Archive for May, 2005

J-Town Favorites

JapanTown While in attendance at the Asian Heritage Street Fair yesterday, I was fondly reminded of all my favorite little hangouts in Japantown. It was a welcome revisitation to some old favorites.

  • Super 7: I hit this awesome store first as I strolled the street fair yesterday. From the toy magazine of the same name, comes a store true to its mission: to bring japanese toy culture and art inspired by it to the masses. Note that they sell the appropriately-timed “I .
  • Kinokuniya: One of my favorite bookstores, with a wide variety of Japanese magazines, books, comics and more. There is also a english-language section. I have also discovered that there is a location down here in the South Bay, which I have been frequenting.
  • Izumiya: One of the few places I know of in the Bay Area that serves one of my favorite Japanese dishes, Okonomiyaki (AKA Japanese Pizza or Pancake).
  • On the Bridge: A nice stop for lunch during your visit to the Japan Center, especially since it is centrally located on the Webster bridge. Tasty typical Japanese lunch fare. Try the curry dishes and the uniquely Japanese pasta dishes. Check out the bookshelf of manga while you wait!
  • Mifune: A superior noodle house, with some of the best noodle dishes around, fast service and pretty good prices. Kids will love the Bullet Train dish. Remember, it’s okay to slurp the noodles!
  • May’s Coffee Shop: I always have to pick up a freshly-made Taiyaki whenever I come to Japantown, and May’s is the place to do it. They make both the traditional red-bean filled Taiyaki, as well as a semi-sweet chocolate filled one that is perfect for kids or the less adventurous. ;) They also have a wide variety of foods that are perfect for people on the go, or just passing through.
  • Japan Video: They rent the most comprehensive collection of Japanese movies, including full-length anime movies and full collections of original series (subtitled for you anime purists). They also have a small collection of Anime-inspired toys and goods for purchase. Look for the big Totoro at the front door.
  • Tokyo Motor Trenz and Auto Freak: these two stores cater to the most discriminating auto mod crowd, with completely useless accessories that just look cool. They also carry cell phone accessories that you probably can’t find anywhere else (blinky lighted phone straps, anyone?). It’s always fun to browse this store.
  • Maruwa Supermarket: Go here for your Japanese snack food fix. Arare, Okashi, Senbei and of course, the popular favorite, Pocky. They also carry a decent supply of typical Japanese grocery products.
  • Japantown Denny’s: I know, I know, it’s Denny’s. What’s really interesting about this location is that it used to be a Japanese movie theatre! It has some interesting Asian-inspired decor, and an interesting menu that includes both Denny’s old standbys alongside some Hawaiian plate lunch-inspired dishes.

Although J-Town is small, it certainly is home to a wonderful selection of restaurants and boutiques. Japan Center is one of my favorite places to visit on a rainy day, since most of it is indoors… keep this in mind for the next storm (and here in SF, we all know that can be at any time)!

Cinqueterre: A Few Names, But One Fantastic Eatery

Their sign says Cinque Terre Restaurant. Their business cards say Ristorante Cinqueterre. Of course, they mean the same thing, but a business shouldn’t make things harder for the folks calling 411.


But trust me – this place is worth the effort.

I’d meant to rave about Cinque Terre after my first visit, but didn’t. After last night, however, I can confirm that this place is one of North Beach’s finest restaurants and, sadly, one of its least crowded, which belies the quality of the food, service, and experience.

Located at 641 Vallejo, just off Columbus, Cinqueterre is just a few doors off the heavily beaten paths of North Beach, but where tourists seldom venture, locals will find a hidden treasure of a restaurant with a menu ranging from traditional gnocchi to some very unusually adorned pastas.

The interior is a festive orange and tan with photos and items from the stunning, cliffside Italian region that gives the restaurant its name. The waiters are Italian, friendly, attentive, and eager to recommend their favorite dishes and wine pairings.

Speaking of dishes – on my first visit, I had the Cannelloni All’Asitce, a crepe-like pasta stuffed with Maine lobster in a zucchini and sundried tomato saffron bechamel sauce. It was magnificent. Last night, I went for the Penne Giovanna, dressed in a shockingly green spinach cream sauce with pine nuts. The pasta was perfectly cooked and the sauce, while still plenty creamy, was filling without putting me in an immediate food coma. My Dad, who searches the world for gnocchi as good as my grandmother used to make, was quite pleased with the offerings there.

Though the food is excellent, try to keep yourself from clearing your plate if it means you won’t have room for dessert. No North Beach Restaurant opens without its own take on Tiramisu, and Cinqueterre’s version is light, generous, and perfect for sharing with other, nearly overstuffed, dinner mates. Hopefully, however, you’ll have brought enough people to also get the espresso flan which is unlike anything you’ve ever had – it’s absolutely the best thing to ever come on a chocolate-sauce drizzeled plate – smooth, creamy, original, and complex.

Finish your meal with a cordial of limoncello or a strong italian coffee and then immediately call your friends and tell them to give this find the business it deserves. It’s just that good.

Cinqueterre Ristorante – 641 Vallejo Street (at Columbus), 415-402-0895, entres range from $10-$20, wines by the glass and bottle from $6 (glass)- $25 (average, bottle).

For a Good Time, Call 415 364 1465

mundane journeysOne of the things I love about San Francisco is how you can find specialness in even the most ordinary corners. Just the other day, as some friends and I were walking by City Hall, we noticed that, intertwined with the usual symbols on the facade, were a pair of cow skulls. San Francisco is full of hidden gems like that, if you just slow down and look.

And if you need a hand, there’s Mundane Journeys. Once a week since 2001, a suggested journey is posted to an answering machine. Just call 415 364 1465 and hear the calm, collected voice of Kate Pocrass suggest a mundane journey. This week’s journey was right outside my door, where Kate instructed us to note the drunken brickwork of 1140 Cole Street.

Last year the journeys jumped into book form. The slight, beautiful edition makes a great companion in your travels in the city. And remember, the mundane, like the beautiful, is all in the eye of the beholder.


Has anyone noticed an increased amount of auto accidents happening over the last week? Or is this a regular occurence that I’m only now seeing with ridiculous frequency?

Driving to and from work on the 101, I’ve passed at least three accidents heading south in the morning and four accidents heading north at night this week. Three of those evening ones were around the junction with 85, making me wonder just how safe that particular stretch of highway is. More often than not, they’ve been bad, too… crunched-up front ends, two or three cars involved.

Actually, I’ve been wondering if the Bay Area’s under attack by a DRFOS (that would be a Dumb Ray From Outer Space for the pseudo-scientists playing along at home) or somesuch. The number of crazy drivers on city streets that I’ve observed has gone up this past week as well, along with a day where nobody could walk or pretend to be aware of the space around them. And I’m assuming I’ve probably been the same way.

Asian Heritage Street Fair

From the roommate comes news of the Asian Heritage Street Fair this Sunday:

Asian Heritage Street Fair
Sunday, May 22 @ 11 AM-6 PM
Japantown (Post between Laguna & Fillmore), San Francisco

Make your plans to attend the 1st Annual Asian Heritage Street Celebration

The final Ask Dr. Hal show (or: My lack of hipster stamina)

I’m going to have to become something of an apologist at the beginning of this post, because apparently I’m getting older and becoming a bloody milquetoast wanker when it comes to staying out late. I tried earlier this month to go to the Monade show at the Bottom of the Hill, on a Friday night at 10pm, but when Friday night rolled around, I was so sleep-deprived from the work week that I just ended up crashing early. Last night, same deal: I heard from my squidy friend Scott over at Laughing Squid that the last Ask Dr. Hal was upon us, and I wanted to see what I had been missing, since I hadn’t really known it was going on until maybe the last month or two. I figured I’d head down to the Odeon, grab a drink, catch the opening acts, get some good photographs from a strategically-picked vantage point along with Scott, and maybe even learn something new, an arcane bit of trivia dispensed from the good doctor.

That looks really good on paper, you bet. Allow me now to give an accouting of how disappointingly these plans would unravel. Or maybe would have gone better if I were hardcore, which I have since realized I am not.

Strange creatures

Local artisan Jonathan Grubb takes stuffed animals and alters them to become slightly unnerving yet still lovable, something akin to what might happen if Dr. Moreau mellowed out and wanted to experiment in the realm of cuddly. His latest installation is at the newly-opened Ritual Coffee Roasters at 1026 Valencia (@ 21st St.) in the Mission. He’s taking a few of them down tonight, but the rest will be up for a few more weeks. Others will also soon be seen at the Lola Gallery over the next couple of weekends as part of the San Francisco International Art Festival.

Saturday night, I got an interview on film (smaller file if you need it) with Grubb at Ritual Coffee Roasters’ grand opening party. And of course, the obligatory Flickr photo set.

Finals Schminals, Someone Pour Me Another Taste


There’s a sorta-tradition in law school that no studying shall be done immediately after an exam.

Not one to eschew tradition, I took some time off after yesterday’s test to go wine-tasting at SOMA’s Vino Venue (686 Mission, at 3d). A friend of mine has become quite the wineguy since moving to wine-country-adjacent SF earlier this year. He makes nice with the distributors who hold events at Vino Venue and gets the skinny on the happening tastes. Last night featured wines from Michael-David Vineyards – makers of the cleverly named 7 Deadly Zins and 6th Sense Syrah, as well as the Incognito, and Earthquake labels.

There were 8 wines available for a $5 flat fee. Not a bad deal.

earthquake bottle.jpg

I’m far from a wine expert, but I know what I like – which last night turned out to be the Earthquake Petite Sirah – winner of many gold medals from something somewhere that’s quite impressive. The petite was anything but small – even my novice nose appreciated the powerful, dark aromas: coffee, tobacco, cedar, overripe berries. It was – in the best way possible – a campfire in a glass.

Also tasty from this Lodi vineyard – the Incognito Viognier – which my tasting buddy says had the best nose of the night. It’s light, fragrant, and smells like a warm orchard at dusk. I tend to favor sweeter whites (bring me the right Riesling, and I’m yours), so this Viognier was a bit dry for my tastes – but hardly bad.

Vino Venue itself is a fine time – even absent a special event. Airy, welcoming, and less pretentious than you might think, it would make an ideal first date. According to my friend, the walls are merlot and chard colored – the result of the owner having taken two glasses of her favorite wines to the paint store and saying “make me that color.”

VV features a wide variety of other wines for tasting – nearly every varietal and blend you could think of, and many you can’t. An ingenious tasting system has you buying a debit card and slipping it into the tasting bars and then selecting your pour. It’s like an automat, but with booze. Or, as my friend says, it’s the Dave & Buster’s of Wine Tasting. There’s also a bar where you can order full glasses of your favorites, or flights of various series. Cheese plates are available, but I haven’t checked them out yet.

My only complaint about the Venue is their abnormally early closing hours – 9pm on weeknights, but only 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays. I suppose that makes it a good place to take a first date if you’re not sure you want to make it a late evening or not.

Vino Venue also offers classes. Their next special event is “The Women of Pinot Noir” on Monday, May 23d from 5:30 – 8:30pm.

Honest busking

I give street buskers a buck whenever I can. Always. Like I thought it would bring good art-karma or something, but more because it takes a bit of guts to set up on the street, and bravery should be rewarded. Along Clement Street in the Inner Richmond, we don’t often get buskers. Save for the one guy who seems to come out every week with his accordion on Clement and 4th, the only music you’ll hear comes wafting out of bars or thumping out of the cars, the cars that go boom. We’re Tigra and Bunny, and we… sorry. Or, occasionally, you’ll hear a tour trolley-bus full of drunken revellers belting out 80s tunes as they stop at the light outside your apartment (an accurance more amusing, fortunately, than annoying).

One night this week, there was a busker sitting on the step of a shop closed for the night, playing her guitar and singing as a couple people stood and watched. I moved in to drop a dollar in her tip box, and only caught the sign propped up behind it as I was leaning down: “Spare change for pot.”

I think San Francisco is the only city I’ve been in where one can get away with that sort of honesty.

Kites revisited

So this month’s lesson is “never promise video when you’re under tight deadlines at work.” My bad. Tandem-kites can be seen in the larger-sized 7.9MB file or the more eye strain but more bandwidth-friendly 2.6MB file.

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