Volume 42 Number 28

A tisket, a tasket


It’s Spring Break! No, not for students. They had theirs last month. This one’s for all of us: that blissful time between winter’s chill and early summer’s gloom when the sun shines its light (and sometimes even warmth) on our fair city. Which means bike rides without GoreTex, dresses without tights, torsos without shirts, and, best of all, picnics in the park.

In honor of this glorious season of backyard barbecues and patio parties, we’ve dedicated this FEAST to all kinds of sunny delights. We’ve got places to take a May Day date, bars where you can sip a tequila sunset while actually watching one, and a guide to the perfect places for carry-along cuisines.

But don’t forget we’re still the city of near-perpetual autumn. So we’ve added a couple places where you can turn up the culinary heat on those chilly nights when the fog’s rolling in — not to mention quite a few places to wet your whistle in the style of that bastion of cold weather cuisine: Manhattan.

Time to get yourself some new shades, pull your sandals out of storage, and get your ass outside, before academic calendars and weather patterns have us all going "back to school" shopping and supping.

Bon appetit, and don’t forget the sunscreen,

Molly Freedenberg

Feast Spring 2008 editor

› molly@sfbg.com

7 spring flings


San Francisco is such a gosh darn charming place, it often seems as if there are more romantic dining options than available dates. To which we say: Never! Spring has sprung and frisky hormones are back in motion after cozy hibernation. Grab the nearest eligible and hit up the following delightfully intimate (and reasonably priced) eateries, if only to test-drive the menu.


Mouth-watering charcuterie for your cutie, an extensive wine list to revel in, and an atmosphere that, while occasionally heavy on the decibel level, will douse any diminished conversation expectations in attractive lighting — so at least the potential partner across the table will look irresistible. Factor in a nifty little patio in back and an olive oil tasting menu to lubricate the cooing (plus a plethora of lip-smacking Italian dishes) and the mood is set for, if not love, then perhaps a memorable evening in the Mission.

2931 16th St., SF. (415) 701-8466, www.barbambino.com


You, of course, have absolutely no problem "closing the deal" — but it’s always good to have a secret weapon on hand, just in case. Café Andrée is mine. Every time I usher a hottie into Andrée’s intimate, well-appointed librarylike setting in the Rex Hotel downtown (bookshelves line the walls and there are globes galore), I know the rest of the evening will be silky smooth. Executive chef Evan Crandall creates incredible pan-global dishes that never fail to tickle. And his new spring menu is on fire. The best part: if your date bores you to tears, you don’t have to bring a book. Café Andrée does it all!

562 Sutter, SF. (415) 217-4001, www.jdvhotels.com/dining/sanfrancisco_cafeandree


Perfect for a leisurely luncheon prelude to any early-evening nuzzling, this Portrero Hill café’s generous outdoor patio and savory dishes may be responsible for more than a few calls into work begging for the afternoon off. The theme is laidback French with some Mediterranean kick, which is actually the description of many a dream date as well. A come-hither combo that always works for me: assiette de merguez with harissa for starters, followed up by the mussels mariniere and pommes frites. Enjoy.

300 De Haro, SF. (415) 255-1021, www.couleurcafesf.com


Nob Hill: the dating double-entendres are endless. So is the romance, especially if you duck into the intensely cozy 1550 Hyde for an adventurous wine flight and delectable cheese plate or main dish. (If 1550 is featuring its wondrous Provençal fish stew while you’re there, try it and thank me later). The emphasis here is on locally produced goods — the better to draw you closer — and the restaurant discourages cell phones, so your tête-à-tête is guaranteed to be restricted to sweet nothings.

1550 Hyde, SF. (415) 775-1550, www.1550hyde.com


I can’t lie to you. I’m eating a can of Campbell’s tomato soup while I write this, but I’m dreaming of the escargots in garlic parsley sauce and almond-crusted barramundi at this brand-spanking new French delight near Duboce Park. Needless to say, I’ve already spent many a cherished hour there with my lover-of-the-moment. The space is warm and inviting, and the friendliness of the service puts any haughty stereotypes of the French to rest. "L’Ardoise" means chalkboard, so be sure to check the specials, which usually include a number of creamy cheeses as well as unique entrées that’ll have you’re your date shouting "oui, monsieur."

151 Noe, SF. (415) 437-2600, www.lardoisesf.com


"Tangerine — she is all they claim / With her eyes of night and lips as bright as flame." So begins the famous jazz song, "Tangerine" — and the Castro restaurant of the same name seduces with an equal amount of yummy crepuscular abandon. Asian influences dot chef Sean Pattansuvoranun’s menu — and a recent pairing of the lemongrass lamb lollipops appetizer with a drunken duck entrée had me begging for Pattansuvoranun’s home phone number. But he knows better. Tangerine’s decor is crisp-yet-amiable, and the service is fluid, allowing you enough privacy to lick each other’s plates.

3499 16th St., SF. (415) 626-1700, www.tangerinesf.com


If "bittersweet" describes the tenor of your evening together so far, tune up the ol’ heartstrings with a chocolate-flavored valentine at this cute café, with locations in Upper Fillmore and Oakland. A cocoa cornucopia of tastings, pastries, and specialty drinks — hello, hot steaming cup of chocolate chai — Bittersweet stays open pretty late, and will end any evening on a sumptuous note (even if your sheets remain uncrumpled).

2123 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-8715; 5427 College Ave, Oakl. (510) 654-7159, www.bittersweetcafe.com *

7 spicy suppers


It’s true. Sometimes I can’t help but crave the unforgettable feeling of burning my lips and tongue with my food. Some people call it masochism, but I can’t help it. Eating real spice that makes my glands swell is heavenly — it’s all I could ask for in a meal. Need a better reason? There’s a saying that eating spicy food gives you a fiery personality. Follow that logic and fiery people make for spicy relationships. And what do you suppose comes from spicy relationships? I’ll let you decide. Mmm, tasty. So what are you waiting for? Amp up your life and get your fire on at one of these gems.


Fire fiends all over the Bay Area will tell you that one of the spiciest cuisines is Sichuanese, which is what Spices II in the Richmond District specializes in. They’ll have your sweat glands working on overload with their mapo tofu, cumin lamb, and spicy Chinese bacon. Beware, though. Sichuanese dishes are made with a special tongue-numbing peppercorn. Don’t be surprised if you leave a bit teary.

291 Sixth Ave., SF. (415) 752-8885


If you’re more in the mood for something hearty to fill you up, then move on from the flames of southern China and to My Tofu House’s Korean delights, like its whip-ass kimchi, soondubu, or an order of kalbi. While it can be tough to get a table during peak hours, waiting guarantees a great meal that warms you from the inside out. The stewlike soft tofu soup is especially adept at combating those foggy, wet city nights.

4627 Geary, SF. (415) 750-1818


Every fire-lover knows that a staple mascot for spiciness is curry, and there’s no better place to find it than at Indian Oven in Hayes Valley. Tikka masalas of all kinds will bowl you over with their exquisite balances of tongue-searing and flavorful. Also be sure to sample its tandoori and samosas. You can even bring friends with mild palates here; just make sure you specify the level of heat when you order.

237 Fillmore, SF. (415) 626-1628


Thai cuisine makes a strong showing in the ring of fire with Chabaa Thai in the Sunset District. Taking no prisoners, Chabaa’s tom yum soup, pad see yu, or any of its curries leave lasting impressions. I admit this is one cuisine I was cowed by after asking for "as spicy as possible," and was soon brought close to tears as I feebly attempted to lift the chili oil–covered chopsticks to my lips. You win, Chabaa. You win.

2123 Irving, SF. (415) 753-3347


Not in the mood for Eastern-influenced fare? Mosey over to El Castillito in the Castro, which boasts some murderously hot avocado salsa. Add its gigantic super burritos and mouth-wateringly good quesadillas to the other noteworthy tongue sensations of its many meat selections — the carne asada is a winner — and you’ll be begging for more, even with a food-baby ready to be birthed as you walk out the door.

136 Church, SF. (415) 621-3428


If you’re looking for a more hands-on approach to your spice adventures, Café Colucci offers a kick in the pants with its spicy green lentil soup; the chicken, shrimp, and lamb tibs; and injera for some doughy goodness to balance out the flames. Ethiopian cuisine also gives you a chance to really dig in, using your manos to scoop up the goodies. Vegetarians will find plenty to satisfy their cravings and given such huge portions, consider bringing friends.

6427 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 601-7999


East Bay residents rally around this fabulous addition to the Bay Area spice race. An ideal location for large dining parties, China Village excels at all the typical provincial goodies that make hotheads ecstatic. Their water-boiled beef, appetizer beef tripe and flank (featuring the tongue-numbing peppercorns), and the West-style fish soup with "1,000" chilies will have you crossing the bridge again and again.

1335 Solano, Albany. (510) 525-2285 *

Sunshine on my shoulder


Products featured: 2006 Solorosa Napa Valley Wine, Church Street Groceteria; Anchor Steam Beer, Anchor Brewing Company; filone di grano duro baguette, Metropolis Baking Company; salami, potato salad, and Greek olive mix, Lucca Delicatessen; brie cheese, Marin French Cheese Co.; crackers and organic strawberries, Rainbow Grocery; bamboo plates and silverware, Cole Hardware; FIFTY24SF Morning Breath pillow, UP Accessories wood tote bag, and custom quilt, Upper Playground

Models (left to right): Lawrence Cuevas, Camille Schindler, Marivel Mendoza, Bethany Wells, and Blaine Merker.

Guardian photo by Pat Mazzera

8 spots for outdoor dining


San Francisco and dining al fresco aren’t necessarily allies. But they’re not exactly enemies. We do have those gorgeous sunny spring days and plenty of places to enjoy them while we drink and dine. If you’ve been heartbroken over the closed kitchen at Zeitgeist, or if the rooftop deck at Medjool feels more like a frat party gone wrong than an afternoon social gathering, you can rest assured there are even places outside of the Mission that serve food and cocktails outside. So hop on your Yamaha, Bianchi, or Muni and check out some of these fabulous places to catch some sun with your buzz. Keep in mind these spots are best for brunch and lunch. And bring a hoodie in case the sun subsides — San Francisco fog is about as forgiving as a hangover.


Check out views of the Bay Bridge and Coit Tower from this waterfront café with surfboard decor. Rain or shine, this dive gets packed with beer guzzlers and sunbathers. Enjoy buckets of Pacificos and top-shelf margaritas alongside pub grub like burgers, nachos, and the best fish tacos in town, until your vision’s blurred and skin is blistered. Then enjoy the live music on warmer nights and heat lamps on cooler ones.

The Embarcadero, SF. (415) 362-5125, www.pier23cafe.com


The faint of heart need not attempt Café Flore — sharking a table here takes more nerve than buying booze underage. But there’s a reason to steel one’s resolve: this Castro hotspot, voted Best Café in our 2004 Readers’ Poll, is ideal for any occasion, be it brunch, coffee, or an afternoon brew. With breakfast served daily until 3 p.m. and a full bar, there’s no better spot for sun-drenched boozing and cruising.

2298 Market, SF. (415) 621-8579, www.caféflore.com


The garden patio at La Note is worth the wait — and wait you will, because they don’t take reservations for weekend brunch. Grab a java beforehand to stave off caffeine withdrawal as you watch other patrons enjoy their succulent crème fraîche pancakes. And don’t worry, you’ll get your turn. Complete with blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, this is the perfect spot for brunch bliss or an afternoon assiette de charcuterie.

2377 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-1535, www.lanoterestaurant.com


If bike rides through Golden Gate Park leave you craving a wet one to quench your thirst, this spot — located behind the oceanfront Beach Chalet and just steps from Queen Wilhelmina’s Windmill — offers the perfect spot to rest on your laurels and soak up some sun. Choose from an extensive list of beers from the onsite brewery, and when the fog rolls in, head inside to cozy up to the stone fireplace in the glass-ceilinged dining room. On weekends you can nurse a hangover and get a head start on your day’s drinking with crab benedict and a Bloody Mary.

1000 Great Highway, SF. (415) 386-8439, www.beachchalet.com


Located in a secluded alley between Union Square and the Financial District, Café Claude is a scrumptious substitute to the crowded Belden Lane. This quaint sidewalk café is reminiscent of Parisian bistros, and is therefore the perfect spot to nosh on a Niçoise salad and sip Sancerre. Plus there’s jazz on weekends.

7 Claude, SF. (415) 392-3505, www.cafeclaude.com


For those days in deep summer when everywhere but the Mission District is covered in heavy fog, there’s no reason to look farther than El Rio for a bit of sunny respite. Its multilevel back deck, barbeques, margaritas, and live salsa bands draw a mostly gay male crowd on Sundays, but you can get down with the ladies every fourth Saturday of the month, when the line to get in snakes down the block.

3158 Mission, SF. (415) 282-3325, www.elriosf.com


If the summer fog has taken even the Mission captive, escape to Sam’s via the Tiburon ferry. From here, you can sip margaritas on the waterfront deck while viewing the cloud-engulfed city. Snack on fried calamari or head inside post-sunset for fine dining and seafood.

27 Main, Tiburon. (415) 435-4527, www.samscafe.com


The Pilsner doesn’t serve food, but its state-of-the-art cooling system, which keeps draft beers chilled to 31 degrees, makes this Park Chow neighbor a Castro gem for gay and straight clientele. Expect to throw back a few on the garden patio with cleated patrons just back from the fields, because Pilsner Inn supports a handful of sports teams, including softball, soccer, bowling, and pool.

225 Church, SF. (415) 621-7058, www.pilsnerinn.com *

9 Manhattans in the Mission


I’d burned out on vodka sodas. Straight tequila was making me nuts. And I couldn’t seem to find a decent margarita. I needed to find a drink with a punch, but one that didn’t lead to the dark under-eye circles the next morning. I didn’t think I’d love a cocktail again. That is, not until my friend handed me my first Manhattan.

Oh, the Manhattan. So simple and bold, with its combination of whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and a cherry. And so very American, with its East Coast name and Southern origins (the first versions in the 1870s were made with Kentucky bourbon, and most still are). I now have a patriotic devotion to this concoction, as well as an impressive ability to balance a martini glass in a crowded bar.


This Irish pub’s version of the Manhattan is strong and pure, tasting almost like straight Maker’s Mark. The only reason I knew there was vermouth included is because I caught a flash of green glass as the bartender mixed it. It was even served, unapologetically, without the drink’s trademark cherry (which, honestly, is fine by me). I guessed this particular formula was cultural — the Irish don’t monkey with their whiskey — but I was proved wrong when we tested our anthropological theory at the Phoenix, whose version is cloyingly sweet. If you really like your whiskey, stick with Liberties.

998 Guerrero, SF. (415) 282-6789, www.theliberties.com


When you can’t get a sunny day seat at Revolution Cafe (hey, they only serve beer and wine anyway), head to Laszlo around the corner. Not only does it always have outdoor tables available, but it served one of the best cocktails on my tour: a smooth Maker’s Manhattan. It was stirred, not shaken — which the bartender said keeps the drink from getting watered down — and came with a brandied cherry. An extra bonus for daytime visits? You get to skip the North of Market nighttime crowd.

2526 Mission, SF. (415) 401-0810, www.laszlobar.com


Need to show your out-of-town friends the Mission? Get them the neighborhood’s namesake drink at Blowfish, made with Ka No Ko Japanese whiskey. Served with a brandied cherry to balance the cocktail’s smoky taste, this Manhattan is certainly a crowd pleaser. Once you’ve liquored up your visitors in style, then you can take them to your favorite Mission Street dive.

2170 Bryant, SF. (415) 285-3848, www.blowfishsushi.com


The new swankfest on Valencia and 14th streets might break your bank and leave you hungry after dinner, but it’s a great place to treat yourself to sexy cocktails without fear of running into any of your financially-challenged friends. Conduit’s souped-up Manhattan, called the Heart of Islay, is made with Black Bottle 10-year-old Scotch, vermouth, Cointreau, and a splash of blood orange juice. The sweet ingredients help the cocktail go down smooth without overpowering the smoked wooden barrel flavor of the Scotch. Conduit’s classic Manhattan is great too, as it’s made with Old Overholt rye. Have one of each and you might even get the guts to taste the lamb tongue or pay a visit to the coed translucent glass restroom.

280 Valencia, SF. (415) 552-5200


The Third Rail is Range’s hybrid version of the classic pre-1940s Manhattan, made with Bulleit bourbon, Lillet Blanc (sweet wine), orange bitters, and lemon. This fusion blend is perfect for beginners, but it ain’t no classic. But a version made with Woodford Reserve, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and a brandied cherry is as good as it gets. If you can find a seat at the bar, order two — but stop there. A wise friend once said, "Manhattans are like breasts: two are perfect, but three are too many — and just plain weird."

842 Valencia, SF. www.rangesf.com


On the list of Nihon’s special happy hour cocktail, salad, and appetizer menu, where everything’s half price, is the Devil’s Manhattan. This cocktail is made with 100-proof Rittenhouse Kentucky Rye, SoCo, sweet vermouth, and bitters — and for a mere six bucks, is definitely worth it. Sure, Nihon’s out of the way, but you probably need something from Rainbow anyway.

1779 Folsom, SF. (415) 552-4400, www.nihon-sf.com


If you want to test your Jedi glass-balancing skills, order a Manhattan here on a weekend. The Manhattan here was by far the best dive bar version I tried — made with Jim Beam, sweet vermouth, bitters, and a maraschino cherry, it was neither too sweet nor too strong.

3286 22nd St., SF. (415) 647-2732


These staple Mission bars serve reasonably priced, decent Maker’s Manhattans. You might not even notice how sweet they are by your second one.

Casanova Lounge, 527 Valencia, SF. (415) 863-9328, www.casanovasf.com

Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. (415) 552-7788, www.elbo.com. Not wheelchair accessible. 2

1,001 cookbooks you must spatter before you die


› paul@sfbg.com

Not that there’s anything wrong with pornography, but does everything have to be pornography now? Was a law passed in the dead of night, like a Congressional pay raise? In pondering undue pornography, I don’t mean to indict certain of our favorite Web sites (exemption granted!) or gay newspaper ads for auto repair in which a cute shirtless mechanic smiles insinuatingly while holding a big wrench — silly but harmless, and one turns the page to the cosmetic dentistry ad with the shirtless boy holding a big toothbrush. I do mean, at the moment, cookbooks, which over the past 10 or 15 years have gone from being rather austere and text-heavy tomes full of learning and encouragement to lurid encyclopedias of full-color photographs whose subjects are sprawled and splayed in poses worthy of Hustler or Drummer.

Are these objets d’titillation meant to be used or ogled? On my shelves sit a battered battery of old-timers, including The Fanny Farmer Cookbook (1979), The New York Times Cookbook (1961), and The New Joy of Cooking (1997) — the last a revised classic published barely more than a decade ago. All are rich in fine recipes, and I know this because many of their pages are stained and spattered: evidence that I use them often. The pages open automatically to recipes I’ve consulted before and will doubtless consult again.

None of these worthy volumes have much by way of illustration beyond the occasional charcoal sketch. This has never been an issue. It’s possible that a voluptuous photograph of a lemon tart will fill you with a desire to make said tart by using the recipe on the preceding page, but it’s also possible that the photo will fill you with frustration and embarrassment when your own tart turns out to be not quite so photogenic as the one in the book. You might even decline to make the tart again. It’s important to believe that when you make a recipe and the result is acceptable, you’ve done it the way the recipe writer meant you to.

There is a lovely photograph of a lemon tart in Gerald Hirigoyen’s Bistro (Sunset Books, 1995), one of the dozen or so cookbooks by local chefs I use all the time despite the overwhelmingly sensual photography that fills them. My lemon tarts never look quite as fancy as the one in Hirigoyen’s book, mainly because I skip the step that involves candying very thin slices of lemon and baking them into the center of the tart as decoration. But my lemon-tart-for-dummies version tastes good and is easier and less messy to make — and guests never decline leftover pieces to take home for breakfast. Hirigoyen, incidentally, who grew up in French Basque country, is the founder of Fringale (which he’s no longer involved with) and Pipérade, which began its life in the mid-1990s as Pastis.

Of the many esteemed local chefs who publish cookbooks, I esteem none higher than Joyce Goldstein, whose recipes use straightforward techniques, don’t rely too heavily on odd ingredients, and always work. For the home cook, her only peer is the late Pierre Franey, who wrote the "60-Minute Gourmet" column for the New York Times for years and turned those many columns into a pair of sublime cookbooks, The Sixty Minute Gourmet and Cuisine Rapide (both Times Books; 2000, 1989). My copies of Franey have the hors de combat look of soldiers’ boots after a long tour at the front. And while they probably wouldn’t command much in the used-book market, their condition does tell the discerning eye that they’re probably well worth having.

Due to an administrative error, I never acquired a copy of Goldstein’s first and probably best-known cookbook, The Mediterranean Kitchen (1989), which she published while running her famous and wonderful Barbary Coast restaurant, Square One. I rely, instead, on her Back to Square One (Morrow, 1992) and have made her versions of Mexican cauliflower soup and spicy Indian lentils from that book so often that I no longer need to consult the recipes. The soup recipe, in particular, is quintessential Goldstein: a brief list of easy-to-get ingredients, a few steps briskly described, and a beguiling result that’s more than the sum of its parts.

If you just can’t face cauliflower and you have stale bread in the house — onions too — try Goldstein’s recipe for Italian onion soup with bread and sage, from Kitchen Conversations (Morrow, 1996). This simple soup resembles its more famous French cousin — onions caramelized in butter, sage, melted cheese on top — and is yet another example of Italian cleverness about not wasting food, in this case stale bread. (Hint: the soup is mighty fine when made strictly according to the recipe, but it’s a little richer if you use beef stock instead of plain water.)

My copy of the original Greens cookbook, The Greens Cookbook (Bantam, 1987), is more than 20 years old now and has spatters even on the frontispiece. Inexplicable. The book’s author is Deborah Madison, who will be recalled by those with elephant memories as the restaurant’s first chef when it opened in 1979. The book was my first vegetarian cookbook, and it still has a favorite-blanket aura in that respect. But the recipe I still use over and over is the one for bread — focaccia, to be precise. The would-be baker of bread in this cold city is beset by terrors and frustrations, mainly having to do with the lack of the fabled "warm, draft-free place" bread dough must be placed in if it’s to rise properly. But Greens’ focaccia is hardiness itself: it rises even in gray winter, it’s soft, it takes dimpling beautifully, it bakes quickly, pops right out of the pan when done, and everybody loves it no matter what you put on top.

Cindy Pawlcyn has launched some of the Bay Area’s most beloved and durable restaurants (including Fog City Diner and Mustards Grill), but lately she’s been revealing herself to be an excellent recipe writer for the home cook. My copy of her Big Small Plates (Ten Speed, 2006) has a big spatter on the gougères page and another on the papas bravas page. Gougères are tasty little cheese puffs and are, with some champagne, a wonderful treat to serve guests before dinner, at least if you serve them warm, but their glory is of the brief, summer-in-Antarctica variety, and they cool all too quickly to forgettability. The papas bravas (paprika-scented Spanish-style potatoes), though less finger-friendly, are a little more forgiving; they cool along a gentler arc and are still perfectly fine even when approaching room temperature.

For meat cookery, I rely on Bruce Aidell’s The Complete Meat Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). It manages to be both authoritative and friendly, it’s full of wonderful recipes that aren’t complicated (including bulletproof versions of the venerable Tuscan pork roast called arista and charcoal-grilled Florentine beef). Even in years gone by, when I cooked a lot more meat than I do now, I never felt the need to seek out guidance elsewhere. It’s as canonical as a cookbook can be.

Cookbook canons tend to be narrow, in part because of personal taste and because shelf space is limited, but occasionally a new entrant does join the elect. One such recent addition, for me, is The Spanish Table Cookbook (The Spanish Table, 2005) by Steve Winston, who not coincidentally is one of the owners of The Spanish Table in Berkeley, a rich resource not only for seekers after pimentón and piquillo peppers but paella pans and cazuelas. The book itself, with its simple black-and-white sketches, is a refreshing throwback to pre-porn days. It is also full of wisdom and tips about Iberian cooking, which, having never found a popular Anglophone exponent as French cuisine did in Julia Child, remains faintly exotic in this country. Naturally the book gives several good paella recipes, including one with prawns, chickpeas, and ñora peppers, as well as several interpretations of the pasta brought to Iberia by the Arabs and known to the Spanish as fideo. The paella-like dish made with this pasta (if you can find it, and you can find it at The Spanish Table) is called fideuá.

No discussion of cookbooks would be complete without mention of at least one volume consecrated to dessert. For me that volume is Emily Luchetti’s Four Star Desserts (HarperCollins, 1996), the title referring to her long run as pastry chef at Stars. (She’s had a comparable run at Farallon.) My copy: gravely spattered. Many are the times I’ve made the bitter-orange crèmes caramels (though often not with bitter orange but some other interesting citrus), not to mention the banana tarte tatin and Key lime pie. Although the book features a fair amount of vivid photography, the recipes I like the most and use most often do not include photographs. For a more sweeping compendium of Luchetti recipes, there’s Classic Stars Desserts (Chronicle Books, 2007), a kind of greatest-hits album that includes the secrets of Stareos, the famous Stars cookies. A discreet aside here to you inveterate porndogs: Stareos and other cookies can be eaten with one hand. *

7 places to BYOB


Remember that old college chant, "Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer; you’re in the clear"? I propose we change that to: "Markups on liquor, never been sicker. Bring your own beer; you’re in the clear."

Seriously, San Francisco is a city that likes its liquor with a side of food, and no one knows that more than restaurant owners — from the outright avaricious to those just trying to stay above their astronomical overhead in this real estate-deprived city. Haven’t you been to a dinner where the bar tab doubles that of the food? And did you know that a martini usually costs the restaurant a tenth of what it charges you?

We’ve rarely been a city to sit by and tolerate injustice. But in this case, there’s no need to go on a hunger strike about it: in fact, quite the opposite. Join the BYOB movement with a sit-in demonstration at any of these restaurants. (Interestingly, many are in the Tenderloin, which makes sense considering that the entire TL is pretty much a BYOB zone.) Refuse to pay ridiculous drink prices and sip the sweet nectar of freedom from bar tabs. It tastes kind of like Charles Shaw.

And remember: bring cash along with your booze. These places don’t have liquor licenses — or credit card machines. But you can swing most of these places at around $10 per person, so I trust you’ll work it out.


Shalimar is the Starbucks of the city’s BYOB Indian places, boasting two locations within eight blocks of each other. I prefer the one on Jones Street. The ambiance is group-therapy-room-at-a-public-clinic: wood laminate tables, green and white linoleum checked floor, institutional yellowed-cream walls. The service is fast, though never brusque. The food? Transcendent. The chicken tikka masala consists of plump balls of good-quality white meat chicken swimming in a delightful pool of clarified butter and masala. The garlic naan is heaven — doughy, buttery, and flavorful. Also delectable is the palak paneer — spinach and cheese sweetly spiced with cinnamon, cumin, cloves, and bay leaf. After dinner, cross the street to speakeasy-themed Bourbon and Branch for the ultimate lowbrow/highbrow evening.

Pairing: Try a sparkling wine — like Italian Prosecco or Spanish cava — with the dense multilayered spice of Shalimar’s cuisine. Or bring along any of these Indian beers: Flying Horse Royal Lager Beer, Kingfisher, Himalayan Blue Lager, or Maharaja Lager.

532 Jones, SF. (415) 928-0333;

1409 Polk, SF. (415) 776-4642, www.shalimarsf.com


The orange walls of Tajine denote a more cheerful atmosphere than Shalimar, but this Nob Hill gem is tiny … er, cozy. I meant to say cozy. If you do BYOB here, make sure you keep it mellow — no flailing, weaving, or expansive hand gestures in this tight space. As for dinner, start with the chicken bastilla to share — phyllo dough stuffed with chicken and almonds and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. For less than $10, the lamb or kufta kebab dinners come with zalook (eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, and parsley sautéed in olive oil), shalada (tomatoes, green onions, and parsley dressed in olive oil and lemon juice), and Moroccan bread. Or try the eponymous tajines — the name for both a Moroccan clay slow cooker and the stews made inside it — which have the same melt-in-your-mouth meat- and vegetable-infused flavor as your standard Crock-Pot dish. The chicken is cooked with lemon and olive; the lamb stewed with prunes and almonds. Tajine warns that if you BYOB, you must also buy a beverage from them.

Pairing: Morocco’s native beer, Casablanca, is hard to find in the States, so opt for a full-bodied, fruity New World pinot noir instead.

1338 Polk, SF. (415) 440-1718, www.tajinerestaurant.com


I’ll give Pakwan, the ridiculously inexpensive Indian and Pakistani favorite in the Mission, this over Shalimar: it has seating right outside. Which, on a sunny Mission day with a six-pack of beer from the liquor store across the street, has a certain allure. And … sigh … I must give Pakwan its due for having tandoori fish on the menu. (But Shalimar has brains! Brains masala!) Pakwan also does justice to Indian standards like saab gosht (lamb curry), bhengan bartha (eggplant), and aloo palak (spinach and potatoes). And its garlic naan gives Shalimar’s a run for its money. But, I keep reminding myself, it’s not a competition if both are supporting the common cause — cheap food and cheaper liquor.

Pairing: The recommendations for Shalimar will work here, but if you’re going with the tandoori fish, try the citrusy notes of a muscadet.

3180 16th St., SF. (415)215-2440, www.pakwanrestaurant.com


Two reasons to take the bus to this Inner Richmond favorite: parking is notoriously sparse and, two bottles of wine in, you probably shouldn’t be driving anyway. Tawan’s Thai is named after the owners’ son, whose childhood drawings decorate its walls. On the front of the menu, Tawan (meaning little sun) warns that his mom’s food is "the best, just be sure not to order it too hot unless you can handle it" — and he’s right. Consider yourself warned. Start with the thung thong appetizer — chicken, potatoes, and spices fried in rice paper. Then share the tom yung gung soup, a spicy, sour chicken soup flavored with lemongrass and lime. The gaeng khiaw-warn — chicken, beef, or pork simmered in green curry and coconut milk with bamboo shoots, bell pepper, and basil — also is divine. And for you insane people who don’t like spicy food, you can never go wrong with pad thai.

Pairing: An Alsatian wine, like a Gewürztraminer or Riesling, goes nicely with Thai food. A reliable alternative is a Thai beer like Singha, Phuket Lager, or Chang Lager.

4403 Geary, SF. (415)751-5175


Don’t come to Cordon Bleu expecting its namesake cuisine. Don’t come expecting French food at all. Instead, expect to gorge on this Vietnamese BBQ joint’s highly touted five-spice chicken. Seven bucks will get you half a chicken (not half a breast or leg, half a bird) rubbed with spice and grilled until its blackened, spicy, crisp skin seals in the juicy, tender meat. That comes with "salad," a deep-fried imperial roll, and another delicious enigma — a meat sauce (ingredients unknown, but who cares when it’s this freaking good?) poured over rice. Suggestions: ask for extra meat sauce and lock your valuables in your trunk.

Pairing: Cordon Bleu’s meat-centric delectability needs beer; wine is just not going to cut through the greasy vittles. Try a regional beer such as Singha, Red Horse Dark or San Miguel Dark from the Philippines, or Singapore’s Tiger Gold Medal Lager.

1574 California, SF. (415)673-5167. Not wheelchair accessible.


The number one reason I could never be a vegetarian: kebabs, those seasoned, juicy, sizzling, glistening, dripping, perfect little skewered morsels of meat rotating hypnotically in restaurant windows, expelling wafts of their spicy, meaty aroma. (Try to wax that poetic about soysages.) If you too hold the kebab in high esteem, count on De Afghanan Kebab House to do it justice. There also are veggie options, like the borani badenjan (eggplant sautéed with tomato, garlic, peppers, and topped with yogurt) — or the borani kadoo (pumpkin sautéed with garlic, peppers, and also topped with yogurt). And De Afghanan Kebab has mantu, those steamed dumplings stuffed with beef and onions topped with (you guessed it) yogurt and a spicy tomato sauce. Yum.

Pairing: The Middle Eastern flavor of De Afghanan Kebab House would do well with the crisp fruitiness of a Sauvignon Blanc or the spiciness of a Zinfandel. An offbeat, oft-ignored, and underrated choice might also be a rosé; its brightness pairs well with yogurt-heavy items and grilled meats.

1303 Polk, SF. (415) 345-9947;

1160 University, Berk. (510) 549-3781;

37405 Fremont, Fremont. (510) 745-9599, www.deafghanan.net


All I’ve heard about Korean food in the Richmond is, "You have to go to Brothers!" Well, here’s why Outer Richmond’s Han Il Kwan might make you want to break free of the siblings’ sovereignty: food so authentic that San Francisco’s Korean Tour Buses make a daily stop here; better ventilation, so you don’t need a dry cleaner to get the funk of smoke and bulgogi out of your jacket; much easier parking than in the Inner Richmond; no wait for a table; and, for the win, you can bring your beverage of choice. It’ll be hard to choose between the wonderful kalbi — marinated short ribs cooked at the table and served with rice, tofu soup, and banchan — and the equally killer bulgogi — tender BBQ beef cooked like the kalbi.

Pairing: Korean food and wine just don’t mix. Maybe it’s the acidity of the kimchi competing with the acidity of the wine; maybe it’s just that the cold bite of a beer is the only thing that’ll make your mouth stop burning. Either way, try the Korean beer, OB Lager, or another East Asian brew — like China’s Tsingtao, Harbin Lager, or Macau Beer.

1802 Balboa, SF. (415) 752-4447 *

6 African feasts


If there’s one thing I learned while traveling in Africa, it’s that you can never predict the sublime. With little to guide you except your nose and your gut, eating "out" usually means perching on the side of the road in front of an unprepossessing stall and entrusting your appetite’s fate to the dish of the day. Luckily it seems there’s no end to the possibilities created from a handful of humble ingredients — tomatoes, onions, legumes, and yams — and the deft talents of a multitude of unsung culinary geniuses. Even luckier, in San Francisco, traveling gastronomically around an entire continent is as easy as hopping the bus to the next neighborhood, proving that even local travel can broaden one’s horizons — not to mention waistline.


Ever the sentimentalist, I have been known to wax nostalgic about Tajine’s former gritty Jones Street location, which was so tiny it only had two or three tables and a bustling to-go trade among the city’s taxi drivers. But because I consciously strive to embrace change (no, really!), I am able to appreciate their newer, bigger, and admittedly more expensive Polk Gulch location. Though its menu includes kebab plates, flaky bastilles (savory phyllo dough pastries), and an array of salads, it’s the hearty, meaty, one-pot stews (tajines) that really get my tastebuds tingling.

1338 Polk, SF, (415) 440-1718, www.tajinerestaurant.com


From the national dish of Senegal (thiebou djen, a tilapia-based stew, served with red rice) to the regional specialties of yapou khar (a melt-in-your-mouth lamb dish from the city of Thiès) and yassa chicken from Casamance, Bissap Baobab dishes up pan-Senegalese cuisine with friendly flair. The not-to-be missed drinks, mixed with bissap (hibiscus), ginger, and tamarind juices inspire smooth (and otherwise) moves on the dance floor of Little Baobab once the tables have been pushed away and the rotating lineup of DJs comes out to play at 10 p.m.

2323 Mission, SF. (415) 826-9287

3388 19th St., SF. (415) 643-3558



The axis of the San Francisco Ethiopian restaurant "scene" for many years, Axum Café serves a fine, spicy kifto (Ethiopia’s version of steak tartare), tender lamb tibsie, and an array of vegetarian options that would make even a diehard carnivore’s mouth water. Tucked behind an unpretentious facade on Haight Street, what Axum might lack in slickster glamour it more than makes up for with its solid menu and neighborhood-friendly prices. Plus, you can mistake their injera for a tablecloth — it’s that big (though much tastier).

698 Haight, SF. (415) 252-7912, www.axumcafe.com


If you’ve come down, as I’ve been known to, with a persistent craving for fufu and egusi soup, you’ll be relieved to know that your hankering can be satisfied at A Taste of Africa without having to jump on the next plane to West Africa. This cheerful Cameroonian establishment also serves steamed corn koki (call ahead for availability) and a variety of savory vegetable dishes and meat stews. For an even more accurate taste of Africa, their food truck at the Ashby BART flea market definitely reminds me of the open air food stalls where I sampled so many of these dishes the first time around.

3015 Shattuck and Ashby BART station, Berk. (510) 981-1939


Though the cuisines are virtually identical, you don’t want to confuse Eritrea for Ethiopia in polite company. Still, for those who love their Ethiopian restaurant experiences, the drill at New Eritrea Restaurant will be familiar. Receive platters of flavorful food, plunge in sans silverware, and chase with copious amounts of Harar beer or steamed milk with honey. For the frugal and adventurous alike, they offer the familiar vegetarian sampler platter and a less usual meat one, plus three varieties of sambusas (stuffed East African fritters).

907 Irving, SF. (415) 691-1288


I love eating out in Berkeley period. You never have to stand in hipster hell waiting for admittance to food heaven, even on weekends. And for my money, as far as heavenly goes, you can’t beat the Ghanaian grub at Tropical Paradise. Try the tastiest fried plantains in the Bay, served piping hot alongside delicately seasoned black-eyed peas — a deceptively simple dish known as Red Red. The ubiquitous fermented corn dumplings (kenkey), hearty waachi, and a blood-warming "light" soup with fufu and generous portions of goat, chicken, or salmon bring Ghana to life in your mouth — especially when pleasantly washed down with a spicy sweet blend of fruit and ginger.

2021 University Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 665-4380 *

Jovino Santos Neto and Harvey Wainapel Duo


PREVIEW “You know, Brazil is a huge country,” points out Bay Area clarinetist and saxophonist Harvey Wainapel. He should know – Weinapel has been making yearly musical pilgrimages to the world’s fifth largest nation since 2000, and has no plans to stop. The variety of musical traditions across cultures and regions is practically inexhaustible, he says, with perhaps only a single common thread: “they all swing like hell.” Naturally, that irrepressible, infectious rhythmicality will be on display as Wainapel partners with native Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto for a wide-ranging exploration of their favorite musical territory. “Every jazz musician plays a little Jobim now and then,” explains Wainapel, referring to that ever-present “Girl from Ipanema” and her bossa nova companions in the jazz Real Book. But few possess as deep an understanding of Brazil’s disparate musical influences as this duo, who revel in the unique mingling of African, European, and indigenous elements. While Wainapel’s penchant for Braziliana has led him to perform with defining artists like Airto Moreira, FloraPurim, and Guinga, Brazilian-born Neto is literally the professor, having worked with Brazilian jazz legend Hermeto Pascoal for twenty five years and now teaching Brazilian music history. The lecture-demonstration format of this performance promises a lively education from two lifelong students of Brazilian music. “Hopefully,” adds Neto, “people will have a lot of fun.”.
JOVINO SANTOS AND HARVEY WAINAPEL DUO: “BRAZILIAN MUSIC FROM YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW” Fri/11, 7:30 p.m., $10-$15. Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont, Oakl. (510) 228-3218, www.lifemarkgroup.com

Super “Scales”


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

The words were sometimes garbled, but the body’s language was not. Les Écailles de la Mémoire (The Scales of Memory), a fiery collaboration between Senegal’s all-male Jant-Bi and Brooklyn’s Urban Bush Women, shouted, chanted, and danced about anger, pain, and love, always with an Africa-grounded sensibility.

It’s more than slightly ironic that the men of Jant-Bi are more familiar to Bay Area audiences than the all-female Urban Bush Women, who have uncovered African American cultural traditions for more than 20 years. Jant-Bi last appeared in San Francisco in 2005 with Fagalaa, a response to genocide. The Bush Women have not been seen here since 1990, when their Praise House illuminated a failed festival event.

The English title of Jant-Bi’s and Urban Bush Women’s gorgeously complex investigation of what people carry in their DNA is apt. Scales of Memory strips away the layers of hardness that have grown around racial pain. But it also measures, evaluates, and ultimately honors that reality. "I accept," the piece’s 14 dancers announce at the end.

The colonizing of Africa and the history of Africans in this country provide the base for Scales of Memory‘s complex exploration of subjugation and survival. The piece is brilliantly supported by Fabrice Bouillon-Laforet’s mixed score, which draws upon urban, natural, and musical compositions from various sources. The sounds enhanced Germaine Acogny and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s choreography, which is rooted in specifics but open to the world.

Scales of Memory began with the ensemble divided into small groups, each staring silently at the audience. One by one, the dancers stepped forward to shout out generations of ancestry. Though there was no overt textual narrative, the images evoked stories of communities destroyed and resurrected. The solos and ensemble dances hammered their way into our consciousness; they also drew us in with the strength — and humor — of their realization.

Both groups feature extraordinary performers who speak with an African-based dance language but use it in contemporary, individualistic ways. When the men strolled across the stage in unison, they could have stepped out of a Gene Kelly movie. But when they threw themselves into knees-to-the-sky leaps, it became clear that the ancestral ground beneath their feet was composed of clay, not concrete. The women’s big-hipped acknowledgment that they’ve got back — a Bush Women trademark — had a jazzy urban sass to it. Throughout, the dancers exuded power and self-confidence.

Nora Chipaumire, now Urban’s primary dancer, served as a bridge-building priestess figure. When she stepped forth, at first in a white ceremonial gown, she seemed to contain the levels of history and experience within Scales. But all the dancers embodied the pain of enslavement in a way that made it raw, visceral, and present. They put it on stage without any comment.

The men’s red T-shirts became gags and face-covering hoods. Seemingly exuberant male dancers became unbearable to watch once it became clear that their hands were tied behind their backs and an invisible force was beating them into dancing. The performers spread individual expressions of rage and anguish across the stage. They called up the suffering of Africa’s diaspora, then dragged themselves back into a life-giving, body-to-body circle dance similar to the one at Scales‘ beginning.

A mourner’s bench in a slave-auction scene— a seat reserved for sinners in African American church tradition — became an auction block and stirred up old shame. Chipaumire and her male partner sat on the bench and stroked their own heads. They called up body memories of the degrading examinations of physical fitness that determined a slave’s price. But the prop then transformed into one element of a gathering place. Men and women on facing benches jabbered at each other in a scene of pure comedy, one that recalls the memorable finale of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations (1960).

Strong solos balanced group sequences. Catherine Dénécy’s "I Am Who I Am" was simultaneously an attack and a celebration. The modern "Dance Hall" segment offered another form of communal celebration: women preened to comments by an off-stage male voice during its delightful opening moments. Later, a voice-over presentation of a Rumi poem was too sappy. But the ensuing dances between couples were alternately hot and heavy or tender and shy, with a feisty Chipaumire letting her partner know exactly how far he was allowed to go. Restrained or not, Scales of Memory‘s visceral heat just about melted the roof off the theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Rock’s future, decades along


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER The money, the fame / And the public acclaim / Don’t forget who you are / You’re a rock and roll star." These bitter words by the Byrds roll over through my mind while watching the resurrection of three generations of rock hope realized — reappearing at a time when industry majors like Universal, Sony, and Warner Music are busy bowing to the social networking sphere, i.e., MySpace. The sands are shifting beneath the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and REM, all bands I’ve waved my adoring fangirl flag for, all once toasted as the future of rock ‘n’ roll when the form was the sexiest game in town. Well, the future — along with the classic LPs, the heavily referenced and canonical tunes, the wives, the money-printing tours — has come and gone, so why not step back from an eyeballful of IMAX and think about whether such once-seemingly-ageless, now-clearly-aging mortals are holding the course or moving forward? Does size still matter?

Lord knows — and Sir Mick Jagger surely realizes — you can throw money at a prestige project: the new Stones–Martin Scorsese business partnership, Shine a Light, is proof. Sure, it’s a decent, energized Stones performance — much better than their 2005 date at SBC Park — and certainly the band comes off well in their love for the music (Keith Richards) and artfulness (Mick Jagger). Ron Wood even gets off a nice solo or two. But why bother documenting a Stones live period — the "Bigger Bang" jaunt, otherwise known as the highest grossing tour of all time — essentially recognized for simply raking in a buttload of money for the band? Not only have the Stones been the subject of a much better concert film-documentary — the Maysles brothers’ Gimme Shelter (1970), which Scorsese bows to by enlisting Albert Maysles for some camerawork — but rock fan Scorsese has already made a much more multidimensional and affecting concert flick (The Last Waltz, 1978) and a more evocative and heartfelt documentary about a musical icon (No Direction Home, 2005).

Rather, the Stones appear to be recontextualizing their dirty blues-rock for a new, well-heeled generation that can afford them: denuding "Sympathy for the Devil" of its menace and recasting it as a party anthem, far from the madding Altamont crowd. Jagger’s toned, dancer’s physique looks downright expensive as he attempts to repurpose arena poses in the intimate Beacon Theatre, as pricey as Richards’ Louis Vuitton ad and as well-fed as the scrubbed and fratty crowd down front in Shine a Light. Is such a display of power and funds sexier — or offensive — during a recession? Still, the last laugh seems to belong to the Stones: how else to read the final image of Shine a Light as the moon morphs into the Stones tongue than as, "See ya, suckers"?

Springsteen’s aging, gray-tressed mob at HP Pavilion on April 5 would never tolerate such winking behavior. As earnest and idealistic in their Silicon Valley fleece and chinos as the so-called New Dylan so many decades along, they yelled back at the holy rollers picketing the front of the Shark Tank — o demon rock "Born in the U.S.A." — and dutifully lowed, "Broooce!" after each song. Springsteen returned their devotion in kind with two and a half hours of superhuman passion that drew from new releases as well as from Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River (both Columbia; 1978, 1980). Even as Broooce rocked "Reason to Believe," off Nebraska (Columbia, 1982), as a bluesy rave-up, or told stories of leaving wife Patti Scialfa at home to monitor their teenagers, his hard-working, well-meaning decency kept shining through. These days sax sidekick Clarence Clemons may find it necessary to sit out many songs on his throne/easy chair set to stage left and organist Danny Federici is sidelined by melanoma, but the leader still possesses a unflagging fire and expansive romanticism — even if it is spent stumping for Hillary Clinton as of late. On Saturday night, what was striking was less how indebted the latest long-players by younger artists like Arcade Fire and the Killers are to Broooce than the long arm of his influence on so much ’80s radio rock: everyone from Don Henley to Patti Smith to the Pointer Sisters to John Mellencamp.

And whither goes the next greatest rock band, after Springsteen, to attain critical mass: REM? The combo drew kudos for their recent South by Southwest turn — and as with Brooce and the Stones, Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, and Peter Buck have chosen to grow louder with age, writing their new album on electric guitars rather than toning it down with dinner background Musak. More than 25 years into the band’s history, REM’s 14th album, Accelerate seems to plonk down in the Stones’ tax bracket with the opening "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," if not for the clearly articulated, biting irony of Michael Stipe’s lyric, "Baby I am calling you on that." Favoring rock ‘n’ roll blast in a compact 34 minutes, with only traces of the Velvety subtlety and Southern primitive melodicism I once treasured the band for, REM has instead picked up where "It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" left off, retuning its glib soothsaying for post-WTO riots, post-Katrina times, driving it through a pop filter, and sprinkling "Sympathy for the Devil" whoos on the closer, "I’m Gonna DJ." "Look at the world and see plenty of reasons to be angry," guitarist Peter Buck has said, describing Accelerate. We’ll see if they still rage, live.


With Modest Mouse and the National

May 31, 6 p.m.; June 1, 5 p.m., $39.50–<\d>$89.50

Greek Theatre

UC Berkeley, Berk.


Jam of lords, lords of jam


Blenheim, as those of us who feel the occasional twitch upon the thread of Anglophilia will recall, is the ancestral home of the dukes of Marlborough as well as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, a figure much admired by, though not at all resembling, le George W. Bush. Blenheim is also a type of apricot, and Blenheim apricots were indeed grown on the grounds of Blenheim Palace in the 19th century; in due course the fruit, taking its way ever westward, arrived in California. You can occasionally find Blenheims at farmers markets; in addition, if you like or even love jam, they can be found in the jam produced by welovejam.com, a tiny San Francisco concern that until recently was making its entire production of apricot jam from the fruit of a single Blenheim tree in the Santa Clara valley.

The Blenheim, despite its grand pedigree, has recently fallen on parlous times. Its fruit is smaller and slower to ripen than other varieties of apricot and, in my experience, can have a greenish tinge when bought fresh. ("Let them ripen for three or four days," I was told when I bought some last year. I did, and several rotted, which was rather irritating at $4 per pound.) These delicate qualities, while redolent of Old World charm and languor, do suggest that the fruit is at least as well-served being made into jam as harvested, shipped, and sold fresh in our mechanized agricultural economy. As with canned tomatoes, the right sort of processing — loving processing — can show Blenheims at their best.

The duo behind WLJ, Eric Haeberli and Phineas Hoang, don’t use the word "love" lightly. Their entire enterprise (whose roots are traceable to some impromptu jam-making in 2002) is about passion, not money, from the saving of a particular type of apricot to the packaging of everything they make (including barbecue sauce and superlative biscotti) in containers that are either recyclable or, in the case of their cellophane sacks, compostable.

At the moment, WLJ looks a little the way Recchiuti Confections did a few years ago: it’s a tiny and unlikely freckle on the face of the food business. But (as the young Alfie so gloomily observed in Annie Hall) the universe is expanding, and WLJ’s products (available through the Web site) could soon be coming to Bi-Rite — and from there, who knows?

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Done wanderin’


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It isn’t easy being a Chosen One. Rootsy singer-songwriter Jackie Greene — formerly a big fish in the relatively small pond of Sacramento who now lives in San Francisco — has had great things expected of him since he was a solo troubadour fresh out of high school in Placerville. Rolling Stone critics named Gone Wanderin’, his first album for the indie Dig Music label, one of the best of 2002 and the follow-up, Sweet Somewhere Bound (Dig Music, 2004), was another critical favorite. The excitement led to Greene being signed by Verve/Forecast, and his first disc for that company, 2006’s extraordinary American Myth, seemed to confirm this guy was going places. Produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, the album was a diverse and confident showcase of Americana styles, from blues to driving rock to Dylanesque rambles. But a not-so-funny thing happened to Greene on the way to certain stardom: his label started to fall apart in the middle of promoting his album, tours were cancelled, and the blush of early success faded.

Yet Greene’s upward trajectory continued. A spellbinding and charismatic performer, he kept playing wherever he could, with his band or acoustic with a partner. It wasn’t long before he had a new label in place, this time with 429, a subsidiary of the Savoy jazz imprint. In the meantime, out of the blue, former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, who leads the popular Deadish jam band Phil Lesh and Friends, fell in love with American Myth and invited Greene to join the group as lead vocalist and co-lead guitarist alongside the great Larry Campbell. Though Greene hadn’t listened to much Dead beyond the records his parents owned — and frankly he preferred his folks’ Ray Charles and Big Bill Broonzy discs — he quite naturally fell into the mix. The songwriter was quickly accepted by Dead Heads for his passionate renditions of the band’s tunes, as well as cover songs and a sprinkling of his originals.

"I love playing in Phil and Friends," he says as he sits in the control room of Mission Bells, the Bernal Heights recording studio he shares with Tim Bluhm of the Mother Hips. "Playing those Jerry [Garcia] songs, I kind of feel like I love a lot of them like they’re my own songs."

In the midst of touring with Lesh last fall, Greene and Steve Berlin somehow managed to find time to record the superb, just-released Giving up the Ghost (429). Using both his regular touring band and the same group of hip Los Angeles session cats who sparked American Myth — collectively they’re known as Jackshit, with Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas as their best-known member — Greene and Berlin painstakingly put together the album from sessions in Sacramento, Los Angeles, SF, Chicago, and Brooklyn. Greene rightly calls the recording "darker" than its predecessor. That said, it is still filled with sharp lyrics, bright melodies, memorable riffs and hooks, and typically soulful vocals. In keeping with Greene’s and Berlin’s affection for off-the-wall sonics, there are literally dozens of different guitar and keyboard textures, unusual treatments on vocals, and a zillion little touches that give the disc a wonderful variety and depth. It’s easy to picture several songs being embraced by rock radio, but this music is still not exactly at the forefront of the current mainstream.

"Certainly I want to have some successful records — who doesn’t?" Greene confesses. "But I’m not willing to make anything other than what I want to make it sound like. If this is not considered commercially viable, then so be it."


Thurs/10, 8 p.m., $22.50


1805 Geary, SF


Mothers of invention


In spite of music culture’s constant craving for new waves and next-big-things, there are always those bands that do not hew to any marketable bubble, the ones that skew the trends and equations of rock chronologies with their sui generis melds. After several albums of high-flying concepts, sheet music-necessitating technique, and stylistic miscegenation, Dave Longstreth’s Dirty Projectors have firmly established themselves as such a group.

First conceived in New Haven, Conn., Longstreth’s namesake went through many permutations before settling in Brooklyn as an elemental two guitars-bass-drums quartet. The current grouping plays the leader’s chamber-rock compositions with fire and finesse. Bassist Angel Deradoorian and guitarist Amber Coffman’s double-helix backup vocals leave Longstreth free to float his quivering voice and slash at his thin, West African–kissed guitar lines as if they were exclamations. Hypertuned and aerobic, a Dirty Projectors concert is a bold tonic of intellectualism and adrenaline.

I try to say as much to Longstreth when I catch him on the phone in Brooklyn, and he muses, "I kind of like feeling that that’s a component of the feeling of the music … [that] tension of the relatedness, or unrelatedness, of what our mouths are doing and what our fingers are doing." All of Longstreth’s Dirty Projectors records are accordingly stretchy, though last year’s Rise Above (Dead Oceans) is probably the most cohesive formulation of the project’s intrinsic push-pull. The back story, well trod by now, is that Longstreth recovered a cassette case for Black Flag’s hardcore LP, Damaged (SST, 1984), without the actual tape, and in a flight of Borgesian invention, set out on writing songs refracted by his memory of the original album.

Longstreth has indulged similarly sly threads before — 2005’s The Getty Address (Western Vinyl) had something to do with Don Henley — though hardcore pieties meant Rise Above received more scrutiny than usual. "We got some really amazing hate mail on our MySpace page," Longstreth says, laughing. Hardly a straightforward tribute, Rise Above references the essential "no" of Black Flag’s attack in both music and lyric, but inscribes the songs with double-consciousness and complexity rather than Greg Ginn’s brute strength.

Syrupy strings introduce a snaky, sweet guitar line and a dirty disco bottom. Thundering female and male choruses overhang Longstreth’s echoing verse before launching off for an oasis of backwards guitars and cymbals. This all happens a couple of minutes into "No More." Longstreth may think in fragments, but the resulting sound is one of passion, not math. His hot-blooded appreciation of pop and R&B — he mentions T-Pain and Chris Brown as two current interests — doesn’t come with a smirk. Though these elements are mostly cloaked in convolution on Dirty Projectors recordings, Longstreth occasionally offers a more unobstructed view of his visionary soul music. The title track of Rise Above sounds almost newborn in its plaintive wail, and the same can be said for older tracks like "Not Having Found" from The Getty Address and "Unmoved" from Slaves’ Graves and Ballads (Western Vinyl, 2004).

With all the rehashing of post-punk over the last several years, it’s hard to imagine a more eloquent last word on the subject than Rise Above. When Longstreth looked back on an earlier era, it wasn’t to revive something: it was to let it go, and then keep right on pushing ahead. When I ask Longstreth what he’s been up to, he tells me he’s been busy working through new material with the band for their upcoming tour. "The music’s written with [them] in mind," he explains. "It’s the first stuff I’ve done that’s been like that."


With No Kids and Rafter

Fri/11, 9 p.m., $13


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1422


While their guitars gently weep


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In the liner notes for his 1978 album, Ambient 1: Music for Airports (Editions EG/Polydor), Brian Eno wrote that the music contained within "must be as ignorable as it is interesting." Though that watershed release launched a thousand new age imitators under the banner of ambient music, Eno’s ambivalent criteria still holds as a descriptive litmus test for any music that only partially depends on focused engagement in order to be fully appreciated.

Or as Adam Wiltzie, one half of the dreamy instrumental duo Stars of the Lid, puts it: "There is a narcoleptic feeling that I want to get within each tune. If the piece doesn’t make me fall asleep, then it’s probably not finished."

Wiltzie and musical partner Brian McBride have taken their time refining their soporific version of Eno’s barely there aesthetic, releasing just a handful of beatless, slow-burning full-lengths during the past decade. Coming six years after their epic sophomore Kranky release, The Tired Sounds of (2001), last year’s And Their Refinement of the Decline (Kranky) proved to be another gentle juggernaut: treated violin, cello, and fog-horn brass provided tonal counterpoints to the clouds of diaphanous guitars over the course of two hours. Given that the duo tours even less frequently than they put out new material — primarily due to the fact that Wiltzie and McBride now live on opposite sides of the Atlantic — their April 15 stopover at the Independent is the equivalent of catching a passing comet with the naked eye.

Eno is an obvious touchstone, although Wiltzie responds somewhat begrudgingly on the phone from Brussels when I bring up the comparison. "I grew up listening to Eno’s ambient works and whether I liked them or not they must have influenced me somewhat," he explains. "But influences — and whether or not people hear this or that artist in our work — can be like a strange beauty pageant where everyone has their personal favorites."

Granted, Eno’s earlier ambient experiments on Music for Airports and Discreet Music (Editions EG, 1975) focused on creating systems that would self-generate infinite variations from prerecorded tape loops. SOTL is a far more compositionally oriented project, and many of Wiltzie’s "personal favorites" are composers: Gavin Bryars, Arvo Part, Bernard Herrmann, and Alexandre Desplat. Their influence is clear. And Their Refinement sounds, well, refined compared to the rough-hewn compositions of earlier releases. On many tracks the strings and horns are upfront in the mix, and even then only lightly brushed with a wash of delay and soft EQ, while longer pieces, such as the 17-minute album closer, "December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface," are suites unto themselves.

"Maybe my classical music influences are showing more and more," Wiltzie suggests when I ask him about And Their Refinement‘s more delicate arrangements. "I also am on a lot less drugs than I used to be as a kid. Maybe I just have more clarity now," he laughs. "I’m just growing older, I guess."

What hasn’t changed is the evocative power of SOTL’s music, even as it tends to massage listeners into slumber. Perhaps it is the blank-canvas quality of ambient music that has made "cinematic" such an ubiquitous way to describe what’s being heard (as prescient as ever, Eno’s Music for Films [Editions EG, 1978] offered soundtracks for imaginary movies). No one ever hears a song the same way, yet SOTL’s music touches a specific emotional range — one that is definitely in a minor key.

Case in point: And Their Refinement‘s "Don’t Bother They’re Here," a reverb-soaked gloss on the opening bars of Stephen Sondheim’s maudlin ballad "Send in the Clowns." Stripping away the original’s thick coating of show tune schmaltz, SOTL leave only a whispered trace of the lonely little melody at its center.

"We both love Judy Collins’s version of that song. It’s just a nod to beautiful melody," Wiltzie explains. "I’ve just wanted to create a beautiful sound that encapsulates a feeling of beauty and sadness in the same breath."


With Christopher Willis

Tues/15, 8 p.m., $15


628 Divisadero, SF


After the ruins


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

ESSAY In a journal entry dated Dec. 27, 1835, from his 1840 book Two Years before the Mast, student-turned-seafarer Richard Henry Dana recorded his first impressions of the area we know as the City, while his ship, The Alert, traveled through the Golden Gate:

We passed directly under the high cliff on which the presidio is built … from whence we could see large and beautifully wooded islands and the mouths of several small rivers … hundreds of red deer, and [a] stag, with his high branching antlers, were bounding about, looking at us for a moment and then starting off …

Dana arrived in the Bay Area after one era had ended and before another began. Until the coming of the Spaniards a generation earlier, some 10,000 people, members of around 40 separate tribes, lived between Big Sur and San Francisco, in the densest Native American population north of Mexico. Despite the existence among them of as many as 12 different languages, the people collectively referred to now as the Ohlone lived in relative peace for some 4,500 years.

On his first visit, Dana predicted that the Bay Area would be at the center of California’s prosperity. When he returned more than 30 years later in 1868, he discovered that his hotel was built on landfill that had been dumped where The Alert first landed.

Then in middle age, Dana wrote, "The past was real. The present all about me was unreal." Making his way through the crowded streets where the new city he’d predicted was being built, he remarked, "[I] seemed to myself like one who moved in ‘worlds not realized.’" Thus Dana became one of the first to articulate the peculiar San Franciscan combination of nostalgia for a lost past and despair over an unrealized future.

The past and future are always alive here. On his first visit, Dana wrote in his notebook about the great city to come. But like many residents of SF today, he slept on the cold, hard ground.

In George Stewart’s 1949 science fiction classic Earth Abides, a mysterious disease has killed 99 percent of the Earth’s population; the main character, Ish, roams the City and East Bay until he finds a wife. Stewart’s book ends in a Twilight Zone scenario, as an old, feeble Ish — now the last living pre-plague American — watches in dismay while his illiterate offspring hunt and frolic like the Ohlone, wearing animal skins and fashioning arrowheads from bottle caps.

After a wildfire, Ish notices that a library has been spared. All the information is still in there, he thinks. "But available to whom?"

Perhaps the knowledge Ish once begged his children to learn can be found in 1970’s The Last Whole Earth Catalog. Its 450-plus yellowing Road Atlas–size pages contain terse recommendations of publications about plant identification, organic gardens, windmills, vegetable dyes, edible mushrooms, goat husbandry, and childbirth, while also sharing the fundamentals of yoga, rock climbing, making music with computers, space colonization, and — of course! — the teachings of Buckminster Fuller.

The initial Whole Earth Catalog sought to reconcile Americans’ love of nature and technology. In Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism (University Press of Kansas, 303 pages, $34.95), author Andrew Kirk credits its creator, Stewart Brand, with bringing a sense of optimism to environmentalism. A character in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Brand embodied the cultural intersection of acid and Apple at mid-1960s Stanford University. Kirk examines Brand’s 1965 "America Needs Indians" festival, his three-day Trips Festival in 1966, and his time riding the bus as one of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.

Counterculture Green correctly suggests that Brand’s utopian lifestyle has a hold on our imagination. But Brand was a leader of the counterculture, not a revolutionary. He believed that the market economy, not political change, would usher in a better world. While today’s market — at the behest of individuals — has started to demand renewable energy or sustainable growth, it also has brought us the SUV, suburban sprawl, and the highest fuel prices in history. Apple may empower the individual — or want consumers to believe it does — but at 29, Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of Superfund sites in the country.

Brand deserves credit for intuiting the peculiar "machine in the garden" Bay Area we live in today, a place perhaps more "California Über Alles" than utopian. It’s far from the postmarket SF envisioned in Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia, which is set in 1999, nearly 20 years after Northern California, Oregon, and Washington have seceded from the United States to form the titular nation. A colleague of Brand’s, Callenbach bases his society on ideas from the Whole Earth Catalog, but for one major difference — Ecotopia comes into being not through the free market but through an environmental revolution. (I won’t spoil it, but here’s a hint: it starts in Bolinas!)

While Callenbach’s future sometimes resembles a mixture of the Haight Street Fair and Critical Mass, there are twists. Ancient creeks have been unearthed, and on Market Street there is a "charming series of little falls, with water gurgling and splashing, and channels lined with rocks, trees, bamboos and ferns." Ecotopians have instituted a 20-hour work week that involves dismantling dystopian relics such as gas stations. There is a surplus of food produced close to home. Materials that do not decompose are no longer used. This new world is no wilderness — it reconciles civilization and nature. Yet perhaps its most radical idea is that humans can create a utopia without help from a plague, apocalyptic war, or earthquake.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake leveled 4.7 square miles — or 508 city blocks. It destroyed 28,188 structures, including City Hall, the Hall of Justice, the Hall of Records, the County Jail, the Main Library, five police stations, and more than 40 schools. Yet strangely, many apocalyptic tomes — including recent ones such as the speculative nonfiction best-seller The World Without Us and the born-again Christian Left Behind series — are reluctant to imagine a totally destroyed San Francisco.

In contrast, Chris Carlsson’s 2004 utopian novel, After the Deluge (Full Enjoyment Books, 288 page, $13.95), suggests the City is at its most charming when at least partially in ruins, like the old cities of Europe. In Carlsson’s post-economic SF of 2157, rising sea levels from global warming submerge much of the Financial District, yet the City adapts by serving old skyscrapers — now converted into housing — with a network of canals.

After the Deluge‘s vision of reduced work, free bikes, and creeks unearthed from beneath streets borrows from Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Yet Carlsson seems to have his most fun imagining a city transformed by ruins: take a subtle comment on the Federal Building at Seventh and Market streets. In Carlsson’s map of SF circa 2157, the monstrosity that some call the Death Star is simply labeled "The Ruins."

Similarly, the photographs in After the Ruins 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (University of California Press, 134 pages, $24.95) appear to delight in the City’s impermanence. Mark Klett presents famous images of the smoldering city in 1906 alongside carefully shot contemporary photographs from the same vantage points. Cleverly, these images are arranged in a manner that suggests the ruins aren’t just the past but also an inevitable future.

The aftermaths of SF’s earthquakes are often described in utopian terms, as if cracks in the landscape revealed the possibility of a better world. In After the Ruins, a 1906 quake survivor remembers cooperation not seen since the days of the Ohlone:

A spirit of good nature and helpfulness prevailed and cheerfulness was common. The old and feeble were tenderly aided. Food was voluntarily divided. No one richer, none poorer than his fellow man.

In an essay accompanying After the Ruins, Rebecca Solnit recollects the 1989 earthquake similarly:

The night of the quake, the liquor store across the street held a small barbecue … I talked to the neighbors. I walked around and visited people. That night the powerless city lay for the first time in many years under a sky whose stars weren’t drowned out by electric lights.

Greta Snider’s classic early ’90s punk and bike zine Mudflap tells of a utopia for bicyclists created by the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. Until torn down, a closed-off section of damaged Interstate 280 became a bike superhighway where one could ride above the City without fear of cars. Earthquakes are seen to have utopian potential in SF, because, like protests or Critical Mass, they stop traffic. In 1991, Gulf War protestors stormed the Bay Bridge, shutting down traffic on the span for the first time since the 1989 quake. Perhaps in tribute to the utopian possibilities of both events, William Gibson’s 1993 book Virtual Light imagines a postquake-damaged Bay Bridge as a home for squatter shanties and black market stalls.

Carlsson’s new nonfiction book, Nowtopia (AK Press, 288 pages, $18.95), explores new communities springing up in the margins of capitalist society. Subtitled How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today, it looks for seeds of post-economic utopia in places such as the SF Bike Kitchen and the Open Source software movement. According to Carlsson, these communities "manifest the efforts of humans to transcend their lives as wage-slaves. They embrace a culture that rejects the market, money, and business. Engaging in technology in creative and experimental ways, the Nowtopians are involved in a guerilla war over the direction of society."

A founder of Critical Mass, Carlsson praises the biofuels movement and bicycle culture for promoting self-sufficiency through tools. With its optimism and endorsement of technology, Nowtopia occasionally evokes the Whole Earth Catalog. Yet unlike Brand’s tome, it focuses on class and how people perform work in today’s society. Carlsson finds that in their yearning for community, people will gladly perform hours of unpaid labor on behalf of something they love that they believe betters the world.

Within today’s SF, Carlsson cites Alemany Farm as an example of nowtopia. Volunteers took over an abandoned SF League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) farm next to the Alemany Projects, farming it for several years before the City gave them official permission. "Instead of traditional political forms like unions or parties, people are coming together in practical projects," Carlsson writes. "They aren’t waiting for an institutional change from on-high, but are getting on with building the new world in the shell of the old."

Ironically, the only literature that truly envisions the complete destruction of large areas of the City are the postwar plans of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. In 1956, it began the first of two projects in the Fillmore, slashing the neighborhood in two with a widened Geary Boulevard and demolishing over 60 square blocks of housing. Some 17,500 African American and Japanese American people saw their homes bulldozed.

With their dreams of "urban renewal," the heads of SF-based corporate giants such as Standard Oil, Bechtel, Del Monte, Southern Pacific, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America reimagined the City as a utopia for big business. The language of a Wells Fargo report from the ’60s evokes the notebooks of Dana: "Geographically, San Francisco is a natural gateway for this country’s ocean-going and airborne commerce with the Pacific area nations." Likewise, Prologue for Action, a 1966 report from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association, might have been written by dystopian visionary Philip K. Dick:

If SF decides to compete effectively with other cities for new "clean" industries and new corporate power, its population will move closer to "standard White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" characteristics. As automation increases the need for unskilled labor will decrease…. The population will tend to range from lower middle-class through upper-class…. Selection of a population’s composition might be undemocratic. Influence on it, however, is legal and desirable.

This dream of turning San Francisco into a perfect world for business required that much of the existing city be destroyed. First, the colorful Produce District along the waterfront was removed in 1959, its warmth and human buzz replaced by the four identical modern hulks of the Embarcadero Center. Beginning in 1966, some 87 acres of land south of Market — including 4,000 housing units — were bulldozed to make way for office blocks, luxury hotels, and the Moscone Center.

The dark logic of the Redevelopment Agency’s plans are projected into the future in the profoundly bleak science fiction of Richard Paul Russo’s Carlucci series from the ’90s. Russo’s books are set in a 21st-century SF entirely segregated by class and health. The Tenderloin is walled off into an area where drug-addicted and diseased residents kill each other or await death from AIDS or worse. Access to all neighborhoods is restricted and even the series’ hero, stereotypical good cop Frank Carlucci, submits to a full body search in order to enter the Financial District because he lacks the necessary chip implant to be waved through checkpoints.

Russo’s nightmares have their real side today, and many dreams found in Ecotopia and the Whole Earth Catalog — composting, recycling, widespread bicycling, urban gardening, free access to information via the Internet, Green building design — have also come to pass. (There is even a growing movement to unearth creeks like the Hayes River, which runs under City Hall.) Pat Murphy’s 1989 novel, The City Not Long After, imagines these opposing visions of the city will continue even after a plague wipes out all but one-thousandth of SF’s population. In Murphy’s book, those still alive turn the City into a backdrop for elaborate art projects, weaving ribbon and lace from Macy’s across downtown streets and painting the Golden Gate Bridge blue. This artists’ utopia is threatened when an army of survivors from Sacramento marches into SF. But the last forces of America, unlike the dot-com invaders of the ’90s, prove no match for the artists, who use direct action tactics and magic to rout Sacramento in an epic showdown at Civic Center Plaza.

In Carlsson’s After the Deluge, several people enter a bar called New Spec’s on Fulton Street. The walls are covered with old SF ephemera. One character explains to Eric, a newcomer, "Its all about nostalgia, a false nostalgia." Was the City a better place before the war, before the earthquakes, or before it was even the City? So many utopian visions of the future evoke a simpler past that one wonders if believing in one is the same as longing for the other. It’s a question that would make sense, once again, to Philip K. Dick.

Perhaps no fiction about a future SF captures utopian yearning as well as Dick’s decidedly dystopian works, because his stories, though full of futuristic gadgets, are really about the ways human characters relate to them. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is set in a radically depopulated postwar SF of 2021. The air is filled with radioactive dust and the streets are hauntingly empty as humans race to colonize Mars. Main character Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter assigned to "retire" humanlike androids, yet he’s mostly concerned about his electric sheep. Because there are almost no animals left on Earth, owning a fake one helps a striver like Deckard keep up appearances.

In 1962’s The Man in the High Castle, Dick imagines life in SF after the Nazis and Japanese have won World War II. Nostalgia haunts this story, too. Protagonist R. Childan makes his living selling rare prewar Americana to rich Japanese collectors. Not much has changed in this alternate SF, though. Market Street is still a place of "shooting galleries [and] cheap nightclubs with photos of middle-aged blondes holding their nipples between their wrinkled fingers and leering." While most utopian futures look to the past, Dick’s dystopian futures are all eerily about the present.

So how does Mr. Childan deal with the pain of living in a world where Nazis have won the war? How else? "To inspire himself, he lit up a marijuana cigarette," Dick writes, "excellent Land-O-Smiles brand."

Erick Lyle is the editor of Scam magazine. His book, On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City, is out now on Soft Skull Press.


Wed/9, 7:30 p.m.; $20 suggested donation (includes book, reading/discussion, and contribution to site)


1310 Mission, SF

(415) 626-2060

Bigger than life


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

How would you define an improbable Tilt-A-Whirl Technicolor or Vistavision or Cinemascope view of American virtue and vice? Jean-Luc Godard’s term for it was Tashlinesque. Watching the feverish films in the Pacific Film Archive’s short Frank Tashlin retrospective, we see an artist pushing the outermost limits of cinematic realism, gorging 1950s America on its desire for bigger, better, and faster.

The Tashlinesque land of excess encompasses Jayne Mansfield’s breasts, Kool Aid-red convertibles, and bubblegum teenagers. If there is a milk bottle in a Tashlin film, it will cream when a pin-up walks by. Ten-gallon hats spontaneously ejaculate oil. "The room temperature is changing, if you catch my cruder meaning," Mansfield coos in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), and we do, over and over again. Tashlin’s America is a nation of alcoholics and dupes, softheaded nincompoops and sexpot cynics. France had Jacques Tati, and we had — and have — Tashlin.

Just as it did with other stateside pulp visionaries, it took the French to recognize Tashlin’s genius. "There is not a difference in degree between Hollywood or Bust [1956] and It Happened One Night [1934]… but a difference of kind," Godard wrote in a 1957 assessment for Cahiers du Cinéma. There’s a touch of cruelty (and a trace of the director’s cartoon roots) in Tashlin’s preference for physically excessive actors like Mansfield and Jerry Lewis, though the way he uses these figures to channel the distorting nature of American gluttony and naïveté is brutally effective.

It’s not just the bodies that are inflated. The frame itself seems to be stretched over the course of these films, with camera angles and props used to accentuate the horizontality of the widescreen image. Just as Preston Sturges outdid his era of talky screwballs with dialogue-mad farces, Tashlin amplified ’50s Hollywood’s taste for grandiosity and crudeness to a pointedly unmanageable extreme. His self-aware movies give a sharp sense of the studio system in its death throes.

As satire, Tashlin’s send-ups of ad men and agents are as prescient as they are unsparing. A typical Tashlin alarm is sounded when Dean Martin’s character in Artists & Models (1955) announces at the outset that he moved to New York to make money in order to study art. In Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Tony Randall’s title character turns on the television to hear what the starlet Rita Marlowe (Mansfield) is saying to reporters on his front lawn — an apt commentary on the way technologies abstract reality and invade our privacy. The spin cycles continue to gain speed: the ’90s were an especially prime slice of the Tashlinesque, what with a booming economy, celebrity sex tapes, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Cinematically speaking, Richard Kelly just tried his hand at Tashlinesque with Southland Tales (2006), though I can’t help thinking the originator would have done better with the musical numbers.

Tashlin’s burlesque is dexterous, but it doesn’t hatch from any stable logic. Television is clearly the enemy, but the movies aren’t much better. With every bathing beauty and each overripe burst of Technicolor, the director indulges and implicates our most blithering desires. (One feels like a child reaching out for a lollipop while watching Tashlin’s films: when Godard famously quipped that there was no blood in his own 1965 Pierrot le fou but only red, he might have been quoting his American forebear.) If the plots nominally resolve themselves, the tone and visual style remain pitched between splendor and disgust.

"By exposing people to an endless stream of advertising, television taught them to take nothing at face value, to read everything ironically," Louis Menand recently wrote in the New Yorker. It was Tashlin who taught us to see this way. If there were any justice to art history, he would be in the pantheon of Pop Art, not just for his content, but also for his bold use of color and scale. But he of all people would have known that artistic success is on the same shaky ground as achievement in politics, entertainment, and business — same as it ever was.


Fri/11 through April 18

PFA Theater

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249


Fun but no Dice Man


Though early paperback editions brandished a "Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture" tag, there’s never been a movie of the 1971 cult novel The Dice Man. That’s a pity, because this tale of a psychiatrist who ditches his too-orderly life — by beginning to roll dice to make decisions — is a screen natural. I bet screenwriter Daniel Taplitz has read the Luke Rhinehart (a.k.a. George Cockcroft) book. His and director Marcos Siega’s Chaos Theory is a Dice Man update, softened and family values–sweetened for our counter-counterculture age. Ryan Reynolds plays Frank, a best-selling efficiency expert whose life derails in a marital meltdown. Pulling a 180, he decides "never to make a decision again" and to rely on random index-card suggestions instead. Streaking, bar fights, extramarital sex, no-hands motorcycle riding, and other vicarious freedoms ensue. Just when it hits its giddy comic stride, Chaos Theory retreats into conventional, sentimental terrain. Still, Frank’s brief vacation from conformity might give some people ideas. (As Dice Man once did for me, when I embarked on an interstate hitchhiking trek.) And if Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) might finally reach the screen after a half-century, there’s hope for Rhinehart’s book. In fact, Paramount claims a movie version is "in development." ‘Course, they’ve been saying that for 30-plus years.


Opens Fri/11 at Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com




› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Positivity — can we get some, please? Sure. Zing! Spring’s come bounding from its musty, dusty closet like a newly out Floridian, little rainbow fanny pack ablaze, itchy pink nipple rings jingling. Poor green thing! Isn’t it up to us to lead her, tripping and grinning, into the limelight fantastica? Aren’t we already there? Change, unlike Aqua Net and Paco Rabanne, is in the air. The clubs, they’ve gone azalea-crazy, bursting with neon irises and tuneful fuchsia streaks. Cocktails mysteriously grow stronger in our hands. And parties, parties everywhere — there’s far too much to do right now. Hell, my nightlife Blackberry just exploded all over my fresh electric Onitsuka Tiger shoes.

Anybody here got a Wet Ones?

"We’re spinning in the pyramid of life / As day turns to night," goes a latest wriggly dance-floor burner. "I wish the stars could shine now / For they are closer / They are near," goes another. "Let’s make out!" goes a third. Sex, stars, spinning, and you — sounds like a few times I’d love to have. How ’bout we do the bunny hop and rock our burgundy hair at the following affairs? Oh, and bring that spring girl, too. There’s always room for one more in the back.


What do you do when you get too famous? Besides wipe up dog shit with your borrowed Chanel? How ’bout change your name and make a record? I sincerely hope you’ve made it at least once to two of the most regularly orgiastic parties in the city: Frisco Disco and Blow Up. If you have, then you’re intimately familiar with the semi-nude gymnastics, lubed-up disco-house-electro jams, and jailbait fanbase of one DJ Jefrodesiac, our fair burg’s current reigning turntable sex god.

I may just win that tiara back, though, because Jefrodesiac is dead. Metaphorically. Witness the birth of Jeffrey Paradise, his latest incarnation, who’s about to release a new EP on PrinceHouse Records and make us all update our contacts. He’ll be debuting this next evolution at Blow Up on Friday, April 11, which is also, somewhat confusingly, his birthday bash. Because one personality is never enough!


I’m not sure how I feel about the space program, but hey, if the nearby NASA Ames Research Center and something rather ominously called the Space Generation Advisory Council want to cohost a big rave at Moffett Field, presenting forward-minded DJs like Amon Tobin, John Tejada, Dr. Toast, and Tycho, well, beam me up (snort). I’m talking about Yuri’s Night, an astro-fantastical, techno-futuristical anniversary celebration of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic first flight into space in 1961. Yuri’s Night, Saturday, April 12, is being feted this year with 153 parties in 46 countries on goddess-knows-how-many giant-screen satellite feeds, so make sure your outfit is tight. Also on the blast-off tap: a huge technology fair with zippy visual installations and electronic doodad demonstrations galore. Pack your sonic screwdriver.


Srsly, I wept when longtime San Francisco mainstay Fag Fridays ended in February — and not just because my Moisture Wear wasn’t quite so hypoallergenic after all. The gay and their ilk really lost something when the party shut down after 12 years, not least of all a soulful house crashpad in the weekend’s early afterhours.

No more tears, though. "Girl, we couldn’t wait to have a Friday off!" David Peterson, one half of Fag promoters Big Booty, exuberantly told me. Big Booty’s certainly taking advantage of its free time. Peterson’s Booty partner, Jose Mineros, just launched a bouncy house Saturday weekly, Collide, at the fab Club 222 (www.myspace.com/222hyde). Fag Fridays will make a special return at Mighty for Pride. And biggest of all, Big Booty just launched a new dance-music label, Thread Recordings. They’ll be toasting Thread’s first release, "The Rhythm" by DJ David Harness, with a deep and thrilling party at luminous megaclub Temple, featuring Harness and legendary NYC DJ Tedd Patterson. Boys keep swinging.


With Jeffrey Paradise

Fri/11, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., $10

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011




Sat/12, 2 p.m.–2 a.m., $40–$50

NASA Ames Research Center

Moffett Field, Mountain View



With Tedd Patterson and David Harness

April 19, 10 p.m.–4 a.m., $20


540 Howard, SF

(415) 572-1466




› paulr@sfbg.com

If Cheers had served good food instead of cheap beer and persiflage, Dr. Frasier Crane might never have fled to Seattle to start anew. Also, the place might have come to resemble the Alembic, a smallish installation along upper Haight that has been distilled from that nearby citadel of suds, Magnolia Pub and Brewery, now an institution. Unlike Cheers, the Alembic isn’t in a basement; it occupies a storefront that was most recently home to Maroc. But, like its distant sitcom relation, it does have a bar scene that radiates human energy, not to mention a bar that looks the way a bar should: busy and used.

The bar is a spectacle, but it isn’t there for show. The bottles arranged on the high wall shelves aren’t all perfectly turned so the label faces outward, and they’re not all in immaculate rows. This is because the bartenders are constantly reaching for them, then reaching for measuring cups, strainers, napkins, and glasses for the whipping up of various libations, from simple to complex. (There’s wine too, and if you’re a fat guy named Norm, you can even get a beer.) The action is blurring but precise, and Sam Malone probably wouldn’t last five minutes under the strain. Like so many other food industry jobs, bartending is a game for the young.

Speaking of the young: there are tons of them at the Alembic, and not just behind the bar. The clientele has a modern Mission District look, yet the Mission, for all its cultural variety, has no street to match Haight Street, no comparable collection of goofballs, edge-dwellers, hustlers, dropouts, and misfits prowling the sidewalks, or just sitting on them. But that’s outside, and inside … well, out is out and in is in, as Kipling might have put it, and never (or at least hardly ever) the twain shall meet. Getting to the Alembic can be an excellent adventure, but once you’re inside, you might as well be at 16th and Valencia streets.

Because the front of the small space is dominated by the shrine-like bar, it’s possible to overlook the dining area toward the rear. Here people are eating food, and it’s surprisingly sophisticated food — sophisticated for a bar, sophisticated for the Haight, which despite or because of its international reputation is a little short on interesting places to eat.

Let’s say you were interested in a dish with truffles, for instance, and you could only look on Haight Street. You might try RNM, which is probably the best restaurant on either Lower or Upper Haight. But the Alembic has truffled dishes; one is the macaroni and cheese ($9), which carries the definite black-earth perfume of truffles as relayed through infused oil. The mac and cheese is also made with Gruyère (another discreet flash of toniness) and, we thought, a bit of bacon or pancetta for some meatiness. If the truffle is an incitement to class warfare, how clever to put its essence in dish that’s the very picture of Middle American modesty.

Truffling the gnocchi ($9) might be riskier — the word is harder to pronounce, for one thing. But the truffle infusion goes nicely with the hedgehog mushrooms nestled next to the gnocchi pillows themselves, while splintered asparagus stalks bring some green and speak of spring.

The menu is notably vegetarian-friendly, even beyond the gnocchi. The kitchen performs discreet wonders with that revolting winter beauty, the beet, by turning both red and yellow examples into carpaccio ($6) and topping each slender, glistening, geutf8ous coin with a dab of goat cheese and sprig of watercress. And let’s give some extra credit for the presentation, which is on a slightly concave porcelain rectangle like those used for serving sushi rolls. (All the plates and platters are handsome, incidentally. Very unbarlike.)

Then there are the little snacks, or nibbles, among them slightly sweet nuts roasted with sage ($3) and a cone of excellent herbed frites ($5) spiked with lemongrass and accompanied by with a small tub of chipotle aioli. We found the nuts underpowered; they could have used some salt and maybe some chili heat to balance the sweetness. But the fries were svelte, crisp, and sublime.

They also went nicely with one of the menu’s handful of meaty dishes: Moroccan-style sliders ($10), halves of a beautifully juicy, medium-rare lamb burger served on toast points, with harissa aioli, roasted peppers, and tapenade. The burger doesn’t come with the fries, but you might think about having them together, in part because burgers cry out for fries, and if you’re interested in a burger you’re probably pretty hungry, and this burger isn’t that big. A man in full dinner mode could easily eat three, and that would put the tab at a Manhattan-ish $30.

If that seems a little(or a lot) steep, you could go to Plan B: dessert. No one would ever mistake the Alembic for Sweet Inspiration, but the kitchen does manage to turn out some respectable confections. A strawberry beignet ($7), for example, turns out to be an actual freshly fried doughnut, complete with a tight hole in the middle, but the strawberry refers only to the pat of strawberry ice cream on top, which was a pretty pink but too sweet. Better balanced are the troika of s’mores ($7), with homemade marshmallow, lengths of fresh banana on top, and a chocolate hazelnut sauce slithering around the plate. The sauce is tasty but difficult to eat, since the s’mores themselves aren’t very absorbent and have a way of disappearing in a single, gratifying bite. A smaller s’more need not be a lesser s’more.


Dinner: nightly, 5 p.m.–midnight

Lunch: Fri.–Sun., noon–5 p.m.

1725 Haight, SF

(415) 666-0822



Full bar


Wheelchair accessible

Chickens and cake


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I put the chocolate chip cookies in my purse and of course forgot about them. There were three, homemade and perfect, and the small plastic bag that they were in immediately entangled itself with feed store receipts, directions to junkyards, takeout menus from restaurants I’ve been meaning to eat at for 14 years, a barrette, some lipstick, and hand cream. The pills, pen, loose change, and wads of ones go without saying, I presume. And the sunflower seeds.

My chickens, who will go to their skillets believing that grass falls out of the sky, have more of a sweet tooth than I do. Which is saying something if you know anything at all about chickens. And especially if the thing you know is that they don’t have teeth. That’s why they need stones and grit, to churn around in their gizzards, like nickels in a purse, and grind up the wads of grass, grain, bugs, and birthday cake that make up their diet. And sunflower seeds.

Oh, and grass does fall out of the sky, by the way, if you are one of my chickens, and you live in the woods, and the floor of your woodsy world is redwood needles and dirt but you are lucky enough to have a caring and dedicated farmer whose time, in defiance of tens of thousands of years of human thinking on the subject, is not valuable. Meaning she will happily goat around every day in greener environs, on the "other side of the fence," pulling up grass and throwing it over to your side.

Long pause.

Even longer pause …

As long a pause as you will let me get away with without losing you to your horoscope or the page with pictures of even sexier trannies than me.

Then: birthday cake?

Well, yeah, what were you expecting? Chocolate chip cookies? Didn’t I tell you I forgot about them? And that they were perfect? Whereas the cake, on the other hand, was already leftover when it was left at my shack by some superheroes. And that was more than a week ago. And my birthday isn’t until May. And I don’t have a sweet tooth or a sweet gizzard.

Still, I would have eaten the whole, huge, three-quarters of a cake, instead of none of it, in the interest of having healthier chickens, and therefore healthier eggs, and therefore being healthier myself … except that the superhero who made the cake, first time ever from scratch, insisted that it sucked.

If it doesn’t taste good or have nutritional value, I’ll still eat it, but not if it’s cake. I’ll leave it on the counter until it’s almost moldy and then, at the risk of one day getting my head chopped off by chickens, I’ll let them eat it. As the saying goes.

I set half of three-quarters of the homemade chocolate cake on the ground and watched them treat it the way any small group of women would. Chickens see one thing out of one eye, and something else out of the other. They looked and they looked, with adoration and with horror, and then finally one took a peck and ran away. Then came back. Then they all started doing that, eating, retreating, chattering. And then they didn’t bother to retreat or chatter — they just chowed down.

I put the rest of the cake in their coop, closed them up with it, and went to the city, half-expecting to come home the next morning and find them not only dead, but dead on the ceiling instead of the floor.

As we speak I am inventing spaghetti-cue, lest anyone think me a slacker. There’s a bag of cookie crumbs in my purse, a carton of post–expiration date milk in the fridge, and chickens in my yard, alive, well, and running. Like every day, they have left me a nest full of eggs, some smudged with chocolate frosting.

My new favorite restaurant is Robata Grill & Sushi in Mill Valley. Not that I ate there. They let me use their phone and ladies room when my engine popped en route to the city. One of the last four or five people without a cell phone or a reliable car, I stood outside on the corner, cold night, lamenting these facts and others, waiting for my rescue. The people on the other side of the windows seemed warm, happy, well-fed, and yeah, a little bit rich. I was wearing my sexiest skirt and my rabbit. Late for a gig. Probably looked, from the inside out, like a prostitute. New favorite restaurant.


591 Redwood Highway, Mill Valley

(415) 381-8400

Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; Dinner: Mon.–Thu., 5:30–9:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.

Beer and wine




› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I have a friend who claims to be asexual. Although women (and occasionally men) have expressed romantic interest in him, he never seems to want to pursue a physical relationship — or any kind of intimate relationship at all. He says he’s quite happy, but I’m confused. Doesn’t everyone have some level of sexual desire? Or is there really an asexual community out there which is happy to be untouched? What do you know about this?



Dear A OK?:

Oh, lots. I wrote about asexuality a few years ago following a big cover story about it in New Scientist [11/03/04], in the course of which I discovered that the movement’s Web master and spokesperson, David Jay, is not only local but went to my alma mater with a close friend of mine and therefore is practically family. So I know everything about it!

OK, I don’t know everything — but I can answer questions. Most people, barring those rarities like the This American Life interviewee I call "The Man with No Testosterone," may have "some level" of sexual desire flickering away in there somewhere. But if that flame is sufficiently dim or sufficiently unappealing to the flickeree, he or she may chose to ignore it altogether. Some, though, have searched their psyches and failed to detect even the faintest flicker of interest, and they may feel fine about that. It seems to me that the most reasonable reaction to people who feel fine is to feel fine back at them. Still, asexuality remains somewhat of a hard sell.

For whatever reason, many people — sexual people — find it hard to accept the idea that nobody is under any obligation either to feel desire or to act on it. Most of us are accustomed both to wanting sex and to wanting to want sex. (Desire disorders are the new erectile dysfunction — expect to see, say, Michelle Obama starring in a commercial for a breakthrough treatment in a few years.) How can people have no desire to feel desire? Aren’t they broken? Don’t they want to be fixed? Shouldn’t they want to be fixed? If you take these sane, rational adults at their word, that word is no.

As I was procrastinating answering your question a friend mentioned she knew an asexual woman who’d been interviewed about it on TV, which led me to this YouTube clip where you can see many of the asexuality movement’s big names (well, it’s a small pond, but these are the people who are most frequently interviewed and featured on Web sites and the like) telling their stories and proudly proclaiming their lack of interest in getting in your pants. (I can’t remember the chant I made up for them the last time I wrote about this: "We’re A / We’re OK / Now just go away," maybe?) I can’t promise that this clip or any of the others available online is any better than any other 4.5 minutes given a serious but potentially salacious subject on a typical TV magazine show. After the interviews the reporter turns to the camera and dutifully chirps, "Of course, some experts doubt even the existence of asexuality!" Of course they do! There are experts who will appear on these shows to doubt the existence of air if it gets them on TV. And then there’s the odious sexologist Joy Davidson, who offers this take while wearing an awful lot of lipstick:

Presenter: Can labeling oneself asexual become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Davidson: You might as well label yourself not curious, unadventurous, narrow-minded, blind to possibilities…. That’s what happens when you label yourself as … sexually neutered.

Well, they didn’t label themselves that way, lady. You did. Davidson’s insistence that people who don’t want to have sex must be in some way damaged reminds me, irritatingly, of another well-known sex therapist I heard claiming that Viagra and friends cause as much damage to a relationship as they repair, and that if you really want to overcome erectile dysfunction you have to see a therapist. But Davidson is meaner.

So, yes, your friend is probably telling the truth, and yes, there is such a community of "out" asexuals, albeit largely online (but there’s no shame in that — all hail the Internet’s awesome community-building powers!). The one thing you’re wrong about is the supposition that such people eschew intimacy of any sort. There are folks like that, of course, but we’d do better to call them "hermits." Asexuals have intense friendships and even romantic relationships. They identify, in many cases, as straight or gay, although it’s hard not to imagine an asexual lesbian, for instance, as someone who’s particularly interested in not having sex with women. You could get a little woozy thinking that way.

I do have to admit wondering whether asexuals like David Jay could be having as much "fun" as they routinely claim to have. "We’re having too much fun to have sex!" How much fun does anyone have, really, who isn’t, say, a professional skateboarder or a four-year-old? Who has the time?



For an older column on this subject, see www.altsexcolumn.com/index.php?article=373

Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.