Gifts for Her
If you live to shop and love to travel, European travel specialist Deborah Mayer guides sisters-in-shopping to the most fabulous European designer outlets and sales in Italy. From outlet malls to unmarked warehouses, she's hunted down the best deals worldwide (and has the credit card bills to prove it) and knows the word for “sale” in a dozen different languages. From the remote Tuscan countryside to the charming lakeside town of Como to the cosmopolitan city of Milan, Shop Around Tours scouts out the hottest trends in shoes, clothes, and accessories from name brands such as Gucci, Prada, Armani, and Fendi at unbelievably low prices. Gather your gal pals for a girls'-only adventure. For groups of ten or more, Shop Around can create a customized itinerary, from inexpensive to deluxe, to any destination worldwide. — CP
Prices vary; an eight-day trip runs approx. $1,895 and up; (212) 684-3763, www.shoparoundtours.com.
Inspired by the life-celebrating Hindu Lights of Diwali Festival, Sundari's trio of soy-based wax votives represent divine old-world aromas — Chamell (Indian for “jasmine”), Gulkand (traditional Indian spice), and Amrus (delicious Indian dessert). According to mythology, Lord Krishna liberated the people of Goa, who were reeling under the torture of demon king Narkasur, by killing the demon on Diwali Day. The five-day festival held in November is ushered in by burning effigies of Narkasura and illuminating houses with lights symbolizing the victory of good over evil. — CP
$50 at Sephora or www.sundari.com.
According to Eileen Ford, head of “the world's most famous modeling agency” and author of A More Beautiful You in 21 Days, eyelashes are very important when it comes to making googly eyes. Ford divulges in her 1972 book that professional beauties all over the world use false eyelashes — lashes so cunningly applied that no one knows they're not your very own. Imagine sitting across from someone, staring into his eyes, lowering your lashes ever so slowly, then looking deep into the very depths of his being. Sigh. Everything you need to let your eyes smolder is boxed up in Benefit's Bad Gal Gear limited-edition kit — a sultry black liquid eyeliner, a mini lash mascara with full-sized brush, and, of course, a full set of falsies. — CP
$28; available at Benefit, 2117 Fillmore St., 567-0242; and 2219 Chestnut Street, 567-1173. www.benefitcosmetics.com.
The fusion of Arabic and African decorative arts finds its Paris in Morocco, and now you can find a little bit of Morocco in San Francisco. La Kasbah on Polk Street is a boutique of Morocco's finest handmade gifts by contemporary artisans. The goddesses that we know will gush for an ornate perfume bottle of colored glass with silver coils around its regal neck ($35). For the friend with the nervous tick, place in her agitated hands a thick silk tassel with a silver cap ($20); the texture is an ecstasy flashback and the colors will soothe her eyes. A stackable leather ottoman with a radiating stitched design ($165) is perfect for that small apartment in which a regular armchair blocks the view. For bohemian warmth, chose from lamps with henna designs printed onto glowing, tinted-leather shades of amber, red, and musky yellow ($60 and up). — JLM
La Kasbah, 1825 Polk St., 409-4866, www.laskasbah.net
Accessories can tell you a lot about a person. These fabulous canvas totes tell you to stay the f*@k away. Yes, Lela Lee's original Angry Asian Girl is in the store — in various colors and with sayings for every mood. Slogans like, “I chase boys,” I hate people,” and “Are you mad at me because I'm perfect!” are great for the woman in everyone's life who wants to make a statement. The 12 oz. canvas bags are fully reversible and come with a matching coin purse. — JLM
$25.95 at Tutti Frutti, 718 Irving St., 661-8504.
There are no “Made especially for…” tags quite like those in the sweater your grandma knit for you, but this gift will be every bit as custom. At EVarize Fashion Café, designer Erica Varize is mixing up flavors for what may be the most unique clothing showroom in the Bay Area. The term Café refers to the rich menu of fabrics and silhouettes that shoppers can choose from; their selections are then custom-sewn and served with style. — JLM
Custom garments start at $50; gift certificates are available. 2634 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, www.evarize.com.
For those in the fashion know, the nameplate necklace and the diamond bauble locket are officially over. But Alex Woo's prized pendants, as seen in People magazine and around the necks of Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria and daytime diva Kelly Ripa, are the latest accessories to be the talk of the fashionista town. Lucky girls Drew Barrymore and Lindsay Lohan are among the celebs who own chic sparklers from Alex Woo's super trendy Vegas collection. Coincidentally, Barrymore, who has a spade chain, just finished filming Lucky You, and Lohan, who wears a club pendant, is awaiting the release of her new movie Just My Luck. — CP
$118 and up at Divine Girls, 340 Presidio Ave., 409-4901, www.alexwoo.com.
Plastic surgery is a mandatory part of climbing the Hollywood food chain, but what about knife- and needle-phobic folks who just want to look good (or unnaturally young, à la Joan Rivers)? Natura Bissé's Diamond Ice-Lift is a luxury peel-off mask, touted as providing a long-lasting cosmetic “face-lift” in a flash. Just 20 minutes twice a week, and no post-op recovery time, the transepidermal DNA Cryo Mask will tighten and target the telltale signs of time. Now, if it could just do something for former House Majority Leader Tom Delay's strangely asymmetrical nostrils. — CP [page]
$140 at Neiman Marcus or www.neimanmarcus.com.
The Hobby Company of San Francisco is your one-stop shop for all things hobby and craft this holiday. Located in the Richmond District for over 30 years, the store's merchandise includes models, beads, miniatures, and yarns. You'll find an extended selection of knitting supplies for the novice or the pro knitter. Check out the Klutz “Knitting” kit, which features a book with excellent instructions for the beginner, and a variety of projects to both knit and crochet. The kit includes everything you need to get started — yarn, knitting needles, and a crochet hook — all for only $24.95. Add on one of many extras to make this kit truly special — such as 100 percent wools and alpaca, acrylic blends, aluminum or bamboo needles, crochet hooks, and more. — JLM
The Hobby Company, 5150 Geary St. (at 16th Ave.), 386-2802.
When fashion designer Stacy Morgenstein was a child, she had a little trouble pronouncing her name; it ended up coming out “Deeshy.” At the age of three, she started blazing her own entrepreneurial trail, subjecting her parents, sister, and others to sit through elaborately staged fashion shows. By the sixth grade, she'd sewn her first skirt. Now, from her very own Deesh line, Morgenstein has stitched her popular Boy Meets Girl logo onto her sexy, silky, cashmere scarves — an essential accessory in San Francisco's cool climate. Luxe it is. A bargain it ain't. But nothing can beat the feel of cashmere against your skin. — CP
$175 at www.deeshdesigns.com.
Find the ultimate pampering, purifying, and healing experience at Plastic Surgery Medical Group. Treatments include cleansing; microdermabrasion treatment; face, neck and shoulder massage; purification; therapeutic masque; skin-sloughing chemical peel; toning and conditioning; and moisture-infusion sun protection. All skin-therapy facials are customized to meet the specific needs of your complexion, and the products used are formulated from an exclusive blend of natural ingredients. Feeling like your skin is dry, tired, and “winterized”? Try the Winter Facial. Customized cleansers and masks containing powerful antioxidants to nourish and revitalize the skin are infused with delightful aromas such as chocolate, peppermint, and tangerine. This is a gift that is sure to please all the senses! — JLM
Prices vary. Holiday gift certificates and skin care bags are available at Plastic Surgery Medical Group, 909 Hyde St., Ste. 515, 929-4630, email@example.com.
New York's hippest spa, Bliss, recently opened its doors in San Francisco's W hotel. Founded by beauty therapist to the stars Marcia Kilgore, Bliss features cult treatments like Oxygen Facials and Ginger Rubs, but it's the Hangover Herbie that's essential to any party girl's recuperation arsenal. The 105-minute seasonal lifesaver includes a purifying essential-oil rub and wrap, a cleansing facemask, soothing foot and anti-migraine massages, a skin-saving oxygen spray, and a choice of Pure Inventions Green Tea Concentrates. Without one second of poking, prodding, or overly intensive pummeling, the Hangover Herbie will have girls-on-the-go back in action in no time. So imbibe, act silly (except at your holiday office party), and know that there is sweet, sweet help to keep your post-reveling face and peepers looking oh-so-pretty. — CP
$215; available at Bliss Spa at W San Francisco, 181 Third St., 4th Floor, 281-0990.
This bedazzled “Goldie” collar, inset with two rows of sparkles, is all the bling your dog will ever need. The matching gold leash will have Hollywood casting directors beating down your dog's door. Such flashy canine couture is usually reserved for toy dogs — those fond of yapping at nothing and getting freaked out by their own tails, or the pampered pooches of lanky socialites — but this good-as-gold set will make any style-conscious dog look pawsitively festive. — CP
$27 per set. Collar available in XS-XL, leash is 51″ long. Available at www.dramaqueenstyle.com.
Nothing excites you more than swapping spit. Call it foreplay, pre-copulatory activity, or getting it on — you love that thrill of letting go. And during the holiday season, there are no shortages of lip-locking opportunities, thanks to mistletoe. Urban Decay's Cocktail Collection of sexy body glimmer brush, lickable body balm, and shot-o-gloss lip gloss in straight up, sparkly Mai Tai, Piña Colada, and Cosmopolitan scents will get girls loaded and looking oh-so-fine. So whether you're in daylight or barlight, you'll look (and taste) lick-smacking good. Great stocking-stuffer or girly gift for the glamour pusses on your shopping list. — CP
$15-30; at Sephora, Nordstrom, or www.urbandecay.com.
Unless you want to look like Mommie Dearest, well-groomed brows are a must. The key, of course, is to make them look as natural as possible. The wrong shape can add an additional ten pounds and, as if that isn't bad enough, an additional ten years. A well-shaped brow can actually open up your face, help lift deep-set eyes, or make small eyes look larger. Nonna Daron at Flying Beauticians is the master at making brows beautiful. Since it can take up to eight weeks for badly plucked brows to grow back, put your (or your fave gal pal's) best non-cosmetic accessory in the hands of the grooming guru, Nonna. — CP
$35 at Flying Beauticians, 166 Geary St., Ste. 900, 391-8929, www.flyingbeauticians.com.
Gifts for Her and Him
It's no secret that all types of athletes use balance boards to improve their abilities. You, too, can develop core strength and agility with Zebra Hall's Rock & Roll Balance Board. The skateboard-style deck pivots on three high-performance wooden rockers, and the one-foot-by-two board is lightweight for traveling. This high-quality “toy” (suitable for ages five to adult) adds an element of fun and elegance to any household — the Zebra Hall toyshop sends its elves across the country and beyond to gather stylish ideas. This one is made exclusively for Zebra Hall by Vew Do, the Vermont pioneer of balance boards endorsed by the NFL and NHL. — JLM [page]
$150 at www.zebrahall.com, or visit the warehouse at 2525 16th St. (at Florida), Ste. 310, 800-834-9165.
Copia, the four-year-old American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts in Napa features a 3.5-acre garden modeled after those in the Loire Valley, daily cooking demonstrations and wine tastings, regular concerts and films, and a permanent interactive exhibit about the heritage and culture of American wine and food. A membership includes unlimited admission to Copia for one year, participation in events and programs at a discounted rate, a subscription to the quarterly Copia calendar, discounts in the gift shop, and exclusive invitations to members-only exhibition previews. Upcoming events include a members' holiday party with guest Thomas Keller. — CP
Individual membership, $60; Dual, $75; or Family, $100. Available at COPIA, 500 First St., Napa; www.copia.org or (707) 265-5946.
Although the big “O” has been a much-discussed topic on the tongues of men and women since the early 20th century (thank you, Kinsey), scores of betrothed couples and singletons are still in the dark about the best present to be given below the belt. Give the gift of mind-blowing, screaming, thrashing, (and satisfying) sex to your soulmate with the Up All Night holiday kit. This sexy couple's gift set includes a Mini Sterling Vibe, a Sonic Ring vibrating cock ring, a Lil Flirt butt plug, a brightly colored Sorbet Slimline vibe, the popular Sex Questions card game, a lube sampler pack, and two C batteries to get the jollies buzzing. Warming up in a cold winter's night has never been more fun. — CP
$52 at www.babeland.com.
Gifts for Him
Utopias is Samuel Adams' fourth edition in the growing craft-brewing revolution. The limited-edition beer (only 8,000 numbered bottles) is fermented at great length and with great care to produce double-digit alcohol percentages (50 proof). The Guinness Book of World Records claims it's the “strongest beer in the world.” The collectible brew-kettle-shaped bottle is reminiscent of the copper brewing kettles used by brewmasters hundreds of years ago, and the liquid pleasure it contains can be likened to a fine cognac or port. Utopias make a fantastic gift for the most discriminating beer aficionado on your list. — CP
$100 at select beer retailers.
The self-scrutiny and tedious personal regimen women inflict upon themselves can be costly and time consuming. But before you mutter “high maintenance,” women aren't the only ones booking countless appointments and stocking up on beauty must-haves. Men have beauty secrets, too (beyond buff abs and bulging biceps). Sausalito-based California North has answered the growing demands of beauty-conscious guys with its Skin Care Starter Kit. Featuring eight two-ounce refillable bottles of California North's products from their best-selling skincare and haircare lines, the waterproof bag of beauty booty is perfect for gift-giving. In fact, give two — the testosterone posse tends to buy doubles of everything — one for the gym bag and one for home. — CP
$39.50 at Macy's or www.californianorth.com
If the man in your life is in the market for a trendy T-shirt made of buttery cotton and cut to perfection, say hello to Barking Irons' line of limited-edition tees. Each custom-designed, hand-printed shirt illustrates a scene of New York City life circa 1900. Only two years old, Barking Irons already has an impressive cult following of A-list celebrities and is among the best-selling brands at upscale retailers like Barneys New York. — CP
$59; at Rolo, 1235 Howard St. (at 8th St.), 355-1122, www.barkingirons.com.
Shaving sucks, and that's the truth. And when women complain that it's worse for them than it is for you, don't buy it for a second. Though it's true women shave almost nine times the surface area that men do, the hair you shave is thicker and denser and the skin is more sensitive. Jack Black can't make this irritating chore fun, but its Shave in a Bag kit — including a three-in-one pre-shave oil, shave cream, and skin conditioner — can help you perfect your routine and avoid chronically crappy shaves. — CP
$44 at Nordstrom, Saks, Sephora, The Ritz Carlton, Neiman Marcus, or www.getjackblack.com.
Hair-loss sufferers often don't want to admit that going bald bothers them. But there's nothing wrong or vain about being concerned with hair loss. Since hair loss affects about 35 million men and 21 million women in the United States alone, balding cover-ups like French King Louis XIV's elaborate 15-20 pound wigs and the comb-over of today (the mullet of yesteryear) are typically in bad taste. The HairMax LaserComb, a low-level laser device designed for the general public to use at home, was touted by Time magazine as one of the “Inventions of the Year.” Used two to three times per week, for five to ten minutes per session, this new, cell-activating laser comb stimulates the follicles in your scalp, leaving you with fuller, healthier, stronger, longer hair. — CP
Uniquely San Francisco Gifts
A wood-burning fireplace warms the room. Apothecary-style shelves lined with glass jars contain ingredients for the day's dinner — black limes, shaved bonito, dried tangerine peel. A long, wooden, communal table beckons hungry souls. Partners chef Amaryll Schwertner and business director Lori Regis have created a serene, intimate space, where the viewing of wholesome cooking is museum-like. Boulette's does not sell alcohol but does welcome any wine or liquor that diners wish to bring along for the exceptional gastronomic journey. — CP
$125 per person, plus 20 percent service fee and CA sales tax. Minimum cost for an evening is $1,200 with the exception of Saturday ($1,500). Available at Ferry Building Marketplace, 399-1155, www.bouletteslarder.com.
Most San Francisco guidebooks discuss the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars and Alcatraz and other dubious attractions. San Francisco's Best Dive Bars, on the other hand, gets right to the heart of the city's fog-shrouded, fatalistic personality. There are no gentrified, backwards-baseball-cap “lounges” to be found in Todd Dayton's bourbon-scented tome, just honest, ragged-edged joints with down-to-earth barkeeps and jukeboxes dripping with Sinatra and Hank Williams. Thoughtfully arranged by neighborhood to facilitate a night of earnest bar-hopping, the book ranks its saloons from one to ten, with The Brown Jug and Murio's Trophy Room amongst the city's diviest. Specialty listings of pickup joints, pool halls and Greater Bay Area dives are helpfully included. — MS
$10; available at most bookstores including A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, 601 Van Ness Ave. (at Golden Gate), 441-6670.
Doggie day care provides the best of both worlds for dogs and owners alike. Owners with busy lives can get a guilt-free day away from a bored, unsupervised pooch suffering from separation anxiety, barking all day, and digging in the yard. Dogs can have a fun-filled bout of all-day play, socializing and exercising with other pups. And Fog City Dogs has an Internet doggie cam so you can have peace of mind knowing that your best friend is well cared for. The best part? Canines come home tired, calm, and relaxed. — CP
$30 for a full-day pass; Fog City Dogs, 1488 Lombard St., 409-DOGS, www.fogcitydogs.com.
Everybody loves a good movie, and one of the best places to experience the pleasures of good old-fashioned big-screen, popcorn-scented entertainment is the proudly independent Balboa Theater, an Outer Richmond landmark since 1926. In addition to double features of new releases, programmer Gary Meyer hosts excellent mini-festivals of arcane classics (viz., the “Sin in Soft Focus” program of naughty pre-Code Paramounts, running through November 24); the occasional stage show; and a February birthday party with live music, door prizes, and cake for all comers. Snacks include Aidell's sausages, Lindt chocolates, and, of course, freshly popped popcorn with real butter and your choice of seasonings (parmesan-garlic among them). Even the intermission music is totally hip. — MS
A $30 Balboa Card is good for five admissions; 3630 Balboa Ave. (at 38th Ave.), 221-8184, www.balboamovies.com.
Gifts to Have on Hand for Anyone
This fall during New York's Fashion Week, something sleek, sexy, and oh-so-stylish was paraded down the catwalk and, hint, it wasn't a supermodel. Five estates from five different regions of Italy came together under a single wine brand to create the Bootleg Wine Collection, debuted at the Runway of Wine fashion show. Each bottle is wrapped in faux leather with a zipper that runs its length. The collection includes five varietals: Pinot Grigio by Tenuta Setten Estate (Veneto), Sauvignon Blanc by Trevisol Estate (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Grand Tuscan (a blend of three varietals) by Villa Trasqua Estate, Chianti by Castello Sonnino Estate (both from Tuscany), Southern Red (a blend of four varietals) by Terre Del Grico Estate (Puglia). — CP
$14.99 for Bootleg Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chianti, or Southern Red. $19.99 for the Bootleg Grand Tuscan. Available at local wine retailers.
Who would've thought a bad actor could start a successful gourmet cream cheese company in Southern CA, but that's what DP Parker did when he mixed up some of the white stuff with roasted red peppers for a Christmas gift two years ago. Fifteen stores later, it has turned into a whirlwind adventure for this young entrepreneur. Be sure to check out his Five for $55 holiday gift pack. With names like Smugglers Cove (smoked chipotle), My Blue Heaven (blue cheese), and Cadillac Rich (balsamic vinegar), who can resist? Besides, there's nothing like snuggling up with Jolly St. Nick and a jar of cream cheese for the holidays. — CP
Available by contacting DP at 213-925-9396 or www.grassrootsdip.com.
Dating back to the 14th century as the “mother of all sauces,” verjus (pronounced vair-ZHOO), a French word literally meaning “green juice,” has been making a revival in the kitchen of gourmands. The highly acidic, fresh juice of unripe wine grapes can be used to add zest and flavor to cooking from salads to marinades, braising and sauces. Winemakers Karin Warnelius and Justin Miller of Terra Sonoma started making verjus in their Alexander Valley vineyard as an alternative to composting unripe fruit. Their unfermented bottled nectar is a sophisticated substitute for vinegar or lemon juice. — CP
$15 per 12 oz. bottle, at St. Helena Olive Oil Company, Rutherford, (707) 431-1382, www.terrasonoma.com.
For the four-legged drop-in guests on your list and those who sing the “Love me, love my dog” mantra, San Luis Obispo's Cloud Star makes all-natural goodies for canine companions. The Ultimate Canine Goodie Bag is the perfect gift to make tails wag and tummies happy this holiday season. Cloud Star packs a boat bag with — get ready — a one-pound box of each Buddy Biscuit Baked Dog Treat flavor (Minty Madness, Molasses Madness, Peanut Butter Madness, Roasted Chicken Madness, Veggie Madness), a bag of Buddy Biscuits “Tricky Trainers,” a bottle of Buddy Biscuits Holiday Blend, Buddy Biscuits Baked Dog Treats, 2 XXL Buddy Biscuits, Buddy Wash Lavender & Mint Shampoo, Buddy Rinse Lavender & Mint Conditioner, Buddy Splash Lavender & Mint Spritzer — enough product and pooch loot to keep Fido lookin' good and on his best behavior through the New Year. — CP [page]
$75 at local pet boutiques, (800) 361-9079, or www.cloudstar.com.
Who said hot chocolate is just for kids? If you like your cocoa with a twist, Jennifer Leung, owner of Lavande Nail Spa, is serving up a “Like Water for Chocolate Pedicure” to tempt your appetite this holiday season, without piling on the holiday pounds. Shop-weary tootsies are first warmed in a luxurious cocoa milk bath with a hint of vanilla. Feet are then slathered with an exfoliating honey-almond scrub, enshrouded in a decadent chocolate mud wrap, and finished with a soothing massage that uses cocoa butter cream for the ultra pampering experience. Toes come away looking svelte and sparkling — all without consuming one single calorie. — CP
$54 at Lavande Nail Spa, 113 Carl St., 566-5333; 2139 Polk Street, 931-7389.
Just a block away from San Francisco's MOMA, VinoVenue is no ordinary wine tasting room. Mahogany and stainless steel automated tasting stations feature eight or ten wine styles (Bordeaux, Rhone, Pinot Noir, etc.) with a digital display above each bottle indicating the per-ounce cost of a taste. Start the oenophile adventure by purchasing a “Smart Card.” Insert the card into a special slot in the dispenser, place a glass below the spout of the selected bottle, and push a button. Voilà! You're served a single, one-ounce squirt of wine — everything from $1.60 for a 2001 Catena Malbec Mendoza to $28 for an ounce of 1997 d'Yquem. If you taste a wine you like, you can buy it and take it home. — CP
“Smart Cards” are available in increments of $10-100 at 686 Mission St. (at 3rd St.), 341-1930, www.vinovenue.net.
Move over Freud, Jung, and Skinner — mental maladies have moved off the couch and are suddenly in vogue. Psycho Therapy Clothing designs all-cotton T-shirts and tanks that allow men, women, and kids to express their inner demons, neuroses, phobias, and obsessions. The front of each shirt offers a psychological state of being, such as Abnormal, Brainwashed, Sex Object, Fear of Intimacy, and Narcissist (just to name a few), while the back features the dictionary definition. The shirts are a cost-effective alternative to therapy, a tongue-in-cheek addition to any wardrobe, and, best of all, they can be sent anonymously to people who just don't get the hint.
$19 and up at www.psychotherapyclothing.com.
Fitness experts consistently say that healthy eating combined with regular exercise is the best way to slim down, but it seems like many Americans will do anything to avoid diet and exercise. Get a jump on the inevitable New Year's Resolution with Swiss Masai's anti-cellulite mBT sneakers. They're not exactly high-fashion footwear, but the company claims the sneaker's multilayered sole helps improve circulation and muscle tone. You have to wear shoes anyway, so if you can walk in hopes of wilting away cellulite, why not? Enough women have clamored for the slimming sneakers, claiming they reduce dreaded dimples on the thighs and butt, that some styles are on back order due to overwhelming demand. — CP
Nothing says romance like sidling up to an attractive stranger and offering to ignite his cigarette with your voluptuous pink pig lighter, especially if it's the kind that has twin flames shooting out of the nostrils. Or perhaps you prefer the newly trendy penguin lighter and its flammable cranium, or a cuddly teddy bear variety that offers a light when you tug its ear. Jest Jewels also sells a somewhat more subtle gold bullion lighter in two sizes as well as pashminas, key rings, candles, watches, thongs, party hats, and other necessities for the girly-girl in your life. — MS
Lighters are $18-$45 at 1869 Union St. (at Laguna), 563-8839, www.jestjewels.com.
Champagne is indisputably the wine of celebration, and G.H. Mumm's super-exclusive Mumm Grand Cru, a special multi-vintage, 100 percent grand cru cuvée, is only available for toasting in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. How to enjoy: 1) Break and remove foil (foil only) around the top of the bottle. 2) Place one thumb firmly atop the cork to keep it from flying off and hitting your neighbor. 3) With your other hand, twist off the wire cage. It will always take six turns. 4) Begin to loosen the cage, but keep it on — it will keep the cork from flying off. 5) Hold the cork firmly and begin to twist in one direction as you twist the bottle in the other direction. Start to ease the cork out so it makes a light hissing sound. (A loud popping sound is an absolute sin.) Pour, toast, and enjoy! — CP
$56 at Plumpjack Wines, 3210 Fillmore St., 346-9870.
CD Box Sets
One way to elicit fealty from a serious music-head is the offering of the Box Set, those killer collections that pull together strands of a performer's career or of a particular era. (Some literary license: One of the following is but two discs.) [page]
To perhaps complement the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, The Legend (Columbia/Legacy) is four discs covering the entire career of the Man in Black, from Sun Records' “music with a beat” (as Cash referred to his style back when) to the career-revitalizing Rick Rubin-produced American recordings and beyond.
Frank Sinatra's old employer Tommy Dorsey is celebrated with The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing: The Centennial Collection (Bluebird/Legacy), and anyone thinking Dorsey was just another honky playing watered-down big band music will be surprised. Disc one sizzles with hot small-group jazz (featuring Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Venuti), often with quite nearly punk rock tempos. While Dorsey could be saccharine, he could also swing with the best and he had an awesomely beautiful, singing tone on the trombone (his playing was a major influence on Ol' Blue Eyes). Oh yes, Sinatra is here, too, plus one song from some hillbilly truck driver who appeared on Dorsey's 1950s TV program. (Hint: rhymes with “pelvis.”)
Hometown heroes the Grateful Dead have been derided by post-hippie rock generations, but many in the indie scene are covering territory the Dead charted in the mid- to late- '60s. The three-CD Fillmore West 1969 (Rhino) contains whole performances that their Live/Dead album excerpted, capturing the Dead at their peak. Amaze your friends, young hipsters: Play “Dark Star” after the verses and say it's the latest thing from one of those Japanese neo-psychedelic bands and “Feedback” is by Merzbow or K.K. Null.
When it came to rude-boy, strutting funk, the oft-sampled guitarist Johnny “Guitar” Watson (whose '50s blues/R&B recordings were an influence on Frank Zappa) was one of its hottest, quirkiest exponents in the '70s (or ever) — if you've got any doubts, the 31-track Funk Anthology (Shout! Factory) is proof positive, an all-night party waiting to happen.
These slabs of sound are available at the corporate megastores, copiously hep Bay Area outlets like Amoeba Music and Rasputin, or at amazon.com. The Cash and Dorsey sets are in the $35-45 neighborhood; the Watson, $20-26; and the Dead, $29-35.
DVD Holiday Classics
As a genre, the parameters of the Christmas Movie are clear, even prosaic: The story must take place during the yuletide season and provide a hint or two of chilly solstice ambience (pleasant or otherwise). The films below aren't among the Christmas-movie canon of usual suspects, but all provide memorable holiday viewing. (Each is available at several DVD outlets including Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight (at Shrader), 831-1200, www.amoebamusic.com.)
La Grande Illusion Jean Renoir's most famous work, an examination of four men caught in the turmoil of World War I and their own rigid social structure, is so informed by the director's eloquent humanism that it automatically becomes the all-time champion holiday flick. At one point, after aviators Jean Gabin and Marcel Dalio escape from the German fortress where they were prisoners of war, they find solace with a German farm wife and share an idyllic Christmas with her and her tiny daughter — perhaps the most moving, poetic sequence in movie history. ($36)
The Apartment On Christmas Eve, the mistress of an unfeeling tycoon attempts suicide while the unprincipled schnook who loves her gets drunk with a peroxide blonde and a department-store Santa Claus in a Manhattan watering hole. This Billy Wilder Oscar-winner, an acerbic tragicomedy of corporate ambition, takes a decidedly different attitude toward the holiday season, but it's also funny and gripping and so unexpectedly moving that at the climax you might feel positively rejuvenated. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are wonderful, and so is Adolph Deutsch's bluesy score. ($14)
A Lion in Winter Assembled for a Christmas Court at the family castle is this awe-inspiring historical quintet: Henry II, King of England; Eleanor of Aquitaine, his wife; and their three children, Geoffrey, John, and Richard the Lion-Hearted. This family yuletide is a bit more tense than the usual, however, what with Eleanor under lock and key most of the year and the three kids scrambling for a shot at the throne. The results make for a terrific movie, and screenwriter James Goldman's offhandedly anachronistic dialogue brings 12th-century Europe to life. ($14)
The Thin Man William Powell and Myrna Loy star as Nick and Nora Charles, a retired San Francisco private eye and his wealthy new wife, trading drinks and quips on a Yuletide vacation to New York. In the best scene, the Christmas cocktail party, there's a little out-of-tune caroling here, some drunken blubbering there, a lot of martinis and badinage everywhere, with director Woody Van Dyke's facile camera ducking in and out and recording every mistletoed nuance. The next morning, the hung-over Nick happily shoots the ornaments off the Christmas tree with his new air rifle, a gift from his beautiful, all-knowing Nora. Now that's a merry Christmas. ($19)