Good “Eats” in The Richmond

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In my first two days in San Francisco staying in the Richmond neighborhood, I’ve eaten the majority of my meals on Clement St. 

I can’t complain about this though, because I’ve had two tremendous meals so far. I arrived last night and after not eating much throughout the day, I was starving and probably would’ve eaten just about anything. After the Sushi place we planned to visit was closed (they’re weirdly only open 3 days a week), we headed down to Clement where we could see a handful of restaurants within a two block span. We decided upon a Ramen noodle house (I was a little skeptical at first thinking of this type of Ramen, a major staple of my and most folks’ college diets), but it turned out better than I could have imagined. The dish we were served turned out to be much more like this-

 

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and came filled with delicious and tender braised beef, spinach and a wonderful broth. 

Anyway, back to Eats. When I asked my buddy where I should grab breakfast, he sent me right back down to Clement. 

Luckily the place was close and the recommendation turned out to be a good one. 

I strayed from my typical ordering habits and went with an “employee favorite,” (as listed on the chalk board), ‘Zoe’s Bacon & Fried Egg Sandwich’: Arugula, cheddar, tomatoes, spicy aioli, ciabatta and a side of potatoes.  I probably could have done without the Arugula and had them hold the cheddar, but the spicy aioli and deliciously soft and chewy ciabatta were excellent. Image

Also, the bacon was quite good, and it actually made me wish I had gotten a sandwich with sausage on it instead (I got some chicken sausage on the side) and then had the bacon as my side so I could have enjoyed it separately.

Other than the bread, the best part of the meal (other than the expectedly hipster vibe) was probably the side of potatoes. I had to travel all the way to San Francisco to find them, but I think they were the closest thing I’ve found to the amazing home-fries at the Pantry in New Haven (where I’m from, a restaurant I worked at briefly, and probably one of my favorite brunch spots anywhere). I thought I had done a post about it in my previous blog, but I guess not ( I should probably do one here at eventually). 

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The key elements to the pantry’s home-fries (and also those elements that the potatoes at Eats had in common) were the scallions, the small chunks of potato, and probably most importantly the crispy finish. Something about the home-fries at Eats were still lacking in comparison, but it was hard to place. I think it may have been a slight absence of seasoning, but all in all they were pretty great and a welcome reminder of days spent working at the pantry. While there, in order to make up for the rather boring task of peeling potatoes and the other less than glorious tasks required to prepare breakfast foods, the chefs would serve the staff as many potatoes they could eat.

Overall, my second trip down to Clement was well worth it. My only slight complaint might have been the priciness (something just over $20 for breakfast), but I guess that’s SF for you and since I’m on vacation I’m not going to worry about it (at least not until I realized that my next paycheck may be the last one for at least a little while…)

 

 

#5 “Hey. I got a bet. I come in this game right now, same score…” – Derek

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Look familiar?

I think I saw these same courts several years ago when I visited Venice; but while staying just up the beach from them this trip, I was able to get a great shot.

This intense scene comes from American History X, one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m not sure which came first, my appreciation for Edward Norton (probably one of my favorite actors) or my love of this movie.

Interestingly, I think some small element to my affinity for writing comes from various characters in movies I’ve liked who happen to be good writers, such as Derek’s little brother Danny (played by Edward Furlong) and Rob Brown’s leading character in ‘Finding Forrester,’ both a writing prodigy and basketball phenom.

American History X is certainly not for the faint of heart. The movie follows a group of neo-nazis living in a racially contentious period in LA following the beating of Rodney King and subsequent riots. Norton plays Derek Vineyard, an extremely bright, but angry and vulnerable youth following the tragic death of his father, who becomes the young leader through which a local neo-nazi legend (Stacy Keach) orchestrates acts of violence and attempts to spread his hateful propaganda.

Arguably one of the most violent and well-known scenes in the film comes as a direct result of the victory of “whites over the blacks,” on the basketball court:

***Warning Violent ***

Incidentally, the subsequent prison sentence Derek faces after his brutal crime and the violence and abuse he suffers while there eventually leads him to question all of the propaganda he had previously simply accepted when blinded by anger after the death of his father. This questioning along with a friendship he develops with a black man he is forced to work with in the prison laundry room as well as discussions he has with his former teacher (one of the few black people he had looked up to and respected) eventually lead to his redemption and an attempt to save his younger brother from ending up on the same path for destruction he took.

“Worst Cougar or Worst Cooch?” – Horrible pronunciations by randoms on youtube

When my buddy, and host of my LA weekend, told me we were going to get some “sausages and beer,” for lunch I was pretty excited. I didn’t really know what to expect; however, given his butchering of the authentic-sounding name (Wurstküche) and knowing what the germans do best (beer and brats) I figured we were making a good choice.

*** NSFW but hilarious rant about this restaurant ***

***Also a totally unrelated video, but one of my favorite Xtranormal videos, despite the painful memory of the actual game***

Anyway, back to the Wurstküche.

Going in, they told me that we NEEDED to get some of Belgian dipping fries (about which I had no complaints), a few sausages each, and some beer. I only hesitated slightly at the description of some of the exotic sausages available on the menu, including rabbit, crocodile, and rattlesnake.

I was impressed with the assembly line ordering system they had in place- try any beer you’d like, order your beer, pick your sausages, pick your sausage toppings, order fries (you’d be foolish not to), pick your dipping sauces, pay for your meal, get a number, and grab a seat in the back.

The only mild hiccup we introduced to this efficient system was that my buddy had recently lost his license in Costa Rica (a long story), but luckily the friendly beer girl let him slide. I went for some of the safer options- Lamb w/ Mediterranean Spices and a Rabbit, Veal, & Pork Seasoned w/ White Wine and a standard Witbier. However, I did give in to my friend’s encouragement and had a bite of his rabbit & rattlesnake served with Jalepeno Peppers (it was quite delicious).

We enjoyed our beers for a just bit, not too long, in the community style cafeteria in the back of the maze-like concrete laden restaurant.

Worst cooch

Our food came out promptly, and when it did, I realized I had mistakenly imagined that my sausages would be served breakfast-style, with a fork and a knife, rather than on a thick, buttery sandwich bun. Unfortunately, they were both too amazing, topped with perfectly caramelized onions and sweet peppers to not force myself to down both on top of an unnecessary quantity of the heavily fried and crisp fries. Initially I didn’t understand the need for sauces (other than ketchup obviously), but the assortment of chipotle aioli, sun-dried tomato mayo, sweet & sassy BBQ sauce, and bleu cheese walnut & bacon (not for me- I’m allergic) did make for nice accompaniments. Sausage

I can’t say I’ve dined in too many sausage houses (unfortunately I’ve not had the pleasure to visit any authentic ones in Germany or elsewhere). The closest thing I’ve had recently would probably be Fette Sau in Brooklyn, NY (predating this blog, though I may throw together one retroactively since the BBQ was that good). The biggest similarities were probably the communal picnic table style eating, great beer, and great meats.

“Champagne on the House?”

Given my affinity for diner breakfasts, it’s not often that I’m offered free Champagne while waiting for a table (we’ll let’s be real, this never happens at my typical diners).

 However, I figured while visiting one of my best friends and his wife in LA. Why not?

 Since we needed to stop by Santa Monica, they took me to “The Ivy,” their favorite favorite brunch spot in the area. I was a little taken aback (pleasantly) by the complimentary champagne and white table cloth settings, but when it came to the food, I was in for a real treat.

 While I often go fairly standard in my breakfast orders (2 eggs, breakfast potatoes, and some type of meat), the menu prices further solidified my choice. As I do whenever possible, I went for the poached eggs.  While they were certainly good, the real surprise winner of the meal was the bacon. As always, I judge my breakfasts by the meat and the potatoes, and this bacon may been the best breakfast meat I’ve had in my life. It was thick, rich, salty, and perfectly crisp. 

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Interestingly, the side of potatoes turned out to be French Fries. They were decent fries; however, I certainly wouldn’t have expected that given the rest of the ambience. Although, in looking back, they may have only served fries given the time of day (around noon) and the fact that we had to ask for the breakfast menu, while the regular lunch menu included several gourmet burgers and fries. Though I was not surprised when we asked for ketchup to accompany both our eggs and fries and the condiment came served in single size serving bowls. I learned a long time ago, while working in an upscale french restaurant that restaurants of this caliber certainly do not put a Heinz bottle anywhere near their table tops. Image

Given the bacon alone this meal would’ve been worth it, but when you throw in the complimentary champagne and a beautiful seaside view (even on an overcast day) there’s no question about it.

 

 

#4 “Aint no mountain high enough…” – Marvin Gaye

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In my first full week of “Funemployment,” my movie watching rate has increased over and above an already avid pace. After enjoying Jennifer Lawrence’s recent performance in the Silver Lining’s Playbook, I wanted to check out one of her earlier films and one that my father recommended. He did warn me that the movie, ‘The Poker House,’ (2008), was much grittier and more similar to the 2010 adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel “Winter’s Bone,” (also starring Lawrence).

 

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Lawrence plays the difficult female lead Agnes, the eldest sister of three girls in a dysfunctional family torn apart by physical abuse, poverty, and drugs. They live in small Iowa town circa 1976, in what is locally referred to as “The Poker House,” which serves a combination of purposes- underground casino, a brothel, drug den, and also unfortunately, the home where three girls, the oldest being only 14, must attempt to lay their heads at night.

Agnes’ mother, played wonderfully by Selma Blair, we learn wasn’t always as pitifully worthless as a mother. Her husband, a preacher, and the father of her three young girls, had a tendency toward violence and anger. Sadly, he often took this out in the form of physical abuse upon the rest of his family. In what would hopefully be an improvement, social services removes the girls from his care and they are never to see him again. Within short order, Blair falls victim to the luring appeal of alcohol and harder drugs, eventually feeding her addictions by turning tricks and allowing her pimp to take over her home in order to conduct his ruthless and gritty business.

Miraculously, Lawrence manages to fill the role of mother to her two younger sisters, caretaker to her drug-addicted mother,a straight-A student, the hard working part-time employee of the local newspaper, and the star of her high school basketball team.

Given that I had prepared myself for the intense story to come and the stage set for disaster early in the film, I was on edge from the start, waiting to see what tragedy would befall these already disadvantaged girls next.

First I worried that the father of one daughter’s best friend, at who’s house she spent much of time,  usually until she was kicked out by the girl’s mother who had six children of her own to care for, would turn out less gentle than he appeared. Interestingly, when his kind gesture of taking her to breakfast, albeit at a bar, which struck me as a terrible place to bring and eventually leave behind a young girl, turned out to be a much healthier environment for her to spend the day. Whereas instead, the middle sister, who after waking early on a cold day when she didn’t even have school (because of some “jewish people’s holiday”)  must first deliver papers and then to go wait in line for a few dollars made by returning empty liquor bottles along with the town’s local bums (who appear to be two of her only friends). She then must return home only to barricade herself in her room in an attempt to practice her saxophone and get some rest while one of the typical “poker parties,” begins to surge just outside her door.

Despite her constant proximity to her mother’s multitude of vices and seedy associates, Agnes manages to remain mostly free from these dangerous influences. However, the she does give in to a bizarre relationship with Duval, her mother’s pimp. In narrating her poetry, Lawrence describes how she likes to give in to him and his seemingly innocent kisses, enjoying the soft and gentle feel of his lips. However, she deludes herself into thinking this man can actually love her, while ignoring the fact that he is the same man who pimps out and beats her mother, often right in front of her. In the same way she wears the many hats of the roles she needs to fill, she maintains multiple distinct views of who this man really is.

The film takes place mostly in the span of one day (an unintentional theme of many of my recent flicks), the day of Agnes’ semi-final game in the state basketball tournament, which she describes as the biggest game of her career to date. As the day goes on and Agnes must juggle waking, feeding, and caring for both of her sisters AND her mother, stealing household necessities such as toilet paper from the local convenience store, gracing the local court for pickup with some younger boys from town, doing homework, and dropping her freelance poetry off at the newspaper, one begins to wonder whether she’ll even make it to the game.

This worry really takes shape when Agnes returns home to a full-blown “poker party.” Again, she puts the well-being of her sister ahead of her own, planning somewhere safer for her to go spend the evening. With all of your heart you wish she’d just leave the house as well and head to the gym to warm up. Instead, you cringe as she removes her sister’s barricade and wanders out into the party among the drunks, whores, pimps, and card players.

When Duval sees her, she tells him that she can’t stay because of the duties she has both to her team and coach and one still hopes that she’ll escape, despite the fact that she has already started smoking her second joint of the day. She gives in to his kisses once again, however, we see that even he senses the inappropriateness of making out with the 14-year old daughter of his hooker, as he pulls away when someone else walks by. However, when Duval returns to the party and Agnes sees him simultaneously kissing her mother and planning the next john to pimp her out to, things go from bad to worse. Agnes struggles to deal with this difficult scene and grabs the nearest pint of liquor she can find and begins drinking.

         *** (DISTURBING) SPOILER ALERT **

After a quick scare caused by police sirens heard outside, the scene jumps to the disturbing moment I had been anxiously waiting for, but one I never expected. We see Duval and Agnes lying together on the floor in her bedroom in a moment that quickly turns from gentle to disgusting and violent as the much older, stronger, and larger man rapes the 14-year-old child.

Agnes is overwhelmed with worries, the most pressing of which is that she may now be carrying the child of her mother’s pimp. In a desperate attempt to cleanse herself, she gets into a bath still wearing her oversized T-shirt. At this point, her mother comes in, having no idea what has transpired and ignores the sight of her child crying in the tub. Agnes reaches out to her mother, in the way a child who has defiantly presented herself as strong and independent, honestly screaming for the comfort only a mother could provide after such a horrific trauma. This may be the first moment in the entire film where viewers actually see Agnes for the 14-year old girl, vulernable, and immature as she is (and should be at her age). Her mother, fucked up beyond belief, is incapable of providing any solace and instead recounts some tale of how tired she used to grow of the constant requests from her daughter to read to her.

At this point, most viewers won’t remember that just a few short scenes ago they were pulling for Lawrence to still make it to her game, let alone that she would even be able to still play in her current post-traumatic state. However, she defies every doubt and steals a car from the poker house, changes into her uniform in the parking lot and shows up in time, albeit late, to still take the court. Her coaches anger at her tardiness quickly subsides when she begins to take over the game within her first possession. She scores some unprecedented number of points in the few minutes she has left to play, and gets her team within one basket of a win. As you would expect, she gets the opportunity to take the game-winning shot, and in a brief respite from the utter defeatism that has surrounded the rest of the movie, she makes it, landing a huge victory for her team and her town, all of whom rely on her almost as much as her dysfunctional family.

This hard to imagine comeback carries over nicely into a pleasant, even if certainly and utterly fleeting, feeling when she finds her two sisters hanging out by a bridge. The three of them then go off together to celebrate the victory, both in the game and in their constant struggle for survival against unimaginable odds, as they sing Marvin Gaye’s “Aint no mountain high enough,” in a display of the bond only sisters who have gone through trials such as these three could know.

Even though I noticed the “Based on a true story” tag when the film opened, I thought little of it throughout the emotional rollercoaster of a tale. However, I was that much more floored to learn that the film’s writer and director, Lori Petty, based the story on her own traumatic experiences as a young girl growing up in a the real life “Poker House.”

“Rosebud…”

After trekking to Davis Square for the second freezing morning in a row for an early physical therapy appointment, I decided to treat myself to some breakfast. I knew of a few good spots around Somerville, but none of them in the heart of Davis. Fortunately, smart phones and Yelp exist. After quickly scanning several independent online sources for “best diner,” and “best breakfast” in the immediate area, I concluded that the Rosebud Diner was the way to go.

 As soon as I came around the corner, I liked what I saw- your classic, lunch-car look.

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The atmosphere and feel inside matched perfectly. The small establishment was complete with a long counter-top, several cozy booths, an old fashioned mechanical cash-register, and interestingly a fully stocked bar. This feature piqued my curiosity about what the late-night scene, fueled by booze and perhaps music would look like.

 With my choice of seats, I situated myself at the counter along with a few other mid-morning patrons. The friendly (and elderly) waitress promptly brought over a tall glass of ice water and a weak coffee (but it was certainly warm and that was all that mattered to me given the outside temperature).

 In the quick online search I had done, the only menu item I saw highly touted was the corned beef hash- so my decision was simple. I go through phases of really enjoying hash; however, I had taken a hiatus after being served one of the largest football-sized orders I had ever seen at the 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia.

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I literally felt like I had eaten as much as I could possibly devour, and my boss still took the rest home to feed her dog for the next week.

 With my hash, I got poached eggs, as I try to order things that I can’t or don’t typically make for myself at home (even though I do own an egg poacher, which is hidden somewhere in my kitchen closet).

 The hash came with the typical side fare- toast (which I almost never eat), and homefries (one of the staples to any breakfast I eat, and high on my list for a repeat visit).

 The home fries were good. They certainly weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were well seasoned and decently crisp. The hash also wasn’t my favorite, but it had a good balance of salty and sweet and I’d certainly order it again.

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Despite the mostly empty scene I came across today, I gathered that one would find a very different one on a weekend morning, or perhaps even earlier on a weekday. Shortly after I got my food, a group of four girls (likely from Tufts) came in and hovered near the doorway waiting to be told where to sit, presumably because this was the routine they had come to expect on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

“Girls, grab any booth you’d like. We sit wherever we’d like to during the week.” The sole waitress politely shouted from the other end of counter, while tending to someone else.

The old fashioned experience was nicely rounded out when the waitress attempted to swipe a credit card unsuccessfully several times before she gave in and profusely apologized for having to send it’s owner back out into the cold to find an ATM. Luckily I happened to have some cash on me (an increasingly rare occurrence these days.) Interestingly, she didn’t seem too apologetic when she warned the young woman, “cash only today ladies.”

 All in all, some might argue in favor of the more “gourmet” breakfast food that you may find at the likes of my recently visited City Girl Café or the South End’s Masa; however, for me, when it comes to breakfast, I want a diner and the Rosebud certainly ranks up there. 

#3 Always try to find the Silver Linings

Silver Linings

I knew it had something to do with football, featured Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence, and had received some rave reviews and even a few awards early in the season (pre-oscars). Other than that, I didn’t know much.

I certainly didn’t know that the film’s opening scenes would take place in a Baltimore psychiatric facility. Given  work I had done both while volunteering in college at a state run hospital just outside of Philadelphia (where the rest of the movie takes place) and also as a full-time research coordinator in one of the most expensive private psychiatric treatment centers in the country, just outside of Boston, I might have reconsidered before choosing this as thing to see on a second date. However, it was her suggestion originally, and given my love for movies, I usually don’t turn down the opportunity to incorporate them into a date, especially when I don’t even have to suggest it.

However, in the end, the film lived up to expectations and didn’t confirm my initial fears that the film choice would drag down the evening, given what I know of the bleak and dreary settings of some psychiatric hospitals and their capacity to dampen moods.

Instead, David Russell’s adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel (of the same name) uses the theme of mental illness to contrast and compare the two main characters (Bradley Cooper and Lawrence) as the attempt to both “out-crazy” one another, yet also maintain the mental stability high ground, in their developing friendship. Moreso, the theme of mental illness or “craziness,” appears to fascinate many of the so-called “sane” characters in the film, including a relentless student who repeatedly tries to interview and even catch on film some of the “bi-polar episodes,” and the co-workers of Cooper’s older brother, a well-meaning but overshadowing successful  lawyer, who struggles to relate to his younger brother without bringing up areas in which he has “out-performed” him in some way or another.

In a way, I think Quick (though I haven’t yet read the book), but certainly Russell is attempting to point out the sometimes less than obvious, but certainly present mild “mental illnesses,” or at least psychiatric symptomatology that almost everyone experiences every so often, some more often than others. In Silver Linings, there’s Cooper’s father, played by De Niro, an aging bookie, who we learn has been permanently banned from the Eagles Stadium because of his violent outbursts and fights. Then, while he watches the games at home (not by choice) he engages in his “superstitions,” that border on obsessive-compulsive and even delusional when he believes (mistakenly as she later points out) that Cooper’s developing relationship with Lawrence has somehow thrown off the Eagles good luck. Then there is Cooper’s best friend Ronnie (played by John Ortiz), who struggles to deal with the increasing stress caused by a chaotic marriage, a newborn child, and increasing financial responsibilities, all of which he believes he can successfully cope with by going into his garage, listening to Metallica, and “breaking shit.”

Whether these other characters would actually meet any diagnostically significant criteria, at least as defined by the DSM or some other standard accepted within psychiatry, I don’t know. However, I think the film does a really nice job of pointing out that the individuals who have spent time in facilities, whether state-run or private, whether on a recommendation from friends, loved ones, or a doctor or by the mandate of a court system really aren’t that different from the rest of us when you can look past the the stigma and labels society likes to throw at them.

Regardless of how you feel about the social commentary on mental illness, this turned out to be a fine “date movie,” that handles some serious topics very nicely with both humor and grace.