Restaurant Review

Charm latitudes

Cafe Claude
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paulr@sfbg.com
Presidents are so seldom intentionally funny that when a genuine wit makes it to the Oval Office, we (the people!) tend to notice and remember. As a quipster, John F. Kennedy is without peer in modern times, and while his crack that Washington, DC, is "a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency" might not be his best line, it's still a pretty good one — not to mention useful for certain latter-day restaurant writers, who admire the deftly phrased paradox while being perennially fascinated by the truth embedded in it. Read more »

Mild to wild

The Mandarin comforts of Ah Lin
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paulr@sfbg.com
"Mandarin" is a word that suggests a certain grandeur or even haughtiness. Mandarin English is the language of such pompmeisters as William F. Buckley Jr., George F. Will, and all those other East Coast bow-tied toffs with Roman numerals after their names. As for mandarin food: if you are enjoying this style of Chinese cooking, you must sit up straight, keep your napkin in your lap, and not eat with your fingers. Can you see Buckley or Will eating pot stickers with their fingers?
Perhaps that is a needlessly nightmarish image. Read more »

In the family way

Lombardi's Fine Foods
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paulr@sfbg.com
When last I saw John Lombardo, proprietor of Lombardo's Fine Foods, he was hurrying along the sidewalk outside the windows of his recently expanded Mission Terrace operation — a café now adjoins the catering kitchen — on his way home to ... change the baby's diapers? He had revealed to us his domestic mission, with apologies and having first checked to make sure we were satisfied with our food, and it is some measure of how satisfied we were that I forgot why he said he was rushing forth almost as soon as he'd said why. Read more »

Watch on the Rhine

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paulr@sfbg.com
If San Francisco were Europe, Divisadero Street would be the Rhine: the heavily traveled commercial artery that crosses a jigsaw puzzle of (sometimes) quarrelsome fiefs, duchies, and principalities on its way north or south. In this paradigm I make the stretch of Divis from California to Geary, more or less, to be our Alsace-Lorraine, the six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other province long the subject of a tug-of-war between greater powers. Read more »

Camp Hip

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paulr@sfbg.com
Everybody seems to love Thai food, but the oohing and aahing is generally confined to the cooking. You don't hear much about the stunning designs of Thai restaurants. In one sense, this is just fine; good food is its own reward, and overclever interior decoration can lead to sensory overload. Read more »

A lover's lane

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paulr@sfbg.com
Of the top 10 questions I am most often asked about restaurants in the city, the top two by far are “Which is the best?” and “Which is your favorite?” Since "best" is a snake pit of competing considerations and unacknowledged biases, I am happier with the second, which is all about acknowledging one's biases — about being in touch with the inner bias. For me, it is also far easier to answer, since my favorite restaurant in the city, the one I have recommended to inquiring minds for more than a decade, is Hawthorne Lane. Read more »

Enchanté

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paulr@sfbg.com
“You're not getting older, you're getting better” is one of those things you say to someone who's getting older and not better and is sensitive to the decline because of yet another birthday. (Birthdays beyond the 30th are at best memento mori, at worst a cumulative curse. After 30, one should count them by 10s.) Yet y-n-g-o-y-g-b is not just a mollifying phrase to be found on a Hallmark card; sometimes it is actually true. Read more »

Shack chic

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paulr@sfbg.com
The crab shack is a species of restaurant indigenous to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, and so in these Pacific parts is something of a rarity. Back East, crab shacks tend to be found near beaches — my first experience of one was at Rehoboth Beach, Del., in the summer of 1987 — and to emphasize freshness and immediacy over elaborate preparation. Read more »

The reflecting pool

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paulr@sfbg.com
A chicken-and-egg — or maybe fish-and-roe — problem: do neighborhood restaurants tend to reflect the character of a neighborhood or does a neighborhood take its cues from its restaurants? The answer is probably both, since that is usually the answer to such trick questions, but in general there is more of the former than the latter, I would say. The truly revolutionary restaurant, the place that makes a startling announcement of intention on a street of sameness, birds of a feather flocking together, is fairly rare. Read more »

Mood elevation

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paulr@sfbg.com
Among proper names that suggest height or loftiness, few have a grander pedigree than Ararat, the moniker of the mountain or mountain range where, according to the book of Genesis, Noah's ark was supposed to have made landfall after riding out the flood. Today's Mount Ararat, a volcano rising nearly 17,000 feet above sea level, lies in northeastern Turkey, near that country's borders with Iran and Armenia. Read more »