Let’s Not Do Lunch

It’s depressing but true — unlike our European counterparts, Americans don’t give a hoot about a long leisurely lunch. I’m lucky enough to work with folks who can easily be coerced into lounging around Beale Street on a Friday afternoon. But apparently more than half of all Americans are more likely to work through lunch than to sit down and enjoy a tasty midday meal. All this depressing news is courtesy of a survey conducted by  Smoothie King, a franchise I’ve not personally ever seen before.

On the flipside, if we *do* bother to head to a restaurant to eat, we get testy if we are rushed on our way.

You just can’t win.

I can’t recall the last time I saw a leisurely San Francisco lunch taking place. Our downtown and financial district areas are full of office workers scarfing down overpriced junk food or getting cheap takeout from Lee’s to eat back at their desk while sifting through emails. What a bummer. It would be so much nicer to have a 2-hour midday break for shopping, napping, or having a nice chat with friends over lunch.

I think I need to compile my downtown lunch list and start corralling people.

Italy: Open for Renovations

Last time I was in Italy, in 2001, it seemed like the entire country was under renovation. From the Medici Chapel in Florence to the Doge’s Palace in Venice, many of the sites I visited were shrouded in scaffolding. The same was true in my June travels through Italy.

But unlike such projects in the States, I was again struck by the fact that their scaffoldings (like the one here seen on the Grand Canal in Venice) were typically covered with colorful representations of what the restored building will look like (or what it looked like prior to the restoration), with a shout out to the corporate or civic entities that sponsored the project.

It came as a huge disappointment though when I walked into my favorite piece of civic architecture — the Pantheon in Rome — shifted my gaze up to the oculus, and saw…scaffolding. Boring utilitarian scaffolding obscuring about 1/8 of the interior, from wall to oculus. And associated roped off walls. All the visitors were basically coralled into the center of the building, unable to get up close to the gorgeous marble walls.

Turns out they spent a little over a year giving the interior dome a good scrubbing. Gone are the dark tobacco-colored splotches. The dome is now more of a glistening honey-sand color, with very few blemishes. It’s gorgeous, if unexpected.

Easy Frozen Strawberry Margaritas

Sometimes, you just need a slushy frozen adult beverage, yes? You don't need one of those fancy margaritaville frozen beverage machines to enjoy a frozen margarita at home.

Frozen Strawberry Margaritas

1/2 package of frozen strawberries (look at trader joe's if your grocery store doesn't carry them)
same amount of ice as strawberries to start (add more at the end if needed for texture)
1 can of limeade, still frozen (no extra water)
1 shot of grand marnier
4 shots of tequila (I prefer Herradura Silver)

Blend well. Drink immediately. Makes 4 servings.

NY Wine Shipping Ban Overturned!

I was happy to read this morning that one of my least favorite laws (banning shipping of wine into NYC without going through a local distributor) has been overturned by the Supreme Court. No, I don’t work in the wine industry. But I am a wine lover who has been annoyed by her inability to ship wine home from NYC, and to send friends outside of California wine as gifts. This is how I *like* to see my tax dollars at work.

Here’s hoping the other 20-something similar laws are also overturned soon. It was surprisingly close though (5-4). Apparently Justice Clarence Thomas argued in his dissenting view that the ruling needlessly overturns long-established regulations aimed partly at protecting minors. Yeah. Because we all know that minors are itching to order wine from CA vineyards and not to go shoulder-tapping at the local convenience market. Uh huh.

In Memorium of Tasty, French Unpasteurized Cheese

Cheese lovers are going to end up taking quickie flights to Paris and smuggling back cheese in their luggage (a la Jeffrey Steingarten) as soon as they realize there’s no other way to get their Reblochon fix…

I mean, I’ve known about the ban on raw milk cheeses, but somehow forgot until I read this SF Chron article.

My somewhat lactose sensitive stomach didn’t even bother me in the slightest while I was in Paris, where no laws protected me from unpasteurized milk products, despite my overindulgence in multiple raw milk cheeses on a daily basis. So what, exactly, are we afraid of here?

I’ve gone to the hospital twice with chicken-related food poisoning, but I don’t see us cracking down on raw chicken products.

SF Milkshakes?

Now, can anyone tell me a good place for milkshakes with your meal? After being denied milkshakes at Max’s today, I
had to venture out to Toy Boat to get my milkshake fix (Chococonut. Yummy. ) Ideally, I’d like places that are diner-influenced, but I’m open to all suggestions…

This is a bad place for a diet… or for reliable service or consistently tasty food

It’s a shame when good restaurants go bad.

Honestly, having a truly wretched experience at a restaurant you used to count on as a good place for a tasty meal is almost worse than having a beloved restaurant close. At least when it closes you are left with your sweet memories of dinners past. (R.I.P. Avenue 9 and Ristorante Castelluci).

This train of thought was spawned by what is likely to be my last meal at Max’s. The formerly ubiquitous San Francisco-based restaurant chain has been slowly closing down its Max’s Eatz/Sweet Max’s sandwich shops in the financial district for years (most locations seem to have been taken over by the cheap and serviceable Lee’s chain.) This year saw the closure of their Moscone Center-adjacent Max’s Diner property, which, with its emphasis on comfort food including milk shakes, was my favorite.

Intent on something warm and filling for lunch with a decadent shake of some sort for dessert, we set off to Max’s Opera Plaza. After a short wait at the bar, where we obtained ice teas strangely served ready to drink and not in the standard Max’s style of pot of tea that you steep to your liking then pour over a glass of ice, we were seated.

The first thing we noticed as amiss was the lack of a dessert menu. I retrieved one from the hostess and then learned the awful truth: this Max’s lacked milkshakes. Given that milkshakes were our primary reason for heading here, we should have gotten up and left. But, instead, we stayed.

Our orders were taken uneventfully by our soon to be inattentive waiter. He never offered or brought us water, which is becoming a pet peeve of mine. Why should diners be forced to plead with wait staff to obtain water?

My sandwich arrived with its special request (no tomatoes) fulfilled. My dining partner’s grilled cheese with bacon arrived with so much cheese that it oozed out all over the French fries. And the bacon…well… it was limp and chewy, soggy where you’d expect and want some crunch. Disappointed, my dining partner reached for the ketchup to salvage the meal by indulging full in the French fries. Upon first squirt, a rectangular piece of plastic went flying off the squeeze bottle, landing in the midst of the French fries. Strangely ketchup-less French fries. Upon inspection, the squeeze bottle had never been opened, hence the lack of ketchup.

I got up and walked the ketchup over to the wait stand, and asked for another one. With my waiter looking on from behind a partition, never acknowledging me or the issue at hand, I was berated by a waitress for having the nerve to come up there and make a request for a new bottle rather than fixing the problem myself.

“All you have to do,” she said condescendingly, “is squeeze it really hard and it usually pops open.”

“I’d like an opened bottle of ketchup, please,” I repeated.

A few minutes after the ketchup issue, our waiter made his reappearance, with an obligatory “Is everything OK?” dashed off as he was already walking towards another table.

“Yeah. It’s fine now.”

Yes, I have had far worse dining experiences in the City, with surly wait staff even. But this is starting to be a trend at Max’s which bums me out. The last time I was there with this same dining partner, I was actually insulted by the waiter; a waiter who also brought us the wrong drinks, then forgot to bring part of the order.

So yes, it was hardly my worst dining experience ever, but it casts a pall on the idea of eating there again. It might be OK, but there’s a good chance it also might be terrible. And with so many places to eat in this City, why would I take that chance?

PHOTOS: Big Sur

Like any good travel magazine addict, I knew that Ventana was one of Big Sur‘s most posh retreats. What I found out through my online sleuthing in preparation for a Big Sur camping trip is it’s also home to one of the area’s prettiest campgrounds.

The $30 a night price tag seemed pretty steep until I saw that many of the other Big Sur campgrounds amount to little more than large parking lots with small dirt patches and scrubby little bushes at little more than a $10 savings. Also, since this was one of the few campgrounds to promote that they had fire rings — and I wanted to raost some marshmallows — it was an easy choice to make.

Our camp site was at the midpoint of the campground (though due to rains the week before, it was pretty much at the far end of the available spaces). The site was large enough to hold our car at the far end, a picnic table and fire ring in the middle, and to leave a huge open space around our tent. Running water for washing dishes was at the edge of our space which was great except for when the neighbors spent a half hour after dark obsessively rinsing something. As a plus, the bathhouse was always empty, and was cleaner than most San Francisco public restrooms.

The campground was an excellent jumping off point for hiking at the local parks, wherein we ogled even more redwood trees, and a gorgeous waterfall.

Noise Pop 2005: Oranger and Man with a Movie Camera

One of my favorite events at each year’s Noise Pop music fesitval is the screening of a silent film at the Castro Theater with a live rock band performing the score. This year, they asked local indie rock favorites Oranger to reprise the score for Man with a Movie Camera, apparently originally created by Oranger for the L.A. Independent Film Festival. The movie was a collage of images from daily life in a Russian city, abstract but beautiful, and a great pairing for Oranger’s rockin out. AND there was even ample usage of theramin.

Rules for Apartment Living, circa 1965

My apartment building was built in the mid 1960s as a retirement-oriented living place. The apartments were tricked out with the latest and greatest pastel fashion colored appliances: pink or yellow bathrooms (yes — tub, tile, sink, and commode all in said color), and pink or blue kitchens (fridge, stove and dishwasher.)

I am thankful my apartment’s baby blue appliances were yanked from the walls before I took up residence. Unfortunately, the yellow tub and sink did not meet a similar fate. One other relic from the apartment’s original incarnation was found stapled inside one of my kitchen cabinets. It was a list of rules for genteel apartment living. I think my favorite rule is not to grind up anything stringy in the garbage disposal and to avoid grinding pits and bones to spare one’s neighbors from the "terrible noise".

I share the list here for your pleasure. Yes, photo #2 is crooked but I am too lazy to retake the photo today.