Volume 45 Number 14

Appetite: Mixology times two


BERETTA MIXOLOGY CLASSES — Class is equal parts learning and pleasure at Beretta during their monthly Monday educational cocktail classes led by Bar Manager Ryan Fitzgerald. Ryan is one of our city’s great bartenders and he shares his ability to showcase the essence of a drink with you. Set up with your own station of bar utensils and ingredients, you’ll experience an interactive two hours with a small group in Beretta’s basement. Shake and stir — learning when it’s appropriate to do each — as you sample your creations. Whether you study whiskey on January 24, tequila (Ryan’s particular passion) on February 21, or gin on March 21, you’ll come away with recipes both classic and modern, artisan but not so complicated that you can’t recreate them easily at home. And it’s all in the name of education.

$85 per person for class, cocktails, and nibbles of food (includes tax and gratuity)

$55 + tax for tools used during the class (optional)
*Class does NOT include tools, they must be purchased separately.

Beretta, 1199 Valencia Street
Whiskey – January 24, 7-9pm
Tequila – February 21, 7-9pm
Gin – March 21, 7-9pm

Doug Williams makes liquid nitrogen cocktails at last year’s Science of Cocktails. Photo by Virginia Miller.

SCIENCE OF COCKTAILS — Science of Cocktails returns for its second year at the Exploratorium. The inaugural year impressed me despite the dozens of cocktail events I attend in any given year. Scientific displays turn drink-making into scientific art exhibit (for example, watch a shell-less egg being ‘cooked’ with alcohol). Sip your way through one interactive display after another. You may witness a liquid nitrogen cocktail being prepared or learn Japanese hard-shake techniques while sampling cocktails like last year’s layered SF Pousse Cafe from The Alembic or 83 Proof’s use of ingredients from jalapeno skin and toasted peppercorn to Darjeeling simple syrup. Price of admission includes unlimited hors d’oeuvres, demos, a number of cocktails, live entertainment and full reign over the Exploratorium. Bartenders (from 15 Romolo to Rye) and spirit sponsors (from Campo de Encanto Pisco to St. George Spirits/Hangar One) are top notch. Science exhibits were never quite this fun when you were a kid.
January 26, 7:30-11pm
Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon Street

–Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot: www.theperfectspotsf.com

Appetite: Best Restaurant Openings of 2010, Bay Area


Earlier in the week, I listed the top 10 new restaurant openings of the year in San Francisco. Now I list an additional four best new Bay Area openings: one in the South Bay, two in the East Bay, one in Wine Country. In the midst of Oakland’s continued proliferation as a dining hotspot and the new downtown Napa reign of celebrity chefs from Tyler Florence to Morimoto, here are a few that rose above, in alphabetical order.

BAUME, Palo Alto
In the realm of all-senses-engaged gastronomy temples like Chicago’s Alinea or the whimsical decadence of Jose Andres’ The Bazaar in LA, San Francisco is shockingly lacking. We have the talent and creativity here of the best food cities in the world. But it seems at times there can be a fear of getting too experimental. Thankfully, in 2010 Chef Bruno Chemel (formerly of Chez TJ) opened Baume in a non-descript, ’70’s-looking Palo Alto building. Yes, it’s crazy expensive (tasting menus), special occasion dining, but it stands out with well-orchestrated service and a simple but striking dining room of elegant orange and warm browns. You are teased with ingredients, like liquid nitrogen, curry, leek, seaweed, endive, then await the presentation like a gift. The best part is that Baume is not merely molecular showmanship… dishes are rich with flavor and heart. Don’t miss Chef Bruno’s 62-degree sous-vide egg. I had it with wild mushroom and Noilly Prat dry vermouth foam paired with shots of fresh celery and lime juice punctuated by roasted rosemary stalks. Currently, he’s serving the egg with lichee, lilikoi, espresso, chocolate. I’m intrigued.
GATHER, Berkeley
A December 2009 opening, Gather is the best thing to come along in Berkeley in ages. It reads typical Bay Area at first glance: local, sustainable, organic everything, from meats and veggies to spirits, wine and beer. The rounded corner room, with bustling, open space in full view of the kitchen is holistically casual and urban. And, yes, everything you have heard about the raved-about vegan “charcuterie” is true. Decidedly non-vegetarian, I marvel at this artwork array of vegetables on a wood slab, five delicately-prepared (and delicious) combinations for $16. You might have roasted baby beets with shaved fennel, dill, blood orange, horseradish almond puree and pistachio as one item, then King Trumpet mushroom crudo with parsnip-pine nut sea palm risotto as another. Exec Chef Sean Baker and team do meat right, too. Whether sausage pizza with pork belly and chiles, or house-cured ham topped with crescenza cheeze and cardoon-walnut salsa, carnivores will leave happy. Gather displays an ethos and presentation one can only dream of being a standard everywhere.

PLUM, Oakland
Easily the best new opening in Oakland in 2010, Daniel Patterson’s long-anticipated Plum delivers his impeccable technique in heartwarming food. Despite communal seating on uncomfortable wood stools, one is warmed by skillfully prepared food under $20. Chef Charlie Parker recently took the reigns, serving impeccably nuanced soups like ham hock and brussels sprouts or turnip apple soup with miso. Deviled eggs benefit from caperberry tarragon relish, while a rich beef cheek and oxtail burger welcomes the contrast of accompanying Autumn pickles. Patterson’s power continues to be used for gourmet good, and this time Oakland is the recipient.

Farmstead may not be the most exciting restaurant to open in Wine Country in 2010 but I find it among the most satisfying. Part of Long Meadow Ranch, a welcome package of winery, poultry farm, herb garden, grass-fed beef ranch, and olive press, it’s in a modern, converted barn with fireplace, tractors and chairs on the outdoor patio. Inside it’s funky light fixtures, cavernous ceilings and leather booths. Their grass-fed beef is, in a word, exemplary. It makes for a decent steak, but my money goes towards the meltingly-good cheeseburger. On a house potato bun, it’s lathered with addictive mustard (they don’t skimp on the horseradish), cheddar and arugula. Order “potted” pig: tender, shredded pig packed in a mason jar with a layer of lard on top, served with toasts and that fabulous mustard. Another humane, locally-sourced restaurant, Farmstead brings a casual playfulness I don’t see often enough in Wine Country.

–Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot

So dreamy


Of all the indie bliss-bands to break through in the last year, Teengirl Fantasy — coming to town Sat/8 — is the dreamiest. Not just in the heart-dotted Tigerbeat vein, although TF’s spangly Angelfire website (teengirlfantasy.angelfire.com) certainly plays on giggle-driven hormone rushes.

No, Oberlin College students Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss also meticulously tap into a subconscious slipstream of musical influences — 1990s R&B, ’70s soul, Balearic house, Windham Hill new age, bubblegum pop — that roils with allusive energy but never jolts upright into blunt nostalgia or jokey parody. The meticulously layered synth-and-sample compositions on debut album 7AM don’t lead directly to the dance floor either. Instead, they amble ecstatically down some long, spectral hallway toward a distant rave. When performing live, however, Teengirl Fantasy moves multitudes.

SFBG Are you guys still in the midst of your big tour? And did you really play the Great Wall of China?

Nick Weiss We still have one semester left of school, so we tour constantly during school breaks. We played a festival near the Great Wall in August. It was amazing — China was such a nuts place to be. Even though the government attempts to create such a restrictive environment, there are plenty of punks and people who party really out of control. One night we were taken to a Go Kart track around 1 a.m. The place where you bought your tickets was also a bar, so everyone was drunk driving!!! It ruled!!

SFBG You’ve mentioned before that one of the aims of your music is to capture a certain dreaminess or “half-asleep” sensation. There’s a rad sound art exhibition going on from L.A.’s 323 Projects right now that reminded me of you. It’s called “from one side to the other, I’ve dreamed that too.” Basically, you call this number, (323) 843-4652 from anywhere until Jan.17 and it plays an array of sound art pieces made by different people. What would you put on a Teengirl Fantasy Hotline?

Logan Takahashi My voicemail answering message is a recording of one of those Buddha Machines made by FM3. I’ve always thought that was a pretty clever idea for a product or a piece, just a bunch of simple, really pleasant infinite loops.

SFBG Speaking of dreaminess and loops, I think one of the best tracks of the year is “Dancing in Slow Motion” from 7AM. It totally reminds me of how everything sounds when you’re trying to say something in a dream and you wake yourself up — this kind of shivery mumbling. Guest singer Shannon Funchess’ sublimated diva delivery is right on.

NW We met Shannon through her Light Asylum bandmate Bruno Coviello, who coincidentally lived at the studio we were working in. However, we had already seen Light Asylum a bunch of times and knew how amazing her voice was. We wrote the song pretty quickly, but our initial impulse was to make a huge ballad, the size of The-Dream but with a dreamier twist …

SFBG: I also adore the “Dancing in Slow Motion” video, directed by Mark Brown. Between that and the “Cheaters” and “Portofino” videos, you’ve been tagged as adopting a “visualizer” aesthetic. How much input have you had with your videos and the visual manifestation of your music?  

NW: We really just choose an artist whose work we really love, give them the track, and let them do whatever they want. Working with Mark Brown, Kari Altmann, and the legendary IASOS has been so cool… we really love the videos each of them made. I wouldn’t call them pure “visualizer,” I’d say that their looks are pretty intentional rather than automated.  However maybe we just have a pretty high tolerance for rave graphix. I could watch fractals pulse to trance for hours.

LT: Honestly we never intentionally were looking for a unifying aesthetic between our videos, but it is kind of funny to go back and look at the things they have in common. I spent a lot of time watching ‘beyond the mind’s eye’ videos as a child and I think that had an effect on my threshold for abstract 3D FX.

SFBG The title of your album, 7AM is kind of an in-joke to old-school ravers, conjuring up both the kooky bombast of KLF’s “3AM Eternal” and warehouse bragging, as in “Dude, I was there at 7 a.m. when Richie Hawtin dropped ‘Pacific 707.'” Do you guys deliberately build references and concepts into your tracks beforehand, or do they come out of a more organic jamming process?

NW It really is an organic process. We won’t usually start talking about a track until after we’ve written and recorded it. Once we start mixing, we might talk references. But when we’re writing, it’s really more about capturing the live feeling and strengthening improvisations.

LT It helps for us to keep that element of viscerality and response as part of the songwriting process.

SFBG Detroit techno seems a touchstone for you …

LT Detroit!!!! Still trying to make it to the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, hopefully this year. Huge fan of the music that comes out of that city.

TEENGIRL FANTASY with Pictureplane, Tormenta Tropical, and Donuts DJs. Sat/8, 10 p.m., $5––$10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com.

Going commando


CHEESY, SLEAZY CINEMA Last year found Jack Abramoff a peculiarly hot commodity at the movies, especially if you consider he spent most of the year in federal prison and hadn’t exercised his own Hollywood ambitions in nearly a quarter-century.

But then his recent on-screen exposure was not of an ilk he’d have chosen for himself: as subject of a documentary (2010’s Casino Jack and the United States of Money) and biographical drama (plain Casino Jack, also 2010) both depicting the now-infamous Washington, D.C., lobbyist as personification of that Shrub Era conservative jingoism, corrupt backdoor business deals, egomania, and greed that helped land us in our current economic craphole. And which got him four years, ending last month even as former Republican House Majority leader and BFF Tom DeLay faced the start of his own money-laundering slammer stint.

Abramoff was not likely to have enjoyed either portrait, not even as semi-sympathetically (albeit poorly) portrayed by Academy Award-winning thespian Kevin Spacey in the weaker film. If he’d been able to invent his own starring vehicle, no doubt it would have been more a flatteringly bold cross of 1987’s Wall Street (the Michael Douglas part), 1960’s Exodus (the Paul Newman as he-man crusader for Israel part) and 1980s Rocky-Rambo Stallone (the whole enchilada, from bulging biceps to rippling Old Glory and Commie-wasting weaponry). In the Reagan America of his physical if not yet political prime, he really was a bit of all those things: bodybuilder, Zionist, rabid anti-Red.

Whether he ever harbored dreams of being a celluloid hero, or was always content to become a real-life Supermensch, Abramoff did once make a movie — exactly one — exemplifying his beliefs and self-image in suitably cartoonish fashion, before realizing Hollywood’s corridors of power were puny game for a real man. So he moved on to the more hallowed halls of D.C. and Manhattan. But first, there was Red Scorpion.

This 1988 actioner starred 6-foot, 5-inch Swedish meatball Dolph Lundgren, hot from playing the robo-Russkie villain in Rocky IV (1985) and He-Man in Masters of the Universe (1987), as a “perfect killing machine” sent by evil Soviet commanders to assassinate a resistance leader in a fictive African nation under the thumb of Communist oppressors.

Tending not to play well with others, Lt. Nikolai Rachenko spends his first night here in jail for “disorderly conduct” — after a few drinks he’d kicked open a saloon door, beat up half the patrons, and machine-gunned the joint. Boys will be boys. He shares a cell with a local freedom fighter (Al White) and an American reporter (M. Emmet Walsh at his formidably most-obnoxious). For no obvious reason our steroid miracle of a KGB enforcer decides moments later to switch sides and help them escape. This effort requires killing about a million extras playing Russian and Cuban military occupiers to the tune of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.” (Because nothing says “Democracy rocks!” like the orgasmic trills of an African American queen.)

Slowly-dawning ability to feel empathy for suffering peoples indicated by the heavings of his perpetually oiled torso and completely unintelligible mutterings, Nikolai is recaptured by former masters and made to endure homoerotic torture. He escapes again, staggering through the desert alone, shirtless and shiny. Bushmen rescuers teach this Golden Bwana something or other — like Billy Jack, he sweats, grunts, and hallucinates toward enlightenment — and give him a scorpion tattoo as diploma.

Now armed spiritually as well as abdominally to do good, his reappearance in civilization spurs Walsh to call this juiced Russki “the gutsiest goddamn sonuvabitch I ever met.” (Arne Olsen’s screenplay, from the brothers Jack and Robert Abramoff’s story idea, is seldom even this articulate.)

The climactic triumphant popular uprising at one point hinges on Lundgren lifting a truck out of a sandtrap with his bare bulging guns, a bit included purportedly because Jack Abramoff was an iron-pumping addict himself at the time. (What makes the scene funnier is that it evidently occurred to no one that Nikolai’s load would be lightened if Walsh got his fat ass out of the truck cab for a minute.)

A movie rife with bad dialogue badly spoken — you’ll gulp as White seemingly enthuses “When we arrive there will be a celebration and much fisting!” — ends aptly with the worst pronunciation ever of “Fucken’ A.” Our heroes are then freeze-framed while strolling over another umpteen freshly killed Commies.

Red Scorpion was shrugged off as what it basically was, yet another Rambo ripoff arriving toward the tail end of that subgenre’s lifespan. (A theatrical flop, it did well enough on tape and cable to prompt 1994’s in-name-only sequel Red Scorpion 2, on which the Abramoffs got executive producer credits.) There certainly are more cheap, inept, laughable, senseless, just plain dumb films of its ilk — though this one does excel at dumbness — and unlike many it does have one good joke, involving a grenade and a decapitated hand. Otherwise, if not for its primary motivator’s subsequent antics, Red Scorpion would be just another forgotten B-grade cultural relic.

But the Beverly Hills-raised Abramoff — who spent the earlier part of the 1980s as an aggressive far-right youth activist — intended this first-last cinematic venture as a stealth combo of dynamite popular entertainment and anti-Red Menace propaganda. He modeled the character of “Mombaka’s” resistance savior Sundata (played by Ruben Nthodi) on real-life Angolan anti-Marxist rebel warlord Jonas Savimbi, a darling of later Cold War hawks. (Others would soon call him “a charismatic homicidal maniac.”)

It is still debated whether Red Scorpion‘s $16 million budget was secretly funded primarily by the South African government and/or military. Abramoff denies it — though he had already spearheaded support of the apartheid regime as College Republican National Committee chairman and founder of the dubiously named think tank, International Freedom Foundation. In any case, once protestors got wind of the production shooting in South Africa-controlled Namibia — defying an international boycott — a skittish Warner Bros. pulled out as distributor. (Scorpion was then picked up in the U.S. by Shapiro-Glickenhaus, who later gave us 1990’s Frankenhooker and 1992’s Basket Case 3: The Progeny.)

The shoot was fraught. Some actors and crew complained they were never paid; production was suspended for three months when money ran out; star attraction Lundgren was apparently quite the hulking handful on and off set. Afterward, Abramoff — who’d converted to Orthodox Judaism at age 12 after seeing Fiddler on the Roof (1971) — blamed the film’s potty-mouthed and violent excesses on director Joseph Zito (of future Tea Party fan Chuck Norris’ own 1985 anti-Commie classic Invasion U.S.A.) He founded something called the Committee For Traditional Jewish Values in Entertainment as penance.

That noble latter endeavor was abandoned about five seconds later, however, since by then Abramoff realized he had better things to do than mess around with pansy-ass showbiz. Among his future, better-known achievements — the ones that got him top billing as Inmate 27593-112 — were bilking casino-owning Native American tribes, keeping third world factory sweatshops safe from investigation, pimping Congress to myriad corporations, and otherwise pedaling corruption ’round the globe, all while clutching family values and raving against the Godforsaken liberals. He was ever so righteous about doing wrong.

Today, he’s free, if uncharacteristically silent, having finished both his hoosegow stint and a halfway-house stay during which he worked for below minimum wage at a Baltimore kosher pizzaria. One suspects he will not be flippin’ pie in the future, however. Sibling Robert Abramoff is still in the biz, producing such fascinating-sounding recent projects as 2009’s Pauly Shore and Friends, 2009’s Jesus People: The Movie, and 2010’s Dino Mom.

Lundgren, recently looking fine (if downsized) in 2010’s all-star Expendables, now directs his own direct-to-DVD action vehicles. Still fighting the good fight, alongside Israeli special forces and South African mercenaries, Savimbi died in a hail of machine-gun fire eight years ago. That event helped end Angola’s civil war after nearly three decades. And Red Scorpion lives on, more or less. I found my used VHS copy at Rasputin Music for 50 cents. Fucken’ A!

The 2010 Lamebow Awards



I’m sorry. I was totally going to rundown all the most drag-queen-slappingiest moments of the incredibly homo-fixated year that was 2010. But then I thought, “Wait a minute! If I know so much about the gays, doesn’t that mean people will know that I’m gay? I can’t possibly come out — I don’t even have a book deal yet! Goddess damn you, Ricky Martin, for setting the bar so high. Nor do I have a book deal AND an autobiographical country record release date! Gee thanks, Chely Wright! (But also, thank you for one-upping Ms. Martin.)”

Anyway, that was a really long thought for me. So let’s just award those two a couple of nice, shiny, Degeneres-shaped 2010 Lamebows for Best Commercial Coming Out and move on. I’m queer, I’m here, I don’t have an agent, oh well. Speaking of commercial outings, let’s lob a Lamebow, too, at Richard Chamberlain, who helped pioneer the apparently lucrative form in 2003 with his autobiography Shattered Love (!). In December, he warned famous actors to stay in the closet because of persistent Hollywood homophobia. Way to monopolize, Dicky! Also: did you know that the most flamboyant cast member of Will and Grace is light and loafy? Shocking. A Lamebow to you, Sean Hayes, for coming out this year and finally putting our frantic speculation to rest at last.

The year 2010 was also when we learned that it only took six horrific teen suicides being reported in one month to remind old gay people that there are young gay people, and that being a young gay person is pretty damn tough. I have no idea how old gay people forgot this, considering several of them must have been young once, but I suspect something involving tiny dogs and/or tribal tattoos. Our major response to deadly homophobic bullying? Just deal with it, twerps. Sure, the “It Gets Better” campaign was wonderful as a high school survivor support group, a risk-free youth outreach effort, and proof that us olds knew how to work the YouTube. But the underlying message — “Don’t bother trying to change the world. One day you can move somewhere you’ll feel normal like us!” — was awfully regressive. We didn’t even have to leave the comfort of the Internet to feel like we did a little something. Shoulder pat! Still, like the obituaries, it was a rare chance to hear non-celebrity gay people’s personal stories, so there’s that.

Finally, a big, sparkly Lamebow must be parachuted in to the numbskulls who thought repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” was such a splendid idea. Yes, I feel sorry for people who have to lie to serve. And I’m not pissed off because now my hot gay ass can get drafted. I love Canada, it’s full of bears. No, I’m pissed because the successful repeal has probably ruined gay military porn forever. Look, there’s a very good reason why no porn is set in foofy gay bars with a tranny lipsyncing Lady Gaga in the background. Gays only like gay porn that has next to zero possibility of actual gay-acting people appearing in it. Now I have to worry that I’ll pop in my copy of Assghanistan: Taking Kabul by the Horns or Packin’ Stan: Assghanistan II and some Mary in fatigues will prance out a Katy Perry number with her bunkmates, sigh. Thanks a lot, America.

Coming attractions



HAIRY EYEBALL Welcome to 2011. It’s a new dawn, it’s a young decade, and I’m feeling good about the following shows worth eyeballing now or further down the line.



On a recent trip back to Taiwan, Job Piston took pictures of his grandfather’s garden, the former backdrop for many a family portrait. In Piston’s crisp C-prints, the garden stands as a verdant, almost-threatened exception to the urban sprawl that has sprung up around it. Standing in contrast to these landscapes are Piston’s photograms of the city that has grown beyond the walls of his grandfather’s compound. Created by exposing photographic paper to images on a computer screen originally shot by Piston using his cellphone, these are second-generation copies: photographs of pictures. Much like the now depopulated garden, the blurred, imprecise photograms are reminders, both beautiful and sad, that even through pictures one can never go back. Through Jan. 29. Silverman Gallery, 804 Sutter, SF. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (415) 255-9508, www.silverman-gallery.com.



Seemingly summoned from online backwaters of amateur gay porn sites, the men in Geoff Chadsey’s watercolor pencil portraits are turned on, tuned out, and chopped and screwed. An Abercrombie & Fitch-clad stud poses contrapposto in his underwear, his African American face standing in stark contrast to his blond tresses and white appendages. A shirtless bro in a trucker hat, his eyes squinting somewhere between sexy face and catatonia, has an extra set of arms. The lurid flush of Chadsey’s color palette — blues like Drano, pink flesh that crawls with green — only adds to the discomfiting mix of the banal and the extraordinary in his work. Through Feb. 12. Electric Works, 130 Eighth St., SF. (415) 626-5496, www.sfelectricworks.com.



Ruth Hodgins and Kit Rosenberg are a collaborative duo who met as MFA students at the SF Art Institute. While they are by no means the first artists to re-present everyday objects and materials, the “all bets are off” approach their work takes play very seriously, extending visual puns into more complicated thought experiments. In Theseus, for example, cooking twine is spun around nails hammered into on a board to create a wall-mounted labyrinth, as if to say that which forms the prison is also the means of escaping it. Through Feb. 19. WE Artspace. 768 40th St., Oakl. www.weartspace.com.



David Cunningham’s excellent gallery space at 924 Folsom may be no more, but the man with the golden eye is still actively curating. Case in point: this group show at The Lab, which brings together work by six European artists operating at the intersection of architecture, sculpture, and installation. Of particular note is Cath Campbell’s second full scale realization of her ongoing installation 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, which uses the titles of sentimental pop songs as blueprints for drawings, video, and models of imagined spaces. Jan. 14-Feb. 19. The Lab, 2948 16th St., SF. (415) 864-8855, www.thelab.org.



A belated coda of sorts to the large Hesse retrospective SFMOMA held back in 2002, this show focuses on the small, makeshift pieces that the sculptor would use as test runs or sketches of her larger works-in-progress. A friend once described Hesse’s amalgams of latex, wire-mesh, wax, fiberglass, and cheesecloth as “sad sacks,” but I don’t think that designation covers the range of effect her work elicits. There’s exuberance, playfulness, and even eroticism, to be found in her manipulation of the above industrial materials; all qualities I hope shine through in even these self-consciously “minor” works of an artist who was anything but. Also on tap at BAM for August is a retrospective of the stunning collage work of another German, painter Kurt Schwitters. Pencil it in. Jan. 26-April 10. Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft, Berk. (510) 642-0808, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.



Gertrude Stein famously wore Balmain and had her portrait painted by Picasso. Lady knew how to live. So too, apparently, did her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael’s wife, Sarah, who also collected art, held salons, and became important linchpins in Paris’ avant-garde circles in the early 1900s, after they expatriated from the family seat in Oakland. I hope this exhibit shines as much light on the Steins’ formative role in helping bringing modern art to the Bay as it does on the Matisses, Cezannes, Renoir, Picassos, and Bonnards they fervently acquired. May 21-Sept. 6. SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org.

Woman on the verge


FILM Sometimes a performance stands out and grabs attention for embodying a particular personality type or emotional state that’s instantly familiar yet infrequently explored in much depth at the movies. What’s most striking about Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is the primary focus it lends Michelle Williams’ role as the more disgruntled half of a marriage that’s on its last legs whether the other half knows that or not. Ryan Gosling has the showier part — his Dean (the actor’s second bad husband in a month, following All Good Things) is mercurial, childish, more prone to both anger and delight, a babbler who tries to control situations by motor-mouthing or goofing through them.

But Williams’ Cindy has reached the point where all his sound and fury can no longer pass as anything but static that must be tuned out as much as possible so that things get done. Things like parenting, going to work, getting the bills paid, and so forth. Dean hasn’t just lost his antic charm; his act is now clearly a poor cover for basic incompetence. He is an obstacle, an irritant whose clowning, fits of pique, and perpetual failure to be useful have become the domestic equivalent of fingernails on chalkboard.

It’s taken a few years for Cindy to realize that she’s losing ground in her lifelong battle for self-improvement with every exasperating minute she continues to tolerate him. Williams’ bile-swallowing silences and the involuntary recoil that greets Dean’s attempts to touch Cindy are the central emotional color of Blue Valentine: that state in which the loyalty, obligation, fear, pity, or whatever has kept you tied to a failing relationship is being whittled away by growing revulsion. Cindy is quiet because if she were to stop bottling it up for just a moment, ugly final truths would scream out.

It’s only a matter of time before that moment arrives, though Valentine maintains suspense (and avoids turning into a dirge) by scrambling time — we see this couple at their start and end, the chronology a bit confusing at first. Their paths cross when she’s an aspiring med student and he works for a moving company. Scenes of their courtship are charmingly spontaneous but also a bit conspicuously actor-improv, the two stars trotting out cute unexpected skills (he sings like a 1920s crooner, she demonstrates how to memorize all the presidents’ names) that seem to be their own, not Dean and Cindy’s.

Making only his second narrative feature after 12 years of documentaries, Cianfrance has said he’d sat on Valentine‘s finished screenplay that entire span, so that by the time funding was in place he’d become “bored” with it. He now wanted the actors to use it only as a structural springboard for their own character insights and dialogue. (You have to wonder how credited cowriters Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne felt about that decision, particularly since they’ve barely been mentioned in all the film’s acclaim since the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.) That approach works better in the flashback scenes between Cindy and her problematic family (as well as Mike Vogel as her then boyfriend Bobby) than those with Dean, or his own with coworker Marshall (Marshall Johnson), which somewhat heavy-handedly spell out Dean’s need to belong to somebody.

But it pays off richly in Blue Valentine‘s present-tense majority, which finds several years’ passage has exposed rather than strengthened a commitment originally made under considerable duress. (Bobby’s carelessness had left Cindy pregnant at the worst possible time, allowing barely-known suitor Dean to rush in as rescuer. The scene in which she nearly has an abortion will strike many as the film’s most uncomfortably intimate — certainly more so than the two tame bits of mimed cunnilingus that initially won Valentine a ridiculous NC-13 rating.) Now the couple are settled in working-class suburban New England, with a modest house, an adorable daughter of about five (Faith Wladyka as Frankie), and a dog that has ominously been missing some hours.

Cindy works as a nurse in an area hospital; Dean appears to be a stay-at-home dad. But we immediately sense the extent to which his not handling that job very well compounds the exhaustion created by hers. Daddy is a great playmate, beer and cigarette already in hand at high noon. Ergo it seems like a fun idea that he and Frankie should jump on the bed to wake up mommy — never mind that her shift probably ended just hours before and her cries to be allowed more sleep sound desperate. Breakfast is another time Dad wants to play, heedless of the reality that a squirmy child must be fed and dressed in time for Mom to drop her off at daycare on the way to work.

His notion of a tension releaser is to insist that Frankie stay overnight with grandpa so her parents can “get drunk and make love.” Though Cindy insists, “I’m not going to some cheesy sex motel” (one that, further, will require she drive back two hours to work first thing the next morning), that is exactly the plan forced on her.

Said motel’s stupid fantasy “Future Room” (resembling a community-theatre USS Enterprise) becomes the stage for their marital Götterdämmerung. Cindy starts pounding drinks to dull the pain. Dean tries turning on the old wacky charm, prompting her comment, “I thought the whole point of coming here was to have a night without kids.” It’s downhill from there.

Blue Valentine is raw and uncompromising, if not quite great. It suffers from the fact that while we fully understand where Cindy’s coming from (particularly the horrors of her parents’ marriage, a model she’s determined not to recreate), Dean remains something of a blank. Gosling provides his usual detailed performance, but grasping the insecure failure Dean is now — and that she should have recognized from the start — doesn’t fully compensate for our having no idea how he got that way. A couple mumbled sentences about a missing mother and musician father feel forced. Like the actor’s role in All Good Things, Gosling’s Dean is trying very hard to impersonate the man he’d like to be. But in that film we glimpsed some formative void; here the void is structural, the character self-invention not a condition so much as an actor filling in a surface without getting beneath it. Gosling’s excellent stab at an underwritten part is also at a disadvantage in that Williams just about burns a hole through the screen. It’s hard to believe she spent years as a fairly interchangeable teen star and Next Big Thing before 2005’s Brokeback Mountain revealed a startling propensity for very serious, ordinary, long-suffering women doggedly bailing out sinking canoes.

Her range is as yet an unknown — next up is My Week With Marilyn (yes, Monroe), which might not sound a natural fit, though clearly she has the craft to go way past mere breathy sexpot imitation. As her very different role in Valentine underlines, she has an uncanny knack for capturing every nuance in essentially uncomplicated personalities. Cindy is probably the least colorful, exciting, or humorous major female role of last year by conventional fiction standards. Williams manages to make her very ordinariness completely engrossing.


BLUE VALENTINE opens Fri/7 in Bay Area theaters.

Funk phenomenon


One of the most influential, and underreported, trends of San Francisco nightlife in the past few years has been the feisty reinvigoration of the jazz scene. Yoshi’s Fillmore, which opened in 2007, finally seemed to settle into its giant digs in that historic district — and, despite fears to the contrary, didn’t crowd out the stellar, more established jazz joints around it like Rasselas and Sheba Lounge. It also helped expand the traditional jazz palate into famously funkier territory — this month at Yoshi’s boasts the Ohio Players, The Family Stone, War, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, and Public Enemy with a live band. (What, no full orchestra? Flava Flav needs some glockenspiel.)

Also recently, San Francisco sent its huge and hip Jazz Mafia collective around the country performing uptempo “hip-hop symphony” Brass, Bows, and Beats. Unfortunately the Mafia’s homebase, Coda, closed on the first of this year — along with another beloved club, Triple Crown — citing the economic climate, but the supper club valiantly kept true to its live jazz mission to the end and shimmied with packed aficionados. Club Verde’s spunky Tuesday Night Jump! (Tuesdays, 9 p.m., $12. 2424 Mariposa, SF. www.oldtimey.net/tuesdays) with live band Stompy Jones revived that classic SF rockabilly swing vibe. Meanwhile, over at Martuni’s piano bar (4 Valencia, SF. 415-241-0205) near the Castro, a new generation seemed to discover its inner Sondheim, tipsily belting a few out ’round the gleaming ebonies and ivories. Send in those damn clowns already, Jesus.

That jazzy hometown spirit of expanding definitions and embracing the musical past as a living thing, not just some retro curiosity frozen into easily marketed poses, has graced other scenes as well. Even as you’re funking hard on the floor to some old school disco cuts or electronic productions, it’s hard not to hear echoes of jazz’s open-minded complexity working somewhere in the background.

And one of the parties I’ve funked hardest at lately has been Loose Joints (Fridays, 10 p.m., $5. MakeOut Room, 3225 22nd St., SF. www.makeoutroom.com). Let me be clear: Loose Joints isn’t a jazz club — although on a recent visit, DJ Tom Thump expertly melted London all-horn ensemble Brassroots’ 2010 New Orleans-leaning version of Inner City’s 1988 Detroit techno classic “Good Life” into Bill Withers’ Hammond-driven soul stomper “Harlem” from 1971. (At that point along my night’s journey, I needed a new pair of hotpants.) It’s more of an improvisational, all-vinyl DJ jam session that uses classic funk as its departure point. Hitting a tuneful sweet spot neither too familiar nor too abstract, Loose Joints has one of the best brain-to-feet ratios in the city: music nerds will dance their tight glasses off, straight-up partiers will discover where all those groovy samples come from.

The core trio of DJs at the heart of Loose Joints is a wild combination, rotating rapidly behind the tables. Founder Tom Thump digs deep into the wide-ranging, rarity-seeking global funk scene that brings to mind great DJs like Greg Wilson and Gilles Peterson (especially Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings project). Damon Bell reps Oakland’s fantastic, proudly abstract Deepblak techno scene, with a soulful Afro-Cuban twist. (Don’t sleep on his “multiple mind-space” Kush Musik series on Deepblak Recordings, www.deepblakmusic.com.) And DJ Centipede, who helps put on the headiest club going right now, Change the Beat (Tuesdays, 9 p.m., free. SOM, 2925 16th St., SF. www.som-bar.com), brings a future bass and experimental low-end background to the proceedings. Somehow they average out into a completely accessible and danceable entity.

“We are a strange triumvirate,” Thump told me. “I planned that, it was by design. I’ve known Centipede for years, when he used come into [Haight Street record store] Groove Merchant. So talented and unique. And I saw Damon play at [now-closed Panhandle club] Poleng one night a few years ago and was blown away by his soulful tunes. We are just one of my serendipitous flights of fancy.”

“Loose Joints” itself is a sly wink toward the experimental-made-accessible, a name cribbed by Damon from left-field dance music hero Arthur Russell’s popular side project, which put out the 1980 hit “Is It All Over My Face.” It also refers to the loose style the trio applies to mixing their vinyl cuts. (They leave other, more elevating interpretations to the imagination.)

The party is put on well from a practical standpoint, although the MakeOut Room’s layout is a bit strangulating near the door and it could use another person or two behind the bar. Because the MakeOut hosts live acts earlier in the evening, you’ll encounter a thrilling grab-bag of leftover patrons. The crowd is comfortable and open, dancing itself into frenzy. (When I dropped by last month, there was a gaggle of super-hot boys and girls grappling each other woozily to the floor, which was just fine. But watch where you step.) The strip of 22nd Street between Shotwell and Valencia has really taken on a European plaza air of late, with several bars and cafes spilling over with exuberant sophisticates. We need to ban cars there. And there’s also a healthy dose of newbie tech types — including the one in front of me in line who couldn’t believe the door guy wouldn’t take Visa for the $5 cover.

“San Francisco is so fucking beautifully diverse, that’s why the party goes so hard,” Centipede told me. “All types of life dancing to the same bassline.” Thump said: “There are a lot of people into funky sounds right now — from 1960s girl groups and Latin disco to post-punk and newer Afro-electro. We’re here to give all those a push. A sexy push.”


Mim Sulieman (with Maurice Fulton), “Mingi”

Suzy Q, “Can’t Give You Love (Persnickety All Stars Edit)”

The Fatback Band, “Wicky Wacky”

Bohannon, “Me And The Gang”




DINE Many of the city’s Ethiopian restaurants are to be found in the Western Addition (on or near Divisadero Street) and in the Inner Sunset, so to find one, Moya, blooming in SoMa is an unexpected pleasure. The rush of Internet Age money into the neighborhoods south of Market Street in recent years has been a fast-rising tide that can be said to have lifted all boats only if by boats we mean yachts. But if by boats we mean boats, then some swamping has occurred. The area isn’t yet devoid of modest, high-value restaurants, but the trend has bent strongly in the direction of pricey new places, from Prospect in the east to Bar Agricole in the once-forlorn west.

The foods of Ethiopia seem a little underappreciated on these shores. The cooking is as gratifyingly spiced as that from the other side of the Indian Ocean. But while Indian cuisine has found a sort of vogue here, perhaps because of the influx of so many software engineers, Ethiopian cuisine has not.

Yet neglect isn’t always and entirely a bad thing. It can help preserve a certain integrity and authenticity. At Moya (which opened last summer), the look is big-city modern, with high ceilings, a floor handsomely laid with rough tiles the color of sandstone, and walls washed with a butter color. The place looks fresh and clean, and the kitchen is half out in the open, which lends a reassuring transparency to things. There is nothing quite like being able to see the people who make your food actually making it.

But at heart, it’s very much a mom-is-cooking operation. The ayb, a kind of cottage cheese, is house-made according to a family recipe. You can order the cheese as a side, for $4, and it’s also served with the kitfo ($14), a kind of spicy, tataki-ized steak tartare — steak tartake? More on the beef in a moment, but as for the cheese: it was more creamy than chunky, almost like a relation of mascarpone but with a fresh sourness that led me to ask our server whether lemon juice had been substituted for rennet as the curdling agent. The answer was indefinite, which might mean I hadn’t put the question clearly or had stumbled on a trade secret. But the cheese did strongly remind me of a simple fresh white cheese I’ve sometimes made myself (using lemon juice squeezed into scalded milk) for the Indian spinach dish saag paneer.

The other lovely element of sourness in the food involves injera, the bread (made from a grain called teff,) that resembles a cross between sponge cake and sourdough. You could make a savory bûche de Noël from it. At Moya. as at all the Ethiopian and Eritrean places I’ve been to, injera is ubiquitous, whether laid out as a kind of mat for other items to rest on; rolled up like fresh lavash and set beside a rounded cone of green lentils — azifa ($5) — strongly seasoned with red onions, garlic, lemon, chilis, and olive oil or torn up and tossed with tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and a garlicky vinaigrette for ye timatim fit fit ($4), a sort of east African panzanella.

The kitchen’s seasoning hand is a robust one, whether the animating ingredient is garlic (the ye timatim fit fit should come with a whole coffee bean or two for each diner, to chew away garlic breath, which becomes particularly lethal the morning after), or hot pepper. We were consulted on how hot we wanted the kitfo and ye doro tibs ($12), chunks of boneless chicken sautéed in clarified butter with berberé, (the traditional Ethiopian chili powder), onions, garlic, tomato, and herbs. When told that hot was quite hot, we said medium and hoped for the best. But medium turned out to be what most places would call hot. I like spicy food, and I found the tingling afterglow of the berberé to be a distinct pleasure. But mild wouldn’t be a bad default choice for those in doubt.

As is customary, the main courses were piled together onto a platter lined with injera, and a well-dressed chopped salad dotted with tomato quarters were heaped at either end. The salad was both decorative and cooling, while the injera rug, of course, was ripped to shreds that served as little finger-operated grabbing devices. The atavistic satisfaction of tearing something up and then eating it reminds us of how close to being uncivilized we are, really, even in such civilized surroundings.


Dinner: nightly, 5–9 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sat., noon–3 p.m.

1044 Folsom, SF

(415) 431-5544


No alcohol

Cash only

Not particularly noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Eat, pray, defend chick lit



LIT I read Eat, Pray Love a while ago, and I’m nervous to tell you that I liked it. Ever since bottle blonde Julia Roberts assumed her best worried-kitten face for the book’s film version, no self-respecting lit snob would ever admit to having enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s account of her year of finances-be-damned travel, healing from divorce, and fulminations on the belabored pursuit of love.

The release of her follow-up, Committed (Viking Adult), a socio-historical look at marriage couched in the story of Gilbert’s own unexpected union to her green card-challenged hubby Felipe — and the announcement of her Jan. 14 appearance at the Yoga Journal Conference — goaded me to examine just why people are down on Gilbert. After perusing the con side (a blog called Drink Curse Hate was enlightening) I found that the ire seems to hinge on two precepts: that she is self-centered, and that her writing is what we diminutively refer to as chick lit. Well three, if you count complaints about her flippant usage of Eastern spirituality for self-help. But I’m not sure I have much to answer back to on that front.

First, a self-centered writer? Well stomp my keyboard and call me Danielle Steele. Writers write because we think we have something interesting and important to say. There are plenty of writers who write about themselves, and only themselves, and whom people fall over themselves to love. Hey, David Sedaris. Eat, Pray, Love is indeed all about Gilbert, but that doesn’t make it uninteresting. Glamorous travel writer leaves unsatisfying marriage, mends heart with an empowering trek around the world, yoga, Italian food, and impressively hunky Brazilian men encountered along the way. Hate on, haters, you’d write about it if it happened to you.

Second, chick lit. Literature written for chicks, by chicks, about chicks — am I getting the definition right? This term can stop being a pejorative one yesterday, as far as I’m concerned. And really, any book that teaches women that it’s okay to long for more than children and complete kitchen sets (which EPL does in spades) should be applauded in these uncertain times.

The funny thing about Gilbert is that before Eat, Pray, Love, she had a thriving writing career. Her creative nonfiction books were about men, of all things: an account of the macho culture of a Maine fishing village (named Stern Men) and the tale of an awe-inspiring, if prickly master outdoors-man (this titled The Last Man in America). Gilbert was a regular contributor at Spin and GQ, for which she penned the article on her days bartending at one of Manhattan’s most testosterone-heavy dives, Coyote Ugly Saloon. There was a movie based on that one, by the way.

“I couldn’t believe that Disney wanted to buy this story, it was so raunchy,” Gilbert tells me over the phone from the converted New Jersey church where she and Felipe had set up shop just prior to the onset of Eat, Pray, Love fever. “I still don’t know how they did it — I was like no! I can still smell the vomit.”

No, she could never have anticipated the last book’s zeitgeist-level success. No, she doesn’t expect Committed to replicate those sales numbers. The Eat, Pray, Love mania was “like a big circus parade going on just outside my door nonstop. I spend my day washing dishes and doing laundry and then I look out the window and go, ‘Wow, there’s that circus out there — they have dancing bears!’ and then I go back to doing what I’m doing.”

As far as she’s concerned, the book was the pinnacle of her career — and that’s fine. “The definition of a phenomenon is that it only happens once and you don’t know why it happened.”

But my money’s on Committed to be a success in its own right. The premise: Gilbert’s just not that into marriage. But marry she must, to secure Brazilian hubs Felipe the right to live in the country they’ve made their home, so she embarks on finding out what the hell it is about societally recognized partnership that people down through history have found acceptable, even appealing. She comes up with divergent and fascinating tidbits: that early Christians eschewed marriage, a socially conservative writer’s thesis that marriage is in itself a subversive act.

I read the book in a day. Gilbert’s conversational flow carries you through her life’s intimate details, like the transcribed list of personal faults she complied for Felipe. (She includes her need for attention and overly enthusiastic cold shoulder, yet leaves out the inevitability that every iota of their relationship will at one point be discussed by book clubs around the country.) A tone as engaging as hers has rarely been applied to the question of what marriage means in this day and age, and it’s refreshing to see that matter given some thought — even if her research is by her own admission not exhaustive. Hey, I probably wouldn’t have read the book if it had been.

I wanted to give the book to my newly sprouted crop of married friends, see how my mom reacts to Gilbert’s conclusions on child rearing, copy a chapter on the importance of solo travel for my boyfriend to read.

But they’d probably make fun of me. Elizabeth Gilbert? Please, that’s chick lit.


Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m.,

$29–$39 conference attendees, $49–$59 regular admission

Hyatt Regency

5 Embarcadero Center, SF

(800) 561-7407



Eat your slumgolian



CHEAP EATS Tell you, I loved making chili with Coach’s mom. Her refrigerator was broke, so everything we needed was downstairs in Grandma’s fridge. Except in most cases it wasn’t there either.

Coach is of course a vegetarian. Grandma didn’t want beans, or spicy. Neither refrigerator had any peppers of any kind. Nor could I find chili powder.

Now, as you may know, I pride myself on my sense of show-must-go-onmanpersonship. I didn’t panic, sulk, or give up. No. At every twist, turn, and sheer drop-off, I shrugged, I laughed, I chopped onward. And stirred and opened cans and stirred and tasted until at a certain point I found myself standing over this colorful pot of simmering something-or-other and decided to make an announcement.

“It’s not chili,” I announced.

Coach and Coach’s mom, who had been situating Grandma at the dining room table, soothing her with promises of chili and chili and chili, came running into the kitchen, stood beside me, and looked into the pot. Grandma doesn’t get around so easily, or I’m sure she’d have looked too.

“That’s all right,” they said.

And I knew that it was, but had no idea what to call it, until they told me about slumgolian. Slumgolian, in the Coach family, was a surreal meal probably somewhat akin to what I call refrigerator soup. Other people have other names for it.

The point is that I learned a new word for a new thing I’d never seen before, and in truth it didn’t taste all that half bad, over tortillas.

Thanks to Kayday and her little red car, I got to git me to Joshua Tree, my favorite place on the planet, for Christmas. We sat on some rocks in the middle of the desert and ate Turkey Jerky, Wheat Thins, walnuts, and raisins, by way of marking the spot, and it was my favorite Christmas in many years.

But not my favorite meal. Neither was slumgolian.

No, for that we have to wind back the clock to Papa’s birthday, which falls a couple days shy of Christ’s. We gathered that evening at the Taco Shop @ Underdogs, in the Sunset. It was Papa, Pappy, Cola, Mikey Bike, Fiver, Flavor, a bunch of people I didn’t know, and Kentucky Fried Woman, whom I did know but had lost track of.

Coach was in San Diego already by then, lining scrimmage fields and setting up blocking dummies and car tires for our training camp/New Year’s Eve brouhaha, reportage/repercussions of which will dominate the next couple weeks if not months of Cheap Eats. Just to warn you.

As her coaching staff, I’d be next to arrive in the land of sun, slumgolian, and tacos. In fact, Kayday dumped me there after Joshua Tree, on her way back up to San Fran.

And I would like to point out up front and out of order, that nothing I have eaten in SoCal, so far, has even come close to the Taco Shop for all-around Mexcellence.

I can’t remember if I ever wrote about Nick’s Crispy Tacos or not, but in any case, the deal is: same thing. “Nick’s way,” as they say, is two corn tortillas — one crispy, one soft — with cheese, beans, salsa, guac, and whatever else you like.

I like carnitas. I like fish. The fish is fried and therefore juicy, tender, and oh-so satisfying. Really, honestly, you only need one.

Plus maybe another, plus chips.

In any case, whether it’s Nick Crispy or the Taco Shop, the pico de gallo is great, the guac is great, the meat is juicy, and the combination of soft and crispy tacos … well, go figure: it works.

Underdogs, I guess, is the name of the bar the Taco Shop is in. Sports on TV. In the back corner they have one of those basketball things where you see how many hoops you can make in a certain number of seconds. And while I was catching up with KFW on one side of me, and talking writing and music shop with Mikey Bike on the other, I also watched, out of the corner of my eye, several of my friends “step up to the line,” so to speak.

All I will say is that I am glad our football team is not going to be a basketball team. Although … well, never mind. We will see.


Sun.–Wed. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.;

Thurs.–Sat. 11 a.m.– midnight

1824 Irving, SF

(415) 566-8700


Full bar


Don’t forget the Motor City



FILM/CULTURE There is the Detroit of mythology, and then there is the reality — half-abandoned, yet rife with some greater potential — beneath the myths. Local archivist Rick Prelinger sets his sights on both in Lost Landscapes of Detroit, an assemblage of private and commercially-produced films spanning from the peak of the Model T to the era of the gas guzzler. As arranged by Prelinger, Lost Landscapes is a provocative counterpoint to the urban portraiture of his Lost Landscapes of San Francisco series. Gazing from both sides of the automobile window, it reveals Hollywood’s relationship with the Motor City during the golden age of the movie theater, and the potential and the limits of other obsolescent industries: film and print media. Immersed in a mammoth project involving home movies (he says he’s “only” watched 1,200 of the ones he’s assembled for it), Prelinger recently discussed Lost Landscapes of Detroit, on the eve of its first West Coast screening.

SFBG One thing I like about your Lost Landscapes programs is their dynamic and open-ended shifts between industrial and home movies, black-and-white and color, silence and sound.

RICK PRELINGER These are assemblies, but also quickie films. I like the form. One thing I’m interested in is elevating unedited material — raw footage — to the same level that something dramatized or contrived might enjoy.

I like to think of home movies as homemade crafts, and you establish that through difference. When you show something industrial, with all the weird tropes we all now know — even if we didn’t grow up with them, we see them on The Simpsons — it’s a way of building a stronger sense of what is particular to home movies.

SFBG How did Lost Landscapes of Detroit come about?

RP I started traveling to Detroit in 1982 to talk to retirees from production companies there, the biggest of which was Jam Handy. Jam Handy Organization made something like 7,000 motion pictures and tens of thousands of film strips, and no one knows this. They used to say — and it might be apocryphal — that more film was exposed in Detroit than in New York and Hollywood combined. Detroit was within 400 miles of most of the industrial production and most of the population of America. It was a strategic place.

In ’82, Detroit was already stressing, there was a recession. For the first time, I saw fast food outlets and banks and suburban malls that were derelict — now we’ve gotten kind of used to that. I loved the city. I must have gone back 20 times since.

SFBG What was the response like when you screened Lost Landscapes of Detroit in Detroit?

RP We set out 150 chairs, and when it was time for the show, there were 425 people. It was an amazing audience — racially mixed, union people, people from Ann Arbor, people who had moved to Oakland and Macomb County, people coming for the white flight nostalgia thing.

Afterward, there was almost an hour of discussion. One comment that was so great came from the woman who runs the Black Theater program at Wayne State [University]. She said it was a perfect blend of nostalgia and provocation.

I’ve always been really anti-nostalgic, but you have to acknowledge that nostalgia is a major subjective and social force. It’s deeply wired. To inflect that with the idea of provocation worked for me. I don’t want [to put together] another America apocalypse movie. Detroit really isn’t about all that — there’s still 300 or 400,000 people in the city who are going to work 9-to-5.

The other thing about Lost Landscapes of Detroit is that there’s nothing about Hudson’s in the film. Everybody goes on in a senile way about Hudson’s and how wonderful it was — let’s get over it, you know? We have two things we have to get over if we’re going to move forward, May ’68 and Hudson’s.

SFBG Lost Landscapes contains a film about a newspaper coverage of an antiwar protest that is interesting because it doesn’t look to quote the protest figures who are usually lionized, and because it foregrounds another 20th-century industry in trouble: newspapers and print media. Same with the movie of the Detroit News’ June Brown talking with an ex-daily News reader who does her hair. It’s an off-the-cuff but perfectly precise discussion of racial bias in journalism.

RP It’s kind of like looking to the periphery for the inside truth. I’ve always found that to be true, and it relates to the kind of film I collect and the material I foreground. There it is, in some industrial film — intelligent, critical city residents demanding a certain level of media accountability.

SFBG There’s a show-not-tell tactic to your placement of archival footage. Lost Landscapes begins with a black-and-white industrial newsreel trumpeting that “any picture of America without automobiles is hopelessly out of date.” It ends with a silent color home movie in which the city’s name is spelled out in greenery.

RP I hate the course that recent documentaries have taken, in which they have characters undergoing crises that are resolved in Act 3. It’s like Mad Libs. Dramatically, most documentaries today are almost identical.

I’ve been working on a long-form film about travel, mobility, and tourism in America, largely comprised of home movie footage. It’s based on the idea that there’s nothing more attractive and seductive and fascinating than traveling, especially by car. We’ve come to see it not just as an entitlement, but as a right. But how can we think about this in a period where you can’t afford gas at $4 a gallon, or there may not be any fuel anymore? It’s thinking toward a time when mobility isn’t a given.


Jan.12, 7:30 p.m., free


1310 Mission, SF

(800) 838-3006


alt.sex.column: V-ball


Dear Andrea:

I’ve always fantasized about girls kicking me in the balls. I have always secretly desired it, especially women or girls wearing sexy boots. I have always had a thrill for women dominating men. When I would watch the TV show V, I would dream of Diana kicking Mike Donovan in the balls with her sexy stiletto boots. She is one of many women I would have liked to have been kicked by. What causes men to like it? Why would us guys enjoy such pain and agony?



Dear Balls:

Not again! Oh, OK, I guess there’s something new to address here. But the last part, the standard ball-kick questions, get answered like this: Nobody knows, and nobody knows.

What I do find interesting is that this is such a guy thing, I mean, certainly there are women who enjoy ball-kicking in fantasy, and even in reality, and many would even do it for free. But the fact that (most) women do not themselves possess testicles does not fully account for the lack of similar fantasies on the masochist side of the sadomasochist divide. Other forms of crotular pain delivery, sure. Breast bondage/tit torture? Oh my word yes, you don’t want to go Googling that unless you have a couple days off and a good system for cleaning up your hard drive afterward.

I’m pretty sure that the ball-kicking fantasies connect to something in men that goes way beyond “this is a good way to get maximum pain delivery with minimal effort for either giver or receiver.” It is that, sure, but if it were that simple we would see finger-stepping or eyeball-poking represented with similar frequency, and we don’t,

So, in short, Mr. Balls, you are getting off on the domination and, more specifically, the humiliation aspect of having a female person appear to endanger the supposed locus your precious masculinity. Although I am not even sure that I can define “masculinity” in any way that is useful (maleness is simple, masculinity is, again no pun intended, hard), I am nonetheless quite certain that whatever it is, it does not reside in the testes, nor can such an abstract attribute suffer physical harm at the business end of a stiletto pump. But I get that it feels as though it can, and I get the turn-on. It’s a big one.

People are forever asking me, around S-M topics, if power-play would even be a turn-on in the absence of real-world, not-fun, not-funny social inequality and I have to say sorry, dunno, we hardly have a way to test that, do we? So I have no way to tell if your rather popular fetish would have the same draw if the whole idea of the “powerful woman” did not carry with it the baggage of some multi-thousands of years of the subjugation of women, and a nearly planet-wide horror of anything feminine sneaking in to emasculate, oh, anything. That, defied, still carries quite a kick, At least as kicky as that V woman’s stilettos.



Got a question? Email Andrea at andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com

Light fantastic



VISUAL ART/MUSIC Suzy Poling greets me by the half-open front gate of Queen’s Nails Projects and hands me a Sapporo tallboy. It’s freezing outside, and not much warmer inside. And dark. But not for long: within moments, she’s turning on a projector at the top of a tall ladder, running tape through a bulky Pioneer tape deck on top of a giant Moog, and spinning transparent mobiles that are suspended from the spaces’ ceiling, all while explaining her thoughts on making art and the ideas behind her current show, “Zone Modules.” Analog sound growls like an electric beast. The big square room expands to an outer space with rough edges, as projector light refracted from glass and mirrors floats like electric stars across a gray-silver moon on one a wall.

“I think I’m into it,” Poling wonders out loud, looking at the wall fixture. “In this exhibition, there’s an overall idea of future decay.” She’s telling the truth, not spinning an artist’s statement, and yet there’s also a current of energy and motion coursing through the room. At a certain point I realize that things are moving all around me, including behind my shoulder, a corner-of-the-eye feeling that is disconcerting and exciting — in terms of immersion, it evokes Bruce McClure’s and Anthony McCall’s explorations of live cinema, or an inverted version of the effects created by Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. “I think people want to get in touch with infinity rooms [right now],” Poling agrees, when I mention Kusama. “It makes sense to get in touch with the planet we’re on and everything around it.”

This is just the beginning of “Zone Modules,” and just a hint of the constantly intersecting sonic and visual energies at play in Poling’s broader art endeavors, a growing and morphing constellation that connects colorfully primordial photos of geysers to layered, artificial experiments in grayscale. We walk to the next room, a small black space with an old black-and-white television in one corner tuned to an eternal 1920s movie dreamscape. “Everyone really liked this room for some reason [at the opening],” Poling says with a shrug, as swirling fog gives way to a close-up of a cut jewel on the small screen. “It’s like hanging out in a black room with a boob tube — it’s a classic hypnosis.”

The relaxed humor and pleasure in this room, though “experiential,” as Poling put it, is not common in today’s art world. It puts me in mind of Cary Loren, a friend of Poling’s from Detroit (and a member of the influential noise band Destroy All Monsters), whose viewpoint possesses a similar enjoyment of pop culture mutation — one that’s not kitschy, but imaginative in a raw, imperfect, individual manner. Poling’s years growing up and exploring the abandoned spaces of Detroit and then Chicago are central to what she’s making today. “It’s so cold and there’s some strange individuals there,” she says affectionately, when I bring up the Midwest. “I drew a lot of my inspiration from the Congress Theatre, this old movie palace from the 1920s on Milwaukee Avenue. I used to live inside it. I started [ the musical project] Pod Blotz there, because I could bring an organ up onto the stage.”

For around a decade, Poling has lived in Oakland, perhaps the closest thing that California has to offer to those kinds of urban autonomous zones. As we move to another room in “Zone Modules” and she talks about a geometric costume she used to wear to early Pod Blotz shows — “I thought, ‘I love theater of Bauhaus, I love Dada, I love the Vienna actionists, and I’m going for this !” — I’m struck by the unashamed enthusiasm for different periods and styles of art, some outre or out of fashion, within her work. To say it’s refreshing in these jaded times would be an understatement. But this isn’t naïve art — it’s gradually formulating a personal vision informed by everything from optics and opthamology to Russian avant-garde posters. “I’m not going to deny these things — I like [Laszlo] Moholy-Nagy!,” Poling exclaims at one point.

“I could reinstall this installation a bazillion different ways and it would always be different,” Poling says, as a characterful projected object darts like a dragonfly around the corner of an adjacent room. Not all artists could make such a claim, and fewer still could say it and have the idea be exciting. Poling credits the endless potential for combinations present in “Zone Modules” to curator Julio Cesar Morales’s insights about what to leave out of the show, but I think it also has something to do with the her experiences collaborating with artists on an international scale, and her kinship with them. Along with her best friend Kamau Patton, she was part of Official Tourist, an artist group that included members from Bosnia and Japan. “I’ll relate to a friend in Belgium in Dolphins into the Future who makes psychedelic spacey new age music,” she says, when talking about the music of Pod Blotz. “But then I also really relate to Haters in Los Angeles. They make totally different kinds of music, but they have a deep respect for each other.”

In the back room of “Zone Modules,” Poling’s paintings — which layer paint over vinyl and and paper to create interruptions in form and shape — share space with geometric sculptural and light experiments. I stare into the triangular eye of a metallic sculpture in the center of the room and through a tetrahedral passageway, spy another trangle, this time painted. “I like having the ability to just go into making art with people,” Poling says. “That feeling that the creation station is out there.” 


Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Closing performance with Death Sentence: Panda, Chen Santa Maria

Fri/7, 8–11p.m.

Queen’s Nails Projects

3191 Mission, SF


Joining the journey



Malcolm X once said “Tomorrow is for those who prepare for it today.” And today, Malcolm Shabazz, the eldest grandson of Malcolm X, says he is trying to carry on the storied legacy of the radical advocate for African American civil rights and leading voice for the Nation of Islam.

Shabazz, 26, was recently in San Francisco discussing that legacy, as well as his own spiritual and personal journeys, which included making the pilgrimage to Mecca for the hajj in November, a requirement for Muslims that his grandfather also undertook in 1964, the year before he was assassinated.

It was the latest chapter in a long and complicated story. At the age of 12, Shabazz started a fire in his Yonkers home that left his grandmother (Malcolm X’s wife, Betty) with burns over 80 percent of her body, which led to her death a few days later. Shabazz has spent more of his adolescence and adulthood in prisons and other institutions than in the real world.

After serving four years in juvenile correctional facilities for arson and manslaughter charges for the fire, Shabazz pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in 2002. He served three and a half years in prison for that crime and then went back to prison months after his release for punching a hole in a store window.

Although he is often portrayed in media accounts as disturbed, Shabazz seemed calm and reflective during a two-hour interview with the Guardian. A soft-spoken man with few but well-chosen words, Shabazz is not unafraid to speak his mind about the state of the country and his grandfather’s legacy.

“If you want to know anything, then go back to the source,” he told us, which is what we did, reviewing his long, twisted journey to Mecca.

As the oldest male heir to Malcolm X, Shabazz was born into a fascinating family. Media accounts have documented him as a troubled young man, shuttled back and forth among family members. Like his grandfather, he spent time on the streets and in jail. Like his grandfather, it was behind bars that he finally regained his faith and found himself fully immersed in Islam. Shabazz explains that while he was born into Islam, he finally began to fee its presence in his life during his most recent incarceration period. While quarantined in Attica Correctional Facility in New York, Shabazz explained that he “didn’t have any hygiene supplies, I didn’t have any reading materials.”

But it was during his time in Attica that he met another prisoner — half Mexican, half Iranian — who identified himself as a Shia Muslim. “He asked me ‘Are you in a lie? Or are you a real Muslim?’ ” Shabazz recalled. He answered that he was a real Muslim. “He gave me reading materials to read in my cell.”

According to Shabazz, this was the man who discussed and poured over religious texts with him during their time together, and the one who inspired him to convert from the Sunni sect to Shia.

“I was raised a Sunni, everyone in my family was Sunni,” he said. There is much antagonism between the two sects, so his conversion caused a backlash akin to when his grandfather left the Nation of Islam in 1964 and declared himself a Sunni, which let to his assassination the following year.

When word spread of Shabazz’s conversion, various Sunni leaders and community members expressed their discomfort with what he had done. He explained that many people wrote to him asking him, “How could you become a Shia?”

After his release, Shabazz decided to move to Syria to study at an Islamic institute and then spent the following eight months teaching English to children. “I came home from prison [and] I wanted to get away for a little while,” he explained.

After arriving back from Syria in April, Shabazz went to Miami and worked on his memoirs, which he said are due to come out this May. The book discusses Shabazz’s life and tribulations, noting that “there are misconceptions that I would like to clear up.”

Once he returned to the United States, Shabazz decided to follow his grandfather’s footsteps and make the pilgrimage to Mecca, where, he said “the air felt different.” But he also explained how the people he saw on the pilgrimage seemed less willing to impose their rules on Americans.

“It seems like they have more fear [of] Americans than they do for Allah,” he said. “If they know you’re American, I don’t know what it is, but they leave you alone.”

Shabazz said he had the experience of a lifetime and proved his intense vigor for the Islamic faith. He circled the Kaa’ba, and despite swollen feet and a bad case of the flu, carried on his pilgrimage like a true believer. “I never saw this many people at one place at one time. It was much more of a struggle than I had anticipated,” he said. “But everything was earned.”

Decades before, his grandfather Malcolm X made his mark on American culture, taking a radical approach to demanding equal rights. When asked if his grandfather would admire President Barack Obama if he were alive today, Shabazz replied, “Definitely not. To me, Obama is no different than [George W.] Bush.”

He said that democracy in this country is a sham, an illusion effectively perpetuated by the ruling elite. “The U.S. is a land of smoke and mirrors, and they’re the best at doing what they do,” he said. “My grandfather? Hah. He wouldn’t have supported any of those dudes.”

Although Shabazz doesn’t particularly admire Obama so far, he does hope that the election of the first African-American president will “boost the esteem of the young black youth.” And he said that the messages of Malcolm X are more important today than ever.

“My grandfather once stated that there are only two types of power that are respected within the United States of America — economic power and political power — and he went on to explain how social power derives from these two. Unfortunately, the majority of the people [today] are economically illiterate and politically naive. They believe most of what they see on television and read in the papers. I say believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.”

For his own personal politics, Shabazz said change begins with education and unity. “[Education] could be done through music, spoken word poetry, art, preaching from the pulpit, or putting in physical work right in the trenches,” Shabazz said.

In terms of unity, he cited the European Union, explaining that it is an organization “where nations that don’t necessarily like each other [but] have at least enough common sense to come together for a cause, to achieve a common goal, or to stand up against a common enemy. When it’s time to put niggers in check, they know how to come together.”

Almost 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, Shabazz sees growing potential for Islam to exert an influence in the U.S. “After 9/11, a lot of people did not know too much [about Islam]. But they started to investigate and learn more.”

Although many people’s first reaction was to turn away from the religion of jihad, Shabazz feels that many people also felt the need to educate themselves on the matter — and found that there is much more to Islam than the mainstream media portrays. And for a young man who has already led a turbulent life, Shabazz is seeking something basic from his newfound faith: “I want a peace of mind.”

2010 Offies!



When a major conservative political movement starts using a name that typically refers to the act of scrotal fellatio, you know it’s morning again in America. In 2010, the teabaggers came home. They nominated candidates who think masturbation is selfish and wonder why monkeys aren’t still evolving into humans. They held rallies urging the government to “get out of my Medicare,” which happens to be a government program. Their leaders praised dictators and urged women who had been raped to look at the bright side of things.

And those were just the headlines.

It’s hard to imagine a year that could be worse than 2010 — but it was a great vintage for the Offies.

Presenting the Off Guard awards for the silliest, most insane, and absolute worst of the year that was.


Arizona Governor Jan Brewer told reporters that illegal immigration resulted in beheadings in the desert.


Christine O’Donnell, the Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware who decried masturbation as a “selfish act,” said she only dabbled in witchcraft and had just one date on a satanic altar.


Jerry Brown said he opposed the state’s marijuana legalization measure because “we can’t compete with China if we’re all stoned.”


A Pew Research Center poll showed that 41 percent of Americans think Jesus will return in the next 40 years.


A few days after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward complained that he wanted his life back.


Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said if he were governor he’d give the National Guard live ammunition to shoot at immigrants on the border.


GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina said that people on the federal no-fly list should have the right to own guns.


President Obama asked whose ass he should kick at BP.


Staffers at the Securities and Exchange Commission got caught spending as much as eight hours a day downloading porn at the office.


Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle praised Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for his efforts to privatize that country’s retirement system, saying “sometimes dictators have good ideas.”


Sharron Angle said that women who have become pregnant as the result of rape or incest should “turn lemons into lemonade.”


GOP Congressman Joe Barton of Texas apologized to BP for a White House “shakedown.”


Meg Whitman’s son threw softball equipment over a fence to kick a group of computer science and physics students off the Princeton rugby field.


GOP Senate candidate Chuck DeVore compared Palestinian activists to Nazis, Fascists, and Communists.


Nevada banned chicken costumes from the polls after Nevada Senate candidate Sue Lowden said that people should barter with doctors for health care the way “our grandparents would bring a chicken to the doctor.”


Pope Benedict said it was okay for male prostitutes to wear condoms.


Formerly classified State Department cables revealed that the premier of Korea is still an excellent drinker.


Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell said that evolution was a myth; after all, she wondered, “why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?”


The Vatican announced that the ordination of women and the abuse of children were both “grave crimes.”


Gavin Newsom decided to run for lieutenant governor after saying he didn’t know what the job was.


The United States held high-level negotiations with a supposedly senior Taliban operative who turned out to be a Pakistani shopkeeper.


The Department of Homeland Security abandoned color-coded safety alerts.


Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, made it to the final round of Dancing with the Stars.


Dan Quayle’s son ran for Congress in Arizona and admitted that he had been posting on “dirty Scottsdale” under the name of Brock Landers, a sidekick to porn star Dirk Diggler.


Rand Paul said Obama’s criticism of BP was “un-American.”


The California Highway Patrol shut down its South Lake Tahoe office after officers found an anal vibrator and thought it was a bomb.


Tiger Woods admitted that he sucked.


Vice President Joe Biden called the health reform bill “a big fucking deal.”


NATO Commander John Sheehan said Dutch soldiers were too gay.


John Tyner told Transportation Security Administration officials in San Diego that if “you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.”


Sarah Palin demanded that Rahm Emanuel apologize for using the term “fucking retarded.”



MSNBC Host Chris Matthews was so excited by an Obama speech that he said he “forgot he was black.”


Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spent $50 million on a ballot initiative to stop public power, and lost after getting soundly defeated in every county where the utility has customers.


Meg Whitman fired her housekeeper when she found out she was in the country illegally.


Sharron Angle defended a campaign ad depicting menacing-looking Hispanic men by telling members of the Hispanic Student Union at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas that many of the members looked Asian.


Christine O’Donnell said she couldn’t find anything about the separation of church and state in the Constitution.


Sen. John McCain said he opposed ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” talked about all the soldiers and Marines who lost limbs, and said that “when your life is on the line, you don’t want anything distracting.”


Federal judge Henry Hudson asked Obama administration officials whether the new health care plan was similar to forcing all Americans to eat asparagus.


Sharron Angle said that the Obama administration’s policies might require “Second Amendment solutions.”


Sir Elton John played at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding.


Dick Cheney said he had been a “big supporter of water boarding.”


Chris Daly vowed to say “fuck” at every single board meeting in 2010.

Editor’s Notes



Social inequality is morally wrong, politically dumb, and economically unsustainable. It also makes you fat.


There’s a book by two British epidemiologists that argues the physical and mental health case for economic equality — and it’s full of great stuff. It’s a year old, but I read a nice analysis of it in Nicholas Kristof’s column in the Jan. 2 New York Times. Kristof notes that Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, both British epidemiologists, cited vast and growing evidence that societies with greater equality are in general more healthy. And by that they mean not only that those societies have less crime and violence; the people who live with greater equality actually have less heart disease, mental illness, and obesity.

The book is called The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. A lot of it’s kind of touchy-feeley, but in the end, they come to a scientific conclusion: “The relationships between inequality and poor health and social problems are too strong to be attributable to chance.”

The two scientists also take on one of the great taboos of modern economics. They argue that growth isn’t necessarily good, that the standard goal of every official government policy in every major nation in the world — capitalist, socialist, or communist — over at least the past half-century, has been based on a flawed assumption.

There aren’t even that many progressives in this country who want to challenge the idea that the economy needs to grow to solve problems like unemployment and poverty. Sim Van Der Ryn, the visionary planner and architect, once told me that it makes no sense to have “a perpetually adolescent economy.” But in most polite company, that’s heresy.

But our new governor, who once employed Van Der Ryn as the director of the Office of Appropriate Technology, has a few heretical cells in his Jesuit-trained brain. And while I don’t expect him to turn the state’s growth frenzy on its head, he ought to be willing to think about this:

The solution to California’s problems may lie more with redistributing the pie than with making it larger.

I’m not arguing that we should abandon growth, particularly at a time of high unemployment. But keep in mind: corporate profits are already up, both here and nationwide — but the big companies are hoarding their cash and not hiring. Banks are making money again — but they’re not lending it out. We’re in a different sort of recovery here, one that may, for the moment, be structurally jobless. During the deep recession, businesses figured out how to survive with fewer employees, and they’re not about to start expanding the payroll.

And of course, the public sector has done nothing but shrink, and there’s little talk of anything but more shrinking.

So maybe the only way we’re going to get out of this is to inject more money into the economy, not by borrowing but by sending some of the idle wealth at the top back down to the level where it might become production. It might make us all a lot healthier. Because it turns out that you don’t have to eat the rich; just tax them.

How Brown can save California


EDITORIAL There are two things Gov. Jerry Brown has to do to get California back on track, and he needs to start right away. He has to restore at least a degree of public faith in state government — and he has to put a series of tax increases on the June ballot.

The first step ought to be right in the Brown playbook. The public is fed up with the secrecy, lies, machinations, and policy failures of the Schwarzenegger administration, and Brown can start off by telling people the truth. The budget situation is frightening; it can’t all be solved by cuts without destroying the state of California as we know it. But it also requires an understanding that the taxpayers don’t want to see their money wasted.

Brown has done the right thing by offering to cut his own staff by 25 percent and by denouncing the demands of the highest-paid University of California staffers who want even larger pensions. He might also take a look at some of the outmoded, expensive commissions in the state (do we really need a 21-member California Film Commission?) None of these are big money-savers, and none address the budget crisis in any meaningful way. But they’ll show that Brown’s cautious with a buck.

Then he needs to tell the voters that the state does, indeed, have a revenue problem, not just a spending problem. And he should start right away with a blue-ribbon panel of tax experts to look at what reforms ought to go on the June ballot.

It’s crazy to say that solving a $28 billion budget shortfall is easy, but a few basic changes could go a very long way to balancing the books. If the voters approve an oil severance tax (something every other oil-producing state in the nation has), an end to the commercial property loophole in Prop. 13, and the restoration of the vehicle license fee that Arnold Schwarzenegger abolished, the state would be about $10 billion richer. A modest increase in the income tax on the very richest Californians would add a few billion more. And suddenly the problem wouldn’t look so insurmountable.

Brown has an advantage: he’s taking over for a terribly unpopular governor. He will be able to work with a Legislature that now has the ability to pass a budget with a simple majority. And while his victory in November was hardly a landslide, it was substantial enough that he’s got a valid mandate for change.

He and the legislative leaders should adopt a budget that includes the expected revenue from a June tax package — and then offer an alternative budget that doesn’t. Give the voters a clear choice. Do they want to eliminate hundreds of public schools, raise elementary school class sizes to 40, shut down a couple of University of California campuses, shutter the state parks, and let 30,000 prisoners go free? Of do they want the oil companies and the richest Californians to pay a little bit more to keep the state functioning?

Brown can make history this spring. The passage of Prop. 13, during his last term as governor, set off a nationwide tax-cutting frenzy that’s damaged the entire country. By pushing back just a little bit, and demanding a little bit of tax fairness, he can demonstrate that California is still a leader in progressive public policy.

He’ll have to put his political capital, his credibility, and all the money he can raise behind the effort. If he doesn’t, his administration, and the state, will be a total failure.

Best restaurant openings of 2010, San Francisco


In a ridiculously rich year of new restaurant openings, the most prolific I’ve seen yet, it is harder than ever to name the top ones. There are many noteworthy places, from the “Mad Men”-esque vibe of Thermidor, to the stratospheric prices and fabulous snapping turtle veloute at Benu. Some of our best cafes (Ma’velous) and cocktail bars (Burritt Room) were added to the SF scene. Gourmet comfort food is a worn-out trend but places like Citizens Band and Grub infused it with new life.

As ever, my goal is to include cheaper and upscale openings, making it trickier to list every worthy candidate within the limits of 2010. The good news is, our already incredible dining scene only continues to explode, despite trying economic times. We have some of the most affordable, high-caliber food in the world, as Michelin Guide’s director noted. Here’s to more creativity, diversity and fine meals with good friends in 2011.

**The first 10 restaurants are in San Francisco proper — a part two highlighting the Bay Area can be found here. Restaurants are in alphabetical order.**

COMMONWEALTH. Photo by Virginia Miller

>>BAKER AND BANKER Baker and Banker technically is a 2009 opening (11/09), but I include it as an exemplary destination neighborhood restaurant. With dark brown walls and booths, the space exudes a modern, warm elegance. Husband-and-wife team, Jeff Banker and Lori Baker, get it right from start to finish with his dishes, like vadouvan curry cauliflower soup or brioche-stuffed quail in a bourbon-maple glaze, and her memorable desserts, like famed XXX triple dark chocolate layer cake (awarded a 2010 Guardian Best of the Bay) or warm pumpkin cobbler with candied pumpkin seed ice cream. Since the debut of their bakery next door, you can get Baker’s goods all day long.

>>BARBACCO Yes, Barbacco is usually obnoxiously noisy and crowded. But it improves upon its parent restaurant, Perbacco, with gourmet quality at a great value ($3-14 per dish). Reminiscent of enotecas I’ve dined in throughout Italy, heartwarming food and a thoughtful wine list make it an ideal urban trattoria. Order a glass of Lambrusco, fried brussels sprouts, and raisin/pine nut-accented pork meatballs in a tomato sugo, then marvel at the minimal bill.

>>COMMONWEALTH Anthony Myint and chef Jason Fox are re-inventing fine dining, along with a few key players in San Francisco (see Sons and Daughters below). Myint was one of the masterminds behind Mission St. Food and Mission Chinese Food, but at Commonwealth delves into molecular gastronomy. Taste your way through deliciously experimental creations for a fraction of the price at comparable restaurants – no dish is over $15. Dine on goat cooked in hay while sipping a liquid nitrogen aperitif, finish with porcini thyme churros with huckleberry jam. You may be packed in tight in the spare, modern space, but you’ll leave glowing from stimulating flavors and presentation.

COMSTOCK. Photo by Virginia Miller

>>COMSTOCK SALOON The Barbary Coast comes alive in this bar/restaurant gem that feels like a timeless classic. From Victorian wallpaper and wood-burning stove, to restored dark woods, the spirit and history of the space charm immediately. Filling up on rich beef shank/bone marrow pot pie or bites like whiskey-cured gravlax on rye toasts with dill sour cream is happy respite on chilly nights. Pair with a perfect Martinez cocktail or a barkeep’s whimsy (bartender’s creation based on your preferences). Comstock exemplifies the best of what a modern-day saloon (with old world sensibilities) can be.

>>CURRY VILLAGE When husband-and-wife owners Kamal Barbhuyan and Nimmi Bano left the Tenderloin’s Little Delhi, I mourned the loss of their divine butter chicken and made-from-scratch eats. Thankfully, this year brought them to the Inner Sunset with Curry Village. With the highest concentration of great Indian food in the ‘Loin, it feels right to spread the love across the city. Whether it’s daal (lentils) enriched with spiced beef, or the ultimate eggplant curry, baingan bharta, this couple prepares what could otherwise be standard Indian fare with love and lush flavor.

>>HEIRLOOM CAFE The menu (less than ten starters and entrees) is so simple I’m almost bored reading it. But upon first visit to the Victorian, country kitchen dining room (circa the Mission 2010), each dish was so well-executed as to diminish scepticism. Reminding me more than a little of Chez Panisse in ethos, ultra-fresh, pristine ingredients make a basic dish a revelation. Take a mountain of Heirloom tomatoes piled over toasted bread with pickled fennel, cucumbers and feta, or a flaky bacon onion tart loaded with caramelized onions. Heirloom’s added strength is owner Matt Straus’ thoughtfully chosen wine lists covering wines from Lebanon to Spain.

SONS & DAUGHTERS. Photo by Virginia Miller

>>PROSPECT Though I’m not won over by the semi-corporate look of Prospect’s large space, this hot newcomer shines in everything that passes through your lips: wine, cocktails and food. Chef Ravi Kapur’s exploratory dishes reveal impeccable technique with funky attitude. Garlic-roasted quail with roasted almonds, preserved lemon and Black Mission figs is exemplary, while Summer beets meld with vadouvan yogurt, candied pistachios and onion rings. Pair with a glass of wine recommended by wine director Amy Currens or bar manager Brooke Arthur’s elegantly layered cocktails and you have a meal that is the whole culinary package.

I feel like a kid again eating The Sycamore’s “famous” roast beef sandwich. A glorified Arby’s roast beef on grocery store-reminiscent sesame buns with BBQ sauce and mayo, the sandwich tributes the native Bostonian owners’ roots. But this humble Mission eatery, which doubles as a cozy beer and wine bar, doesn’t only shine there. Pork belly-stuffed donut holes in Maker’s Mark bourbon glaze are pretty near orgasmic. A slab of pan-fried Provolone cheese is enlivened by chimichurri sauce and roasted garlic bulb. I applaud all-day hours and $9 being the most expensive menu item.

Like Commonwealth (above), Sons and Daughters is another opening where young, visionary chefs create molecular, fine dining-worthy fare at reasonable prices ($48 for four course prix fixe, a la carte from $9-24). Though service can be unfortunately erratic, the intimate black and white space evokes a romantic European bistro with youthful edge. Dishes are inventive and ambitious, like an acclaimed eucalyptus herb salad of delicate curds and whey over quinoa, or seared foie gras accompanied by a glass of tart yogurt and Concord grape granite.

>>UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA Pre-opening hype could easily have made the debut of Una Pizza a letdown. Pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri closed his beloved New York institution, moving cross-country to a mellow SoMa street. As in NY, Una Pizza is a one-man show with Mangieri solely crafting each pie, explaining the no take-out policy and long waits. Though this may make it hard to frequent Una Pizza, when you go, you are rewarded with doughy heaven. With only five vegetarian pies available, I dream of the Filetti: cherry tomatoes soaking in buffalo mozzarella, accented by garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, sea salt. New York’s loss is certainly our gain.

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