Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Yacht Rock Snacks at the Concord Pavilion

After a lot of talk about yacht rock lately, I finally stepped it up and went to see a live show by an icon of the genre: Michael McDonald.

He was billed with Earth, Wind and Fire at the KBLX Soul Festival at the "Sleep Train Pavilion" in Concord. (But officially, that is the last time I'm ever calling it that. It's the Concord Pavilion. Jeez. When did it switch from being the "Chronicle Pavilion" anyway?)

It's only a 40-minute drive, but it really feels like a day trip once you get out into those rolling, golden hills (and tract homes).

I love daycationing. (My friend Kate made that one up. It's a keeper.)

Here's the problem: I hate big arenas. I hate big venues in general. The hassle, the prices, and the draconian security all make me twitch. How was this going to play?

We decided to dive right in. I don't usually shop big festival vendors (as you can imagine from my weensy rant), but my friend Amber has an eagle eye.

Smack. Like you were just thwacked across the face with a whip made of sass.

I like to see a little flair in the food offerings at festivals. Tri tip with a full-on sidewalk caller qualifies. I wish you could hear the guy; he was expert.

It is nearly impossible for me not to order fake-cheese nachos at an arena-type event.

Amber made this insane popcorn using high-dollar olive oil and toasted pine nuts. You kind of have to cherry-pick a pine nut and then pop it in your piehole with a few puffs of popcorn. Worth it.

I brought some nuke-in-bag TJ's green beans sprinkled with salt and shunted into the sandwich cooler with a couple of smoked turkey-Jarlsberg pitas and some of those addictive Lundberg Farms honey dijon rice chips. Not quite as chic but you get the idea: save for the nachos, we're making a solid attempt at health here...

So of *course* we also got a giant fry boat full of chicken fingers and French fries. We're Americans!

The Highlight of the Whole Outing: Singer Angie Stone, ruling the roost from her secondary support slot, egged dozens and dozens and dozens of male crowd members to come down and strut in a giant circle around the first seating section while chanting "King I Am!" in a call and response fashion.

Gave a girl the goosebumps, it was so casually amazing. Lots of good hats in that crowd, too.

The McDonald. Sweet Freedom. Silver Fox.

Earth, Wind and Fire have been touring with the same founding core lineup for 37 years! At one point Philip Bailey (sporting a long, wide mohawk of cornrows and fancy jeans) asked the crowd to raise their arms if they'd been with the band since the beginning: more than half the boomer crowd stood up and represented. Again, goosebumps. Brand loyalty in action!

Was loving the modern Philip Bailey, and loving the Concord Pavilion experience in general.

Twas mellow and comfortable. Wide, comfy seats with lots of legroom underneath a giant shade topper. A small hike to the bathroom, but then a totally manageable little food court. No annoying sprawl. Chair rentals for the lawn seating behind the seated areas. Plushy lawn. A sunny 85 degrees turning to light jacket weather at night. Very little traffic congestion. Niiiiiiiiiiice.

I might just give big arenas a chance again.

Because even a San Francisco venue snob can undergo a sea change. Just so there are snacks to shape the tide.

Photos: TB

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dynamo Doughnut takes on D-town Livermore

Kate sashayed in the other day with a brown paper bag and started assembling a doughnut sampler platter for two on the kitchen table.

She'd gotten banana dulce de leche, chocolate star anise, and a gingery business with orange glaze -- all from Dynamo Doughnuts down on 24th.

The purpose? Duh, doughnuts are delicious.

But also, we did a taste test, because we've really been enjoying polling people lately on any number of random topics. Polls are IN.
  • We determined that the gingery business was moist and delightful, if a bit orangey (duh).
  • The chocolate star anise was far too intense for either of our morning palates and we both *think* we bit into a little piece of barky star anise, but upon reflection it was probably just a couple of dense bits of chocolate crumble.
  • We liked that banana dulce de leche number, with its crystally sugar outside and hidden sliver of banana inside.

But gotta say, wishing there were more gooey custardy filling up in there surrounding that little banana sliver that's tucked in the middle.

See? The dough-to-filling ratio isn't quite square.

But you can see how good that dough looks, right?

Perfect aeration.
Dense but floaty.

All in all, a solid foray into the realm of the Hot New Artisan Doughnut Shop, but what would the rest of the day's taste-testing hold for us?

(I like Shuna Lydon's thinger on getting up to make the doughnuts at Sara Spearin's operation, here.)

Aside: I've also tried one of Dynamo's apple maple bacon doughnuts -- now that's an inner tube of fried dough that's got a lot going on. Maybe too much! (I KNOW! Heresy. I love bacon too! And apples. And sweetened fried dough. I know. But it was a little much. Maybe "too sweet" was the problem. AND I LOVE MAPLE SYRUP ON MY BACON! I know. I was confused too.)

First a palate-cleansing, brilliantly black-peppery samosa thinger from Philz Coffee.(Kate's brown paper bag was full of surprises.) It was all potato, with no descernable curry flavor. I appreciated its black peppery purity.

Then off with a posse to Courtney's at 14th and Divisadero/Castro, home to the legendary deli case of $3 pre-made, gourmet sandwiches. (Ask around. It's oddly legendary. Like Sushi Zone, but without the wait. Or the raw fish, or the bill.)

We got a pigpile of those great little sandwiches. And this picture only shows the sandwich cooler *after* our group had already gone in for round one. That's right, the sandwich cooler.

Why a pigpile of sandwiches? Time to hit the river for some 90 degree summer shine.

My "home oven roasted" turkey sandwich (they really do print that on the little Avery label) with lettuce, HEIRLOOM tomato, cheese and mayo on a baguette *might* have been the culinary highlight of my weekend.

The tuna salad and avocado on sprouted wheat with lettuce and tomato would have been the close runner-up, then, partially because I think the sandwich was mislabeled and was *really* chicken salad and avocado, and I LOVE chicken salad.

Shiftlessly lazing about on the river all day is hard work...

...And requires a fair amount of fuel.

Good thing Historic Downtown Livermore is near the road to the river!

Would the doughnuts be anywhere near as succulent and tasty (and crazy-flavored) as the ones in at Dynamo in SF?

Er...no. Really not even close.

But the Donut Wheel had other redeeming qualities.

Like this insane cream dispenser.

And that guy, keeping it real with the weekend minutes. He's just cold kicking it in a doughnut shop on downtown First Street in Livermore, California, USA.

Where the doughnuts might not pass muster...

...But the streets are trellised and the western shop is tops!

Time to head home over the western hills.

Not far now.

photos: TB

Rest in peace, Paul Newman. I'd eat 50 hard-boiled eggs to have those blue eyes back.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Waterfront Cocktails Make Treasure Island a Pleasure

My music-loving friend Fresh and I decided to approach a recent all-day music festival with aplomb.

And a buzz. Crucial preparation for a day in the crowds!

Sinbad approves. (Albeit hesitantly, and suspiciously.)

A good group is key. So is a Campari Delight.

What a view at Sinbad's! Why was I not coming here for drinks for the last 11 years?
The food is even not so bad. Had some memorable crabcakes earlier this year after escaping the Epic/Waterbar opening mob.

Speak of the devils! Nice place to lunch in the sun, no?

Another Planet, part of the promo team behind the Treasure Island Music Festival, arranged for cushy buses to the fest.

The food was standard festival fare. Meh.

The Shepard Fairey Obama posters someone had put up all over the place were decidedly un-meh.

Kelly from Indie Mart was rocking it. She's doing another Indie Mart at Thee Parkside on Sunday, Oct 12, noon to 6. Gonna rock!

Hot Chip!

Ferris Wheel!

Going up...

And up...

The view from T.I. on high...

...Is very, very nice.

Night night, big wheel.

photos: TB and Fresh Pink

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tokyo Go Go Happy Hour is Happy Indeed

Yesterday I got that magical midweek text reading, "$3 handroll happy hour today?"

It meant that by 6pm, my friend Asha and I were going to be elbows deep into $3 handrolls, $3 Kirin draft beer, and $3 hot sakes at Tokyo Go Go...

...where one of SF's finest little happy hour deals is still rocking and rolling on weekdays:  5:30 to 7pm, 16th near Guerrero.

Because catching up with a girlfriend and double-fisting can go together just fine.

photos: TB

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Can Prana's Kitchen Transcend its Clubby Home?

Prana's had trouble squeezing into the foodie pantheon here in San Francisco, despite its parent, Zen Compound/Temple Nightclub, being a model for green business practices. What gives?

Identity Crisis
Having gone to an opening dinner last year and a couple of promo parties, and after going to dinner there tonight (which was tasty, btw) -- if I had to put my finger on it -- I think the issue is that it's got too much of an "oonce oonce" nightclub vibe for serious diners to get on the bus, even though James Jardine's 90% organic menu is actually fairly good, if a tad overwrought.

A Noteworthy Beverage
And the cocktails are great -- specifically one called 'The Devil Made Me Do It," made with pomegranate tequila and Damiana liqueur. (Interesting -- damiana is one of those hippie herbs, like coltsfoot, that can be substituted for tobacco; that's the only context in which I'd known of it.)

We literally never made it to 65% organic/biodynamic wine list, that drink was such a repeater. I almost wish I had another one right here!

Notable: There's *one* circular booth set right in front of a flickering gas fireplace, on the edge of the dining room -- a great secret spot to swing by for a romantical cocktail moment.

Off the Radar -- So Far
Certainly, the nightclub/restaurant thing has a place here in San Francisco. However, if you're too grown up for the club kids, and too club kiddy for the grown-ups, then you're stuck in limbo.

As far as I know, Paul Reidinger from the Guardian is the only member of the local press to review Prana in earnest in the SOMA restaurant's first year of business. (Correct me please if I'm wrong!) While offering praise for the menu, he noted a bit of overproduction and misplaced sweetness in some of the dishes, and I wholeheartedly agree.

A Mixed, Albeit Tasty, Bag
However, I will say that the spicy tuna-avocado tartare with tobiko and plantain chips ($14) is exemplary if unsurprising, and a too-sweetly sauced salmon entree is utterly redeemed by its sides of moist, glorious cactus fried rice and perfectly edgy broccolini.

A plate of saag paneer ravioli ($15) may be gummy on the pasta front, drowning in spiced Bloomsdale spinach puree and over-drizzled with aioli, but the flavors are actually fabulous, the spinach puree is silky, and the ballooning pouches of vegetarian ravioli filling are, in fact, addictively savory.

Throw in some ideally crispy-outside/soft-inside Pecorino-wasabi fries ($6), and it's good times.

Outside Lands
It's an odd space, though, on an odd block near a freeway overpass, hutched diagonally across the street from Kate O'Briens on Howard near First. The building housed alleged Asian mobster Dr. Winkie's Mercury Lounge during the dot-com boom (the Productopia.com holiday party held there had a shot luge and everything!), and before that, it was the legendary SF club DV8.

I don't foresee Prana hurting too much, although after a year in business, on a Wednesday at 8pm the restaurant was maybe 1/3 full (of exclusively female diners) while Anchor & Hope -- around the block in an alley -- was still bumping (sans generic-sounding house/trance music) at 10pm.

Bring On the Night(club)
But Prana hosted an Oracle buyout the night before, and between Zen Compound's Temple nightclub (which absorbs Prana come party time), the new-ish Temple record label, and other ventures including a laudable green consulting foray that's led clubs like Mezzanine to copycat Temple's compostable drinkware practices, the company should do fine.

This city seems to have a limitless supply of baggy-panted chaps and short-skirted dames willing to pay hundreds of bones for VIP bottle service, and those folks should have somewhere to indulge their glam city fantasies, no?

If there's fryer oil recycling, a vertical garden, and an energy-generating piezoelectric dance floor involved, then all the better.

Should I take credit for these crummy photos? Why not.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Yum Yum House to Become a Burgermeister?

Is the Burgermeister chain swooping into the former Yum Yum House space at 581 Valencia in San Francisco's Mission District?

Update, 1pm on 9.24.08: Nope!

Although late last night (see below) I reported that this might be the case, I emailed their head office this a.m. to confirm the rumor. I just got off the phone with Isaac Mogannum, the meister of Burgermeister, who was mystified.

"We're looking outside the city, but we have absolutely no plans to open a location in the Mission," he said, adding, "It's funny, someone just the other day told me there was a rumor going around that I was opening a location at 21st of Valencia. I do walk around the Mission a fair amount in my Burgermeister sweatshirt," he quipped. "Maybe people are just confused?"


Farewell to the Meatless General
Eater SF had reported Yum Yum House as shuttered back in May 2008, and then they broke a bit from the Business Times' New Fictitious Names Registered section, which noted that an entity called "Burger Bar" had filed at the address.

Twinklings that it was Hubert Keller's vaunted Burger Bar were quickly dispelled within the same day's posts.

(photo by Jefferson McCarley of the hopefully soon-to-be V Restaurant in San Francisco)

Since then, there's been little twitter on the Yum Yum front, except that perhaps they'd joined forces in some way with Big Lantern on 16th. Frankly, I'd forgotten about the whole thing. Until today!

Being "Hardcore" Pays Off
This morning I was taking a run/walk (run a block, walk a block -- it's what non-runners do when they want to try and be "hardcore" and do "interval training" and "feel boss"). I turned down Valencia between 17th and 16th and happened to switch from a run to a walk right in front of the former Yum Yum House.

Having been a fan of their meatless General Tso's chicken, I stopped to pay my respects. I peered into the door-sized opening in the plywood front, feeling a twinge of photographer's regret at having left the camera at home. (But whatever, who goes hardcore run/walking with a camera in their fanny pack?)

There were a couple of workmen in the very rear of the space, which was totally gutted and only had a strip of subfloor down.

"What's going to move in here?" I shouted. (They were really pretty far back there.)

"The Burger Mister!" the elder fellow shouted back.

"The Burger Mister?"

"Yes, the Burger Mister!" he asserted.

[pause, thinking]

"Oh, you mean Burgermeister?" I asked.

"Yes! Yes! The Burgermeister!"

Et voila. Information hits the world wide internet web information superhighway, and the hamster wheel keeps turning.

Seem(ed) Plausible to This Burger Mistress
Burgermeister just opened a new branch in Alameda in July 2008 to add to its Cole Valley/Castro/North Beach/Daly City mini-empire, so/but it wouldn't be out of the question for them to open one in the Mish this winter. (But they're not...)

Anyone have any deets on what really *is* going in at 581 Valencia? Let's hear 'em.