L.E. Leone

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

Paws out



CHEAP EATS She’s allergic to dogs and cats, and can’t breathe in my apartment. Thus all this subletting. By way of a landing pad, we found a quick, couple-week rental until the 15th of the month. It was pet free, but dusty, maybe moldy, and cold. Our kitchen was a hot-plate on a broken washing machine, a toaster oven on a dresser, and a sink.

The sadness of which, complicated by the frustration of trying to find a breathable place to live in an already suffocating market, plus my team lost at least 30-0, and Hedgehog and I were rejected again for yet another apartment we’d wanted — it reduced both of us to tears at exactly the same time: Sunday.

Which may have contributed to our decision to go get a drink. Staying home in our shithole was not an option. There was no TV there, and the 49ers game was on, and postseason baseball. We would have to battle our depression the old-fashioned way: in a dark and stinky bar.

Wild Side West! One of my all-time new favorite bars ever, on the strength of its fantastic backyard garden that you can almost never sit in because it’s so damn cold out. Normally that’s where I go, but this time there were games on, and — and this is a big and — there was a table full of delicious homemade sausages: chicken ones, bangers, and big long juicy spicy Hungarians. There was cole slaw without mayo, bowls of pepperoncini and cornichons, and some really good pesto pasta salad. And a tip jar.

So we’re sitting inside, at the bar, tipping and eating and drinking and cheering, smooching and hugging during commercials, and just generally putting the “lesbian” back into lesbian bar, when in swaggers this loud, dreadlocked woman with a big, energetic and smelly dog, sets a plate of half-a-sausage on the bar next to me and while she orders her drink, the dog is trying to climb up on the stool next to mine. He actually almost gets her sausage before she manages to divert and calm him.

But already slobber is flying, and the dog is panting, shaking off cooties, and not smelling very entirely good, even to me, when Hedgehog goes, on the other side of me, Sniff.

Uh-oh, I think.

Understand: the 49ers are winning big. They’re wearing their home red, the mere sight of which cheers me to the marrow. The Brewers are up on the Cards — and that’s what we want in the National League. The Brewers. I don’t want us to have to leave this little bubble of sausage-y happiness we have found at the end of our hard cold week of searching, rejection, and 30-0. But am I the kind of person who advocates for herself, let alone her sweetie?

To date, no. But.

But I can hear Hedgehog getting sneezy and itchy. I can see it. Next comes raspy and breathless, and if you’ve ever sat with someone you love while they have an asthma attack, you’ll be with me when I turn to Dreads and say, “Can you please take your dog outside to the patio? My partner’s allergic.”

She looked at me as if I had asked her to — I don’t know — put out a cigarette, or something. “But this dog is friends with the owner,” she said, unable to fathom how a patron of her dog’s buddy’s bar could possible have a problem with it.

I said, “I don’t care.” I said, “My partner’s allergic. We’re here. And I’m asking you to take the dog outside.” I said these things!

“How about the other end of the bar?” she said.

“Fine,” I said, knowing we would miss the end of both games.

Hedgehog had half a drink left. The bartender came over to us as Dreads was relocating her dog, and she asked what happened.

“She’s allergic to dogs,” I said, “so I asked her to take hers outside.”

“Oh,” the bartender said, and went back to work.

Hedgehog sniffed. We left half a drink on the bar, and moved on, cursing and hating and vowing never to go back to my all-time new favorite bar ever. And later that day we found our dream-sublet: a cottage! In Oakland!


Daily: 2 p.m.-2 a.m.

424 Cortland Ave., SF

(415) 647-3099

Cash only

Full bar


‘Tis better to dip



CHEAP One of the first things I did when I got back was I got on the football field.

“Welcome back,” said the referee.

“Welcome back,” said the other team’s captain. And she called “red” and it was red so we’d lost the toss.

“Good luck,” their captain said to me.

“Good luck,” I said.

The ref said good luck to both of us and just like that — after three months in cars, planes, small dark hotel rooms and foreign countries, but mostly cars — I was back where I belong: on defense.

I love defense because it’s got more dirty work than glory. You have to do things like “dig in,” “cover,” and “bend-don’t-break” while the offense is basically sticking it to you.

And, as if that weren’t sexy sounding enough, on my particular San Francisco Women’s Flag Football League team, the defense scores more often than the offense. This season, for example, to date, our defense has outscored our offense 2-0. That’s after four games, mind you. We have scored a grand total, in four games, of exactly one safety!

My first game back ended in a 0-0 tie.

“Good game,” we all said to the other team, and they said to us, and you know what? It was! Except from a fan’s perspective, probably, it was a great game. I love 0-0 ties.

Out of habit, I went to Benders. Coach couldn’t make it because she was helping people, so it was just me and Hedgehog and Earl Butter. The big idea being to drink the beer, eat tater tots, and just generally watch baseball; but Benders was only cooperating on one of those fronts. Something goofy was on TV. The kitchen wasn’t open.

We started walking toward the Phoenix, and at roughly Mission Street I remembered about Giordano Brothers taking over Ti Couz’s spot on 16th and Valencia. Remember? I even told you about it from the road and promised to check it out for myself as soon as I was back.

Which I forgot. Then remembered. So, OK … so, Giordano’s. Yeah yeah yeah, the all-in-one sandwiches with French fries and cole slaw in them, a la Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh. But mostly we were interested in the pierogi. Because there aren’t a lot of places in San Francisco, let alone the Mission, to get a plate of pierogi.

We got a large combo: two regular old potato ones, two sweet potato ones, and two with serrano peppers and cheese — and potatoes. And those two were of course the best. But we had to advocate for them because at first there were only potato and sweet potato ones.

Hedgehog was already all a-bristle over they didn’t have Yuengling beer. Although, technically, the problem was that they did have a neon sign saying Yuengling, but didn’t have the beer. The sign was just for atmosphere.

So when she realized there were only two kinds of pierogi in our three-kind-of-pierogi combo plate, she had a little talk with the waiterguyperson, who had a little talk with the kitchen, who had a little talk with the butter and onions, then brought us two more pierogi. With serrano peppers and cheese, and they were delicious.

Earl Butter was beside himself with comfort and joy. He kept talking about how happy he was just to be out of his apartment. And I’ve been in his apartment. The TVs are not as big.

We had Sunday night football in one eyeball, and baseball playoffs in the other. I’m not so sure about the sandwiches though. I had promised Hedgehog, based on a visit to North Beach five years ago, that Giordano’s was better than its inspiration, Primanti’s, on a strictly sandwich-y level. My argument was that their French fries were better and the cole slaw was fresher, and while those facts may be true, in themselves, the problem is that putting French fries and cole slaw inside a sandwich with the meat and the cheese is just a flawed idea to begin with. Beyond the good ol’ goofy sportiness of it, I mean, you are left with a mouth full of pretty much starch.

The kielbasa was good, but lost in the rest of it all. And I like to dip my fries into things.

Ketchup. Hot sauce.


Mon.-Tue.: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Wed.-Thu.: 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m.; Sun. depends on football schedule

3108 16th St., SF

(415) 437-2767


Beer & wine


Fair muddling



CHEAP EATS Tell you what I’m not eating this week: I’m not eating funnel cake, Amish whoopie pies, fried pickles, or fried macaroni and cheese. I’m not eating Running Deer potato pancakes, Grotto’s pizza, May’s barbecue, Mootz’s fudge, Hewlett’s hot sausages, Bowman’s French fries, Cain’s chicken and waffles, Top-of-the-Beef’s pit-roasted sandwich, or fire-roasted sweet corn. I’m not washing all these things down with three different colors of birch beer.

The river crested at 32.75 feet and the Bloomsburg Fair was cancelled. First time ever, 156 years. We cooked for two days until we had filled Hedgehog’s mom’s freezer with frozen lasagne and wedding soup, and then we got the hell out of Dodge while the gettin’ was half decent. There was a couple-hour window of opportunity between the interstate being reopened and all the surface streets being closed on account of barns and tool sheds floating down them.

We splashed right through that window to Ohio, to my nephew’s wedding and to C. Staples, the last-standing of Youngstown’s locally famous fried barbecued chicken joints. Where, craving smoke, I got ribs on the side; but the ribs weren’t true barbecue either. They were just ribs. And barbecue sauce.

Hedgehog failed to see the humor in this.

“You have to grow up with it, I guess,” I said, glorying in my sauce-soaked white bread. It’s a good sauce, sweet and strangely gritty, but Hedgehog couldn’t keep her head in the game. She kept going on line and looking at pictures of her hometown’s washed-away bridges and half-underwater homes. The whole time we were in Ohio she’d be eating chickens with one hand and

Twittering and Facing Book with the other.

I said, “Okay. Maybe we should go back, see if there’s anything we can do to help …”

Of course, at that time they hadn’t officially cancelled the fair yet, so we were planning to go back anyway, eventually, the last week of the month.

That’s this week! And the only reason I even know what I’m missing in Central Pennsylvania, friedwise and otherwise, is because all year this year, probably since before I met Hedgehog, she’s been telling me about the fair the fair the fair. Even her friends in New Orleans, New Jersey and New York were talking about it. The fair! They were going. They had been. They all had favorite stands and strategies: what to eat first. What to save room for …

Argh, talk about wait till next year!

Anyway, it took us a few days back in the state-of-emergencied disaster area to find anyone to help. First we joined a mud-out crew and went around with shiny donated shovels and brand new five-gallon buckets looking for work, but the only useful thing I did that day was help carry a soggy box spring to the curb.

See, the thing about God- and neighbor-fearing people, it turns out, is that no matter how sunk they are, they would rather help than be helped. Everyone wants to volunteer — and no one needs anything. Their whole first floor and basement are in pieces on the curb, yet they feel pretty lucky, somehow, and at any rate don’t need sandwiches.

We soon realized the only way to be truly useful to these strong, good people was to accept their help. And then was the chicken farmer in national disaster area heaven, going from church to church to fire department trying to look pathetic and eating their bean soup, corn chowder, and chopped ham sandwiches before they went to waste.

On the third day we had the advantage of actually being muddy and exhausted for one of these meals, on account of our friend Sue’s brother had gotten soggy up to his kitchen cabinets — the up-high ones. When we left there, the curbside pile of drywall, soggy insulation, cracked linoleum, etc., was almost as high as the roof.

Next morning, to fuel us up for the long drive back to California, friend Sue drove us to D.W. Moss’s farmhouse, which is your typical off-the-grid middle-of-nowhere suspender-grandpa’d dirt-road no-menu pay-what-you-want weekend breakfast joint, with sausage and bacon that taste like they just went out back and scraped it off the pig. It’s not a restaurant. It’s my new favorite restaurant.

Seriously, if you ever accidentally find yourself out Benton way, Pennsylvania, of a weekend morning, go find Moss’s farm. It’s on Moss road. Look for cars and kittens.

Coyote moon


CHEAP EATS Ten minutes, she said. I promise you, the line does not take long. She was like a greeter, which seemed unusual for a grocery store, but I am willing to believe almost anything at this point.

It’s strange: to pride oneself on one’s gullibility. Nevertheless, I grabbed the bread that I wanted, and walked whistling with it to the back of the store, through the storage area past the back of the store, beyond the bathrooms, back outside into the loading zone on the opposite side of the building from the parking lot, through some bushes, under an overpass, entirely outside of the city and into the desert, where I took my spot at the end of the line and said to the person in front of me, “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said. It was a cold crisp night with stars and moons all over the place. And behind me the line kept getting longer, all the while time passing.

The line did not move at all. Apparently, people were buying houses and cars. They had to talk to their lawyers and spouses, and wait for bank loans to be approved. Inspections.

Before long I had finished all the bread and was standing in line with an empty paper bag. The city was nowhere in sight, not to mention the cashiers. Nor could I tell if the line of people who had lined up behind me stretched longer than the line still in front of me. I was, as usual, in the middle.

It’s my nature to use my time wisely, even when it’s only 10 minutes. (She’d promised.) I tried to talk to the man in line ahead of me. First I made eye contact, then I asked questions. I wanted to familiarize myself with concepts like escrow and closing, in case someone else in the line should prove worth flirting with.

Because you never know. Many of my girlfriends met their future husbands while waiting in lines. It’s true that for the most part their future husbands didn’t notice them; they just went about their business, as it is in man’s nature to do. But there are exceptions to every rule, I’m told, so who’s to say I wasn’t going to be one of them?

Instead of educating me, the man in front of me in line flirted with me. I never did learn about escrow; I learned about him. He was married but separated from his wife but still in love with her but she didn’t love him and was living with her tennis teacher.

“The man is a tennis teacher?” I said. I don’t know why I wanted to be perfectly clear about the person his wife was living with, and what he did for a living. In retrospect it seems far from the point.

Still, I said what I said and the man said, “Yes. Do you play?”

“No,” I said. This was a lie.

“Well,” he said, then, “what is your story?”

And just like that I had him where I wanted. A captive audience, middle of nowhere, on a night much like this, waiting, waiting, and already mystified by my mystique. Which is, I’m told, considerable.

“Once upon a time,” I said.

“Don’t give me that shit,” said my future husband.

“Once upon a time,” I said again, because that’s the kind of storyteller I am, and, as if on cue, the rest of the line of people dissolved into the night, and all around us coyotes yipped and yapped.

“The corn on the cob was not fresh. Or it was overcooked,” I said, poking our little campfire with a stick, and my guest nodded, understanding me perfectly. “The brisket and the ribs were just fine, but, you know, it’s nice to have barbecue across the street from where you drink.”

“Where?” he said.

“Anywhere. Your neighborhood dive,” I said. “El Rio, in my case. One meets the love of one’s life in such a place, and the love of my life,” I said, “is barbecue.”

“But the corn …”

“It had dimples in it, yes,” I said. “It stuck to your teeth. Like something you feed to animals.”

He shook his head, in the smoke, in the night. And I shook mine.

We were supposed to have been so much more.


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

3149 Mission St., S.F.

(415) 796-2837

Beer & wine


Ms. Mirliton


CHEAP EATS First time I went to Criolla was with Coach and company and I was just tickled to death to be eating chicken and waffles within walking distance from my home. Chicken and waffles! I forgave them the dry chicken, even though it was all dark meat and dark meat is of course harder to overcook, because the waffle was good. And they offered real, true Vermont maple syrup for one worth-it dollar more.

And it was chicken and waffles. And walking distance. And so forth: sweet potato tater tots, limeade, sunshine, just a beautiful sidewalky San Francisco day at Market and Noe.

I thought: OK, new favorite restaurant. It ain’t Farmer Brown’s Little Skillet, or even Auntie April’s, but it ain’t Baghdad Café anymore, either. It’s chicken and waffles! In the Castro, and that was overall a happy thought.

Next time I went was with Hedgehog on an also-beautiful day, but we sat inside. In the window, and looked out upon the sidewalk there. It’s a colorful corner. Men stroll by naked. Nobody blinks.

All right.

But if you are going to make fried chicken anywhere in the world, including the Castro, including walking distance to my house, you are going to need to make it to order. Fried chicken don’t sit well. It never has, and it never will. So unless you’re a place that sells it as fast as you can crank it out, you’re going to serve some hit-or-miss soggy-breading-ed and dry-meat fried chicken. Most of the time.

I don’t know if Criolla Kitchen fries or tries to fry their chickens to order. If they do, they better get better at it.

The good news is, since it isn’t just a chicken and waffle place, or even a fried chicken place, you’ve got plenty of other options. And a lot of them sound kinda good. Almost all of them, besides the chicken and waffles, sound Louisianic: chicken gizzards with pepper jelly, mirliton salad, red beans and rice, shrimp po’oy …

I got the Louisiana farm-raised catfish mojito isleño on the sheer strength of the number of words in its name. If there were green olives in the tomato-ey, onion-y smother as advertised, I didn’t see or taste them. But it was pretty good anyway.

Hedgehog’s chicken was soggy-topped and dry inside. I’d warned her, but she had to see for herself, poor li’l prickly. Anyway, the red beans and rice that came with it were good.

Warning: the black beans are vegetarian, and therefore not very good. Unless maybe if you’re a vegetarian, but even then I think they might could use a little something.

The best thing I’ve had, in my two visits to Criolla, was the mirliton salad. Hedgehog, being an issue-taker by nature, took issue with our waiterperson’s mispronunciation of mirliton. She’s also a former and future resident of New Orleans, so has heard the word more than most of us’ns.

The way she says it sounds like mella tone, as in melatonin — which has helped me sleep once or twice, so I like it. But the salad is something else entirely: almost see-through, thinly sliced strips of mirliton — or chayote, a kind of gourd with crunch, which tastes pretty much exactly like whatever you put on it, in this case a lemon-cumin vinaigrette.

And avocado, which needs no introduction.

Yum! So that was the best thing I have had at my new favorite restaurant. A little tiny starter salad. Still, I will go back, I’m sure, because even though I’m mad at them for their fried chicken, and disappointed in the catfish, there are still the shrimp po’oys and charbroiled oysters to be tried.

If those oysters come even close to the chargrilled ones I ate one day at Acme Oyster House in Metairie after buying some shirts at the mall last spring, then I will be the happiest little glaze-eyed chicken farmer in the whole wide city, and will promise to never ever leave the Bay Area ever again.

Which. Wait. I have promised before, and broken. And broken. And will break again, I promise. 



Daily: 7 a.m.-2 a.m.

2295 Market, SF

(415) 552-5811



Beer and wine





CHEAP EATS Some people wanted closure, so we went around the circle and each said what we got out of our 10 days of writerly camaraderie, intense productivity, and snorkeling. OK, chicken farmer, here’s where you thank the people who brought you here and lick the asses of all the new, important writerly friends you’ve made, I thought. Which should have been easy, because I did love my new friends and got a shitload of good work done in Mexico; but exhaustion and head problems got the better of me, and by the time my turn came the circle was already aslosh with gratitude, spinning its wheels in good vibes and wonderfulness. I was suffocating. I was drowning. I was dizzy. And it was my turn to say what I got out of it.

“An ear infection!” I said.

If I’d have stopped there it would have been funny, but I’d been out of my stomach for four days and couldn’t stop bitching and whining: My head felt like it was going to explode every time I nodded, the smell of toast made me want to puke, and if I bent down to scratch a mosquito bite I would pass out, I was so dizzy. How the hell was I supposed to get in the van that was taking us all to the airport next morning, let alone fly in an airplane at 39,000 feet with entirely clogged ears? Did anyone have any decongestants?

Heads shook in sympathy. People promised to check their pill collections before going to bed.

“The food was really really good,” I added.

Then it wasn’t my turn to speak anymore, and the circle continued to gush toward closure. Hard to say how many enemies I’d made, but — since everything else in the world is hard to say too –hey, who’s counting?

At the airport, I wasn’t the only one having a nervous breakdown. Irene was scheduled to land in New York at the same time some of us were. The East Coast was closed. Flights to other places were full.

And, worse, the Starbucks where we awaited our fates was playing squirrely jazz.
I set up a little Ativan dispensary at our table. See, here’s where being a complete spaz comes in handy: I’d been tracking the hurricane for half a week, and had already changed my return trip from JFK to Pittsburgh. So alls I had to worry about was my head exploding before reaching cruising altitude.

It didn’t!

Hedgehog was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator by baggage claim, big smile. She’d left her
stupid movie one day early, drove to Pittsburgh, and got us a nice hotel room near the airport and even nearer to one of the satellite Primanti Bros. To which she immediately whisked me for a pastrami and French fry sandwich and a romaine salad, also with French fries. As if I weren’t loopy enough already.

“Not as good as Giordano’s,” I declared, “but better than the original Primanti.”

The fizzy water did not have French fries in it.

Hedgehog set a half-full bottle of West Indies Creole habanero sauce on the table between us. “I didn’t know what you’re supposed to take with you in an evacuation,” she said, “but I grabbed this.”

“I like your style,” I said, putting it mildly while pouring my favorite hot sauce all over everything.

“You did the right thing.”

She liked my ativanitude, she said.

And we went to our hotel room, made category 4 love,
and in the morning drove back to New York where we had dinner plans and US Open tickets. After this we head back west, finally, stopping only for nephewish weddings, state fairs and I guess gas and shit.

We might go to a Steelers game.

Meanwhile, in time for football season, Giordano’s has opened a restaurant in the Mission, without me.

It’s where Ti Couz used to be, on 16th Street at Valencia, and rumor has it they have pieroghis.

So my question to you, Mr. Earl Butter, is why the hell are you still eating at Valencia Pizza & Pasta?

Double stuff



CHEAP EATS Did you ever have one of those dreams, you know, where you know it’s too good to be true and yet there it is, so you decide to keep dreaming, to let it be true for as long as possible, please, because eventually the alarm’s going to go off and you are going to wake up and eat your oatmeal and start having to answer to your exact life again, the real one, with mosquito bites and carsickness in it?

My roommate looked like Elvis Costello in 1977. She picked up the box of Oreo cookies, examined it, then made a face and went, “These would be good if it weren’t for that gross stuff in the middle. Eww — and there’s more of it than usual! Does anyone mind if I just eat the halves without the white stuff?”

I stood there, in the middle of this kitchen, pinching myself. This can’t be happening, I thought. I must be dreaming.

Then: Go with it. Just .. . go.

“Oh, I don’t mind, I suppose,” I said, twisting an Oreo in half, stuffing the double-stuffed half into my mouth and conceding to my new favorite roommate ever the half that, in real life, no one wants.

“Thank you so much, roomie,” she said. “You’re the best!”

“It’s OK,” I said, sighing as if my reward would be in heaven. As if this weren’t already heaven, this magical land where your roommate takes what most people leave in the bottom of the cookie jar — or wish they could — in that otherworldly, distant world called, the world.

On the beach — which is just off our balcony, btw — turtles hatch almost nightly, and someone stands in the surf with a red light, luring the cute little adorables, hundreds at a time, toward the Caribbean and away from the condos.

Last night I was sipping tea under a thatched straw umbrella, listening to the waves, watching the lightning, and talking with Beth about her novel and my short story project . . . when all of a sudden a mama sea turtle came lumbering out of the surf and onto the beach next to us.

“So,” I said, “what are you working on?”

She didn’t say. You’re supposed to show, not tell, and turtles know this. She flapped her powerful flippers, digging a huge hole in the sand, breaking for breath more than she was actually digging. But getting the job done.

It took hours, and two tries, and then we got to watch her lay her eggs. When she finally had packed and buried them to her liking, and made her way one small step at a time, huffing and puffing, to the water’s edge, and in, we cheered.

This is an endangered species, only here you wouldn’t know it. The beach is lined with nests, encircled by stones, and marked with a dated wooden cross that in this dream doesn’t mean death but new life — for reals! Sixty days later.

Yo, nine weirdo writers from the Bay Area, L.A., New York, Phoenix, and Amherst, Mass. are invited by RADAR Productions to Akumal, Mexico to write and eat together for ten days, and not one of the nine is vegetarian, let alone vegan.

Pinch me.

Ow!! I woke up. I do miss my baby, not to mention my babies, and I’m trying to remember another distant dream in which my dear Hedgehog and I are oh so very hungry in one of those first-place-we-see kind of ways, when: wham! At the corner of Balboa and 5th Avenue: Muguboka.

It’s not bad Korean, and affordable — at lunchtime anyway. For only $8 and $9 we had bulgogi and galbi (or marinated steak and short ribs, in lay terms) and no less than 12 different band cheeses (or little bowls of delicious things, in lay terms).

Those little tiny crunchy fishes was one. Kimchi. I wish I could show-not-tell you all 12, but my memory has been erased by some of the most fantastickest meals imaginable, here in Mexico. Last night: the first bowl of tortilla soup I ever truly loved. If they were a restaurant, our camp cooks, Other Beth and Only Christina, would be my new favorite one. Instead:


Mon.-Sat.: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun. 5-11 p.m.

401 Balboa St., S.F.

(415) 668-6007

Beer & wine



Of wings and thumbs


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Hedgehog has a favorite restaurant in San Francisco. No, it’s not John’s Snack & Deli, but only because you can’t sit down in there, and so it’s hard sometimes to think of it as a restaurant. Hedgehog’s favorite restaurant restaurant is San Tung, the incredible chicken wing place.

We tried to go there during our Avenue Days. We did, we walked through the Golden Gate Park, past the De Young Museum, around that other thing, and then across the Big Rec baseball diamonds diagonally.

We did not step in dog shit. In this way, we were having the time of our lives. In other ways… not so much.

For example: There was an argument, at one point, over which way to turn. I said right. She said left. I said, no, right. She said left. I said it was my city, not hers, and if she wanted to go left she could but I was hungry so I was going right. She said I had no sense of direction, definitely left, blah blah blah, and I just looked at her. “Do you like being wrong?” I said. She laughed.

Meanwhile, it was Wednesday.

The importance of which will be obvious to all fans of San Tung chicken wings and even probably San Tung other things. We were arguing for no reason! For — sadly, maddeningly, ununderstandably, and entirely unreasonably — San Tung is closed on Wednesdays.

Why???!!! Wednesday is a day. Lovers of chicken wings will need chicken wings on Wednesdays too, don’t they know this?! What do they think, that weeks should have an island of winglessness in the middle of them? I don’t think so, and neither does Hedgehog; and yet, if I had a memory, I would have remembered that San Tung was closed on Wednesdays and steered us toward Memphis Minnie’s or some other good-wing-having open-on-Wednesday place.

My sense of direction, unlike my memory, is almost impeccable. I know where the sun rises and sets. I know how to find the North Star. I know where that smell is coming from. And I think I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, I thought you were in France, Ms. Sense-of-Direction.

Well, yeah, but we’re time traveling. I know how to do that, too. For example, if it’s Wednesday when you read this, never mind San Tung. If you set your mind or heart on dry-fried chicken wings, or even wet ones, you are going to wind up at Perilla Vietnamese restaurant, drowning your sorrow in a big good bowl of rare beef pho. Not that that’s what we got.

We got five-spice chicken (great), garlic noodles (great), and the raw beef appetizer that is normally called I think Bó Tai Chanh, but Perilla calls it beef carpaccio — which just doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t pack the same lemony, peppery, peanuty, fish saucy punch as Bó Tai Chanh. Nor was Perilla’s as punchy or tender as the dish usually is.

Still, on the strength of the other stuff, I liked Perilla. No, it wasn’t what we had crossed the park for. But. You know. The best-laid plans of chicken farmers and sound editors … and so forth.

Or I should say writers and writers, technically, because as you know time has passed and Things have happened. I thought I was going to come back from France with a new lease on life, if not chicken farming, and the truth is that I did not.

I came back from France with a bum trigger finger and a healthy bum.

It’s not what you think. I simply spent so much time there pushing butter knives through butter that I actually deeply bruised the bone at the tip of my right index finger. It’s the first ever excessive buttering repetitive stress injury in the history of eating, that I know of.

So now almost everything I do kinda hurts, but especiall tpig — if o kw wat I ea.

I’m just kidding, of course. I mean, it hurts to use a knife, but not type. And I am otherwise as healthy as a hearse and happy to be reunited with my favorite language ever.

And my new favorite restaurant:


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

836 Irving St., S.F.

(415) 564-9907

No alcohol



Cluck and shuck



CHEAP EATS Beignets have cheese in them. Boudin does not have rice. Andouille is made of tripe. It’s not the least bit spicy. I’m learning a lot in France, and one of the things I’m learning is I can’t wait to be back in New Orleans.

In Rochefort they are building a ship, a more-or-less exact replica of the Hermione, which carried LaFayette from Rochefort to Boston in 1780 with news that yo, the French had our back. According to some Frenchies who I ate with, the new Hermione upon completion will also sail from Rochefort to Boston! You know, for old time’s sake.

I’ve tried more than once to get into the little shipyard there and have a peek at it. I want to know approximately how much time I have to get back home and start a revolution. But alas, I haven’t got a clue.

Yesterday I cooked up one of Farmer Fabienne’s chickens for dinner and we ate it again for lunch today, and I still can’t believe how goddamn awful good it tasted. And juicy! Even the breast. Even warmed over. I’m accustomed to true free-range chickens being a tad too easily overcooked. In fact, until we sunk our teeth into it, I was sure I had overcooked this one and had already started my suicide note while I was waiting for Fabienne and Fred to come in for dinner from the fields.

“You raise you a fine, fine chicken, farmer,” I said to Fabienne.

“And you cooked it perfectly, farmer,” she said to me.

We call each other farmer. Fred, technically, is a carpenter.

The secret from her end, Fabienne said, was in the corn, which (allegedly) “builds lipids.” So her feed, which she grows herself organically, is more corn than wheat or sunflower seeds. And the chickens of course also have access to grass and bugs and sunshine.

Hedgehog is in New York now, working on a movie. When I sent her a picture of our dinner and explained about the lipid-ish juicy excellence of it all, she of course wanted to know if the corn was sweet corn or “ratty yellow stuff.”

“Hold on a second,” I said (but in an email). And I went out into yon cornfield to check.

Yellow. I didn’t see any rats and or rattiness, but I’m guessing it ain’t exactly sweet corn by Hedgehog’s standards. I’m not saying she’s a sweet corn snob, but she is. And she has every right to be, like I’m a snob about butter. And together we shall make the best popcorn in the history of the world, if not cinema.

So, yeah, she’s working on a movie and I’m working on a book. And I send her pictures of the food I’m feeding the French and she sends me baseball reports from the States.

As if I cared. Which I do. Again. Thanks to both her and Baseball Mary. Baseball Mary, you will recall, presides at the Clement Street Bar and Grill, my new favorite bar. And grill, come to think of it.

Hedgehog and I had the honor of house and garden-sitting for my pals Papa and Papi, thanks to which you will be reading about much more avenue-y than usual restaurants over the next few weeks.

The Clement Street Bar and Grill was where we watched our baseball, except for one evening we also ate there, along with the Choo-Choo Train, Ding-a-Ling-a-Ling, Earl Butter, and a couple of visiting beloveds from Ohio.

Me, I got osso buco with garlic mashed potatoes. Hedgehog had the duck breast special. Earl Butter had a steak, and I forget what all else was flying around the table. But for sure, a lot of happy faces and good times, not to mention full bellies.

This is a real gem of an unpretentiously old-school filler-upper, whether you’re eating or drinking.

We bellied up to the bar afterwards to watch the end of the Giants game, and Baseball Mary joined us for a little while, but then the game went into extra innings and we all had to leave.


Tue.-Thu. 4:30 — 9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 4:30-10 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. & 4:30 — 9 p.m.

708 Clement, SF

(415) 386-2200

Full bar



Sneaky peeps



Do you remember the chicken farmer? Not me. The real one, Fabienne Gagagaga, upon whose farm on the west coast of France I landed serendipitously a year-and-a-half ago when I was ejected from Germany?

Remember? I didn’t even know she was a chicken farmer until she picked me up at the train station in a pickup truck, with shit on her shoes and hay in her hair, and fed me homekilt lamb and the world’s best butter until I had regained enough strength to help her clean some coops and cook a cherry-beer- chicken-heart stew with so many hearts in it that I half-expected to still see it this time — a year-and-a-half-later — on the stove where it stayed, for days, while we dipped in every dinnertime.

Remember how I accidentally left the farm and fell into the hands of hippies from Pleiades, who anointed me with essential oils and tried to make suicide pacts with me? Well, ever since then I have been trying, in one way or another, to get back to the farm. I’ve been home, I’ve been happy, I’ve been scared, I’ve even been in love again, but still I have wanted to come back to this place, in a less depressed state of mind this time, and help Fabienne take care of her chickens. Voila.

After dark tonight, in about 10 minutes, we are going to “take care” of about a hundred of them. She has 102. Two are for eggs.

At 10 o’clock, she and I, her boyfriend Fred, and her dad — hold on. It’s 10 o’clock . . .

It’s noon, the next day. That’s three in the morning to you, and even though I’ve been here for a couple weeks already, being a chicken farmer — getting my chicken farmer back on, so to speak — it’s still confusing inside my body.

Her chickens are free-range, happy farm chickens, and she raises them (except the two) for meat. I stood outside in the rain last night, opening and closing plastic cages and counting to seven, over and over again, in French, while the others raided the coop and stuffed the cages. The happy part of 7 x 14 little free range lives was over.

Those plastic cages went onto a little trailer, and we went to bed so we could get up at four in the morning to take them to a sort of a finishing school. When they come back they will be finished. And that’s when the happiness begins for Fabienne’s customers.

Many of whom don’t want the hearts and livers. So this is also where the happiness begins for me. But I’m ahead of myself by even more than nine hours now.

Where was I, from a Cheap Eats standpoint? Oh yeah. Staying at the Edwardian Hotel for one night, and walking past Rebel Bar on our way to sushi. There was a sandwich board on the sidewalk that said “Sneaky’s BBQ” with an arrow pointing across the street to Martuni’s.

What the? — we both wondered, but did not stop to investigate because, although Hedgehog loves barbecue every bit as much as I do, we had our stomachs set on sushi.

After which we walked on the Martuni’s side of Market Street, but I didn’t even need to open the door to know they were not barbecuing — not even sneakily — in there. So we crossed the road.


Because I’m supposed to know about these things. We decided to have barbecue for dessert. There’s a thin line between rebellion and dyslexia, turns out. Of course that’s where Sneaky’s is.

We ordered a couple of PBRs and a mess o’ chicken wings, smoked, with the spicy habanero-jalapeno sauce. The bandanna’d dude at the table next to us turned out to be the cook. How sneaky of him. He jumped up when he heard spicy, all excited, and took over for our waitressperson, talking us into some kind of crazy spicy on-the-side sauce too, then disappearing into the kitchen.

The wings were good. Plenty spicy even without all the craziness. I can’t wait to come home now, to pork bellies, brisket, and pulled pork. Meanwhile, I’ll see you in my dreams, Sneaky.



Inside Rebel Bar

Mon. 5-9 p.m.; Tue.-Fri. 5-10 p.m.; Sat. noon-10 p.m.; Sun. noon-9 p.m.

1760 Market, SF

(415) 431-4200

Full bar



Non-accidental tourist



CHEAP EATS It’s an interesting experience to be a tourist in one’s own town. I recommend it. And I don’t mean showing your visitors to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, a big, good dinner, and then going home; I mean sleeping at the hotel with them. Wandering around with a confused expression on your face, asking silly questions, and wearing funny clothes are optional, but encouraged.

Hedgehog is allergic to cats and Stoplight pretty much is one. For me, the decision was easy. As much as I enjoy sleeping with my cute little kitty all tangled in my hair and trying between four and five every morning to scratch out my eyeballs, I prefer the sensation of soft, warm, human skin, along with some other advantages such as sex, intelligent conversation, and sleep.

Hedgehog being for the most part a human being, I subletted my place and puss a little earlier than I had to, and went with her.

One night we stayed at the Edwardian on Market and Gough. This is not my new favorite hotel, but on the plus side it put me in a position to eat three things I might not have otherwise eaten, including a bowl of Italian wedding soup from Caffé Trieste across the street.

As far as I know, there are no other kinds of wedding soup beside the Italian kind. It has, traditionally, escarole in it, and tiny meatballs, in a chicken broth with celery and onions. Some wedding soups also contain pastine, which is both little tiny pasta similar to orzo, and one of my cousins in Ohio.

The Leone family recipe never had pasta in it. Nor did the Rubino family recipe. Maybe because both of my Grandmas came from the same li’l village in Italy. They made, instead, these dense cheesy eggy spongey croutons we called cheesies. And if you ever are lucky enough to have a holiday dinner with any one of my siblings, but especially Maria, there will be wedding soup with cheesies.

I have never had it at a wedding.

But then again, I have never had a wedding. If I do, there will be wedding soup like this, and that will be all I need to know. I personally can’t stop eating it once I start.

Except at a restaurant because then you’re at a restaurant. And if I don’t change the subject soon, this will be a restaurant review, which won’t exactly do. So let me tell you what we watched on television at the Edwardian Hotel that night.

The San Francisco Giants, and the San Jose Giants, who were playing two different teams on two different channels — and at my apartment there isn’t even a TV, so take that, Stoplight.

Tourism 1, Stoplight 0.

I’m just kidding. Before the game(s), we went to Sushi Zone for an early dinner. We got there at 5:30, before the masses, and sat right down at the counter. The place is, of course, miniscule. Two booths and maybe six or eight seats at the bar. By six there was a waiting list, and people were bringing their knitting and pitching tents on the sidewalk.

Can I tell you how smug we felt? Sitting and eating our early-bird dinner? So smug that I almost hated us . . . but loved the worms. Truly, this is top-shelf sushi.

Hedgehog had the baked mussel appetizer, which had mayonnaise in it, so I passed on that and ate a salad. Everything sushi-y that we had was fantastic, including regular old saba, but the show stopper was tuna with mango and something else.

It was the mango and wasabi combination that caught Hedgehog’s attention, and then mine when she showed it to me. I am always looking for new taste sensations and good, ripe mango with wasabi on it — not to mention the fish and ginger and everything — really floated my boat. This carried me over, happinesswise, until our late dinner, which occurred out of nowhere on our way back to the hotel, but we’ll all have to wait until next week, cause I’m out of inches.

For at least 20 minutes, my new favorite restaurant was:


Mon.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.

1815 Market, S.F.

(415) 621-1114

Beer and wine

Cash only