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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Gold Rush Town

We were there for a tenant rights workshop. Seems noble, right? Seems very conscientious; a righteous move to uplift, educate, and bolster the strength of the urban, landless, working class, (commonly known hitherto and furthermore as "yours truly") against the predatory, market-driven, "it's just business", faux-nobility (commonly known hitherto and furthermore as the "landlord").

But let's get real.


The real reason we were in the Mission on a Saturday morning was Tartine. Now, a lot of people reading this may say, "ho hum, been there", and if this describes you, please stop reading this and start reading this. However, while I had heard about Tartine for the last couple of years, and while Seth brought over one of their killer chocolate soufflé cakes for our election night cry-fest/support group (heavily-caloric desserts do wonders for depression), I had never actually been there. Occasionally, I'll pop on over to the SF Chowhound message board and see postings bellyaching the rudeness of the staff or bemoaning the particular poster's inability to score their personal favorite baked good. And after awhile, I began to believe what I was reading.

But wait, didn't I just tell someone the other day that just because something's published on the Internet, doesn't make it true?

"Wait, I've got to get the arty shot!"

Let me back up. Our building's being sold, and because this concerned us as renters, my neighbor Anita and I decided to attend a workshop held by the San Francisco Tenant's Union on what to do when your building is sold. This is a big issue in this town, as many renters end up being displaced (though not as much now as when the dot com boom was happening) by speculative real estate investors who buy whole buildings and then "Ellis" them in hopes of converting them to Tenancies-In-Common, then ultimately converting those into condo's, many of which can sell for $500,000 or more (these also destroy rent-controlled apartments). You know SF is a gold rush town, and property continues to surpass gold and dot coms as the true and lasting motherlode. For being the crown jewel of Northern California leftist activity, many forget that this is the town that raw, unbridled capitalism built. That's as true today as it was back in the 1850s.

Anyway, so this workshop was going to be happening at the Women's Building, which incidentally is right down the street from, you guessed it, Tartine. Ah, if one were ever to have a great excuse….this is it. Bruce tagged along for the decadent Tartine breakfast and skipped the workshop, so really he is an unrepentant hedonist. We arrived at Tartine around 10:30 AM and while the place was busy, it wasn't bizzay. There wasn't a line out the door, and we found a place to sit outside. Actually, that was the only place to sit, so yeah, it wasn't dead or anything. While standing in line, we oohhed and aahhed over the desserts and pastries. Oh look! There's the chocolate soufflé for the party! And what's that there? Wow! Are those éclairs? As we moved forward through the line, leaving fog marks where our faces touched the glass, our food-induced hysteria magnified as we saw the melon-sized gougeres, savory breads, and bread pudding.

At this point, one of the staff took our order. READ PLEASE: She was extremely nice, sweet, cool and what is up with all of these jerks saying how rude the staff at Tartine are? The young woman who took our order was professional and courteous and the woman who rang us up was a saint!! I have no idea what crack some of these folks who complain are on, but you know maybe they are precisely the types who expect to be coddled and patronized their whole way through life. Moving on….

Sitting outside with our food and coffee, enjoying the mild, sunny, and crisp morning weather, in the Ci-tay, watching the girls and guys walk by, was enough to make living here worthwhile. Granted, I do fantasize about leaving and settling down in the country with some chickens and a goat out back, but this was the conviction of the city, beckoning me with full force to reconsider.

The Spread

Never ones to nibble at small things, Bruce, Anita, and I forked over the moulah on what we initially said would be just our first pass through the Tartine line that morning. Anita had a Frangipane Croissant with brandy and almonds. Bruce had the Brioche Bread Pudding with seasonal fruit and slice of Pain au Jambon with gruyère cheese and smoked ham. And I had the Morning Buns with cinnamon and orange, and a Gougère with gruyère cheese. Anita's croissant was sturdy and sweet on the outside and had the most magnificent, moist, almondy inside. Bruce's bread pudding was sweet and caramelly, fruity and a bit eggy. His savory bread with ham, olives and cheese was a first for me and I loved it. It was "bread", but much more. The bread was merely the vehicle for the exorbitant amount of cheese, interspersed with olives and smoked ham. This was not French Toast, ok? My morning bun was rather boring, that is until I got to the heart of the matter, you know, where it all kinda swirls together. And at it's core it was fragrant and flavorful with a bold, but not overly so, orange essence and light lingering of cinnamon. The gougère was the largest I have seen so far and like most had the hollow interior where the best parts of the cheese hide. Oh, I bet you could fill those things with a little of this and a little of that and still not bastardize it too much.

After stuffing our face with baked goods and discussing Terry Schiavo, the Pope, and kept men, while running into more people that Anita knows (she's another one you can't take anywhere without running in someone she knows), we decided that perhaps we shouldn't make a second trip through the line. By the time we had left our table, there was a line beginning to form out of the door. Bruce says that later, when he walked by around noon, the line was well out the door and snaking down the block. Well, Geez, no wonder some folks complain about not getting a seat.

The Damage

Since we had a little time to waste, we decided to head to Bi-Rite, which is a little market down the block from Tartine. I had never been, but I loved the sign and it looked interesting from the outside. First of all, the folks who live on 18th street are some lucky bastards. You have in one block Tartine, Delfina, and Bi-Rite. Despite its 1950s facade, this is no holdover from that era. All of the deli food surpassed what I've seen in many high-end markets, the cheese selection was dense, and there seemed very little reason not to flee towards the Bi-Rite in case of a catastrophic disaster, like maybe where you want to spend the last few minutes of your life. While we were there only a short time, it was enough to make me extremely jealous of those who lived in the neighborhood, and also inspired seeing the standard of excellence a small, independent, neighborhood-based, market can have, given the right conditions. This was not a wealthy neighborhood, but it obviously had a clientele that could be depended on to buy Duck Confit and Manchego cheese. Higher average of busy singles? Higher average of upwardly-mobile couples? Higher average of gay men? Probably all of those things and more.

Well, off to the workshop, but not before hitting Paxton Gate and Community Thrift first. I won't go into the details of the workshop, but I will say that the Tenant's Union is an invaluable resource for anyone who rents in San Francisco. So support, support, support. After Anita and I parted ways, I came home only to get ready to go out again. This time it was to go to Le Charm for a friend of Bruce's birthday dinner. I'm not reviewing Le Charm here, but I'll say for the price ($28 prix fixe, 3 courses) it was decent. Frankly, it was hard to tell if I liked or disliked the restaurant and the food due to other extenuating circumstances, so I'll just leave it open to try again.

From Le Charm, we went to our room at the W Hotel. We had a room there because a friend of ours was in town for a convention and had booked two nights, but then later decided he only wanted to stay one. So, even though we live right down the street, we decided to take him up on his offer and see what $239-a-night buys you in this town. His criticisms were that the hotel was asexual and Gap-like. He said the hallways were dark and the interiors were all black and brushed aluminum. My take was that he was correct about the hallways. Something about blacklights and dark hallways at 9 in the morning doesn't scream hip as much as it does "what's your name again?" and "what do I owe you?". The rooms were much better, but led me to re-christen the hotel as the Pottery Barn Hotel, perhaps with an upwardly mobile pretension towards the West Elm hotel chain. I'm not complaining, I actually felt comfortable, but for descriptive purposes you see where I'm getting at. Beggars can't be choosers, but they sure can be disgusted at the rip off prices the W charges for basics. For example, to park your car overnight will cost you $43. Oh, that's nothing you say. OK. Well, if you think your stuff is so golden that you have to drink bottled water at $6 a pop, then by all means make a reservation today. While you're at it, have a Snickers bar for $4 and don't forget about the 20% "room service fee" they charge you to run down to the corner store to restock the snacks in your room.

You know, what a disgusting society we live in that some jerk will pay $4 for a Snickers bar and $6 for "still" water (they call it tap in the W supply room) while schools and libraries are closing due to lack of funds. And you know these are the same folks who complain about paying taxes. I really don't get the mindset of these folks, though I think I can try. It's a superiority thing. It's the "I'll pay more for the same dog biscuit if only because it puts me in the category of those who can". It's laughable in a very sad way; like "bring in the clowns" way. I only hope that money is going to pay the worker's a living wage, but considering most of the San Francisco hotel workers are on strike, which is most likely the result of an industry-wide standard, I'm sure it's not. When the W opened, Bruce and I went to XYZ to have a drink. Again, rip off! $12 well drinks?! And speaking of being a gold rush town, there was so much gold digging in that bar they should've called it the Comstock Lode. I felt at any moment a pickaxe was going to impale me in the back.

The W Hotel

There you have it. Eatin' good in the neighborhoods, the best tenant protection laws in the state (other than Berkeley), but ridiculous hotel costs and amenities.

So come to San Francisco; the NYC turned inside-out. We are a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit here, at least not without a few grand to burn.


Anonymous Mark said...

In your own words, "Let's get real!" WHEN is my own TARTINE Sampler box expected to arrive in Portland? I think you should be sending it overnight.......... I'm very hungry now..........

4:42 PM  

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