Monday, June 4, 2018

"Plus Ça Change.." 300 Block Of Kearny St. Retains Its Paramount Culinary Diversity Despite High Turnover

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, say the French. "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Six years ago I wrote about the culinary diversity of the 300 block of Kearny Street, a stretch chock-a-block with affordable lunch venues, suggesting (without contradiction) that it was the most culinarily diverse street in San Francisco. At the time I noted that there were 20 eateries in the mix, with Onigilly still in the works and the International Food Center not fully repopulated after its disasterous underground fire. Among these venues could be found 12 distinct national cuisines and additional sub-cuisines (Japanese ramen, curry and sushi venues, for example).

I also noted in that blog post that this stretch was a high-turnover area, but the turnover didn't impact the net diversity. I can also note that turnover has not resulted in noticeable gentrification.  Since August of 2012, seven restaurants have closed, with all but one reopening with new tenants, and some then-vacant spaces have been filled in. Gone is the esteemed Cuban restaurant Paladar, only to be replaced by the equally liked Israeli casual food venue, Sababa.   The International Food Center lost the block's only Chinese and Filipino lunch spots, but gained the Russian/Ukranian Pushkin, and a Turkish Cafe, The Sini, replaced a"New American" spot at 322 Kearny. Once again, the 300 bloclk of Kearny hosts 12 distinct national cuisines: American, Greek/Mediterranean, Hawaiian, Israeli, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Russian/Ukranian, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese; to this can be added the stateless Asian favorite, a boba joint (Plentea) which the area lacked six years ago.

Here is the full list as of June 2018.  As before, I have included the International Food Center, which has a mailing address of 320 Bush St,, but has a co-equal entrance at 316 Kearny St.

Ayola (327 Kearny St.) - Greek/Mediterranean
Baladie (337 Kearny St.) - Greek/Mediterranean
Banana House (321 Kearny St.) - Thai
Bibim Bar (316 Kearny St.)  - Korean
Fleur de Sel (308 Kearny St.) - New American/Continental
Foundation Cafe (335 Kearny St.) - New Anerican
Freshroll (357 Kearny St.) - Vietnamese
L & L Hawaiian Barbecue (312 Kearny St.) - Hawaiian plate lunches
Muracci's Japanese Curry (307 Kearny St.) - Japanese curry
Onigilly (343 Kearny St.) - Japanese Onigiri
Pachino Trattoria and Pizzeria (318 Kearny St.) - Italian
Pao Jao (316 Kearny St.) - Japanese Dumplings and Ramen
Pasilla Mexican Grill (359 Kearny St.) - Mexican Grill
Pho Express (316 Kearny St.) - Vietnamese Pho
Plentea (341 Kearny St.) - Boba
Pushkin (316 Kearny St.) - Russian/Ukranian
Ramen Underground (356 Kearny St.) - Japanese Ramen
Sababa (329 Kearny St.) - Israeli
Super Duper Burgers (346 Kearny St.) American - Burgers
Taqueria Estrella (316 Kearny St.) - Mexican Taqueria
Tenmatsu (336 Kearny St.) - Japanese Takeout
Thainery (316 Kearny St.) - Thai
The Sini (322 Kearny St.) - Turkish


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Some Buzz About Buzzy Donahue On KPTZ Radio

Buzzy Donahue ca. 1965 and 2016. Her hair's grown a bit.

I hang out in a lively Facebook group called "San Francisco Remembered" where recently there were some musings about a North Beach institution from the Beat days onward, Clown Alley, noted for peerless charcoal grilled burgers and after hours celebrity crushes. (I once found myself waiting in line for a proletarian priced burger between Flip Wilson and Ahmad Jamal.) For nostalgia's sake, I decided to fish some snapshots taken at Clown Alley 50+ years ago from a shoebox for posting to the group. Among the ones I posted was of a woman in her late teens with a Clown Alley cheeseburger in her hand. There was no notation on the photo, but her identity was etched in my mind, because her girl companion had wasted no time in informing me that she was Buzzy Donahue, daughter of "Big Daddy" Tom Donahue. On the spot I decided I needed to immortalize her and the burger.

Tom Donahue?  If you are too young or unread to know the name or remember the booming voice, you can bet your sweet patootie that you owe him a debt if you listen to popular music today . He is considered nothing less than "The father of Progressive Radio" for it was he who freed pop music from the shackles of Top 40 AM radio and moved it to the greener pastures of FM radio (which also owes him big time), instituting the "album cut format" with accompanying erudite banter. He was also a record producer (the Beau Brummels, Bobby Freeman and the Great Society) and a concert promoter (the Rolling Stones at the Cow Palace and the Beatles at Candlestick Park). If you can find it, read his 1967 Rolling Stone article "AM Radio Is Dead and Its Rotting Corpse Is Stinking Up the Airwaves." He died far too young.  You can read about "Big Daddy" on Wikipedia, or here or here.

I was a little hesitant about posting the picture of Buzzy Donahue. In it she is looking into the camera with a displeased mien, somewhere between teen sullenness and an ur-"Don't bother me, I'm eating" take. Would she be pissed at the posting of the image if she saw it? Au contraire! She saw it, and not only did she not lecture me, she reposted the image on her own Facebook page and "Friended" me. Thanks to her jumping into my news stream, I found out she now hosts a weekly broadcast "The Buzzy Donahue Show" on KPTZ Public Radio in Port Townsend WA, just in time for me to hook into it. I found Buzzy's program a lovely and (mostly) soothing mix of Hawaiian (no, not Aloha Oe), jazz, folk, soft rock, and, for good measure, Buffalo Springfield's anthem for our time (and yours!), For What it's Worth. (Hey, how about a Phil Ochs cut next time, Buzzy?)

Check out Buzzy's sweet voice and sweeter playlists, Fridays from 9:30 to 11:00 on KPTZ-FM.

Port freaking Townsend, Washington, you say?

I once saw a poster on a phone pole about an upcoming "Psychic Fair" in San Francisco, upon which someone had scrawled "You don't have to be there to attend." It's 2018, dude, and so it is with radio. You don't need to be there physically or culturally to listen. For me, it was as simple as "Hey Google, Play KPTZ radio." If  Siri or Alexa don't understand that, fire them and stream Buzzy live from KPTZ's website.

And throw her a posie. It's lonely in a small market FM radio station broadcast booth.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cashless Food Trucks: Class-based Discrimination?

Long ago I became a booster of the Señor Sisig Filipino-Mexican fusion food truck's pioneering mission of promoting an under-represented cuisine, even though,unlike its nearest competitor, it did little cooking on-board but made its mark by finding novel ways of serving reheated food prepared off-site. I never begrudged bros Kidera and Payuma their cult following or the "Best Food Tuck" kudos their "more palatable" (read"no offal") sisig concoctions earned them. After all, they were flying the Filipino food flag high, and were part of a movement to gain Pinoy cuisine the respect it sorely lacked.

I was chagrined, however, when I passed by the Señor Sisig truck parked at its usual Ellis and Powell St. spot recently and noticed a sandwich board sign in its queuing area reading, in large letters, "NO CASH PAYMENTS ACCEPTED." The same signs, with nary a "Sorry" evident, were plastered on the side of the truck: The only explanation offered on the sign was that it was done to allow them to "focus more on the guest experience."

Some further elucidation was provided on SS's Instagram account, primarily related to the burden of counting cash and keeping accounts of it. They also mentioned reducing the possibility of theft, but the pedestrian activity and law enforcement presence are both so high at that location that such an occurrence seems unlikely. All reasons cited related to improving convenience for the vendor, not the customer. It goes without saying, too, that there is a cost to implementing a POS system, which gets passed on to the customers.

Señor Sisig serves an area hard by the Powell St. cable car turntable which has a significant population of street people who have to cobble together small amounts of cash to get a bite to eat, as well as many tourists who are loathe to go through the hassle of having their foreign credit cards vetted to purchase a sisig taco. For these groups, the truck's cashless system is at best an inconvenience, and at worst premeditated discrimination against cash-dependent people. In effect, it creates a two-tier caste system, the tech "haves" and the "have nots," with the latter group completely denied access to its services.

The United States long ago abandoned the Gold Standard and, as of yet, has not adopted the Silicon Standard. The Señor Sisig truck has a franchise to serve food for profit on a public street. As part of its franchise, it should be prohibited from discriminating against people who prefer to pay with coin of the realm.