Volume 41 Number 47

August 22 – August 28, 2007

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Feast fall 2007


7 slop shops for functioning alcoholics

6 noodle-icious dishes

7 homey hearths

A refulgence of pizza

5 tables for one

4 guides to hot wines

7 eateries über alles

5 East Bay breakfasts

8 places to get your chocolate on

5 classic cafeterias

8 locally grown bulk foods

6 top-notch tipples

5 sexy suppers

Taste teaser


Dear San Francisco:

I never cook anymore, and it’s all your fault. Oh sure, you have all those fantastic grocery stores with organic pastas and locally grown tomatoes. But you’ve made it so hard to park near my house, I’d have to walk four blocks or more with my bags of polenta and pico de gallo to get my food home. Even worse — and this is where you’re really to blame — you make it so easy, and so rewarding, not to cook. Yes, I could stay home and make chicken soft tacos. But why not walk three blocks and buy better ones for a couple of bucks? Why would I stir-fry tofu and veggies alone in my kitchen when my best friend and I can meet for stellar sushi halfway between our railroad apartments? I know what you’re going to say: you give me Rainbow, and Faletti’s, and all sorts of places selling ingredients worthy of a home-cooked meal. But I know you’re teasing me. Because you also give me sag paneer at Dar Bar, and honey lavender ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery, and super burritos at Pancho Villa. How could any girl with a regular amount of willpower and a serious lazy streak look you in the eye, San Francisco, with your spaghetti and meatballs down the street, and fresh unagi around the corner, and say, "Nahhh … I think I’ll eat in tonight"? It’s impossible, I tell you, and you know it. You taunt me with your whole-food minimarts on every corner, daring me to use my apartment’s vast counter space for something other than mixing cocktails. And then you tease me with your ceviche and your crab cakes and your sourdough-crust pizza. Damn you, San Francisco. Damn you for taking a girl who used to deep-fry her own goat-cheese croquettes and making her someone who can’t remember how to brew her own coffee. Damn. You. (And, uh, thank you.)


Molly Freedenberg

Feast 2007 editor

› molly@sfbg.com

PS Want to meet somewhere for dinner later?

Feast: 7 slop shops for functioning alcoholics


Our mayor isn’t the only one who (allegedly) leads a Jekyll-and-Hyde life of steadfast labor and drunken debauchery. It seems most San Franciscans are highly productive by day, yet totally hammered almost every night. And we don’t let all the booze stop us from staying in shape either. We are notoriously healthy and hedonistic at the same time. It seems impossible, but the facts are there. SF ranks near the top of almost every "healthy-smart city" list, and yet we allegedly consume more booze per capita than any other city in America. The magic lies in the unified opposition of our daytime and nighttime eating habits. Afternoons spent counting carbs and choking down organic salads are balanced by nights of chain-smoking, guzzling beer, and ingesting some of the greasiest foods money can buy. The laws of the working drunkard state that if you’re gonna drink, you gotta eat. Thus, within walking distance of nearly every great SF bar there sits an equally amazing food stand. Just be sure to avoid these places by day. Beer goggles make you see food the same way they do ugly faces and flat asses.


You can find the line cooks at El Farolito seasoning meat with their own sweat long after most taquerias have flipped their signs to cerrado. The Little Light House serves traditional Mexican street fare — which ranges from humdrum (bean burritos) to hilarious (brain and tongue tacos, a perfect gift for your totally hammered friend who "lost his wallet" at the last bar) — until 1 a.m. on weekdays and until 3 a.m. on weekends. Oily tortilla chips and colon-cleansing salsa make this sedentary roach coach an obligatory pit stop for anyone hoping to flush their system before morning.

2777 Mission, SF. (415) 826-4870; 4817 Mission, SF. (415) 337-5500; 2950 24th, SF. (415) 641-0758


The Crepes A-Go-Go on 11th Street robs European burritos of their foreign mystique by serving them from a dirty trailer, the way God intended. You’re not going to find any lightly powdered Suzettes here, but you can score just about any other variation on the theme. Sweet, savory, sickening? Crepes A-Go-Go has it all. Equipped with multiple brands of hot sauce, "fresh" vegetables, meat, assorted cheeses, and jumbo jars of Nutella, this French chuck wagon and its chefs will have you digesting before your head hits the pillow … or sidewalk.

350 11th St., SF. (415) 503-1294


You can’t plan every weekend around bars with food nearby, but your chances of topping off a bender with some down-home Mexican cuisine will grow exponentially if you stay within walking distance of the dives in this review. Virginia Ramos, the svelte tamale nymph, spends her weekends hawking cheap eats at Amber, Delirium, Zeitgeist, and bars all around Folsom Street from about 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Pork, chicken, and vegetable are her specialties.

Mostly in the Mission and SoMa, SF.


San Francisco may not have a fleet of bacon-dog vendors roaming the streets as does Hollywood, but we do have a lone soldier. Adam Gonzales-Hernandez, better known as the Bacon-Dog Cart by his fans at yelp.com — where he’s listed as the fifth-best restaurant in SF — pops up in the right place at the right time (usually around Mission and 16th from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.). He can also be found later in the evening under the freeway by The Endup.


Indian chefs have yet to devise decent handheld versions of palak paneer, chicken curry, or mixed sabzi, so you should only stumble into Naan-N-Curry’s 24-hour downtown location if you’re cool with smelling like coriander and cumin for the next week or so. Cheap and reliable curry in a cup.

336 O’Farrell, SF. (415) 346-1443


When you’ve been knocking back pints of Guinness at Shannon Arms (or at any Irish pub in the Sunset) since noon, and it’s now 2:30 a.m., you’ve got a slim chance of avoiding a hellish hangover. Some people call their dealers, some give up and sacrifice a sick day, but the truly dedicated head over to Island Café, the city’s only 24-hour Hawaiian joint. Spam burgers, Polynesian nachos, pineapple milk shakes, and off-the-wall pork dishes will have your stomach pumping double time to rid itself of toxins.

901 Taraval, SF. (415) 661-3303


Don’t freak out if you’ve missed the Tamale Lady or forgot to tell your cabby to stop at one of the other spots on this list. Just stumble to your room, log onto Mr. Pizza Man’s Web site, and chillax with a snifter of Fernet as San Francisco’s patron saint of late-night delivery makes you a pie to order. Mr. Pizza Man’s got all the fixin’s — pineapple, jalapeño, and cheese make a tried-and-true hangover preventative — as well as locations within five minutes of almost every address in the city.

Locations across the Bay Area. 1-800-570-5111, www.mrpizzaman.com

Feast: 6 noodle-icious dishes


I’m a guy who knows a little something about noodles. How could I not, living in San Francisco? From the steamy rice-stick pho of the Tenderloin to the hand-pulled ramen of Japantown (RIP, Mr. Noodle), the Outer Richmond’s squiggly fried delights, and the sauce-smothered delicacies of North Beach, the city’s awash in traditional noodley goodness. As winter’s rain approaches, folks like me start scouring the town for fortifying — and unexpected — pasta gems. We’re Marco Polos on a mouthwatering mission, searching high and low for pressed dough.


A robust bowl of Vietnamese yum, served at the unassuming Hai Ky Mi Gia in the Tenderloin, this dish ($6.45) is basically an Asian mulligatawny, containing shredded chicken and pork, fish balls, delectable wontons, and strips of Spamlike pressed meat served over a bed of thick or thin egg noodles and doused with one of the most delicious chicken-based broths I’ve ever had the pleasure of slurping down. (Yes, I tipped the bowl.) Also available in an equally slurpable vit tìm version ($6.95), with a whole braised duck leg tossed into the bowl. Difficult to navigate with chopsticks but, I’m proud to tell you, entirely possible.

707 Ellis, SF. (415) 771-2577


Mi dio, mi dio! Served at brand spanking new Italian stunner Farina Focaccia and Cuccina Italiano in the Mission, this is handkerchief pasta smothered in pesto ($15). What is handkerchief pasta? It’s basically one giant noodle — uncut, unedited, and layered gently on the plate. But to pasta lovers like me, it’s a dream pillow. The light, garlicky pesto laces each tender bite with a kick of heavenly spice. When it’s accompanied by Farina’s justly famous cappon magro vecchia Genova ($15) — chilled salad with halibut, lobster, mussels, shrimp, cauliflower, carrot, green bean, potato, beet, and boiled eggs — you’ll float off contentedly into the night.

3560 18th St., SF. (415) 565-0360


This one’s only for the truly hardy among us, but incredibly rewarding. Order this at Zazang Korean Noodle in the Western Addition and you’ll be served a bowl of curly yellow flour-based noodles, a side dish of pickled vegetables, raw onions, and gooey duck sauce, and another bowl — the main event — of black bean pasta sauce so dark it almost swallows the high-beam fluorescent light buzzing about the place. The sauce contains calamari, mussels, shrimp, and chunks of fish — and once the squid ink settles in with the black beans, the sauce evokes the flavor and texture of dark chocolate fudge. Mix it with the noodles, swallow a few mouthfuls, and you may never want to leave. Also of interest is the goo choo jap chae ($12.95) — clear yam noodles, stir-fried with bell pepper, onion, and juicy beef. Fair warning: each order is enough to stuff four.

2340 Geary, SF. (415) 447-0655, www.zazangworld.com


Purists will object, protesting that spaetzle reside more in the dumpling wing of the house of pasta, but, hey, I’m a rebel, and in German cuisine these doughy tidbits, or "little sparrows," serve much the same function as noodles. This dish ($18.50), from Suppenküche in Hayes Valley, is a heaping plateful of hearty venison medallions in a thick red wine and plum sauce, accompanied by a pile of savory red cabbage salad and a big scoop of buttery Knöpfle, or button spaetzle. After washing it all down with a giant glass of Köstritzer beer, you may feel yourself sinking through one of Suppenküche’s table-benches into pure Teutonic bliss. Arrive early, though — ever since the new Hayes Green opened nearby, this restaurant has been packed to the Germanic gills.

525 Laguna, SF. (415) 252-9289, www.suppenkuche.com


Get that bib on — PPQ Dungeness Island in the Outer Richmond is about to soak you in garlic butter like you’ve never been soaked before. First of all, hurray for Dungeness crab season (already reaching full Alaskan swing and about to hit our fair shores in November.) Second, a fond how-do-you-do to PPQ’s prix fixe whole crab menu ($50 for two). Mouthwatering Imperial rolls and piquant shredded cabbage with chicken launch your 90-minute culinary journey, and fried bananas with ice cream bring you back around, but in the middle — oh, the middle: a steaming, full-size, whole roast crab drenched in thick butter sauce and spattered with chunks of garlic, served with a generous bowlful of PPQ’s renowned sticky garlic noodles, perfect for dipping into the creamy pool beneath the crab’s soon-to-be demolished shell.

2332 Clement, SF. (415) 386-8266, www.ppqdungeness.com


Hand-crafted thin, flat egg noodles in a blissful roasted tomato sauce with smoked bacon, thickly sliced jalapeños, butter, arugula, garlic, and peccorino and asana cheeses, topped with grated parmesan. Wow. This kicky, diet-busting wonder ($12), created at Aperto in Portrero Hill, rivals any similar North Beach concoction — even those available at one of my favorite restaurants of all time, L’Osteria del Forno. If you’re lucky enough to order this for lunch on a day when Aperto is serving its fabulous carrot-fennel soup, you may want to cancel your afternoon appointments, order a couple of glasses of sangiovese, and savor every mouthful. That’s what I did.

1434 18th St., SF. (415) 252-1625, www.apertosf.com

Feast: 7 homey hearths


Amber is my living room, and not just because I really like Pabst Blue Ribbon and smoking inside. It’s also because I live in a city where rents are high and living space is scarce, where community rooms are shared with multiple people (if there are community rooms at all), and backyards tend only to be big enough for the recycling bin. In suburban places, people share community and comfort around backyard barbecue pits and luxurious living-room couches. They have dinner parties and cocktail hours and invite friends over for tea. But here, we go to bars and restaurants and taverns and coffee shops. These are the places where we meet our neighbors, celebrate special occasions, while away idle hours, have intense conversations. And so, in many ways, these places — particularly those in our neighborhoods — become extensions of our homes and hearths. As the cold weather approaches (global warming willing), I’ve been thinking more about the literal interpretation of hearth; Amber serves me for late-night writing sessions and drunken postdate tell-alls, but where will I go when I want to curl up with a hot chocolate — or a hot toddy — and a long Russian novel? When I want to play Trivial Pursuit late into the cold night with a small group of good friends? When the weather outside is frightful and my date is so delightful? Where, by god, are the fireplaces? In this city of Edwardian apartments retrofitted with gas heaters (and roomies who have to get up early), here is a list of places with flickering flames and belly-warming booze.


I don’t think the Irish invented the fireplace, but they may have the patent on its best use. Wood paneling? A flaming heat source? Thick beer and hot soup? All Irish pubs seem to have ’em — and this Irish-style Richmond locale is no different. Stumbling into the Bitter End feels a bit like wandering into an O’Malley’s or a McSweeney’s in any country in the world — and with items like shepherd’s pie, Gaelic chicken with whiskey, and beer-battered appetizers on the menu, it’s almost like wandering into one in Ireland itself.

441 Clement, SF. (415) 221-9538


Sometimes you want cozy and kooky all in the same shot — and those are the times you end up at McKenzie’s. This small local favorite is half neighborhood bar in a mountain town (downstairs) and half cheap hostel (upstairs). Either way, it’s charming: small tables cluster around a fireplace over which a flat-screen television broadcasts sports, a jukebox blasts cheesy-but-lovable ’80s hits, and a live-feed video camera in the upstairs lounge, its images visible to every patron downstairs, lends itself to endless prank possibilities.

5320 Geary, SF. (415) 379-6814


Wanting no frills in Nob Hill? Try Zeki’s, which boasts two fireplaces — one by the pool table and one directly across from the leather-lined bar. With paraphernalia from old movies lining the walls and a good selection of European beers on tap, you’ll quickly see why this is a favorite spot for both old-school regulars and just-stumbled-in newbies.

1319 California, SF. (415) 928-0677, www.zekisbar.com


If ever there were a place that personified hearth, it would be John Barleycorn, the little mountain lodge in the city that’s in danger of disappearing by November. This is the place to order strong whiskey from a salty but jovial bartender, to sip it while sitting on church pews in front of roaring flames, to break out a game of rummy or Scrabble (housed in a cozy room behind the chimney) long after you’d already planned to go home.

1415 Larkin, SF. (415) 771-1620


A cross between a dive bar and a swanky hipster joint, this Sunset watering hole embodies the schizophrenia of its up-and-coming neighborhood. Which seems to be fine with the down-to-earth drinkers who perch on leather couches around the neon-lit fireplace that anchors the room’s otherwise understated decor.

603 Irving, SF. (415) 731-6433


A favorite of lesbians citywide and heteros in the know, this Bernal Heights beauty is most famous for its gorgeous garden patio. But a woodstove, a great jukebox, and strong, well-made drinks also make it perfect for those cold, foggy nights when all you want is a soft scarf, a smooth Scotch, and someone — boy, boi, or girl — to spoon with.

424 Cortland, SF. (415) 647-3099


OK. Including Hidden Vine may be cheating, as this secret hideaway doesn’t have a fireplace per se. But it’s sure got the atmosphere. Though this is a high-end drinkery, featuring a different wine region every month and offering an impressive selection of artisanal cheeses, the Vine is more comfy than chichi. And a display of white votive candles gives the impression — if not the heat — of a fireplace’s warmth.

620 Post, SF. (415) 674-3567, www.thehiddenvine.com*

Feast: A refulgence of pizza


› paulr@sfbg.com

You might think a city with broad and deep Italian roots would be a city with great pizza, and you’d be right — if you were thinking of New York or Chicago, havens of thin crust and deep-dish, respectively. But San Francisco? Despite the obvious Italian character of this town, despite its being named for an Italian saint, Francis of Assisi, pizza here has long tended to be a little rummy, as the English are wont to put it — and the English know from rummy food, and especially from rummy pizza. Pizza in England? Let’s get some fish onto bicycles.

The crusts of too many of our local pies have tended to be too thick, bready, or spongy, and they’ve often turned soggy from too much sauce. Toppings have been relied on to make up in point-warping bulk what they lack in inherent interest; sausage has generally meant Italian sausage, reeking of fennel seed, with mushrooms of the button variety, presliced and quite possibly frozen, and the highly suspect cheese an industrial-process mozzarella. Then there is the terrible take-out question: it doesn’t help any pizza to be birthed from a cardboard box, after a long gestation period in a car driven by a teenage delivery boy with pimples.

Even in the dark ages of pizza, of course, when bad pizzas were enjoyed with bad pizza wines poured from ignominious jugs, there were points of light, monasteries of wondrousness. When Rose Pistola (532 Columbus, SF; 415-399-0499, www.rosepistolasf.com) opened in North Beach in the mid-1990s, the place was almost instantly notable for the pizza-style flatbreads emerging from the wood-fired oven, whose smoky perfume filled the entire restaurant. Crusts were elegantly thin and crisp, while toppings were imaginative without becoming silly and were laid on with some judiciousness. Restaurant LuLu (816 Folsom, SF; 415-495-5775, www.restaurantlulu.com) too had it going on, with first-rate pies emerging from its wood-fired oven (were we seeing the beginnings of a pattern there?), including one with an unforgettable topping of calamari. And over in the Gold Coast, toward the frenzied end of the 1990s, you could find a first rate tarte flambé — an Alsatian pizza, finished with blue cheese and caramelized onions, at Adi Dassler’s gorgeous if dot-commie–swamped (and now defunct) MC2.

And so it went. If you wanted good pizza, you could get it, but you’d have to go to one of just a few pretty nice restaurants with white-linen napkins, and you’d pay. While doubtless these places were flattered by your interest in their pies, they were also hoping you were interested in, and would order, something more, something pricier. Lately, though, one has noticed a definite surge in artisanal pizza and in pizza for its own sake.

The renaissance might have begun in the Marina, of all places, with the opening of A16 (2355 Chestnut, SF; 415-771-2216, www.a16sf.com) in the space (with a wood-fired oven!) long occupied by Zinzino. A16’s inaugural chef was an authentic pizzaiolo, certified by Neapolitan authorities, and although the restaurant offered a full menu of dishes that owed much to the Italian region of Campania, you could go there for pizza and not be ashamed.

The pizza-friendly trend among full-spectrum restaurants has only accelerated. At La Ciccia, which opened two years ago in Upper Noe Valley, the pizza (like the rest of the food) has a Sardinian slant, and in a retrograde pleasure, you get to butcher the pies yourself, with a steak knife. And at the freshly opened Farina (3560 18th St., SF; 415-565-0360), in the Mistro, you can treat yourself to a Ligurian-style flatbread that’s as good as any thin-crust pizza you’d find in New York’s Little Italy.

But the real revolution has been the blooming of pizzerias, restaurants that emphasize pizza but not take-out pizza (though takeout, box and all, tends to be available at them). Rome is full of such places, and such places are usually full of Romans, sitting at sidewalk tables in the warm evenings with sweaty bottles of Nastro Azzurro beer, waiting for their pies. Maybe our dearth of mild evenings helps explain our dearth of pizzerias, or maybe it’s the lack of Nastro Azzurro. But if evenings haven’t grown balmier around here, the shortage of pizzerias appears to be ending.

Our first stop is Pizzetta 211 (211 23rd Ave., SF; 415-379-9880, www.pizzetta211.com), which has been packing them in for several years despite the un-Roman fog that so often shrouds its Richmond neighborhood. Fog or no, you can sit, Roman-style, at sidewalk tables at Pizzetta 211 — and you might have to, since the pizzeria occupies a modest storefront and most of the space is given over to the kitchen. There are just a few tables, along with a counter set with a globe of olives and books about Italian wine, and the indoor seats fill up quickly. The pizzas themselves have a Zuni-like quality, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the pizzas are the sorts of pizzas you’d expect to find at Zuni, if Zuni were a tiny pizzeria deep in the Avenues. Organic ingredients are stressed, and each pizza crust is tossed by hand while you watch. Hunger pangs while you wait? Nibble some olives.

The highest profile of new pizzerias has to be Pizzeria Delfina (3621 18th St., SF; 415-552-4055, www.delfinasf.com), which opened three summers ago next door to the mother ship, Delfina, in a tight space appealingly trimmed with stainless steel, blond wood, and plenty of glass. If Pizzetta 211 is urban rustic, with a certain bohemian air, then Pizzeria Delfina is modern Milanese: chic, sleek, slim, knowing. The place was a scene from the moment it opened, and while the sidewalk tables (within little stainless-steel corrals) help alleviate overcrowding inside, they also raise the watch-me factor. It’s almost like a cruise bar, except with pizza, and the pizza is superior: wonderfully thin, with blistered crusts and toppings both innovative and traditional. And there is a wealth of well-conceived, well-made side dishes that emphasize our local trinity: seasonal, local, organic.

A little homier is Gialina (2842 Diamond, SF; 415-239-8500, www.gialina.com), which opened earlier this year in the Glen Park village center. That village center has been utterly transformed in the past few years by the arrival of such concerns as Canyon Market — a kind of cross between Whole Foods, Rainbow, and Bi-Rite — and Le P’tit Laurent, an au courant French bistro, and Gialina reflects the new ethic. The clientele appears to be young and well-off; more than a few have small children. Gialina accommodates the tot community and is the noisier for it, but the pizzas — not quite round, not quite square — are more than enough to compensate. Crusts are brilliantly thin, and toppings tend toward the seasonal and eclectic (green garlic in springtime, say). They’re also bold. If the menu says that some combination is spicy, take this seriously. Gialina also offers a few nonpizza dishes, including antipasti and a nightly roast of some sort, but pizza is the main attraction.

Far across the city, in the onetime industrial wasteland of Dogpatch, we find yet another avatar of first-class pizza. The purveyor’s name is Piccino (801 22nd St., SF; 415-824-4224, www.piccinocafe.com), which suggests smallness, and the place is indeed small: no more than a few seats bigger than Pizzetta 211, if that, and much of the space likewise given over to the kitchen. And — again likewise — there’s sidewalk seating. Since the weather in Dogpatch can actually be warm and sunny from time to time, with little or no wind, eating alfresco isn’t quite the exercise in chilled futility it can be in the city’s more windward quarters.

Piccino is, perhaps, slightly less a pure pizzeria than Pizzeria Delfina and Gialina. Or we might say the menu is pizza-plus. In the evenings, particularly, the cooking broadens to a wider palette of Franco-Italian dishes, and you might have a brief vision of being at some junior offshoot of Slow Club. Then the neighbors start showing up to claim their take-out pies, duly boxed — pies topped with arugula, maybe, and speck (a smoked prosciutto-style ham), or maybe with just tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil (the faithful margherita pizza) or capers, black olives, and anchovies (a Neapolitan-style pie). Crusts, of course, are wafer-thin and crisp.

The horse having galloped from the barn, let me now pointlessly close the door by disclosing that I prefer, strongly, obviously, thin-crust pizza. It is more elegant, less starchy, and harder to make well. Also, it does not thrive in boxes, which means it is, in a sense, as perishable as a delicate piece of fruit. A good thin-crust pizza has to come right out of the oven and be hurried to the table, where people are eagerly waiting. Anticipation is one of life’s most impressive pleasures, especially when the pleasure we’re anticipating is subject to rapid depreciation. The moment will pass, the ship will sail, we made the train or we missed the train, and the crust is soggy, and we will have to wait until next year — or if not next year, a little while, at least.

I like deep-dish pizza too, though it resembles a macho quiche at least as much as pizza and has never been much of a player here. Zachary’s (1853 Solano, Berk.; 510-525-5950, www.zacharys.com) wins regular plaudits, and even people I know who’ve lived in Chicago and eaten Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza speak respectfully of it. This must count for something. On the other hand, competition is minimal. For some years, the Chicago chain Pizzeria Uno operated an outpost on Lombard; I went once and found it satisfactory in the way that McDonald’s cheeseburgers in London are satisfactory: the food is a recognizable and edible simulacrum of the authentic item, a credible counterfeit. The Uno on Lombard closed and became something else. Deep-dish pizza remains a mystery here. Thin is the word.*

Feast: 5 tables for one


It’s such a cliché to say, "I hate to eat out alone." What’s to hate? True, it’s different from eating at home in your pajamas with a Scarface DVD for company, but when you’re on the go, you’re on the go, and there comes a point when grabbing another soggy sandwich at the corner market just won’t do. Sometimes you have to sit down, regroup, and eat something hot that doesn’t come out of a microwave or a cellophane packet. Peruse the latest Stop Smiling, or, god forbid, meet new people. Here’s a short list of a few places where eating alone doesn’t feel like an excerpt from No Exit — and the only hell involved is choosing just one entrée.


While I was living in Madrid, solitude was hard to come by. Everyone went out in large groups, and day or night the streets were never empty. It was in the lively corner cafés of Lavapies that I honed the ability to be alone despite being constantly surrounded — gleaning respite within the chaos. Sometimes I like to relive those gloriously jumbled evenings of unfamiliar faces, clattering platters, and a graciously retiring waitstaff. At Esperpento, as in Lavapies, I can camp out in the corner with a dog-eared book, sipping a second fino, nibbling my boquerones, patatas, and olives (Spanish comfort food) as the Missionista jet-set ebbs and flows around me.

3295 22nd St., SF. (415) 282-8867


OK, I admit it. I have something of a fetish for erratic Eurostyle dining. Much like Esperpento, Café Prague never lets me down in this regard. There’s ABBA on the radio. The cooks are frequently having uncomfortably loud discussions in the back that sound like they would be a lot of fun to eavesdrop on, if only I spoke Czech. The place is almost invariably out of the soup I want (though it does have more than 10 to choose from). What it boils down to for me, though, is that Café Prague serves my favorite spinach salad in town. Bigger than my head, it comes adorned with an entire hardboiled egg, chunks of addictive bacon, a slab of focaccia, veggies, and chunky blue cheese dressing. I wouldn’t call it an authentic central European spinach salad by any means, though Café Prague has the hookup on goulash and strudel too if you’re into it. But I am into spinach, and this is where I eat it.

584 Pacific, SF. (415) 433-3811


It takes a certain gumption to force your hungover self out of the homestead on a Sunday morning for a solo brekkie. But sometimes the cupboard is that bare, and it’s times like these when places like the Golden Coffee fulfill a need you might not even have known you had — for example, the need to eat a $6 steak, or the need to drink half a dozen coffee refills over a plate of crispy, golden hash browns (or chow mein!) cooked to greasy perfection by the middle-aged Asian grill master to the lilting strains of classical music. Seated elbow to elbow around a horseshoe-shaped countertop, the patrons of this landmark greasy spoon may not always agree on sports teams, career paths, or politics — but we can all agree that breakfast is a very important part of our day.

901 Sutter, SF. (415) 922-0537


One reason to come here alone is because it’s so impossibly tiny that if you try to enter with more than one (short) friend, you might not make it beyond the front door. By yourself, you have half a chance of finding an empty bar stool — eventually. While you wait, nursing a juicy sangria, there is plenty to feast your eyes on, as every available surface of the place is decorated with a Dali-esque array of limbless misfit toys with mohawks, loteria cards, doctored lithographs, and dioramas containing giant rubber insects. Being social is more than just the name of the place: it’s the entire point. So leave your homework at home where it belongs and strike up a conversation with the Cuban expat beside you while plowing into a satisfying plate of black beans and rice or nibbling on a crispy chicken empanada.

1109 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-7659


After a long, hard afternoon shopping at Amoeba Records, you might find yourself in the awkward position of needing an immediate noodle transfusion (don’t scoff, it happens). Too cramped and clattery to be a good venue to bring anyone with whom you might want to have a conversation, the Citrus Club, a pan-Asian noodle house, is a great place to fly solo while you down some hot and sour soup from a bowl big enough to bathe in afterwards. A bit of a hipster magnet, it has vegan options and sake cocktails too. Best of all, the inevitable lines can be easily circumvented by sitting at the counter — an action that delivers its own smug reward.

1790 Haight, SF. (415) 387-6366*

Feast: 4 guides to hot wines


Good lord, the grape. Living in a world-class wine region (or rather, living so close to several) literally drenches one in delightful tannins and myriad notes of blackberry, chocolate, tobacco, apple, and plum. But while we’ve definitely forgone our youthful tastes for brown-bagged Mad Dog breakfasts in favor of a late-night glass or two of Lavis Langrein at Bar Bambino (www.barbambino.com) or a dinnertime flight of fantastically obscure German whites at Cav (www.cavwinebar.com), we admit that when it comes to which fashionable corks to pop for fall, we haven’t quite graduated from “oh, whatever” to outright oenophiles. Sure, we dip into the media stream enough to know what’s hip in the bars and clubs these days (rose and sparkling wines are so over; Lambrusco is on its way back), but honestly, if you asked us the difference between syrah and shiraz, we’d probably answer, “Doesn’t one of them have a yellow kangaroo on the label?” So we took it upon our taste buds to go straight to the source, and ask a few of our latest favorite wine bars and stores for the juice on what’s big. Chin-chin!



This funky little wine bar in West Portal specializes only in delightful small production wines, but proprietor Stephanie McCardell tells us that in the overall big picture her clientele’s tastes are trending toward syrahs, white Rhônes, Roussanes, and viogniers. (White Rhônes and viogniers are especially attractive to those among us suffering from Chardonnay fatigue.) A current hot seller right now is the Vin Nostro Syrah, grown in Red Hills, Lake County, which McCardell describes as smoky, with dark fruit notes and that slight bacon aspect inherent to most syrahs. Que Syrah also carries wines from all over the world and is currently featuring two from Croatia — Bibich Reserva, a Dalmatian red with a subtle fruit and red pepper quality, whose main grape is a relative of Zinfandel, and a Croatian Malvasia, a dry, crisp white with peachy and other stone fruit characteristics.

230 W. Portal, SF. (415) 731-7000, www.quesyrahsf.com



Ottimista Enoteca is a gorgeous Italian wine bar and restaurant in the Marina with an outdoor patio to die for and a menu to match. (Hello, fontina-stuffed risotto balls. Hello, nutmeg-sugared ricotta doughnuts.) Ottimista’s Melissa Gisler tells us that requests from her clientele for Sicilian wines have been off the charts lately, and a recent rise in import volume has allowed Ottimista to offer a much wider breadth of options from the region. (Two hot Sicilian labels: Nero d’Avola and Cantine Berbera.) Due to the volcanic nature of Sicily’s soil, these wines tend to have a tang of acid and notes of minerality, but also come bearing a powerful fruity flavor, with a very clean quality. The trend toward Sicilians has been noticeable, Gisler says, because Ottimista usually focuses on Northern Italian wines — like those produced in the Piedmont region, or from areas near the Austrian and Slovenian border — where the days are hot and the nights are cold.

1838 Union, SF. (415) 674-8400, www.ottimistaenoteca.com



Carrie Smith of Biondivino, a sleek Russian Hill wine boutique that offers a mind boggling array of labels (yet provides enough comforting atmosphere and information to guide you through it all), has also noticed an upswing of interest in wines from Sicily, especially those from Etna. But another “strange surge” of interest, she says, is in the return to classics from the Tuscany and Umbria regions. A big winner among Biondivino winetasters this year has been the intensely fruity and now near impossible-to-find Valdicava Brunelo di Montalcino (brunello is closely related to sangiovese, another hot grape this year). Smith’s favorite white at the moment is Piedmontese Timorasso — lush and rich, creamy without being oaky or buttery, with a golden acidity. “It’s a good brain slap that makes you think, and want some more,” she says. Her favorite red is Vigneti Massa, from a Croatian varietal. With the power of a brunelo and the structure and elegance of a borello, she says, this wine is dark and rich, with nice-ending tannins.

1450 Green, SF. (415) 673-2320, www.biondivino.com



“Tiny production California wines as well as pinot noirs and Argentine Malbecs are going to be all the rage this fall,” according to Jerry Cooper, one of the owners of this spiffy wine shop. According to him, the tiny productions most in demand are coming from Santa Barbara and Mendocino Counties. Increasingly popular are organic and biodynamic wines, whose producers employ a holistic, “metaphysics meets Farmer’s Almanac” approach to growing and harvesting. The reason for this popularity? “The qualities of these wines are of an artisan nature, with more flavor. They taste more of the regions they hail from.” Cooper also notes that while Bordeauxs have waned in popularity, Burgundies have maintained their place on the trend roster, especially in anticipation of the arrival of the 2005 vintage. Also hot: South African wines from the Cape. But mostly he sees wine becoming a more localized affair, including the way in which it’s encountered and purchased. “The wine bar has become the new neighborhood institution,” he says.

572 Castro, SF. (415) 864-2262, www.swirloncastro.com

Feast: 6 eateries uber alles


French and Italian cuisines always get the raves; German food tends to get short shrift. It’s usually called heavy, not comfort food, and beets, pickles, and sauerkraut aren’t on the instant craving gratification list for most Americans. But they are for me. And while I’ve yet to sample a schnitzel as heavenly as I did last year in Leipzig, local interpretations of German cuisine are worthy competitors. As summer comes to a close (or to Burning Man) and my thoughts may turn to Oktoberfest (which, you should know, happens in September in Germany), I find myself wanting to eat German food over everything else … essen über alles, if you will. Without belaboring the obvious — like how good-looking Teutonic folk are, and how the massive lists of German beer can be poured out in half liters, liters, or glass boots to suit your drink kink — here are a handful of very spaetzle spots.


The cool, understated interior design that pairs monastery style with a beer-hall aesthetic — two German traditions — reveals owner-chef Fabrizio Wiest’s former life as a graphic designer. He also makes special T-shirts for events like Oktoberfest and, last year, Germany’s hosting of the World Cup. Suppenküche has been the kaiser of SF German restaurants since opening in 1993; its food, vibe, and crowd are among the most engaging of any such place in this city. The venison medallions in red wine plum sauce are my personal favorite, but just about every dish here is outstanding — washed down, of course, with a choice from a deluge of amazing brews.

525 Laguna, SF. (415) 252-9289, www.suppenkuche.com


Part the thick, pinckel-yellow plastic curtain and enter the mesmerizing, anachronistic world of Walzwerk, San Francisco’s East German restaurant. Relish the redness of your beet soup below giant portraits of Engels, Marx, and Lenin, or devour hearty garlic roast pork or jaegerschnitzel with your comrades under a Young Pioneers camping poster. Walzwerk feels entirely foreign and imaginary, like someone’s grandmother’s East Berlin basement circa 1975. One of the city’s best culinary hideouts with a museumlike bathroom, Walzwerk probably won’t stay secret much longer as it increasingly enters the lives of others.

381 S. Van Ness, SF. (415) 551-7181, www.walzwerk.com


Wooden planks all rise to the same ceiling point with Austro-Germanic symmetry at SoMa’s cozy, Alpine-style hideaway. Go early on weekend nights for schweinehaxen, a pork leg dish (it runs out quickly), and pick the exceptional potato soup over salad. There are five sausage plates (but sadly not a combo sausage plate), lots of sauce-topped schnitzel variations (cream, pepper, lemon, anchovy), and other solid dishes like deer ragout and stellar sauerkraut. Despite occasional food downers (cold spaetzle), Schnitzelhaus is still a great little place.

294 Ninth St., SF. (415) 864-4038, www.schnitzel-haus.net


Gather your mates at Schroeder’s on Fridays for after-work beers and maybe a sausage appetizer plate. Enjoy the ladies’ beer-chugging contest. Drink more beer. Hop around clumsily with a buxom waitress in Bavarian costume to the sound of the polka band. Drink more beer. Watch as the fantastic murals become creepier and the deer heads continue staring at you — your clue to call a cab, right after you yell, "Endlich Freitag!" to the wall, or to the guys in lederhosen, and everyone laughs and hoists their mugs in a TGIF salute. Despite Schroeder’s status as the West Coast’s oldest German restaurant (it opened in 1893), the tour-bus quality deserves an upgrade. But it’s one of the best places to drink yourself silly, and I love it for that.

240 Front, SF. (415) 421-4778, www.schroederssf.com


You don’t always want to sit down and pay for a big meal. Sometimes you just need something salty, meaty, and cheap … but a changeup from tacos. Hit the Lower Haight, mein Freund, for one wicked tandem. Get the meat fix (say, wild boar and apple sausage) at Rosamunde Sausage Grill, and bring it next door to Toronado for a German (and many, many other kinds) of beer.

545 Haight, SF. (415) 437-6851; 547 Haight, SF. (415) 863-2776, www.toronado.com


If your enthusiasm for German food has you craving special pickles, mustard, wursts, or spaetzle mix, visit Lehr’s in Noe Valley. Go anyway, actually, sample some of the chocolates and candy, and enjoy a spectacular throwback to family-run, neighborhood grocery stores. Let’s do the time warp again.

1581 Church, SF. (415) 282-6803*

Feast: 5 East Bay breakfasts


San Francisco is a city of the night. We like to go out late, stay out till early, and start our days when most other cities are half-finished with theirs. But if the city is ruled by the moon (and maybe some MDMA), the East Bay is ruled by the sun — and not just because they actually get some. Sure, there are places in Berkeley and Oakland to go after dark, but our sisters across the water are places best experienced while clear yellow light is still shining through green trees onto wide streets lined with charming wooden houses — or charming little breakfast spots. I won’t argue that the East Bay has better breakfast places than San Francisco does — though the competition is formidable — but I will say that if I’m in Emeryville or Alameda, the likelihood of me getting up in time to have breakfast is much, much greater than if I’ve spent the last hours of yesterday and the first of today in the Mission or Polk Gulch. And so here is a guide to my favorite places to enjoy that first meal of the day at a time when you don’t have to call it dinner, and in a place where being up that early is, well, worth it.


There’s nothing that says Berkeley like Sunday brunch at the Thai Temple: ethnic food, an eccentric crowd, ridiculous prices, and a certain amount of in-the-know-ness that’s required to even find yourself there. Sure, the mango and sweet rice or spicy green beans and tofu are more lunch fare than what we’d traditionally think of as breakfast food, but the temple starts serving them at 9 a.m. — and the delicious and just-oily-enough meat or veggie options are the perfect hangover cure for a night out in the city. A few extra hints: bring your own drinks, unless you want the stellar Thai iced tea; get there before 12:30 p.m., when they start running out of the good stuff; and, if in a group, use a divide-and-conquer, multiline approach to ordering. Then stretch out on the lawn of the library next door for a nice, sunny afternoon nap.

1911 Russell, Berk. (510) 849-3419


The name may be silly, but the Mexican-inspired fare at this Old Town Oakland eatery is serious. The real draw is the back patio, which manages — with large umbrellas and red and white checkered tablecloths — to be both classy and casual at the same time. But crispy potatoes served with sour cream, savory crepes with chicken-apple sausage, and an omelet made with slow-roasted pork would even make sitting inside worth it. Extra extra bonus points for including a Michelada (a beer and tomato juice cocktail, sometimes called a poor man’s Bloody Mary) on the menu, as most people have never even heard of it.

719 Washington, Oakl. (510) 465-5400, www.cockadoodlecafe.com


Don’t let the fact that you have to order at the counter fool you — this is no fast-food bagel joint. It’s cornmeal blueberry pancakes and bacon-onion scrambles so deliciously and lovingly prepared that when you’re done, you’ll hardly remember that no one showed up at your table with a notepad. Plus, you can enjoy your meal either in the intimate dining room — breakfast with your best bud, anyone? — or on the back patio. Who needs table service too?

1235 San Pablo, Albany. (510) 526-6325


I love breakfast food. Always have, even if I’m eating it at midnight. So it’s hard to make me unhappy with an early-day menu. But it’s equally hard to impress me with every single part of a breakfast — and Café Cacao manages it. You could argue I’m distracted by the aroma of chocolate wafting over from the Scharffen Berger factory next door, or that I’m charmed by the classy-yet-casual Eurostyle architecture. But I know it’s really that the eggs are poached to perfection, the levain toast has just the right combination of texture and taste, the rosemary brown butter is rich and flavorful without being too heavy, the accompanying salad is fresh and not overdressed, and the hot chocolate (made with real chocolate) is the best I’ve ever had in my life.

914 Heinz, Berk. (510) 843-6000, www.cafecacao.biz


How is it that Venus is both pretty and unpredictable? With breakfast haunts, usually you have to choose one or the other. But not at this lovely, less crowded alternative to La Note. Brick walls and a map-inspired (or maybe collage-inspired) menu give it a homey feel. Creative options — from a framboise mimosa to Indian breakfast served with banana raita — make the food distinctive. And true culinary virtuosity — the fresh fruit and cashew, almond, and poppyseed brittle over yogurt could make me give up omelets forever — make the establishment worth trying again and again. Plus, everything here is seasonal, organic, and sustainable: good for your body and your conscience.

2327 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 540-5950, www.venusrestaurant.net

Feast: 8 places to get your chocolate on


It all starts innocently enough. One day you decide to order a mocha instead of your usual cappuccino; the next you grab a few Ghiradelli squares from the impulse aisle at Safeway. By the end of the week, you’ve blown your savings at Joseph Schmidt and are curled in a fetal position, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on loop, stuffing your face with take-out pastries from Tartine. Scharffen Berger and Cocoa Bella are only the tip of the iceberg — San Francisco is host to one of the premiere chocolate cultures of the world. Submitted here are eight places to get your cocoa fix — no golden ticket required.


Most San Franciscans know Fog City News as a gargantuan newsstand tucked into the insufferably bleak confines of the financial district. This Market Street storefront might sport the largest collection of periodicals by far in the Bay Area, but it’s also home to one of the largest selections of chocolate bars in the country. Every person on staff is a chocolate authority, well schooled in the nuances of the cacao bean and happy to help you choose from the hundreds of options. Just remember not to refer to any of the products as candy — they take their chocolate seriously here.

455 Market, SF. (415) 543-7400, www.fogcitynews.com


Sure, it’s novel to insist that chocolate is at the top of the aphrodisiacal pecking order, but we all know that when it comes to stroking the libido, nothing can topple alcohol from its throne. Luckily for us, every bartender with a cocktail shaker and a boredom streak fancies themselves a mixologist. The folks at Circolo have taken it a step further with their White Chocolate Martini, an inspired combination of Godiva chocolate liqueur, Chambord, and Frangelica. The deliciously creamy result is decadent enough to make even Dionysus blush.

500 Florida, SF. (415) 553-8560, www.circolosf.com


Recent studies trumpeting the antioxidant qualities of chocolate have raised eyebrows worldwide, but while the jury is still out on the cocoa bean, there isn’t a skeptic alive who would dare challenge the medicinal benefits of tea. The experts at Charles Chocolates have collaborated with the Berkeley tea room Teance to create the Tea Collection, milk chocolates infused with tea such as oolong, jasmine green, and even lichee red. No flavor-drop shortcuts for this boutique chocolatier — the leaves are actually steeped in milk to make sure every subtle note of the tea makes it into the chocolate.

6529 Hollis, Emeryville. (510) 652-4412, www.charleschocolates.com


Chocolate has been consumed as a beverage for thousands of years, so anyone who sets out to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate has a long history to contend with. With its extensive menu of cocoa drinks, Bittersweet Chocolate Café is up to the challenge. From the exotic spices of its White Chocolate Dream to the pepper and rose of its Spicy! concoction, this Pac Heights café shows Swiss Miss who’s boss.

2123 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-8715, www.bittersweetcafe.com


Mole is hard to get just right. The delicate balance of chile peppers, spices, and Mexican chocolate stewed together at the perfect ratio is something only a well-seasoned grandma can truly master, but Colibri comes close. Its flavorful Mole Poblano is prepared in classic Puebla style and represents the savory side of chocolate well. Bonus points for an obscenely large tequila selection.

438 Geary, SF. (415) 440-2737, www.colibrimexicanbistro.com


During my vegan days, ice cream always proved to be a challenge. Once the thoughts of cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip, or the holy combo of chocolate and peanut butter started swirling through my mind like so much chocolate marbling, Tofutti Cuties just didn’t cut it. Thank goodness MaggieMudd realizes that vegans love chocolate too! The flavors scooped out at this Bernal Heights sweet spot taste better than their dairy counterparts. Seriously. Really. No joke.

903 Cortland, SF. (415) 641-5291, www.maggiemudd.com


Anthony Ferguson just might be insane. The mad scientist behind San Francisco’s most eccentric culinary boutique, Cacao Anasa, runs his confection shop like a laboratory. No flavor is off limits in Ferguson’s kitchen: curry, basil, ginger, roses — hell, even merlot — all make their way into his artisinal truffles.

(415) 846-9240, www.cacaoanasa.com


The original gangster of San Francisco’s chocolate scene was founded during the gold rush, when a French immigrant realized that miners were willing to pay top dollar for fine chocolate. Guittard is still the oldest family-owned chocolate company in the United States; its baking products remain the top choice of pastry chefs world-round. The secret is in the simplicity: pure cane sugar, full-cream milk, and premium cacao beans have made Guittard’s a consistently perfect chocolate for almost 150 years.

10 Guittard, Burlingame. (650) 697-4427, www.guittard.com

Feast: 5 classic cafeterias


When I was a wee lad in the sun-baked Los Angeles Basin, my maternal grandparents fostered what would become a lifetime obsession: the cafeteria. Products of World War II, they were people who appreciated the value of simple food and low prices. Add the fact that they were Roman Catholic and had eight mouths to feed, and their philosophy was pretty much a necessity. This is how I was introduced to carving boards of meat, steaming casseroles, and endless ice trays filled with shiny, multicolored geutf8 jewels. But where, oh where does one find these palaces of economic dining in San Francisco? The LA institution Clifton’s actually had an early genesis here, but it — along with Manning’s and Compton’s — didn’t survive the prosperity of the postwar years. It seems, however, that a strange cafeteria hybrid did: the hofbrau. Frankly, this comes as no surprise — as it really is just a cafeteria that serves booze, and, well, San Franciscans seem to never tire of the occasional nip. I set out to discover if the cafeteria is still thriving anywhere or if the hofbrau is really the answer, intent on experiencing these culinary relics and their gravy-laden wares.


Little introduction is needed for this city icon, and it has no lack of fans, from the late Herb Caen to Metallica. It’s famous for its sandwiches and roast, as well as the décor: a mishmash of historical paraphernalia and signs screaming Where Turkey Is King! Tommy’s is equally fervent in the virtues of its buffalo stew and lists them accordingly. In addition to the myriad brews it has crammed behind the bar, it also serves liquor — and you can pretend you have the means for a three-martini lunch when they come priced at $3.75 each.

1101 Geary, SF. (415) 775-4126, www.tommysjoynt.com


Having been credited with discovering Joe DiMaggio and bringing baseball to Japan, O’Doul was that consummate old-school, bigger-than-life personality. So before the Bruce Willises, Sylvester Stalones, and others bestowed us with their culinary "treasures," O’Doul gave us this combination cafeteria–<\d>sports bar–tourist trap. The macaroni and cheese and the German potato salad are caloric bombs of goodness. And gnawing on a slice of American beef while staring at a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe is an experience vaguely reminiscent of listening to the Who’s Tommy.

333 Geary, SF. (415) 982-8900, www.leftyodouls.biz/index.html


The closest to the sweet memories of my youth, Chick-N-Coop serves up all the goods while little old ladies prattle on about coupons over coffee and bowls of rice pudding. The Taraval location, with its early ’80s country atmosphere, boasts cheaper prices. But the best grub and experience is at the Excelsior location. Either way, the claim to fame here is the chicken, and the Chick-N-Coop does, indeed, know how to roast a bird. Sides are tasty, like the Greek-style spaghetti. And — be still, my beating heart — it has beautiful, beautiful Jell-O.

1055 Taraval, SF. (415) 664-5050; 4500 Mission, SF. (415) 586-1538


One thing I learned during this search was that many of the old-timey joints — such as Manning’s, which used to be next door to the Emporium — were bought by Asian immigrants during the ’70s. Hence, today we have a proliferation of Chinese food to go and the ever-delicious Asian buffet, but that’s another tale. Top’s does, however, meld its former life with its current one, with interesting choices like lasagna and salad, Mongolian beef with shrimp, or Korean noodle soup. It wins big points for employing the linoleum-and-Formica aesthetic and for providing strange but lovely choices for low prices. Where else can you find a four-course meal for $23? Be ready when you approach the fair maiden at the counter, however, for the minute she claps her hands, you must know precisely what you want — and she waits for no one.

66 Dorman, SF. 415-285-2461


The word canteen in the name of this medical lunch room — the closest most of us get to a cafeteria these days — had me expecting the Andrews Sisters to greet me at the door, but alas, no one was rolling out any barrels. But the place wins, hands down, in the economy department: you can get a plate of fried chicken, pudding, and a Coke for three bucks. But this is a government institution, so leave your taste buds at the door. The dining room is an exercise in bright aqua and purple tones as only the late ’80s could have provided, but what keeps this establishment afloat above other like contenders is its magnificent view of the Pacific and the Marin Headlands. Though no destination, it’s still a cheap alternative to the Cliff House.

4150 Clement, Bldg 7, SF. 415-221-4810*

Feast: 7 locally grown bulk foods


Think about it: every time you take a sip of Bordeaux, a fuzzy baby polar bear loses another drop of its habitat. Importing your party goods from overseas comes at a big fossil fuel–spewing cost. If you want the good times to keep rolling into the next millennium, you won’t have to suffer a bit. Just stick to Napa Valley wines and local microbrews and limit your fruit and veggie intake to the produce of local organic and sustainable farms. But what about some of the bulk items you keep in your kitchen? Getting some of your dietary staples from local sources isn’t as difficult as you might think. And, remember, the fresher your food, the better it tastes. (Deborah Giattina)


Eureka! There’s wheat growing in California. This certified organic and sustainable farm in the Capay Valley, about an hour north of Sacramento, tills four to five acres of the grain, mills it, and bags it for sale at farmers’ markets in Berkeley and Marin. The same goes for Full Belly’s three acres of blue corn. Freshly milled flour and corn contain oils that dissolve more quickly than those in the all-purpose varieties shelved at the supermarket, making the flavor dramatically more delicious.

(530) 796-2214, www.fullbellyfarm.com


To get away from genetically modified, corporate-trademarked crops and seek out interesting varieties, organic farmers are looking to vintage legumes. Rancho Gordo, a Napa Valley farm, grows heirloom beans in limited quantities and gives them pretty names like Nightfall Red and Black Valentine. These fresh beans, once unfamiliar to the American palate, are bursting with yumminess — and the potential for new recipes. Buy them at Rainbow Grocery, farmers’ markets, or online. Rancho Gordo also grows corn and makes its own tortillas.

(707) 259-1935, www.ranchogordo.com


Just because you need your olive oil brand to end in a vowel to feel authentic doesn’t mean you have to ship it in from Mother Italy. Two local family-owned and -run olive growers and pressers can service all of your extra virgin needs. The Barianis moved to Sacramento from the Lombardy region of Northern Italy in 1989 and have been producing limited quantities of raw organic extra virgin olive oil from their own orchard and handmade press since the 1990s. Sciabica and Sons have been pressing oil from olives harvested in every season since the 1930s. Their organic variety comes from their San Andreas orchard.

(209) 577-5067, www.sciabica.com. (415) 864-1917, www.barianioliveoil.com


No doubt, banishing refined sugar from your diet isn’t easy. But when you think about Brazil being the largest producer of sugarcane and the spike in carbon dioxide levels caused by the loss of rainforests to make way for massive plantations, you might consider turning to recipes that replace the white powder with honey. Mint Hill honey is produced in the Castro and is conveniently stocked at Bi-Rite Market.

(415) 290-7405, www.minthillhoney.com


Known as a healing food, seaweed enhances vegetables, makes great soup stock, and can even substitute for noodles. An ocean-loving couple living on the rocky shores of Mendocino County carefully harvest wild seaweed from the Pacific and dry it for consumption. According to John Lewallan, who cofounded the Mendocino Seaweed Vegetable Co. in 1980, the Pacific Northwest has the cleanest water and produces the best seaweed. Buy your sea palm fronds and iron-rich red dulse online or at Rainbow Grocery.

(707) 895-2996, www.seaweed.net


Honestly, the beans used by Minh Tsai and John Notz of Hodo Soy originate in the Midwest, but the benefits of purchasing Hodo’s hand-rolled tofu are the freshness and the astounding flavor that come from processing the beans in Hodo’s nearby Santa Clara facility. Tsai and Notz also sell adventurous prepared tofu dishes at Bay Area farmers’ markets.

(415) 902-5137, www.hodosoybeanery.com


Gluten-intolerant San Franciscans can find refuge in grains and rice flours grown and ground at Koda Farms, located in the San Joaquin Valley. The Koda family for generations has been farming sweet, brown, and paddy rice, which it sells both as whole grain and ground into a gluten-free flour it calls Mochiko. Its Kokuho Rose Premium Rice Flour is organic and runs in limited production. You’ll find Koda’s goods at Rainbow Grocery.

(209) 392-2191, www.kodafarms.com

Feast: 6 top-notch tipples


Vanguards of the gastronomic West, we San Franciscans no longer teeter through establishments that struggle over cooking a steak or making a dry martini. Now it’s heirloom this, house-made that. But yet, too often we find menu exoticism riding roughshod over care and competence. Go to a grill in Millbrae and you may sooner find mustard-encrusted salmon than a truly good burger; likewise, walk into a lounge in SoMa and you might see a bartender rolling up his sleeves to make a Thai-basil gimlet, only to then throw some Jameson into decaying java to pass off as an Irish coffee. Fortunately, though, there are still some bars that don’t get caught up in this culinary hullabaloo and can pull off even the easiest drinks. Following are some of our favorites.


If the intended goal of making a cosmopolitan is a cocktail that is at once darlingly pretty and also scrumptious to the average palate, then a couple of monkeys with a couple of bottles of liquor could make a whole tasting menu. The cosmo at Americano, though, is made with the same care the staff gives a martini: real sugariness matches the tartness, the cranberry juice is nothing more than a soft touch, ice chips float atop it all, and an astonishing amount of alcohol is fitted into the space provided. Americano, replete in hotel swank, also provides the perfect place for kicking back and mingling with fellow business types.

8 Mission, SF. (415) 278-3777, www.americanorestaurant.com


There is a growing movement to put rye instead of bourbon in manhattans. While some followers of this ethos hold office hours at Elixir, the manhattan made here with Elixir’s hand-selected barrels of Eagle Rare Bourbon is a treat. Too often a manhattan’s distinguished tones will come together all hunky. Here, though, those same flavors are coaxed into a cuddle puddle of dignity. The drink’s insane smoothness doesn’t come from sanding away the subtler notes either but from polishing the whole thing up.

3200 16th St., SF. (415) 552-1633, www.elixirsf.com


According to Esquire, Bourbon and Branch is one of the top bars in the country. It feels, then, a little perverse to recommend getting a gin and tonic here (not to mention a waste of time even bringing it up). But in a world where so many gin and tonics are rendered impotent with second-class tonic, Bourbon and Branch is clearing a path by making its own. Even with its slight orange flavor, this mixer is the perfect way to sparkle out even the nicest gin. (Of course, no Bombay Sapphire here). One terrible caveat: get here on a lucky day — the homemade tonic goes quickly.

501 Jones, SF. (415) 346-1735, www.bourbonandbranch.com


It’s not hard to find bars in San Francisco that cater to beer aficionados. It’s a little more difficult finding one that appeals to refreshment devotees. Such a person may appreciate an obscure microbrew but will really yearn for a Tecate that’s ice cold. Sadly, bar refrigerators in San Francisco are rarely chilly enough to bring out all the refreshment qualities of beer — but not Ace Cafe’s. The refrigerator here pumps out beers that make your palm burn if you hold them too long. If that’s not enough, Ace Cafe chills its glasses as well. And wait — what’s this? Are these pretzels to munch on? This place knows how to serve a beer.

1799 Mission, SF


You wouldn’t think Laszlo, with its blaring techno, European clientele, and postindustrial decor, would be the place to relax with a White Russian at the end of an evening. But as the bar apparent of Foreign Cinema, it can consistently make a creamy but still cutting nightcap. Plus, the sidewalk tables provide a charming space for enjoying the Mission Street show.

2534 Mission, SF. (415) 401-0810, laszlobar.com


The overwhelming mai tai–ness of Li Po comes across in everything from its bizarre, saturated decor to its sometimes even more bizarre bands and mishmash clientele. In fact, being here is like swimming in a giant mai tai. This wouldn’t be so bad, except the bartenders here maintain that their mai tai has a secret ingredient — and that could be bad for the skin. Fortunately, this secret ingredient does wonders for the taste of the drink. More than just your typical fruity cocktail, Li Po’s version will have you rocking out alone in the basement, only to come drooling back to fork over $7 for another. Yes, the place can sometimes attract tourists. But since when is having the chance to buy a mind-blowing beverage for a sexually confused Minnesotan a bad thing?

916 Grant, SF. (415) 982-0072*

Feast: 5 sexy suppers


Some dates are sweet. You go to a nice restaurant with lacy tablecloths, order food that won’t make your breath stink later, have polite conversation while shyly catching each other’s eye over the rim of your wine glass, and hold hands tentatively as you walk to the car, wondering if you’ll share a delicate kiss before you part ways for the night. But these aren’t usually the dates I want. More often, I like my dates down and dirty, boozy and bawdy, or, at the very least, out of the ordinary. I want to be either seduced by the cuisine or seduced by my company, but either way, I want my evening out to get me off. Here are some date destinations that are a guaranteed sure thing.


You can’t talk about food and sex and San Francisco without talking about this SoMa phenomenon. The food is good — the crab cakes are more crab than filler, and the beef in the steak salad was good quality — but the real reason you’re here is the drag show, though "drag show" is an anemic phrase for describing what you’ll see. This swanky spot features some of the hottest women this side of the Y chromosome (or Thailand) and some of the best dramatic performances this side of the Fringe Festival. My personal favorite? Red-haired Ginger, who downed a liter of Grey Goose and a bottle of "pills" while lip-syncing to "All by Myself." Pair her performance with the mint-heavy pomegranate mojito, and you’ll find yourself trying to take her home at the end of the night. (Note: She won’t go — she has a beau.)

201 Ninth St., SF. (415) 255-2742, www.asiasf.com


You know those fantasies you have about being royalty in some foreign country while you seduce your polite, well-mannered, yet kinky lover-to-be over a plate of something steamy? This is the place you want to do it. The main dining room isn’t much to look at, but get a reservation for the Fantasy Room and you’ll find yourself in a private, beaded booth with cucumber-infused drinking water, warm towels scented with rose water, and Indian food served more elegantly than you ever imagined it could be (think geometric plates and California cuisine–<\d>style garnishes). The prix-fixe menu is a bit overpriced, but the Kama Sutra cocktail really is titilutf8g. And there’s something to be said for having control over your own lights and playing shoeless footsy under your private table.

1122 Post, SF. (415) 775-1988, www.maharanirestaurant.com


San Francisco does dive bars, and does them well. But this city also does sexy elegance in a way that’s particularly ours, and Ovation is a perfect example. This hotel restaurant is opulent and classically romantic, with green velvet chairs and white tablecloths and entrées that cost more than most parking tickets. But in true Bay Area style, it’s also accessible, comfortable, and beautiful in an understated way — all of which make it sneakily sexy. The small, intimate bar grounds the dining room, and a fireplace warms the dignified décor, which might otherwise seem cold and baroque. Plus, is there anything hotter than illicit bathroom sex when you’re all dressed up?

333 Fulton, SF. (415) 553-8100


I’m not sure I understand the appeal of oysters. I’ve trained myself to like them, especially with a bit of horseradish and ketchup. But are they really an aphrodisiac? Is it because of their obvious resemblance to female body parts? Or is it because you know that if your date can handle their mucusy texture and fishy flavor, they surely can handle, uh, yours? I can’t begin to guess. I prefer the sides of broccoli and fries (both well made) over the seafood at this joint in the Safeway district. But there’s one thing I find truly sexy about Woodhouse oysters: on Tuesday nights, they’re $1 apiece. Which means that after filling up, there’s still enough cash for a shot of tequila at the Transfer and coffee in the morning. And what’s sexier than shellfish? A date that doesn’t break the bank.

2073 Market, SF. (415) 473-CRAB, www.woodhousefish.com


Dinner in bed? It’s almost too obvious. But you can’t deny the appeal of overt sexuality, even if it’s delivered in a stylized, sometimes-too-LA package. The all-white dining room at this dinner-as-experience destination is striking, and I’ve rarely tasted food so delicious and subtle — particularly the vegetarian options — as it is here. And whether it was watching a tranny strip down, without fanfare or theatricality, to his bald, tattooed, masculine self, or whether it was the Late Night Sneaky I ordered (top-shelf tequila, a Corona, and an ExportA cigarette in a shot glass), or whether it was just settling into the couch cushions as my dirty martini settled into my bloodstream, it was hard to wait to jump my date until we got home.

657 Harrison, SF. (415) 348-0900, www.supperclub.com*

Concierges on the cheap


› news@sfbg.com

The concierge desk in the lobby of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel was doing a brisk business on a recent Sunday afternoon. Located a few strides north of Union Square, the Drake is best known for its colorful doormen, who work the curb out front in cartoonishly red costumes. But on this day the doormen seemed to be just killing time, while the concierge, a tall blond named Jill Schultze, was dealing with the long line inside.

"How can I help you?" Schultze asked the elderly couple at the front of the queue. They told her they were interested in taking a bus sightseeing tour. She looked pleased, recommended a specific tour of the Napa wine country, then picked up her phone to make the reservation.

"That was easy," the wife said once the transaction was complete.

For the next half hour, Schultze — whom I watched from a nearby chair without her knowing that I was a journalist — set up one bus tour after the next. In fact, that’s all she seemed to do — or, at least, all she did well. When a party asked for a recommendation for Indian food, she suggested the nearby Naan-N-Curry on Eddy Street, a restaurant that (apparently unknown to her) closed down last year.

One might expect better of a concierge at a place like the Drake, which boasts a AAA three-diamond rating. But the Drake is one of many hotels in San Francisco that have decided professional, in-house concierges are too expansive to bankroll. Instead, the hotels are starting to lease their concierge desks to outside companies, often charging $1,000 a month for a spot in their lobbies. The outside companies, most of which are established vendors in the tourism world, happily incur the cost — and the responsibility of the desk — in exchange for exclusive access to the hotels’ clientele.

Tower Tours, the bus sightseeing company affiliated with the Drake, is the largest player in the growing outsourced concierge business. The company has created a sister enterprise called Tour Links, which runs the concierge desks at five San Francisco hotels: the Drake, the Argonaut, the Best Western Tuscan Inn, the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Hotel Whitcomb. Tour Links concierges like Schultze can range from longtime professionals to summer interns. They’re rotated from one hotel to the next, depending on how well a particular hotel likes them and where the holes in the Tour Links rotation might be. According to one former employee, Tour Links concierges are required to book Tower Tours bus sightseeing trips. The employee told the Guardian the concierges are required to book a minimum number of tours per month, although higher-ups within Tour Links deny there are quotas.

"Our tour desk do provide information about Tower Tours," Hagen Choi, the president of Tour Links and Tower Tours, conceded, speaking in choppy English. "But our concierge also provide high-level service. As long as guests get good service, it doesn’t matter who operates the desk."

Laura Meith, the assistant general manager at the Tuscan Inn, had high praise for the service Tour Links provides. She said her concierges are well-informed, loyal, and outgoing. But Meith also admitted that she worked for Tower Tours as a concierge in 2004 (before the bus sightseeing company formalized Tour Links). She said she was thrown into the fray with little training — "I quickly discovered Zagat and Google and really just utilized those resources" — and said she was denied tips and commissions.

"Basically, concierges can make commissions on anything they sell," Meith said. "At an outsourced concierge desk, the concierges don’t make the money, the company does. The incentive is to drive the sales." She added, "From the guests’ perspective, they don’t know, nor do they care."

The Holiday Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf and the Radisson Wharf both currently lease their desks to Airport Express, the mom-and-pop shuttle company that competes with Lorrie’s Airport Service. Like Tower Tours, Airport Express has created a sister enterprise, Concierge of America, to handle that responsibility. Gil Sherabi, Concierge of America’s head concierge, told us his company allows its concierges to keep their tips and doesn’t mandate any sales quota. They do, however, exclusively book Airport Express tours; it wouldn’t make financial sense if they didn’t.

"We only care about serving the customers," Sherabi said. "We don’t have any quotas on anything. As long as the hotel is happy, we’re happy too."

The Hyatt Regency has handed over its concierge desk to Presentation Services, the company that manages the hotel’s event technologies, such as stage sets, projectors, and audio-video. Presentation Services runs the desk in exchange for the business the hotel provides it. The four-star Westin Market Street leased its concierge desk to Tour Links until last week. According to several inside sources, SuperShuttle, Lorrie’s, and Airport Express are in a bidding war to fill the vacancy.

And then there’s Shell Vacations, the nationwide time-share company that owns the Donatello Hotel, the Inn at the Opera, and the Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf. Concierges at each of these locations are required to cajole guests into taking time-share tours for Shell Vacations. Shell Vacations also runs the concierge desk at the Sheraton Wharf, where its concierges pull the same stunt.

"Our concierges do have quotas they have to meet," Yvonne Merzenich, the assistant general manager at the Donatello, said. The sales center "has negotiated packages with local restaurants, so that if guests want a nice meal, we’ll offer them $100 off that meal if they go to one of our time-share presentations."

Professional, in-house concierges are understandably concerned about the long-term viability of their jobs and the impact of outsourcing on their reputations. I met with one member of Les Clefs d’Or, the prestigious concierge association, who called this new wave of outsourced concierges "un-American and absurd." Another told us that hotel managers need to get their priorities straight.

"It’s a difficult situation because the concierges do not generate revenue," she said. (All the concierges quoted in this story requested to remain anonymous, as they’re prohibited from speaking to the media without the consent of their hotels.) "But the concierges provide the services that the guests come back for. You can’t put a dollar amount on all that we provide."

Whether guests feel that way is a different matter. I caught up with Sandra Curtis, a tourist from New Castle, Australia, who was staying at the Drake recently. When I told her that the concierge who had just helped arrange her bus tour worked for a bus tour company, Curtis was unfazed.

"The concierge was very helpful," Curtis said. "And that’s the way it’s happening now, isn’t it? We’re from Australia, and everything’s outsourced there too."

Susan McDonough, a fellow Drake guest from Cairo, Egypt, was less enthusiastic.

"I question [whether] if I ask the concierge anything else other than about bus tours, will she work just as hard?" McDonough said. "It’s a way for the hotel to cut corners. I don’t like it."

Last year the Wall Street Journal was the first mainstream media outlet to identify the outsourced concierge phenomenon. In a story headlined "The Concierge’s Secret Agenda," the Journal revealed that many of America’s top hotel chains are leasing their concierge desks to third-party employers. The chains include Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood, and Kimpton. Online travel giant Expedia.com had already acquired control of 38 concierge desks when the article hit the streets. Ticket vendor Vegas.com had obtained control of six desks, with plans to open up shop in several dozen more hotels in 2007. As many as 15 hotels in Manhattan had already caved in, and there were more in places like Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.

Unmentioned in the Journal‘s exposé was just how unruly the outsourced concierge game is in San Francisco. The national trend in the hotel industry is toward large-scale outsourced concierge providers, companies like Travelocity, Expedia.com, and Vegas.com. It’s the providers who are expanding their services and courting new hotels. But in San Francisco, midtier hotels are the ones driving the murky business. Many have leased their concierge desks multiple times, unsatisfied with the service they were receiving but unwilling to pay for better.

The Westin Market Street has switched four times, transitioning from in-house concierges to Gray Line Bus Tours, back to in-house, then to Tour Links. Last week the hotel fired Tour Links and is looking for another company to take its place. The Drake has switched outside providers four times as well. In just the past few years, it has fired Tour Links, hired Lorrie’s Airport Service, fired it, and rehired Tour Links.

Ed Gunderson, the Drake’s general manager, said his hotel outsources its desk because concierges are "pretty cost prohibitive" and "if you can find a really good [outside] company and can keep some autonomy over the concierges they bring in, it’s the best of both worlds." When asked if fluctuating from one provider to another is really the best of both worlds, especially for the guests, he replied, "Tour Links is providing a service we’re very happy with."

Adding to the turmoil is Choi. Most professional concierges we spoke to don’t like Choi. "He’s terrible and very litigious" was how one Les Clefs d’Or concierge described the Tour Links and Tower Tours president. "He’s scared the shit out of me." Many concierges associate the outsourcing phenomenon that’s costing them their jobs with Choi and Tour Links more so than with the hotels.

The Northern California Concierge Association has urged its members to strike back by enacting an embargo on Tower Tours bus trips. (There are three primary bus tour providers in San Francisco — Tower Tours, Gray Line, and Super Sightseeing — and each offers comparable sightseeing tours around the city, to the Napa wine country, and to Muir Woods.) The NCCA also won’t let Tour Links concierges join its ranks. "He can drink my blood, and I can drink his," one NCCA member said of Choi. "I think that’s a mutual feeling there."

Earlier this summer, I headed to Tour Links headquarters for a chat with the controversial Choi. I wanted to gain some general insights into the outsourced concierge phenomenon and some deeper ones into the operations of the city’s largest provider. No surprise: Tour Links and Tower Tours share the same headquarters, an impressive office on Beach Street with an unobstructed view of the Hyde Street Pier. I found Choi holed up inside, in a small, cluttered workplace. His desk was strewn with papers, and his walls were festooned with pictures of his daughter (a former Tour Links concierge) and a framed copy of the Wall Street Journal "The Concierge’s Secret Agenda" report. Choi had even highlighted his company’s name in the article.

To my surprise, I liked Choi immediately. He was funny and personable, and he spoke about his company with disarming candor. He told me that in 2003, Expedia.com came to town and started cutting deals with hotels behind the scenes. Once contracts had been finalized, he said, it approached tourism vendors looking for hands to run its newly acquired desks. With more than 20 years of hotel experience — among other things, he used to sell used furniture from hotels undergoing renovation — Choi recognized concierge outsourcing as the newest trend and jumped on the bandwagon.

"The industry is evolving all the time," he told us. "We have to go along with it."

Choi said Expedia.com is still the puppet master at most of the hotels where Tour Links operates. (Expedia.com officials didn’t return numerous calls requesting an interview.) Choi also confided that it’s financially tough to get by in the outsourced concierge business, what with having to pay a hotel for a service it should be paying the lessee to provide. He added that most outside concierge services in the city don’t have the financial resources to expand and that he didn’t know if Tour Links would still be around in a few years.

"We’ll see," he said, his eyes twinkling and blinking in rapid succession. "But if not me, it’ll be somebody else."<\!s>*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

It’s all unofficial at this point, but I’m hearing that Mayor Gavin Newsom is (finally) getting ready to appoint a new city planning director, a fact that sounds like an uninteresting bit of bureaucratic business but is actually one of the most important decisions he’ll ever make. And it will impact everyone who lives in the city, for years to come.

The director of city planning holds an immensely powerful job in this town. You wonder why there are too many cars on the streets and too many tall office buildings downtown, why there’s not enough affordable housing and not enough open space, why Muni is overcrowded and doesn’t run on time? I can trace all of those problems back to decisions made by the city’s planning directors over the past several decades.

In theory, the director reports to the Planning Commission, which sets policy on things like desirable types of development, where offices should go, where blue-collar jobs should be protected, and how many new people can be crammed into a geographic area without overwhelming the capacity of the streets and the transit systems. The way city planning textbooks talk about the job, planners develop visions of urban space, looking at what patterns of land use and development will improve the quality of life in a community, then set zoning rules to foster those visions.

In reality, here’s what’s been happening under the incumbent, Dean Macris, in San Francisco:

A developer who wants to make a lot of money building a project — these days, probably a high-rise full of expensive condos — hires a fancy architect and comes to the planning director with a proposal. The fancy architect talks about (to use the sort of language you actually hear inside the Planning Department) "a tall, slender shaft rising between the mounds of the downtown skyline" — no, I didn’t make that up — and next thing you know, Macris is in love. Oooh, he wants that tower — so he and his staff devise planning rules and guidelines to make it possible for the developer to build it.

(Of course, the way the Planning Department budget works only encourages that sort of behavior. Much of the money to run Macris’s fiefdom comes from developer fees. No developers, no fees.)

Then the activists come along and demand that the developer kick something back to the community. So the developer — who stands to make an absolute killing on the project — throws a few dollars around for a little bit of affordable housing and a few community amenities. And next thing you know, there’s an enormous high-rise under construction.

Developer-driven planning is, by definition, terrible. It was under Macris’s prior reign, in the 1980s, that something like 30 million square feet of high-rise office space was built downtown, driving up housing prices, attracting more traffic, overburdening Muni, and, since high-rise offices cost more to serve than they pay in taxes, hammering the city budget.

And now the city is poised to make some absolutely critical decisions about the future. We need a real planning director who isn’t a developer toady.

The search is down to two or maybe three candidates, at least one of them truly awful. And I hear from good sources that Newsom is listening to Macris’s advice on the choice. I fear for my city.<\!s>*

Supes should run redevelopment


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom, scrambling to blunt community criticism of the Redevelopment Agency’s activities in Bayview–Hunters Point, has appointed a new agency director, Fred Blackwell. But the problem was not with the top of the agency (the outgoing director, Marcia Rosen, was neither corrupt nor incompetent) but rather with the entire direction that redevelopment has taken in San Francisco under several generations of mayors. It’s time to take seriously the suggestion of Sup. Ross Mirkarimi — that the agency be taken out of the mayor’s control and given to the district-elected supervisors.

Redevelopment is a powerful tool that has been terribly misused all over the nation, and the scars in San Francisco are real and lasting. A rapacious Redevelopment Agency determined to wipe out low-income housing devastated huge swaths of the Western Addition and South of Market in the 1960s, and the communities still haven’t fully recovered. Some people argue that the entire program should be abolished — that redevelopment should be consigned to the dustbin of bad urban history.

But at a time when it’s terribly hard for cities like San Francisco to raise money for affordable housing, basic infrastructure (see accompanying editorial), and ambitious programs like public power, the legal advantages of redevelopment are too good to give up. A state-chartered redevelopment agency sells bonds and raises money with nothing to back up the bonds except the projected increase in property taxes expected from improving a blighted area. The city can’t do that on its own; if it could, then raising, say, a billion dollars for affordable housing would be relatively simple.

In theory, the redevelopment agency could also fund municipal wi-fi, public power, and all sorts of other major projects.

The problem, of course, is that a lot of people in low-income neighborhoods don’t trust redevelopment — and given the history, it’s hard to blame them. But part of the essential problem with the Redevelopment Agency in past years has been its utter lack of accountability; the Western Addition and SoMa plans were drawn up in secret and executed with little regard for community input.

As long as San Francisco supervisors are elected by district, they will be, by definition, more accountable, closer to the neighborhoods, and less corrupted by money than any citywide elected official. Giving the board control over redevelopment is a far better model.

Plenty of cities allow their legislature to run redevelopment. The city councils of both Oakland and Berkeley also function as the directors of those cities’ redevelopment agencies. It’s time to move San Francisco into that column. *

A vote on public broadband


EDITORIAL It’s annoying that San Francisco progressives and good-government voters will have to spend time and money this fall trying to defeat Mayor Gavin Newsom’s phony wi-fi initiative. It won’t be easy, either: the mayor is, in the words of one blogger, Sasha Magee, promising free ice cream. He’s telling San Franciscans that they can have wireless Internet access everywhere in town without paying a dime. Hard to get people to turn down that deal.

But the mayor isn’t telling the truth — and when this battle is over, the progressives need to offer a much better alternative.

For many people, the promise of Internet access in the mayor’s plan will prove to be entirely false. The wi-fi deal that Newsom has put together will probably work fine for people checking their e-mail on laptops from park benches downtown and outdoor tables at sidewalk cafés. But people who live or work deep inside buildings, far from windows and walls, won’t get any signal at all. And anyone who lives or works more than two stories up won’t get a signal either.

And of course, the free signal, when it works, won’t be fast enough to do much but (slowly) check your e-mail, if there are no attachments to download. You want real broadband, you’re going to have to pay a monthly fee.

That, as we have reported over and over, is because this is a private-sector deal: the network (if it’s actually built) will be owned by EarthLink and Google, and the two companies will be trying to make money off it. They’ll do that by selling premium service (that is, service at a rate most people would consider tolerable) and by targeting everyone on the network with ads.

Although the ballot measure is vague and legally meaningless, it will be the vote of confidence Newsom can use to push the Board of Supervisors to approve his EarthLink-Google deal — that is, unless, as has been widely suggested in the business media, EarthLink shifts direction and decides not to pursue any more municipal wi-fi deals and the city is left holding the bag. So advocates of a true universal broadband alternative need to start working now to present another, better option.

And the best way to do that is to begin drafting a comprehensive citywide broadband initiative for the June 2008 ballot.

Broadband access is and ought to be part of the city’s basic civil infrastructure — something that, like water (and, someday, electricity), is offered through a publicly owned and controlled system at the lowest possible rates. Low-cost broadband would be an immense advantage to local businesses and a huge convenience for local residents and (unlike Newsom’s joke of a deal) would actually do something to address the digital divide.

Wi-fi would be a part of the package, of course, but the plan should also include a citywide fiber-optic network that would bring reliable, fast, and technologically up-to-date Internet access to every address in the city. And while it would cost the city some money up front to build it, the system would almost certainly pay for itself in just a few years. And it could be paired with the construction of a citywide public power system.

Next June may not be a high-turnout election statewide, but in San Francisco, Democrats will be out in force with one of the most contested primaries in local history, pitting Assemblymember Mark Leno against Sen. Carole Migden for the Third District senate seat. Both candidates will be pushing voter turnout — and both can be pressured to support publicly owned municipal wi-fi as a campaign issue (and to back the growing antiprivatization agenda in San Francisco).

Defeating the mayor’s plan is just step one — and the time to start with step two is today.<\!s>*

Green City: Nice day for a green wedding


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The desire to go green is starting to color everything, even the traditional white wedding. There is an increasing desire to make an ecofriendly statement on the big day, according to the Feb. 11 New York Times article "How Green Was My Wedding?" In fact, the demand is large enough now that a directory called Green Elegance Weddings (www.greeneleganceweddings.com), which aggregates contact info for green wedding vendors and services in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, was created to satisfy it.

In her new book, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding (Penguin Press HC), author Rebecca Mead estimates that during her three years of research from 2004 to 2006, the US wedding industry’s annual revenue grew by $40 billion to $161 billion, twice the amount of 1990. With so many greenbacks going into weddings, it’s no wonder that everyone from brides to entrepreneurs is considering how to marry the ceremonies with a desire to do the right thing.

One enterprising environmentalist, Corina Beczner, started Vibrant Events, a planning service based in Marin that pulls together local resources to create resource-efficient weddings for like-minded couples who are about to tie the knot. She got the idea after witnessing the weddings of friends while in business school.

"I realized the lack of meaning in modern weddings … and that aligning values of sustainability with weddings was a great way to integrate a more meaningful experience for everyone," Beczner wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian.

Weddings planned by Vibrant Events and other green wedding planning agencies, such as Chico’s Love Events, are fairly similar in time frame, staff volume, and other traditional planning factors. But they also use fewer finite resources, offset any possible pollution caused by the wedding, and take other steps to promote localism and sustainability.

This can mean using locally grown organic flowers and ingredients (in hors d’oeuvres and the cake), local vendors, and shuttle services and venue selections designed to cut down on emissions. Those who want a green wedding must be committed to the cause before any planning gets done.

Kelly Nichols and Alan Puccinelli of Danville, who met four years ago at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, are set to get married in October and hired Beczner to help them create a sustainable wedding. "I had taken a class on global warming, and I just felt that a wedding was the best venue to show my friends and family what they could do" to combat it, Nichols told us.

Nichols says that Beczner, who holds an MBA in sustainable management, let her take the reins in picking vendors, a location, methods of transportation, and other expenses. "There wasn’t any specific part of the planning process that was mandatory. [Beczner] made suggestions based on what we wanted to do for the wedding, such as telling us where to go to offset our carbon emissions and get local and organic food."

The couple’s green choices include the wedding site, Wildwood Acres in Lafayette, which rents chairs, tables, and china plates to patrons, cutting down on the long-term waste of resources on those obligatory supplies. Also, the couple reserved rooms for out-of-town guests near the Lafayette BART station, meaning celebrants can take the train in lieu of polluting taxi rides from the airport.

But greening one’s wedding isn’t cheap. Beczner estimates that a green wedding costs up to 15 percent more for items like flowers, food, and alcohol; that increase comes on top of the Bay Area’s higher [tk: mean or median? average] total wedding cost of approximately $35,000, according to Beczner — 125 percent the approximate national average of $28,000 reported in Mead’s book. This money ends up in the pockets of an average of 43 businesses at wedding’s end, according to Mead.

However, all those involved in the industry don’t share the benefit equally. When asked how lucrative Vibrant has been, Beczner replies, "I’d have to say that I’m making less money now than I was when I worked for nonprofits."

Of course, the financial aspect isn’t the most important to Beczner. She told us, "I’m much more excited [about helping] the earth than anything else."<\!s>*

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to news@sfbg.com.

Web Site of the Week



TV Free Burning Man is a project of Current TV, the user-generated video network launched by Al Gore in 2005, that will set up camp on the playa and send footage back to the default world. Last year’s effort was well received even by burners wary of corporations — largely because it had an authenticity created by filmmakers who understood the culture — and this year promises even more extensive coverage.

Save the golf courses


OPINION Public golf is a historically vital part of San Francisco life. Imported to the city by immigrants from Scotland around 1900, golf here has retained its Scottish character as recreation for all types and ages. This is fostered by one of America’s outstanding collections of municipal courses, from the flagship Harding Park to Sharp Park — designed by Alister MacKenzie, golf’s Frank Lloyd Wright — to Gleneagles, hailed as one of the country’s finest nine-hole courses.

Of all the city’s courses, Lincoln Park is the oldest and most charming — a signature San Francisco landmark like its neighbor, the Golden Gate Bridge. Beginning in 1902, Lincoln was built on a hilly former cemetery by Tom Bendelow, who was known as the Johnny Appleseed of American golf, and Jack Neville, designer of Pebble Beach. Ansel Adams took some of his earliest published photographs there. Every national poll recognizes Lincoln as among America’s top 10 most-scenic public courses.

But today Lincoln needs help. After years of deferred maintenance, it’s now unplayable for much of the winter due to the lack of a modern drainage system. The ancient clubhouse is dilapidated. So play at Lincoln has declined. Some detractors now call for Lincoln to be bulldozed and replaced by skateboard and BMX bike parks, a soccer field, a driving range, and an events center. Such high-intensity uses are unrealistic, incompatible with Lincoln’s extremely hilly topography, and unacceptable to the course’s neighbors in the quiet residential precincts of the Outer Richmond.

Those who attack golf as an elitist male pastime misrepresent the reality of public golf in the city and ignore Lincoln’s importance to our youths. Lincoln is the home of the city’s high school and junior golf programs; the course’s alumni include US Open champions Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller and LPGA stars Jan Ferraris and Dorothy Delasin. The First Tee program, based at Harding and with plans for a new learning center in the Sunnydale neighborhood, uses golf to uplift the lives of hundreds of children from the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The city’s high school golfers now on university teams across the country — including Domingo Jojola (University of San Francisco), Katrina Delen-Briones (San Jose State), Keiko Fukuda (Brown University), and Elaine Harris (Indiana University) — are anything but male elites.

That the city’s golf courses need outside expert management is not seriously debatable. At the zoo, we hire professional zookeepers; at the museums, professional curators. What’s needed at our public courses is not more "wait and study the problem to death," as some politicians advocate, but an immediate injection of golf management expertise to prevent the terminal deterioration of the courses.

Improved public recreation cannot come by tearing down one sport to benefit another. We need to work together to improve all public recreation — including restoration of Lincoln and our other storied public golf courses. Visionaries of prior generations created these great civic assets. It is now our duty to preserve them for generations to come.<\!s>*

Lee Silverstein, Terese Cronin, and Tom Weathered

Lee Silverstein is a special education teacher and golf coach at Lowell High School. Terese Cronin is a fourth-generation San Franciscan who spent her youth at the city’s public golf courses. Tom Weathered is secretary of the Lincoln Park Golf Club.

Next week: why the city should look at other uses for Lincoln.

Redevelopment’s new face


› sarah@sfbg.com

City Hall’s cavernous marble corridors echoed Aug. 14 with the footsteps of a band of sharply dressed African Americans, many of them ministers and all of them come to voice support for Fred Blackwell’s appointment as executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

Blackwell, who has a master’s degree in city planning from UC Berkeley and has been working for the Mayor’s Office of Community Development since 2005, most recently as director, won’t be the first African American to occupy the agency’s top post.

But Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to nominate Blackwell was seen by many as a hopeful sign that the agency might proactively address problems that have torn apart the Bayview–<\d>Hunters Point community in the past year and continue to dog the agency in the Western Addition.

These concerns include the suspicion that Newsom’s plan to fold Candlestick Point into the already controversial Hunters Point Shipyard redevelopment project is less about wooing the 49ers to stay and more about jumping into bed with Lennar Corp., a deep-pocketed and politically connected development company (see "The Corporation That Ate San Francisco," 3/14/07).

The deal gives Lennar the right to develop 6,500 new housing units and take over the cleanup of Hunters Point Shipyard — a move mayoral candidate Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai described as "the dirty transfer of the shipyard" (see "And They’re Off," 8/15/07).

A growing body of Bayview–<\d>Hunters Point residents has asked the city to temporarily shut down construction at the shipyard’s Parcel A because of concerns about the toxic dust being kicked up (see "Dust Devils," 8/1/07).

And then there’s lingering ill will from the 1960s, when redevelopment caused the massive displacement of African Americans from the Western Addition.

So will Blackwell be able to solve the agency’s deep-rooted problems? Newsom described Blackwell as "an outstanding choice" when nominating him Aug. 10, while agency commission president Rich Peterson called Blackwell "smart, of high integrity, well known by community leaders, and familiar with the unique opportunities as well as important lessons learned of redevelopment in the city."

But while commissioner Francee Covington declared that "a new day is dawning at the agency" shortly before the commission voted 7–<\d>0 to appoint Blackwell, the African American community still has its concerns.

Minister Christopher Muhammad, who has led the voicing of concerns about the Parcel A dust, was proud to see an African American in a position of leadership. "But we are still going to hold your feet to the fire," he said. "Redevelopment is not just about the redevelopment of physical structures but [also] about the redevelopment of human beings."

Noting that Blackwell is a 1991 graduate of Morehouse College, Rev. Amos Brown said, "I find no fault in this man, and you will not find any either in terms of fitness for this office," while local resident Randall Evans voiced his belief that "the only folks gonna take care of black people’s business are black folks."

Activist-journalist Ace Washington observed that Blackwell is "coming into a very hot seat. He needs some ice cubes to sit down. Only time will tell if he stands by his convictions. It doesn’t matter if the director is black, Latino, Asian, or white. All of us here are saying, ‘Ah, a breath of fresh air.’<\!s>"

Rev. Arnold Townsend said, "We trust the resources are there to help community — and not to tell the community what to do. Because until that dynamic changes, it won’t matter who is executive director."

Blackwell conceded that he had misgivings about heading an agency founded in 1948 to remove blight, a mission that many say has been tainted by racism since its inception. "I admit I was not leaping and jumping when my name first surfaced, but I look forward to working with you all," Blackwell told the commission.

Blackwell later told the Guardian he hopes "to foster a sense of equity and opportunity and a broader vision of community development."

"The legacy of redevelopment and urban renewal is not a good one," he said. "The residue is still there, but trust is only built through action."

Describing the Western Addition and Bayview–<\d>Hunters Point as "two bookends in terms of redevelopment," Blackwell said he hopes "to close out the agency’s relationship with the Western Addition and make sure responsibility is transferred seamlessly to the appropriate agencies."

As for Bayview–<\d>Hunters Point, "we should take stock of what we should and should not do, get on the right track, and create opportunities for people who live there," he said.

But Sumchai wants to put the agency under the control of the Board of Supervisors: "You could appoint Jesus of Nazareth and still have problems as long as the agency is locked into its current structure."

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi says putting an African American at the head of the Redevelopment Agency "makes a lot of sense, considering the egregious and negative impact the agency has had on the African American community…. But no matter how well-liked Fred Blackwell is, that does not compensate for the deficiencies of the Redevelopment Agency’s aims and competence."<\!s>*

Anonymity trouble


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Pundits of the Internet age are fond of excoriating the Web because anyone can post on it anonymously. Andrew Keen, whose recent book Cult of the Amateur is a good primer on why people hate the Web, highlights the horrors of anonymity in his work, contrasting the millions of unnamed Web scribblers with honorable, properly identified writers of yesteryear. Keen’s point is that people who don’t put their names on what they’ve written don’t feel responsible for it; therefore they feel little compunction about lying or misrepresenting their chosen subjects. After all, an anonymous writer doesn’t have to worry that their reputation will be tarred — unlike, say, a writer at the New York Times, whose byline appears on his or her articles.

Every social stereotype has a caricature associated with it, and the "anonymous Web writer" has theirs. They’re always portrayed as a he, first of all. And he’s inevitably described as being "some blogger writing in his basement in his pajamas." In other words, this anonymous person is not a professional (hence the pajamas) and probably poor (he lives in a basement). He’s a nobody, a loner who lashes out at the world from his dismal cell, hiding behind his anonymity and destroying the good reputations of nice people.

Where does this sad little man like to post his anonymous invective? Wikipedia, of course. He can change any entry without leaving his name, adding lies to biographies of innocent mayoral candidates and spewing spam all over facts. And the best part is that most people take Wikipedia seriously. They regard it as a reliable source of knowledge, despite the fact that it’s written by unknown, basement-dwelling bloggers in pajamas.

That’s why I was so gratified when California Institute of Technology grad student and mad scientist about town Virgil Griffith released his software tool Wikiscanner, which you can use to quickly check on who has been editing Wikipedia entries anonymously. You see, whenever you edit a Wikipedia entry, the encyclopedia logs your unique IP address, which can often be tracked back to a physical location, including your place of employment. Even if you think you’re being stealthy with your anonymous writing, you’re not. Wikipedia sees all.

And now the public can see all if they visit Griffith’s Wikiscanner site (wikiscanner.virgil.gr). Turns out that all the anonymous propaganda and lies on Wikipedia aren’t coming from basement dwellers at all — they’re coming from Congress, the CIA, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Somebody at Halliburton deleted key information from an entry on war crimes; Diebold, an electronic-voting machine manufacturer, deleted sections of its entry about a lawsuit filed against it. Someone at Pepsi deleted information about health problems caused by the soft drink. Somebody at the New York Times deleted huge chunks of information from the entry on the Wall Street Journal. And of course, the CIA has been editing the entry on the Iraq war.

Wikiscanner allows you to search millions of edits, perusing a precise record of all the changes that have been made. While you can’t figure out exactly who at the CIA made the changes to the entry on the Iraq war, you can be sure the changes came from somebody on the CIA’s computer network.

Griffith created Wikiscanner for a frankly political reason. As he told the Times of London, he did it "to create minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike." In the process, however, he’s revealed something far more fundamental than the fact that acolytes of Pepsi and the CIA will stop at nothing to propagandize on behalf of their employers: he’s undermined the myth of the anonymous blogger in the basement.

It turns out that the people who are hiding behind anonymity online for nefarious or selfish reasons are not little guys in pajamas but the very bastions of accountability that haters of the Web have deified. It’s not a mean dude with a grudge who is spreading lies on Wikipedia but rather a member of the federal government or a journalist at the New York Times. Cultural anarchy online is coming not from the hordes of scribbling bloggers but from the same entities that have always posed a danger to culture: corporations and governments who refuse to take responsibility for what they’re doing.<\!s>*

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who once had the urge to do an anonymous edit on Wikipedia but was scared people would find out she’d done it.