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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Outing the Dutch

As with coffee, the tradition of quality bread making has been a consistent of San Francisco culinary culture since the first 49er mixed flour and water together to ferment, and the first Frenchman opened the first business to bake it.

That Frenchman was Isidore Boudin, who opened San Francisco's first bakery in 1849 on Dupont Street, or what is now Grant Street in North Beach. By 1856 there were over 63 bakeries in the city, or one bakery for every 900 residents. By this time, large swaths of San Francisco had burned down multiple times, not by forgetful bakers, but by thieves and criminals. If you think running a small business is hard now, you have no idea.

These bakeries were the first to produce the famed San Francisco Sourdough, a variety of sourdough bread unique to the Bay Area and whose reputation as a fine bread is known the world over. When most people think of San Francisco bread, they don't think of walnut rye or herb slab or the nine-grain concoctions you see on display in some of the City's finest bakeries – they think Sourdough.

But what if I told you there is another type of bread that is just as prevalent, and just as loved, in the San Francisco Bay Area – and in it's own way, just as unique? It's called Dutch Crunch, and it's reputation as a Bay Area sandwich bread is matched only by sourdough.

Like your typical sourdough loaf or baguette, Dutch Crunch didn't originate here, although the name probably did. In the Netherlands, it's known as Tijgerbrood and sold in the UK as "Tigerbread". It gets its name from the color and texture of the crust, which is striped with dark brown crunchy spots with light blond bread peaking out from underneath. The crust gets its flavor and texture from washing the top prior to baking with a mixture rice flour, butter, yeast, sugar, and salt. The final product is a mildly sweet, light and fluffy white loaf with a somewhat crunchy, savory crust.

The first time I had a sandwich with this bread, I fell in carb-love. Being a transplant from somewhere else, I felt lucky that I could see and taste this wonderful bread with the unspoiled expectation of an outsider. Of course when you're new to a place, everything seems so unfamiliar that you just lose track of what's different from the place you left and where you are now. Pretty soon, you just take for granted that things are like how they are – until something reminds you that, no, things and stuff and life outside of the Bay Area are – in fact – not the same.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that, outside of the Bay Area, Dutch Crunch bread is relatively unknown – not only in California, but in the rest of the United States as well. What remains a mystery to me is not so much how or when it got here, but why it never really left.

From what I gather, Dutch Crunch bread was introduced in the Bay Area (no, not by Dutch immigrants) sometime in the 1960s or 1970s and quickly caught on with specialty bakers and delis. According to the owner of the Italian-French Bakery in North Beach, he seems to remember it first being introduced by the now-defunct Parisian Bakery, which until recently had been the second oldest bakery in San Francisco. At the time Dutch Crunch was introduced, the Parisian was owned by Boudin Bakery. However after a quick survey of Boudin's current bread line, it doesn't appear that they sell it.

The Italian-French Bakery

I called up a few of the best and well-established sandwich makers in San Francisco and the Peninsula to ask where their Dutch Crunch comes from. Darby Dan's buys their Dutch Crunch from the venerable Wedemeyer Bakery, started in 1936 in San Francisco. If you've ever been anywhere downtown San Francisco you are probably familiar with Wedemeyer's delivery trucks, which drop off freshly baked breads to many of the downtown cafés and delis.

The person at Little Lucca in South San Francisco didn't know where they got theirs, while the guy at Colombo's in Pacifica would only say they get their Dutch Crunch from a local bakery; "it's a trade secret". You go, Colombo's!

Even more mysterious was the owner at Roxie Food Center in the Mission who – after wanting to know "who is this?" – would only say his Dutch Crunch is made by his "brother-in-law". Yeah, riiiigggghhhtt.

Great, old Italian delis like Lucca in the Mission and Molinari's (and their sister store, Mastrelli's) still keep it in the community and buy their Dutch Crunch from the Italian-French Bakery, which started producing it 25 years ago. Today you can walk into the bakery and walk out with a loaf of Dutch Crunch for $1.60 that will feed several people.

The Italian-French is a great, old, neighborhood meeting place and piece of small-town, Old World charm in San Francisco. The ladies who work there have an undeserved reputation for being curt, which may or may not be true, because I've never experienced it. However, you also must realize that the Italian-French is at ground zero for the close-knit (Italian) culture of North Beach; a culture that, to some extent, is insular but which has to sometimes interact with tourists and looky-loos (that would be me).

The bakery, ovens and all, has been around 100 years and so have the ladies (okay, that was cheap). All kidding aside, it's a wonderful place to buy all kinds of baked goods and it holds its own against other neighborhood competitors.

However, to really get the full Italian-French Bakery Dutch Crunch Experience, you must go to a real Italian deli and order something up. While there are lots of great delis in the hood (like Palermo), I'm keeping it old school today and heading over to Molinari's.

I've had a love/hate relationship with Molinari Delicatessen in the past stemming from the long lines and (occasionally) the service, but I still keep coming back -if only for the best deal on the best salame in the Bay Area. Actually, part of the reason I like Molinari's so much has to do with the fact that they've purposely been confusing non-Italians with the spelling of "salami" long before it was cool and trendy.

There are several things you need to know before stepping up to the counter to order a sandwich at Molinari. The first is that you need to take a number, and thank goodness because I hate unorganized counter service.

Second, after you grab a number/ticket, you must pick out your own sandwich bread, which is already cut and sitting in a bin near the back of the store. If you want to be polite, use the metal tongs provided to pick out your bread, or use your hands if you want to keep it real (nasty).

I use my hands.

After fumbling around the bin, touching every single piece of bread before you get to the one you want, present the bread (Dutch Crunch, in this case) to the man behind the counter after he calls your number. Today I ordered the North Beach Special ($7.25), which is loaded with prosciutto, provolone, sun-dried tomatoes, and sweet (but spicy) red peppers. It's pricey for a sandwich, but please...just take a look at it.

There's a lot of good food here, and for the price it sure beats some of the rabbit food you pay $10 for around these parts. Best of all is the bread. This bread is so buttery on top and crunchy, plus it has a little of that sweet flavor going on, that I feel no remorse in wrecking my low-carb diet plan. If you're going to consume white bread, you might as well go all out with a big sandwich made with Dutch Crunch.


(The reason for this link is just because. However, I guess I was mistaken when I said previously that the good weather had passed us by. Get out and enjoy the weekend!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Follow up to "Where I Stand"

Below is a list of San Francisco restaurants (total: 315) who belong to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, per their website.

Not all GGRA members support the lawsuit against the city, so to be fair you may want to ask.


536 Sutter
Absinthe Brasserie And Bar
Academy Grill (California Culinary Academy)
Acme Chophouse
Ajatea Cafe
Alfred's Steakhouse
Alioto's Outdoor Crab Market
Alioto's Restaurant
Amici's East Coast Pizzeria
Amphora Wine Merchant
Ana Mandara
Andale Mexican Restaurant
Angelina's Deli-Cafe & Catering
Ansonia Hotel
Aperto Restaurant
Ararat Mediterranean Tapas
Arlequin Food To Go
Asia SF
Asqew Grill
Atrium (San Francisco Marriott)
Azul Bar & Lounge
Bacar Restaurant
Barracuda Japanese Restaurant
Bayside Sports Bar and Grill
Beale Street Bar & Grill
Beard Papa
Betty Zlatchin Catering
Big Nate's Barbeque
Bistro 350
Blowfish - Sushi To Die For
Blue Mermaid Chowder House and Bar
Bob's Steak & Chop House
Boudin Bakery
Boulette's Larder
Brazen Head Restaurant
Buena Vista Cafe
C&L Steakhouse
Cafe Bastille
Cafe Claude
Cafe de la Presse
Cafe Divine
Cafe Eight
Cafe Maritime
Cafe Pescatore
Cafe Venue
Caffe Espresso
Caffe Museo
Calzone's Pizza Cucina
Capp's Corner
Capurro's Restaurant & Bar
Careme Room (California Culinary Academy
Castagnola's Restaurant
CAV Wine Bar
Chaya Brasserie
Chefs Association of the Pacific Coast, Inc
Chez Maman
Chez Papa Bistrot
Chic's Seafood Restaurant
Cioppino's on the Wharf
Circolo Restaurant & Lounge
Citizen Cake
Citizen Cupcake
City Blends (San Francisco Marriott
Cityscape Bar & Restaurant
Cliff House
Clown Alley
COCO 500
Couleur Cafe
Cozmo's Corner Grill
Crab House at Pier 39
Crustacean San Francisco
Daily Grill
Dante's Seafood Grill
Delfina Restaurant
Dolores Park Cafe
Don Ramon's Mexican Restaurant
E&O Trading Company
Eastside West
El Raigon
Emporio Rulli at SFO
Emporio Rulli Gran Caffe
EOS Restaurant & Wine Bar
Extreme Pizza
Farmer Brown's Restaurant
Faz Cafe
Faz Restaurant
Ferry Plaza Seafood
Fifth Floor
Fior d'Italia
Firewood Cafe
Fishermen's Grotto #9
Fleur de Lys
Fly Trap
Fog City Diner
Foreign Cinema
Fourth Street Bar & Deli (San Francisco Marriott
Frog Hollow Farm Market
Garden Terrace (San Francisco Marriott
Garibaldi's Restaurant
Goat Hill Pizza
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
Gourmet Pacific Catering
Grand Cafe
Green Chile Kitchen & Market
Greens Restaurant
HanaZen Yakitori & Sushi Bar
Harrington's Bar & Grill
Harry Denton's Starlight Room
Harry's Bar
Hawthorne Lane
Hayes Street Grill
Hemlock Tavern
Hog Island Oyster Company
Hooters Bar & Grill
Hotel Majestic Dining Room
House of Prime Rib
Houston's Restaurant
Il Fornaio
Jack Falstaff
Jeanty at Jack's
Jitney's Bar & Grill
Johnny Foley's Irish House
JT's Island Cafe
Julius Castle Restaurant
Just Desserts
Kelly's Mission Rock
Kokkari Estiatorio
Kookez Cafe
Kuleto's Italian Restaurant
La Folie
La Mediterranee
Le Central Bistro
Le Colonial
Le Zinc
Lee's Deli
Left at Albuquerque
Lemongrass Thai Cuisine
Les Joulins Jazz Bistro
Levende Lounge
Liverpool Lil's
Louis' Restaurant
Lou's Pier 47 Restaurant
Luques Restaurant
Magnolia Pub & Brewery
Mantra Restaurant
Market Bar & Restaurant
Market Street Grill
Martin Macks Bar & Restaurant
Max's Market (Max's Chain – includes Opera Plaza & Sweet Max's)
Maya Restaurant
Medicine Restaurant
Memphis Minnie's BBQ Joint
Mezes Restaurant
Michael Mina
Miette Patisserie
Mistral Rotisserie Provencale
Modern Tea
MoMo's San Francisco Grill
Mozzarella DiBufala Pizzeria I
Namu Bar & Restaurant
Neptune's Palace Seafood Restaurant
Nick's Lighthouse
Noe Valley Bakery & Bread
Nonna Rose Seafood Trattoria
North Beach Pizza
One Market Restaurant
O'Reilly's Holy Grail
O'Reilly's Irish Pub
Original Joe's
Pacific Catch
Palio d'Asti
Palio Paninoteca
PANoRAMA Baking Company
Paradise Pizza & Pasta
Paragon Restaurant
Park Chalet Garden Restaurant
Park Chow
Pasta Pomodoro
Pat's Cafe
Pauline's Pizza Pie
Pazzia Caffe & Trattoria
Pier 23 Cafe
Pier Market Seafood Restaurant
Pizzeria Delfina
PJ's Oyster Bed & Big Easy Lounge
PlumpJack Cafe
Pompei's Grotto
Puccini & Pinetti Italian Grill and American Bar
Puccini Restaurant Group
Puerto Alegre Restaurant
Ramblas Tapas
Recchiuti Confections
Regalito Rosticeria
Restaurant Jeanne D'Arc
Ristorante Milano
Ristorante Umbria
Rose Pistola
Rose's Cafe
Roy's Restaurant
Samovar Tea Lounge
Sam's Grill
San Francisco Brewing Co
San Francisco Coffee Roasting Co
San Francisco Soup Company
Scala's Bistro
Scoma's Restaurant
Sea Breeze Cafe & Restaurant
Sellers Market
Shanghai 1930
Specialty's Cafe & Bakery
Squat and Gobble Cafe & Crepery
Stray Bar
Swan Oyster Depot
Tadich Grill
Tad's Steak House
Taqueria El Zorro
Tarantino's Restaurant
Tazza D'oro
Teatro ZinZanni
Thanh Long
The Bar
The Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant
The Blue Light
The Butler & The Chef Bistro
The Cheesecake Factory
The City Club of San Francisco
The Cosmopolitan
The Elite Cafe
The Franciscan Crab Restaurant
The Grove
The Independent
The Liberties Irish Bar & Restaurant
The Magic Flute Garden Ristorante
The Oak Room
The Page
The Ramp
The Slanted Door
The Stinking Rose
The View (San Francisco Marriott
Thinker's Cafe
ThirstyBear Brewing Company
Tia Margarita
Tommy Toy's Cuisine Chinoise
Tommy's Joynt
Town Hall
Trader Vic's
Trattoria Contadina
Tres Agaves Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Lounge
Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Cafe
U Street Lounge
Union Street Catering (Perry's
Upton's Catering
Village Pizzeria
Waterfront Restaurant
Whiskey Lounge
Wipeout Bar & Grill
Yank Sing Restaurant
Yankee Pier SFO
Zao Noodle Bar
Zingari Ristorante

The End of Pinkbagging?

Not so fast.

The legislation approved yesterday by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors only targets large supermarkets (Safeway) and pharmacies (Walgreens).

Chinatown appears to have escaped the ban.

And, actually – I'm kinda glad. Pinkbagging is a unique San Francisco cultural phenomenon. When you see me walking down the street, looking kind of ruffled, loaded down with pink bags from Chinatown, you know I just fought, clawed, and pushed my way to the best 59 cent-per-pound motherfucking fava bean in this whole motherfucking city.

Granted, I DO use cloth bags - often. In fact, when headed out to Whole Paycheck and the big chains, we always grab our cloth bags and proudly pony them up when it's time to check out.

Do you see that smug look of self-satisfaction on our face?

It's real.

Do you see that token we acquired from bringing our own bag and just put into the Friends of the Urban Forest donation jar?

It's real too.

(Okay Whole Foods, I've got to give you props for that!)

This legislation would make San Francisco the first city in the US to ban non-compostable plastic bags from stores of any kind. This is why so much of the country hates us. We're like the ball-hog on the basketball court. Always stealing the limelight – trying to do everything before everyone else. We're not cooler than LA or New York; not as well-dressed or as rich. And we certainly don't have as many nice and interesting restaurants. But, little ol' San Francisco really knows how to stir up the shit.

It's true. We are a city of kooks. I'm a kook, and proud. I'd like to consider myself part of the kookistocracy - not quite part of the Kookgeoisie; that's a level only attainable by the Frank Chus of the world.

If anything, this ban will be a boom for the grant writers who fund the reactionary, anti-environmentalists – some idealists, most just media whores. Sit back and listen to the cash roll in as they begin jumping in their chairs claiming the road to hell is paved with a ban on plastic bags. They'll be funded by the employers of Kristin Power, whose claim of rising prices as a result of the plastic bag ban is actually true – media whores and fake "experts" cost money.

I'm an environmentalist. But I'm also a skeptic.

Logically, I'm not sure how much of an impact banning plastic bags from large stores will have on the environment. Already, the supermarkets affected by the ban are promising to switch back to paper – which they've always had but never bother to offer anymore. However, there are a lot of good points to be made that paper isn't necessarily better for the environment than plastic.

Also, what affect will the ban have when so many other businesses remain exempt? Wouldn't it be just as good for the environment to require all downtown office towers to completely shut off their office lights each and every night? Or to reduce the number of street lights in the city? Even better, to switch conventional street lights over to solar-powered ones?

I remain a skeptic, but a supportive one.

Just keep your do-gooder claws off my pinkbags or I will rock your world like Lola Montez!


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Where I Stand

In San Francisco, a small minority of restaurant owners are up in arms over legislation passed by the City of San Francisco last November which requires all small businesses to not only provide their employees sick time/sick pay, but actually mandates that they pay into a city-managed fund allocated to pay for their employees' healthcare. In addition, the minimum wage goes up this year, which upsets many business owners who rely on paying their workers the least amount they can get away with.

Although this legislation equally affects all of San Francisco's small businesses, the restaurant industry alone has been the most vociferous opponent of these changes.

Those leading the charge belong to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group which recently spearheaded the failed campaign to oust popular Board of Supervisor Chris Daly from office. In 1936, the GGRA was formed in San Francisco to represent restaurant owners during the height of wide-scale union activism, led primarily by the dockworkers of the ILWU, but which affected workers all over the city. In those days, San Francisco was known as Labor Town, and only 2 years prior San Francisco had undergone the largest general strike in American history. All union workers went on strike, including restaurant workers - who in those days outnumbered non-union workers in San Franciscan eating establishments.

Today, just a small number of restaurants workers are organized – the majority are low-wage, uninsured young workers, immigrants, and single women (many with dependents). The steps taken by our local government to improve the healthcare and livelihood of these workers – the majority of whom work behind the scenes in kitchens of every kind – is notable and supported by the majority of San Franciscans, such as myself. We've come a long way from the days when the mayor of San Francisco kept a portrait of Mussolini in his office and was known for giving the occasional Fascist salute. On the other hand, the men and women who staff the kitchens of San Francisco are in worse shape than their predecessors of 73 years ago.

With this in mind, I'd like to pose a set of smart-ass questions and snide comments of my own. Are you with me?


GGRA threat #1: The Empire Strikes Back

Let's discuss the actual size of the GGRA. You guys claim to represent 800 small businesses in San Francisco and imply that they are willing to go on "strike" for one day to protest the implementation of the healthcare law.

Actually, I went to your website and counted each and every business listed in San Francisco. There aren't 800. Not even close. At the most, there are over 300 – roughly. Many of them are chains or haute cuisine establishments with multi-million dollar budgets – not the small businesses you'd have us believe. Where are the Chinatown restaurants? Where are the Mission taquerias? Where are the coffee shops?

There are thousands of restaurants in this city. There are even more independent, small, Mom and Pop businesses. At the most, your association represents a small, but vocal, minority of San Francisco businesses. Not only would a "strike" hurt the profit margins you guys shed crocodile tears over, not to mention the folks who actually do the work for you, but it will tarnish your image – and image is everything to a restaurant.

Think: Dennys.

In the event of a one-day pseudo strike, there are some who are prepared to visit your establishment the next day and not purchase anything. Instead, they will use what they would've spent on food and drink to tip out your staff, making sure you don't see a fucking dime in the process.

I'm not sure I agree with this tactic. Personally, I'm not stepping foot into a GGRA-member business until the lawsuit is dropped or defeated. And even then, who knows?

GGRA threat # 2: The Sky Is Falling...With Chains

You claim that local government makes it hard for you to run a business. You say that if implemented, these new quality of life laws will drive small independent businesses away and San Francisco will become a town of chain restaurants.

Hmmm, that's interesting considering how many of your members are chains or might as well be. Shall we name them?

Amici's East Coast Pizzeria
Asqew Grill
Beard Papa
Boudin Bakery
Chaya Brasserie
E&O Trading Company
Extreme Pizza
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
Hooters Bar & Grill
Houston's Restaurant
Il Fornaio
Lee's Deli
North Beach Pizza
Paradise Pizza & Pasta
Pasta Pomodoro
Puccini Restaurant Group
Roy's Restaurant
San Francisco Soup Company
Specialty's Cafe & Bakery
Squat and Gobble Cafe & Crepery
The Cheesecake Factory
Trader Vic's
Zao Noodle Bar

GGRA threat #3: We Have To Raise Prices or Show Me The Money

Food prices are going up all over place as it is. You guys have been raising prices silently for years to match inflation and the standard cost of operating a business that everyone has to pay (including workers when they don't get a raise). When the price of gas goes up, do you threaten a one day strike to buck the oil barons? When it costs more to run those fancy halogen bar lights, do you threaten PG&E with a lawsuit?

Oh, I see. You just like to beat up on the Mexicans who wash your dishes.

(Thought so.)

You're alright with picking on the little guy, because you know he's the only one you can successfully bully. I wouldn't be surprised if some of you even threatened to call the DHS to coerce your immigrant employees into supporting this lawsuit.

Fact is, you've been raising prices...because cocaine is a hell of a drug. Maybe you could start handing out a few of those rolled-up Benjamins you use to blow dust up your nose to cover the expense of having a healthy, drug-free workforce. I guess greed is a hard habit to break, which is why The Man had to step in and force you to do the right thing. Running a modern-day plantation isn't easy I know, and this lawsuit of yours is simply a pale imitation of the South's secession when The Man threatened to abolish slavery.

Actually, The Man is tired of picking up the tab for you.

Because you don't cover your workers' healthcare expenses, or provide a "sick-free" environment, the City and County of San Francisco must absorb the cost of your people coming in to the emergency room for basic services. Because they had to work and couldn't stay home to rest and recover, minor, treatable illnesses become life-threatening and we, the taxpayer, have to pick up the hospital expenses of your workers.

Either way: someone's paying.

You just want to pass the buck on to us, because it so obviously puts another one in your pocket. You want government to subsidize your business. Socialism for the restaurant owners of the GGRA, but not for the workers.

How about this? Fuck you.

Big Picture #1: Sickness

Quick: How many of you want to pay a lot of money to catch a bug that will make you deathly ill? How many of you want to work around someone who's coughing virus-ridden droplets of saliva up on you?

I do! I do!

If Jose or Jane can't take the time off of work to get over the flu or whatever ungodly virus is making the rounds, they will pass it on to their coworkers and YOU, the diner. Sick leave is a harm reduction measure that the restauranteurs of the GGRA have continually opposed. It reduces the amount of sick people floating around in the general population by kindly asking that they stay home if they, or their children, are sick – and it gives them an incentive to do so. People who make the minimum wage (or something like it after rent, food, and other expenses are subtracted from their gross pay) cannot afford to miss work. They must have the security of sick leave, otherwise they will make choices that, in the end, affect all of us.

These restauranteurs who don't want to pay their workers to stay home if they're sick: what are they saying about their clientele? That they don't care if you get sick? Just pay up and pray that you aren't infected by the hostess?

Bottom line: They don't care about you getting sick, or the health of their workers. They only care about what's in their wallet.

After all we've seen them do and oppose - shouldn't that be obvious by now?


Monday, March 26, 2007

San Francisco: Catching Crabs, Eating Clams

Ah! The fog, cold, and rain are back!

Were you guys able to enjoy the little sunny break we had? If not, you're SOL until May.

Welcome to springtime in San Francisco. We have a few gorgeous days at the beginning of March and then we get hit with a few weeks of ugly, I mean ugly, weather in April. You've really got to get out and enjoy the good stuff while it lasts.

A word to the wise – don't waste the good days in the city by staying indoors. My coworker just had a friend come out to visit from Ohio for a week. Not only did her guest not want to go out at night, but she also spent the majority of her time sleeping until 3 PM. What a waste.

Maybe some people see nothing wrong with sleeping their lives away – and I can't say I blame them. Apparently these people also care nothing about looking like they've got a lick of fashion sense when stepping out to a nice restaurant or social event. However, take heed: this town is no place to sleep in late, especially on sunny days. Nor is it okay to go clubbing in one of your gem sweaters, unless of course you're Leslie Hall and you're glamorous (I know I am)!

This is still the City That Knows How.

And on cold, foggy days, this is the city that knows how to keep itself warm, happy, and satisfied with a big bowl of steaming hot, mildly spicy cioppino.

Forget Rice-A-Roni; what San Franciscan you know eats that stuff? Cioppino is the original and authentic San Francisco Treat. A thick, hearty tomato-based seafood stew chock full of Dungeness crab, clams, Pacific cod, shrimp, and whatever happens to be fresh that day. This dish is old school – no doubt old school SF Italian– but San Franciscan through and through. The only accompaniment you need with a bowl of cioppino is a huge hunk of crusty sourdough bread and you have a complete, rib-stickin' meal.

Cioppino ("ch-pee-no") is truly a Made In San Francisco dish. Like most things uniquely San Franciscan, it's a transplant – brought over by Genoese fishermen and adapted to the Bay Area's unique and local ingredients. These Italian fishermen dominated the fishing trade (thanks to laws they passed which pushed the Chinese fishermen further upshore) in the late 1800s, when Fisherman's Wharf was the site of a fishy-smelling gold rush of sorts.

One of these immigrants from Genoa went on to start the Bank of Italy, which managed the fortunes of those fishermen and by shear luck, survived the Great Fire and Earthquake of 1906. Because of such, the bank grew leaps and bounds and is today known to most San Franciscans as the mega-evil Bank of America.


I'm fond of cioppino because it's a crazy delicious seafood stew, but also because it's one of the first dishes I ate where I knew, sitting there in front me, was something unique to my newly adopted home (this was a couple of years after I moved to the Bay Area). My first and, as far as I know, only experience eating cioppino was/is Bruce's homemade cioppino. Bruce isn't Italian, but he could play one on TV and no one would ever know the difference (he also gets mistaken for being both Jewish and Muslim, which is dangerous no matter which side of the Wall you live on). He's actually part Portuguese, part Greek, and part honky – which, oddly enough, describes a lot of Southern European/Mediterranean ethnicities. I'm pure honky, which as most people know, isn't very pure at all; especially those Southern honky varieties. Oh, where does the time go?

Although cioppino's hella expensive to make, lately I've felt that I needed to hunker down and start writing about this great place I live in, and I wanted to start with a dish that is near and dear to my heart. I know you guys read a lot of blogs out there; I read a few as well. One of the things I hope to get when I click on a food blog from, say, Washington DC or Cleveland is a feel for the place the author lives in – you know, living vicariously through someone else's eyes, ears, stomach, and so on, so on, etc.

Sometimes I don't think that happens enough with Bay Area food bloggers, most especially: yours truly. Hell, I don't think that happens enough with food bloggers in general, although that guy over at The New Diner certainly has something special going on (I just wish he would start writing again). That's why for the next month or so I'll be focusing more on San Francisco and SF Bay Area "stuff" here at Bacon Press.


Crab Cioppino Treganza A la Bacon Press 2007
Serves 2 for roughly a week (or 6 to 8 at once)

Okay, I know this is a lot of food to make but cioppino is one of those stews that you just have to make a lot of and hope to hell you have friends and neighbors who are okay with coming over to eat and taking some home with them. Could you cut this recipe in half? Probably. Will I? Probably not.

I can eat lunch for free all this week just on cioppino leftovers alone. And how many of your coworkers do that? Not many. I know – I asked.

First you should know this: the recipe for cioppino isn't written in stone. There are variations depending on who you ask, what their preference is, and what type of fish or shellfish is in season. Dungeness crab is a given. So is the tomato-based sauce. From there, you're pretty much free to improvise with the seafood and the consistency and flavor of your sauce. I've seen premade jars of cioppino sauce for sale in certain supermarkets. Perhaps some of them are worth trying? I don't know. But before you waste $50 - $60 worth of seafood on a $5 jar of sauce, you better test it first.

The recipe I'm using is not Bruce's. It's from an out-of-print cookbook called San Francisco Firehouse Favorites, published in 1965. Despite its age and the era it was written in (still fresh on the heels of bad 1950s cuisine), it has some remarkably good recipes contributed by – wait for it – real San Francisco firefighters. I'll talk more about the book in a future post, but for now I present you with the recipe submitted by SFFD Art Treganza, Airport Rescue Company No. 3, and slightly modified by me.

5 medium-sized leeks, thinly sliced
6 large celery stalks, finely chopped or sliced
6 medium-sized carrots, finely chopped or sliced
1 ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 large 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon dry thyme
2 – 3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 – 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 live dungeness crabs
2 pounds of clams, well scrubbed
1 pound of medium prawns, raw (with or without shells)
2 pounds of Pacific cod (or similar white fish) fillets
½ cup of dry white wine
1 tablespoon of pepper, freshly ground
Salt to taste
(not included here: 2 to 4 tablespoons tomato paste)

Dungeness crab season in the Bay Area lasts between November and June, peaking sometime in January. When buying a crab, note that one typically weighs between 2 to 3 pounds and should look lively (even frisky) and have all or most of it's legs. Also take note of its tank environment, inspecting it for cleanliness. Buying live crab ensures that you're getting the freshest meat available, as crab meat quickly deteriorates after death. I bought my live crabs at Ranch 99 in Daly City for $5 per pound. This is a great price for live Dungeness crab. On the flip side, cooked Dungeness crab at Mollie Stones sells for $8 per pound, or basically the price you pay for having someone else do the dirty work for you.

I also bought my clams (you can use any kind) at Ranch for $4 per pound. When buying clams, make sure the shells are completely closed, unless you see the actual clam moving about. Open shells with no movement means the clam is dead.

When you get home, fill up a large container for both the crabs and the clams and pour in enough Kosher salt so that the water tastes like the ocean. Do this hours before you begin cooking and carefully place the crabs and clams in each. Warning: crabs are dangerous to a certain extent, so always use a pair of tongs when handling them.

Also be sure to cover the container the crabs are in – it's possible they could climb out. By placing the clams and crabs in water this way, you not only keep them alive longer but some of the impurities from the previous tank they were in is potentially flushed away.

Now lets make the cioppino sauce!

In a large, heavy bottomed pot (at least 12 quarts) add olive oil and heat on medium high until hot. Then add the onions, celery, and carrots. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring frequently until mixture has cooked down significantly. Next add the chopped garlic and 1 cup of the parsley and stir for another minute or two.

Next, add the 2 cans of chopped tomatoes. Alert: product placement! I use Muir Glen organic chopped tomatoes as I find it's the best canned tomato product to cook with (oh, how I wish they paid me!) After adding the tomatoes, fill up both cans with H2O and add the water to the pot. Also: add the herbs and pepper (optional: you could also add chopped chili pepper flakes for that extra wowee).

Stir glamorously and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for an hour and a half.

Let's revisit those crabs, shall we? First, friends, we must discuss this killing business.

Frankly, it's unavoidable in this situation – so how best to do it if it really bothers you? And actually, if it bothers you then I'm glad to have you as a reader because I think it should bother you. It bothers me. Part of being human is that we are hard-wired to empathize with the suffering of other living things. If we, through whatever method or reason, become incapable of feeling the pain of others, then we are truly denying our magnificient potential as human beings, and that's not healthy or sane. To feel for others is natural, it's instinctual, and it's part of this grand evolution to which we belong.

But we do have to eat, and we – in this case – are not vegetarians. The best way to minimize the suffering of the crab is to anesthetize it and then kill it quickly. This can be done first by taking the crabs from the holding tank (or the container you've used up to this point) and placing them in the freezer (Harold McGee suggest using ice water). Here I've placed them in a cloth sack and tied the top. Once I've gotten them in the bag and have it placed in the freezer, I keep them in there for at least an hour.

You may be surprised when, even after an hour, you take them out and they are still moving. Crabs are able to tolerate the cold waters of the Pacific – your freezer is only slightly colder. The cold forces the crab into a semi-dormancy and dulls its pain receptors. This, however, doesn't kill the crab.

To quickly kill it, turn it on its back while still using the tongs to hold it. On its belly, there is a triangular flap that points towards the crab's head. Lift the flap back and hold it down (you may need two people to do this). Towards the top of where the flap was, there is a small indentation.

Using a small screwdriver (or chopstick) and with a good whack, penetrate the crab's body until you hit the other side, but without going through the shell. Now quickly jack the handle back so that the tip of the screwdriver is towards the front of the crab. This kills the crab.

Afterwards, turns the crab over a sink so that the body drains its retained water and fluids. It's now ready to cook.

First, add the crab to the cioppino sauce and then add the clams which you have scrubbed and drained. Bring back to a simmer and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

When the crab is cooked, remove it and add the cod and prawns to the pot. Cook, covered, an additional 10 minutes on simmer. While that's cooking, pull off the crab legs and reserve to a bowl.

The crab (obviously) will be hot, so careful not to burn yourself. However, this can be done without doing so. After you've removed the legs, clean the body of the crab by separating the upper and lower halves of the crab. Once you've pulled off the top, discard the top shell and wash out the yellow "crab butter". Pull out the lungs and discard them as well. Next, pull out the crab meat from the body and add to the bowl containing the legs.

When the cod and prawns have finished cooking, add the crab back to the pot - plus the wine- and simmer another 5 minutes.

We're done, people.

All that's left is to ladle into bowls and sprinkle with parsley (if you like). Of course, don't leave out the bread! Acme Sour Batard is the best fucking sourdough in San Francisco so you better go grab you a loaf.

One last thing: this stew came out a little more "vegetable-ly" than I prefer. It really should have more of a pronounced tomato flavor. So, right before you add the seafood, I suggest adding a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste to beef up the tomato flavor. Also, a little heat in this stew would go a long way, so feel free to add some cayenne or chili flakes to the sauce.

Hey! And there you have it!

San Francisco Cioppino! Straight from an old San Franciscan and written by a new-ish one.

If you aren't able to make this at home - or live too far from one of the many regular cioppino feeds - you could always take the next plane to SFO – only I'm pretty sure Art Treganza won't be there to greet you. And of course, you would have my high expectations to live up to.

I'd be so disappointed if you came out here and slept the whole time!


Friday, March 23, 2007

Fast Food Smell

There's a certain hour of night
At dusk
When the air has settled
And no one's around
Things are quiet
All but for the traffic in the distance
Nighttime colors are vivid
Peach, white, blue and red
And the smell of fast food on a passing breeze
Is the loneliest smell in the world

The acrid smell of all things fried
Is the tell-all fragrance
Of being stranded
Forced to fend for one's self
In a world so cold it will freeze you to the bone

Something those guys developed in the lab
And put in the food
Has the ability to create angels at dawn
And demons at night
A trick on the mind
Maybe unintended
But one that's as real as the blisters
On your hands and feet

I curse the smell!
It poisons my spit!
It crushes my spirit with its
Uniforms and dirty mops and
Steam, grease, and sounds of locking doors

I take no solace in distancing myself
From the smell of fast food
The stench of the familiar that catches me alone
Vulnerable and often tired
And flattens out the world
The way no other smell can
Just when I need the world to be sweet and round
Like a peach


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rule Baltannia

In May I'll be traveling to the South with Bruce to visit places I've never been, eat food I've never eaten, and see some of my relatives, including Mom.

But while my ticket says Atlanta, GA, I find myself dreaming it says Heathrow instead.

Unfortunately, I can't afford to visit both places this year, so instead I'm participating in Becks and Posh's St. George's Day Fish & Quips food blogathon, celebrating the joys of English food.

My contribution to this anthology of all things Anglo:

Balti cuisine.

Originating in the 1970s, Balti cuisine is an Anglo-Asian culinary phenomenon relatively unknown in America and on the Indian Subcontinent. It's birthplace centers in what now is referred to as the Balti Triangle of Birmingham, England; a one-mile area comprising over 50 restaurants, or balti houses.

Birmingham, or Brum, is England's second largest city and its most industrialized. Following the post-war economic boom, it experienced a massive wave of immigration from the Indian Subcontinent (primarily from Bangladesh) of men and their families looking jobs in factories and foundries. This migration, in turn, has made Brum into the least racially homogenous of all of England's core cities. Conversely, the rest of England is whiter than sour cream.

Today, tourism is one of Brum's largest industries – in part because of the fabulous abundance of balti houses, but to a large extent the waves of Duran Duran salmon who swim up-stream each year to spawn underneath the Birmingham Rotunda.

I haven't been to Birmingham or, for what it's worth, to me neither. But I have been to Brick Lane in London.

Brick Lane, in the historic East End, is a one road curry extravaganza full of restaurants and barkers who, if chosen, will lead you by the hand to their home restaurant where they will likely receive a commission for the 15th fickle tourist of the day.

Once seated in one of these dives, you will be handed a menu that will list a sikhload of dishes that you, if you're an American like me, will be clueless about and had no idea even existed. First, you must choose between balti, madras, bhuna, vindaloo, jalfrezi, rogan, dopiaza, and biryani. After you've settled with one of those categories, you must decide if you want chicken, lamb, vegetable and, in the rare case, beef. It's a daunting array of menu items that, if you're a newbie to the Brit-Asian curry/balti house scene, could make you scream bloody bhangra.

For example, check out the differences between a standard British Asian restaurant menu and an Indian American one. At first glance, they seem unrelated. However, upon further inspection many of the dishes are the same. It's as if the Brits say "give me the cuisine first and the ingredients second." Whereas Americans will say "I care more about the ingredient first, and just do with them whatever sounds good." Frankly, I prefer the British method since it automatically focuses on the essence of the cuisine rather than the details.

But you know, that's just how Americans are. So hung up on the details, they can't see the food for the cuisine – or the quagmire for the Iraq.

Anyhoo, Brick Lane in London is also in the middle of Banglatown and as such - and as Balti cuisine has migrated from Brum to London and beyond - has quickly become the Balti Belt of Banglatown. Balti houses abound and balti-style dishes can be found in most restaurants.

To be certain, Balti has become Britain's top curry house fave, leaving Chicken Tikka Masala still scratching in its dust.

There's some speculation as to where the word "balti" (as it pertains to the cuisine) comes from. Some say it's a region, others say it's a type of cooking vessel. I happen to think it's short for "Count Baltar", the evil cyborg in the original Battlestar Galactica series who was fond of terrorizing the rag-tag fleet of human survivors from the comfort of his flying saucer – which coincidentally (or is it?) has the wok-like appearance of what balti dishes are cooked and served in.

It's safe, however, to assume that the word balti in this context is a, ahem, Briticism – much like Chicken Tikka Masala and even the word "curry" itself.*

*Note: The English word "curry" has no direct translation into any of the 15 or more languages found on the Indian Subcontinent and is thought to be a British bastardization of the Hindi words "karai/karahi", which is the wok-like cooking vessel used to make a balti.

I am not an expert on balti by far. However, from what I can tell, balti dishes are medium-hot, somewhat dry, curries based on curry spices, lots of onions, meat (often chicken or prawns), and tomatoes. Most of the ingredients are prepared in advanced and then assembled quickly in a hot cooking vessel similar to a wok. Unlike the standard side order of basmati rice, most balti dishes are eaten with naan (bread).

For my homemade balti experience, I consulted several different websites with recipes, information, and history and I looked at a few different online restaurant menus. None of the South Asian cookbooks I own (all, except one old Curry Club cookbook, published in the US) contained a balti recipe, so I used the best one I could find online.

I've got to be up front with you – this is perhaps the best curry recipe I've ever made. And, seeing as I just dined at Shalimar on Polk Street yesterday and had the closest approximation to balti (Chicken Karahi) they have, this dish is far superior.

I'd like to thank Brett and his friend Brian for posting this recipe. I have fine-tuned it to my tastes and preferences and will share it with you...right now!

Chicken Balti for Yanks and Ex-Pats
Serves 3 - 4

Stage 1 ingredients
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup chicken stock
2 – 3 cloves garlic, grated
2-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 rounded tablespoon of tomato paste
2 teaspoons curry powder (Ship Madras brand)

Stage 2 ingredients
2 boneless, skinless whole chicken breasts, cubed
1 humongous yellow onion, diced
Plenty of vegetable cooking oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt

Stage 3 ingredients
2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green jalapeno, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
Balti Masala comprising a mixture of 1 teaspoon of each: ground turmeric, cumin, 1 bay leaf and 1 black cardamom.
1 teaspoon of cayenne powder
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoons of ground fenugreek
1 teaspoon of Garam Masala
1/2 cup of chopped, fresh cilantro
2 medium tomatoes, quartered

Brian's recipe calls for frying the chicken first. However, I'm modifying this recipe by making the curry sauce first.

Stage 1: The Curry Sauce

Add the 2 tablespoons oil to saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. When hot, add the diced medium onion, turn the heat down to medium and fry until the onions soften up. Then, add the garlic and ginger and saute for a minute or so. Next, add the curry powder and cook an additional 2 minutes. After, stir in the chicken stock, remove from the burner and allow several minutes to cool. When cool, process in a food processor or blender until smooth and then return to the saucepan. Next, stir in the tomato paste and bring to simmer; simmer for 5 minutes. When finished, cover and keep warm.

Stage 1 3/4: The Naan
Look, it makes no sense to try and replicate a tandoori oven in your kitchen. Trust me: I've tried.

Instead, turn your oven to it's lowest setting and pick up your phone. Dial the number to your closest Indian/Pakistani restaurant, order the naan (usually around $1 - $2 for a large piece) and go pick it up. Better yet, have it delivered. When it arrives, turn off your oven and stick the bread (wrapped in foil) inside to keep warm while you finish your curry.

Stage 2: The Chicken and Onions
Add a cup or so of oil to a wok and heat on high. When slightly smoking, add the chicken and stir fry in small batches, using a slotted spoon to stir and remove the pieces. Make sure your chicken pieces are somewhat dry before you put them in the hot oil, otherwise you'll get a lot of splatter. When the chicken pieces start to take on a golden color, remove to a large bowl or plate.

Next, pour out most of the oil leaving 2 to 3 tablespoon in the wok. Then add the onions and stir fry until they start to become transparent. Add the curry powder and 1 teaspoon of salt and fry another minute or so. Add the chicken stock and stir, making sure to scrape off "the love" from the bottom and sides of the wok. Keep the heat on high and reduce the liquid to a thick sauce, banking the chicken pieces up on the side of the wok if needed.

When finished, remove the mixture to a large bowl or plate and wipe off the gunk from the wok with lots of clean, dry paper towels.

Stage 3: The Balti
"Arrange all the ingredients near to the cooker as the process requires almost constant attention once started."

Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a wok set on medium heat and fry the jalapenos and green onions briefly. Next add the garlic and ginger – stir a few times - then add all of the dry spices. Careful not to burn the spices: if you need, remove the wok from the burner and continue to stir. Oh, and you may want to open some windows.

After cooking the dry mixture for a few minutes, add the Stage 2 ingredients and mix. Then, add the Stage 1 (curry sauce) ingredients and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Lastly, add the tomatoes and half of the chopped cilantro and cook until the tomatoes start to soften.

That's it.

To serve, spoon into bowls or, if you have them, karahis and serve with plenty of naan. No additional chutneys or relishes are needed.

I'm sorry...what's that?

Oh yeah: TYRA MAIL!

Proceed to the living room. There you will find your favorite reality game show, America's Next Top (quickly forgotten) Model, just coming on the telly. This balti was made for ANTM. Not because the dish is low cal – trust me, eating too many pieces of naan with oily baltis will turn you into America's Next Top Waddle ("kiss my fat ass!").

No, it goes with this show because balti cuisine is exactly what you want to be eating when suddenly confronted with important life questions such as:

Do you think Brittany's fake?

Behold! Crucial mysteries of the universe revealed:

Life doesn't make sense sometimes.

ANTM is balti. Twiggy: balti. Nigel Barker: motherfuckin' crazy balti.

Miss Jay: not balti. Miss Jay is just a big silly drag queen, but I love her anyway.

Bacon Press readers: the judges have decided. This chicken balti will proceed to the next round to see who will become America's Next Top Balti.

Will you?


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chiquita's Banana Boat


Daylight come and he wan' go home
Day, he say day, he say day, he say day, he say day, he say day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and he wan' go home

Work all night on a drink a'rum
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)
Stack banana till the morning come
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

Come, Mr. Tally Mon, tally me banana
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)
Carl Lindner, Chiquita Executive

Come, Mr. Tally Mon, tally me banana
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

It's six foot, seven foot, eight foot, BUNCH!
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)
Six foot, seven foot, eight foot, BUNCH!
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

Day, he say day-ay-ay-o
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)
Day, he say day, he say day, he say day, he say day, he say day
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

A beautiful bunch a'ripe banana
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)
Hide thee deadly black tarantula
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

It's six foot, seven foot, eight foot, BUNCH!
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)
Six foot, seven foot, eight foot, BUNCH!
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

Day, he say day-ay-ay-o
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)
Day, he say day, he say day, he say day, he say day, he say day
(Daylight come and he wan' go home)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Geographically Challenged Grocer

The Whole Foods market at 4th and Harrison employ people in their produce department who need a fucking City College course in World Geography.

I realize that ever since Michael Pollan shamefaced John Mackey into purchasing locally grown goods, Whole Foods has made a special effort to source their products and have, consequentially, made a big to-do about it to their customers.

I appreciate that.

However, like the pay difference between the average WF worker and John Mackey, the concept apparently must be repeated 19 times before it trickles down and enters the consciousness of their produce workers.

Case in point: Yesterday I walked into Whole Foods to purchase some fruit and a few veggies since, unfortunately, I missed the weekend Farmers Market. I wanted apples and/or pears even though I realize they are at the tail end of their season. Out of the many pears for sale, only one variety indicated that it was organic, but they were imported from Argentina. The rest were conventionally-grown American pears but at higher than conventional prices.

I mean, geez: I could've just gone to Safeway.

So, deciding against pears, I went to the apples. Conventional apples are notorious for harboring large amounts of pesticide residue, so if there's one thing to go organic on, it's apples.

While there were more organic choices in the apple aisle, all except one indicated they were from Washington or Oregon. I purchased a few Golden Delicious apples which were labeled (by Whole Foods) as grown in California. Note: I purchased them because they were grown in California. The stickers on the apples didn't say where they came from (except to say "Produce of USA") but they did say "organic" and had a website address.

Later on, I booted up and connected to the Net; went to the website and found out these apples were, in fact, grown in Washington.

Whatchu Talkin' Bout, Willis!?

But wait! It gets better.

While I continued shopping, I wandered over to a nice display of red bell peppers. Now, I realize bell peppers aren't in season yet, but if they're locally grown in a greenhouse, I'm okay with that. I started looking at the peppers, which were packaged three per bag under the Whole Foods 365 label. Again, the Whole Foods signage claimed they were California-grown. However, marked clearly on the bag for all to see were the words "Produce of Mexico".

There was a Whole Foods produce worker standing next to me, so I nicely pointed out the mistake to her. I'm sure that no matter how nice I was about it (I'm always as sweet as pie!), I came off like an asshole. Not that she could care – she didn't say or do anything except try to pull out the offending sign.

No "sorry, our mistake". No "oh, we're training someone new". Nothing. Nada. Not that I was expecting a royal bow and a plea for forgiveness, but a simple reply would've sufficed.

I hope I'm not overreacting but I feel there is a serious problem here.

It's called Fraud. It's called False Advertising.

And it's just lame.

Whole Foods' image in the mind of many is favorable, although that's somewhat hard to believe when you take into account their stagnant stock price. Perhaps that's due to the fact that for many people, "Whole Paycheck" isn't a term of endearment; they will eventually switch over to cheaper alternatives if and when given the chance. There are other negatives about the size and structure of the company that I won't elaborate on. However, if the inconsistency and indifferent customer service at the Whole Foods at 4th and Harrison in San Francisco is indicative of the company at large, I can't imagine them growing fiscally any time soon.

Service, reliability, and trust still count for something in this world.


PS I wasn't going to mention how God-fucking-awful the service in the meat department is at this store, but I will say these two words: gender discrimination. Check it out.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Rumination on Mercaptan

The weather's picking up and Spring is peeking its pretty little head out from underneath the clouds. A lot of springtime foods are hitting the market shelves, including everyone's favorite, asparagus, and consequentially there's a lot of chatter in the food blogosphere ranging from recipes, tips, anecdotes, and ramblings on this tender veggie.

I'm glad this vegetable is finally in season as it's easy to prepare, super nutritious, goes with anything, and super deelish.


I am OVER this pee smell!!!

No. I'm serious.

It has been twenty-four hours since I last ate asparagus – quickly blanched, cooled in ice water, drained, and served with a dollop of dill garlic sour cream sauce – and my pee is still freakin' reakin'! Yuck!

I swear - it's instant too. Like, five minutes after the last bite, I'll run to the bathroom and shoo! there it is. It's embarrassing in social situations where you have to pee standing next to someone else, which is bad enough anyway since close proximity is an instant pee blocker for many guys, including yours truly.

To make matters worse, the part of San Francisco I work in was without water for over an hour today, which meant the toilets wouldn't flush. I pity the fool who had to smell my pee; I am truly sorry – but if the choice is between smelly pee and doing away with one of my favorite vegetables, the stink is going to win hands down.

According to WebMD, the main cause of asparapee is our dear old friend sulfur - whose greatest hits include "That Rotten Egg Smell", "Garlic Breath", and the classic "He Who Smelt It, Dealt It". Furthermore, research studies indicate that some people produce the smell while others don't, while some lucky folks are incapable of smelling asparapee in the first place.

Normally, one would assume this tiny parcel of knowledge would be of no Real World use – that is, until you find yourself in a Port-a-John at the Stockton Asparagus Festival, praying that the last person who used it wasn't French and the guy standing next door is Ari Gold of Tel Aviv.

I'm sure there are some people out there who dig the smell of asparapee. Like, in their warped and twisted minds, it's the smell of Natural Things, and things that are "natural" are supposed to be holy, pure, wholesome and such. But please, spare me the crunchy, hippy bullshit. If I could take a pill for asparapee, I would do so in a New York minute. Because asparapee is just, plain, GROSS!

There are two things related to me that you never want to be on the receiving end of: 1) an envelope I licked shortly after eating a handful of almonds and 2) restroom privileges shortly after I've asparapeed.

Otherwise, we're good.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Cry Me A River

This has not been Afghanistan's motherfuckin' 21st century.

In fact, the last half of the 20th century was pretty shitty as well. Pretty soon, Turkmen parents will point to their neighbors to the south when scolding their children about how comfortable they have it – the Central Asian version of "unless you want to end up like little Johnny down the street, you better eat your damn mac and cheese before it gets cold".

Afghanistan is a land of stark beauty, and as such it bears the curse of beauty. It has existed century after century, burdened with the jealousies of her many lovers. I'm sure she's thought once or twice of just going gay, as if that would solve her problems. Sorry to inform you my dear, but the gay community has its share of nuts as well.

Starting in the late 1970s, Afghanistan was caught in the middle of a dying Cold War epic played out by the former Soviet Union and the United States. This idiotic feud started in Southeast Asia and worked its way northwest until, like Southeast Asia, the warring tribes of communism and capitalism accomplished absolutely nothing except to make a few rich men and warlords richer, and everyone else fucking miserable.

Out of the ashes was born a new kind of odious "ism" – Islamism; a worldview and system of societal control that takes cues from the Soviet system (authoritarianism) and right-wing American evangelicalism, puts them in a blender, and comes up with a stiff mixed-drink that will get you totally wasted on God, guns, and glory – quite literally.

After the fall of the Soviet-backed government, Afghanistan fell to the Islamists: those unlovable rapscallions we know as the Taliban. During their short-lived rule, the Taliban rode Afghanistan hard and put her away wet – in the process destroying the largest statues of the Buddha left in the world. All I can say is that if after we die we find out the Buddhists were right and everyone else was wrong, karma will be such a bitch for those fools.

As if waking from a bad dream to find your home on fire, Afghanistan entered the 21st century caught holding the September 11th bag for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The invasion and bombing of the country by the US succeeded in achieving two things: 1) it temporarily drove the Taliban into hiding while 2) bringing attention to the world that the Afghan version of the pimp hat is made with fetus fur.

Work it, gangsta!

Now, as if things couldn't possibly get any fucking worse, Mother Nature just has to go stickin' a big ol' rusty shank right in the kidneys of everyone's favorite Afghani-cisco restaurant, The Helmand.

What happened? Landslide, that's what happened.

Everyone likes to talk about earthquakes (and in fact, we've had a lot lately) and California, but landslides consistently do the most damage. The Helmand occupied one of the three buildings on Broadway recently red-tagged due to a landslide that happened behind them last Tuesday. Besides taking out the Helmand, it put a strip club and a decent Chinese restaurant out of business, as well as forcing 120 people temporarily from their homes.

The Helmand has been my favorite Afghan restaurant for years.

Actually, it has been my only Afghan restaurant for years.

Nevertheless, it's right up the street from where I work and for ten bucks, it has (or had?) the best lunch buffet in the area. Since it's been a while since I've eaten there, I really can't wax poetic about the food except to say that it was like a combo of two of my favorite cuisines – Arabic and Indian, with a little Turkish-Greek thrown in (okay that's actually four).

My favorite dish was a savory baked pumpkin dish with yogurt, as well as some of their curries. Sam reviewed it a little while back and can provide a far better review of the food than I can here.

The Helmand was a total freak of nature on Broadway. A few doors down is a strip club next to a head shop specializing in bongs, sneak-a-tokes, and fur-lined handcuffs. Across the street and to the left, another strip club. Across the street and to the right, quarter booths. Across the street and down the hill, a shop which specializes in preggers porn. Also in the neighborhood, lots of housing and an elementary school. And a pizza parlor.

This is why SF has the rep it does.

But the Helmand co-existed peacefully within the scheme of Broadway's pooniverse. It was an oasis of white tablecloths, sparkling water glasses, moody lighting, serene music, and waiters in tuxes smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood that invented the word "skank". As much as I feel for the residents displaced by the landslide, I am actually very sad to see the Helmand go.

Actually, our last parting wasn't a particularly happy one for me. I was totally stressed out and just wanted the peaceful tranquility only an all-you-can-eat Afghan buffet can give you. I walked into the restaurant, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the light, when I saw a packed house. I waited around awhile, but no one was leaving. Like a jilted lover, I stormed out in anger – spitting and cursing: "Damn this worrrrllllddd!!!!"

I should know better. Never leave a friend, a loved one, or a favorite restaurant in anger.

They could get hit by a bus. Or fall through a roof. Or damaged in a landslide. And then what would you have of your last moments together? There's no need to suffer through this tragedy, and yet here I am.

Hopefully, the folks who own and run the Helmand will recover from this setback and open shop again soon. Still, I should've appreciated the place more when it was around. Now all I have left are sweet and savory Arabic-Indian-Turkish-Greek memories.

Chalk it up to yet another catastrophe to hit the poor people of Afghanistan.