid truly bungle things, there’s no way he’s going to recover.

I’m still for impeachment (and the case looks better every day). But right now what I’m for the most is some congressional pluck. The Constitution is pretty clear on the fact that the legislative branch handles the purse strings and has the right to declare war. There’s an easy way to get the troops out of Iraq: stop writing the checks.

The war isn’t even in the Bush budget. He keeps coming back and asking for more off-line money for it. Pelosi can simply say no — not another damn dime. I wish I thought she had the courage and principles to do it. *