Towse: views from the hill

December 23, 2006

[FOOD] Vienna Teng. NOPA. Independent

Filed under: music,restaurants — Towse @ 5:30 pm

We listened last night to Vienna Teng at the Independent, preceded by a delish dinner at NOPA.

VT’s intro act was The Animators, well, Devon Copley and Alex Wong, a street-stripped-down version — the essence — of the band. Alex played some backup percussion and glockenspiel for VT. VT played some backup piano for the two. And a fun time was had by all. I liked them a lot. His nibs didn’t much care for them. Oh. That’s what makes God’s little green-blue world, though.

VT was wonderful as always. Such a voice. His nibs much prefers her live performances to her CDs, which he thinks are over produced and layer too much production on top of her unique voice. I like her CDs. More differences of opinion. Both of us agree, though, that live, she is marvelous. She has her patter down and she’s comfortable on stage. Hard to believe she is a reincarnated computer geek educated at Stanford, but there you have it.

She sang for over an hour, including CITY HALL and MISSION STREET, LULLABY FOR A STORMY NIGHT for her sister. She closed with an audience sing-along of SOON LOVE SOON and we all scattered out into the night with our souls intact.

She’s playing again tonight. She’d sold enough of tonight’s show that they added last night’s show, and happy we were they did. The younger younger nib is arriving in from Boston tonight after 11p and we’re picking him up at the airport. We couldn’t have made a show tonight.

If VT’s ever playing near you, get tickets.

We grabbed the 15 to Market Street and then the 21 Hayes up to Divisadero, getting there precisely at 6p (as was our plan) for a show with doors that opened at 8:30p for which we had will-call tickets. Why so early? Well, we’d been planning on dinner or at least something to eat beforehand. Last December, for a VT show at the I, we’d eaten at the Bean Bag Cafe, a small joint at the corner of Hayes and Divisadero.

This year, as we were poking around on the Web in the afternoon, we realized that there were several new restaurants in the neighborhood that hadn’t been there last year.

A new restaurant NOPA, which has got some buzz, had opened in the empty building kitty-corner to the BBC, a building which had been vacant with windows covered with butcher paper last December when we were waiting for the bus home.

560 Divisadero Street @ Hayes
San Francisco, CA 94117
Phone (415) 864-8643

Rather than make a reservation, we decided to show on their doorstep at 6p and see if we could get a table. If not, there were other places to try or the BBC.

NOPA’s bar opens at 5p. Dining starts at 6p. NOPA has a communal dining table and bar dinner seating that are first-come, first-serve. If we couldn’t grab a table, surely we could eat at the bar.

We showed at 6p and were told, yes, they had a table, but wouldn’t be able to seat us for ten minutes or so. Fine. We watched while they set everyone up who had a 6p reservation and then around 6:15, they sat us mid-room at a table for 4. I’m not a mid-room sort of person, but a table for 4 means you aren’t elbow to elbow with the person next to you so that was a plus.

Appetizers: (him) squash soup — which turned out to be a beef-barley soup with bits of tasty squash rather than the ginger-squash whirl that so many do. Although it wasn’t what we expected, it was tasty. (me) spinach salad with endive, slices of persimmon, walnuts, pomegranate seeds, a tasty bleu cheesy dressing. Delish.

Main: (him) pan roasted black cod on a lentil platform with chicory — tasty (me) lamb, cooked medium rare. Sliced. Looked a bit like some restaurants’ duck breast presentation. No bones. Drizzled with a mint/chopped garlic/onion/something sort of chimichurri sauce. Very tasty. Set on a bed of pureed celery root (cream and butter are such wondrous things). With a side of braised greens.

We had a bottle of pinot noir: ICI/LA-BAS pinot noir. 2002. Les Reveles. Ellee Valley.

Dessert: trio of sorbets: meyer lemon, blood orange, clementine. He was happy. I had a taste of each and a small glass of moscotel romano alicante (bodegas guitterez de la vega 2003) because they had no Bonny Doon vin glaciere. I like. Our charming waiter said he likes the moscatel but really likes the eiswein. Maybe next time.

See? Maybe next time already. Our meal was that good. Our wait staff was excellent. Always there. Happy to be there or a very good actor. Suggestions if you wanted. Not if you didn’t.

The building is a transformed bank, with some other incarnations in between. High ceilings. Impressive support structures. We noticed the criss-cross beam bracing over the door for earthquake retrofit, which seemed appropriate after we felt the shake during the Vienna Teng performance.

The vibe is friendly. The food is good. The place got more and more packed as the evening wended on. We got out about 8p and walked across the street and up half a block to the Independent. I stood in the like ten people long line while his nibs picked up the tickets. Doors opened at 8:30p for a 9p show. By then the line was down the block and wrapped around the corner.

We got great seats at a club table for four. The couple sharing the table had been behind us in line. The club, which is “intimate,” meaning small, filled up and then standing and then more standing. The mix was geezers like us and YUPs and gen-Xers and more Asians over the age of thirty than I’m used to seeing at a club. VT’s brother and younger sister were in the audience, she said. I didn’t see her mom and wouldn’t’ve recognized the sister at all. According to VT, the younger sister’s almost out of HS. When I knew her, she was probably four or five. Time moves on, doesn’t it?

If you’re headed to the Independent for a show and want a nice meal beforehand, showing up on NOPA’s doorstep at 6p will get you to the show on time with absolutely no stress. If you decide to eat after the show, NOPA serves dinner until 1 a.m., and the place was hopping at midnight as we waited (far longer than the twenty minutes MUNI claims for that time of night, but hey…) for a 21 back downtown.

Caught a 30 back to Washington Square Park and then walked home. The driver was a bit of a poophead. His nibs had pulled the STOP cord as we turned from Stockton onto Columbus. He yanked it again/again when it was clear the driver wasn’t stopping at the Park. The driver stopped mid street and said, “Next time, pull the cord sooner if you want me to stop.”

Huh? His nibs had pulled the cord like two blocks thataway back there! The driver must’ve been tired or having a hard night. He couldn’t damper my mood, though.

Nice, nice evening.

Herb Caen is spinning in his grave

Filed under: wordstuff — Towse @ 12:39 am

(as I commented on Zen’s blog) and repeat here because I think it’s worth repeating. …

The San Francisco Chronicle had an article late last month re Ferlinghetti getting tapped for a Commandeur des Arts et Lettres.


Ferlinghetti was pleased. When I first showed up to San Francisco after World War II, I was still wearing my French beret.

Later on in the article,

Although his surname and North Beach neighborhood bookstore usually associate him with Italians, Ferlinghetti has a strong French connection. His mother is part French, some of his best friends are French and many of his favorite memories are from living in France, he said.

In fact, Ferlinghetti would rather be called French than a beatnick.

“Obliterate that word,” he said. “I came to San Francisco before the beats. I was more of a bohemian and what they called a nonconformist. I didn’t do the 9 to 5, which is quite a French-based belief.”

beatnick? BEATNICK?

Our own Herb Caen coined the word back when and the Chronicle should have “beatnik” somewhere in their spellchecker.

For shame.

Harrison Bergeron

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 12:06 am

Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut (1961)

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April, for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.


Comments in a post at Noise in the Attic reminded me of this short story.

The post at Noise in the Attic was commenting on a recent news report: Seems a “high school in Needham, MA, has decided not to publish their Honor Roll in the newspaper any longer. Why? Because it causes stress in the students who don’t make it. Plus, adds the principal, it puts an “unhealthy emphasis on grades”.


December 22, 2006

And a happy Festivus Eve to you and yours

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 9:31 pm

Not that I’m a believer, mind you, but if you want your Festivus fix, go to



Video explaining How Festivus Poles Are Made.

An explanation of Festivus.

A click to

More …

I’m off down the hill to buy me mum some of the best chocolate truffles in the world. For Christmas? Festivus? Saturnalia? Winter solstice? Yule?

For Mom. Hope she likes them.

December 21, 2006

[FOOD] Earthshaking food at Cafe Bastille

Filed under: bookstores,food,quakes — Towse @ 7:38 pm

We still had a few odds and ends to get for gifts. Our extended family downsized the gift giving last year so the adults have a gift exchange. Only the offspring under 18 are exempt.

We’d sent off the gifts for the much-loved wicked stepdaughter and her family back where it snows a couple weeks back. But still.

Jettison. Jettison. Jettison. Let’s see. I’d decided unilaterally to heave-ho the stockings from Santa this year. After more than thirty years of stocking prep, I was tired. Santa’s elf was retiring. I haven’t told the younger nib yet. He flies in on the 23rd and I’ll break the news then. I don’t think my mom will miss hers. No more windup Godzilla monsters or reindeer meatballs for Dad’s stocking. It’s just not the same. His nibs and I decided heave-ho it was. No need to find little somethings to stash into stockings. Scratch that off the list.

There are still three under 18 who need gifts. A gift for me to give to Mom. A gift for his nibs to give to my bro. Or maybe it was the other way around. We needed gifts for the younger guys and one for the older younger guy’s guy. Gifts for each other except we already gave each other gifts and are more into the random gift giving than not. Some of my gifts, already purchased, needed a specific x to finish up the package.

So we walked downtown to Stacey’s Books (581 Market Street … support your local bookseller) yesterday afternoon, a mile or so. Found what we needed at Stacey’s, except that they didn’t carry a magazine I wanted a copy of to accompany the subscription I’d bought for one of the youngsters, so it was off to Fog City News just down Market Street where I found the magazine I wanted. If you are ever looking for an obscure magazine, stop at Fog City and see if they have a copy in their racks. Amazing place.

It was a bit early to eat (6p or so), but not too early and we were done shopping, heading home.We had a choice of places to eat on the way home (Sam’s, where we’d eaten just last week, any place on Belden Place, The House, and a couple hundred other choices). We opted for Belden Place and, specifically, for Cafe Bastille, where we’d eaten once before.

Cafe Bastille
22 Belden Place SF 94104
(415) 986-5673

French. Duh. All of the restaurants on Belden Place have an interior room or two and an outside eating area in the Belden Place alley. We walked in off the street without a reservation but we were early enough in the evening that that was no problem. Last night the weather was getting nippy, so we opted for eating inside. We were seated near the bar, rather than down in the cellar where we’d eaten the other time we’d been in.

I hadn’t remembered the food being as good that time as it was last night.

Last night it was very tasty.

His nibs started with Dungeness Crab Cakes served with french-fried fennel sticks, a mashup of greens and a spicy Pineapple and Chipotle Salsa. I had the Foie Gras Terrine served with orange marmalade (really!) and a basil-aioli swish on the plate. At the side was a puff pastry stuffed until it ooozed with cheese. We swopped halfway through. Both were delicious.

The two crab cakes were mostly crab with just enough filler to hold them together. The salsa was spicy enough to warm all the way down. The terrine was delicious and who would’ve ever thought that an orange marmalade would go well with it? The puff pastry was delicious and only about a thousand calories.

His nibs had the Braised Lamb Shank with an incredible sauce. Baby carrots and boiled new potatoes were added separately just before serving and so were crisp, not soggy. The lamb melted in your mouth. I had the roast duck, cooked medium rare (and, by golly, it came out medium rare!) sliced with sauce and with a scrumptious lentil dish spread underneath. [Update: and steamed asparagus spears. Peeled stems! I never go to the effort to peel asparagus stems. yow! How could I forget!] We gave each other bites for tastes but didn’t swap the plates.

We had a bottle of red wine from Cahors, imported by Kermit Lynch, the astounding import guy and wine merchant in Berkeley. Clos la Coutale. 80% Malbec, 20% Merlot. Way different from any Argentinian malbec blend we’ve ever had. Smooth and tasty enough that we decided we need to track down which San Francisco wine merchants carry Kermit Lynch imports. (Looks like San Francisco Wine Trading Company fer sures. I don’t know if K&L or Wine Club have any of his imports …)

For dessert we split the cognac creme brulee. The top cracked just as it should and the creme inside was soft but not oozy — not thickened excessively with carageenan or whatever, like you often find. Alas, no Bonny Doon vin glaciere on the dessert wine menu and nothing there seemed an acceptable substitute so I continued nursing my glass of water.

The service was excellent. The guy who came by to take away plates and fill water glasses was always there immediately when he should be and never hovering when you wished he’d be gone.

The only shadow on the meal was a loud-ish patron at the bar who was overly effusive and talky-talky with the staff, talking about buying her skirt in Paris (a short short short mini skirt that she was wearing over black pants) and introducing herself to other people who came to wait at the bar for their tables. I know her name. I know her grandfather’s name. I know what her boyfriend said when she bought the skirt. She reminded me of someone. Who? Who? Finally, thanks heaven, I realized right before we left that she reminded me (mannerisms, brain power, personality, mental whee!) of the woman who lives across the street from my parents. Man, that would’ve kept me awake all night.

So, why was the food so earthshaking at Cafe Bastille?

My seat shook. I looked down the banquette to see if someone’d just plopped themselves down or hauled themselves up. Nope. I looked around. I noticed his nibs looking around. “I felt a shake,” I said.

“I did too,” he answered.

No one else seemed to notice.

3.7 in Berkeley last night. 7:12 p.m.

[Update: For those folks unfamiliar with our earth cracks, that tremor (followed by a 2.2 aftershock at 00:55 this morning) was right, smack, dibby-dab on the (affectionately known as “Susan”) Hayward fault, it was.]

Bob Mankoff, New Yorker cartoon editor

Filed under: art,writing — Towse @ 8:39 am

Ever wonder what it takes to get a cartoon published in the New Yorker? Wonder no more. …

A post at Drawn! contains links to a three-part series over at the Huffington Post in which Matthew Diffee interviews Bob Mankoff.

There’s a very interesting read over at the Huffington Post. New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee has posted a 3-part discussion with Bob Mankoff, the magazine’s infamous cartoon editor. The two discuss the nature of humour, what makes a good cartoon, and I think, more importantly, what defines a New Yorker cartoon and sets it apart from the rest.


Clicks to the three parts of Diffee’s interview are contained in the blog entry.

Added bonus (for those who read all about the above in m.w and are saying, “So. What.”):

A 2001 Bob Staake interview with Mankoff at PlanetCartoonist.

Man, I mean. How hard can it be to draw one of those little cartoons and think up some caption for it?

Here. You try it.

December 20, 2006


Filed under: app,blog — Towse @ 11:25 pm

After folks started nattering about them a while back, I decided to join the crowd and added my “you are stardust” favicon here a week or so back.

Added a purple prose favicon to Internet Resources earlier today.

Wrote about favicons and such on the blog over there.

Some day I’ll really need to rethink the blog layout for that site, but I’d abandoned that blog for almost two years and only recently started keeping it up-to-date again. Each time I edit it and pull up the blog it’s like yowww! that was then, where is now?

Some photos of the tree.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 2:24 am

Some photos of the tree. Such as they are. Click Rudolph’s nose for entry to the gallery.

I’ll try again with a tripod tonight or tomorrow to see if I can get some sharper images. If the pictures turn out better, I’ll just update the gallery and tack a note up to that effect.

The tree, obviously, is not one of those elegant, symmetrical, sophisticated, balanced, artistic, themed trees but rather a tree with a motley collection of decorations accumulated over the years.

We boxed up several large boxes of decorations and a spare tree stand for the folks at NBC this year for their tree, but still had enough for several more trees in addition to the one we have.

Maybe next year I’ll be ready to give even more away. Or not. The ones we have have so many memories attached to them, and I keep buying just a few new ones each year. The kids won’t need to squabble over who gets the Christmas decorations after we settle in for our dirt naps. Each will inherit enough! for a tree! or two!

December 19, 2006

Augie Doggie’s Doggie Daddy’s dead

Filed under: people — Tags: — Towse @ 3:58 am

Joseph Barbera died, age 95.

Tell the Gatekeeper we voted you a free pass for the happiness you gave millions of rapt cartoon watchers over the years.

Thanks for hundreds (thousands, more like) of hours spent with Baba Louie and Quick Draw McGraw, Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, the prehistoric Flintstones, Bam-Bam and Pebbles, the futuristic Jetsons and all the rest of the gigantic gang of characters you and William Hanna created.

I can’t imagine my childhood without them.

Update: Sour Grapes reminds me, Don’t forget Tom and Jerry.

As if I could. A quick tour of YouTube gives us Tom and Jerry – The Cat Concerto (1946) and, in the spirit of the season, Tom and Jerry – The Night Before Christmas (1941)

December 18, 2006

Tree’s up.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 7:03 am

After much hemming and hawing and even a “why don’t we just rearrange the furniture” episode at lunchtime today, we went over and picked up the decorations and tree stand from where they live eleven months of the year, then stopped by Delancey Street Trees at Pier 32 and bought a tree this afternoon.

We’d already put up a crèche in our seldom-used fireplace a couple few weeks back and strung lights up on the deck.

… but the tree, the tree, we had no tree.

My fault. I hadn’t cleared the space we needed. We needed a day with nothing else happening to fetch the tree, which hasn’t been happening recently, too. But most of the fault was mine. Stuff stashed, spread, boxed in the space where the tree would live. I finally cleaned the space, but it’s just a week before Christmas and can I justify all the tree-effort for such a short spell?

The tree is a magical bit of Christmas for me and a pain in the rear for his nibs, the choosing, the dragging, the setting up, the lighting, the decorations. Because of the logistics these days, the getting and setting of the tree is even more a project than it ever was back in the days when we’d drive with the kids up into the mountains to cut a fresh tree from George McKenzie’s Christmas tree farm.

So I’d finally cleared the space, but we were so close to Christmas and his nibs didn’t much want to go through the exercise. I decided maybe we’d alternate years: a year for me with a tree, a year for him without one, but then today after I’d rearranged the furniture, I sat in one of the soft armchairs, staring out at the sun-shiny day, the bay, the blue skies, Mount Diablo in the distance, the boats, the east and the day was beautiful and I should’ve been at peace, but I felt as melancholy as you can feel without drowning in the black ooze. Sure it was all about Dad not being here this Christmas and his birthday and Skip’s just past and all the combined blues but then there was the there’ll-be-no-tree-this-year on top of it all.

His nibs, bless him, understood and said, let’s go get a tree, for pete’s sake, or words to that effect.

We sat on the sofa after dinner, in the dark, watching the lights twinkle on the almost-all-decorated tree, watching the lights twinkle on the bridge and in the East Bay, watching the candle in front of the crèche flicker while Jimmy Buffet sang Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War Is Over) …

(The Buffet Christmas Island album is one of my favorite Christmas collections — probably an even tie with Sinatra’s for the best-ever Christmas album of all time.)

… and although I’m still a bit melancholy about the season, the tree is tossing out tendrils of peace and happiness and my mood’s much improved over where it was early this afternoon. Much.

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