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Taking Flight 


Wednesday, May 24 2000
Coolness, in the modern, Fonzi-esque sense of the word, has always struck me as being a lot like the Zen concept of enlightenment: If you try to grasp it, you will lose it; if you claim to have it, you probably don't; it cannot be taught, earned, bought, or even defined; the trick is to simply be cool. Coolness isn't a finite quality -- adding to your own shouldn't cost anyone else his or hers -- nor, in its purest form, does it exist in the minds of others. Like love, compassion, wisdom, and joy, true coolness emanates from within, an effortless composure that transcends time, place, style, what have you, yet always seems familiar in the end.

And then, unfortunately, there is the dark side of chilling, from the ostracism of the unhip to the ex-girlfriend of mine who took my oft-expressed preference for certain bars, restaurants, and nightclubs as a sign that, maybe, I was a little too cool. Well, that hurt, since we spent just as many evenings at home, and while I can be a bit of a fancy boy, I would also like to say the following in my defense: 1) I work very hard during the week; 2) I didn't move here to spend my weekends at TGI Fridays; and, 3) Regardless, sweating me over shit like that was definitely, definitely not cool.

But anyway, that's coolness for you -- a tricky proposition. A more straightforward option is to be "fly." I've only been fly once, to disastrous effect, so let's travel instead to Divisadero's hottest new chill spot, Fly the bar and restaurant.

Though Fly didn't take its name directly from the colloquial term -- which, according to the Dictionary of American Slang, originated in black America in the early 1900s ("stylish"), and was upgraded to "superfly" 70 years later -- management is aware of the entendre, and works it. As you enter, acid jazz exudes rays of funk and hints of soul, while a high-ceilinged front room -- dim lighting, votive candles, mirrored purple walls -- leads to a small alcove where glittering, multihued stars sway above a purple pool table. A mural depicts tube-topped hipster girls and dreadlocked pseudo-bohemians getting their groove on with all the irrational exuberance of the young and macking. As for the clientele: I saw baseball caps, khakis, belly buttons, halter tops, a few T-shirts, and a designer dress, though no one was pimping too hard. But then, Fly is so fly you don't have to be, meaning everyone can just kick back and be themselves.

A disclosure: I liked Fly before I ever ate there, because on a previous visit, while I was standing out front, a man tried to sell me a lamp shaped like a cat. Another disclosure: My friend Frank also liked Fly in advance, because someone once sold him a dirt bike for $10 at the same location. Despite these two huge pluses, Fly also had to overcome what, for me at least, is a very significant deficiency: no liquor. The void is filled nicely: wine, 23-ounce draft beers (Guinness, Full Sail, Ace Pear Cider, etc., $4), bottled beers ranging from Red Stripe ($2.75) to Chimay Triple Ale ($4.75), white and red sangrias ($4), and, for the mixophile, a dozen sake cocktails ($4).

Imagine, for a moment, a world without gin or vodka. Now, step away from the ledge and meet the saketini (sake, dry vermouth, olives), whose smooth, dryish tang, while it may never rival higher-proof versions, isn't too shabby, either. In fact, the sake breeze (sake, OJ, pineapple) was definitely the bomb, as was the sakesuckle (sake and pear juice). As for the sakerita (sake, lime, and sour mix, ringed with salt), well, rice wine will never replace tequila, although the more I sipped, the more it grew on me, which is more than I can say for a lot of margaritas.

Fly also has a kitchen, by the way, and with nothing over $8.50 should perhaps be judged as a bar that serves food. But since Frank and I like bars with food, we were totally down, especially with simple indulgences like baked brie with roast garlic and sliced baguettes ($6.50), which both of us highly recommend. A more complex choice was the roast veggie napoleon (eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, mozzarella, and herbed ricotta, $5.95), one of many non-token vegetarian dishes on the menu. Fly's take on satay -- the nutty chick sticks (skewered strips of chicken breast, coated with peanuts, with peanut sauce, $4.95) -- kind of sucked, though, since it was drier, crumblier, and saltier than it should have been, not to mention the happy-ass name.

Salads at Fly are quite phat, and also large. The c-zar ($5.50) -- hearts of romaine, garlic croutons, classic, anchovy-rich dressing -- busted some serious moves, and easily smoked the majority of Caesars I've had over the years. Meanwhile, the espinacha caliente ($6.95) was more of a "digger" salad -- a heaping bowl of warm spinach whose depths revealed bacon roast potatoes, red onions, tomatoes, and bits of feta, bathed in a light bacon vinaigrette. The from fruits to nuts salad ($6.75) would have been a digger, except we found only a few apples, chevre croutons, and spiced walnuts. Also, someone got too happy with the balsamic vinaigrette. Frank and I were not down with that.

In case it's not apparent, Fly is fairly casual. For example, as we finished our salads, our waiter took a seat at our table, donned a very solemn expression, and asked with all earnestness, "More drinks?" (Obviously he didn't know us.) We were feeling kind of tropical, hence Frank's sakesickle (sake, OJ, and soy milk) and my sake 5-0 (sake, pineapple, and soy milk). Yes, soy milk, which added a frothy, creamy richness that made these the best sake cocktails we'd ever had. I'll still take a good mai tai any day of the week, but if, for some reason, the world ever runs out of rum, at least there is an alternative.

At this point, we had to wonder how many sake cocktails we'd actually have to drink to get looped. Our waiter gave us a smart answer (75), then suggested a supplement -- a 23-ounce Guinness. That sounded too filling, and so, after downing two shots of infused sake ($2) -- the Asian pear (pleasantly tangy) and roast hazelnut (kinda burnt) -- and a white sangria ($4, watery), we ordered two glasses of nigori unfiltered sake ($6) -- milky, slightly sweet, with just enough bite to carry us through the rest of the meal.

Entrees consist of sandwiches and small, innovative, thin-crust pizzas. We were all over the pizza blanco (garlic sauce, jack cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red onions, and scallions, $7.50), which exploded with a nicely balanced array of flavors. The shroom pie (portobellos, mozzarella, jack, and pesto, $7.95) on the other hand, was kind of a bad trip, since the pesto was too oily -- in fact way, way too oily -- and would have gladly been exchanged for more portobellos.

And then came the funky chicken ($8.25), which freaked me out when Frank ordered it, since the use of barbecue sauce instead of tomato seemed the epitome of late-night stoner fare ("Dude, I know what would be good ..."). Thankfully, the sauce was mild, giving the pizza a delicate, smoky tang; strips of chicken breast added juiciness, smoked Gouda a gentle richness, while red onions and scallions kicked down just enough pungency for us to decide the funky chicken was the shit.

Fly has no desserts, so we ended with sandwiches, each served with a small cabbage salad and potato chips. The black forest ham and brie (on focaccia, open faced, with roast garlic spread, $7.25) was a tad unwieldy, and the brie overwhelmed the ham, adding to our suspicion that a vegetarian created the menu. Frank wasn't too stoked when he learned there were no more steaks for his iron skillet rib eye ($8.50) -- he got roast beef instead, which wasn't sautéed, and thus a seemed a poserish substitution.

We finished with the garden club ($6.75) -- eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers (roasted, then chilled), plus sprouts, cheddar, and pesto, served on toasted 12-grain bread. This is what I consider a "salad sandwich," and I was going to diss it, since it reminded me of my college days in Berkeley. But then Frank called me on that -- "The club is what it is," he said -- and I was all, "Shit, bro, you're right." And what's more, those Berkeley days were some of the hella dopest of my life, now that I think about it, so there you go: Two thumbs up for the garden club.

About The Author

Greg Hugunin

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