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Punch Line Comedy Club

June 30, 2010

There’s nothing quite like a good night of comedy, your sides aching, tears streaming down your cheeks.  San Franciscans have been getting their laughs on at  Punch Line for decades, and last night I found out why.

When I think of comedy clubs, I think of a warehouse-like setting with black floors that turn sticky from booze  after every show.  I picture cheap tables with uncomfortable chairs bought from some wholesaler down in L.A.  But Punch Line is different.  It has a cozy, intimate feel, so no seat is very far from the stage.  The stage itself is pleasant to look at even without a comedian on it, as they have this cartoon-like painting of the city as a backdrop.  Even the floors are nice (hardwood), and if you time it right, you can nab a table with a couch.

The quality of the comedic talent this club attracts is top-notch.  Last night we saw a variety of comics, including the hilarious Hannibal Buress, a writer for SNL who was recently voted best comic in New York.   We also saw some great local talent, Louis Katz, who has been featured on Comedy Central and HBO.

Molinari’s Delicatessen: a North Beach Classic

June 15, 2010

If you’re ever in North Beach, in “Little Italy,” you have got to go to Molinari’s.  It’s got a classic, Old World feel – a long, narrow shop with a good selection of cheeses and a well-stocked deli counter.   While you wait to order, you stand amongst shelves of wine, delicate-looking packages of savoidari (lady fngers), tins of tuna that look like they could survive an air strike, “the good stuff” olive oil, amaretti cookies, an eclectic assortment of  imported Italian products.

If you’re having a cold sandwich, you can select your piece of bread from a bin, the way you select lobsters from a tank, only you get to help yourself.  I like to have the panini, and it’s what I recommend to everyone.  My favorite is I think the Luciano Special; you don’t have to remember the name because it’s easy to spot on the big black board with white plastic lettering.  It’s a grilled focaccia with prosciutto, mozarella, red peppers and sundried tomotoes.  It is a-mazing!

Every time I get my sandwich, I almost want to recite a poem.  In fact, I think I will.

Ode to my panini

Ode to my panini                                                                                                                            How golden brown and warm and havey                                                                       Your bountiful layers of freshly-carved prosciutto                                                        Perfect saltiness, delicately thin  and buttery                                                               Your heavenly-textured cheese and succulent peppers                                               Topped with sundried tomatoes – a red chewy piece of summer                             As I unwrap you I think I could not be happier                                                               Until I take my first bite

Quick Lunch Near Union Square: Cafe Venue

June 8, 2010

If you  are a tourist and want food that locals would eat, instead of the on-the-ground version of airplane food served to tourists, you usually have to wander a good way from the tourist-infested zones.   There might be more upscale restaurants that atrract tourists and locals alike, but what if you just want to have a simple lunch?

Well, if the “tourist ground-zero” at which you find yourself is Union Square, I have just the place.  I actually discovered it just last Sunday.  It’s called Cafe Venue, and I’ll tell you why, if you’re near Union Square and want a quick bite to eat but abhor fast food, this is the place to go.

1) It’s located only half a block away from Market Street. which means that to walk there from the heart of Union Square takes maybe 5 minutes if you walk slow and the traffic lights take a while to change.

2)   The menu features lunch staples such as sandwiches and salads.  The food is what I think of as typical Bay Area food – food with a fusion twist.  I’m not talking about your average “deliberate fusion” food, where the chef tries to make everything thoughtfully exotic.  I mean “regular” food like sandwiches and salads made with ingredients like avocados, sundried tomatoes, Thai penaut sauce – basically ingredients that would be considered out-of-the-ordinary in most other parts of the country but standard for this area.  Also “very California,” is the variety of fresh juices they offer.

3)  They have some outdoor seating.  There are actually only a few tables, but if the sun is out (and you have a sweater or jacket to protect you when the wind starts blowing), I highly recommend one of these tables.  So many different typesp of people walk past; it’s a great place to “people watch.”

Chipotle Mexican Grill

June 1, 2010

Any combination of  beans, rice, a variety of meats, cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream wrapped up in a tortilla are called what?  If it’s a corn tortilla, they’re called  tacos. If it’s a flour tortilla, they’re called burritos.

I want to stop eating animals, but I find it hard to resist tacos made with steak (carne asada) or burritos made with pork (carnitas). Luckily for my conscience and waistline, I don’t go to taquerias (restaurants featuring an assembly line of cooks putting together tacos, quesadillas and burritos behind a counter) very often.

My favorite taqueria is in the Mission district (where you’ll find a lot of the best Mexican food), but getting there from my apartment near Union Square involves taking Muni, which I am spoiled not having to take often since I walk to work and use my car when venturing to a “distant” part of the city.

So what does all this have to do with Chipotle?  It’s a chain restaurant that allows customers to walk down an assembly line of servers who put together their food as the customers make their way down the counter.  My second-favorite taqueria in the Mission district actually has a similar setup, where the customers indicate which of the ingredients behind the counter they want.

I prefer a real taqueria, but I do find Chipotle to be an excellent alternative to other fast food options.   Somehow the food seems more fresh.  After a couple of documentaries and news shows, I now fear the frozen beef patties and chicken nuggets at other fast food vendors’.

My husband also likes the fresher aspect.  Unlike me, he cannot read Spanish and does not have enough taco-ordering experience to confidently order at a Mexcian taqueria.  That’s why he loves the menu at Chipotle; it’s very, very simple to use for someone who is not super familiar with ordering “taqueria style.”

Last week witnessed the grand opening of a Chipotle location right in the Union Square area (on O’Farrell near Powel).  Those of us who pass by their every day on our way to work have been intrigued since the “Burritofication in Proggress” signs went up and a new franchise was clearly popping up.

The hubby and I missed the grand opening, but we did go Chipotle the day after, since we live close to the Union Square area.  The food seemed less unhealthy than other fast food options we had on our walk home.  I am proud to report I got a vegetarian burrito, spared some animals, saved time by not cooking and tried out the latest place for tourists and shoppers near Union Square to get their taco fix.

99th Annual Bay to Breakers

May 19, 2010

What do you call a footrace where the participants dress up in costumes or wear nothing at all, throw old tortillas at each other and drink like there’s no tomorrow?  The beloved Bay to Breakers 12K – a San Francisco tradition since 1912.

I think of it as a “Mardi Gras with a California Fitness twist.”  Tolerance is the order of the day, and people feel more than free to express themselves through their attire (or lack thereof).  Technically nudity is not allowed, and neither is the consumption of alcohol now, but as long as you are discreet (with the alcohol and not the nudity obviously), the police leave you alone.

It’s funny, but instead of asking each other in the week leading up to the third Sunday in May what they are doing for the weekend, San Franciscans ask each other “Are you going to the Bay to Breakers?”  It’s that big an event.  In terms of the actual number of people, we’re talking about 70,000 participants.

So what is the “Bay” and what is the “Breakers”?  Well, the race starts at Howard/Beale, near the Embarcadero, and ends at Golden Gate Park (the western side).   In terms of miles, that just under seven-and-a-half miles (7.46 mi).

A couple of cool factoids about Bay to Breakers?

* It was recently named one of the 101 things every sports fan must do before they die by ESPN.

* It is the world’s longest footrace that has been run consecutively without changing in length or changing course.

* It made the Guiness Book of World Records in 1986, when 110,000 people participated in the event.

Next year is the 100th year of the race, and you can bet that I will be there.  Will you? A New Way to Travel

May 12, 2010

When you live in a beautiful city that lots of people want to visit, like San Francisco, you get a bit jaded.   That lovely park at the top of Nob Hill?  A place where neighborhood dogs love to go and mark the trees and bushes.   Riding  one of the iconic cable cars?  A way to get to and from work that you always pray is not so packed with tourists that you can’t wedge  yourself into a tiny space with someone’s arm in your face and someone’s bag against your back.

San Francisco’s such a great city, but I catch myself often not appreciating it as much as I should.  That’s why I love when my husband and I  have people visiting us from abroad – especially if it’s their first time in the city.  Suddenly I start to see the city through their eyes.  Their sense of wonder rubs off on me, and I get a rush of civic pride.  I want to show off my city, take them to all of my favorite places.

Another benefit of having international visitors is that we get to practice the languages we know other than English.  My husband, for example, has someone with whom to speak Norwegian when friends from his native Norway visit.  I brush up on my interpretation skills when we have Spanish-speaking guests.

For these reasons, I was happy to find an online community called Tripping.  Its website allows for global hospitality exchange.  Here is how it works: You register on the site (takes less than a minute) and then search for members living in your desired destination. You browse through the list of registered users (and their profiles) then explore their availability for hosting.

Hosting means that the local member of Tripping (“Host”) gives the travelers (“Trippers”) a genuine experience of their culture through everything from meeting up for a cup of coffee, to taking them to their favorite restaurant (that most tourists never see), to sharing their home with the Trippers.

For me, being a Host through Tripping would give me the perfect opportunity for re-charging my “Appreciation of the City” battery.   Also, as a Host I would in turn be able to experience part of the Trippers’ culture just by hosting them.

Interacting with strangers who are intrigued by other cultures and genuinely want to experience the country on more than just a superficial touristy level I foresee as being very positive.  I’ve traveled a lot and stayed in strangers’ homes, and I always ended up making friends.  That’s the beauty of hosting a Tripper; then when I want to visit their home country, I will have friends with whom I can stay.

Best Hamburgers in San Francisco: Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers

May 3, 2010

Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers is the best burger joint in town – maybe the world. It’s definitely a hole-in-the-wall, and is very near the Tenderloin District (if it’s not officially considered part of it). I’ve never felt unsafe there, but it’s definitely a different scene from the more upscale Union Square area nearby.

The food is delicious, and the prices are very, very reasonable. The burgers come “standard” with Nieman Ranch beef patties, but you can also order buffalo burgers (buffalo meat is supposed to be even leaner than chicken) or Kobe beef burgers. Pearl’s also offers poultry burgers (chicken or turkey) and vegetarian burgers.

Estancia beef is their latest offering, and it’s actually free-range and grass-fed beef from Uruguay. Even taking the transport required into account, it’s still better for the environment than beef from ginormous-farm-raised cows in the States apparently. It’s “good for people, good for the animals, and good for the environment.”

What really makes Pearl’s stand out, though, is the complete “burger experience.” Along with your burger you have to get some onion rings or sweet potato fries. You don’t even have to choose. They have combinations of fried goodness like “frings” (fries + onion rings) and “springs” (sweet potato fries + onion rings). If you are in the mood for walking on the wild side, order the chili cheese fries. The calories and cholesterol might kill you, but at least you’ll die happy.

Also part of the ultimate Pearl’s experience are their awesome milkshakes. The milkshakes are an absolute must!! They come in all kinds of fruit flavors in addition to flavors such as peanut butter and Oreo. Even if I knew that drinking them definitely caused something like deafness (it doesn’t), I would totally go deaf rather than not enjoy their cold, delicious caress on my tongue. I order a shake even when we get our food to go, and although I live only a few blocks away, the shake is gone before I get home.

Pearl’s burgers are best enjoyed on the spot, however. If you take them home, the burgers and the fries start to get soggy. There is limited seating, but it doesn’t take that long to inhale – I mean eat – a burger and sides, so there is pretty good seating turnover. The bathrooms are nice and clean, so having to pee but not wanting to stay because of a gross toilet is definitely not an issue.

Just so you’re not disappointed, you should be warned that Pearl’s is closed on Sundays. My husband and I found that out the hard way, and we were devastated; we ended up getting a burger closer to Union Square and hated it.  The burgers at the other place were not as good and the shake was twice the price and not even half as tasty. That’s the bad news as far as opening hours.  The good news is, Pearl’s is open ’til 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights/mornings, making Pearl’s burgers what my husband calls the “ultimate [drinking] night food.”

Glen Park Festival

April 27, 2010

This weekend, my husband and I went to see a house for rent in Glen Park, a neighborhood in the southern part of San Francisco.  Even though we’ve lived in the city for three-and-a-half years, I haven’t been to that part of town before.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Glen Park, based on my one visit, is a quiet little part of town.  The Glen Park Festival happened to be going on the day we went to the open house, and my husband – the typical Norwegian – had us arrive early.   It was an unbelievably warm day, so we headed to the small cluster of tents that was the festival.

It was rather quaint.   Most of the vendors were artists selling jewlery and other arts and crafts.   The cafes and restaurants flanking the little festival were filled with people out and about, enjoying their neighborhood.   Not a single franchise was in sight.

Glen Park, as far removed from the city as it seemed, was a surprisingly painless BART ride from downtown.   We would have enjoyed renting a house there, but I am certain we won’t get the place we went to see.  There were literally dozens of people at the open house, all desperate to put in an application.  It was an entire house with 2 bedrooms and parking (!) for $1750!

Even if we don’t get the apartment, at least I can now say I’ve been to Glen Park.  If you have a lazy weekend afternoon, it’s a great place to go and sit in a cafe or to shop at a “Whole Foods but more authentic” market.

2010 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival

April 19, 2010

I love festivals.   There’s nothing like turning a regular old day into a giant outdoor party.   That’s why yesterday when my friend invited me to meet her at the “Japantown festival,” I was excited to go.  I looked it up online, and it turned out to be officially called the  43rd Annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

San Francisco’s Japantown is fun to visit even when there are no festivities.  The neighborhood is really nice to walk around, and the Japanese stores have so many goodies.   It’s also really easy to get to from the Union Square area –   a straight shot down Sutter Street on the public bus (#3 Muni).   Or you can go on the #38 Muni down Geary Street.

Today was an especially fabulous day because the weather was “tee-shirt only.”  Naturally the four of us who met there all had jackets with us (locals always do), but they actually proved to be quite handy in providing shade during the demonstration by the Japanese sword club.  The seats were in the blazing sun, but there were few people complaining.  The previous Sunday had been pouring rain, so we were all glad for some sunshine.

My friend disobeyed one of the three cardinal rules of living in San Francisco though (Never leave the house without sunblock), so we limited our broiling time to about 40 minutes.  Then we headed for the shade to none other than Daiso; no trip to Japantown is complete without going there.  It is like a Japanese dollar store.  Everything there is $1.50 unless otherwise marked.  Locals love it, but if you’re a tourist, you should definitely stop by there if you want some really cute but inexpensive souvenirs like delicate little fans or beautiful little cups.

And of course no festival outing would be complete without the delicious street vendor fare.  We wandered past bonzai tree displays, cute tee-shirts and tons of shiny baubles to the bustling heart of the festival – the food vendors.   At first glance, the lines were a little disheartening, but they mostly moved fast.   Everything we tried was yummy, though I wasn’t feeling super adventurous in my food choices.  Next time I’ll have to try the Japanese popcorn, which I overheard someone say has seaweed in it.

There’s a two-hour parade that starts at City Hall, but we had to miss it because we had to leave.   But next year I definitely plan to see it.    Anyone in town that day should too.