Yesterday I took a bus into San Francisco to meet an old friend I haven’t seen for over 15 years who came in for a quick visit. Philip dropped me off in Petaluma. I got a coffee and a “croissant” at Starbucks to get some change. I am not a fan of Starbucks in general but I have been happy to have one available from time to time when better cafes could not be found or not be found in a hurry as was the case yesterday morning. I think I need a separate small post on how to eat a Starbuck’s croissant. Let’s just say that it was a punishment but I really needed something in my stomach to go with the banana – because I wouldn’t be catching a bite to eat again until 12:45pm.
Petaluma was gorgeous with fog just beginning to lift off the river. It was nippy and nice and I was almost a little bit cold. I didn’t bring a sweater because I knew San Francisco was going to be warm.
That’s right. San Francisco, the city everyone complains about being foggy and cold all the time, has decided to perversely be warm and painfully sunny every time I visit. Me – one of the few people who appreciates its natural weather tendencies – who embraces its chill air and overcast skies – it – look at that picture! I could barely take the picture because the sun was so stupidly bright.
I got off the bus at Golden Gate Avenue near Van Ness. Once you pass the government buildings this is firmly lower tenderloin territory and pretty rough. This part of the tenderloin is also almost completely comprised of black men. Mostly old. I don’t feel uncomfortable walking through this neighborhood at all. I mean – I certainly don’t wear a look of lost wonder or walk like a person in an idiotic naive cloud – but I’ve walked through that area since I was sixteen and I think it’s good to see all of the city’s neighborhoods so that you know what you’re saying when you say you love San Francisco.
The buildings in this picture are part of the wonderful city culture near Market street. The Golden Gate Theater is at the end near Market. The Warwick is right around the corner. This area is really close to Union Square but couldn’t be more different in flavor or reality.
This tall building with the Gap on the ground floor used to be the Woolworth’s building. I remember when it was Woolworth’s and had a coffee counter inside. I remember drinking the horrible thin coffee next to the old ladies in their best pilled up coats and their blued hair. That was the best part – sitting with the old ladies – some of whom still wore gloves. This was back in 1987, in case you like having a time line. I started going to school at FIDM which occupied a couple of floors above Woolworth’s. I graduated from that location and then eventually they moved to a new building a few blocks away. Woolworth’s closed and The Gap moved in. There may have been a few other stores occupying that ground floor space before the Gap got there but I can’t remember and it doesn’t matter.
When I was 19 years old my dad took me out to dinner at Kuleto’s with his wife at the time. I was feeling a little physically low – like I might be coming down with a cold – but I didn’t want to miss a chance to see my dad and be taken to dinner by him because that meant much better food than I normally got to eat. This night was memorable for the profoundly soul satisfying bowl of polenta I had that had chopped fresh rosemary, butter, and Parmesan in it. I think I ordered it on advice from my dad and I know when it came to the table I felt like I had just been delivered a bowl of porridge and wished I’d ordered a plate of lasagna instead. Until I tasted it. Until that day I had only been a subsistence cook. I made the most simple food possible and had no actual kitchen skills.
I had to figure out how to recreate that amazing dish of polenta. I couldn’t afford to go back to Kuleto’s on my own. This, my friends, is the place responsible for switching on my passion for cooking. In trying to recreate that dish at home I got to know my way around the kitchen and it was this same year that I learned to make cornish game hens to impress the object of my unrequited affection. (The tall Italian who taught me to say “Stallone Pantone” so I could say “Stud Muffin” in Italian to amuse myself)
I have never eaten at Tad’s Steaks. I usually don’t eat at places with meat as part of their name, for obvious reasons. Never-the-less the glitzy stripper-style sign is as much a part of my life on Powell street as a young fashion student as the Woolworth’s building and Blondie’s pizza by the slice and if it ever disappeared I think Powell would lose the tawdry flavor that keeps it from being completely engulfed in the vapid rich-person’s glamor of Union Square. The beauty is in the contrast.
The Union Square Christmas tree. It’s pretty. It’s pretty huge. I want to call it a “holiday tree” just to annoy the Christians who are feeling threatened by the most ridiculous things. If you think persecution means replacing messages of “Happy Christmas” with “Happy Holiday” I think maybe you need to talk to some people who were nailed to crosses or burnt on crosses or drowned in order to prove their innocence so that you can learn what the word “persecution” actually means.
Next up I will share the pics of my walk from Macy’s in Union Square to Valencia street where I met my friend for lunch. Mostly I’ll be sharing pictures of Market Street.
Do you have a favorite spot or landmark in downtown San Francisco?