By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
People and Places
Best Caltrain Voice
Sergio Cruz knows what early morning Caltrain commuters heading from S.F. to their jobs on the Peninsula and the South Bay want. The supersmooth conductor doesn't try to be an authority figure or hone his standup routine when he calls the stops and makes announcements. No jokes. No attitude. No shtick. Instead, he employs a soft, silky voice that somehow combines the best of Barry White and Ricardo Montalban. You'd swear there's harp music in the background when he's on the microphone. The calming delivery soothes the soul and makes the economy, the boss, and the hassles of commuting fade away.
Best Theater PR Person
Alongside the puzzle of the postlaundry lost sock, one of life's eternal mysteries has to be the hiring of PR specialists. Companies ostensibly employ press representatives to get word out about their services and products. But surprisingly few of these so-called professional communicators possess communications skills. In the world of arts PR, where theater, opera, and dance companies have to fight for dwindling column inches, knowing how to interact with journalists is key — and no one does the job better in the Bay Area than Erica Lewis-Finein. She represents several smallish San Francisco-based companies such as the Cutting Ball (whose co-artistic director dubs her "the best"), as well as the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. Lewis-Finein approaches her job with professionalism, creativity, and a quiet sense of humor. She gets out the message without being pushy, is always responsive, comes up with excellent story ideas, and — most important of all — knows when to back off.
Sports and Recreation
Best Yoga Deal
City College Yoga Classes
50 Phelan (at Cloud), 239-3000
Most yoga studios charge more than $100 a month of yoga, with a full year ringing in at more than $1,000. Those prices are hard to swallow, even if you are paying for peace of mind and a tight bod. Enter the eminently affordable City College of San Francisco, which offers beginning, intermediate, and intensive classes. There's even a Senior and Restorative class. Main Campus classes take place in a yoga studio with bamboo floors and lots of natural light. Mission Campus classes take place in the same linoleum-floored, fluorescent-lit room as the dance classes. They can be crowded, but at $20 a unit (about $44 a semester for one weekly two-hour class after all the fees are added) it's easy to overlook the lack of luxury. Mats, blocks and straps, and woo-woo yoga music are provided gratis. Availability varies by semester, so check the catalog.
Arts and Entertainment
Best Food-Friendly Theater
The Exit Theatreplex
156 Eddy (at Mason), 931-2699
In a country where most performing arts venues won't sell you an alcoholic beverage, let alone let you bring it into the auditorium, the Exit Theatre's cafe space is a modest yet wonderful bastion of hospitality. Located in the heart of the Tenderloin in the same building as two of the Exit's main performance spaces, the cozy and cheerfully managed cafe serves theatergoers such unpretentious yet appetizing treats such as bountiful fruit and cheese plates as well as copious slices of quiche garnished with apple slices (both a steal at $5). There are also wine, beer, and sake. The booze may not be top-shelf, but the voluminous pours go down nicely alongside the cafe's seemingly bottomless supply of free pretzels. The best thing of all is that, unlike at many other venues in town, audience members can take food and drink to their seats.
Shopping and Services
My Boudoir Lingerie
2029 Fillmore (at California), 346-1502
Grandma panties, begone! My Boudoir Lingerie is a Pacific Heights boutique for your unmentionables that is as versatile as it is small. It sports an exquisite assortment of everything from frilly accoutrements to suitably trampy getups for your vixeny alter ego. Exclusive European brands like Princesse Tam Tam, Aubade, HUIT, and Chantelle grace the racks here. Cleavage-enhancing balconette bras, an impressive array of fishnets and thigh-high stockings, and filmy nighties will catch your fancy, but the devil is in the details. Pearls, intricate embroidery, lace-up seams, and strategically placed hooks put a visit to My Boudoir echelons above, say, an outing to your local Victoria's Secret. If you're in an adventurous mood, some of the pieces come with more details and are a bit more involved as far as putting 'em on and taking 'em off. Whatever the case, maximum femininity is the order of the day here, so as the friendly salespeople squeeze you into some seriously seductive undies, check your demureness at the door.
Best Place for Pulp Lit
8914 Post (at Hyde), 749-0554
Kayo boasts unexpurgated editions (many of them first editions) of some of the lowest-brow literature this side of the men's room. The material mainly hails from annals both obscure and lurid, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Most of the items are more depraved than an H.P. Lovecraft book. Titles by the likes of David Goodis, Ed Wood, and Peter Rabe share shelf space with Mad magazines and monster comics. The store is also a veritable cornucopia of collectors' items; its two floors are crammed with comic books, rare vintage magazines, hard-boiled fiction, and seedy sci-fi. Considering that Kayo has helmed counterculture lit in S.F. for the last 11 years, it's no wonder sleaze lovers like director John Waters get their regular dose of smut right here.
Eats and Treats
Washington Square Bar & Grill
1707 Powell (at Union), 433-1188
San Franciscans were shocked when the Washington Square Bar & Grill, a fixture in North Beach since 1973, disappeared on January 1, 2008 (after a brief "blue period" during which it was known as the Cobalt Tavern). Its regulars entered a period of mourning, now happily ended, as restaurateurs Liam and Susan Tiernan rescued the room from oblivion and reopened it in March. They rebuilt the place from the ground up to have it look just like it did before: white tablecloths, polished wood, gleaming brass. They rehired veteran bartender Michael McCourt, and once again there are piano players at night and jazz groups at Saturday and Sunday brunch. American comfort food (steak, chops, meat loaf, burgers, Caesar salad, pastas, french fries) dominates the menu, but it's the comfy atmosphere (and the drinks and music) that you're here for.
Best Savory Bread Pudding
2495 Third St. (at 22nd St.), 252-2000
A signature starter at Serpentine, a chic eatery housed in an industrial space in the Dogpatch neighborhood, is its homey savory bread pudding, a crusty hillock that tastes better than it looks (trust us). Under its browned exterior hides a frequently changing amalgam of seasonal ingredients (perhaps nettles, roasted onions, and Swiss cheese; or fennel, baby spinach, roasted garlic, and Swiss cheese), incorporated in an eggy custard full of bread chunks. For a few extra dollars, you can add roasted carrots and mixed greens to the plate, bumping up the appetizer to a perfect vegetarian supper.
Best Barbecue (Outdoor)
Golden Gate Municipal Golf Course
47th Ave. (at Fulton), 751-8987
On a sunny day, dining on good, inexpensive barbecue in an unexpected and hidden location can truly feel like the Best of S.F. Above a spacious (and free!) parking lot is a modest pro shop that hides a food counter, where you can order from a reasonably priced menu featuring pulled pork, brisket, and baby back ribs. You can have these served as sandwiches atop scalloped potatoes and beans (known here as a Bogie Bowl), or as plate meals, accompanied by two sides from a list including coleslaw and green salad, served on sectioned paper plates with disposable cutlery. There are a few indoor tables, but on a nice day, head for the shaded patio, from where you can catch a glimpse of the Pacific as well as peaceful duffers and champions golfing on the manicured greens.
Best Southern-Style Cookin'
Alemany Farmers' Market, 100 Alemany (at Putnam)
Heart of the City Farmers' Market, U.N. Plaza (near the corner of Fulton and Hyde)
There's a surprising abundance of soul food in San Francisco, a testament to a culinary resistance to the rising clout of the organic food movement, which hasn't entirely captured the breakfast crowd that drizzles melted butter over a plate of grits. Fortunately, Southern foodies don't have to choose between their taste buds and their arteries. On Wednesdays, they can visit John Akins underneath his tent at the Heart of the City Farmers' Market in U.N. Plaza. On Saturdays, they can find him at the Alemany Farmers' Market among a row of tents set behind the painted concrete produce stalls. Anyone who longs for a taste of Southern home cooking will savor each bite of Akins' cinnamon buns and his peach cobbler tart. But the real treat here is the sweet potato tart. The potatoes come thinly sliced in this diamond-shaped pastry, like apples in a galette, elevating a regional delicacy to a taste-treasure.
Best Venerable Tea Room
Lovejoy's Tea Room
1351 Church (at Clipper), 648-5895
Open since 2000 (which counts as venerable in these parts and in this economy), Lovejoy's looks as if it's been in existence forever — or at least since Victorian times — thanks to its eclectic, cozy decor, featuring overstuffed upholstered furniture, mismatched china and silver, and shelves laden with Anglophilic tchotchkes. To accompany your choice from around two dozen teas, dine on pastries, crumpets, excellent tea sandwiches (an astonishing 17 varieties available), and full teas including scones with Devon cream, shortbread, sandwiches — even hummus made with smoked salmon or artichokes. Heartier fare includes shepherd's pie, sausage rolls, and quiche. If you want to take home teas and Devon cream, or decorate your own parlor like Lovejoy's, visit Lovejoy's Attic, its antique-store annex across the street.
Best Place to Get Buzzed at Brunch
Axis Cafe and Gallery
1201 Eighth St. (at Irwin), 437-2947
We sort of hate to tell you about this place, because it's oh-so-easy to get a Sunday brunch table at the moment. But this industrial-chic Potrero Hill cafe, complete with fireplace and sun-drenched (and otherwise heated) patio dining, is bound to be discovered. With a spacious dining area, walls adorned with rotating works from California Academy of Art students, and laid-back service, Axis is ideal for relaxing with a good friend over a cool green apple bellini ($8) or three on a lazy weekend midmorning. For those who choose to forgo the hair of the dog, the coffee is strong and the sugar is cubed (adorable). We're usually drunk by the time the food arrives, but we're pretty sure it's excellent regardless. Favorites include the tomato basil soup ($4 or $6); spicy ahi tuna with hearts of palm, avocado, and fried wontons ($12); and if you insist on traditional brunch fare, we suggest the fried egg sandwich with fontina, bacon, avocado, and roasted peppers ($8.50). Just please don't start showing up every Sunday with all your friends, or we're going to stop telling you things.
The Bistro at Cliff House
1090 Point Lobos (at Great Highway), 386-3330
Popovers are eggy, light, almost hollow soufflélike rolls, with a fragile and glossy crust, and best when served fresh. Practice makes perfect, but most restaurants don't even attempt to bake the steam-leavened treats. In San Francisco, reliable beauties are available at the Bistro. The Bistro serves breakfast and lunch daily, accompanied by what it calls "our famous popovers" and the same fabulous ocean views available for much more moolah at the fancier Cliff House eateries, Sutro's and the Terrace Room. (Caveat emptor: The Bistro, unlike the other two Cliff House spots, has a no-reservation policy, unless there are 12 or more in your party.)
Best Jelly Doughnut
I Preferiti di Boriana
33 Ferry Building (Embarcadero and Market), 402-0421
Italy loves gobs of sugary dough fried in deep fat (and who doesn't?), offering a boot-wide abondanza of Neapolitan zeppole, Sicilian sfinci, Bolognese sfrappole, and Tuscan bombolini, perhaps the fairest of them all. Bigger and fluffier than your standard doughnut hole, these toothsome clouds of yeast, flour, and eggs are cooked in oil, dusted with sugar, and filled with chocolate, custard, or (best of all) raspberry preserve. I Preferiti di Boriana imports pastas, cheeses, wines, and olive oils from the Tuscan hill town of Montepulciano, but its outstanding Italian commodity is its old family recipe for bombolini. Prepared every morning from fresh and imported ingredients, they're light yet slightly chewy in texture, just sweet enough to complement a shot of espresso, and tucked inside is a dollop of tart raspberry jam rich with seeds and brambly flavor. They're also available stuffed with chocolate, custard, or Nutella at $2.50-$2.75 apiece.
Prather Ranch Meat Company
32 Ferry Building (Embarcadero and Market), 391-0420
That rich, tender beefsteak you've been enjoying at Jardinière, the Slanted Door, Tartine, and other culinary hotspots comes from Prather Ranch, a 34,000-acre spread near Mount Shasta where humanely raised livestock graze on an organic diet of hay, barley, and rice. The resulting beef is dry-aged for two weeks, ensuring plenty of silky, succulent flavor. It's sold by the roast and the steak (we like the beautifully marbled boneless ribeye), but if you want to cook up a sensational burger, opt for the smoky, dry-aged, twice-ground beef (Prather grills the burgers at the Ferry Building farmers' market Tuesdays and Saturdays). The company also sources pork from Capay Valley pigs raised on organic fruits and vegetables; grass-fed lamb, buffalo, and veal from Oregon; and pasture-raised chickens from Soul Food Farm near Vacaville.
Bars and Clubs
Best No-Talent-Required Karaoke
Karaoke Night at the Attic
3336 24th St. (at Mission), 643-3376
Promises of no-pressure karaoke nights are usually false, with even the divey-est, most out-of-the way places sporting their fair share of divas. Not so at the Attic's karaoke night, which happens the third Monday of every month. The complete lack of flair ensures that every flaw in every squeaky voice will be laid bare for the jovial, drunken audience members, who do not care how poorly you sing. There is no stage provided; performers read lyrics from a screen set up on a bar table in a makeshift arena that consists of a couple of booths. What singers lack in talent, they often make up for by leaping from one booth to another or, even better, lying on one while humping the air and ecstatically singing Blondie hits. Always wanted to belt out the Cure's "Lovesong" sans embarrassment and quite possibly to much cheering? This is the place.
The Moss Room
55 Music Concourse (in the California Academy of Sciences), 876-6121
Okay, it isn't exactly a bar and there aren't actually any happy hour discounts, but sipping a Manhattan at sunset in the LEED platinum-certified California Academy of Sciences' Moss Room is lulling enough to rival well drinks at your favorite downtown dive. It opens half an hour after the museum closes, and sits pretty below the academy's "living roof," a lush canopy of plants accessible from the third floor. Most people come for the food — fresh organic California cuisine — but hanging out at the marble bar and admiring the stunning 28-foot-tall wall of dried moss, ferns, succulents, and grasses is another great way to pass the time. Squid-shaped lamps, a layered ceiling that works to diffuse noise, and a glassed-in private dining room that seats up to 15 add to the green-topian elegance. You might find yourself shelling out lots of dollars for an après-office cocktail (basic cocktails cost $12 to $15), but all the offerings — including a dizzying array of fine wines served in paper-thin glasses, separated on the menu into sustainable, organic, and biodynamic — and the sense that you've stumbled into a Disneyland ride for adults make the occasional visit well worth the splurge.
Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason (at California), 772-5278
In an era of crumbling institutions, rampant greed, and change for the hell of it, the all-but-certain demise of the Tonga Room may be the saddest slap at historical preservation to date. The grandest of the city's tiki bars blossomed just after World War II and in the decades since has delighted natives and visitors alike with its over-the-top decor, foliage-festooned umbrella drinks, and regularly scheduled tropical downpours. Those of us who grew up delighting in the wall-to-wall tribal masks, totem poles, palm fronds, and ship's riggings will miss the floating-raft dance band, the hollowed-pineapple cocktails, the rumble of thunder, and the flash of lightning just as keenly as we mourn the once-bustling Embarcadero, the Fillmore's jazz joints, and other vanished relics of this restless city.
Best Bar Desserts
1335 Fulton (at Divisadero), 673-7078
The bar-snack concept attains sweet new heights at Candybar, a hip little Western Addition venue where desserts get top billing with the cocktails, suds, and vino. These aren't your basic Gummi Bear-and-biscotti meal-closers, either. Chef Kyle Caporicci's half-dozen daily offerings are unique and perfectly realized culinary creations that are scrumptious on their own or with a glass of port, vin santo, or champagne. Opt for the Fudgesicle, a bar of luscious bittersweet mousse dipped in melted chocolate, frozen, and drizzled with sweet and salty caramel; a piquant, delicately crusted lemon tartlet served with a swirl of white chocolate powder and pistachio dust; or the rich, moist pumpkinseed cake adorned with butterscotch-glazed bananas and brown butter sage ice cream. Complementing these edible artworks is a clean-lined glass-and-sculpture setting more reminiscent of a Jackson Square gallery than an Outer Lands saloon, and a beverage list that includes loose-leaf teas and espresso drinks as well as wines by the glass, beers by the bottle, and several fanciful champagne cocktails.
Best New Oldies DJ
Sergio Iglesias is one busy DJ. It seems like just about every night of the week, he's playing crazy cool retro music somewhere in town. On second Sundays of the month at the Knockout, he cohosts "Lonely Teardrops," the only all-doo-wop night in S.F.; on third Tuesdays at the Casanova, he offers the Ronettes, the Crystals, and other "Girl Groups"; for fourth Mondays at the Casanova, he drops boogaloos and cumbias at "Latin Fever"; on third Fridays, he spins bubbly French pop at "Ooh La La" at the Paradise Lounge; and for the last Friday at the Knockout, he delivers rowdy R&B, soul, and surf during "Teenage Dance Craze" with Russell Quan. There's no '60s genre this French dude doesn't know, and there's no better place to sample his sweet 45 collection than at his weekly Wednesday Delirium gig, "It's Monkey Time."