Friday, December 22, 2006


Adventures on noisy Van Ness Street

My second visit to the SF artery this week - this time without my urban noise sensitive daughter. Van Ness is of course where the firefighters made their stand in 1906, and is second only to Market Street in significance to SF commerce, culture, and history. Lots of corporate logos along the way, but also some very unique SF institutions, including the Opera House.


I'm told that the San Francisco Ballet production of the Nutcracker Suite has been rated best in the country. I have no basis of comparison, but I attended with my son and mother today, and it is quite spectacular. The matinee version is abridged a bit, though towards the end of the second half I became acutely aware of half-pint fidgeting all around me. The first half at least contains an impression of a story that keeps the kids' attention, particularly the mouse/toy soldier battle.

I wonder if I'm alone in rooting for the mice. Of course they accosted Clara and frightened her early on, but we're never quite clear about their intentions. Bear in mind they face down the soldiers with inferior weapons, enduring artillery barrage, and weathering a cavalry attack, only to defeat the soldiers. Then in a remarkable moment of chivalry, the Mouse King agrees to fight the militarily vanquished Nutcracker/Prince and is about to defeat him - the tables turning due to a sneak attack by Clara! Add to this the fact that all the male dancers are used for the soldier parts, so essentially the mice are all women (I was 8 years old when Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs, and I rooted for King - her brother Randy Moffit was a pitcher for the SF Giants).

No complaints about the production however. But for having spent 4 dollars on a bottle of Pepsi for Asher down in the cafe during intermission, I'd have no complaints whatsoever.


Afterwards we had dinner at Little Joe's. Having been unable to renew their ancient lease on Broadway, they're now on noisy Van Ness, near Filbert which is on the Marina end. Parking is a bit of a problem there, but it's an improvement on Broadway (although I miss having an after dinner pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore). Given the cultural trend of SF I've discussed previously, I was concerned that they would take the opportunity to scale up to trend status, and change their menu. I was pleasantly surprised as we entered. They still have a counter with their cooking done in the open behind it, with all their potware steaming with sauces that fill the air with aroma's you won't find in the kiwi-butter/mango chutney "California cuisine" homogenized chic outlets that have replaced the old family Italian restaraunts of North Beach. Even some of the surviving traditionals have caved to the pressure and altered their menu to meet the homogenized arrogance of dotcom gentrification. Little Joe's has the same old menu, with liver and onions, gnocci, etc., and the prices reasonable though higher than they would like them to be. Unfortunately, SF's rent control doesn't apply to commercial rentals.

I ordered my usual (hadn't been there in 3 or 4 years) - raviolis with a green salad and a glass of the house Chianti (served in a traditional tumbler rather than a stem glass - very important!). Their raviolis are the best in the city. No joke. I've tried them all. They make their own, and the sauce is a legend - made with TLC starting with a base of pot roast and vegetables stewed until it all breaks down, serving as a base as the tomato sauce is added along with a great blend of spices. And if you have room for dessert, try the canoli, which impresses even my east coast in-laws - the riccota stuffing not too sweetened and laced with dried fruit.

There weren't that many people tonight, although it was early. Try it while you can, because Little Joe's is a member of an endangered species.

Of course its natural for a lawyer like yourself to root for rodents. Afterall, rodents and lawyers are only a few genes removed. $4 for a pepsi? Drinking that deserve to be gouged. Tommy's Joynt?

And if you want to follow in the footsteps of greatness, head to the Cathedral Hill Hotel.

Continue south on Van Ness for about five blocks and turn right on McCallister. Head down McCallister until you get to Masonic. Turn left on Masonic. It turns into one lane a bit after you cross Fell Street.

Turn right on Frederick and keep going until you come to Second Avenue. You'll know you're on the right track if you see the UCSF track on your right.

Turn left on Second Avenue and up the street about two blocks. You'll come to a stop sign at a four way stop.

Directly across from you will be the entrance to the UCSF Parking Garage.

That's how we get to USCF from Cathdral Hill Hotel.

Oh, and if you want to see the Native Daughters of the Golden West Home, from McCallister, turn left on Baker. The home is on the corner of Fulton and Baker just a block or two south of MacCallister, on the southwest corner.
Little Joes has moved? Guess I ought to get out more. As I reall they would serve you the house Zinfindel (in a tumbler) while you waited in line to be seated. One of the few things I agree with Eric on.
The second half of The Nutcracker always is much longer than the first half. Although some of the short dances liven-up the second half of the ballet, there is lots more excitement in the first act.

Thanks for the recommendation for Little Joe's.
Eric, you should have watched North Coast Dance's version of The Nutcracker last week up at the Van Duzer at HSU. With all local dancers. Very good indeed. Think Global. Act Local.
Once, a long time ago, my girlfriend dragged me to the SF Ballet for the Nutcracker. I didn't want to go and felt like the whole event was being shoved down my throat but! It was absolutely wonderful.

The North Coast Dance version may be OK for the north coast but the SF ballet company does it right, perfect.

Just a anonymous bloggers opinion.
anon 1:03 - original.

Fred - Actually, if I had both kids Tommy's Joynt would have been perfect. You get the food right away, and you can claim one of those back rooms and let the kids run around while you finish eating. I just had a hankering for Little Joe's.

Now if I was over there today, I'd definitely pick Tommy's. Saturday is rib night!

Anon 7:41 - Yeah, it's moved. But nothing else about it has changed.

Carol - for the kid's version, the second half is actually shorter than the first half. My only criticism is that they didn't shorten the last portion which is dedicated to the showcase dance pair. The kids don't care about technique. They want the colors and large movement.

Anon 8:33 - If I was around, I would go see it. We always know some of the kids who dance in it, and we knew a couple of them this year. But the SF Ballet event used to be an annual ritual when I was a kid, and my mother wants to share it with my kids.

Anon 9:09 - I agree. You go to each event for different reasons.
When I left his emply in 2002, our local zillionaire owned 12 commercial properties along Van Ness and was actively seeking more.
Hey eric...just got back from taking my two daughters tonight...we sat up in the balcony. They both loved it, though my four year old wanted to go back to my cousins where we are staying at intermission; we took bart over from the eastbay, and I am hoping to make this an annual tradition with my girls(my boys wanted nothing to do with going)
It's a long show for a 4 year old. Make a deal with the boys however. They may be surprised.
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