Chris DeMento

Not unlike crack



(Electronic Arts; Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2 and 3, Sony PSP, Windows Vista/XP, Xbox 360)

GAMER In the midst of all this excruciatingly important election business, I strive only to be a better-terrified, proverbially neo-American Joe, asking you, "O citizen, has there ever been a more convenient time to wed distraction — by an awesome bit of footy on the Xbox 360?"

Frayed knot. FIFA Soccer 09 complaints first: most of the situation-specific expressions used for play-by-play and color commentary are fucking irritating and/or redundant to the point of sounding just plain stupid, as in, "a great defensive tackle" or "defensive clear," when we know these maneuvers to be exclusively defensive by definition.

The occasional "goalie blowout" is a definite frustration as well. About once a game, your keeper will choose to ignore a cross that should be cursorily disrupted, either that or decide to come off his line without warning at exactly the wrong time. As for field play, the usual FIFA suspects: errant touches caused by the directional proximity of two or more passing targets, animations that force players to decelerate unnaturally, jive-ass one-on-one moves that remain woefully ineffective. ("Homemade cuts" are still the way to go if you’re trying to beat a defender with the dribble.)

Much applause: this year’s version plays heavy in comparison to a somewhat papery FIFA 08. The ball is weightier; the scale, appreciably larger. And while retaining its 08 intellect, 09 does well to beef up the player models and bring the default camera angle closer to the pitch. Inertia, momentum, and gravity are better woven into the feel of the game: jostle for good position only to time your jump poorly and whiff on your header. The "Create a Player" feature is nuanced and can get you pretty damn close to a reasonable Con McJain likeness if that’s what you’re into, freak.

For you Xbox Live fiends, they’ve set up some decent interactive modes, including an unwieldy but super-fun 10 vs. 10 online welter that devolves right quickly into "Kill That Cow." But you know, son, this is America, and we play how we plumb well please.

Still looking pretty hairy, isn’t it, Joe? Narrower, this chance, than it had ought to be.

Superlist: Hot shaves


Oh, the beard. You’ve seen it all over the city on all kinds of faces. It’s both the Scandinavian overgrowth of a hipster on a fixie and the trimmed-up, yuppified smarm of the suit sitting next to you on the 47. The bald 43-year-old in the Ozzfest T-shirt: he wears the hell out of it in an attempt to distract attention from his retired scalp.

We love it. Eventually, though, it starts to itch or begins to rub your significant other the wrong way. Here’s your answer: ooh, the hot shave. Many barbers will tell you they no longer perform this time-consuming yet important service. But the following will gladly and skillfully remove your chinstrap and leave you feeling smooth again.

A shave is a bit pricier at the Art of Shaving (845 Market, SF; 415-541-9801,, located inside the Westfield Mall, than at a typical barber shop. Last shave starts at 8:30 p.m., so they’re great in a pinch.

Everything, including your shave, seems to cost $16 at Asano (3312 Sacramento, SF; 415-567-3335), an appointment-only hole in the wall off Presidio Ave. With only one or two chairs going at any given time in this tiny space, you’d better call ahead.

Say bye-bye in style to last year’s neck-beard trend at the Barber Lounge (854 Folsom, SF; 415-934-0411, With two barbers on deck, including San Francisco Barber College graduate Rick Cortezzo, this self-described "ultrahip" full-service salon in an artsy SoMa loft can provide all the requisite new-school pamper while giving you a hot-towel shave that would make Gramps proud.

Dwayne Robinson, founder and executive director of Bayview Barber College (4912 Third St., SF; 415-822-3300,, teaches his young pupils everything they need to know to pass the state exam, with a five-hour evaluation that includes a practical on the hot shave. On top of such fundamentals as foot position, lather control, the 14-stroke sequence, and the all-important hot-towel finish, Dwayne stresses the importance of a polished customer-service approach to all aspects of the barbering craft. You can come in and get a super-affordable shave from one of his students any time after 10 a.m., when class instruction ends. Stick around for the joke-cutting and some half-reliable dating tips.

Ask for Victor at Exchange (435 Pine, SF; 415-781-9658). He’s the only one who performs the hot shave at this classic establishment, which is built into the side of a downtown Pine Street slope. Barber rumor has it that Victor’s shaves are the best in the city, so it’s probably worth the wait.

Founders Kumi Walker and Sean Heywood designed MR. (560 Sacramento, SF; 415-291-8800, as a high-end local service for the manly needs of Financial District execs and other fine gents. Featuring huge plasma TVs, a shoeshine bench, plush seating, and a full-service bar, MR. provides its clientele with all the trappings of an upscale lounge. Though one-off shave arrangements can be made, MR. also offers a monthly membership, at a steep price, in exchange for 24 hours’ worth of styling service.

Ask your Mission bartender, he’ll tell you that at Willy’s (3227 22nd St., SF; 415-826-2344) they still do things the old way: a close shave, a nice hot towel, and good conversation. Although Willy no longer runs the shop, this spot is a surefire bet, and walk-in friendly.

The newly remodeled space at Sunset Barber Service (1374 Ninth Ave., SF; 415-564-4744) feels like home, what with its hardwood floors, finished counters, warm color scheme, and "mature" reading material. Jay and his father have been running this neighborhood outlay for 40 years and have seen all the fads come and go: the Faux Manchu, the Lonely Mennonite, the Mandlebar, and let us all wistfully recall the Amorous Marine.

Careers & Ed: The Roots of teaching



The last day of class before Christmas break presents a challenge for any educator, in any class, at any school. It’s usually considered completely devoid of teachable moments, a phenomenon that’s chalked up (pun intended) to prevacation excitement: PlayStation daydreams, visions of sugarplum romance, and the promise of two and a half weeks of sleeping in don’t exactly encourage industrious behavior.

So the popular course of action among teachers remains the party approach — some snacks, some games, a dose of holiday frivolity. Why swim against the prevailing yuletide, hopelessly and in vain, when you can just float home on a mess of soggy pizza boxes lashed to some two-liter pontoons?

When I visited Claire Keefer’s class Dec. 14, she seemed to be taking this approach. Sure enough, she’d brought a bag of her favorite Christmas candies, a little soda, and some healthier-looking crackers. And she informed her students they’d be playing a game for the better part of the period. But before giving in to the swell of a winter recess so near at hand, during the second-to-last period of the calendar year Kiefer gave her students an honest-to-goodness assignment. She asked them to pull out their journals and respond to a writing prompt she’d posted on the board. And they did, after a collective, semipolite grumble.

And before they knew it — before I knew it — Kiefer’s prompt became a complex sociopolitical discourse on the visual representation of traditional Christmas characters like your boys Jesus, Santa, those creepy little white-guy elves (hee-hee), et al.

Being the literate, postfeminist, righteously liberal San Franciscan that I am, it wasn’t difficult for me to see the purpose of Kiefer’s holiday exercise: to allow her students to problematize the whiteness that so often masquerades as normalcy by paying special attention to holiday symbols.

Looking back on my high school experience, I can say for certain that they, those nefarious they, never stretched my cultural IQ like that. Kiefer’s kids have access to these kinds of ideas. I listened as her students commented on race, power, religion, and misnormalized iconography with intelligence, all quite comfortable in the task. Dare I say, what an important challenge? (I’ll admit I didn’t know Jesus was brown skinned until well into my second year of college.) And what a show of teaching chops it was, to take the least teachable moment of the least teachable day of 2007 and pull some learning out of it.

Quite unlike the stereotype of the emergency-credentialed twentysomething pushover left to rattle all alone in an urban trial by fire, at 26, Kiefer cuts a most confident, no doubt pedagogic figure. Her intelligence, craft, and experience have made her transition from jail to prison to Balboa High School a seamless one.

Jail? Let me explain. Kiefer teaches Roots, a classroom-based initiative that serves children affected by incarceration, which falls under the umbrella of a California nonprofit called Community Works. To clarify: Kiefer works for Community Works at Balboa High School, where she teaches the Roots elective. At a glance, one might conjecture a circumstance of triangulated, bureaucratic-type tension, considering she basically has two bosses, Principal Patricia Gray at Balboa and Ruth Morgan of Community Works. Yet both not only hold Kiefer in the highest regard but also seem equally keen on giving her all the support she needs. And as to the question of distance between Kiefer and the rest of the faculty at Balboa, there is none, plain and simple. Everybody knows her, and everybody knows she puts her students first.

One of the great advantages of teaching Roots is that Kiefer gets to develop and implement the curriculum as she sees fit, in a manageable, supportive classroom environment. Small class size really helps, as does the freedom to design a program that encourages students to respond to their feelings by communicating creatively.

"We always go back to incarceration, sharing personal stories, learning empathy, meeting it head-on." Some of her kids have been incarcerated themselves; most attend her Roots class because their parents have recently been or are currently incarcerated. Control of her curriculum means Kiefer can account for the academic and emotional complexities of her classroom and adjust, midstream if necessary, to the needs of a group of 9th to 12th graders of varied ages, from diverse backgrounds, and with different personalities. Kiefer tailors her lessons to make room for all types of learners.

Curriculum design, creative writing, learning and teaching empathy — these happen to be Kiefer’s experiential strengths. "I’ve never not designed my own curriculum," she says. How many teachers, at 26, can claim such autonomy? How many teachers, at 26, have already worked for years inside correctional facilities? The public school system has placed Kiefer perfectly, in exactly the right circumstances, with kids who respond to her sense of responsibility, her gift of honesty, and her desire to challenge them.

In fact, there is something of a university feel to her classroom dynamic, and she is well aware that her MFA qualifies her to be a college-level instructor. However, neither tweedy aspirations nor hubris figure into Kiefer’s seeming raison d’être. Instead, it has everything to with finding those places where "the need is so transparent," she said. Kiefer’s life path seems so clearly marked as to appear predestined.

At the age of 20, during summer break from Tulane University and entirely of her own volition, Kiefer contacted the Cobb County Jail in Marietta, Ga., asking to be let inside to teach. When someone at the jail returned her call, offering her an administrative position at the facility, she politely insisted, "I already have a job. I just want to teach creative writing." She took the $8 per hour position then offered to her and started showing up about eight hours per week, as much as she could.

She spent her senior year of college editing the school’s literary magazine, the Tulane Review, while volunteering with adult literacy programs in New Orleans. She graduated with a double major in religious studies and English in 2003 and immediately afterward embarked on a yearlong Josephine Louise Newcomb Fellowship.

With the acceptance of her proposal, a plan involving a three-month stint teaching inside three institutions, Kiefer found herself first at San Quentin, then at Noriega, a federal institution in Miami, and finally at the Dale Women’s Facility in Vermont, implementing her curricula, sharing her love of the written word, and saddling her students with rigorously academic assignments. She always stresses the importance of word economy and limitation and is notorious for teaching entire sections around somewhat esoteric poetic forms — e.g., the villanelle and the sestina. "Society doesn’t expect much from [prisoners]. I sure as hell was going to," she said.

The same uncompromising, formal approach has helped Kiefer earn a reputation at Balboa for sticking to her guns, but her firmness comes with the deepest, most genuine regard for those around her. Thinking back on her first semester-long class at San Quentin, which she titled Art in Response to Gang Violence, Kiefer recalled, "A lot of these guys needed this creative outlet, or channel, and I needed to find a community."

Her attachment to the place was so profound that she returned to San Quentin in 2005, a year after her fellowship had ended, to teach one night per week while running down an MFA at San Francisco State University — all while holding a full-time position at Saint Vincent’s in Marin, where, she said, she learned how to handle emotional turbulence in young people after being threatened, groped, and cussed at, seeing desks and chairs fly, and watching a BBQ grill crash to the ground from a second-story window. Trying times at St. Vincent’s taught her how to be available at an authoritative distance.

Kiefer took the Roots job at Balboa High School just last year, the final one of her MFA program at SF State. Some attribute her teaching skill to her lifelong study of the written word, as students do make the best teachers. However, while acknowledging her diligence, she noted that fate, more than any other factor, has landed her right where she needs to be. Ask her if educating kids who’ve been affected by incarceration is something of a calling, and without hesitation she’ll tell you, "Totally."

"Prison education has been proven to prevent recidivism, and it injects humanity into the reality of being incarcerated…. Our society has it so wrong: we’re doing nothing to rehabilitate," Kiefer said with obvious sincerity. Her urgency is born of six years’ hands-on experience, and it still has her visiting prisoners and their families on her own time and acting as an advocate.

Notwithstanding her clarity of vision, though, she says she can be very wrong now and again. For example, I asked if she’d ever failed at anything. "I have a terrible sense of direction," she said. Well, Ms. Kiefer, I beg to differ. Your inner compass seems perfectly calibrated.

All I want for Christmas …


We asked some notable San Francisco personalities to recall their most memorable holiday gifts. Read on for the superlatively good, bad, and fugly (plus our recommendations for where to get the good stuff).


WORST A sweater with pink elephants on it from Argentina, from my ex-boyfriend. It’s the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen … it has nothing to do with him as a person.

BEST Once, my friends accidentally ran over my Jawbreaker cassette Dear You because it fell out of my pocket when I got out of their car. They felt bad and bought the record for me for Christmas, on vinyl.

Find punk rock on vinyl at Thrillhouse Records, 3422 Mission, SF. (415) 826-0223.


WORST A small ceramic version of ET when I was six. It was terrifying…. I got out of bed and smashed it in the middle of the night.

BEST A tiny keyboard called the Casio SK-1. It can record sounds and play them back in different frequencies. I got it when I was a kid, and it still sounds great.

Find pianos and electric keyboards at Piedmont Piano Company, 660 Third St., SF. (415) 543-9988,


WORST An unbelievably fugly wall planter called the Little Brown Jug, the most hideous gift imaginable. I got it at a party. When I opened it up, it stopped everything. You could hear a pin drop. I tried to sell it at a yard sale, but nobody would take it. It’s probably still there at the Goodwill on Haight.

BEST Jewelry from a store on Carl and Cole called the Sword and Rose. They sell exquisite, intricate, affordable, one-of-a-kind pieces.

Stop by the Sword and Rose, 85 Carl, SF. (415) 681-5434.


WORST The worst hasn’t happened yet. My parents often threaten to give me a cat, apparently on the principle that an animal will make me responsible. The only thing worse than being given a pet is being the pet that gets given.

BEST I already have more books than I’ll ever read, which is why being given another one is such a luxury. I especially enjoy obscure old books, because they contain whole lost worlds. For instance, I was once given a well-worn hardcover called Around the World with Jigger, Beaker, and Glass. The title alone was as good as a month’s travels.

For rare and first-edition books, try Phoenix Books, 3850 24th St., SF. (415) 821-3477,


WORST My best and worst were at my annual Christmas Eve game show party. One year everyone left before the gifts were all used up. So I opened one. It was a Mexican magazine of horror and gore unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was chilling and haunting and real — a magazine of car-accident victims and people who had died from dog bites, bee stings, battery acid. It was totally out of control. With cute little captions in Spanish. I’m still haunted by that magazine.

BEST A random coupon for a kiss from a girl named Donna. I said into the mic that she could hang around until the show was over so I could collect my kiss. She was crazy gorgeous in a weird, giantess kinda way and was totally into biting. I like the biting.

Give the gift of looking at (if not actually kissing) gorgeous women: a tour of SF strip clubs through Slinky Productions. (510) 291-9779,


WORST A series of Franklin Mint plates depicting football plays with nondescript football players. They had painterly guys in orange getting tackled by nondescript defenders. And what’s a 12-year-old supposed to do with decorative plates?

BEST That would have to be a hunting rifle, a .30-30, the same kind that the Rifleman uses. I killed my first deer with it.

We’re not going to support guns or killing living creatures, but if you want to find a dead animal gift of your own, visit Gypsy Honeymoon, 3599 24th St., SF. (415) 821-1713.


WORST My first electric guitar, from my cousin Jane when I was 13 years old, because it set in motion a cycle of events that led to three divorces, despair, and debt.

BEST My first electric guitar, from my cousin Jane when I was 13 years old, as it led to an intimate love affair with the wonder of song, the glamour of the stage, and therein finding the one and only place I have ever belonged.

Find and fix electric guitars at San Francisco Guitarworks, 323 Potrero, SF. (415) 865-5424,


WORST Homemade leg warmers.

BEST Artist series Adidas Superstars — the San Diego edition — by Dave Kinsey.


WORST A ceramic potpourri simmer pot with flowers painted on it.

BEST The iPhone I haven’t received yet (hint, hint).

Like you didn’t know: get an iPhone at the Apple Store, 2125 Chestnut, SF. (415) 392-0202,


WORST A pink rhinestone charm bracelet with three-inch-long black rhinestone palm tree and taxicab charms.

BEST My grandmother promising to match the money my girlfriend and I save toward buying a house.

You may not be able to give the gift of half a house, but you can get hip, charming housewares from Egg and the Urban Mercantile, 85 Carl, SF. (415) 564-2248.


WORST Fruitcake! I was a kid, and it was Christmas. I was so grossed out by it because it looked slimy and green. When the family wasn’t looking, my brother and I fed it to the family dog in the kitchen. He wolfed it down, then threw up all over the place a few minutes later. That was not fun.

BEST A sound system, gear to play on, an album, a trailer, and a van to pull it all in! Because that gave me the opportunity to travel around the country playing music I loved, which fueled my travels abroad to do the same thing.

DJs in the know shop at World of Stereo 2, 1080 Market, SF. (415) 626-1195. *

Shopping for slackers


When it comes to holiday shopping, some people are planners. These are the types who keep an eye out for potential gifts all year long, who spend long, leisurely hours trekking through shopping districts and browsing through stores for that perfect gift — in June. But most of us are the other type of shopper: the oh-my-god-it’s-almost-Christmas, I-only-have-two-days-to-get-everything, it’s-too-late-to-order-online kind. For these people (you know, the rest of us), we’ve compiled this neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to holiday shopping. Because as much as we’d all love to spend an entire week seeing what every little nook and cranny in the city has to offer, most of us need to get our gifts sometime before, oh, Easter.

Inner Richmond

Running the gamut from the cheap to the extravagant, Clement Street is an ideal place to do a bit of digging at stores whose owners sell what they like. On a gray afternoon stroll, you’re certain to come across at least a couple of rare finds, the sort that will meet the high-design expectations of both the classy and the kitsch-cool San Franciscan on your list.


Donald Gibson buys a lot of his antique dining ware from Eastern Europe or "wherever the dollar is strongest," he says. The store runs on the model of highly organized chaos — expect to find collectible plastic napkin rings from the 1930s, mod place mats, and postcontemporary cutlery all hiding between colorful displays of centuries-old china. Check out the walls too.

7 Clement, SF. (415) 752-1900


Fleurt occupies an impressive, breathable space. Its focus is on interior decor and unexpected gifts, most of them from Europe. But don’t overlook the tres chic flower selection. Fleurt also provides on-site installations, so stop in and ask about custom wreaths and table arrangements.

15 Clement, SF. (415) 751-2747,


At Derek Song and Jamie Alexander’s art and design shop, you’re welcome to pick over bunches of slick T-shirts, hoodies, underread zines, and original artwork, most of it created by the owners and their friends.

220 Clement, SF. (415) 386-7275,


Good, clean fun. The 6th Avenue Aquarium presents a dizzying array of fish and flowers, and everything inside is bathed in superpop blue. It’s worth a stop just for the hyperstimulation — your kid will love you for it.

425 Clement, SF. (415) 668-7190,


A dress-casual boutique for the discerning madam, the Nunnery will help you find a smart, lively ensemble for your mom that promises not to outlive its wearability after New Year’s Eve. Owners Gerry and Billy Sher keep things interesting with an eclectic, mix-and-match approach to filling the racks.

905 Clement, SF. (415) 752-8889


The hilarious sign says, "Smile, your saving a lot of money." And dismal grammar aside, this place lives up to its awesome billing. You wouldn’t know it on first glance, but this shop stocks big, cheap, decent rugs in the back, next to the aging paper goods and the empty boxes of Manischewitz.

626 Clement, SF. (415) 386-1896

Mission and Haight

Everyone knows about Therapy and 826 Valencia in the Mission, and about Shoe Biz and Fluvog in the Haight. But for more unusual gifts from the usual shopping spots, try one of these new, off-the-beaten-path, or simply off-the-radar spots.


This boutique’s owner wrote the book on San Francisco–style indie design — literally. The local couturier was chosen as the author of Reconstructing Clothes for Dummies (Wiley Publishing), and for good reason: her well-made, imaginative creations have helped define recycled fashion.

485 14th St., SF. (415) 355-1900,


No underachiever, Caroligne also has her hands (and designs) in this collaborative art and retail space in the Lower Haight. The brand-new co-op (its grand opening was, ironically and intentionally, on Buy Nothing Day) features gorgeous, one-of-a-kind items by local designers, who can be seen at work in their on-site studios.

544 Haight, SF.


Holsters for your rock ‘n’ roll sis. Leather computer bags for your fashion-forward beau. Tribal earrings for your burner BFF. This circus–Wild West–postapocalyptic–global wonderland (or weirderland?) in the Mission has something for everyone — all designed by Phoebe Minona Durland and Leighton Kelly, the dynamic duo who’ve helped make the Yard Dogs Road Show and Black and Blue Burlesque some of the city’s favorite exports.

510 Valencia, SF. (415) 255-9747,


You know that creative uncle or artsy aunt who always gets you the coolest, most interesting gifts anyone in your family has ever seen? The ones you love but your grandparents don’t quite understand? This is the place to find something for them. In fact, the wooden mustache masks or stackable ceramics are exactly what you would’ve known would make the perfect gift — if you’d known before you visited the shop that they even existed.

855 Valencia, SF. (415) 839-6404,


This charming Mission boutique is cute-little-paper-items heaven: it has creative address books, miniature note cards, adorably funky journals, and much, much more. You’ll also find one-of-a-kind wallets, sweet magnets, and McSweeney’s T-shirts. In short? Stocking stuffers galore.

849 Valencia, SF. (415) 255-7900,


You can cruise the Haight for yet another hippie tapestry or stick of Nag Champa, or you can find something truly original for the alt-culture lover in your life. Ceiba stocks a dizzying array of inspired, fanciful clothing and accessories for men and women. Yes, some of the prices can be steep (though well worth it), but the smaller, cheaper items are just as gorgeous — and just as unusual.

1364 Haight, SF. (415) 437-9598,


This neighborhood isn’t just for tourists and locals pretending to be tourists. It can be perfect for gift shopping — if you know where to look.


This is the place for cool mah-jongg and chess sets, opium pipes, and pretty little jewelry boxes. It even has clean, cute imitation designer bags — good to know if your giftees swing that way.

456 Grant, SF. (415) 397-4848


This place is just fun to walk into. Plus, if you’re in the market for brocade photo albums or scrapbooks, interesting wall scrolls, or unusual night-lights, a stop here is all you’ll need.

800 Grant, SF. (415) 398-2602


There’s a reason this store is a legend: it has every kind of kite you can possibly imagine. Keep in mind that kites are not only a good gift idea for outdoor fun but also perfect for decorating a big room.

717 Grant, SF. (415) 989-5182,


Not just one of the few places in town where you can still buy a cast-iron pan, Ginn is also a source of adorable garnish cutters, charming cake molds, and delightful cookware.

1016 Grant, SF. (415) 982-6307

West Portal

Everyone’s favorite hidden gem (well, it was until journos like us started writing about it), West Portal feels like a small town with the benefits of a big city. Sure, the shopping selection is limited. But it offers a lot of bang for the buck — in products as well as personality.


This is one of those old-fashioned small gift stores that have a little bit of everything — and all of it carefully chosen by someone (or someones) with great taste. The items in the baby section and the Christmas ornaments are particularly good, but you just might find something for everyone on your WTF-do-i-get-them? list.

44 West Portal, SF. (415) 759-7487,


This antique collective is a treasure trove of vintage goodness — and has offerings in every price bracket.

199 West Portal, SF. (415) 242-9470,


The only thing you’ll love more than this shop’s unique clothing and accessories for him, her, and baby is the phenomenal customer service.

320 West Portal, SF. (415) 681-7242,


You can’t talk about shopping in West Portal without mentioning this brilliantly unconventional toy store (which also has a location in the Financial District — but why brave the traffic?). Nearly everything here is educational or alternative in some way — finding a Barbie or a toy weapon will be harder than finding a wooden train set.

186 West Portal, SF. (415) 759-8697,

East Bay

If panicked, harried customers noisily rushing to buy holiday gifts aren’t your thing, escape the city for the quieter, quainter quarters of the East Bay. Better parking and pedestrian-friendly districts mean you can enjoy the trappings of charming boutiques without the tourist hordes — or the headaches.


This cozy space in Berkeley’s Elmwood District offers bedroom playwear in a decidedly un–Frederick’s of Hollywood environment. The dim lighting and rich interior say "sexy" (not "sleazy"), as do carefully chosen boudoir goods by Cosabella, Hanky Panky, Princesse tam.tam, Betsey Johnson, and Roberto Cavalli. Add the complimentary fittings from Ce Soir’s sweetly attentive owner, and you’ve got the East Bay’s best-kept secret since, well, Victoria’s.

2980 College, Berk. (510) 883-1082,


Well-selected clothes vie for attention with wall-hung art at boutique-cum-gallery August, located in North Oakland’s Rockridge District. Both men and women will enjoy the laid-back staff, premium denim selection, luxe cashmere sweaters, and hard to find avant-garde labels — not to mention the sustainable housewares and nature photography.

5410 College, Oakl. (510) 652-2711


Who doesn’t dig candles and lotions, preferably many and in a variety of different scents and permutations? (C’mon, men, don’t pretend you don’t. Isn’t that what the metrosexual revolution was about?) Body Time, with multiple locations in the Bay Area, provides not only the option to add custom scents to lotions and perfume bases but also nubby wooden massage tools and everything else to make it your body’s time, all the time. Check out the one en route to dinner in charming North Berkeley.

1942 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 841-5818,


If you don’t mind riffling through the pack rat–style holdings of Oakland’s charmingly disheveled Antique Centre, head over with a car — a large one. Vintage furniture and home furnishings clutter the house, and you’ll often see full, undamaged wooden dressers or bookshelves for less than $10 (and sometimes free) on the front lawn. It’s a calamity of objects on the cheap and dirty.

6519 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 654-3717


OK. So shopping in the Marina can be expensive and you may have to dodge assaults by sales associates desperate for a commission. But when you’re looking for that high-end dog collar or superstylie serving platter, there’s really nowhere better to look.


This cute little pet shop features just the right mix of well-made necessities and ridiculously high-end luxury items for your giftee’s pets. Try the basic cat toys for the down-to-earth pet lover in your life or buy the angora sweater for the friend who carries her puppy in her purse.

2220 Chestnut, SF. (415) 359-9100


This store, one of several owned by a small local chain, is famous for its knowledgeable staff. Not sure what to get your grandparents or your best friend? Find out what they read last, and let Books, Inc.’s staff help you decide.

2251 Chestnut, SF. (415) 931-3633,


There’s always that time in the gift-giving season when you need to buy housewares — usually because they’re a safe bet. Why not try Modica, an eclectic shop full of cute items that look vaguely European, including a selection of gifts made by the owner’s sister?

2274 Union, SF. (415) 440-4389


This lingerie shop–boudoir simply rocks, thanks to helpful staff and a small but quality assortment of sexy items. How about getting your lover candles that, when burned, melt into massage oil? Or, for the girlie girl (or boy) who still blushes at the mention of sex, try a condom compact, complete with a mirror and a secret compartment for you know what.

3047 Fillmore, SF. (415) 563-1202,


This is the kind of place where you can feel good about spending too much money on clothes. The fashionable, comfortable clothes here are all ecofriendly, and a portion of the profits goes toward running wildlife conservatories in Africa. Plus, it has a killer 60 percent off section.

1849 Union, SF. (415) 738-8544, *

Happy Garden Restaurant


REVIEW Wow, this place is excellent, and even better if you can swing an off-the-menu order or two. When I visited this affordable, familial gem on Clement, there was extra tomato soup in the back, a nice little on-the-house warm-up dish that was a bit on the sweet side but afforded a friendly lesson in etymology (ketchup is taken from the Cantonese for "tomato sauce").

Lover’s Shrimp seemed a suspiciously named special, against which we decided only after much debate. Instead, we opted to order some ee mein noodles and the catfish we smelled as it steamed by our table — it helps to have a friend with you who can ask, "What was that?" in Cantonese, even if the waiter answers in English.

I recommend the catfish (whole), so long as you’re willing to negotiate the bones. It’s steamed, then recooked in a pour of hot gravy, which also drenches the tofu bed underneath. And lo and behold, ee mein is unlike other Chinese noodles I’ve had. It has a deep-fried, maybe even refried, thing going on, and it tastes great with clumps of crab and mushrooms.

The staff liked my friend’s Cantonese bullshit and my cheesy smile well enough to throw some pastries our way too. Mmm … handheld, doughy, served-hot numbers filled with sesame goo … tsk tsk, now, not for tourists. Best of all? The bill was a laugh, especially considering the tasty extras and healthy portions. Next time it’s Lover’s Shrimp, come what may. (Chris DeMento)

HAPPY GARDEN RESTAURANT Daily, 9 a.m.–11 p.m. 815 Clement, SF. (415) 831-3322

Sens Restaurant


REVIEW My hot date and I spent about as enjoyable an hour and a half as can be spent in a brown bat cave (without doing it in a corner). I don’t know what restaurant occupied this slot on the promenade level of 4 Embarcadero before Sens took it over, but whatever beast it was left Sens with a nightmare dilemma on its hands: how to exorcise California gothic spirits of stone and brown and big buck hunting and death? Sens’s answer? You don’t. You just try to work around the problem, apparently, starting with strong gin and tonics and continuing with great food.

The Caprese here was a complete success, and when interrogated as to the type of cheese on which it hinged, our waiter Anthony was quick to get back to us with an answer: "Manouri — wonderful texture." The lamb meatballs were plated atop some kind of berry reduction, an attempt at underlying sweetness that did little to contrast an overgarlicky finish.

As for the entrées, there’s better halibut out there, but the lamb shank that Anthony brought us was gorgeous and easy off the bone — NC-17 all the way. And dessert? Caramel ice cream sitting on a little cake, all on some wafers. It was gone before we could identify its parts.

The service was politely concerned, not pushy. The Mediterranean spices were authentic, if slightly overpowering. But the hand lamps that adorn every stone pillar seemed straight-up evil. Picture this: put an electric torch in a lamp in the hand of a dead person. Multiply by 25. No joke.

When there’s little an owner can do to overcome such a gnarly aesthetic hex, I guess the only thing left to do is simply to embrace it. Or maybe the interior’s not such a lugubrious affair at lunchtime. Here’s hoping, for the food’s sake.

SENS RESTAURANT Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m.; Sat., 5–11 p.m. 4 Embarcadero, promenade level, SF. (415) 362-0646,