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Cheap Eats




CHEAP EATS One of my favorite places to be is at the foot of Potrero Hill in Jackson Park, where I played pick-up baseball in the 1990s and soccer in the 2000s. It’s very unclaustrophobic around there, maybe you’ve noticed. Although: the air is thick with Anchor Steam hops and, for me, memories of athletic style glory such as grounding out to third.

Shit, I got old. Wait. Did I? I am sappy and nostalgic. My foot hurts and I have to “put it up.” I take fiber supplements. Loud music annoys me. I’m almost always cold. We are looking into getting a camper.

Very soon, if all goes as planned, I will be able to stick my hands in boiling water like Grandma Rubino did. And then I will know that I have made it.

Meanwhile, there’s laundry to do. I have a football game tonight and all my sports bras are stinky from playing soccer and soccer and racquetball and ping-pong, so — wait a minute — maybe I’m not old.

Yeah. Maybe loud music only annoys me when it isn’t the Verms. Which it was one time, at Thee Parkside. At the foot of Potrero Hill. Across from Jackson Park.

One of my favorite things about San Francisco these days is that bar food is stepping up — and in interesting ways such as crawfish grits and wedding soup at Broken Record, the whiskey-infused bacon burgers at Bender’s, and fried pickles and chili-cheese tater tots at Thee Parkside.

The burgers aren’t as good as the ones at Bender’s, though. Come to think of it, the tater tots aren’t either. But the music is better, especially on Twang Sundays. That must have been what it was when I saw the Verms there.

Now, the Verms. The Verms are by miles and miles my new favorite band. It’s Earl Butter! What this means is the songs are about underwear and pork sandwiches. In fact, as serendipity would have it, they played the pork sandwich song while we were eating ours.

We were me, Hedgehog, and Kayday, sitting and standing around a small, tall table near the door. Kayday wasn’t eating, and Hedgehog wouldn’t tell me what she wanted.

“Surprise me,” she said.

So I went out to the patio and stared at the menu for about a half hour. There were kids running around, people eating, people waiting to eat, people dancing.

It’s really nice, the indoor-outdoor layout of the place. You can adjust your volume, light, and air intakes simply by poking around the premises. In fact, there used to be a ping-pong table in the way-back, but I forgot to notice if it was still there.

Anyway: pork sandwich. Yes. And a bacon burger with barbecue sauce. Skinny fries. Tater tots. The idea being a 50-50 split.

This was before the goddamn gluten-free garbage, praise Jesus, or I’d have had to eat all the buns and none of the meat. As it was, I messed up anyway.

See, I love barbecue sauce on burgers. Hedgehog — surprise! — does not. Worse, when we halved the burger, luck would have it, she drew the slathered half and mine had next to none — just the first bite, so that I would know what I was missing for the rest of them.

Bite. Damn! Bite. Damn!

I wish we’d have worked it all out in advance, like communicative adults, but it’s hard in bars. The loud music. Lack of light.

By the time we even knew each other’s disappointment, it was too late: The burger was gone.

Ironically, while everyone loves barbecue sauce on barbecue, the pulled pork sandwich came without. Just coleslaw was on it, by which they mean pickled purple cabbage, and a special mayo-y mix, so… hold that.

Good food, great place, amazing show.

Hedgehog still has the set list. She takes it out sometimes, and looks at it.

Me, I’ve gotta go catch some footballs and pull some flags. Tomorrow, hopefully victorious, I set sail for Frisco — and will see you all in the flesh (or thereabouts) next week. At my new favorite restaurant!


Mon.-Fri. 2pm-2am; Fri.-Sat. 3pm-2am

1600 17th St., SF

(415) 252-1330

Cash only

Full bar


Kicky kitty



CHEAP EATS There was a soccer game on TV. There was a cat on the pitch. It was running around, stopping, staring, licking, looking not-at-all confused and very much in every way like a cat. Except that millions of people were watching it, tens of thousands of them right there: laughing, clapping, and carrying on.

And who were all these sweaty men in striped shirts and high socks?

None of the players tried to help with the corralling of the cat. They appreciated the chance to catch their breath, I guess, while stadium officials and trained cat-corralling professionals did their bit. Or tried to. Let the record show: in its own sweet time, the cat trotted off the field the same way it had trotted on: of its own volition. And play resumed.

The stadium was not in our country. The television was. It was in my new favorite restaurant, Haltun, which is on 21st and Treat, just around the corner from the Mission Rec Center, where Hedgehog and me play our racquetball.

I love cats. I love soccer. I am a drooling idiot in the glow of any television set no matter what’s on, no matter how far away. Thus, I found it hard to undividedly pay attention to my dining companions, but did manage to catch a conversation between Coach and Hedgehog in which it was posited (by Coach) that I was the least queer person in the world (because I move in mostly-straight circles) and counter-posited (by Hedgehog) that I was the most queer person in the world (because I move in straight circles, and queer ones, and have slept with every kind of person there is including both flavors of trans ones, including gay men and now straight ones, and straight women and now gay ones).

“Bisexual isn’t less queer than homosexual,” argued my homosexual girlfriend. “It’s arguably queerer.”

“Yeah, but declaring yourself bisexual plays into the binary. What about genderqueers?”

“Oh, I’ve slept with them too,” I interjected, without looking away from the TV because someone (a human being, not a cat) was making a beautiful run. And: “Goaaaaalllll!!!!”

Here’s my rant: You can’t even watch TV with just an antenna anymore! TV antennas are exactly as obsolete as black-and-white. But did you know that every program used to broadcast separate signals for black-and-white and color TVs?

As I understand it.

They had to do a color “Get Smart” and a black-and-white “Get Smart,” and sling them both out over the treetops, I guess, or twist them both through one cable at the same exact time — and that all ended just two, three years ago, so I could as easily have said “Cheers,” or “Friends,” or, I don’t know, “Arrested Development.” By the way.

Probably I have this wrong.

But there are seven colors in a rainbow flag. My skirt has more colors than that! And, though there are a gazillion shades of gray, there is also black, and there is white. No doubt, gender — even genitalia — is a spectrum. Yet: There would appear to be penises. And vaginas! And, as hormonally altered trans people (not-always-willing poster children for in-betweenitude) can attest without even opening our mouths, testosterone and estrogen are two different things.

If you can, without saying a word, both refute and support the exact same argument … I’m not saying it’s queerer or less queer. The word I would use is bacon. It’s bacon.

Now, cochinita pibil is pork — just pork! — in a greasy red broth, with a flap of banana leaf hanging over it. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Well, it came with tortillas, which the server took great care to point out were “hand made” — and I’m sure they were, but they didn’t taste very special.

Hedgehog had something with turkey meat and a disk of pork meatloaf afloat, with an egg, in a nice broth. Simple, and exotic. At the same time!

Coach had a sampler plate of all things vegetarian. Come to think of it, her meal did have the most variety and color to it, so …

There’s that.



Daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

2948 21st St., SF.

(415) 643-6411


Beer & Wine

Junk bonds


CHEAP EATS Yeah, ever since they shot Prop 8 tentatively down, I have had to hire grad students and interns to sift through all the marriage proposals. Their job is to weed out the ones with typos in them, suspected vegetarians, those that contain the words “growth” or “cicadas,” and most importantly any that aren’t from Hedgehog, the dyke of my dreams.

As you might imagine, it’s grueling work. And since Hedgehog is not one to repeat herself, the “slush pile” is rapidly taking over our apartment.

Recycling comes on Friday.

Meanwhile, I think I understand now why the queers I play flag football with in San Francisco hate the idea of ever playing co-ed. I’m always saying, at our under-if-at-all-attended practices out at Big Rec, “There’s some boys over there with a football. Let’s play them.” And my teamies look at me like I just suggested charades, or voting Republican.

Well, my New Orleans flag football team is co-ed. And very straight, at that. Although our team color is pink, and our name is Piggy and the Conch Shells, and we lost our first game 63-6. (I could go on and on: I play for us, blazzy blazzy blah.) Anyway, so, last night, en route to winning our second straight game, I found out why no one I know votes Republican.

I was rushing the quarterback, see, and I was getting to him. If it was football football, I would have wrapped him up around the legs or waist, toppled him or driven him to the turf, and then done a funky fuck-you-I-kicked-your-ass dance. But no. It’s flag football. So you have to reach for and pull off one of three flags we all wear on a belt around our waist: there’s one on each hip, and one on the butt.

So I’m reaching for his left hip, and, understand, please: there are alleged blockers trying to be in my way, one of my blitzing teammates reaching for the right hip, and (does anyone see where this is going?) as soon as I make my grab, the quarterback twists away from the other rusher, leaving me with a handful not of flag, but of man-junk. Yes, I missed the sack, but did yank me some penis. Note: accidentally. And shorts-enshrouded. Nevertheless, he threw an interception.

Which is of course an even better result than a sack. But I couldn’t find it in me to do a dance, or celebrate, or even smile. I just stood there and felt squirgly. And hoped he wouldn’t get his way with the ref, at whom he was screaming. In vain, thank God.

What would the penalty have been? … Holding?

Illegal use of hands?

Ruffling the quarterback?

Later in the game, I did get called for roughing the quarterback when I popped him in the face, trying to block his pass. That time (wisely) he didn’t let go of the ball, and I pulled his flag. And the ref threw his. Still, the dude was so mad he kicked the ball into the stands — at which my 15-yard penalty became offset by his, ha ha.

In summary: I now know first-hand (ha ha again) why my queers back home no like play football with the boys. It was a disturbing moment for me, and I’m theoretically bisexual! I’ve held that shit before — albeit not on a football field. Not to mention he was a complete stranger. I mean: eww.

I did apologize to him after the game, and hinted that if he didn’t like to play rough, he might consider a boys-only league. Sike. I just said I was sorry I hit him in the face, I was trying to block the pass.

“I know. That’s ok,” he said. “I was mad at the ref, not you.” And he asked me out. (So I guess it was better for him than me.)

“No, thanks. Prop 8 went down,” I explained. “I’m a betrothalled woman.”

In all possible seriousness, though, my new favorite restaurant for real (if not for long) is Pho 2000, in the ‘Loin. They pile all the steak up together so it’s bright-red raw when it comes to your table. You want it cooked, you have to push it into the broth.

I’m telling you: Fuck Turtle Tower. 

PHO 2000

Mon.-Sat. 8:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sun. 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.

637 Larkin, SF.

(415) 474-1188

Cash only

No alcohol


The cat and the hedgehog



CHEAP EATS You know who I love? Hedgehog. One year ago today we had our first date, and now we are domestical partners. She calls me root beer eyes. I know it’s a compliment because her favorite drink is Abita root beer with bourbon in it, and sometimes she looks at me like that.

One year ago today, I was a tagalong nanny for a Tulane-S.F. State couple, and Hedgehog was supervising sound editor for an HBO show set in New Orleans. This year, she is also a writer for that show, and I am a tagalong housewife. Count em: two dreams come true!

For our anniversary, she’s on set all day, and I’m writing this then going to play flag football. Maybe we will see each other in bed.

What a difference a year makes! One year ago today, for example, it was Monday. I had the day off. She did too. For our first date we were going to go to the cemetery, but then we found out it was closed. In New Orleans, the dead do not receive visitors on Mondays. They have been partying too hard all weekend. They have hangovers, and couldn’t get out of bed, let alone a grave.

So we went to the French Canadian Quarter instead, ate lunch, walked along the river, looked at the water, drank at a gay bar, walked some more, and did not kiss.


Now, the big loser in all of this, of course, is Stoplight. The cat. Not only because I’ve been home a lot less, but — even sadlier than that — my domestical partner is allergic to my domesticated partner. So before we left for the Big Greasy this time, I had to have a little talk with my furry friend.

Well, but first I had to have a little talk with some cheese farmers from Petaluma. Which brings us (very very naturally) to the downtown Berkeley farmer’s market one Saturday.

As it happened — and we’ll never know why — Hedgehog was stricken on that particular day with a very bad stomachache, so all she could do while I sought out and talked with my cheese farmers was sit on a bench and watch some hippies play their guitars. Maybe she was moaning and groaning, too. I know I would have been, if I had to sit on a bench and watch hippies play their guitars.

In fact, I was sure she was going to puke. (The kids had it. It was going around.)

Now: my cheese farmers, on whose cheese farm Stoplight was born, had told me way back when that if things didn’t work out for him in the big city, they would take him back. This, they unflinchingly, un-guilt-trippingly agreed to do. So I bought some cheese.

The drop would be made the following Saturday. Meanwhile, I was surprised to learn upon fetching my li’l sicky, Hedgehog was hungry. So here’s to the curative powers of hippies! I take back everything I said about them.

The Berkeley farmer’s market has a lot of greasy looking and happy smelling food stands, but Hedgehog understandably wanted something healthy. Which to her means pho. Pho ga. (That’s chicken.)

We have a running argument about pho. Beef is best, I say. Whatever, says she. For sure, downtown Berkeley is not the best place to be when dying for Vietnamese food in a hurry.

But we saw Saigon Express there on the corner of Addison and Shattuck, went in, sat right next to the bathrooms (just in case), and ordered our pho.

And of course Hedgehog was yelping the place while we waited for it. Two people mentioned food poisoning.

Food poisoning doesn’t scare me. Stomach bugs do. But according to Hedgehog, it’s impossible to tell the difference. “Food poisoning takes three days to hit you, usually,” she said.


“Could be,” she said. Then she started Googling that. But the pho came and was surprisingly fantastically delicious. At least mine was. The beef broth, heavy on the star anise, was really very wonderful. And the rare beef was still pink.

The noodles had a good texture. A little bit of pull to them, not mushy. Basil, cilantro, jalapenos, sprouts. And nobody threw up. Not even Hedgehog. New favorite restaurant:


Mon.-Sat. 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

2045 Shattuck Ave., Berk.

(510) 486-1778


Beer & wine

An upside



CHEAP EATS I’ve been saving something for you. Something special. For a time just like this.

The 49ers have fizzled in the drizzle, and the spring season of dyke football is a long way off. Not to mention spring training. Not to mention Spring.

Sportswise we are left with the Warriors. And speaking of lose-lose situations, there’s the murky mess that our sheriff is in. Oh, and the Republican candidates for prez, whose collective aim is so untrue (also speaking of the Warriors) that even those of us who try and stay out of it are covered in mud and shit.

Is everyone sick and suicidal, or just sick?

Well, my dears, I have something for you, and it isn’t duck soup. It’s better. It’s butter corn ramen at Halu, which is my new favorite restaurant by 10 miles. Or at least thirty blocks.

Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones who know about it. Halu isn’t open for lunch and doesn’t accept reservations for dinner. It’s a hole in the wall. So, unless you get there at five, expect a line.

And expect that line to be worth waiting in. (I rarely say that.)

About a year ago or so I started hearing about this place from all sides. Alice Shaw the Person gave me its business card. Which I lost. But I still recall her rhapsodic description of skewered scallops wrapped in bacon. We were getting ready to play soccer. “One of the best things I ever ate,” she said. “The scallops …” Her eyes fluttered and started to roll back under their lids, until I thought she might lose consciousness. Which would have sucked because we’d have had to forfeit.

Then Papa, my butcher, started in on it. “Pork jowls,” she kept saying. At football practice. In the huddle. Every time I saw her: “Pork jowls.”

When people say pork jowls, I listen. They only need to say it once. After three or four times, I start to dream cheeky things. So, long before I ever ate there, Halu was on my mind and under my skin.

I tried to go once with a big group, but at least one of us was too hungry to stomach the wait, so we wound up at the Burmese place around the corner on Clement.

Then, finally, last summer while Hedgehog and me were house sitting in the Richmond one week, we walked over right at five and sat right down and ordered all the wrong things. Lava ramen, which was the best and second-spiciest bowl of ramen I had ever had, but it wasn’t spicy butter corn ramen. Or, as they inexplicably call it, spicy corn butter ramen. Which, I would have to wait three more months to learn, is even better.

Amazingly tender roast pork, crisp kernels of fresh corn, and pats of butter melting into it as they bring the bowl to your table. The noodles taste homemade, and the broth has an insane amount of flavor to it.

I must not have looked at the menu the first time I was there, or I would have become a Halu addict sooner. But the lava ramen was on the wall, with a lot of other yummy sounding dishes, and all the Beatles posters and ’60s stuff — including a cool old bass and an even cooler acoustic guitar.

The yakitori menu is on the wall too, and every time I get my butter corn butter ramen butter fix, I sample one or two of these, on the side. So far I’ve had mochi bacon, which was divine, and of course the pork jowls, which were even diviner. Chicken livers. Good. The boneless short ribs were a little dry.

Oddly, since it was what sold me on the place in the first place, I have yet to try the bacon-wrapped scallops. (Sorry, Alice Shaw the Person.) Other didn’t-get-yets include asparagus bacon, enoki bacon, and eringi bacon, because in my opinion two of those things are mushrooms. But I do love asparagus.

One time we had karaage (fried chicken), by way of an appetizer. It was nothing special.

Otherwise, though: worth the wait. Way. Go say hi to Baseball Mary across the corner at Clement Street Bar and Grill. The game’ll be on, if there is one.


Tue.-Thu. 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m.; closed Sun.-Mon.

312 8th Ave., SF.

(415) 221-9165


Beer and wine

A real SF tweet



CHEAP EATS I keep buying little plants and killing them. This makes me miss chickens, which are, in my experience, both easier to keep alive and more gratifying to kill. Now that they come from the grocery store, I cook more chickens than ever. Therefore, I would like to have fresh herbs in my kitchen. Therefore, I keep buying these little plants.

And killing them.

Luck would have it, I was in New Orleans when the 49ers beat the Saints. Did you see that? Both Coach and Wayway, with whom I was in constant textual contact that day, described hoots, honks, and general happiness in our neighborhood here. And that was before kick-off! I can imagine what it was like after.

Here there was dead-ass silence for a change. Except me and Hedgehog, who were writhing and screaming on our leather couch in front of our 50-inch flat screen plasmatic TV. Until we both wet our pants and had to jump in our Jacuzzi bathtub.

By our I mean someone else’s.

Except the pants.

Next day on KCBS John Madden called it the best game he ever saw — which is saying something, as he’s seen a lot of games. Me, I am not so prone to hyperbole. Either that or I am journalismically challenged by the old-fashionedest of lag times between my opinion of Things and publication. (Don’t worry; as we speak, Hedgehog is teaching me how to twit.)

Well, whatever happens(ed) with the rest of this football season, I want you to know where I’ll be watching the games next season, since in real life I don’t even own a TV, let alone a big flat plasmatic one .. .

At my new favorite restaurant: The Old Clam House!

Twenty-two years I’ve been living in and around this city, and for exactly that long have I been meaning to eat at The Old Clam House. It’s the oldest restaurant in San Francisco! In the same location! Since 1861!

To give you some idea of how long ago that is, think of it like this: 151 years.

Considering what all has gone down since then — the big earthquake, the other one, and Donte Whitner’s hit on Pierre Thomas — it’s amazing that even some of the Clam House is still standing. But the bar area is original, according to them. And from the photos you can tell that it is.

So that was where we sat. Checkerboard floor, wood trim, old-fangled ceiling tiles, and the Niners game on TV. Mind you, I had just played football, over at Crocker Amazon, so I probably didn’t smell very pretty. Or look nice.

In fact I was starving, cold, and frazzled. And my hamstring was gone, so I had to sit on ice. We ordered clams paella acini and Swiss chard with onions and bacon, and Hedgehog ordered something stiff to drink, because as hard as it is to play on my football team, I think it’s even harder to watch.

The paella was delicious, and in an unusual way: cioppino sauce, sausage, olives, cheddar cheese. And acini are little tiny pastas, between couscous and orzo. We’d have preferred rice, but it was good this way too. The clams were good, and plentiful, the sausage so-so, and the Swiss chard of course was great. (Bacon.)

As for the bread and butter, besides being pretty good breads and butters, I like it that they tell you on the menu not only where the bread comes from, but where the butter comes from: Acme and Strauss, respectively.

Butter does matter.

My favorite touch, however, was the little glass of warm clam broth with onions that they brought to our table first. That was a yummy, warming treat, and a very nice touch.

Plus I ordered a Coke and it came in a carafe.

But listen up, Mr. Madden: I totally agree. And for more up-to-date (and shorter) musings on sports, food, and Things, you can henceforth tweeter me at @lechickenfarmer. *


Daily: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

299 Bayshore Blvd., SF.

(415) 826-4880


Full bar

Try your luck



CHEAP EATS Here’s how I’m different from most people, yo. When most people go to a restaurant and become gastrointestinally challenged on the walk home to the point of very nearly having to do something undignified in the bushes, they don’t go back to that restaurant.

Me, I not only go back, I order the exact same thing!

I don’t think it’s stupidity, per se. Maybe it’s patience. Extraordinary patience. Or curiosity. I needs to know, is all. In fact, maybe I needs to know more than I needs almost anything in life, including I guess dignity.

My motto is: Poison me once, shame on you. Poison me twice, shame on you again, mother fucker. And poison me three times . . . ack-ga goddamn it, stop poisoning me!

So . . . I don’t know, maybe it is stupidity.

You tell me:

The first time I ate at Ly Luck, I got a li’l unlucky with a bowl of duck wonton noodle soup. Is all. But maybe it wasn’t the soup, either. Maybe it was something I picked up off the floor and licked earlier that morning, at home. Or maybe a bug one of the childerns gave me, when I picked them up off the floor and licked them. Who knows?

Point is: usually, as you know, duck soup is medicine to me. This being flu season, I couldn’t just throw my leftovers away. I couldn’t. Even with just a common cold, you don’t always feel like going out, and there was, as I hope I have established, at least a chance that this soup wasn’t poisonous. I got what was left to go, fridged it, and a few days later I took a look.

Maybe it was a week. Anyway, it looked fine. Just fine, but not like a lot of soup. So, being very hungry, and not at all sick, I put my old leftovers back in the back of the fridge and made some eggs.

For the record, it smelled fine too.

But then I ate my eggs and went about my little life, trying to write, taking long baths, cooking up stuff for Hedgehog, playing my various sports, and just generally thinking about tomatoes, when all of a sudden one day, many weeks later around lunch time, I found myself on Fruitvale Avenue, returning a library book or something, and there was Ly Luck.

I didn’t think about it, I ducked in for the duck soup do-over.

Instead of duck wonton noodle soup, however, I accidentally ordered duck yee wonton soup. In Chinese, yee means that the wontons are fried, the broth is gelatinous glop, and the duck is just little tiny pieces of duck, and peas. And, you know, carrots and things ($5.50). But mostly gelatinous glop and fried wontons.


I love gelatinous glop with fried wontons in it, turns out, but while it didn’t make me sick, luckily for Ly Luck (not to mention me) I couldn’t really call it medicine, either. I mean, fried things can be health food, in my book, but probably they don’t have curative powers. (This may require research.) Anyway, when I was done with the duck yee wonton soup, I ordered an order of duck wonton noodle soup to go.

This did I store in my fridge until dinner time, around about which I got hungry again.

Where was Hedgehog during all this? Welding class. New Orleans. Writer’s meetings. On an airplane. I think she was on an airplane exactly then, yes, about 30,000 feet over Albuquerque.

I think she heard me scream, over all those feet and the roars of all those engines, not to mention the episode of This American Life I was listening to when I dug distractedly into our refrigerator and pulled out the to-go container of soup in the little plastic white bag.

And opened it.

And saw the horror movie science project that I saw, all fuzzy and colorful and fingery, kind of clawing (or so I imagined) for my throat. I had grabbed the wrong one. Which settled it for me:

New favorite restaurant!


Sun.-Thu. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

3537 Fruitvale Ave., Oakl.

(510) 530-3232


Beer & wine


Brighter Days



CHEAP EATS Kayday, she doesn’t so much like it in Seattle, and this comes as no surprise to me. Or her. Or you, probably, if you’ve ever been there. If not, just go to weather.com and sample a 10-day forecast, any 10 days, this time of year. That’ll give you some idea what she’s up against. It’s a beautiful city with good coffee and, traditionally, strong music, but that doesn’t make it any kind of long-term livable for a sunny-dispositioned nature such as Kayday’s.

This bodes well for the eventual re-existence of our band, which (to be fair) has been not only Seattled but New Orleansed into a pretty perpetual state of discontinuation.

We’ll have our day.

Meanwhile, Kayday keeps coming down for the weekend. One time it was Thanksgiving. Just a day or two beforehand we were talking or texting and I said, not meaning much by it, "What are you doing for the holiday?"

"Oh, I don’t know," she said. "You?"

"Smoking a big fat turkey," I said. "In Berkeley." Then, though it seemed like a long shot: "Wanna come down and eat with us?"

She did! Which impressed me, considering how hard it is to get city-side folks to cross the bridge for dinner.

Kayday came back again just a few weeks after, in the meat of December, by which time the planet was so dang tilted folks up there had mold in their ears. Many had forgotten what daylight even looks like.

It’s dark when she goes to work in the morning, Kayday said, and dark again by the time she comes home.

"That sounds downright Germanic," I said. "What are you doing by way of anti-depressant?"

"Plotting to move back to San Francisco," she said.

When she’s here, she goes for long runs in Golden Gate Park, which is known to fog over, too — but apparently it’s a different, more cheerful quality of fog.

I believe it. Anyway, we went to LCX for dinner: me, her, and Hedgehog. LCX stands for Le Cheval um … used to be. I guess.

Because that’s the situation here. What used to be Le Cheval in downtown Oakland is now Le Cheval a.k.a. LCX in downtown Oakland. Only a block away from where it was.

What happened: about a year ago, after fifteen years at Clay and (I think) 10th, Le Cheval got evicted. Boo. Hiss.

But, in the spirit of showmustgoonmanpersonship — hooray — they opened LCX, which is run by the old owner’s son. There are still Le Chevals in Berkeley and Walnut Creek, but the downtown Oakland one is now this: this … wine bar. With food.

I can’t tell if it’s the same, because I hadn’t been to the old Le Cheval in a long time, before they closed, but my sense is no.



Well, the only thing I recognized on our table was fried calamari, which was every bit as tender and delicious as I remembered from the old place. It came with a little bowl of salty peppery lemony dipping juice, which it didn’t really even need. Just a little.

Perhaps not coincidentally, I also ordered bo luc lac, chunks of grilled tenderloin steak with green beans. And that came with the same salt-pepper-lemon dip. With or without which, the dish was fantastic: the meat was tender, rare, and garlicky, and the beans had real snap to them.

Alas, my buds were not so lucky in their ordering. Kayday was OK with her beef with vegetables, but Hedgehog did not like her lemon grass beef. And I agree it was lame — neither lemony nor grassy. I blame her misfortune on Lotus Garden, in the Mission, for making such an event out of their lemon grass chicken. Remember? It was so good that Hedgehog can’t stop ordering lemon grass this and that, even when she’s not at Lotus Garden.

I know how that is.


Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sun. 4p.m.-9 p.m.

1019 Clay, Oakl.

(510) 763-8495


Full bar




CHEAP EATS Remember when we used to go out to Ocean Beach on New Years Eve nights and burn Christmas trees? I want to do that again. I think you can still have a bonfire, right — at the end of the park?

Maybe next year.

Over the last couple holiday seasons I have been gradually feeling my way back into the spirit of things — last year by visiting Joshua Tree and hacking a chicken’s head off, and this year via the good ol’ American tradition of watching football on TV and eating potato chips and geese.

That was Christmas Eve. I even got some presents for people!

At this rate, by 2013 I will be a good Christian. Until then though, and with due respect to Georgie Bundle’s avocado-smoked goose (out of this world), I think my favorite Christmas Day tradition is how the Jews do: Chinese food and a movie.

There were two shows we would have preferred, but for the occasion it seemed like a good idea to choose a chosen person’s: Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which was by Christmas only still playing in Berkeley.

Now, I know it’s unpopular to like Woody Allen, but I can’t help it, I still do. He repeats himself, he’s predictable, he has a favorite type font, and all the other old problems … but: still fucking funny, and in this case even sweet, to boot.

But I’m not a movie reviewer.

Hi. My new favorite insecticide is Orange Guard®, because it works. And smells good. As part of my re-entrification into religiousness program, I have been practicing genocide. On ants, of which Oakland has several.

In fact, I’m pretty sure Woody Allen played an ant in an animated movie once, in case you’re looking for a tie-in.

Just so you know though, I’m not. I’m trying to find my way — via the scenic route, as usual — to Chinatown.


Christmas morning, late morning, before the movie. And as it happens there was a line of ants marching in under our cottage door while we were marching out, so I got the Orange Guard®, sprayed the franks and beans out of them, and then slipped on the mess my massacre made and almost broke my leg.

Restaurantwise, as usual Hedgehog had done her homework, and mine too. We went to Gum Kuo, because they open early and have Chinese donuts. It was the kind of place where we were the only whiteys in the place. The waitressperson seemed to want to ignore us, which gave us time to study the donuts before ordering them.

They are sliced crullerlike thangs that you’re supposed to dunk into rice porridge, or jook. But I’m honestly not very much interested in porridge, or jook. No. I’ll dip my own personal Chinese donuts in a steaming bowl of roast duck won ton noodle soup, thank you. And they were delicious, drowned suchwise, but unnecessary, because roast duck won ton noodle soup is a big enough breakfast for me any day of the week — Christmas included.

And that wasn’t even everything. We also had fried chicken wings, which were weak, and some barbecued pork and cilantro rice rolls, which were strong. Hedgehog wasn’t convinced, but I loved them. They’re chopped up pieces of pork with tons and tons of cilantro, wrapped in a gooey rice dough and drenched with something soy saucy.

Admittedly, the rice wrapper was overdone and gloopy, but the insides were so good I was almost thankful for the flaw. Otherwise, my head might have unscrewed and shot through the ceiling. Which would have been embarrassing.

The soup was not out of this world, but the duck part was excellent, and the won tons had discernible shrimps in them, and the noodles tasted homemade, and, hey, maybe it was a little out of this world.

In any case, we had a good time. By the time we left there was a line out the door of the place. And then it was like that after the movie, too. This leads me to believe that Hedgehog and me are ahead of our time.

Although: there are other possible interpretations.


Sun.-Thu. 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 7:30 a.m.-midnight

388 9th St., Ste. 182, Oakl.

(510) 268-1288

Cash only

No alcohol



CHEAP EATS What’d I say 50 weeks ago? “More fun in one-one,” or something, and, well, I had it!

But I earned and deserved this, dear reader, after the shit show that was one-oh. This year, my Favorite Year Ever, started on a choo-choo across the country, and ended with a chocolate chip cookie. In between, I re-rocked Boston and took NOLA by storm (January), fell in love with the prickliest li’l softest-centered dyke that ever strapped on a strap-on (February), befriended yet another awesome little baby (March), was carried off a football field on some shoulders (April), turned forty-fucking-eight (May), restormed NOLA (June), co-chicken-farmed France (July), remembered how to write in Mexico (August), drove across the country (September) … and so on and also forth — until that cookie I was trying to tell you about.

What was so special about this chocolate chip cookie, late December, 2011 (my Favorite Year Ever), was that it didn’t have any chocolate chips in it.

I know, right?

What seemed like chocolate chips turned out to be raisins; except then what appeared to be raisins turned out to be dried cranberries. Only they weren’t; they were dried cherries. Give or take the ones that weren’t dried cherries either but chocolate covered pretzels — some of which, upon closer examination were butterscotch chips that were really white chocolate chips.

In other words, I don’t know what the hell was in them, just that they were the magickest chocolate chip cookies I ever ate, and there’s one left.

I’m in love with Hedgehog’s best friend Jellybean over these cookies. The sweetie pie, she let us stay at her apartment while she was out of town, and left a little box of homemade cookies on the kitchen table. When I grow up, I would like to be that thoughtful.

Not to mention substitutive (shall we say) with my cookie ingredients. But so long as we’re on the subject of chocolate chip cookies without chocolate chips in them, let me also direct your attention to a strange Mexican restaurant’s turned up last year or so like a hole in the head of my very own neighborhood (that I won’t be living in for another six months): the Mission.

I’m talking about Reaction, where once I ate with Hedgehog, Coach, and Papa before going out somewheres. The thing to remember about Reaction is: happy hour. Between 5 and 7 you can get five tacos for $5, or a free taco with your fancy-pants drink.

Hedgehog got that. Neverminding the drink, the papas taco came with it did not float her boat — although she admits to holding potato tacos to an unreasonably high standard set by Taqueria El Atacor #11 in Los Angeles.

Coach got something vegetarian, because that’s the way she is, and both me and our center, Papa, being the other way inclined, got five-for-fives.

Strangely — since they open at five and we’d showed up at six — they were out of some of the things on the menu.

There was one waiter, and he had two tables. The rest of the restaurant was empty. Just us, sitting in the front window, quietly discussing relationships and pass blocking, and, in the back of the room, in the opposite corner, as far away from our party as it was possible to be, a table full of loud dudes, hooting and drinking and laughing.

Two more divergent groups would be possible to imagine, and — as it happened — imagination was not our waiterguyperson’s weak suit. Anyway, he somehow kept confusing our order with theirs, bringing the wrong things to the wrong table, and whatnot.

For which I loved him, but … I mean, even I have to admit: come on. The food at my new favorite restaurant was just OK. Super cheap, though. Thanks to the happiness of the hour, all four of us ate for under thirty, so … hard to complain.

Happy New Year, m’dears.

You see? Our 49ers are going to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years! Woo-hoo for one-two. 


Mon.-Sat.: 5 p.m.-midnight; closed Sunday

2183 Mission, SF

(415) 552-8200


Full Bar


Tough mustard



CHEAP EATS Zeni said she’d been cooking for three days. But the shopping was the hardest part. She had to go all over town, she said, to get the right sausages and other meat … things.

Such as knuckles.

I have a new favorite butcher shop, but first I have to tell you about Zeni’s feijoada. Her man Nutmeg, who plays soccer with me and Alice Shaw the Person (and some other people) has been talking up Zeni’s feijoada for many, many seasons. Most often after the game, when all of us are hungry. But since our team conducts its games in Portuguese, a language I don’t understand, it’s all pretty much feijoada to me.

There’s always all this hollering on the field: feijoada, feijoada.

"I’m trying," I say, whenever it seems like they might be talking to me.

Generally speaking, we win.

But now Nutmeg and Zeni are moving back to Brazil, and as soon as we learned this our post-game chatter shifted from feijoada to feijoada-with-a-sense-of-urgency.

Then the next thing I knew I had died and gone to heaven. Which I readily identified by the smell of it, and then by this steaming plate of rice and black beans with sausage, pork, and everything but the chicken sink. The dish was sided by finely chopped collard greens, or couve, garnished with orange slices, and sprinkled with farofa — which is cassava flour toasted with butter and bacon.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I could have gone straight from that meal to the firing squad, uncomplainingly, but as it was I got to go to Berkeley, instead, and make some kitchen noodle soup with Crawdad’s kids.

Now, my friend Papa is learning to be a butcher, which is about as admirable and honest a line of work as is out there, to my way of thinking. So every time I saw her I would ask about her career and she would say, among other things, "Steak sandwich!" with the same kind of reverence with which Brazilians say feijoada.

I pictured raw, sawed beef on a roll, which made me happy. Then one day, eventually, we climbed that hill to Avedano’s, on Cortland St. in Bernal. Or Holly Park. In any case, Avedano’s is a butcherer of local grass-fed beef and other responsibly-raised animals, and they don’t only just saw and hack them for you to take home; they’ll also make you a nice (and entirely cooked) samwich. If you want.

Hedgehog had the Tuscan pork sandwich, with pickled onions and tomato. I got the steak with pecorino, arugula, and pickled tomatoes.

And these things did we eat on a bench. Outside. There, in the sunlight and warmth of mid-day, San Francisco, my love and I got in a huge fight over mustard. I won’t bore you with the details, cause I don’t remember them. But suffice to say that I loved my sandwich, and Hedgehog loved hers.

I’m not a very experienced sandwich eater, though. With my first bite, I lost a big juicy piece of steak to the sidewalk. It landed right between my feet, where other people’s dogs sit on their asses, between other people’s feet, and stare at other people’s sandwiches, panting and trying to make just the right face.

"Pick it up and eat it," Hedgehog said.

So I did.

I might have pushed the limit of the five-second rule, but it’s the spirit of the rule that matters.

And the steak was that good, I’m saying. Slightly rare, succulent … I couldn’t let some dumbass Bernal dog come and lap it up. It was mine!

And it was delicious, even with residual sidewalk all over it. Anyway, I didn’t get any dog ass cooties, or other exotic diseases. That I know of. Yet.

Although: a big dumb dog did come along, only moments later, and sniff and lick a little at the spot, before it’s owner tugged him away. "Ha," I said.

I am not, as you know, a dog lover.


Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-8 p.m; Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

235 Cortland, SF.

(415) 285-6328


No alcohol

Do drop in



CHEAP EATS I am not my new favorite restaurant’s new favorite customer. No. If restaurants could review the people who eat at them, I would be roasted and raked right now. Or deep-fried.

Really, I deserve worse.

We were dining with people we hadn’t dined with before and didn’t know especially well: our landlordladypersons. They were kind enough to sublet their amazing li’l cottage to us, and to share with us their amazing li’l tomatoes, and sunshine and garbage collection in general. And, oh, we love it here in the Oakland foothills. Therefore, we invited them out to dinner. Not the foothills; the people, these beautiful two foothillbillies who have roofed our heads until the end of the year.

Which is fast approaching, so we figured we’d go somewhere close. First, though: a cocktail. It was so cute: like we were all on a first double-date together. Which, I guess, we kind of were. We live in these people’s back yard, but we went around to the front door and knocked very formally.

They showed us in, sat us down, and popped a bottle of champagne.

I’m not making excuses. I mean, I am making excuses, but I’m not. I don’t handle my alcohol very well. Still, I did manage to have a polite glass of champagne and a handful of home-roasted almonds without ruining very much of their furniture or saying anything particularly stupid.

We talked about where we were all from, and accordions.

Then we walked to the restaurant. The Bay Leaf! Home of fantastic fried things, and even some fantastic other things, too. My new favorite restaurant was the first place I saw the first time I wandered around my new neighborhood. It’s at the corner of MacArthur and 38th, in the Dimond District. But they’re not open for lunch, or I would have fallen in love with them a lot sooner.

Cold night, warm place. Friendly waitressperson. We ordered two fried oyster dinners, a fried chicken dinner, and a fried catfish dinner. With greens, greens, yams, yams, mac & cheese, fried cabbage, and fried okra by way of sides.

The idea being to share it all, so in addition to the regular dinner plates of fried things, they also brought four empty plates. For sharing.

Luck would have it, waitressperson set the fried catfish in front of me. Being a good citizen, I immediately cut it into four equal pieces, and — being a bad citizen — elected to serve myself first. You know me: I was starving.

So, while everyone else was doling out everything else in no particular order that I knew of, I scooped some mac & cheese from my plate onto my other plate, a piece of fish, and in the process of passing the plate along to Hedgehog, I didn’t dump it in my lap so much as throw it across the restaurant.

It’s not for no reason that Hedgehog calls me Graceful Little Flower. It’s for sarcasm, which is as noble a cause as any, my book. I walk into things. I trip over things that are just barely there, like a color.

And, finally, I drop things — in sometimes (such as this one) spectacular fashion.

It landed face-down behind me, fried catfish and creamy mac & cheese grinding into the carpet. (Yes, my new favorite restaurant is carpeted.) And while I buried my face in my hands out of equal parts embarrassment and loss, a different very nice waitressperson came and cleaned up my mess, and my dining companions swung into suicide-watch mode, there-there-ing and graceful-little-flowering me with sentiments meant to help me fathom that I might not be the clumsiest fucking idiot in the history of the world.

There was plenty of great food, for example, that was still on the table! The fried oysters were the best I’ve had in the Bay Area since the Gravy days. The fried chicken wings were great. That quarter of a catfish fillet on my other plate, the still-plated one, was out of this world …

But saying so only makes me miss the three quarters of it that left this world even earlier. *


Wed.-Sat.: 3-9 p.m.; Sun. 1-7 p.m. Closed Mon.-Tue.

2000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakl.

(510) 336-2295


Beer and wine


Just pho you



CHEAP EATS I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have been sitting in Java Supreme dunking a biscotti and discussing literature and pork with Earl Butter, and then I have to use the bathroom so I go home.

Yeah, well turnabout is fair play, according to Skeeter Willis and others. Some L.A. friends of Hedgehog were here, and wanted to bum around the Mission with us. One thing we did was I took them to meet Stoplight. But I don’t exactly live in my apartment anymore. We were hoping Stoplight would be out back outside (where he mostly is), and accepting visitors (which he mostly isn’t). As a result, we wound up waiting around in my building’s birdseed covered courtyard, discussing literature and pork, until I had to use the bathroom so we went to Java Supreme.

In truth, this happened twice, and both times I got coffee, because even though the Java people know me, and know that I’ve been dipping my biscotti into their coffee for 20 years, without hardly ever using the facilities … still, I like to set a good example: the restroom is for paying customers only.

So I kept drinking, to earn my pee, and then kept needing to pee on account of all the coffee I was drinking. This was a slippery slope, destined to leave me penniless and friendless, pretty much living on the toilet and pissing off basically everyone.

Except that, luckily, Hedgehog’s L.A. friends needed to be getting on back to L.A., and we had offered to drive them as far as Colma, where their car was parked. After dinner.

They wanted Chinese, but Mission Chinese doesn’t open for dinner until 5, and it’s a what, a six hour drive to L.A.? Or longer — at the end of a holiday weekend.

None of us had had lunch. We couldn’t wait. We went to San Tung, which I like anyway better than Mission Chinese. It was only 4:30. There was a parking space right in front. It was surreal: For the first time ever, we not only sat right down but had a choice of tables.

Then came one of the what-the-fuckest things that ever happened to me in a restaurant: nothing. It took them 20 minutes to find the time to take our order. By which time the place did get crowded. Another party of four sat at the other end of our table, ordered after us, and were served before. Which would be one thing. But. A half hour before??? I’m not exaggerating. And we’d ordered many of the same dishes!

Not only did we have to watch them smugly munching their chicken wings while our end of the table was dying of malnutrition, they were boxing up their leftovers, divvying up the bill, and putting on their coats before half of our dishes were even served. To get any of them at all, we had had to go knock on the kitchen door. Figuratively speaking.

That’s crap, and so is San Tung. Henceforth. In my opinion.

My new favorite restaurant is Pho Saigon II, in Richmond at the Pacific East Mall. I went there on the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, to a mall! But I went there for a massage, and to eat pho, so, no, I have not lost my mind completely.

It’s that Asian mall, you know, with 99 Ranch, which I love. Well, there’s a place in there, upstairs, where you can get an hour-long massage for $20. Crawdad told me about it. The Jungle told her.

Now I’m telling you. And:

Pho Saigon II, for all its fluorescence and atmospherelessness, has good, cheap pho. I would think this would go without saying, but, get the beef. Hedgehog, who prefers pho ga, or chicken noodle soup, was sorely disappointed in hers. And I second her disappointment. The broth was lame and the chicken very dry.

The rare steak in my soup was perfect and pink, and the noodles were good, and the broth … just so.

After lunch, come to think of it, we did do a little shopping. We bought three kinds of rice noodles at 99 Ranch. Oh, and I also stepped into one of those little doodad stores and bought a cute little eraser for Hedgehog. I was their only customer. Pepper spray did not play a role.


Sun.-Thu.: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

3288 Pierce St., Suite A116, Richmond

(510) 528-6388

Cash only

No alcohol


Grand re-entrance



CHEAP EATS It was one of those rainy rainy cold cold days, when all you can think about, if you’re me, is a steaming bowl of noodle soup. It was Sunday. Hedgehog was taking an all-day welding class at the Crucible. My football season was over, and I couldn’t play soccer because I’d yanked my hamstring playing football the weekend before, then ripped it playing racquetball. So I was under doctor’s orders to sit the hell still for a time.


Times like these, the then-impendingness of my favorite holiday (the food one) notwithstanding, make me bat-shit crazy. I sat in our cozy little cottage in my mismatched pajamas, looking out the window at the rain, falling out of shape, and just generally going to guano.

I felt bad for my soccer buds, because — even though I’m the worst player on the team — they kinda needs me. For numbers. I tried to get Papi, who’s actually good, to play in my place, but (go figure) she didn’t feel like running around in the rain.

I did! Except I couldn’t, so I told my team I would show up and just stand on the field, just stand there, if it meant we wouldn’t forfeit. That’s how desperate I was.

“Don’t worry,” they said. “It’ll work out.”

Which it did: we won without me. Plus Papi wanted to get dinner later, so that gave me something to think about and look forward to. Then do, when Hedgehog finally finished welding.

We trucked over to the city to dine with Papi. At the re-grandly opened Lotus Garden! Their words: “Re.” “Grand.” “Opening.” On a banner hanging off the awning. (The punctuation is mine.)

I would have put that differently, and I don’t mean Grand Reopening; I’d have said Do-Over, Redo, Take 2, or even Mulligan.

The menu has changed. The décor has changed even more dramatically than the menu. And, finally, I have changed: 11 years ago or so when I reviewed Lotus Garden — not long after they grand-opened for the first time — I complained about small portions and probably tablecloths. Even though the people there were the friendliest people in the world and the food was, in my own words, great, I never went back. Word.

What a lug nut! I lived four blocks away. Vietnamese is my favorite kind of food. It always was. But I was more interested in quantity than quality, back then, as a matter of policy. And I thought this was cute.

Ergo, the mulligan is as much mine as theirs. Or — as a do-over implies having screwed up the first time — it’s all mine, I should say. Lotus Garden never did anything wrong. They caught on fire. Or the building next door did, last Spring, and they got licked by it. And by smoke and by water.

Blue Plate, on the other side of the fire, was back in bidness the next day. They didn’t get as licked. It took Lotus Garden half a year to re-grand-open, in which time they changed some things: They got rid of the table cloths. Or maybe they just burned away. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look lower scale than it used to. I like that.

I love this restaurant.

Here’s the hell why: in addition to all the usual pho and hot and sours, they have lemon grass noodle soup! I’m pretty sure that’s one of the new things, or else I’d have ordered it eleven years ago. I just loves me my tom yum, and this was practically that, only with noodles, and not only shrimp but catfish too! When beautiful things like that happen, we’re talking new favorite restaurant.

Papi thumbs-upped her vegetarian pho (also new, I’m thinking), and my beloved welder was wild about her grilled lemon-grass chicken, wrapped with lettuce, carrots, cucumber, mint, and peanuts in do-it-yourself rice papers. This is Lotus’s signature dish. Or signature-ish, anyway. The owner of the place grills it at your table.

She apologized for the wait: “Sorry it took so long. We had to go out back and catch the chicken. And kill it. And cut it up. You know,” she said. “Ha ha ha.”

It was love at first goofiness, as far as Hedgehog was concerned. Me too.


Tue.-Sun.: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; closed Monday

3216 Mission, SF

(415) 282-9088


Beer and wine


A pitch and a swing



CHEAP EATS We went to see Moneyball. You know: We have soft spots in our hearts for baseball. Additionally, Hedgehog has a wet spot in her panties for Brad Pitt; and I in mine, truth be told, for Jonah Hill.

Before he lost the weight, mind you — although he’s pretty funny after, too.

Anyway, it was a good movie, and Jonah Hill was fat, and the popcorn was quite good, but still I had a nervous breakdown afterwards. No idea why. I think it had something to do with a shot near the end of the movie. Brad Pitt, as Billy Beane, driving on I-880 I believe, and through his window the stacks and stacks of cargo containers down the harbor. Maybe the familiarity was too familiar for comfort (I once had a panic attack on that exact stretch of freeway) or the bounce of the frame or the camera angle. Something. Something took the fight right out of me.

I tried to compose myself in the ladies room after. “I exist, therefore I am,” I wrote, on toilet paper. “Now,” I continued, plagiarizing shamelessly: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life …”

No. I composed and composed. I stole, I borrowed, I begged, I vandalized, I unraveled and unraveled, but could not find the little bouncy rubber ball at the center of things. Not even for the life of me. So, after a fairly normal amount of time had passed, I flushed and washed and walked back out into the lobby, all dry-eyed and dignified-like. Hedgehog smiled. We rode down the escalator together.

Nervous breakdowns are hard to explain.

“Sushi, or ramen?” she said. (We were after all in Japantown.)

I would have jumped at either, normally. I love the sushi. I love the ramen. But to give me a choice, at a time like this, was cruel and unusual. Or would have been, if she only knew what I was going through.

Nevertheless, I thought I would have something by the time we reached the bottom. If not an answer, a word. A question. A rubber ball. A look. Anything. But I could not, would not, Sam-I-Am. I was nothing but fear . . . of absolutely nothing. So paralyzed, so empty, that I could not lift my feet and was sucked like a stick-figured cutout into the machinery of it all, the gear and grind, sending me back up, undersided and undecided, crinkle, fold, and rip.

Hedgehog does not have patience for indecision, let alone cartoonery. “Ramen?” she said. “Or sushi.” As if changing the order of things would fix it for me.

I managed to say something. We were standing at the foot of the escalator, by the door. “I’m having a panic attack,” I said.

And — for those of you who can relate, so you know, there is something about calling your panic attack a panic attack, out loud and in the middle of it, that kind of diffuses the situation. Try it.

I was still scared and empty, but I could step again, at least, and think, and imagine food.

“Ramen,” I said. And say.

And we walked very slowly to Suzu. Probably for the best, we had to sit outside, which doesn’t mean outside outside. It means out in Japantown Center, instead of in the small, cozy, bustling restaurant. But at least we could sit right away and have a glass of water.

I had of course warned Hedgehog that anxiety and panic were possible parts of the package, although neither had really attacked me, as such, in a year or two. Now, while we waited on our spicy ramen (me) and Tokyo ramen (her), I tried to gauge whether she still loved me or not, or the same. And all the while I still wasn’t totally convinced that I wasn’t about to drop dead, either.

Love and life notwithstanding, what we learned that day was that, yo, we kinda needed each other. My ramen was so insanely spicy, and hers so ridiculously bland, that the only way either one of us could be quite satisfactorily nourished was to mix the two together.

And as we did, spoon by spoon, we relished the weirdness of eating outside of an indoor restaurant, in a mall, and gradually my heart beat, breathing, and dimensionality came back to me.

New favorite restaurant:


Daily: 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m

1825 Post St., SF.

(415) 346-5083


Beer & wine


Peeping tomato



CHEAP EATS The wind blew our giraffe over. Technically, it’s the neighbor’s giraffe: a fantastic yard sculpture made of tin and holes in tin. But we look out our bedroom window at it. At night, it casts a shadow on our shades. So we consider it ours, too.

Another thing the neighbors have that I covet is a neglected cherry tomato plant, just exploding with clusters and clusters of perfectly ripe tomatoes. I spend a lot of time at our kitchen sink, my hands raisinating in warm, soapy water, just looking out the window at this plant and imagining salads and sauces.

It’s Oakland! There are tomatoes in our yard, too, and our landlordladyperson has kindly welcomed us to them, so we have plenty. But I am a poacher by nature. I pretty much grew up in a state of constant trespass. No lie: as often as possible, I slept in the woods and ate lunch in trees. And while many of the acres that I habitated belonged to my grandparents, most did not.

I love how Mountain Sam, my northerly kindred spirit, refers to certain walnut trees that he harvests as his walnut trees. He has apple trees, persimmon trees, and plum trees too — none of which are on his property. But they’re his. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a secret stash of cows somewhere.

Of course, Mountain Sam is a Native American Injunperson, so he may have a more legitimate claim to his various steaks than I do. Nevertheless, I’d been threatening since we moved in here to go over the wall. Under cover of night — but only because it sounds good to say so.

I rarely see my neighbors in their beautiful yard, or even looking out their windows at their beautiful yard. And — not that I keep a constant vigil — but I’ve never once seen them eat a tomato.

Meanwhile, tomatoes and tomatoes just hang there, perfectly ripe. And the giraffe blows over in the wind.

But if ever a person’s personality was defined by the air-freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror of their car, that person is Hedgehog. It’s lost its smell entirely. The picture is of a beautiful woman holding a beautiful tomato next to her sweet, smiling face. The words are: YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY FUCK YOU.

Point being that a couple weeks ago when I said “Fuck you, Just For You,” and this paper edited it to just “Just For You,” that pissed Hedgehog off.

“Where the fuck did the fuck go?” she said when she read that particular work of art for the second time, this one in the paper.

A couple days later she asked, out of the blue, “Hey, did you ever ask your editor about that fuck?”

“Yeah,” I said. “He said to tell you, Tomato.”

Right across the street from my new favorite restaurant (that I accidentally keep forgetting to write about) is my new favorite restaurant, Thai Time. I can’t tell you where it is, or you’ll know what’s across the street.

Anyway, first time I went there was with Hedgehog, after having a balance test. Which is a story unto itself. Suffice to say: in order to try and figure out what’s making you dizzy, they make you very dizzy.

So my appetite was less than healthy to begin with. To boot, the little shoe repair shop next door was just then having some kind of a glue explosion. The smell was everywhere — on the sidewalk, in the doorway, and (gasp) even inside my new favorite restaurant. I was in no condition for strong industrial-style smells. In fact, although they had duck noodle soup on the menu, I couldn’t imagine eating it with the door open.

They were kind enough to close it for me, but still I only ordered a bowl of plain rice noodles, and Tom Yum minus mushrooms. It was fantastic. Hedgehog got a lunch combo. We were both happy, but my favorite thing was how happy the people working there were. Joking and laughing in the kitchen . . . a true cute little cozy little ma-and-pa-style joint.

With good food. Including the duck soup, which I sneaked back for a few days later.


Sun., Tue.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

315 8th Ave., SF.

(415) 831-3663


Beer and wine


Occupy Yolkland



CHEAP EATS While everyone else in Oakland was occupying Oakland, Hedgehog and me took a vote and decided unanimously to occupy Montclair Village. Oscar Ogawa Plaza didn’t scare us, head-wound-wise; it was just that, from the sound of it, we didn’t think there’d be room to play catch.

Whereas Montclair Playground has a whole empty ball field, and a pond with a fountain, and birdies. And the Montclair Egg Shop is only just a block away.

It feels and sounds like its own little town, but Montclair Village is still technically Oakland, after all. So, OK, we occupied it. If anyone interviewed us, we would say that our protest was peaceful — so peaceful it didn’t even include any signs or slogans. Just mitts. Our demands were simple: a catch, and some yummy egg dishes. (I had wanted to hit her grounders, too, but we couldn’t reach a consensus, so the bat stayed in the car.)

While we warmed up our arms, we talked about what we always talk about: Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where Hedgehog was borned and breaded. Like New Orleans — where she was, of course, fried — Bloomsburg has a bad habit of getting underwater up to its kitchen cabinets, and this fall’s flood, as reported in this very column, was its very worst one ever.

Another worst-ever thing about Bloomsburg, turns out, is its daily paper, the Press-Enterprise, whose sophisticated online version consists of unsearchable, unshareable PDFs of the paper paper, and (get this) you have to pay to see them!

Actual quote, from that paper’s publisher to a Poynter reporter: “If it’s important to people, they can go out and pick up a newspaper.”

As a result of such forward thinking, for a time the most extensive “national” news coverage of Hedgehog’s home town’s historic calamity could be found (gasp) in Cheap Eats! Because we was there, and I was personally and catastrophically affected: The fair was cancelled, and with it my first taste of what Hedgehog calls “real” chicken and waffles.

She and a handful of news hungry ex-Blooms, realizing their beloved hometown’s story was in absurdly incapable hands (i.e. mine, and the Press-Enterprise’s) accidentally started their own on-line rag, the Bloomsburg Daily, which has ever since been scooping the living daylights out of Mr. If-It’s-Important-To-People-They-Can-Go-Out-And-Pick-Up-A-Newspaper — live-streaming public meetings, posting original and professional quality videos, reporting on both sides of the great flood wall debate, and just generally kicking ass.

Problem: It’s Bloomsburg. Fucking. PA. I get tired of hearing about it, frankly, and now maybe you can relate.

I mean, I would like for my girlfriend to occupy Oakland with me, so long as we’re here.

“Hey,” I say, whenever enough gets to be, in a word, enough. “Let’s live where we live.”

We live down the hill, closer to the Dimond District, in Glenview, but I have always been fascinated by Montclair Village the same way Brisbane grabs me in San Francisco. I guess I’m a fan of anomalousness over quintessentiality.

Speaking of which, my old friend and favorite country song singer Hambone, she’s who told me about the Egg Shop. She lives in West Oakland but cleans house up in Montclair. “The Egg Shop!” she said.

So I invited her to occupy the Montclair Egg Shop with us one morning. She showed up fashionably late, and even more fashionably sporting the most farmerly overalls I ever seen on a cleaning woman. Driving a red pickup truck, to boot. Which is to say, our Hambone is the real deal, exactly.

And she was exactly right about the Egg Shop: excellent, and odd! A model BART train scooting back and forth along a track behind the counter. A real motorcycle in a Plexiglas case upstairs amidst a collection of antique rolltop desks, homemade apricot jam centerpiecing each table, and ham and cheese potato pancakes with cilantro and tomatoes. They were more like fancy hash browns than what Hedgehog would call “real” potato pancakes. But what the hell? I love hashbrowns! And eggs . . . 


Lunch: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner: Sun.-Thu. 4:30-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 4:30-10 p.m.

6126 Medau Place, Oakl.

(510) 339-9554


Beer & wine


Drive, she said



CHEAP EATS Hedgehog was going to baseball games before she met me — mostly minor league ones, but anyway she was in it for the hot dogs. And beer. And people-watching. Now that she understands what’s actually going on down there on the field, well, it’s a whole new ball game.

Naturally, she wants to play. I’m all for that, so I got us a big bag of spits, and once she learned to spit them like a pro, I went to K-Mart: two gloves, one baseball, and a big old brand new wooden bat. Wood because Hedgehog is of course a sound person, and the crack of the bat is more important to her than longevity and distance, or even the ethics involved with the slaughter of innocent trees.

Through the course of only a few catch sessions, my boo evolved into a world class glove user and ball thrower. Now, having mastered the "wax on/wax off" and "paint the fence" of baseball, it was time for her to learn the Crane kick. So it was that we happened to be out and about in search of batting cages, me and her and Earl Butter.

He’s in the back seat, humming a happy little ditty and just generally playing with the power windows. I’m driving Hedgehog’s car, because I kind of know where Redwood City might be, and Hedgehog is firmly fastened into the passenger seat, trying to look casual while pressing the life out of the dashboard — her usual position when she’s not driving. Or at least when I am.

Our sense of equilibrium was toppled, however, when the conversation turned to oysters — an inevitable subject since, not only were they food, and not only were they one of our collective favorite foods, but Hedgehog had just had a batch of bad ‘uns in her hangtown fry. Not bad as in "get the bucket"; bad as in not fried, like I told Just For You to do a long time ago. Because every time I get breaded and fried oysters in my hangtown fry, it’s my new favorite dish ever, and every time I get just out-of-the-jar and into-the-eggs oysters, it’s crap.

So: Just For You. I’ve been trying to sell Hedgehog on San Francisco for almost a year, and now that I have her here, you feed her an overpriced and undergood hangtown fry. If she runs screaming back to New Orleans, it’s on you.

Anyway, the post-mortem being concluded on Hedgehog’s unfried fried oysters, someone who might have been me mentioned something about raw oysters. And then someone else who might have been me mentioned how when oysters are eaten raw, they might maybe be still alive.

"Define ‘alive,’" Hedgehog gasped, even wide-eyeder than she already was on account of my driving skills, which are considerable.

"Don’t worry, babe. They aren’t alive the way we are," I said, changing lanes for the third time in three seconds and zooming through what I like to call a "pink" light. (I may not enjoy living on the edge, but I sure do enjoy driving on it.)

"’Not alive the way we are’?" Earl Butter said. "Just remember that when the aliens spear you with a cocktail fork and swallow you whole with a spritz of lemon."

He had a point there.

But speaking of eating things raw: sushi! Sushi is a good thing, I’m sure we all agree, but it turns out there are levels of good. I don’t mean fine, good, and great; I mean there is sushi that just tastes how it tastes, and then there is Morally Superior sushi. Welcome to Tataki South.

We weren’t there, when we were there, just because it was rumored to be yummy (which it was).

We wanted to try us some "ethically caught fish" to see if it was like aluminum bats.

Well, the fish that is ethical to kill and eat is pretty tasty, but the short story that accompanies every slice justifying its death made dinner seem more like an outing to a museum than a meal. It also turns out that, just as in the Real World, clearing your palate’s conscious has a higher price tag.

Tataki is a tiny place that doesn’t believe in reservations for parties of less-than-six, so the wait was kinda long. But once we were inside, shoving ethically murdered fish down our gullets, it was so damn cozy and friendly, nothing else mattered. *


Sun.-Thu. 5-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.

1740 Church St., S.F.

(415) 282-1889


Beer & sake

Parking it


CHEAP EATS So they have that classic car show every year in Alameda. It’s a pretty big deal, and Park Street is closed to traffic. The classic cars park in the parking spots, and the people walk down the middle of the road and look at them, and into them, and under the hood.

My own personal interest in classic cars would best be described as D) Nonexistent. But Boink and his dad like to go. They have a whole tradition around it, which ends in pizza. They look at the cars, they eat the pizza. It’s a boy thing. I wouldn’t know.

Except that this particular Saturday I didn’t have any football or soccer or even necessarily baseball to play. And there was an apartment to look at on Park Street, in Alameda. (This was a couple weeks ago, back when Hedgehog and me were still relatively homeless.) So, OK, so, we went.

Hedgehog looked at the apartment without me. We had by this time begun to start to feel almost a little bit paranoid about the fact that no one seemed to want to sublet to us. Not in Berkeley, not in Oakland, not in San Francisco. The day before, we had looked at a shithole in the Tenderloin and, out of desperation, loved it!

But the guy decided to rent to someone else, for no real reason.

“Why?” I asked him on the phone. We had seen the place first. Our credit is perfect. We are clean, upstanding, even accomplished citizens.

“I don’t know,” he said, after a long pause. “No real reason.”

“Oh,” I said. “OK.” Because what else can you say?

This much we knew: it couldn’t possibly be because we are a gay couple, this being San Francisco. So, we decided, it must be me. To wit, that I am too witty. That I am intimidatingly charming, classy-looking, and well-spoked. Technically, I decided this. But Hedgehog agreed to go see the next place by herself. And that was in Alameda. On Park Street. During the car show.

While she was scoping the place out I wandered aimlessly, people watched, car watched, and just generally sat down on a manhole cover. I was hoping to see Boink and his dad, and/or Popeye the Sailor Girl and her mom. I hadn’t seen any of them all since early summer, so was quite unreasonably excited about the possibility of seeing them.

But mostly I saw legs.

Which made me hungry. Then Hedgehog came back and said the apartment was ours for the taking.

Well, hers. But: no tub, no natural light, no me (technically), and it smelled like dude.

“Let’s eat,” I said, standing up.

And then, as if by some sort of cartoon magic, there was Popeye the Sailor Girl, holding her mom’s hand, the both of them looking about as cute as some buttons. What’s more, they were hungry too!

Then Boink and Dad came by, and they were looking cute too, but not hungry, not like us’ns. They just wanted cars and pizza.

Popeye the Sailor Girl and her mom being both gluten free, their favorite restaurant is Burma Superstar. Hedgehog loves Burmese food.

Ergo: our decision was easy. It’s the same place as the one in the city, on Clement Street, only no lines! Not even at exactly lunch time on a beautiful special-event weekend.

I had me some mint chickeny thingy without mint and Hedgehog had duck garlic noodles without hardly any garlic. But to illustrate what a super restaurant Burma Superstar is, both dishes were still good.

And we had the chicken coconut noodle soup, which was especially tasty, of course. It’s kind of like the Thai classic Tom Ka Gai, only eggs instead of mushrooms, which is trading up in my book. Oh, and noodles — which I always thought Tom Ka Gai should have, anyway.

It was so nice to catch up with Popeye the Sailor Girl, and to play Steal Mommy’s Purse with her while her mom was in the restroom.

A delightful time.

A new favorite old favorite restaurant.

And I don’t know about the classic car show but, hey, I like Alameda.


Lunch: Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Tue.-Thu., Sun. 5-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.

1345 Park, Alameda

(510) 522-6200


Beer & Wine