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Posts Tagged ‘Castro Street’

Not Phở Enough

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on January 25, 2015

I’m a big fan of Vietnamese phở soup. Phở differs from north to south (Hanoi to Saigon) in Vietnam by the noodle width, sweetness of the broth, and choice of seasoning herbs. When I lived in Oakland, I frequented an establishment where the phở was southern (thin rice noodles, basil herbs, bean sprouts). Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve been introduced to northern phở (wider noodles, cilantro, no sprouts). Southern phở tends to predominate in much of San Francisco, with exceptions like My Father’s Kitchen, which specializes in Vietnamese comfort food where the phở is decidedly northern. For restaurants and eateries where Vietnamese cuisine is not the main focus of the menu, the phở is often mixed, for instance cilantro with sprouts. Within the past year, three separate establishments in the nearby neighborhood of the Castro have either been started with phở on the menu or have added phở to the items they offer. Since they don’t tend to offer authentic phở as such, this will be a review of the quality and taste of the phở, not its authenticity.
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URBAN PICNIC (4039 18th Street) is “casual” Vietnamese food located in a previous beloved pizza parlor. The tagline “California Vietnamese Eatery,” plus the fact that Urban Picnic is a mini-chain, emphasizes the “fast food” nature of this establishment, with that clean new chain vibe. That doesn’t mean the food is bad. The ingredients are all organic and locally sourced, with a preference for raw, minimally prepared and cooked items. But the service was lackadaisical, the soup selection limited, and the phở barely warm the three times I ate there.
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CASTRO TARTS (564 Castro) is a longtime Castro Street cafe that’s been through several iterations, the latest one offering Vietnamese sandwiches and phở soups. This place is funky and caters to the locals, with Supervisor Scott Weiner’s seal of approval posted on the window. The soup selection is pretty decent, although the quality is not much above average. The friendly ownership, and the in-house bakery items are a plus.
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SLURP NOODLE BAR (469 Castro Street) is owned by the same folks who put together the previous restaurant Fork, which took over the location occupied by the beloved Castro Fuzio. The makeover was not just physical, but gastronomical, with Slurp offering noodle dishes from around the world. The phở here is the best of the bunch in the Castro, but its only one item on a quite varied menu featuring top notch ingredients. This place is a regular Castro scene; crowded and loud, with a full bar for those interested in that kind of thing.

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Posted in Castro Street, life, San Francisco, San Francisco neighborhoods, The Castro | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Back to the “office”

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on May 6, 2014

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My novel rewrite is progressing in leaps and bounds, so to speak. From February, 2013 through April, 2014, I’ve been taking Cary Tennis‘s Finishing School, a workshop designed to get literary projects done. Last month, I read the whole novel out loud from hard copy, and noted corrections on my printout. Not exactly something I can do in public. With the “reading out loud” done, I’m back to my “office” away from my home office to make the changes in my digital copy in Scrivener. Today, I’m working at an excellent local coffee shop/dining establishment in the Castro called Réveille Coffee (4076 18th St), enjoying a pot of white tea. Here are pictures of my nomadic office. PS–the food here is excellent, if limited!
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Posted in Castro Street, life, San Francisco, The Castro, The Novel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 4

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 23, 2013

Consider this an extension to part 3 of this series.

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Before I get to the subject matter proper, let me note something right off the bat about my comparisons between San Francisco and Paris. San Francisco is exactly 231.89 square miles and approximately 825,863 in population as of 2012. Paris is 40.7 square miles, with approximately 2,234,000 people as of 2013. The density of Paris is 54,899/square mile, as compared to 17,620/square mile for San Francisco. Both urban experiences are very different from one to another. Ambling about San Francisco neighborhoods with one, two, at most three story houses which, if Victorian and no matter how quaint, are rarely older than the beginning of the 20th century or mid-19th century earliest, is quite different from strolling comparable Parisian neighborhoods of consistently four, five or six story tall apartment blocks, ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s in age. It’s often said that both San Francisco and Paris are walking cities. Yet the sense to walking each is quite distinct.

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Now, The Castro. There’s no precise geographic definition of “The Castro” as such, given that the concentration of gay people around Castro Street from 19th Street to Market is the focus of a much larger gay community that extends up to Eureka Street, over to at 22nd Street, and down Market Street past Dolores to straddle Church Street. Some contend that the community goes past Guerrero Street into parts of the Mission, over to Noe Valley and Corona Heights, up to Twin Peaks, and across to the Haight-Ashbury, with incursions into the Duboce Triangle and Dolores Heights. With the rather nebulous geography to this designation, I’ll roughly spiral out from its iconic center, The Castro Theatre at 429 Castro Street. The Theatre has been in the neighborhood for over a century, with a Spanish Colonial Baroque façade and massive neon sign, and a luxurious and ornate single screen interior with subtly convex and concave art deco walls and ceiling, plus the dark, capacious balcony. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ rises from the orchestra pit and is played before films and events, as well as nightly just for fun. The Castro Theatre is host to various special events; singalongs, film festivals (most notably, Frameline and the Jewish Film Festival), actor and author speaking engagements and the like. In contrast to Paris, San Francisco is gradually losing its cinema culture. The Castro Theatre is helping to hold the line against this loss.

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Cliff’s Variety Store is right down the street, and has been there for 75 years. This is more than a hardware store. If you can’t find it at Cliff’s, good chance it doesn’t exist. In the Boy Scouts, Tenderfoots were sent out to other campfires to find “left-handed smoke turners,” as a prank. Good chance Cliff’s has those, too. There is nothing like Cliff’s, not even in Paris. This matrix along Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street, and from Diamond Street to Noe Street, contains at least a dozen full-on bars, making these eight plus blocks one of the most intense party scenes in San Francisco. Which makes the existence of the Hartford Street Zen Center (57 Hartford St) all that more remarkable. Sister center to the San Francisco Zen Center, imagine attending the Friday night Hartford Street Zen Meditation & Recovery Meeting, based on Buddhist and AA principles, in the heart of the Castro, among throngs of alcohol-crazed revelers. A truly extraordinary experience. I mean, drinking is everywhere in Paris. People drink mostly wine and mostly with meals, and less often other types of alcohol at bars. Zen centers and AA groups can also be found in Paris, of course. But there is a frenzy to American alcohol use, and abuse, that is hard to find anywhere in French culture.

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Food is a big part of French culture, and its large on Castro Street as well. I’ll briefly mention my favorite places, the ones I frequent often. Frapez Spa (4092 18th St) is a fruit and vegetable smoothie bar that I hit three times a week, right after gym, for a healthy and filling 20 oz drink. The Anchor Oyster Bar (579 Castro St) has been in the neighborhood for 35+ years, offering fresh oysters, fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. The New England clam chowder and the chappino are particularly good. Buffalo Whole Food & Grain Co (598 Castro St) is a great little organic foods grocery with fresh vegetables inside, fresh fruit outside, and also a wall of supplements. Finally, there’s Spike’s Coffee and Teas (4117 19th St) where I regularly get my green tea. I can set up my laptop and work away (no wifi!) or read the NYT or just people watch. Plus, I have a card where I can pay in advance.

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What’s great about living in a neighborhood in San Francisco or Paris is that you’re in a village where you can meet most of your needs within easy walking distance. Case in point, Pioneer Renewer (4501 18th St), an old school shoe repair shop where I’ve had a half dozen of my shoes stretched to fit. The place is great, from the goofy decorations to the gruff old cobbler who takes care of my shoes. Then there’s Books & Bookshelves (99 Sanchez St) where you can find unfinished wood furniture and shelves of poetry books, perhaps the widest collection of poetry up to and including City Lights in North Beach!

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A couple additions to my “village” are the Immune Enhancement Project (3450 16th St) and Ike’s Place (3489 16th St). The former offers therapeutic massage and acupuncture (both of which I’ve extensively used) and the latter has a monster menu of over 50 sandwiches (many of which I’ve sampled), plus 4 additional locations. The therapies at IEP are common fare in Europe, whereas Ike’s cuisine is quite unique, as attested to by the lines around the block at lunch.

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Church Street is another main commercial drag in the Castro area. Aardvark Books (227 Church St) reminds me of the San Francisco Book Company in the 6th Arrondissement, a store crammed floor to ceiling with used books from cheap paperbacks to collectors editions. There’s also graphic novels, comics, magazines and new books. Like a lot of used bookstores in SF, this place is hanging on by a thread.

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We’re back on the food tip now, with references to Paris. Chow (215 Church St) is a decent enough local restaurant, unremarkable by San Francisco standards, let alone Parisian. It’s part of a San Francisco micro-chain. Thorough Bread and Pastry (248 Church St) rivals a good Paris patisserie/boulangerie, with its selection of sweet and savory baked goods, artisan breads and sandwiches. This place has tables but somewhat limited hours. Further up the street, there’s the completely unique Chile Pies (314 Church St), a sweet and savory pie shop that offers sit down and take out meals based on, what else, pie. There’s ice cream as well. It’s an offshoot of Green Chile Kitchen, so look for the big neon “PIE” sign. Further along still, there’s Samovar Tea Lounge (498 Sanchez Street). Lots of folks on the Eurasian continent love their tea, and as a consequence, make a ceremony out of drinking tea. The Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, British, and lastly, the French, are all keen for tea and ritual tea drinking. I found Parisian thé shops and cafes, while certainly more interesting than their British counterparts, just as limited, with a preference for perfumed teas. Samovar is no great shakes regarding the food it serves, which is small portioned and expensive. What is marvelous here are the teas. A half dozen each of green teas, white teas, black teas, oolongs, pu-ehr teas on a changing menu. Excellent.

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Our final destination is Mission Dolores Park. Unlike the managed and controlled French and British gardens/parks, in which man’s mastery over nature is evident, American gardens and parks are studies in “nature,” with a pretense to “wildness.” Grass is omnipresent, and meant to be walked on, sat on, picnicked on, etc. There are official tennis courts, a basketball court, a soccer area, and an extensive modern playground for the kiddies. There’s also an old clubhouse with restrooms. The unofficial areas of the park include gay beach (for sun bathing), hipster hill (millions of dead hipsters, please!), dog hill (watch out for dog shit), etc. The park’s microclimate is usually sunny and warm, perfect for the regular SF Mime Troupe performances by day, the Symphony performances, and the big screen Opera rebroadcasts in the evening. This is a magnificent resource for not just the neighborhood, but the entire city of San Francisco.

Posted in Aardvark Books, Anchor Oyster Bar, Bay Area, Books & Bookshelves, Buffalo Whole Food & Grain, Castro Street, Castro Theatre, Chile Pies, Chow Restaurant, City of Light, Cliff's Variety Store, Eureka Valley, Frameline, France, Frapez Spa, gay, Hartford Street Zen Center, Ike's Place, Immune Enhancement Project, independent bookstores, Jewish Film Festival, LGBT, life, Mission Dolores Park, Paris, Paris of the West, Parisian cafes, Pioneer Renewer, Samovar Tea Lounge, San Francisco, San Francisco Book Company, San Francisco Mime Troupe, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Zen Center, series, Spike's Coffee and Teas, The Castro, Thorough Bread and Pastry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 3

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 17, 2013

Gay folks are just folk. For the most part, they just want to live and let live, and a surprising number of them are quite traditional and conservative. Witness the embrace of gay marriage by the gay community.

A former friend of mine continues to rant and rail against gays who’ve “betrayed” their “gayness.” For this faux friend, who’s bi and mired in bourgeois alcoholism, the pre-AIDS gay life of the 1970s was the height of liberation, and any acceptance or endorsement of “middle-class” marriage within a gay context is worse than betrayal. It’s blasphemy and abomination, in an anti-religious sense of course.

This is incredibly tiresome, coming from someone who professes to be a freedom loving, leave me alone libertarian type. But enough about him. There’s plenty to be critical of about the San Francisco gay community, without having to mention gay marriage. I mean, personally, and even though I think Gavin Newsom is a dick, I was kind of jazzed when he initiated gay marriage in San Francisco as the mayor. Let’s move on, though.

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GAY PRIDE PARADE AND BRADLEY MANNING

The somewhat innocuous attempt to name Bradley Manning Grand Marshall of the 2013 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade raised a shitstorm from a staid SF Pride Board that stalled, maneuvered, and ultimately overturned the nomination of Bradley Manning. The SF Gay Pride Parade is festooned with corporate sponsorship, from Budweiser to Wells Fargo, and this has given the event a decidedly conservative, pro-business atmosphere despite all the drunken nudity and Dykes On Bikes.

The Bradley Manning contingent was large and spirited. Daniel Ellsberg acted as a surrogate Bradley Manning Grand Marshall and waved to the crowds wearing a pink boa. But, to be frank, the overturning of Proposition 8 by the Supreme Court overshadowed everything else on that day. Chelsea Manning (nee Bradley) languishes in the maximum-security U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth to this day, an American political prisoner and prisoner of conscience.

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HALLOWEEN IN THE CASTRO

I stopped blogging on October 10, 2007 when, at the time, I wondered about the lack of a plan on the part of the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Department to deal with the “threat” of the annual Castro Halloween street party. Well, it’s been six years, and the City and SFPD has successfully quashed that once vibrant, extremely large and rambunctious street celebration. People still dress up in costume and wander about the Castro, but the streets are no longer blocked off, the police are out in force, public drinking and nudity are severely dealt with, and the whole affair has become a sad relic of former glory days.

The gay community’s acquiescence to the City’s and SFPD’s efforts to bridle and tame this party should not go unmentioned. Indeed, this was a blow to the wild party spirit of San Francisco in general, from the aboveground nightlife of bars and clubs to the underground scene of shows and raves. Hanging out in the Castro on Halloween is only slightly naughtier than going out trick-or-treating with the kids. Oh well, such is life.

Posted in Bradley Manning, Castro Street, Chelsea Manning, Daniel Ellsberg, Gavin Newsom, gay, gay marriage, Halloween in the Castro, Halloween party, LGBT, life, political prisoner and prisoner of conscience, politics, San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, series | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »