Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Perks at the Park

A stumpy guy in a baggy t-shirt and backwards cap saunters into the Grand Residences lobby, pausing at the concierge desk to throw a fat book of tickets at the counter. From the way he dresses, you’d never know he’s a famous baseball player.

“They’re all yours, man,” he says to the concierge while turning for the door, which is vacant for a moment until a frantic attendant jolts around the corner to open it, pulling himself together just in time to exude the finesse he was taught in training. An elegant smile, a poised “Good afternoon, sir,” and a smooth turn at just the right moment could earn him a quick few bucks. A shiny, black Ferrari waits for the baseball player in the porte-cochère, purring as if aroused to see him. The ball player speeds off after a few minutes of calibrating the leather seats and texting from his iPhone, leaving his uniformed employees envious and in his dust. At least we have tickets for tonight’s game.

It’s one of the few perks of working in a luxurious building for rich and glamorous people, a few of whom happen to be professional baseball players (sorry, I can’t give out names without subjecting myself to a potential lawsuit). Seats in Suite 1A, on the third base line, with perfect views of the field and the Bay. Ahh... Forget the hits, runs, errors, and runners left on – I’m all about the ambiance: the seagulls flying overhead, their white feathers contrasting with the purple sky; McCovey Cove packed with boaters hoping to catch the next home-run ball over AT&T Park’s right-field wall; and the skyline, where the deep blue water meets the last few minutes of sunset. Oh, and the beer. I’m all about the beer. Last night – and last Thursday night – I got it all: beer, ambiance, plus a fair amount of errors and runners left on.

Back to the perks? Yesterday, a shimmering (expensive looking) blue envelope came in the mail. It was sitting on my desk when I arrived at work. And you know what? I had been invited to a very high-end dinner and auction that would raise money for a diabetes foundation. Moi. Unfortunately, I had to mark the “I can’t attend this year, but I’m donating $_____” box. Except I left the line blank and instead inscribed a note at the bottom of the card in my nicest handwriting, with my most official pen: “Thank you for the invitation. I would be honored to attend, however I’m not in the position to make a monetary contribution at this time. Best of luck.” Horrible, but the truth. Now that I think about it, though, I didn’t even do my etiquette research before sending this off. Who knows if such a memo is proper? But my only other options were to buy a $25,000 table, a $10,000 table, or a $2,500 table – this was the “young professional” option. What kind of young professional has an extra $2,500, even if it is going to a good cause? (I mean, just because I work with the rich and glamorous doesn’t mean I am rich and glamorous.)

I sometimes feel like it, though, when I walk into AT&T Park with a suite ticket in my back pocket. Just one flash at the ticket-taker and my immodest alter-ego emerges. That’s right, step out of the way for the big spender, folks. Coming through. Can you tell? I’ve been very spoiled with these suite and club level tickets; I don’t even remember the last time I bought seats for myself, actually. And to be honest? I don’t think I’d like the $8 nosebleeds anymore, except for the awesome skyline view. You can’t beat that anywhere else.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who is Little Henry?

After living and working in San Francisco for about a year, I’ve been to plenty of great Italian restaurants. North Beach’s Little Italy is packed with tasty eateries, famous for their inventive flavors and recipes. But this anecdote is about Little Henry’s in – you guessed it – the Tenderloin. I’m not writing about Henry’s because my meal was great, or even good. It was off the charts – like, it didn’t even make the charts. I would give the bistro a zero for its food, but a ten for prompting the hilarity that ensued while I experienced its day-to-day spectacle.

It was a Sunday evening around 7:30, and Darren had just picked me up from work in the Jeep. Little Henry’s is down the block from our apartment, and every time we walk by it he remembers he wants to try the cuisine. This was my lucky night. “Are you in the mood for Mexican or Italian?” he asked while pulling into the parking garage. Hmmm. We had Mexican last night, and I was always game for dining in North Beach, so I chose Italian without hesitation. Little did I know we were headed to this hole in the TL (short for the Tenderloin, because “the ‘Loin” sounds too dirty and we like to make the ‘hood sound cool somehow). The restaurant is cute from the outside, but once you’re through the grubby doors you’re bombarded with a burnt Asian-food stench mixed with a hint of Italian seasoning, or something. It’s not right. We sat in the corner with a red-and-white checkered (paper) tablecloth draping down the table and across our laps.

“I’ll just have water,” I told the plump Asian granny who waddled over to take our order. Darren kicked me under the table. “Ow!”

“You don’t want water from here...” he whispered through clenched teeth, peeping back at the kitchen.

Jeesh, Dar. Drinking tap water – and eating off the floor, for that matter – doesn’t gross me out. He knew that, but I went along. “I’ll take a Sprite.” Little Henry’s menu isn’t too sizable, which is good news for an indecisive gal like myself. “What are your soups?” Minestrone, the waitress answered in her obscure accent. Her cheeks ballooned out from her face like a chipmunk’s – they jiggled when she moved her mouth – and for some reason she looked furious, which made this scene quite comical. A little Sprite oozed from my mouth as I giggled unwillingly. She glared at me like I was a disobedient child. (Well I’m sorry, but I’d never been to a half-Asian, half-Italian restaurant, and I found the whole idea beyond amusing.) I ordered some sort of pasta dish, and part of me expected rice noodles with marinara sauce. Not a trace of garlic occupied the “garlic” bread, and the house salad was dumped onto our plates straight from the bag. We filled up on the entrees but agreed we could’ve prepared a better meal at home – with our eyes closed.

As we thanked the granny (who still looked angry) and made our way to the door, a scrawny cook casually asked if we were on a first date, on our way to a movie. Now, I was in gym pants and a ragged sweatshirt, and I can’t say much for Darren’s ensemble either. But I guess that’s what people do when they go to Henry’s: They make a night of it. My eyes glittered up toward Darren’s, and once we were out the door we keeled over in hysterics, thinking that this place may not have the best food in town but sure has its own charm.

I just want to know who Henry is.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Pick Me Up With Sai Jai Thai

Last August, when I’d landed my (unpaid) internship at the Bay Guardian, I was forced to find two other jobs (one for the weekdays that I wasn’t at the Guardian, and another for the weekends) to pay the bills – rent in San Francisco aint cheap, you know. I spent long afternoons in Darren’s studio apartment – which he was sharing with a friend for the summer (yes, we were three grown adults living together in a 400-square-foot bachelor pad) – submitting my resume to cyberspace, wondering whether anyone was out there to receive it. I needed something fast. So when a man wrote back about a data entry position, I frolicked in triumph. (I’m still wondering what the hell data entry is.) He wanted to meet for an interview the next day at his office in the financial district. Sounded swell to me.

The next afternoon I wore my nicest suit and trotted down Market Street, feeling like a true professional, until I reached the address I’d jotted on a tattered sticky note and stuffed in my pants pocket. I paused. Not exactly what I’d expected. I entered through a long, dark hallway that stretched passed a 7-11 (and a group of bums asleep in a pile of trash) until running into a narrow lobby and three elevators.

“Five, please,” I told the scruffy door attendant. He looked drunk. Once I made it to the fifth floor and found the office, my palms and underarms were sticky. Dark stains splattered the carpet, and the once-white walls were brown with age. Rotten cigarette smoke filled the hallway (didn’t the city ban smoking in public places?). I felt overdressed in my elegant baby-blue blouse and patten leather pumps. The interviewee, a pompous Middle Eastern fellow dressed in what looked like a discounted, mismatched suit, was slouched in a rolling task chair in the center of the office, which, aside from one other wooden stool, was the only piece of furniture in the room. Creepy. I was so eager and desperate for a job, though, that I gave him and his putrid workplace the benefit of the doubt.

“Tell me about yourself,” the interrogation began. After a long while of chit-chatting and not much job talk, I started to get the feeling this guy was a phony. (We’d even gone downstairs to a bustling cafe for lattes. Was this normal? I had no idea.) Finally, he set me off: “You just moved to the city, so I assume you’re not married...”

“Uhhh, excuse me?!” I half asked and half demanded in a quivering holler. “I believe marital status and age (which he also asked me about) are legally off-limits during job interviews.” I snatched my purse and stormed out. Actually, I didn’t say this out loud, but I wish I had. My fright took over, and all that could escape was a meek “I have to go now.” But I did snatch my purse and storm out.

I called my mom on the walk home, shaking from the experience that had left me feeling vulnerable and stupid. Why’d I go and send my resume to these Craigslist freaks? I’d heard dozens of Craigslist horror stories; why didn’t they stop me? When Mom finished comforting me, I hung up and began to cry. I spotted our third roommate, Bryce, on the street a few minutes later; it was easy, because he was the only guy in a suit walking in the Tenderloin. (Maybe Bryce was the second roommate and I was the third... we never really established that. He slept on the couch, though, so I just figured he was number three.) When I told Bryce what had happened, he gave me an awkward hug (the sideways, one-arm kind) and the extra 75 cents I needed for my ultimate comfort food: Pad Thai. During those first few months in the city, I can’t tell you how many nights I spent crying with a good bowl of Thai noodles on my lap. The dish is just $6.95 at Sai Jai Thai, which the Chronicle named best “Cheap Eats” in 2008. There are a zillion other items on the menu, but Pad Thai will always be my favorite.

As expected, I felt better in no time.

Photo: &

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I Lost My Heart to the Farmer's Market

My littlest sister, Caitlin, came to visit last month. I’d been begging her to book a flight since I’d moved to the city, but as a university freshman she was completely penniless – an identifiable situation, I must admit, as many of my college memories include waiting for my financial aid checks roll in. Once I cashed them, I could hardly afford books and rent let alone a plane ticket. C’est la vie. But because this was my little sister, I agreed to split the exorbitant cost of airfare with her. She was San Francisco-bound in less than a week.

Caitlin and I are alike in many ways. For one, neither of us has a clue where we are – ever. We can’t distinguish north from south or east from west, which, unsurprisingly, renders us off course and perplexed each time one of us braves the driver’s seat. In high school, when I was just getting used to having a license and navigating the roads, my dad would sit by the phone after I’d leave the house, waiting for me to call with a whine that could only mean I was utterly lost and needed him to get me back on course.

“Daaaaaaad?” I would whimper once he picked up.

“Gee, why on earth are you calling, Honey?” He’d tease patiently, knowing exactly what was in store. After a moment of silence (hoping he hadn’t caused any tears, I imagine), he’d ask, “What’s around you?” because if he’d have wanted the cross streets or highway names, I would’ve felt brainless – and frustrated and distracted – for not knowing. So he never asked.



“A 7-11…”

“What else?”

“Oh. A Jeep dealership.”

“Ok, you’ll need to turn around at the next light.” I should’ve known; I always needed to turn around. After a few minutes back and forth like this, I’d eventually get to where I was going.

I spent seven years convincing myself that there was something wrong with me – that no one could possibly be this stupid without being chronically twisted upstairs – but recently I’ve come to terms with my directional challenges. My family humored me and named my condition – it’s just a case of Direxia (directional dyslexia?), they say. In fact, they tell me I come from a long line of direxic individuals; the gene happened to skip my father (and navigator), thank goodness, but my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and sisters aren’t so lucky. They’re just as lost as I am. Last year, Darren finally installed a GPS navigation system in my car, which also could have something to do with my new acceptance of the condition – I don’t stray off course anymore.

The day Caitlin was finally set to arrive in San Francisco, she wasn’t in the driver’s seat but still managed to get completely lost en route. She and her friend were coming from San Jose, and after making it into the city (the hard part), they drove all the way down Hyde Street until colliding with Fisherman’s Wharf. “Is O’Farrell before or after Broadway?” she asked after circling for a half hour. I had no idea. Remember north, south, east and west mean nothing to us.

“After,” I took a stab. Turns out I was wrong.

At any rate, she finally made it to my studio apartment in the Tenderloin, and that weekend was a ball. The best activity I planned was an outing to the incomparable Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. The concierge in me planned an entire weekend of activities, and the fusspot in me typed them out and listed them by date, time, and cost. This particular activity was on Saturday at 10 a.m. – before the cable car extravaganza and after breakfast – at no cost to us unless we chose to buy something. I picked up a mouthwatering basket of strawberries for $3, and we wandered through countless booths that sold original paintings, jewelry, crafts, clothing, and seemingly useless trinkets. On a September morning like this one, when the sky’s a dazzling blue and you can leave your windbreaker at home, the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market is picture perfect. As we strolled through the crowds, with the tender breeze rustling the palm trees and tickling our cheeks, I looked out to the sparkling Bay and couldn’t imagine a more beautiful scene.

It’s days like these that I lose my heart to San Francisco.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Oregon Fans Quack Together

You’d think being an Oregon Ducks fan in a city far from Eugene, Oregon would be a frightening adventure – especially when constantly surrounded by Cal and Stanford nuts – but it’s not. In fact, I might be having even more fun as an Oregon fan in California than I did as an Oregon fan in Oregon. You see, in the Beaver State, you’re expected to devote yourself to either the University of Oregon Ducks or the Oregon State Beavers (I just cringed as I typed that B word – all of you U of O bleaders can empathize). You chat with strangers about last week’s fourth-quarter fumble and astounding upset; you drive only a few minutes in any direction to find a shop that sells some sort of Ducks or Beavers (eehh) apparel; and half of the folks you see on Saturdays are usually sporting green and yellow or orange and black.

Here, there’s none of that. But last fall, when I first moved to San Francisco, I learned that Ducks buffs are expected of nothing less than making fools of themselves when spotting a fellow fan far from home. So when you see a guy in green and yellow, even if he’s all the way down the block and across the street, you’re required to yell, “GOOO DUCKS!” at the very top of your lungs until he turns and gives you an air-five. (You absolutely would never do this in Oregon. It would be silly, because there’d probably be an Oregon Ducks fanatic walking next to you to slap you a real high-five.)

The season opener is always a big deal. It means fall is finally here. It means you can wear your Oregon jersey around town without anyone looking at you funny. (Except I donned mine one day and got some stares, but they were mixed in with the air-fives and supportive quacks from the Ducks I ran into along the way.) During last year’s Cal game – which wasn’t the season opener but was just as exciting because it took place in the Bay Area – I was at work. I was paying my dues as a young professional, putting my nose to the grindstone six days per week including Saturdays and Sundays. Ugh. That was the day I wore my jersey. By the time the game had started, it was pouring so hard you’d think you were in Oregon (this was the first rain I’d seen since moving to SF, and at that point I was happy to be inside instead of out in the monsoon). As I sat all alone in my gloomy office, I was comforted by the fact that the Oregon Ducks – and the Oregon rain – were in town.

Today we’re playing Cal again, and the stunning skies are cloudless and blue. Although at Autzen it’s probably coming down in sheets. I’m wearing my jersey, of course, and hitting up the only true Oregon bar in the city: R Bar. The place has five plasmas devoted to University of Oregon games and bartenders who knock back shots with fellow Duck fans; it's no wonder regulars call it the Oregon headquarters of San Francisco. The drinks are dirt cheap: two-dollar cans of Michelob during Saturday match-ups and special events, which sometimes involve the staff barbecuing brats and burgers outside for customers. They even give out free “Go Ducks” koozies. Go Ducks!


Friday, September 25, 2009

Make Merry at Kezar's

Darren’s dad flew into town this afternoon to see the condo. After walking through the place a few times, my head was spinning with girly ideas for the patio – like foxy tomato vines growing up around the gate, and a little herb garden living next to it. Darren hated both of these ideas, and his dad just chuckled while I went on about them, but we were all in such great moods by the end of the day that we decided to make merry with my favorite food: chicken wings.

If you’re ever in the mood for chicken wings, go to Kezar’s in the Haight. The wings are fearfully spicy, but the zing doesn't linger uncomfortably on your lips or in your throat for hours afterward. Or maybe it does, and I just eat so fast and drink so much I don't notice. Either way, they're a perfect addition to a pitcher of Coors and a soccer game. For dinner we chose from fish and chips, barbecued sandwiches, and salads. Plasma televisions transmit all kinds of sports, from Giants baseball to rugby, and the pool tables and large seating areas draw crowds you'll want to party with.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Comfort of Piccalo

Today I’m finally a proud (girlfriend of a) homeowner! Darren and the building developer shook hands yesterday and signed the papers this afternoon. At last. We’ve been apartment hunting for four months – sadly and desperately tuning into HGTV’s House Hunters, My First Place, and Property Virgins almost every night, hoping for some insight into this crazy new world of housing markets, loans, and legal contracts. I even applied to be a participant on Property Virgins, although it’s filmed in Canada. (I figured if anyone could help us it was Sandra Rinamato.) That was rock bottom, though, when I thought the search would never end. Just last week we were still down in the dumps.

“Let’s just rent. I don’t care anymore,” Darren said one morning.
“There are some good deals out there. Two bedrooms. Close to work. I can’t –”
“But what about painting?” I interrupted like a lunatic. “I can’t paint a rented condo! And what about decorating and Ikea shopping? And the curtains – what about the curtains?”
“I don’t want paint or curtains,” he grumbled.
“Where will my plant go? It needs to be outside. On a patio. We need a patio. And rentals don’t have patios.” I spent the rest of the morning groaning and stomping around.

At some point during those four months, I turned into a real brat about the whole thing. Probably because I’m not the one taking out the loans or signing on the dotted lines, thank goodness. Anyway, my plant had been on the verge of death for weeks, and I guess it had some effect on my mood that morning. I’m a first-time plant owner, and I’m doing everything in my power to keep the poor thing alive. I have no idea what kind of shrub it is, but I assume it needs sunlight, and we don’t have any of that in our apartment, which is why Darren calls it the bat cave. I hate it. He loves it.

We have different ideas as far as decorating goes, too. He likes cold, hard, and modern: concrete floors, exposed steel piping, stark white walls – all of which we have at our new condo. He teases me for being a “country cottage” girl (think Martha Stewart and Pottery Barn), but I say I’m more of a contemporary-meets-traditional personality. In the design world, I believe they call this “transitional.” Even though we’ve been homeowners for just a few hours now, an innocent, hypothetical discussion about interior design – which materializes a couple of times per week during our HGTV viewings – usually ends in a full-blown brawl. There’s never been a point to decorate the bat cave, but it’s scary to think what might happen when we move into the new condo, with a blank canvas and two wild imaginations.

When Darren picked me up from work last night, I was ready to pop open a bottle of bubbly and celebrate ‘til the sun came up. But he hadn’t even signed the contract yet, let alone the closing papers, and he said he’d enjoy himself once the ink was dry on the closing documents. So instead of champagne and a much needed night on the town, we ordered our usual slices from Piccolo Pizza, a dirty little joint down the street from our dirty little apartment. One piece of pepperoni, two pieces of Piccolo’s (this kind comes with every topping imaginable), and one more slice of barbeque chicken. Oh, and cheese bread and Coca Cola. It’s a dirty little place, yes, but the pizza is to die for. And to me, it was still a perfect celebration.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Olive and Martinis

The first birthday away from home can be a strange one. Mom isn’t there to wake you up with an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday” and a lipstick-smeared kiss on the cheek; Dad isn’t around to joke about how old you’re getting (when I turned 20, I had this weird anxiety – a quarter-life crisis, if you can believe it – about not being a teenager anymore, so my kindhearted father truly convinced me that 20 was the new 10); and your sisters aren’t there to hang out with you after work or school while you’re dolling yourself up for a night out with friends. But if you’re away from home in a new city, you probably don’t have many friends to go out with anyway. At least my roommate and I didn’t when she turned 23 in early January, just three months after we’d moved to the still-intimidating metropolis of San Francisco. Having few friends and a birthday that fell on a Monday didn’t discourage her from hitting a bar and ordering too many cocktails, though. In that sense it was a normal birthday.

My roommate, Alexa, worked at a hotel on Union Square, about a 20-minute walk from our “two bedroom” apartment. It was a “two bedroom” apartment as opposed to a two bedroom one, because the second “bedroom” was actually a living room, just with a door attached. It was a cheap but common ploy that earned landlords some extra cash. As a result, needless to say, we didn’t have a living room. Alexa got home early on her birthday, around 4:30 p.m., her arms loaded with beautifully wrapped gifts, flowers, and cookies that had been sent from home. After I’d put in my hours at the Bay Guardian and arrived back at the “two bedroom,” I quickly wrapped a cheap Walgreens novel in cheap Walgreens paper, swathed with a Walgreens card and ribbon and the whole shebang, and set it nicely on her bed. It looked dumb next to the assembly of flowers that she’d flung beside it after trudging through the door. But whatever.

By the strike of 5 p.m., our green apple martinis were in hand. “Here’s to us, and to conquering San Francisco!” Our spirits were high even though we were the only ones out celebrating, clinking our glasses together in what we didn’t know then was a gay bar. The place was called Olive, and despite its grimy Tenderloin location, it was simply adorable from the outside and just couldn’t be passed up, especially because we were eager to escape the regular street bums and beggars lined up on the block. Hey, we were still new to the city.

The birthday girl and I were the first ones inside (I guess 5 p.m. is a little early for happy hour on a Monday), and much to our delight, we learned that Olive serves $5 cocktails and $8 pizzas all night on Mondays. At that moment, our plan to partake in the pre-arranged birthday pub crawl was out the window. The pizzas were a little too large to be called “individual size,” but we are both known for being able to eat practically twice our body weight on any given day, so they were no challenge to scarf down. Our favorite house martinis (the $5 ones) were Raspberry Drop and Chocolate Hazelnut. Mm-mm.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tickets to Tropesueno

Yerba Buena Lane is one of the cutest little streets in the Financial District. Last night I ate dinner at Tropisueño, one of the chic restaurants that line the charming block, because I’d had two free-taco coupons in my purse for more than a month and just couldn’t wait any longer to take advantage of them. I’d also had a ticket for a free margarita during happy hour, but happy hour ends at 7 and I don’t leave work until at least 7:30. A nice old man at Millennium Tower gave me the tickets after I’d helped him one day, but I’m not necessarily proud of how I earned them.

It was a Tuesday morning around 11, right about the time I usually stroll in, and I was turning my computer on to check the 23 emails that had swarmed my inbox that morning. (I know how many emails I have before even getting to work because, regrettably, I bought myself a BlackBerry and chose to sync it with my work email. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I catch myself at home on Friday nights reading lengthy messages from, for instance, the resident in Penthouse D – or the assistant to the resident in Penthouse D – about a dinner party that he wants to throw on the Club Level the next evening. Of course he’d like it catered by Michael Mina’s new restaurant, the most popular one in the city, because it’s just so convenient to have the restaurant right here in the building! (It’s located on the ground floor of the Tower.) He doesn’t think one day is too little time to orchestrate the party, because I must have some pull with the folks down at the restaurant. Oh! And would it be too much trouble to squeeze 30 people into that dining room? He knows it only seats 18, but he’s sure I can find a way to make it work.)

On this particular Tuesday I was trying to fathom my pulling off an event like this one, when that nice old man asked me to come and help him in the screening room (this is just a fancy name for the movie theater). I entered the cave-like space to find his three adorable grandchildren looking up at me with pleading eyes. I’d seen this before. It meant only one thing: They wanted popcorn. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if all I had to do was toss a bag of Jolly Time into the microwave and nuke it for three minutes. But no, my boss thought it was a good idea to have an old-fashioned popcorn machine and cart available in the theater, like the ones you see at a carnival. It was authentic. So I wheeled the thing over to a power outlet, turned it on, plunked a spoonful of coconut oil and 8 ounces of kernels into the kettle, and waited for the popping to start. It took about 15 minutes. Despite my tone, this really wasn’t a big deal, seeing as I make popcorn twice every Wednesday for “Movie Nights” (another one of my boss’ ideas) and twice again on Sundays for “49ers Game Days” (my idea, I admit). Perhaps the nice old man could sense my annoyance with his request – of which I am truly embarrassed, as my attitude that day goes against everything they taught us in concierge training (we’re supposed to be happy no matter what) – because later that day I received an envelope stuffed with Tropisueño coupons as a thank you.

When I finally got to use them last night, my mood was remarkable. And so was the food. And the margarita. (I couldn’t spend my free margarita voucher, but that didn’t stop me from ordering one.) I used my two taco coupons on – you guessed it – two tacos. They were swollen with juicy pork, pineapple, onion, and cilantro. And I treated myself to some rice and beans on the side. Thank you, nice old man, for the wonderful meal.

Photo: SF Station

Monday, September 21, 2009

Waterbar on Heart Day

The best (and most expensive) dinner I’ve had in the city was at the seafood restaurant Waterbar in celebration of Darren’s and my first Valentine’s Day in San Francisco. For some fabulous reason he not only surprised me but also decided it was appropriate to spend a week’s pay at the swanky Embarcadero eatery. The trickster knew I loved fish. That evening we jumped in a Yellow Cab outside of our dump of an apartment – way too overdressed for the scene on our street, I might add – and before I knew it we were headed toward the brilliant Bay Bridge, which was all lit up and reflecting off the black water.

I’d first heard of Waterbar while working at Millennium Tower’s sales office, answering phones and unofficially training to become a concierge on the condo’s Club Level (a.k.a. the amenities floor) by the time the luxurious building was set to open in April. Every week I’d meet with one of our seasoned sales executives – who is very famous for her 20-plus years of concierge-ing at the Grand Hyatt hotel on Union Square, she’ll tell you – to chat about snooty restaurants, theaters, cultural museums and ballets. I had to know about these things if I wanted to become a concierge. My excessive research on these places reminded me of the Information Gathering class I took sophomore year of college (of which our entire grade relied on one 100-page research paper); the professors (cruelly) dubbed it “Info Hell.” It gave me nightmares.

At the end of my concierge boot camp, I’d documented everything from lunch and dinner menus and hours of operation to driving directions from major intersections and freeways – I was prepared for any and all questions the residents would throw at me in April. I’d even created a thick Excel book chock-full of dates, times, food items, maps, and more. I haven’t looked at the book since my first day at the prestigious Tower.

Anyway, I knew what to expect before walking through the doors at Waterbar. I’d listed the joint near the top of my “SoMa Seafood Restaurants” chart in the aforementioned Excel book, and after our meal I secured it in the delicious-but-pretentious column. Near the top because it was highly recommended by the SF Chron’s famous food critic, Michael Bauer, and pretentious because diners donned executive collars and sipped brandy – their pinky fingers might even have been raised. Regardless, Darren and I were in heaven, perfectly content with our Vodka sodas. We splurged on dinner: lobster and spinach dip for appetizers, Skate Wing for dinner (I didn’t realize what a Skate was at the time), and a caramel ice cream thing for dessert. Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

Photo: Town and Country Travel Mag

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Asia SF and the Feeble Out-of-Towner

First of all, if you haven’t seen Julie Powell’s blog, The Julie/Julia Project, I urge you to leave this website and Google it. And if you don’t know about her project, then you probably haven’t read her book—if this is the case, please take ten minutes and stop by a Borders on your way home this evening. It’s worth it. I’m only halfway through the book and am already so inspired that I’ve created and pledged myself to this blog, for no particular reason but to blog. (I realize this probably doesn’t make any sense unless you’ve read the book.) See, I could just as easily write these words privately, in a journal, perhaps, but Julie says there’s something about submitting them to cyberspace that makes the whole process more stimulating. And if anyone ends up—gulp—reading the blog (Julie refers to blog readers as “bleaders” in her book), she says I’ll become more motivated to write, and in turn publish my thoughts, day after day.

Like Julie, I’m content in a job that’s not necessarily on par with my dream career—I certainly didn’t attend four years of college to become a concierge. But in this economy, I’m thrilled to have a paycheck at the end of each week, just like Julie was before she became a successful novelist and a main character in a hit Meryl Streep movie. Hm.

So here it goes . . . writing every day. Assessing the interesting venues of San Francisco (which is always a good idea for a concierge, I suppose). Expanding my horizons and stirring my creative juices. I know they’re in there somewhere.

It seems appropriate to write my first entry about the place that kicked off my entire San Francisco experience. I hadn’t even moved to the city yet—I was staying with my friend Maijken while frantically searching for non-existent journalism opportunities—and just so happened to be at her apartment on the night that she’d planned an outing to AsiaSF, the city’s most popular tranny bar. Maijken and her boyfriend had a pal staying with them from Portland, who was celebrating his 24th birthday. As a bad joke, we went to the bar without telling him the “waitresses” were actually men dressed as women. In fact, the men were so attractive as females—not to mention cute, funny and charming—that the birthday boy didn’t even realize they were males. Well, until the lap dance…

The $38 dollar Gold menu gets you three courses including dessert, plus live entertainment from the lovely “ladies” of AsiaSF. The dancers hoist themselves onto the bar and boogie to predictable tunes like I Love Rock and Roll (think Coyote Ugly gone wrong) while you sip your martini, trying to keep it from spewing out your nostrils during repressed hysterics. The food is so-so. The drinks are typical. The atmosphere is unmatched. If nothing else, you’re in for a good laugh—especially if you’re treating a helpless out-of-towner to dinner.

Photo: Special to The Chronicle / Christina Kochi Hernandez