Volume 45 Number 30

Volume 45 Number 30 Flip-through Edition

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FEAST: 9 meat-free marvels

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culture@sfbg.com

The sandwich, like the wheel, is an timeless invention that keeps us rolling. But if you be a vegetable lover, or just someone who fantasizes about two pieces of bread cradling things other than animal carcass, you must plan ahead — or risk finding yourself stuck with a woefully dull cheese and lettuce number. Lucky for us, here in the Bay we celebrate all sandwich orientations — some with brassy beets, others laced with sweet and spicy barbeque sauce, all ample reasons to raise our veggie flags high as we chow down.

 

RHEA’S DELI

Best. Sandwich. This Mission District locale constructs an incomparable veggie BBQ sandwich. Somewhere in this combination of spicy, moist, toasty tastes full of coleslaw and some mysterious sort of thrillingly breaded veggie “chicken” is an addictive chemical. I’m not willing to rule out crack. I love this sandwich. The end.

800 Valencia, SF (415) 282-5255

 

MISSOURI LOUNGE BAR

The veggie hoagie sandwich here is well worth the longish wait that can ensue after ordering at the tent-covered backyard grill. This monster mouth-filler is boldly served with multiple small Morningstar veggie patties. But fear not the brand-name base — the Lounge stakes a proprietary note on this sandwich with its own pesto mayo, sautéed mushrooms, and degree of toasted perfection. The two beers you’ll drink while waiting will not make this hoagie any less delicious.

2600 San Pablo, Berkeley. (510) 548-2080 www.missourilounge.com

 

SAIGON SANDWICH

I challenge you to find someone in this city without a sworn affection for banh mi — with snazzy purveyors of the Vietnamese sandwich nuggets opening up on the swanky section of Fillmore Street, they’re all the rage these days. But the Tenderloin’s Saigon Sandwich makes a down-to-earth yet killer tofu chay banh mi. Crunchy, sweet, and spicy, it’ll leave first-timers and experienced banh mi handlers sparkling — but the best thing reason to twinkle? The price — $3.25!?!

560 Larkin, SF. (415) 474-5698

 

JAY’S CHEESESTEAK

Don’t be fooled by the name — Jay’s is not your everyday cheesesteak dealer. The Mission and Western Addition locations carry a variety of seitan sandwiches that will dazzle your palate no matter how you (mis)pronounce the meat substitute therein. Those unfamiliar with seitan might be interested to note that this wheat gluten-based product has the meat-like qualities of chewiness and savoriness — all without the killing animal guilt. Jay’s is saucy, so prepare with napkins along with your appetite.

3285 21st St., SF. (415) 285-5200; 553 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-5104, www.jayscheesesteak.com

 

CAFÉ MATTINA

Hummus is like the Benjamin Franklin of vegetarian sandwich ingredients. It has humble chickpea roots, yet it’s prolific and given to illustrious ideas and inventions. Of these, let us focus on Cafe Mattina (formerly Cafe Intermezzo)’s hummus sandwich. If you can get past the flocks of university-style chaos on Telegraph Avenue, this very Berkeley sandwich will be waiting for you in all its honey-wheat-and-sprouts glory, the respected founders of meat-free sandwiches.

2442 Telegraph, Berk. (510) 849-4592, www.cafemattina.com

 

ESTELA’S SANDWICHES

Sun-dried tomato pesto, artichoke spread, fresh basil, lettuce, tomato, red onion, carrots, cucumber, and pea sprouts, all drizzled with lemon-oregano vinaigrette on telera bread. Estela, we thank you for your veggie muffelatta.

250 Fillmore, SF. (415) 864-1850

 

JB’S PLACE

This unassuming Potrero Hill joint makes its own amazing falafel — crunchy and crisp on the outside with a soft herbaceous center. Folded into JB’s warm pita wrap, the falafel balls are supported by the tang and crunch of tahini and lettuce. This Middle Eastern lunch is big enough to satisfy even the hungriest of veggie-sauri.

1435 17th St., SF. (415) 626-7973

 

BETTE’S DINER

You can find a lot of great food here. Eggs, hashes, and good old diner fare are among the specialties, but Bette’s simple veggie sandwich hits the mark with its simplicity and freshness. With avocado, roasted red bell peppers, marinated cucumbers, baby greens, and vinaigrette on a baguette, you’ll be enchanted by this no-frills knockout.

1807 Fourth St., Berk. (510) 644-3230

 

THE PLANT CAFÉ

There are times when even I, an ardent vegetarian, mourn the loss of ruebens. Chewy, hearty, a gut punch of protein and sauce — thank Gaia, then, for Plant Cafe’s veggie rueben. Who cares what it’s made of — the zinger is smothered in sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and that creamy cure-all: thousand island dressing.

Various locations, SF. www.theplantcafe.com

 

THE ATLAS CAFÉ

The super-healthy beet sandwich here will tolerate no beet phobia. Accented by kale and vinaigrette on chunky whole wheat bread, its heft and fuchsia weight promise health and happiness. But you have to go to great lengths to procure one: namely, braving the Atlas Cafe’s roomful of smarmy hipster-people staring at laptops (maybe you — quit spilling beets on your shirt, dammit).

3049 20th St., SF. (415) 648-1047, www.atlascafe.net

 

FEAST: 5 tapioca delights

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diane@sfbg.com

When it comes to tapioca pudding, levels of neurosis tend to equal levels of nostalgia, with the haters depicting the starchy little pearls as “gummy, scary fish eyes” and the aficionados invoking Mom patiently stirring vanilla extract into the sweet milky mixture over a prairie Wedgewood.

Pearl drinks notwithstanding — and haven’t all those bubble tea places peaked yet? — tapioca pudding remains a rarity outside of a few Jewish delis and Southeast Asian restaurants. But when you do see it, the all-white comfort food has been getting a foodie and fusion makeover, with infusions of lime, maple syrup, and Grand Marnier; bases of cream, orange juice, or coconut milk (join us, lactose intolerant ones!); real vanilla beans instead of extract (sorry, moms), and purees of passionfruit, banana, and mango. Here are five places that serve their tapioca pudding proudly. Indeed, at a few of them, you either eat your tapioca (or sticky rice) or end your meal on a sour note. You choose. (Diane Sussman)

 

OUT THE DOOR

Oh, Charles Phan — is there no humble Vietnamese street food you can’t turn into a sought-after gourmet delicacy? Not even tapioca pudding — to which you added a dollop of mango mousse for extra sweetness, a splash of lemon juice for refreshing tartness, a bit of cream for extra richness, all in a smooth coconut milk base? If there’s any criticism to be had, it’s that OTD’s tapioca pudding is only offered every day at the Westfield Centre outpost (sorry, Ferry Buildingers, you have to wait until summer to get yours). Not nice, Charles Phan, making us traverse the carny ride of an escalator for a bit of tapioca. And while we’re at it, here’s another criticism: OTD’s Ferry Building tapioca comes in prepackaged plastic containers — or is it a compostable composite? — so BYOB (bowl).

845 Market, SF. (415) 541-9913, www.outthedoors.com

 

LE COLONIAL

Who says a night on the town can’t end in tapioca pudding? At the classic and classy Le Colonial, the French-Vietnamese restaurant in the Financial District, you can have it all. Le Colonial may also be the only restaurant in town that suggests a wine pairing for your tapioca pudding (a 2003 Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos). And, Le Colonial serves its tapioca, infused with coconut, over banana custard. That’s right, puddin’ heads, you don’t have to choose! Sop up the two-fer with Le Col’s wonton crisps, and get your textural, salty contrast. Granted, this tapioca isn’t cheap ($9). But this is your big night out — go ahead and splurge in your own homey, comfy way.

20 Cosmo Place, SF. (415) 931-3600, www.lecolonialsf.com

 

THE HOUSE

The House, along with lingering traces of the Beats, are two small respites from North Beach’s Italian theme-park vibe. Situated in an off-kilter, oddly-painted building on a triangulated corner at Grant and Fresno, the House serves Asian fusion fare like Maine crab cake with pickled ginger remoulade and wasabi noodles with Angus steak. Fusions aside, the House’s tapioca pudding may well be prettiest in all the land (take that, shellacked and air-brushed Martha Stewart Living centerfolds). For starters, House decorates its tapioca with a flowery swirl of mango puree that melds into the pudding for a jolt of extra sweetness. But it’s not just the artistry that makes it worth the $4 price tag: the pudding is smooth and creamy, with large pearls that have had all traces of gumminess warmed out of them.

1230 Grant, SF. (415) 986-8612, www.thehse.com

 

PHUKET THAI

If there’s a tapioca pudding that has remained faithful to its pedestrian roots, this is it. No cream, no liqueur, no mousse. Indeed, compared to other places, Phuket’s tapioca can seem on the thin side, and the corn kernels for added sweetness and texture are decidedly off-trend. But Phuket has one thing going for it that no other local tapioca purveyor has: it serves its tapioca warm. That’s right, the cooks make it just for you. And nothing says “ma-ma” like tapioca right off the stove.

248 Divsadero, SF. (415) 864-8584, www.phuketthaisf.com

 

WHOLE FOODS

Some days you need tapioca. You need it bad. You need it bad and you sure as hell aren’t going to make it yourself. And you’re certainly not going to eat another satay dish just to get to the tapioca, or resort to Kozy Shack (not because it’s bad — it’s good — but because the four-ounce containers are just too damn small and you’d have to eat the whole pack). Those are the days to head to Whole Foods’ prepared foods section, where eight-ounce containers of tapioca await. Although Whole Foods takes a classic approach to tapioca, it does up the gourmet ante by using cream (and milk) and a generous helping of vanilla. The result, of course, is smooth, creamy, and sweet — the way you wish your Mom had made it, if she hadn’t been saving the cream for something “special.”

Various locations, www.wholefoodsmarkets.com

 

FEAST: 8 intriguing entrees

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virginia@sfbg.com

Forget that gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese, leave behind another night of Neapolitan pizza — it’s time to consider a meal that has yet to be repeated all over town. Here are a few that have really turned my head of late.

 

HIBISCUS

Hop a flight to the Caribbean via this downtown Oakland eatery, where chef Sarah Kirnon pulls together stimulating new interpretations of classic island flavors. A stand-out on this menu of tastes native to Barbados and Jamaica is Kinon’s Dungeness crab cornmeal porridge, a comforting blue cornmeal mash laced with chunks of crab, butternut squash, carrots, leeks, and spiced up with bird’s eye chili. It may be one of the best dishes she’s served yet.

1745 San Pablo, Oakl. (510) 444-2626, www.hibiscusoakland.com

 

WISE SONS DELI

As long as it stays in its current form — a pop-up eatery that takes over Jackie’s Vinoteca and Cafe on Saturdays — lines at Wise Sons are sure to stay painfully long. That’s because nowhere else in the city can you get the authentic Jewish eats these young guys serve up. It’s no surprise that after only a few weeks of operation, they’re already in hot demand. Corned beef and pastrami are sliced before your eyes in all their meaty glory, excellent chocolate babka is earthy with dark chocolate or laced with Clairessquares caramel in a sweeter incarnation. Don’t miss house-smoked salmon with red onions and capers on a bialy, a traditional roll that’s similar to a bagel but baked instead of boiled.

Saturdays 9 a.m .–2 p.m. 105 Valencia, SF. (415) 787-DELI, www.wisesonsdeli.com

 

BAR BAMBINO

It was with delight I heard that one of the city’s first Italian charcuteries was shifting to a Germanic-Italian cuisine that would focus on the Tyrol and Friuli regions. I’ve been craving Tyrolean food ever since I traveled the area in Italy — its melting pot of cultures equals pleasure on a plate. Bambino’s executive chef Lizzie Binder plays with unique dishes like chewy, subtle pumpkin seed spaetzle, but my favorite is the Alpine bruschetta, simple hunks of rustic bread layered with Alpine ham, melted Montasio cheese, and horseradish kraut. It transported me straight back to dining on ham and cheese on sunny patios in the Alps.

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

 

GITANE

Do not fear raw lamb. Do not expect gaminess. Order this dish — and prepare for fresh, succulent meat to rival the best beef tartares you’ve ever had. Chef Batson’s lamb tartare is unexpectedly silky meat, loaded with flavor. The added bonus is three dollops of worthy spreads, from an eggplant compote to a mix of pomegranate, walnut, and red pepper. There’s just no dish like it in town.

6 Claude, SF. (415) 788-6686, www.gitanerestaurant.com

 

FIFTH FLOOR

Since executive chef David Bazirgan recently climbed aboard, there are a number of noteworthy dishes here — particularly the Mendocino uni flan. It arrives unceremoniously, resembling a little bowl of foam. Dig into this “saffron air” and underneath you’ll find Dungeness crab fondue and a silky uni flan. Heightened by aged kaffir lime and Sichuan pepper, you’ll be dreaming about it all week.

12 Fourth St., SF. (415) 348-1555, www.fifthfloorrestaurant.com

 

HELMAND PALACE

A highly underrated SF gem. Decor is not the latest or hippest — but even better, it’s mellow and unassuming. It’s easy to get a reservation, you can fill up for $15, and even after 20 years, Helmand Palace remains our city’s best Afghani restaurant. Although kaddo (pumpkin that is pan-fried, then baked) in yogurt-garlic sauce remains a favorite dish of mine, I’m just as crazy about aushak, Afghan raviolis filled with leeks and scallions and served in a sauce of yogurt, mint, garlic, tomato, and ground beef: Middle Eastern cuisine meets red sauce Italian.

2424 Van Ness, SF. (415) 345-0072, www.helmandpalace.com

 

ICHI SUSHI

Industry insiders sidle up to Ichi’s sushi bar for impeccable fish from chef Tim Archuleta and crew. Archuleta keeps it seasonal and affordable — you’ll find far less interesting slices of fish elsewhere at higher prices. There are also high quality hot plates, and a particular stand-out is the artistic beef tataki. All-natural beef is seared sous vide, then accented with radish, kimchee, white ponzu, and crispy burdock root. The meat oozes tenderness while the accompanying ingredients add dimension to the dish.

3369 Mission, SF. (415) 525-4750, www.ichisushi.com

 

SPQR

Though everyone loves SPQR’s rustic pastas and exquisite antipasti, you’ll be equally satisfied at its bar with spuntini small bites and a glass of Italian wine from Shelley Lindgren’s impeccable list. Executive chef Matthew Accarrino infuses Roman sensibilities throughout the menu, achieving near-perfection in snacks like milky burrata cheese, which runs over accompanying toast and is sweetened with honey, hazelnuts, and a hint of chili — savory, sweet, silky. Spiced ricotta fritters are equally unforgettable: warm, with a whisper of smoked maple syrup.

1911 Fillmore, SF. (415) 771-7779, www.spqrsf.com

 

FEAST: 5 gourmet gross-outs

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diane@sfbg.com

From the design world to the fashion world, there are things that go and things that don’t go (yes, you — guy in the striped shirt and madras Bermuda shorts ensemble; and you too, street scrounger hauling off that hideous oversized floral-pattern couch). But the truth is, these principles remain fixed only until some genius comes along and voila! isn’t everyone on the runway looking sharp in stripes and madras? And doesn’t that flower-power couch look great with that Marimekko wallpaper?

This is precisely the case with some of the weirdest — and tastiest — food pairings in town, dishes in which two icky foods combine to make a better one, or one perfectly good food, paired with a “say what?” one, becomes the way you want it from that point on. As these dishes show, the difference between yuck and yum is a mere two letters. 

 

FRITO PIE AT GREEN CHILE PIES AND ICE CREAM

Consider the Frito pie (or depending on where you’re from, the Frito boat or walking taco), a concoction of disputed and dubious origins. Was it Frito-Lay queen mum Daisy Dean Doolin, or Woolworth lunch counter waitress Teresa Hernandez who invented it? Then again, who really cares who first took a bag of Frito corn chips, smothered them with chili or taco meat, and topped the whole mess with cheese, onions, and jalapenos? Green Chile Pies — SF’s standard-bearers of New Mexican cuisine — may be the only place in town to score this Southwestern carnival midway classic. GCP also takes the pie to dare-devilish new heights, serving its version right out of the bag. And nothing says fresh like the sound and feel of your own crinkly bag.

601 Baker, SF. (415) 614-9411, www.greenchilekitchen.com/pies

 

FRENCH FRY SANDWICH AT GIORDANO BROS

To most right-thinking Californians, what people in Pittsburgh eat is a mystery, if not an opportunity to ponder the eternal question: WTF? Noodle and cabbage halusky. Frizzle fry chipped ham sandwiches. Eat ‘n Park smiley cookies. Or how about letting people have their french fries on their sandwich? Actually, on this one, we have back off. As served on one of the superlative and meaty sandwiches at Giordano Bros., this carb-on-carb combo means never having to pay extra for fries, or having to pause from your sandwich to grab some fries, or wondering if your last bite should be fries or sandwich. You can love the sandwich and save your Pittsburgh-hating for when the Pirates dare try to beat the Giants.

303 Columbus, SF. (415) 397-2767, www.giordanobros.com

 

COTTAGE CHEESE SOUP AT COWGIRL CREAMERY SIDEKICK

Mmmm, beer. But mmmm, cottage cheese? And mmmm, brussels sprouts? And mmmm cottage cheese and brussels sprouts in soup? Before you dub such a commingling “best gag me a spoon” contender, consider Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick’s cheese soup with cottage cheese dumplings. Yes, the staff has to allay the fears of bug-eyed browsers with a taste. But once tasted, many times eaten. Despite its unappetizing name, the hearty, earthy soup starts with shitake and vegetable-based broth infused with cheese and finished with handmade cottage cheese dumplings and shavings of brussels sprouts. The cottage cheese, of course, is Cowgirl Creamery’s hand-clabbered cottage cheese, which has prompted many a trek to the Ferry Building among people who care deeply about curds and whey.

One Ferry Building, SF. (415) 362-9354, www.cowgirlcreamery.com

 

SARDINE AND SQUID SANDWICH AT BARBACCO ENO TRATTORIA

What focus group signed off on this one? What Italian fisherman stranded at sea with a puny catch told Barbacco Eno Trattoria that combining sardines and calamari was a good idea? After all, if there’s one thing Americans abhor, it’s sardines. And if there’s one thing Americans adhor even more than sardines, it’s squid. But when all is said and cooked, Barbacco was wise to listen to the fisherman, and to unite fish and mollusk in one tasty sandwich. Maybe it’s the Acme torpedo roll, or the spicy arugula, or Barbacco’s housemade “roasted tomatoe condimento.” Whatever it is, two tentacles up. (Note: it’s only available when sardines are swimming.)

220 California, SF. (415) 955-1919, www.barbaccosf.com

 

TUNA AND EGG SALAD SANDWICH AT M&L MARKET

Maybe you know some routinized drone who alternates every day between egg salad sandwiches and tuna salad sandwiches. Maybe you are that routinized drone. Maybe on the seventh day, you need to rest. But maybe you’re afraid to rest, and the fear of the unfamiliar prevents you from publicly uttering the words “grilled cheese” or “hot dog today.” Those are the days to head to M&L Market, where they will make you a tuna-and-egg salad sandwich (together). But — beware the ordering protocol. Select your bread first or suffer the wrath of the woman known to regulars as “the sandwich Nazi.” Remember, this is everything you know and love in one sandwich: tradition, paired with tradition, in an entirely new context.

691 14th St., SF. (415) 431-7044

 

FEAST: 7 brunch cocktails

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culture@sfbg.com

It’s noon on a Saturday — for you, we envision two possible scenarios. One: you’re covered in glitter, you smell like a wet poodle, and you’re on your way to brunch. Two: you’re well-rested after last night’s sobering yoga, feeling fly, and on your way to brunch. Hey booze breath, forget the three Advil, coffee, and a Xanax — you know there’s no better way to kick a hangover (or forge the path toward one) than to cocktail your way through the early afternoon. And Miss Fresh-As-A-Daisy? Have a drink already. Always helpful, never hurtful, here is our list of the tastiest brunch libations of the moment.

 

GINGER LEMON DROP AT CAFÉ FLORE

There is a stretch of Market Street that catches us unawares: one minute you’re surrounded by city, the next you’re in front of a magical garden filled with people downing bloody marys and eating eggs benedict. Ah, Café Flore, your lush patio makes us feel guilty for not drinking at breakfast. But we resolve not to live our life in shame. The ginger lemon drop, a Café Flore original, is the perfect way to kick off a day of leisure. Ginger liqueur and fresh lemon juice will have you feeling like you’re drinking pure, unadulterated sunshine, while the Ketel One vodka buzz reminds you that you’re actually just drunk.

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

 

MOJITO AT THE RAMP

You’re already on a mission to brunch, why not indulge in a meal amid the ocean breezes? Salty winds plus brunch treats and cocktails equals living large at The Ramp, which sits all the way at the end of Dogpatch’s Mariposa Street, perched on the pier of a boatyard. Grab a table inside the funky dining room or outside on the water and make sure to order one of the fresh mint mojitos. Two sips in, and you’ll be feeling like a brunch pirate. Day drunk ahoy!

855 Terry Francois, SF. (415) 621-2378, www.ramprestaurant.com

 

SPICED ALEXANDER AT AXIS CAFÉ AND GALLERY

The standard Alexander cocktail is made with gin, chocolate liqueur, and cream, a mature take on chocolate milk. The spiced Alexander at Axis Café, a lowkey but upscale café and art gallery at the base of Potrero Hill, is served hot and spiked with soju — great by itself or with one of the cafe’s whole wheat pancake and poached cranberry plates. A lesser-known brunch beverage, yes, but it pairs way better with waffles than a tequila shot. Like an old-fashioned hot cocoa, Axis’ is sweet, creamy, and warm — perfect for the seats by the joint’s roaring fireplace.

1201 Eighth St., SF. (415) 437-2947, www.axis-cafe.com

 

FOG CUTTER AT BAR AGRICOLE

This sleek SoMa restaurant is known in some circles as the Chez Panisse of cocktails, so it’s no wonder that its brunch offerings include libations worth writing home about, once you’ve sobered up. One standout is the fog cutter, a complex citrus drink made with pisco, rum, gin, sherry, citrus juice, and orgeat (almond syrup) served on the rocks and with a taste that’s similar to a mai tai. Planning on catching up with your correspondence later that day? We suggest you stick to one, for clarity’s sake.

355 11th St., SF. (415) 355-9400, www.baragricole.com

 

BLOODY MARY AT HOME

While it’s true that you can build your own bloody mary in the comfort of your own home, doing it at Market and Church Street’s comfiest brunch spot is much more exciting. Home puts the world at your fingertips: pickled veggies, olives, and over 15 kinds of hot sauce. This, friends, is the art of taking bloody mary by the horns.

2100 Market, SF. (415) 503-0333, www.home-sf.com

 

MICHELADA AT COCK-A-DOODLE CAFÉ

This downtown Oakland breakfast spot has the brunch drink for when you’re looking to kick off your free day with some heat. As all those who have ventured south of the border will recall, the michelada is a bloody mary gone Mexican, the dreaded red beers (lager and tomato juice) of your college days gone festive. Crisp Corona, lime, and Cock-A-Doodle’s house bloody mary mix await you, served in a huge salt-and-chile-rimmed glass that’s ready to baila contigo.

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

 

IRISH COFFEE AT THE BUENA VISTA

The Buena Vista’s Irish coffee story is frequently repeated by a certain faction of Bay Area folks. It is said, usually after the storyteller has downed a few, that this Fisherman’s Wharf bar was the first to perfect the drink on this side of the Atlantic. The Buena Vista’s Irish coffee is a proprietary mix of Irish whiskey, hot joe, and frothy cream — and although a friend of ours once wisely told us never to mix our uppers with our downers, to her we say: welcome to brunch drinks.

2765 Hyde, SF. (415) 474-5044 www.thebuenavista.com

 

FEAST: 10 contemporary kitchen essentials

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By now, you (hopefully) know the basic building blocks of good eating: fresh, in-season vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and — for the carnivorous set — lean, unprocessed meat and fish. Awesome. But unless you’re an adherent of the new Paleo diet fad, which mimics the eating habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it’s going to take a bit more to transform this no-frills foundation into something you’d want to sit down to. Here are a few kitchen essentials that can quickly shift your cooking from serviceable to superb. (Emily Appelbaum)

 

SESAME OIL

Ancient Assyrian legend holds that when the gods assembled to create the universe, their drink of choice was sesame seed wine. And when Ali Baba needed to unseal a magic cave stocked with treasure, it was Sesamum indicum, which bursts open at maturity, that he invoked with the famous phrase “Open, Sesame!” If you’re looking to introduce some similar magic into your cooking, sesame oil is a good place to start. The cold-pressed oil has a light flavor and high smoke point, making it ideal for fast, high-temperature stir fries and wok cooking. When toasted, the oil becomes rich, smoky, and deep. A few drops make salads and noodle dishes sinfully savory and create the perfect base for dipping sauces. For a decadent indulgence, try the following: spread hot toast with miso (fermented soybean paste), top with a slice of avocado, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, then close your eyes and float a bit.

Available at Ming Lee Trading Inc. 759 Jackson, SF. (415) 217-0088

 

TAHINI

Speaking of sesames, Bay Area veggies, vegans, and carnivores alike have been blending tahini, a paste made from hulled sesame seeds, into homemade hummus for years. When mixed with a little fresh garlic, lemon, and salt, tahini will make quick work of a can of garbanzos — but there are tons of other uses for this simple spread. Try branching out with bean dips. Include white cannellini beans, black beans, or even kidney beans, which are super-high in antioxidants. Ditch expensive bottled salad dressing in favor of tahini mixed with soy sauce, lemon juice, or cider vinegar, and any fresh herbs you like. Toss soba noodles with steamed veggies and tahini for a fast, healthy dish served hot or cold. Or, for a whole array of desserts, start by kneading tahini and honey into flour for a tender, pliable pastry.

Available at Semiramis Imports, 2990 Mission, SF. (415) 824-6555

 

QUINOA

If you haven’t tried this indigenous staple from the Andes, you’re missing out. Stocked with the full set of essential amino acids, these unassuming seeds may be the most complete protein source the plant kingdom can provide. Quinoa even made NASA’s short list for crops to be included in ecological life support systems for long-duration manned spaceflights. It cooks in minutes and — with its mild, nutty taste and light texture — it’s an ideal base for curries, stews, and cold salads mixed tabouleh-style. Unfortunately, the quinoa craze in wealthy countries has left the crop unaffordable in some traditional regions such as the Bolivian salt flats, where most cultivated quinoa is now grown for export. Be sure to look for quinoa from companies like La Yapa Organic that pay a fair price to farmers.

Available at Rainbow Grocery, 1745 Folsom, SF. (415) 863-0620, www.rainbow.coop

 

COCONUT MILK

If you’re the kind of good San Francisco citizen who duly visits the local farmers market every week, gets carried away by the textures and colors and aromas of nature’s bounty, and then balks at everything you’ve brought home when it comes time to stuff it in the fridge — fear not. Coconut milk is the thing for you. Nothing else can so quickly transform a mountain of disparate vegetables into a rich, harmonious meal. Nearly any food in any season (potatoes regular and sweet, carrots, sweet and spicy peppers, pineapple, green beans, onions, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, pumpkin, spinach, kale) can feel at home in a coconut milk bath, spiced with a pinch of curry powder or garam masala and perfumed with handful of fresh herbs.

Available at Khanh Phong Supermarket, 429 Ninth St., Oakl., (510) 839-9094

 

FRESH-GROUND BLACK PEPPER

My list of Things for Which There Is No Excuse is short, and most of the items on it — like tube tops and being mean — are negotiable under certain circumstances. But one entry that cannot be compromised on is the use of pre-ground black pepper. It is simply never, ever OK. The difference between the freshly cracked pepper and the plebian, tasteless grey powder that sifts from a can is like the difference between a jam band CD and a live show. Invest in a good-quality peppermill and you’ll end up putting pepper in all kinds of places you never imagined: after experiencing pepper’s pungency in soups and bisques, on roasted root vegetables, and over tomatoes served sliced and sprinkled with kosher salt, you’ll find yourself shaking it onto strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar and pondering the possibilities of peppercorn ice-cream. A few turns of your grinder set to coarse can quite possibly make the world go ’round.

To browse more varieties of pepper than you crank a mill at, visit San Francisco Herb Co. 250 14th St., SF. (415) 861-3018, www.sfherb.com

 

FRESH-GROUND NUTMEG

Everything said on the subject of black pepper applies — with perhaps a smidge less fervor — to nutmeg. That sickly stuff stuck with humidity to the inside of a glass shaker at Starbucks does not even remotely resemble the delicately perfumed flakes that you scrape from a whole nutmeg seed, the hard, egg-shaped center of the nutmeg tree’s fruit). Once you stop shaking the horrid pre-ground granules over your coffee, you’re likely to realize the nutmeg is not just a sweet spice. It goes particularly well with cheese and cream sauces, enriches egg and pasta dishes, and enhances all types of savory cookery with that little something-something that makes diners go “hmmm.” But if you want to relegate it to the dessert realm, no one’s going to stop you from grating a little bit over your midnight dish of chocolate ice-cream.

Fremont-based organic spice company Spicely distributes to a bevy of Bay Area retailers, but their products are also available in bulk on its website, www.spicely.com

 

FRESH GINGER

Like nutmeg, the edible rhizome of Zingiber officinale is often relegated to the subsidiary role of sweet spice — at least in American cooking. But travel nearly anywhere else in the world, from Morocco to Malaysia, Venezuela to Vietnam, and ginger plays the snappy star in soups, roasts, stews, and salads. Grate fresh ginger and garlic into peanut oil as the base for a superlative stir-fry. Stir into soups for a revitalizing broth. For a crisp, peppery salad, shred cabbage, carrots, and green beans and toss with ginger, vinegar, or lime juice, and maybe a dollop of peanut butter (or use your newly purchased tahini). Pulse ginger, chiles, and garlic in your food processor for a quick crust to sear onto meats or tofu. Ginger is a versatile gal, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Available at New May Wah Market, 707-719 Clement, SF. (415) 668-2583

 

FRESH LEMONS AND LIMES

Nothing wakes up heavy, sleepy flavors like a bright squeeze of acid, but don’t even bother with the bottled stuff here. Before you juice, take a second to zest the thin colored rind — which contains tons of essential oils — from the outside of the fruit, being careful to stay away from the white pith. Then cut in half through the equator and squeeze. Older fruits can be coaxed to spill their juice by rolling back and forth between the palm and the cutting board. Or zap in the microwave for just a few seconds. Lemons add zip to Italian and French dishes, limes to Asian, Indian and Latin. The brave and adventurous might even try whole lemons or limes — rind, pith, pulp, and all — chopped very finely in salsas; crusts for veggies, fish or tofu; and marinades. An old-timey recipe for something called Funeral Pie uses whole lemons, thrown in a blender with some sugar, eggs, and a little flour. The result is poured in a pie crust and “Viola!” A super-quick desert ready in a flash, in case of Great Aunt Millie’s untimely demise.

Bi-Rite Market stocks organic, biodynamic lemons and limes from Becks Grove whenever possible. 3639 18th St., SF. (415) 241-9760

 

BLACK BEAN SAUCE

Hot Chinese sriracha sauce might be manufactured right here in Northern California, but that’s no excuse for indiscriminately squirting that sticky red rooster bottle over everything — from eggs to escargot — that stands still long enough. If it’s spice you’re craving, aim for a subtler, deeper flavor. Chinese-style black bean sauces, garlic or chili, provide plenty of heat without the cloying, vinegary sweetness of sriracha. Instead, their fire is mellow and a bit smoky, and develops on the tongue. Try over steamed veggies such as asparagus, broccoli, or bok choy. Use to marinate tofu or chicken, and serve over everything from tempeh to tacos. If you like the taste, try going a step further and purchasing some fermented black beans — a salty, spicy condiment something like a cross between miso and Marmite.

Available at Pang Kee Bargain Market, 1308 Stockton, SF., (415) 982-1959

 

REAL MUSTARD

All mustards are essentially a combination of whole or ground mustard seeds suspended in vinegar and spices. But subtle variations in the type of grind and proportions of ingredients can make all the difference. If you inhabit the realm of ballpark-yellow, your culinary development has been sorely stunted. All mustards work as emulsifiers, making them ideal mix-ins for dressings, marinades, and notoriously finicky Hollandaise sauces. Whole grain mustards combined with miso, maple syrup, horseradish, or Parmesan cheese (not all at once!) make a crunchy coating for salmon, chicken, pork chops, or baked squash. Finely-ground mustards like German Hangstenberg are superhot and go well with preserved meats and blander veggies like cabbage. Some mustards are made with imported vinegars or champagnes, and are best paired with simple breads and cheeses so their unique flavors come through. And for something a little closer to home, try Mendocino Mustards, made in Fort Bragg.

Available at Canyon Market, 2815 Diamond, SF. (415) 586-9999

 

FEAST: 6 best breakfast bets

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SF: a brunch town if ever there was one. The life of the alternative journalist is such that we’re rarely awake at sunrise, wondering from where the hell our next hangtown fry will materialize. But there are times when it behooves one to dine at 8 a.m. on a weekday (occasions that usually correspond to the appearance of a mother or father). Set that alarm, sweetie: here’s where you’ll find Guardian staff dragging to before a big day.

 

JUST FOR YOU

A menu peppered with delightful little zingers like “What’s grits? It’s that pasty white stuff … like you had in prison,” makes this my favorite sassy breakfast joint in Dogpatch. Just For You offers classic breakfast fare with a Southern twist — biscuits, cornbread, grilled catfish filets, or creole crab cakes to go along with your eggs and home fries. Breakfast is served all day, and if you’re an early bird, you can even score a deal-worthy plate of two pancakes with coffee for just $4.75 — but only if you get there between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. weekdays. A strict schedule — just like you had in prison. (Rebecca Bowe)

732 22nd St., SF. (415) 647-3033, www.justforyoucafe.com

 

JOANN’S CAFE

Two good reasons to get up early in the morning. One: you are going on an exciting air voyage. Two: a nice meal is waiting for you. Or both — that’s generally the happy confluence that brings me to JoAnn’s, a cheery diner-like entity en route to the airport, where a display case full of homemade muffins greets early risers and a menu full of American classics and salsa-tinged breakfast items await to congratulate the new dawn. The tiny joint opens at 7:30 a.m. every day, and even if you are flying solo (my favorite), JoAnn’s counter seating provides the perfect perch to munch orange french toast and ponder whether you prefer the x-ray scan or the pat-down. (Caitlin Donohue)

1131 El Camino, South San Francisco. (650) 872-2810

 

JIM’S RESTAURANT

Jim’s is the ultimate greasy spoon, unpretentious, no-fuss diner food perfect for when you just want a simple breakfast and to avoid the scene. You won’t find brioche french toast or bottomless sherbet-colored sparkling drinks on the menu; instead, you’ll find classic breakfast options: eggs, pancakes, waffles — and beer, if that hangover’s knocking. Five bucks gets you eggs, hash browns, bacon, fruit, and toast; for $3 more, you can upgrade to hangtown fry. Speaking of relics, this joint is like the diner that time forgot. Wood-paneled walls and AM Gold on the stereo could keep you lingering till the afternoon. (Jackie Andrews)

2420 Mission, SF. (415) 285-6020

 

NEW POTRERO MARKET

I like to live outside the laws — of good nutrition, that is — and skip breakfast. But on those days when I’m extra-hungry or extra-rich, I’ll pick up a piece of fruit at New Potrero Market, right by the Guardian office. (Just go with whichever looks the most appealing — usually the bananas are pretty good, although they don’t always have them in stock. Apples are a good alternative. I don’t like oranges. Too much work, especially in the morning.) I don’t drink coffee, but I make up for it in Diet Cokes, which are also available at New Potrero Market. True convenience. (Cheryl Eddy)

301 18th St., SF. (415) 282-2225

 

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

When I want sheer comfort with a side of 1970s and Audrey Hepburn, I head to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There, servers call you “hon” as the Beach Boys play on cassette tapes and you sip coffee, gazing at a faded Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster. But this dive provides a lot more to sink one’s teeth into than kitsch. I love Tiffany’s pancakes loaded with fresh blueberries, and they taste even better as you sit at the counter, watching them transform from batter to fluffy cakes on the griddle. For savory contrast (and if you have room), order giant hash brown “sandwiches” stuffed with ham, cheese, onions, and all-around goodness. (Virginia Miller)

2499 San Bruno, SF (415) 468-0977

 

CAFE LEILA

Don’t be thrown off by Cafe Leila’s flowery San Pablo facade or frilly name. Once you’re inside, it’s serious breakfast time whether you’re a morning person or a hungover owl. With a big dining room and sunny, cute patio, you’ll be sure to find a good amount of personal space to scarf down one of their many innovative breakfasts. Aside from a few everyday bagel options, Cafe Leila comes up with crazy omelet ideas that make me feel special, like the date omelet, a pile of farm eggs with dates and feta. And with three kinds of hot sauce, my condiment voice is always saying “Leilaaaaa.” (Hannah Tepper) 

1724 San Pablo, Berk. (510) 525.7544, www.cafeleila.com

 

Land of the undead

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VAMPIRE APOCALYPSE There are no sparkly torsos in Jim Mickle’s Stake Land, a movie that depicts a vampire snacking on a human infant within its first five minutes. After that bold declaration that this is not a film to be fucked with, Stake Land shifts its focus to a ragtag pair of travelers who’ve taken to rural America’s back roads, trying to annihilate as many vamps as possible: teenage Martin (Gossip Girl‘s Connor Paolo), and his gruff mentor, Mister (Nick Damici, who co-wrote the script with Mickle).

As books, films, and comics have taught us, whenever a big chunk of the human race is wiped out (thanks to zombies, an unknown cataclysm, etc.), the remaining population will either be good (heroic, like Mister and Martin, or helpless, like the stragglers they rescue, played by Kelly McGillis and Danielle Harris, among others), or evil — cannibals, rapists, religious nuts, militant survivalists, etc. Stake Land doesn’t throw many curveballs into its end-times narrative, but it’s beautifully shot and doesn’t hold back on the brutality. The film opens at the Roxie on the heels of its local debut at the San Francisco International Film Festival. I recently chatted with up-and-comer Mickle about horror, the Internet, and … well, what else is there, really?

SFBG Stake Land feels very much like a zombie apocalypse film, except for the choice of monster. Why vampires?

Jim Mickle [Co-writer Damici and I] had just done zombies — we had rat zombies in [2006’s] Mulberry Street — but I think we both felt we didn’t get to do everything that we wanted to do there. Yet, also, we didn’t want to do the Romero thing and just do one zombie movie after another. I think we were looking for another monster, and we both liked vampires. They’re human-based, so I think you can treat them like characters and not just monsters, and be able to have them stand in for a lot of different things socially — but also have a lot of fun with them.

SFBG A lot of vampire stories depict the vampires as living secretly among the human race, but in Stake Land, they’ve basically taken over.

JM Originally, we [planned the film as a Web series], and that was how it started. The first 10 pages were always the same, and from there it went to different webisodes, where, for example [the characters] stopped off in New York City and had to fight a hopping vampire in Chinatown. It was all about, “When are people gonna wake up and realize they are surrounded by vampires?” But we were gonna do it very low-budget, and the question was always, like, “Holy shit. How are we gonna pull this off?” When the idea became to make a feature out of it and to sort of merge all these stories together, it just felt like that — a bunch of stories strung together and very chapterized. We wanted to hang onto that, but also give it a backbone and an overriding theme.

SFBG Do you have plans to follow through on the Web series?

JM We did try to keep it going — we have these prequels that have come out [on the iTunes Movie Trailers page at trailers.apple.com]. There are seven total — each character has their own short film, basically, sort of right before we meet them in the movie. We wanted to keep the idea of the serial going. We liked the idea that there are these new ways to release movies, and the online presence really matters for movies now. I still have yet to see a really successful Web series, so we tried to find a way to do that and mix that in [with the prequels]. But we still have all those scripts, you know, and when people talk about sequels and stuff — we still have that material there, and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

STAKE LAND opens Fri/29 at the Roxie.

Age against the Machine

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Death-defying acts of autobiography enliven the main stage at the Marsh this week in Geoff Hoyle’s unadorned yet dazzling new solo show. Developed with director David Ford — and one of the very best things to come from the Marsh’s fertile performance breeding grounds all year if not longer — Geezer takes a serpentine course through the accomplished career of the longtime Bay Area actor and physical comedian to confront the challenges, epiphanies, and qualified, but nonetheless quality, opportunities of aging and mortality.

There’s something undeniably stirring already in an actor as protean as Hoyle talking about metamorphoses beyond his control or ken, but to watch the English-born 64-year-old master showman, without props or costumes, convert aging into a frenetic, heart-pounding, hilarious virtual-reality game of 3-D megaplex proportions lets you know his game, at least, is a long way from over.

But this is a clear-eyed confrontation with the inevitable, as well as a backward glance, half-bemused and half-knowing, at the accumulations of a life. As enthralling as the sure comedy on display are the memories and questions, political awakenings and philosophical musings, that buttress a beautifully crafted script, a fascinating and poignant memoir animated by flights of whimsy and physical poetry that few performers of any age can muster.

Dwelling with a mix of palpable emotions on his working-class roots in postwar Yorkshire, childhood Hoyle was the hyperactive class clown bursting with an unbridled but unguided desire to perform. He’d probably have been medicated anywhere else, but Yorkshire in those days could still provide class clowns with a fighting chance. Crucial assists come from a handful of role models and supporters (all deftly brought back to life before our eyes), one English university’s spanking-new drama department (a fine opportunity for Hoyle to relive for us his hysterically clueless audition), and the French government, which financed the young university graduate’s study with master of corporeal mime Étienne Decroux in Paris (where the uprising of May 1968 called the young, instinctively socialist artist to the barricades in his off-hours).

The journey of this journeyman artist ultimately lands in the Bay Area, where Hoyle becomes a Pickle Family Circus performer with a budding family of his own (including Marsh star Dan Hoyle, quite a chip off the old block). But the germ of his peripatetic career can be found in the pivotal half-intended gestures of his humble parents, especially those of his father, an otherwise reserved typesetter with a fondness for the jocular tunes of the English music hall — one of which winds its way cleverly through the narrative — who also bequeathed his son a volume of Shakespeare’s collected works. His father had little grasp of the Bard himself but a sure sense of the bulky tome’s importance as a cultural step up. Indeed, some key lines from Shakespeare — ruing life as “a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage” — form another of the play’s supple leitmotifs.

Macbeth’s soliloquy, committed to memory by the young Hoyle long before its full import could possibly accrue, is no gratuitous Bartleby citation either but lines deeply connected to his narrative — immortal lines, no less, and testament to the potential in art to simultaneously look without illusion at oblivion and still defy it anyway by the sheer projection, across many lifetimes, of such exquisite perfection and courage.

What a dissection this is — of a life, of an artist, of the purpose of art, and of the conundrum of memory and loss that gathers darkly over the heads of those blessed and cursed with longevity. The fusing of mesmeric physical performance, searching autobiography, subtle humor, raucous hilarity, and tender regard all come together to form a thematic whole of pronounced charm and beauty.

GEEZER

Wed.–Thurs., 8 p.m.;

Sat.–Sun., 5 p.m.; through July 10

The Marsh

1062 Valencia, SF

(415) 826-5750

www.themarsh.org

 

This place

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arts@sfbg.com

LIT Begun in part as a series of maps accompanying public lectures, Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (University of California Press, 167 pages, $24.95) is a remarkable act of gathering, one that presents myriad versions and visions of San Francisco and its surrounding areas that can inform a reader’s experience.

Infinite City was recently selected by the Northern California Independent Booksellers as one of its 2011 winners. Duality is a fundamental aspect of the book’s breadth and depth and sense of sharply critical appreciation — structurally, Solnit pairs distinct maps with corresponding chapter-length essays. In keeping with that characteristic, and also with the book’s group spirit (though admittedly on a much smaller and less intensive scale), I asked different Guardian contributors to share appraisals of one, or in most cases two, of the 22 sections. The result provides just a hint of what can be found within Infinite City. (Johnny Ray Huston)

MAP 3. “Cinema City: Muybridge Inventing Movies, Hitchcock Making Vertigo

The map for this chapter tracks the San Francisco life of Eadweard (sic) Muybridge, alongside landmarks from Alfred Hitchcock’s Bay Area masterpiece Vertigo. In “The Eyes of the Gods,” Solnit, who won the National Book Critics Circle award for her 2003 Muybridge bio River of Shadows, writes of the 19th century artist’s breakthrough high-speed photography, “It was as though the ice of frozen photographic time had broken free into a river of images.”

Many such rivers flowed all over this fair city when Vertigo premiered at the Stage Door Theatre at 420 Mason St. on May 9, 1958. Alas, only 10 of the more than 60 single-screen venues extant that year, all demarcated on Shizue Seigel’s fine map, are still functioning. Solnit rightly describes the shift to watching films on various digital delivery mechanisms as leaving contemporary culture with a “curious imagistic poverty.” As she concisely describes watching Milk and Once Upon a Time in the West on the Castro Theatre’s giant screen, we’re reminded that there is no comparison between enjoying cinema in such a grand setting and staring at a laptop. The great 20th century memoirist and observer Quentin Crisp wrote, “We ought to visit a cinema as we would go to a church. Those of us who wait for films to be made available for television are as deeply suspicious as lost souls who claim to be religious but who boast that they never go to church.”

That applies to you too, Netflix subscribers! The Roxie, Castro, Red Vic, Clay, and a small number of other houses of worship are still in business, so what are you waiting for? (Ben Terrall)

MAP 4. “Right Wing of the Dove: The Bay Area as Conservative/Military Brain Trust”

In “The Sinews of War are Boundless Money and the Brains of War Are in the Bay Area,” Solnit argues that antiwar, green, and left Bay Area hotspots are well known and don’t need to be charted again — unlike military contractors and assorted other forces of reaction in the region.

Solnit notes that many military bases that used to operate in the Bay Area are closed, “but the research, development, and profiteering continue as a dense tangle of civilian and military work, technological innovation, economic muscle, and political maneuvering for both economic and ideological purposes.”

Among the hard-right compounds providing counterevidence for that demonstration chestnut “the people united will never be defeated”: Lawrence Livermore National Labs (birthplace of Star Wars — the Reagan era money pit, not the George Lucas movie); Lockheed Martin, world’s largest “defense” contractor; the Hoover Institution, Stanford’s reactionary think tank; and Northrop Grumman, missile component designer. It’s useful to have so many of them in one place, if queasy-making.

On the lower left of the map sits Sandow Birk’s beautifully warped code of arms, which features the Cicero quote (Nervi belli pecunia infinita) that Solnit cites in her chapter title, under a half eagle/half dove, a rifle-toting soldier, and a scythe-clutching skeleton. It should be on the door of every U.S. military recruiting center. (Terrall)

MAP 6. “Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habits and Queer Public Spaces”

“How thoroughly the lexical landscape of gay history is invested with [a] paradigm of emergence,” notes poet Aaron Shurin in “Full Spectrum,” the chapter accompanying Infinite City‘s sixth map. Like one of the dazzlingly-named butterfly species rendered by Mona Caron on the map, Shurin flits gracefully between memoir and historiography as he tracks San Francisco’s ongoing evolution as a locus for queer emergence.

From North Beach to Polk Gulch, from Folsom to Castro, LGBT folk — be they American painted ladies, Satyr angel wings, or Mission blues — have continually migrated to and within the city to shed their cocoons and show their true colors. Local faux-queen Fauxnique traced this metamorphosis at the 2003 Miss Trannyshack Pageant when she climatically emerged as a regal butterfly to Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (apropos to Shurin’s royalty motif, she won the crown). So too did the late Age of Aquarius painter Chuck Arnett, who often nestled butterfly imagery into his portraits of SoMa’s leather demimonde, and whose murals once adorned some of the many now-extinct bars also denoted by Ben Pease’s cartography. Only more than half a dozen of these “wildlife sanctuaries,” in Shurin’s parlance, have survived, with the Eagle Tavern’s announced closure marking another loss of habitat. Queers, though, are if anything adaptive, and my hope is that the future fluttering tribes of San Francisco will keep alighting on new ground to unfurl their wings. (Matt Sussman)

MAP 7. “Poison/Palate: The Bay Area in Your Body”

“Food is part of the Bay Area you hear about nowadays, exquisite upscale food at famous restaurants and gourmet markets. But it’s so boring we couldn’t stay focused on it in this map.” These refreshing, if rarely uttered words come two-thirds of the way through the chapter that accompanies the “Poison/Palate” map, Rebecca Solnit’s “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Gourmet.”

The phony Tuscany of Napa and the once-orchard-filled, now-EPA-Superfund-site-speckled Silicon Valley are wisely singled out for derision, a convenient duality in both geography and culture and the perfect framework on which to hang a critique of the local culinary community’s smug, myopic self-indulgence, by raising the not-so-elite-specters in Bay Area food history (the It’s It, the Popsicle, the Hangtown Fry, the Rice-a-Roni), and reintroducing the politics of food into the conversation, in the form of the chemical tonnage used to produce wine grapes, food giveaways at community gardens, Diet for a Small Planet, and Black Panther breakfast programs for school-kids. The sprawling topic is almost given too short a shrift, threatening to leap its mutant-mermaid-bedecked map.

Better is the 18th chapter, “How to Get From Ethiopia to Ocean Beach.” Solnit begins by loosely charting the ingredients that go into your cuppa joe: the water from Hetch Hetchy, the milk from West Marin, the coffee that courses through the port of Oakland, and, impishly, the leavings that flow toward the Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant. All that’s missing from the equation is the sugar that I need to make the darkest, brandy-and-cherry-tinged brew palatable. SF’s cafe culture is also deservedly lionized — though some might want to hurl china due to the exclusions on the accompanying map: why, for instance, call out Blue Danube Coffee House and not the grungier, more Chinese-populated Java Source? (Kimberly Chun)

MAP 8. “Shipyards and Sounds: The Black Bay Area since World War II”

Though author Joshua Jelly-Schapiro opens this chapter, subtitled “High Tide, Low Ebb,” with an eloquent invocation of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” — penned in Sausalito, by the way — it was the slight mention of Lowell Fulson’s “San Francisco Blues” that most resonated with me. “Ohh, San Francisco,” the lyric goes, “Please make room for me.” The facts presented in “Shipyards and Sounds” record The City’s answer as a genteel and progressive “No nigger.”

Beginning at the start of WWII, when Southern blacks migrated to the Bay Area to build ships in Hunters Point, Jelly-Schapiro points out that the main areas of wartime shipbuilding (Richmond, Hunters Point, Marin City) are “places that today remain centers of black population and of black poverty.” Indicating, to me, that little has changed since the 1940s in some significant ways. Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t say it. Jelly-Schapiro did.

Jelly-Schapiro also shows how terms like “redevelopment” displaced black Fillmore District residents to housing projects they’d been banned from during the war and land-grab euphemisms like “urban renewal” decimated black neighborhoods such as West Oakland. Electoral laws mandating that the SF Board of Supervisors be elected by citywide contests and not by district allowed a city that desegregated its schools and transit system in the 1860s to remain progressive and very, very white.

Jelly-Schapiro’s conclusion contains a critique of Bay Area celebrations when “Negro president” Barack Obama was elected in 2008. What he won’t say is covered in Shizue Seigel’s map. A sidebar shows the dwindling soul of a city, while the headers cover the founding of the Black Panthers and Sylvester’s solo debut at Bimbo’s. (D. Scot Miller)

MAP 9. “Fillmore: Promenading the Boulevard of Gone”

After the damned disheartening facts presented in the previous chapter, it’s both merciful and hopeful that “Little Pieces of Many Wars” — though just as rage-inducing — establishes some kind of equilibrium.

Gent Sturgeon’s incredible Rorschach-inspired artwork opens a thoroughly-researched piece on Fillmore Street and its many incarnations. Mary Ellen Pleasant’s abolitionist work and her eucalyptus trees — which still stand on the corners of Bush and Octavia streets — are a starting point for a leisurely stroll with Solnit, who runs the voodoo down, “The war between the states left its traces here,” she says, “as did the Second World War, and the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the stale and ancient war of racism, and the various forms of freelance violence.”

She remembers San Francisco as an abolitionist headquarters, and Fillmore Street as the first place Allen Ginsberg read “Howl.” Recalling the Fillmore’s rich heritage of jazz, poetry, and art, Solnit takes it even further, adding, “The wealthy sometimes claim to bring civilization to rough neighborhoods, but the Upper Fillmore neighborhood that was so culturally rich when it was the property of poor people in the 1950s is smoothed over in significance now.”

The tragedy of Japanese internment, and the cross-cultural exchange that was demolished by it and redevelopment loom like white sheets over the city to this day. But Solnit closes with an optimistic sense of resurgence, even though Nickie’s has gone Irish.

Ben Pease’s cartography shows the cross-currents of culture of yesterday’s Fillmore Street, but not much else. That’s not a complaint, really. (Miller)

 MAP 13. “The Mission: North of Home, South of Safe”

Two 2009 shootings on 24th Street pop out, in blood red, on the map accompanying Adriana Camarena’s “The Geography of the Unseen,” in much the same way that the spate of shooting deaths the previous year marked my brief time spent living in the Mission. In ’08, I lived in a Victorian flat at Treat and 23rd, distinguished by the fact that it was a favorite hang for the teenaged homies — its steps were slightly tucked back off the street, ideal when it came to hiding out, smoking dope, and snacking out — until my landlords installed a fence, ostensibly to keep the steps free of spit.

We were on the same block as an appliance-loaded junkyard; the last stop of an ancient Mission industrial railroad; and the Parque Niños Unidos, with its swampy, grassy corner, so often cordoned off to keep the tots from wading in the mud, its circling ice cream carts and its de facto refreshment stand, El Gallo Giro taco truck; and the community garden, where the feral kittens tumbled and hid and fresh produce was given away free every Sunday afternoon.

The Parque likely was the last thing 18-year-old poet Jorge Hurtado saw when he was shot and killed on our corner at 1 a.m. that year. I remember waking up that night to what sounded like a cannon boom, only the first of a slew that sweltering, ominous summer — Mark Guardado, president of the SF chapter of the Hells Angels, was killed a little over a week later, down Treat, in front of Dirty Thieves. The tension was thick and gooey in the air — who was next? The beauty of Shizue Seigel’s Mission map lies in how intimate it is, how it’s threaded around the shaggy-dog snatches of yarns Camarena catches among the day laborers waiting at Cesar Chavez and Bayshore, from the long litany of splintered families, time spent in the refuge of gangs at 24th and Shotwell, and then, in Frank Pena’s case, lives cut sadly short farther up 24th at Potrero. The included stories, rarely straying beyond the tellers’ voices and the facts they choose to reveal, stay with you — even if her sources’ internal lives remain, as the chapter’s subtitle goes, “the Geography of the Unseen.” (Chun)


NORTHERN CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS 2011 BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARDS

 

FICTION

 

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, stories, Yiyun Li (Random House, 240 pages, $25)

Nonfiction

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Mary Roach (W.W. Norton and Company, 336 pages, $15.95)

Honorable Mention: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, (University of California, 760 pages, $34.95)

 

POETRY

Come On All You Ghosts, Matthew Zapruder (Copper Canyon, 96 pages, $16)

Food Writing

My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South, Rosetta Costantino, Janet Fletcher, and Shelley Lindgren (W.W. Norton and Company, 416 pages, $35)

Children’s Picture Book

The Quiet Book, Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 32 pages, $12.95)

Honorable mention: Zero, Kathryn Otoshi (KO Kids, 32 pages, $17.95)

 

TEEN LIT

The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson (Dial, 288 pages, $17.99)

Honorable mention: The Mockingbirds, Daisy Whitney (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 352 pages, $16.99)

 

REGIONAL TITLE

Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, Rebecca Solnit (University of California, 167 pages, $24.95)

Honorable mention: A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California, Laura Cunningham (Heyday, 352 pages, $50)

 

Dark slice of life

0

arts@sfbg.com

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Despite the incredible current spread of festivals and formats by which art films can be exposed internationally, it’s still possible for masterful directors with considerable resumes to remain largely ignored outside their own country. Certainly that’s been the case with Agustí Villaronga, a fascinating Spanish director whose new film, Black Bread, is the latest in a career of superbly crafted films almost-commercial enough to gain U.S. release. Yet seldom quite enough.

Villaronga’s cinema is gorgeously cinematic, often historical, high in strikingly managed melodramatic content, sexually (often homoerotically) charged, frequently tinged by the fantastical, very interested in children’s perceptions of adult corruption. He’s a middleman between Luis Buñuel and Guillermo del Toro — less abstract than Buñuel, but evidently less accessible than del Toro, even if the ambitious Black Bread possibly got green-lit because in many respects it resembles del Toro’s international success Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

Black Bread isn’t its director’s best work, though as usual it sports his aesthetic assurance, flair for alarming set pieces, and potency in juggling disparate tonal-thematic elements. It’s another very dark story — he’s never made a frivolous one — addressing sex, politics, and violent suppression toward both that manages to be expansive rather than claustrophobic, or simply depressing. It is, like many of his films, a great movie … nearly.

He started out, however, with a feature that was absolutely great, and could hardly have been more upsetting: 1987’s In a Glass Cage, about Klaus (Günter Meisner), a Nazi doctor who conducted World War II “experiments” on children. Years later, he is discovered hiding out by one of his surviving victims. Angelo (David Sust) is now an Angel of Death himself, committed to punishing his erstwhile tormentor by perversely reenacting his worst crimes — with the sickly doc, now helpless prisoner of a primitive “iron lung,” as captive witness.

Angelo invades Klaus’ home with alacrity, appointing himself sole attendant “nurse,” dispatching anyone who gets between him and his goal. This goal is a sadistic tables-turning that the pale, handsome-yet-ghoulish teenager wreaks upon his host family, to the extreme peril of its members and any unwilling “guests.”

Hitchcockian in their perfect storyboarded discipline, yet without his gloating chortle, the unforgettable set piece highlights of In a Glass Cage are excruciatingly tense, prolonged death-knells for characters Angelo chooses to eliminate. Yet there’s a terrible poignancy to the cruel proceedings.

After horrifying San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival audiences 25 years ago — there is a certain thread of malevolently closeted homoeroticism — this cult object remained long absent from North American access until a 2003 DVD release. It remains an astonishing peak in sick but brilliantly accomplished cinema.

Villaronga should have shot to the fore of international auteurs with that extraordinary debut. But instead he’s enjoyed just sporadic exposure and (I’d assume) a lot of frustration, given just four features realized in the near quarter-century since. Most are barely known here, if at all — 1989’s atmospheric if slightly overcooked fantasy Moonchild, 1997’s quasi-horror 99.9, or 2000’s The Sea, a sometimes shattering drama about three children who share a traumatic secret, then meet again as young adult patients at a sanitarium. All of them were arresting, however, and none were seen in the U.S. beyond a handful of festivals and (at best) extremely limited VHS or DVD exposure. (In a Glass Cage is showing at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room in May.)

Black Bread is, incredibly, Villaronga’s first theatrical feature in a decade. (He’s made the rare short, documentary, and TV project in the meantime, and is currently planning a miniseries about Eva Peron’s visit to Spain.) Based on a novel by Emili Teixidor, Black Bread is a complex narrative and stylistic hybrid blending history, homophilia-phobia, humanism, and horror, even more accessibly than before. It’s a festival crowd-pleaser that pretty much swept Spain’s Goya Awards in February, albeit sadly still no shoo-in for theatrical release hereabouts.

Largely about how childish emotions betray adult hypocrisies — a la To Kill a Mockingbird — the 1944-set Black Bread operates on several levels, all thorny but vivid. Their core is the bewildered perspective of almond-eyed Andreu (Francesc Colomer), an 11-year-old peasant child who witnesses a gruesome crime at the beginning, only to find his father (Roger Casamajor) accused by a corrupt Fascist mayor eager to scapegoat a former Republican rebel. Dad must flee, and Andreu is sent by mom (Nora Navas) to live with his grandmother and aunts until the heat dies down.

Cramming an epic agenda into 108 minutes, Black Bread encompasses roiling coming-of-age emotions, folkloric streaks, a few shocking revelations (including pederasty), and hints of fabulism in a nearby asylum-slash-death camp whose inmates include an angelic young man without (or possibly with) wings. It’s a terrifically orchestrated film, even if it feels somewhat overstuffed with ripe elements, almost over-accomplished in terms of slick showcase sequences — including a grotesque fever-dream of fag-bashing sadism — whose variably florid, stirring parts are less effective as a whole.

Still, those parts are often very stirring indeed, with excellent performances by the juvenile and adult actors. It’s a movie most viewers will find unusually rich in complication and artistry. Why Villaronga hasn’t had a half-dozen more opportunities to impress us over his skinny quarter-century output is anyone’s guess. But it’s surely everyone’s loss.

 

BLACK BREAD

Fri/29, 3 p.m.; Mon/2, 6 p.m.;

May 4, 9:15 p.m., $13

Sundance Kabuki

1881 Post, SF

www.sffs.org

What to watch, part two

0

WEDS/27

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Marie Losier, U.S., 2011) Once dubbed “the wickedest man in the world”, shock artist and cofounder of seminal industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has softened somewhat with time. Her plunge into pandrogyny, an ongoing artistic and personal process embarked upon with the late Jacqueline “Lady Jaye” Breyer P-Orridge, is an attempt to create a perfectly balanced body, incorporating the characteristics of both. As artists, the two were committed to documenting their process, but as marriage partners, much of their footage is sweetly innocuous home video footage: Genesis cooking in the kitchen decked out in a little black dress, Lady Jaye setting out napkins at a backyard bar-b-que or helping to dig through Genesis’ archives of COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle “ephemera,” the two wrapped in bandages after getting matching nose jobs. “I just want to be remembered as one of the great love affairs of all time,” Jaye tells Genesis. This whimsical documentary by Marie Losier will go a long way toward making that wish a reality. Wed/27, 9:15 p.m., and May 5, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Nicole Gluckstern)

 

THURS/28

Love in a Puff (Pang Ho-cheung, Hong Kong, 2010) In 2007 the global crackdown on smoking made its way to Hong Kong, where the smoking ordinance effectively banned the practice in all indoor areas. This has lead to the explosion of “hot pot packs,” where smokers from varying walks of life come together in solidarity to grab their drags in the streets. That’s the milieu of Love in a Puff, an utterly charming, endearingly funny rom-com from Hong Kong filmmaker Pang Ho-cheung. When Cherie, a pretty Sephora sales clerk and asthmatic with a magenta-hued bob, meets Jimmy, a blandly handsome 20-something advertising exec, over Capri Slims and Lucky Strikes, what follows is a thoroughly modern and tentative courtship waged through dozens of text messages, a dash of karaoke, and a chaste encounter in a Hong Kong “love hotel.” Throw in some haunted car trunks, rogue foreign pubes in bracelets, all night-smoke runs to beat brutal tax increases, and a dry-ice-in-the toilet fetish (“It’s like taking a dump in heaven!” exclaims Jimmy) and you get a thoroughly quirky but never overly cute take on modern romance, one that never blows smoke when it comes to navigating the messy realities of love. Thurs/28, 8:45 p.m., and Sat/30, 1:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Michelle Devereaux)

 

SAT/30

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Göran Hugo Olsson, Sweden/U.S.) Cinematic crate-diggers have plenty to celebrate, checking the results of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. Swedish documentarian Göran Hugo Olsson had heard whispers for years that Swedish television archives possessed more archival footage of the Black Panthers than anyone in the states — while poring through film for a doc on Philly soul, he discovered the rumors were dead-on. With this lyrical film, coproduced by the Bay Area’s Danny Glover, Olsson has assembled an elegant snapshot of black activists and urban life in America, relying on the vivid, startlingly crisp images of figures such as Stokely Carmichael and Huey P. Newton at their peak, while staying true to the wide-open, refreshingly nonjudgmental lens of the Swedish camera crews. Questlove of the Roots and Om’Mas Keith provide the haunting score for the film, beautifully historicized with shots of Oakland in the 1960s and Harlem in the ’70s. It’s made indelible thanks to footage of proto-Panther school kids singing songs about grabbing their guns, and an unforgettable interview with a fiery Angela Davis talking about the uses of violence, from behind bars and from the place of personally knowing the girls who died in the infamous Birmingham, Ala., church bombing of 1963. Sat/30, 9 p.m., Kabuki, and Tues/3, 6 p.m., New People. (Kimberly Chun)

 

SUN/1

Circumstance (Maryam Keshavarz, France/U.S./Iran/Lebanon) Thirteen (2003) goes to Tehran? The world of sex, drugs, and underground nightclubs in Iran provides the backdrop for writer-director Maryam Keshavarz’s lusty, dreamy take on the passionate teenagers behind the hijabs. Risking jail and worse are the sassy, privileged Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and the beautiful, orphaned Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), who, much like young women anywhere, just want to be free — to swim, sing, dance, test boundaries, lose, and then find themselves. The difference here is that they’re under constant, unnerving surveillance, in a country where more than 70 percent of the population is younger than 30. Nevertheless, within their mansion walls and without, beneath graffitied walls and undulating at intoxicating house parties, the two girls begin to fall in love with each other, as Atafeh’s handsome, albeit creepy older brother Mehran (Palo Alto-bred Reza Sixo Safai) gazes on. The onetime musical talent’s back from rehab, has returned to the mosque with all the zeal of the prodigal, and has hooked up with the Morality Police that enforces the nation’s cultural laws. Filmed underground in Beirut, with layers that permit both pleasure and protest (wait for the hilarious moment when 2008’s Milk is dubbed in Farsi), Circumstance viscerally transmits the realities and fantasies of Iranian young women on the verge. Sun/1, 6 p.m., and Tues/3, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Chun)

The Salesman (Sébastien Pilote, Canada) Indefatigably optimistic on the outside, small-town Quebec car salesman Marcel (Gilbert Sicotte) refuses to slow down, let alone retire — perhaps from fear that grief over his wife’s death would fill any hours left empty, though he’s far too composed to let that show. He has his daughter (Nathalie Cavezzali) and grandson (Jeremy Tessier) to dote on, and his customers to endlessly fuss over and reassure. But there are few customers these days because the local factory workers are on strike, their plant in danger of being shuttered. Sébastien Pilote’s quiet drama carefully accumulates everyday details toward a full understanding of Marcel and his milieu, the stability of both eventually threatened by factors that not even his formidable powers of denial can overcome. It’s the kind of movie so small and unassuming you’re caught completely unaware when it delivers a gut-punch. Sun/1, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki; Tues/3, 8:50 p.m., PFA; and May 5, 2 p.m., Kabuki. (Dennis Harvey)

13 Assassins Before you accuse Japan’s bad boy director Takashi Miike of going all prestige-y by making a Kurasawa-esque samurai pic, consider that his 13 Assassins is actually a remake of what was originally dismissed by many as a Seven Samurai knockoff, the late Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 film of the same name. Koji Yakusho stars as Shinzaemon Shimada, an aging ronin convinced to come out of the proverbial retirement to assassinate a psychotically brutal lord (Goro Inagaki) with a penchant for raping, killing, and wreaking general havoc. Shinzaemon assembles a ragtag team of warriors with varying levels of experience, and the requisite carnage ensues. Featuring solid performances and an impressively choreographed climax, this well-told tale nevertheless feels disappointing stale. The idea of the iconoclastic Miike reinventing the samurai genre is an intriguing one. But while the film at times gnashes the provocative pulp that most Miike devotees have come to crave, it admittedly elicits a measure of old-fashioned respectability that the genre, by default, seems to command like a master ordering his knightly charge. It certainly beheads all its targets, but with something of a shrug of its shoulders. Sun/1, 8:30 p.m., Castro. (Devereaux)

 

MON/2

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, Canada/France, 2010) When tightly wound émigré Nawal (Luba Azabal) dies, she leaves behind adult twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) — and leaves them documents that only compound their feelings of grief and anger, suggesting that what little they thought they knew about their background might have been a lie. While resentful Simon at first stays home in Montreal, Jeanne travels to fictive “Fuad” (a stand-in for source-material playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s native Lebanon), playing detective to piece together decades later the truth of why their mother fled her homeland at the height of its long, brutal civil war. Alternating between present-day and flashback sequences, this latest by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (2000’s Maelstrom) achieves an urgent sweep punctuated by moments of shocking violence. Resembling The Kite Runner in some respects as a portrait of the civilian victimization excused by war, it also resembles that work in arguably piling on more traumatic incidences and revelations than one story can bear — though so much here has great impact that a sense of over-contrivance toward the very end only slightly mars the whole. Mon/2, 6:30 p.m., and May 5, 8 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

 

TUES/3

Tabloid (Errol Morris, U.S., 2010) Taking a break from loftier subjects, Errol Morris’ latest documentary simply finds a whopper of a story and lets the principal participant tell her side of it — one we gradually realize may be very far from the real truth. In 1978 former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney flew to England, where the Mormon boy she’d grown infatuated with had been posted for missionary work by his church. What ensued became a U.K. tabloid sensation, as the glamorous, not at all publicity-shy Yankee attracted accusations of kidnapping, imprisonment, attempted rape, and more. Her victim of love, one Kirk Anderson, is not heard from here — presumably he’s been trying to live down an embarrassing life chapter ever since. But we do hear from others who shed considerable light on the now middle-aged McKinney’s continued protestations that it was all just one big misunderstanding. Most important, we hear from the lady herself — and she is colorful, unflappable, unapologetic, and quite possibly stone-cold nuts. Tues/3, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki, and May 5, 2:45 p.m., New People. (Harvey)

THE 54TH ANNUAL SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs through May 5. Venues are the Sundance Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF; Castro, 429 Castro, SF; New People, 1746 Post, SF; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third, SF; and Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, SF. For tickets (most shows $13) and complete schedule visit www.sffs.org>.

Beautifull

0

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE In my whizzings past Laurel Village over the years, I did notice that Miz Brown’s Feed Bag, so conspicuous and inviting at the far northeastern corner of the complex that I never went there, vanished at some point. (In 2004, to be precise.) It became Cafe Lo Cubano, which I also never got to — you can’t go home again, said Thomas Wolfe, and you also can’t go to every place, though some do try — and then that too vanished. For the past two years the space has been occupied by Beautifull, a venture in tasty-healthy food that is, in its way, a feed bag for our time. (There’s a second location in the inner Sunset, with a third opening soon in the Castro.)

The transition from Lo Cubano to Beautifull seems to have been a good deal less eventful. The space is shiny and modern, with handsome chairs that combine brushed steel and butterscotchy, Scandinavian-looking wood. We are a long way from Miz Brown’s famous orange vinyl, and the question is, Who is going to pay for all these splendid aesthetics?

Beautifull assumes (as does Whole Foods) that modern urban people are interested in flavorful, healthful, and varied food that can be got in a hurry and either taken away or eaten in non-kitschy surroundings, and that they are willing to pay for these benefits. This is not the place to be pining for your Jumbo Jack with curly fries for $3.99. For that kind of money, you’ll have to settle for the polenta fries, which are better for you anyway. They’re $4.99, with chipotle ketchup.

The food takes cues from a variety of the world’s cuisines — quinoa, spaghetti and meat balls, chocolate-chip cookies, a Moroccan chicken bowl — but the heart of the menu is Asian. There is a selection of Vietnamese-style bowls, a variety of curries, and salads of Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese provenance, along with a good old caesar. What was more heartening, to me, was the clever use of turkey. Turkey is a true native American food whose greatest misfortune was to be typecast as Thanksgiving dinner. People have a hard time seeing around that, just as they had a hard time seeing William Shatner as anything but Captain Kirk, at least until he started doing those Priceline spots.

Turkey is flexible and wonderful. It’s used in a turkey burger, in the meatballs for the spaghetti and meatballs, and — rather unexpectedly — in a mild but solid red curry ($11.99/lb.) The great issue with the flesh, particularly from the breast, is its tendency to dry out, but when it was bathed in a luxurious coconut-milk broth (and cut into small pieces for faster cooking), it was fine.

We thought it was better than the slightly pricier beef red curry ($12.99). The beef was tougher, and its flavor fought more against the curry. Beef needs little to no help in the matter of flavor and isn’t always gracious about accepting such help. Neither red curry looked especially red, incidentally; the color was more ochre, almost yellow, and indeed these could have been passed off as yellow curries.

Roast chicken ($11.99 including two sides) was wonderful, with nicely crisped skin and juicy flesh. But we ended up with a single piece, a whole leg, which might have counted as two pieces if the thigh and drumstick had been separated, but they would have been small. The black quinoa salad on the side was striking to look at, with a gloss reminiscent of beluga lentils, and the “zesty” citrus vinaigrette was serviceable. Mildness rules the day here. You could serve the zesty salad dressing to your grandmother, and the curries are tame enough to feed to a baby. This is fine. But if, like me, you like food with a measurable flame factor, you should adjust your expectations accordingly.

The mac ‘n’ cheese was served cold, though it was still creamy and hadn’t congealed. It’s the kind of thing you’d eat with a deep sense of gratitude if, brutally hung over, you found it in the refrigerator one Sunday morning. You’d thank the Almighty for remembering you at all, and you wouldn’t quibble about a small matter like temperature. Still, it would be better warm. The pasta is whole-grain: a plus.

Ordering is complex, with a murk of choices, options, and pricing plans. It’s like struggling at the podium of a budget airline — check this, carry that, headphones? By the time you’re done, you need a glass of sauvignon blanc ($5), to settle down. It wasn’t Sancerre but it wasn’t bad, either. Getting anything here for $5 is beautiful. But that’s our brave new world.

BEAUTIFULL

Daily: 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m.

3401 California, SF

(415) 728-9080

www.beautifull.com

Wine and beer

MC/V

Somewhat noisy

Wheelchair accessible

 

Going back

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Speaking from her home in New York, choreographer Lucinda Childs recalls the unfavorable reception to her 1979 piece Dance. “People walked out saying that I didn’t have a vocabulary and that anybody could do that kind of dancing.” Fortunately, perceptions and concepts of dance have evolved.

Childs’ one-hour pure dance piece, set to music by Philip Glass and accompanied by Sol LeWitt’s film, is presented this weekend by San Francisco Performances in association with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It is a rare opportunity to see a work by one of the seminal artists from the Judson Church movement, named after the New York City location that hosted the revolution.

In the early 1960s, choreographers tried to wipe the slate clean of what dance was, could, should, or need be. Technique, virtuosity, a codified vocabulary, and style — whether Balanchine’s, Martha Graham’s, or Merce Cunningham’s — were out. Everyday movement, improvisation, matter-of-factness and wysiwyg’s were the “cool” of the day. These at one time radical ideas were largely responsible for democratizing dance.

Today the movement has run its course. Its practitioners — with a few exceptions, such as Trisha Brown and David Gordon, who have continued onto international careers — are part of history. Childs is one of them — a legend in her own time whose choreography is almost never seen, in part because she works primarily in Europe. After the end of this tour, she is heading to Nice in France, then returning to the Ballet du Rhin, where she has been in residence for the last decade. “I am looking forward to going back,” says Childs, “It’s nice to work with dancers you know.”

So why Dance, and why now?

Even though her recent rigorous choreography is more conventionally theatrical, Childs is at heart a classicist. A piece like Dance transcends time and place even as it changes. Childs takes pedestrian movements — walking, skipping, running, hopping — and strips them of whatever context the steps might imply. They are performed with utmost clarity, without personal inflexion, giving the illusion that they are pure designs in space. But they are not. Repetition, accumulation, retrograde, overlaps, and mirroring are the formal devices that create incremental change, similar to the way it happens in Glass’ music. The whole dance becomes a shimmering unit and you begin to recognize differences among dancers. Geometry comes alive.

No surprise, therefore, that LeWitt was drawn to Childs. His work is as conceptually exacting as hers. His paintings and wall drawings are as meticulously planned and “impersonally” realized as her choreography. It probably also helped that Childs has a highly developed visual sense; she once took a section from a Seurat painting and danced its dots — backward.

For Dance‘s film element, shot by Lisa Rinsler, LeWitt superimposed a grid on the floor and captured sections of the choreography. He used split screens, odd angles, and close-ups. The film is synchronized with the live dance, initially making the performers dance with themselves. In 1979, video wasn’t as pervasive, so the effect of seeing the same dancers simultaneously on screen and on the stage was startling.

In the contemporary version of Dance, a gap has opened between the live and virtual performers. “The dancers today, are very different from what they were,” Childs explains. “They are much more technically trained, they also are different people.”

But the biggest change will be in the solo, which, when I saw the work a decade ago, Childs still danced herself. While it was fascinating to see contemporary and earlier dancers cohabiting the same universe, to see Childs dance against her younger self was breathtaking. Time collapsed into an eternal present.

At 70, Childs no longer performs the solo, yet she believes it’s in good hands. “I told Caitlin [Scranton] not to dance it like I did — to make it her own.”

LUCINDA CHILDS: DANCE

Thurs/28–Sat/30, 8 p.m.; $35–$60

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Novellus Theater

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

 

It’s 6 a.m. somewhere

1

ruggy@yelp.com

RUGGY’S YELP On my 21st birthday, I wanted to suck every single ounce of inebriated enjoyment out of the milestone occasion and tipped back my first airplane bottle of 99 Bananas schnapps at 5:45 a.m. outside one of San Diego’s premiere 20-hour bars, the Silver Fox. Before arriving, I was convinced I’d be the only patron crazy enough to enter when its doors opened at 6 a.m., but I found myself among 10 to 15 others queued up, awaiting an 80-proof wake-me-up with trembling hands.

It was an eclectic bunch I was rubbing elbows with: one gentleman wore military fatigues and downed a quick pint before reporting for duty at 0700 hours. Two others were just getting off the graveyard shift — at a local graveyard. Another middle-aged man with hints of gray at the temples, who sported a midnight blue three-piece wool suit, was there to whet his whistle before entering court to act as a fiduciary in a public defense case.

As a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed souse-in-training, this heterogeneous bunch was exactly the cluster of oddballs I’d been hoping to share my first alcoholic beverage with as an adult. Now, many years later with weakened internal organs, I still occasionally find myself atop a bar stool before the crack of daylight. For you, I’ve highlighted a few early morning standouts on the front lines of cock’s crow intoxication.

 

VESUVIO CAFE

Consider a pre-work stop at Vesuvio as less of a giant leap toward self-diagnosed alcoholism, and more of an “only in San Francisco” moment. As you probably know, the great Jack Kerouac spent many a day and night throwing back hooch at this notorious North Beach watering hole. Things turned out pretty well for him — they even named the street outside after the guy! Maybe that won’t happen in your case, but the connection between boozing at Vesuvio and success is duly noted. Staff know how to pour fantastically stiff drinks, there’s a robust array of beers on tap, and the deep-red, second-story mezzanine interior is just the thing to offset the lights of Broadway’s sinful adult institutions staring you in the face as night turns to day, or vice versa.

Opens at 6 a.m. 255 Columbus, SF. (415) 362-3370, www.vesuvio.com

 

SUTTER STATION

Judging from the denizens entering through this bar’s rear door, there’s a reason regulars refer to that particular point of entry as the “Sutter gutter.” However, we’re talking FiDi here — it’s not uncommon to observe dedicated drunks doing 12-ounce curls alongside well-groomed day traders en route to the office. Cocktails aren’t much to write home about, but the daring can pair their glass of firewater with a bowl of Orville Redenbacher’s from the popcorn machine that rests idly near the north end of the bar. There’s no telling when that popcorn was made, but it’s there for you if you’re hankering for a complimentary continental breakfast.

Opens at 7 a.m. 554 Market, SF. (415) 434-4768

 

GOLD DUST LOUNGE

Sadly, Gold Dust’s camp-tastic cover crew Johnny Z and the Camaros aren’t firing away on the encumbered bandstand at this aboriginal hour — even the hardest working men in local showbiz deserve some distance from the oldest bar in Union Square from time to time. Irish coffees are the name of the game at this mature rathskeller, and they’ll only set you back $3.50. You’d drop more cash on a venti caramel macchiato (extra whip!) at the Starbucks across the street, but until the ‘Bucks starts subbing the sugar for plastic bottle bourbon, guess where I’d rather spend my hard-earned dollars.

Opens at 7 a.m. 247 Powell, SF. (415) 397-1695

 

La vida vegan

5

caitlin@sfbg.com

DINE It’s a wild, woolly world when you won’t eat its cheeseburgers. Or so I discovered last autumn when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and found that my inner logician could no longer justify consuming products from the loins (and udders, and uteri) of animals that spent their lives experiencing the systematic abuse of factory farms.

But the most shocking tiding from Foer? A University of Chicago study, he writes, found that omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gas of vegans. My bicycle eyed me from its perch on the storage hook in our apartment’s foyer. Environmentalists, are we?

So we traipse along the hippie-liberal continuum — just one more step to independence from fossil fuels, I suppose. But though I’ve been riding the pescatarian train for years, going animal product-free was harder than a piquant wedge of manchego (Jesus, even my metaphors have dairy products in them).

I was surprised how many places I would go — even here, in the befigged plate of the Bay Area! — where wearing my vegan hat meant going underfed and, by extension, becoming a whiny envelope-full of social anthrax addressed to my dining companions. Some restaurants even ghettoize our kind with separate menus, as if vegan food holds no interest for the general dining public.

Surely, though, this is nothing compared to the brave, ice cream-rejecting, pizza cheese-peeling pioneers of the vegan world! Even if it’s still hard to break society’s “five food groups” programming, as a whole our country is well out of the “what’s a vegan?” stage of cultural development.

It was high time for a pulse check. So one rainy spring day, I met with some of the Bay’s best and brightest vegans for a potluck and chat on where living animal-free is at these days. Food activists, chefs, moms, a boyfriend, a blogger. We ate like kings and bitched about steaks. We called it the Summit of the Vegans. I’ll tell you more — but first, a word on our vegans …

 

TAMEARRA DYSON

Vegan cred: Owner of Souley Vegan and self-taught chef

Comes natural: “When someone asks me what I use instead of milk or butter, I don’t even know how to answer that. What do you use? You just don’t use it!”

 

MARK BENEDETTO AND CARMEN VAZQUEZ

Vegan cred: Chefs. Started the now-defunct vegan Brassica Supperclub. Now the manager of Frog Hollow Farm’s Ferry Building store and kitchen supervisor at Gracias Madre, with a restaurant of their own on the horizon.

Vegans on the lam: The couple’s underground supper club was shut down by the fuzz in 2009 for lacking required permits.

A love that knows no animal products: “There are a ton of factions, splinter cells,” Benedetto says, “but all vegans secretly, quietly love other vegans.”

 

NANCY LOEWEN

Vegan cred: Nurse and vice president of the SF Vegetarian Society

Don’t even try to win that argument: “The Vegetarian Society has been around for 40 years. We continue to be a small group, but the number of vegetarians continue to grow. I love animals; I don’t like to go to the doctor; there are the environmental reasons; and I love the food. You just can’t win that argument!”

 

BILL EVANS

Vegan cred: Guardian production manager. Has been animal product-free for years. Our Joe Vegan.

Breaking down the meat lines: “The things that crack me up and annoy me at the same time: my girlfriend is the opposite of vegan and she’ll order a steak and invariably the waiter will come back and give me the steak and her my salad. There are some societal expectations about what’s a manly food.”

 

LAURA BECK

Vegan cred: Founding blogger of vegansaurus.com

Loves her job because: “The vast majority of my commenter are so rad. They’re smart, awesome activists, not preachy dicks, which is what a lot of people think vegans are.”

When’s she’s not blogging: Beck’s favorite Bay Area vegan eats include Encuentro, Golden Era, the flan at Gracias Madre, schwarmas from Herbivore, Saha, Jay’s Cheesesteaks, and Souley Vegan.

Note: Beck was sick for our summit but I hollered at her afterward so she could still join the conversation.

Elbow-deep as we were in the toothsome culinary contributions my summit attendees had whipped up for the occasion, it was perhaps no surprise to learn that food cravings were the least of the challenges to their vegan lifestyles. Indeed, to a (wo)man, our panel participants — many of whom had been vegans for the better part of a decade — found their eats superior to more omnivorous spreads.

“There are only five or six animals that people eat for meat,” said Loewen, who works at a senior citizen center by day and spends her free time organizing events like the Vegetarian Society’s annual Meat Out. “But we’ve got so many options in terms of grains and vegetables.”

One of the upsides to being vegan — in addition to the animal treatment and health and well-being issues that panelists cited as their salient motivations to make their lifestyle switch — is that it compels a certain amount of creativity in the kitchen. When you’re operating largely outside the parameters of what your family considers a standard meal, you tend to think outside the prepackaged box.

Dyson runs my favorite reason to cross the Bay Bridge — Souley Vegan’s crispy tofu burger and mac ‘n’ cheese have magical properties. She came to veganism when she had a visceral reaction as a teenager to a chicken bone, and now can’t imagine life any other way. She started her cooking career at a farmers market booth and now brings Souley Vegan’s cuisine to African American expos and public schools, where it teaches people about life, post-pork flavoring.

We talked about living vegan in the Bay Area, where my panelists agreed the vegan community had yet to come together the way in has in places like Austin. They pinned this lack of cohesion on the dearth of a central cultural hub, and Beck affirmed that a need for just such a meeting space was one of her motivations behind Vegansaurus.

Evans bemoaned the “ideological chasm” that separates omnivores and vegans and makes it difficult to share information and understanding between the two. The group debated over whether the “vegan movement” could truly be said to exist — and yeah, we talked shit too.

“I think it’s bullshit!” Loewen opined suddenly when I asked the group how they felt about Michael Pollan’s assertion that eating sustainably is more important than eating animal-product-free. “[That view] takes out the ethical aspect. That animal is going to die — free range animals want to live even more than other animals.”

Benedetto and Vazquez attended the California Culinary Academy (where they met and Vazquez became vegan) and were the summit’s official “vegans on the front lines” because of it. The school, they said, accommodated their desire not to work with meat — to a point. They still had to cook a steak for a final exam and take a two-week butchery course. “It smelled like death,” grimaced Benedetto. “Postgrad, I decided I would rather work retail than have to cook meat.”

Bottom line? There are challenges to being a Bay Area vegan. But there are victories as well: feeling “lighter,” minimizing your impact on the environment, being your own person, and delicious meals, to name a few. After hearing everyone’s stories, I realized that becoming a vegan in the Bay is a lot like being a human in the Bay: endlessly frustrating, completely crazy, but also a chance to be a part of an earnest try for a more sustainable world.

 

Victory, victorious

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS He’s only in high school so far, but Coach’s little brother Coach is a football genius of Bill Walshian proportion. Here’s how I know: He came, he coached, we won.

Us. Yes. 12-0. He practiced us twice the day before the game, put people in their proper places, and called all the plays on offense. He’s 17. His even younger brother, Coachy, 14, taught the “cover four” to our defense, which includes me. I’m 47. And … well, 12-0! Compared to the 54-12 combined trouncing we received in our first three games, this was quite the minor miracle, this li’l shutout win. Four interceptions, two by me, one of which I returned for a touchdown. It was so unprecedentedly monumental that afterward I dumped about an eighth of a bottle of Gatorade over Coach’s brother Coach’s head.

And then, grinning, blushing, and just generally dripping electrolytes, he and his fold-away traveling coaching staff, which included their dad, folded into their car and drove back to San Diego. But not before Papa Coach thanked me again for taking care of that rooster back on New Year’s.

Which is important because no matter how much of a sexy celebrity hot shit football star I may become (with proper coaching) in my old age, I will always still be a chicken farmer at heart. Not to mention that offing this here rooster really gave me good luck this year.

For example: Boston. For example: New Orleans. For example: Hedgehog. For example: 12-0.

So the coaches left, except for Coach, and we were just us again, our ragtag women’s football team, basking on a plastic tarp on the sidelines, no longer winless, and no longer even I don’t think in last place. At least for one week. I wonder what happens next.

Next, I hug and high-five my teammates, and leave them sucking orange wedges to go eat something substantial with our fan, Kayday. That means Red Café on Mission and 25th streets, because Toast has a line, and we can’t find the Ebb Tide on account of existential crisis. Not ours; we’re still here. Well, I’m still here. By the time you read this, however, Kayday will have moved back to Seattle, which is kind of like ceasing to exist, except you can fly back on weekends. And she still wants to be in my band, so … There’s that.

As for Red, why haven’t I eaten here before this?

It’s good, it’s basic, it’s great, and most important, no line! If you don’t mind sitting at the counter, which of course we don’t.

Kayday was just getting over some stomach bug, so she ordered something bland and not worth talking about. I, on the other hand, had just won the first football game of my new career. So I ordered beans, tortillas, fried plantains, and a plastic bag with ice in it.

My knee was sore.

Actually, I’d thought I was ordering eggs too, and one of those balls of rice and beans, but I must have messed up.

Well, the plantains were good, although I couldn’t finish them because there were way too many. The beans were great, and my favorite part of everything was the tortillas, which were fresh and warm and I melted butter in them, rolled them up, and used them to scoop the beans.

My only real criticism of Red’s Café has to do with the ice course. They must have Ziplock bags, right? Or something strong enough to contain your drip when the ice starts to melt. No?

No, my ice was served in a small, handled shopping bag like the drug store might put your tube of toothpaste and hair pins in. No way is that gonna hold water.

Drip.

I’ll be OK. I’ll be back out there next weekend for more football, soccer, and maybe even baseball just by way of being a complete lunatic about it. I’ll also be back to Red’s Café for the nopales omelet, which I had meant to order before the thought of plantains foiled my plan. Drip. Drip.

Drip …

RED CAFÉ

Daily: 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

2894 Mission, SF

(415) 282-1515

No alcohol

D/MC/V

 

Ghosts in the machine

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LIT According to the Bureau of Invented Statistics, 99.9 percent of all poetry disappears into the void. This rate remains steady throughout history, though at certain times and places the figure undergoes radical fluctuations, plummeting to as low as 99 percent. Such periods are eventually given names like the San Francisco Renaissance, or the Elizabethan Renaissance. I mention this because I think Bay Area poetry has quietly entered one of those periods. Currently on my desk are four local debuts — Palm to Pine by Sunnylyn Thibodeaux; A GUSTONBOOK by Patrick James Dunagan; El Golpe Chileño by Julien Poirier; and gowanus atropolis by now-New Yorker Julien Brolaski — each of which appeared in the past six months, and each of which is ass-kicking and assured. In the 15 years I’ve been a poet here, I can’t recall a similarly fertile time.

The situation’s gotten so out of hand, a book I edited, Stranger in Town by Cedar Sigo, was nominated for an NCIBA award, and I actually knew the work of all the other nominees. The list was so good it didn’t matter who won, so I was pleased to see former and newly-returned SF resident Matthew Zapruder snag the award for his third full-length collection, Come On All You Ghosts (Copper Canyon Press, 96 pages, $16).

I haven’t checked, but I imagine most reviews of this book are compelled to describe it as “haunted” since it has Ghosts in the title and deals in part with the death of the poet’s father. It’s not a Kaddish-like outpouring of grief, in other words, but it’s haunted by death in a more oblique, post-New York School fashion. “This book you are holding/ is about dying,” Zapruder writes, yet too, it is about love (a relationship, it appears, inspired his return to SF). Such topics are strongly emotional, and Zapruder grapples with them through a self-conscious distance: “let us live/ here in this apartment and make/ sounds of love,” he writes, rather than simply “make love.” Or, in a characteristic locution, where a sentence becomes a unit within itself: “It doesn’t spoil my time is what/ spoils my time.” You could call this “emotion recollected in tranquility” — Wordsworth even appears — only there’s little tranquility. It deals more with the long run; when someone close to you dies, they’re dead for the rest of your life, long after grief has passed, and Ghosts wrestles with this haunted aspect of the human condition throughout.

As a fellow poet, I’m not without prejudices. I feel ambition is the enemy, and most long poems are baggy, misguided affairs. While Zapruder hasn’t shaken this belief, he has provided a mighty exception in the title poem, which may in fact be the greatest piece in the book. As a long poem, it’s taut and disciplined, only 15 pages entirely in tercets. Indeed, my one criticism of the book is that Zapruder is preeminently a poet of the single verse column, but my favorite poems in Ghosts — “After Reading Tu Fu,” say, or the one prose poem, “April Snow” — are those that break with this form. “Ghosts” rips along without being hemmed in by the three-line form, using it instead for gymnastics:

I myself am suspicious

and cruel. Sometimes

when I close my eyes

 

I hear a billion workers

in my skull

hammering nails from which

 

all the things I see

get hung. But poems

are not museums,

 

they are machines

made of words

I like this because Zapruder entirely flouts the formal constraint even as his lines retain status as individual units. The way the second stanza seems to well up to an image that disintegrates with the third stanza’s interestingly unseeable “all the things I see” and the midline off-rhyme of “skull” and “hung” reveal considerable technical chops concealed in the single verse form. They exert themselves there, but discreetly, shifting the sense of lines through intricate syntactic ruses like a modern-day Basil Bunting, whereas here they assert themselves more forcibly. The theme of the poem as a machine — that “anyone with a mind/ who cares can enter” — returns to close “Ghosts,” and this is not a bad way to think about poetry. As Zapruder’s book attests, the poetry that endures is built to last.

 

Return of the skronk

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC There’s a point at the start of Bill Orcutt’s recently reissued, acclaimed 2009 album, A New Way to Pay Old Debts (Editions Mego), during the violent, staccato blues of “Lip Rich,” when a telephone rings. Slight pause. And then the San Francisco musician picks up where he left off, with shattered, crashing runs of proudly broken-ass guitar notes, the occasional shout and cry. Pummeling his old Kay acoustic until it reverberates like a piano, Orcutt sounds as if he’s busy ripping apart blues guitar lines at the end of a long metal-clad tunnel — and exorcising a few demons while he’s at it. There, at Orcutt’s end, semis, motorcycles, and homegirls rumble past and Mississippi blues players still wander, stumbling into pale-faced strangers deconstructing Delta drone with their bare hands, nails, and bones.

The reality is that the police sirens, roaring buses, and streetside groans on New Way — all of which lend the music the beautifully devolved faux-authenticity of an old field recording — are the same sounds you can hear any day at 24th and York streets in the Mission. Orcutt and family moved to that spot when they relocated to San Francisco after the 1997 breakup of his old band Harry Pussy, the noise-experimental band he founded in Miami along with fearsome vocalist-drummer Adris Hoyos. New Way — a document of a new solo approach in an old room perched above an even older Mission thoroughfare—was recorded during the spring of ’09 in a window-lined spot within their corner apartment.

“It was just insanely loud,” Orcutt recalls now from his current home in Sunnyside. It’s late, but it’s one of the few times Orcutt, who holds down a job as a software engineer, can talk. “There were constantly trucks and people going by outside, so there was no way to record and keep the background out. I realized I should just go with whatever happened — and the phone rang in the middle of the take.”

As chance would have it, one of Orcutt’s favorite guitarists, English experimentalist Derek Bailey, also had a recording released, posthumously, that was punctuated by a disruptive phone call (“Wrong Number” on More 74 [Incus]).

At least it wasn’t simply a noisy trendoid bellowing in the brunch queue outside St. Francis Fountain.

“When we moved there, St. Francis was closed — it was weird when it first reopened,” says a dryly amused Orcutt. “Suddenly there were people waiting for tofu scramble, and we were like, ‘Why?'”

“Why?” also comes to mind as one listens to New Way: why hasn’t Orcutt played and recorded since the dissolution of Harry Pussy? Perhaps it was the move or work demands — more important, Orcutt got reinterested in playing music when he began to assemble a retrospective of Harry Pussy’s music for Load Records, You’ll Never Play This Town Again: Live, Etc 1997 (2008), and began to listen the furious skronk his band generated and the remarkably damaged, thick, and grotty guitar sound he developed.

“I hadn’t heard that music in 10 years. It was pretty extreme, and I forgot what it sounded like,” he says. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that is weird.’ I was listening to a lot of it because I had to, and it naturally made me want to pick up a guitar and start playing again.”

It was a slight case of being inspired by yourself — though the modest Orcutt immediately disavows this (“That sounds weird — don’t say that!”) — and remembering your roots, be they buried in the same hot soil as Mississippi Fred McDowell, or the same swampy morass as kindred noisy Floridian Rat Bastard. “Honestly, there were like two or three people that were doing strange stuff in Miami at that time,” Orcutt remembers. “It wasn’t much of a scene. It was just isolated weirdos going off on their own tangents — that pretty much described us.”

Orcutt’s incredible, atonal guitar playing is the uncommon element connecting Hoyos’ formidable shrieks and 24th Street grind. These days Orcutt prefers to play acoustic rather than electric, though it’s rigged as a four-string, with the A and D strings removed, much the same way his electric once was. The modification predates Harry Pussy: “It just stuck,” he notes. “At this point, there’s no rational reason for doing it. It’s just what I sound like in my own head.”

The acoustic was also an intuitive choice, and as Orcutt started listening to guitarists such as McDowell, Bailey, and Carlos Montoya, “just to see what had been done before and to get the lay of the land and an understanding of what the perimeters were,” its sound and mobility started to appeal. “It’s a nice way to be self-contained and self-reliant. As long as you can get it on the plane, you’re good. And in a really small venue, you can even get away without having a PA,” he explains. “If I have to, I could wind up at the BART Station and I’m good to go.”

And it exposed Orcutt as a musician, apart from the protective mob of a band. “Honestly, once I got into it, I really wanted to play solo,” he observes. “When I started playing in front of people, it was scary, but I have this weird compulsion to play solo.” That urge is still a puzzle — in Harry Pussy, he adds, “Adris [Hoyos] definitely led the way and it was easy to hang back. I don’t know …” Slight pause. “There’s some kind of process I’m working through by playing solo, and I’m definitely still working on whatever it is.”

Approve affordable housing — for youth

1

OPINION Booker T. Washington, born as a slave, risked his life to learn to read and write and went on to found Tuskegee University. At his core, he believed that economic independence and access to education were the keys to equality. He put it best when he said: “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.”

Since 1919, the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center has worked to lift up San Franciscans of every background, with a particular focus on the African American community. To continue that vision, the center is embarking on a capital project that will provide 50 units of affordable housing to youth and families, along with new athletic and educational space.

The most critical part of the project is providing housing for transitional-age youth. Many of these young people age out of foster care with no family support, few job skills, and no chance to rent a market-rate apartment in this expensive city. The project represents a real commitment to these youth, who are overwhelmingly people of color. With affordable housing funding under threat at the federal and state levels, it’s essential that shovel-ready projects get the green light from City Hall.

That is why we were thrilled when Sups. Ross Mirkarimi, Eric Mar, and Mark Farrell introduced the necessary legislation to allow this project to move forward. Joining hundreds of community leaders, countless families, and prominent African Americans, these supervisors lent their support for a project that continues the ongoing fight for economic justice.

It’s also why we are concerned that a few neighbors are using their influence to push down on the hopes of San Francisco’s youth. Some neighbors have asked that we add additional parking, even though the site is just a few blocks from Geary Boulevard and most low-income youth don’t have cars. Others have suggested that we cut nine units to make the building shorter, even though San Francisco’s housing needs are so acute. As is often the case in San Francisco, those who support progressive values need to speak up to ensure that we can overcome this campaign of misinformation and fear.

On April 28, the Planning Commission will consider whether to certify the environmental impact report for this project, and whether to approve it. We are hopeful that progressive voices speak out so we can provide hope and a future to youth in our community. As Booker T. often said: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles one has overcome.” 

Julian Davis is president of the board and Patricia Scott is executive director of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, located at 800 Presidio Ave. The Planning Commission hearing is Thursday, April 28 at City Hall, Room 400.

 

Pete Petrakis, PG&E fighter, dies at 82

1

bruce@sfbg.com

Peter L. “Pete” Petrakis, the Guardian investigative reporter who developed the stories in the mid 1970s that became known to Guardian readers as the PG&E/Raker Act scandal, died Feb. 28 in Everett, Wash.

In story after story, Pete laid out the scandal that the local media had buried for generations: how Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had in effect stolen San Francisco’s electrical power supply from the Hetch Hetchy dam in violation of the public power mandate of the federal Raker Act of 1913.

The act allowed the city an unprecedented concession, to build a dam in a national park (Yosemite) on the condition that the city have a public water and public power system. Pete detailed how PG&E used its corporate and political muscle to keep the cheap, green, hydropower from city residents and businesses and instead forced them to buy PG&E’s expensive private power, at a cost of billions of dollars through the years.

Pete learned of the scandal in the mid-1960s as a student of J. B. Neilands, a biochemistry professor and citizen activist at UC Berkeley.

Neilands had in the late 1950s started the campaign in his living room in the Berkeley Hills that ended up stopping PG&E from building a nuclear power plant upwind of San Francisco at Bodega Bay.

In the process of researching the Bodega Bay story, Neilands came upon an even bigger scandal: the PG&E/Raker Act scandal. After winning at Bodega Bay, Neilands did the research into the scandal and then brought it to me shortly after the Guardian began publication in 1966.

This was a huge story and I remember saying, “Joe, why are you bringing a big story like this to me?” He replied, “Nobody else will print it because of PG&E. You’re my only hope. If you don’t print the story, nobody will.”

But the story needed much more research and development on several levels.

A few weeks after Neilands’ story appeared, Pete came to me at the Guardian with the big new angle. He had figured out that the city’s charter revision committee was about to quietly gut the provision in the 1932 charter that updated the Raker Act and mandated the city to “gradually acquire” and “ultimately own” its own power system. Pete swung into action with a three-page story on Sept. 30, 1969 that detailed the capitulation to PG&E under the headline: “The Charter Board — afraid to enforce the Raker Act and bring cheap public power to San Francisco.”

He added a timeline: “How to Hetch Hetchy the City Charter.” And he explained that “to Hetch Hetchy” meant to “confuse and confound the public by adroit acts and deceptive words in order to turn to private corporate profit a trust set up for the people”

In short, Pete dug into the scandal with gusto and research skill and wicked wit. He produced several major stories over a five-year period with shocking new information on how PG&E was systematically screwing the city by stealing its Hetch Hetchy power. Each year, we would turn Pete’s stories over to the civil grand jury, with his documentation, and formally ask the grand jury to investigate the Hetch Hetchy scandal and make a report and recommendation.

Finally, in 1974, the grand jury, to our great surprise, came out with a report that corroborated Pete’s reporting. As our editorial put it in our Jan. 17, 1974 edition: “In short, the grand jury has corroborated almost everything the Guardian has been saying about the Hetch Hetchy scandal for the past five years.”

At Pete’s request, a Celebration of Life service was held privately at the family home on March 13. Pete requested that memorial contributions be made to the American Red Cross. Condolences can be sent to Julia Petrakis at petrakisjw@yahoo.com.

So long, Pete, you left the Guardian and San Francisco with one helluva story.

 

Last stand against Lennar

2

news@sfbg.com

Hunters Point, the last major swath of usable land in San Francisco, appears at first glance to be a developer’s dream — a prime piece of real estate with sweeping views of the bay, ample space, and a city government eager to capitalize on its potential.

But community groups have filed lawsuits challenging the project’s many uncertainties, such as the fate of the toxic stew beneath the former U.S. Navy base in the heart of the project area, and both sides are now awaiting a court ruling on whether more studies are needed.

As an EPA-designated Superfund site, the 500-acre plot is home to an abundance of buried chemical contaminants, radioactive waste, and other unknown toxins, and the Navy has been slow to clean it up. Concerned that development plans have been premature in the face of this lingering mess, opponents filed lawsuits against developer Lennar Corp. and the city last year.

The project, approved July 2010 by the Board of Supervisors, includes plans for a new stadium for the 49ers, 10,500 housing units, parks, and commercial retail space. It has received praise from city and state government agencies as an economic and cultural boon to the community. But activist groups say the cleanup should happen before development occurs.

The Sierra Club settled its lawsuit over the project after the developer made some design changes (see “Uncertain developments,” Jan. 18), so the lawsuit filed by People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and Greenaction is the last piece of litigation holding up the project. At the core of the legal challenge is whether the environmental impact report (EIR) properly analyzed the health impacts from toxic contamination at the site. After an April 18 hearing on the case, both sides are awaiting a ruling on whether the claims have merit and should be the subject of further study.

Activists claim the EIR violates California Environmental Quality Act protocols because it contains too much uncertainty, including the unknown fate of a large parcel of land slated for a stadium that is contingent on whether the 49ers decide to stay in San Francisco. POWER wants more details about the possible threats to human health before the 20-year project gets the final green light. But since the Navy is responsible for the cleanup, Lennar and the city have repeatedly countered that a full analysis is not their responsibility.

“The main issue that Greenaction and POWER have been concerned about throughout lawsuit is that it’s very unclear from the EIR what exactly is going to happen and what level of contamination will be left,” said attorney George Torgun with EarthJustice, which is representing the community groups. “What are the impacts of building on a federal Superfund site? There is a real lack of knowledge in the EIR.”

April 18 was the second of two recent hearings held on the case. On March 24, Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith listened to a full day of testimony before a packed courtroom. Subsequent settlement discussions weren’t successful, so both sides returned to court to seek a ruling that is expected sometime in the next two months.

Lennar attorneys offered to relinquish the possibility of a pre-cleanup early transfer of the property, which has been a major concern for POWER. Under this proposal, no development on any of the six parcels slated for transfer from the Navy could proceed until the federally mandated cleanup process was finished and certified. However, POWER does not believe this offer reduces the scope of the issues because final approval would still ultimately award control of the land to the developer based on what they believe is a flawed EIR.

“Severing any discussion of early transfer from this EIR would only serve to worsen the defects that petitioners have identified and would be contrary to the requirements of CEQA,” Torgun wrote in the April 13 letter to the court.

POWER’s counterproposal would allow large portions of the project to go through — rebuilding the Alice Griffith housing project and development on Candlestick Point — but Lennar considers it economically unfeasible. These portions of the project are not located on the shipyard but are included in overall plan.

“We want to see the project move forward with Alice Griffith and Candlestick Point,” said POWER organizer Jaron Browne. “They’ve rebuilt housing projects at Cesar Chavez and other areas in the city — why can they only rebuild this one if they can redevelop the shipyard? It’s a political game that Lennar has tied the rebuilding of it to this mammoth 770-acre development.”

Lennar representatives wouldn’t comment for this story. Community members have clashed with the megadeveloper over health issues in recent years. In 2008, Lennar was fined more than $500,000 by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for allowing dust containing asbestos to settle on the surrounding neighborhoods. Then, in March, community organizations released a report showing e-mails from 2006 to 2009 between the EPA, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and Lennar revealing a possible cover-up of the asbestos exposure.

“They underestimated our understanding of what is happening here,” Browne said. “The whole heart of this issue is that this is a Superfund site. Even if you remove the possibility of early transfer, they are still planning on doing work while remediation is still years to go on other parcels.”

Longtime Bayview resident and Greenaction member Marie Harrison said that not only is the EIR too fraught with uncertainty, it’s incomplete. “There are over 600 blank pages in that document,” she said. “How can you approve an EIR that is supposed to tell you what is there, what the effects will be, and what the project will be? We kept asking the supervisors: How do you convince the community that they are doing something that is good and safe when the history shows otherwise?

During both court hearings, it was evident no clear definition of the project exists since it contains many variables to account for unknowns. Attorneys for Lennar and the city argue that the EIR effectively addresses each potential use and demonstrates a full knowledge of possible contaminants.

Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist for New Orleans-based Environmental Health Advocates, has worked with POWER and Greenaction to understand the breadth of contamination and the typical process of cleanup of a Superfund site. She pointed out that the Navy’s cleanup plan is completely separate from the EIR submitted for the project.

“Those two documents don’t agree with what development will be,” Subra said. “Usually you wait much longer in the process to really know that the land is safe. In a normal Superfund process, you would first do an implementation of the remediation process, find out if it worked, then — years down the line — you would start thinking about development.”

If the EIR is deemed inadequate, Lennar and the city will be required to further analyze the contaminants, outline cleanup strategies, and resubmit a new EIR. If the judge rules the EIR satisfies CEQA, the project can move forward.

“CEQA is one of the few really democratic processes,” Browne said. “If you just have this one moment in 2011 when people are able to comment and weigh in, and then have 20 years where they are building within that, it’s not really fair.”