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Friday, October 28, 2005

A Temporary Diversion

Sorry folks: Not much food related stuff here.

However, it's not like I've totally been under a rock this last month. Here are some photos from a few special moments in "Kevin's Life", October, Two-Thousand Five.

Bruce and I were in Modesto when we happened to hear of the International Cultural and Food Fair that was going on in whatever that big park is they have. We wouldn't have gone except for the fact one of our favorite bands were playing.

That's right! You guessed it: Those Darn Accordions.

These are some photos I took during the opening day of Fleet Week. Normally, like most normal San Franciscans, I avoid the Fleet Week ceremonies, cover my ears, and curse the skies. However, this year, I gave in and decided to trek to the Golden Gate Bridge to watch the ships roll in. Being a nut, I walked all the way to Marin County and then back. Being even nuttier, I walked from the bridge, through the Marina, through the Tenderloin (where I had some Pho and watched them film the new Will Smith movie), and back to my humble abode near Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park.

These are from a "deconstructed hamburgers and hot dogs" dinner I made for Bruce and our friend Bill, who just returned from Barcelona, via Oklahoma (nice). The "hot dogs" are ostrich sausages from Solvang and the burgers are Elk meat given to us by Karen's really nice neighbor and his wife, both of whom are avid hunters, oops! I mean "sportspersons" (the term "hunter" is politically incorrect in some circles).



Spicy Little Sister

Two weeks ago, Bill, Bruce and I headed over to the Inner Richmond at my suggestion that we try a place called Spices II and then head over to the New de Young Museum for it's grand re-opening.

It's a good thing that I don't make plans written in stone.

We tried to get into Spices II, but every table was full and there was a 15 minute wait. Instead, we walked over the Spices I, where every table was full, except one which was just leaving. So we decided to eat there.

Afterwards, we walked over to the park and when we saw the line for the de Young collectively exclaimed "fuhgeddaboutit", only, not so New Jerseyish. Later, I read that folks were waiting 2 hours to get in the museum...at 3:30 in the morning!

You gotta love the people of San Francisco. And hate them. You just can't go anywhere fun or cool without them crowding you out. Bastards! (I say that lovingly.)

But getting back to the food...

So now we find ourselves outside of Spices I; or is it Szechuan Trenz? Or is it (in Chinese) Spicy Little Sister? Me thinks the stinky tofu has soaked into the proprietors head so that he cannot figure out one name to go with.

Once inside, we stood cramped near the front of the restaurant, waiting for our table to be cleared. At about that point, a strange smell eminated from the kitchen, causing Bill to declare "I guess they are serving stinky tofu tonight". I felt myself getting a little anxious at this point.

Spices I is a small and busy restaurant, which means the seating is close together. However, we were seated next to the back wall and by the window, and this turned out to be the best spot for people watching. The music pumping out of the speakers made you feel less like you're in a typical Asian restaurant and more like you're in a nightclub.

When we were approached by our waitress, we became confused when she handed us two different menus, neither of which had the same items as the other. This was cause for some consternation, and it was one of those times when having one condensed menu, ala In-N-Out Burger, could really have done the trick. I know, bad example, but you follow me, right?

All I know is that I had to have the deep-fried stinky tofu...and the cumin lamb hot pot. Being an only child use to getting my own way, "negotiating" the menu was rather easy and we did have the stinky tofu and the hotpot, plus Bill ordered the sliced beef shanks and Bruce ordered the spicy green beans.

I have heard it mentioned that stinky tofu is like Taiwan's version of our stinky cheese. I guess you could draw those parallels, as a really good rind-washed aged cheese will smell like the rankest of unwashed feet, and good fermented stinky tofu will smell like the most vile of unwashed asses. The unholy marriage of the two probably could be best summed up as "I'll have the deep-fried mudbutt with 2 slices of toe funk".

And if you are wondering: yes, it does taste like it smells, yet, like cheese, not as strong as it smells. The taste is sometimes accentuated (or offset, however you choose to view it) with pickled cabbage and chili sauce side portions. However, I've discovered that I like to occasionally eat a piece without anything to mask the flavor.

Of course the million dollar question is why would someone want to eat something so vile smelling to begin with?

To which I counter: why would anyone want to eat fermented milk curds (cheese)? Or raw meat that has been shoved into pig intestines, salted, and air-dried until a while mold develops on it's skin (salami)? Or a vegetable that makes you cry (onions)?

But I digress.

Bill's sliced beef shanks were very good and tender, and Bruce's green beans were really spicy, however both of these were just appetizers. The real meal set before us was the cumin lamb hot pot, which was kept hot on our table by a portable burner (that needed a little cleaning).

With the hot pot came a sweet garlic sauce that you could spoon over your stew or rice if you wanted. I noticed that Bill put his plain rice in his bowl and added the lamb stew to it to create a spicy rice dish, while I kept separate, but equal (are they ever truly?), the lamb stew and the rice. That way I could throw myself head-first into the lamb hotpot (ouch) and then come up for air with a little plain rice.

The waitress had warned us that the lamb hot pot was only medium spicy, yet if it truly was and we were still sweating up a storm, I would hate to see what the Kung Pao Chicken tastes like. But beyond being spicy hot, there were a lot of flavors; cumin being the most noticeable. The flavor of the lamb itself wasn't all that noticeable, which is always a drag. Towards the bottom of the hot pot were some celophane noodles that were too few to actually be shared between the 3 of us, and this was also somewhat of a disappointment.

Nevertheless, by the time we were ready for the check, we were all full and happy. I think the final bill, including tip, came out to be $12 a piece. Not bad.

Afterwards, we strolled over to the Sweet Delite Gourmet Food Co. on Clement Street for some Durian-flavored Marco Polo ice cream, as well as some exotic dried fruits and nuts. A nice cap to a good meal.

And then we headed on over to the de Young, and then we were like, "fuhgeddaboutit", only, not so New Jerseyish, and then we waved down a taxi with a surly driver (what. is. the deal with cab drivers these days??), and then we got off around Church and Market, and then we parted ways, and then Bruce and I took the underground home, and then I was like, "I can still taste the stinky tofu on my breath."

And then!

And then.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

I'll Have A Side Of Ectoplasm, Please

I see Dead people.

They're everywhere and they scare me.

I move past them, averting their gaze lest they follow me home and haunt my doorstep. The smell of patchouli and the dropping of temperature warn me of their presence, and I make sure that I avoid all who twirl and funky chicken into my path.

Why, yes, I am in the Upper Haight.

And now I am walking past All You Knead, a long running greasy spoon establishment that serves up one of the cheapest and greasiest breakfasts in the City, and has the line out the door to show for it.

Rumor has it that All You Knead has a ghost. According to one employee who has worked there for some time, the ghost is a junky who overdosed in the upstairs John. Sometimes, late at night, after the last of the customers leave, supposedly you can hear him running up and down the stairs.

Now, I don't know if this is true or not, but I have met a lot of people with severe substance abuse problems and this sounds like typical psychotic, drug-induced ghost behavior.

Once, I lived with a 6'2", 200 pound tweaker in Berkeley who, in addition to hearing voices and being the owner of several firearms (always a comforting combination), would comb through the carpet in the middle of the night looking for ghost rocks of crack.

It's just too bad that, in the afterlife, tweaker ghosts have no resources to get clean with. Isn't there some celestial Betty Ford clinic or something we can refer them to?

I have a "ghost society" friend who leads ghost tours here in the City. When I asked him if he knew of any haunted restaurants, he told me that he couldn't think of any other than the All You Knead rumor.

Sure, you have your Lady of Stow Lake and the home-girl who walks around town crying, but surely with all of the restaurants in the City there has to be more than one culinary ghost sighting!

I mean, this is the city that exhumed almost all of its dead in the early 20th century and relocated them, Poltergeist-style, 15 miles away to Colma (ie., in many cases only the headstones were removed). Plus, when you think about all of the murders, overdoses, and suicides that have happened here just since the Sixties, there should be a whole army of grateful Dead. Combined with the City's famous love of wining and dining, it just seems odd that we don't have a whole list of haunted restaurants with folks clamoring to get in to get their spook on.

So, wha the faaa?

Here's my take:

San Franciscans are jaded to the supernatural. We treat our ghosts like we treat celebrities, with indifference.

"Oh, your place is haunted? That's cool. Um, did you really let that dude suck your toes last night or were you just trippin'?"

And lets face it, how many times have you cruised Ringold Alley at 5 in the morning and seen the undead only to have your attention distracted by the sugar daddy who just drove by in his new sportscar? And how many times have you heard "ohhh" and "ooooo" and chains rattling in the middle of the night only to wish your pervert neighbors would go to sleep already?

I know I have!

But the sad truth is, Frisco is a ghost-indifferent town – and to many of the undead, soon-to-be dead, and wanna-be dead, that just hurts.

Yo! Whatever happened to giving the Ghost Man his propers?

It's true that San Francisco doesn't need to advertise its "ghost community", or "persons of rest", in order to attract tourists, much in the same way the Folsom Street Fair attracts the Leather Tourist. But whatever happened to celebrating diversity? Can we just get one more color in that Rainbow flag to celebrate our dearly departed?

How about...is translucent a color?

This is an injustice that may only be rectified through the implementation of some Ghost Respect ordinance or resolution, and I plan on drafting up a document to submit to my local District Supervisor right this minute! Being a long-time City Hall watching enthusiast, I can say my bill would stand a "ghost-of-a-chance", even if that sort of language is totally "life-ist".

In the meantime, while having your ghost pals over for dinner this Halloween, why not consider serving up some of Vincent Price's famous curry?! Get out all of that copper and brassware! Mr. Price lets you in on one of the hottest culinary/entertainment trends that’s sweeping America by storm!


Friday, October 21, 2005

Fall Off

My favorite saxophone player is back on the street, wailing away for mere dollars and cents. I think he must have been in jail this whole time. He's a pretty angry guy.

It's Fall and, for some of us, this is the time we fall off the radar. Retreat. Go into hiding. Vamenos.

"It's a good thing to disappear every now and then." I think a wizened sage must have uttered those words in one of his/her many simplistically short anecdotes on life and the cosmos. Either that or I'm just flashing back to the Weather Underground documentary.

You may not have noticed, but yours truly has also been in self-imposed exile from the blogosphere for some time now.

Don't worry. Nothing happened.

To tell you the truth, I've been somewhat absorbed in other aspects of my life lately. Something I never thought I would say, but yes, one of those aspects is my job. Much of my creative and physical energy has been put into my job as of late, which no doubt is satisfying to my co-workers and boss.

"Hey, you gotta bring home the bacon before you can use your bacon press." I think a wizened sage must have uttered those words in one of his/her many simplistically short anecdotes on life and the cosmos. Either that or I'm just flashing back to, uh, nevermind.

Anyway, it's paid off. No, I mean, it really has. Just yesterday, I had my review where my boss finally announced I was getting a raise. I'd been waiting for this moment for months, and after a year of being a broke mo-fo, I now feel a great wave of relief sweeping over me. I'm in blue cheese heaven.

You know, the bossman could've just given me the raise and skipped the formality of a review, but then I wouldn't have had the opportunity to be wined and dined for 2 hours at Piperade, which is like a second-home to my boss, and where he always takes employees for their review. And your boss just calls you into the conference room….

OK, that wasn't nice to say. Sorry.

I won't go into detail about the food (Pacific snapper) or wine (it was a nice Chardonnay); I'll just say it's very good and if you want more info there are about a thousand reviews floating out there.

I would like to point out that while in the midst of having obscene heaps of praise piled onto me, I had to interrupt and point out to my boss and co-worker that we were in the middle of witnessing a major celebrity chef convergence at the next table.

It all started while we were on the subject of "building permits" when the lady seated next to me chimed in. She said her husband and her just went through the same process (I won't bore you with the details) with their restaurant.

Normally, at least not in my experience, folks sitting at another table don't just chime in to your conversation. Perhaps this is due to my eating almost exclusively in restaurants that are either too noisy or are dominated by a clientel that only speak one language…not mine. But she seemed nice enough, and so we began a conversation. I guess her husband had stepped away from the table for a while and she was just casually hanging out, drinking a glass of red wine of course.

When we asked her what the restaurant was, she said something in French. Um, ok. That at least sounded good. So then we ask her where it is. She says, "Polk and Green". OK, well, that narrows it down.

Come to find out later it's La Folie. The Chef/Owner of La Folie and his wife are having lunch next to us.

She was so friend-ly. Like that chick in Sideways.

I swear, I could have listened to her talk about the life of wine for hours until I was just a gelatinous mess.

So, the subject changes from building permits to Paris, as my boss is leaving with his wife to go there in less than a week. She says, "well my husband just got back from Paris and he could probably suggest some places to eat".

Had I known who her husband was at the time, I would've been all over my boss, threatening him that if he didn't find out I would turn in my resignation letter IN SHAME the next day.

When the husband comes back, he sits down and is just as friendly as his wife. These are good folks.

Soon after, Gerald Hirigoyen (whom I didn’t recognize when he seated us and not until long after we left the restaurant) pulls up a chair beside their table and begins to have a conversation. That's when the wife says to her husband that my boss is leaving for Paris in a week and wanted to know some places to go. My boss, being the unassuming yet always bold character that he is, actually gives them the piece of paper that he's writing my review on so that the husband can write down his recommendations.

You will notice, above, that it says "5. Raise > last see. Marketing: - word of mouth, -press release". Of course, right above, where it says "BISTRO – inexpensive", it gives his list:

- La Regalade
- L'Os a Moelle
- Aux Lyonnais
- Z Gallerie Kitchen
- L'Atelier de Maitre Albert
- Bofinger
- L'Epi Dupin

Besides bistros and brasseries, the table suggests a visit to the Palais Royal and a few other places that, when I hear French spoken, goes in one ear and out the other.


After my boss humbly obliges and thanks the table, the love fest continues with me practically begging for brutal punishment in the form of criticism about my work.

Instead, I'm given a tongue bath.

Hell, it's been a year since anyone's said "nice work, Kevin"; I'm not complaining. And to tell you the truth, that place was a shambles before I strolled in, so don't think I'm too big for my britches.

Later on, I look over and who do I see but Charles Phan standing next to me talking to the La Folie table. Holy shit! Celebrity!

In the one and only time I've ever been a celebrity freak in public, I stopped everything I was doing and practically embarrassed my boss by trying to whisper in his ear (oh, it was sooo obvious), "See that Asian guy! See that Asian guy!". At about this point, I look over and Charles has caught on that I'm talking about him. Gee, perhaps the classic hand-shielding-mouth-while-in-a-state-of-excitement thing gave it away.

My boss and co-worker are completely clueless. I don't know what they were expecting. I'm sure they must have thought that whatever I was getting all excited about must have been really important.

Instead, only a glazed-over look of confusion when they figure it out. Ironically, we were having a conversation just 5 minutes earlier where we were engaged in wondering what the Eff it was that people got by watching sports.

Uh, this is what they get.

Come on! This was like seeing Mr. So-And-So baseball having a chat with Mr. So-And-So football and then talking to…well, I can't make a good sports analogy.

After we left the restaurant, I tried again to explain who Charles Phan was to my boss and co-worker. I said, "He is the chef/owner of the Slanted Door. Which is, like, one of the hottest restaurants in the city!" Followed by an unspoken but loudly noticeable "Hello?! Am I speaking to wood?"

Instead, I get the, "oh, I had no idea. Kevin, where do you get these things?"

What am I to say? I defer. I make up some nonsense about how I know a million things about nothing and then change the conversation.

At least I got paid.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Last Spear

The last spear
After the hunt
Was the one that hurt the least
The one that drew no blood
Except for what was left

The last spear
That cinched the deal
Sliced like a hot knife through butter
Or that's what we tell our friends

The last spear
That neither raised
An eyebrow nor platitude
Poked in frustration
What was on the plate