Category Archives: San Francisco

Discovery #4 about LA vs SF: differing access to dim sum

After moving to Los Angeles, I was happy to discover that there was an active food culture here as well.

In fact, there is not much that I could get in San Francisco that I can’t also get in LA.

BUT…it is less convenient to get to in LA.

In LA, the best Korean food is often in Koreatown, the best Japanese food is in Little Toyko, etc. Since most neighborhoods in LA are about 45+ minutes away from each other, this does not help me much for cheap, tasty, weekday dining options.

In SF, this is not the case. A good Japanese restaurant is close to a good Chinese restaurant, which is close to a good Mexican place.

And the best Chinese restaurants are not in the tourist Chinatown, but off in the foggy avenues, away from crowds or interesting architecture. The avenues, most notably around Clement and Geary, and Irving and Judah, are packed with Chinese restaurants, Chinese takeaways, and Chinese dim sum bakeries.

I really, really miss the bakeries. You could get a ridiculous amount of BBQ pork buns, shrimp noodles, taro puffs, and turnip cakes for about $10. And a big bowl of jook (Chinese rice porridge) for about $2. And while some were better than others, they were all pretty good.

Now that I’m living in a place that requires a significant journey instead of 5 minutes to get any of these things; I wonder why I wasn’t eating dim sum every day when I lived in SF. *

My sad workaround to get a facsimile of what used to be extremely convenient, is to buy frozen versions of these items. Trader Joe’s sells BBQ pork buns which are decent. But their recommendation that you microwave the buns under a damp paper towel if you don’t have a bamboo steamer? Pfffffft! They turn out rubbery.

However, I found this works perfectly!

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I got it in Japantown years ago. I put a bit of water in the bottom, and the little, vented, white tray sits above the water, keeping the BBQ bun from getting soggy while it steams in the microwave.

I have yet to find a suitable substitute for the roast duck that hang in the Chinese takeaways though.

*and then I remember, “oh yeah. Because I didn’t want to gain fifty pounds.”

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Discovery #3 about SF vs LA: Traffic

There’s a sketch on SNL called “The Californians“. All the characters, regardless of the compromising positions in which they find themselves, always end up discussing the traffic routes in L.A.

That skit wasn’t funny before I moved here.

While it doesn’t take much longer to drive from Santa Monica to Silver Lake than it takes to get from Sunnyvale to SF, the first journey is infinitely more frustrating. This is because in L.A., it can take a half hour to travel five miles. Psychologically this is pretty devastating, especially if you have a GPS that keeps reminding you of how long it should take.

However!

Once you arrive to your destination in L.A., you actually get to exit the car.

With the exception of Hollywood, parking is cheap and plentiful in L.A. If you go shopping, the first 90 minutes of parking is often free with validation. No where in Union Square has that kind of deal. In fact, in SF, it is cheaper and more convenient to just buy everything online. Especially since most places have free returns.

Moreover, street parking exists in L.A.! Therefore, when visiting friends (or coming home) you are not haplessly orbiting your destination for a half hour. I have had more spontaneous visits and last minute coffees, dinner dates, and after work drinks, because no one is concerned about parking.

In SF, there is no quick “popping” by unless everyone lives within walking distance, because you’re always calculating the extra time for parking or the extra money for a cab. The latter which can run you an extra forty dollars for the evening, making that “let’s just meet for a quick drink” idea, super expensive. Yes, you can take public transport in S.F., but here are some of the highlights of my experience with Muni in SF.

1)A bus driver closed the door on my arm and leg, and drove away, leaving the rest of me hanging outside.

2)A crazy person picked a fight with my friend and followed us off the train.

3)A driver inexplicably announces that he is going no further, leaving all of us, twenty blocks from where we were supposed to be. (This happens frequently.)

So taking Muni to a supposedly fun event is a good way to guarantee that you will arrive late and in a bad mood…if you’re lucky enough to arrive at all.

That being said, the mythical awfulness of L.A. drivers can rival the mythical awfulness that is Muni in SF.

To be fair, the majority of L.A. drivers are fine, but the two percent that make up the stereotype are jaw dropping.

I’ve seen someone speed in a left hand turn lane, as if it were a third lane, cutting in at the intersection. I’ve seen guys drive ON THE SIDEWALK to get around cars waiting at a four way stop. At an intersection before a freeway entrance, I saw a guy stop, hit his hazards, to send a text, blithely waving traffic past him.

I know sexist jokes about bad drivers are generally directed at women drivers, but these were all men, with heavily gelled hair and sunglasses, driving sports cars. They could have achieved the same result with a lot less effort and danger to others by tattooing “cliché douchebag” onto their foreheads.

But ultimately, on this topic, rather surprisingly, I prefer LA. This is probably because I live less than five miles from work, which isn’t something that occurred much when I was living in SF.

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Discovery #2 SF vs LA: the helicopter thing is a real thing

I first became aware of the helicopter car chase during the OJ Simpson trial when I, and millions of other people, watched his car hurtle down the freeway and we all wondered; where does he imagine he’s going to go? WE CAN SEE YOU!

However, being an SF dweller. I had thought helicopter chases were a rare occurrence used for dramatic emphasis in movies or restricted to situations for men who murder their exes and are later acquitted.

But no. Seriously, it’s like baby Blue Thunder here, several times a week.

When I was in SF, the only time I heard a helicopter was when one buzzed by Golden Gate park during a concert, drowning out the musicians. (I’m not positive but I’m fairly certain that helicopter was piloted by an asshole.)

In any case, helicopters do seem extremely effective when chasing down criminals, so I suppose that’s the major upside.

The downside is, of course, they are very noisy.

I’d say I’m with SF on the no helicopter thing*, except that I think SF doesn’t need them in the same way LA does. Regardless of Steve McQueen and “Bullitt”, there’s a limit to how far and fast a car can travel in a city as compact and hilly as SF. Moreover, SF has so many pedestrians that I imagine should a criminal abandon his vehicle, there would be like 50 witnesses watching him wheezing up one its vertiginous streets.

*I was informed by an ex-colleague that SF was very strict about rules re: helicopters and city airspace.

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Discovery #1 about moving from SF to LA

About a year ago, I left San Francisco for a new job and a new city.

I know many, many people have traveled much further and more frequently for the same reasons, so forgive me for my completely self indulgent navel gazing on the matter, as my move didn’t even require a time zone change.

Nevertheless, I’m going to note what I’ve learned in the past year, in no particular order.

#1 My Jacket Collection Will Never Exercise Its Full Potential in LA

Bitching and romanticizing the persistent fog and damp of San Francisco is a common pastime of its inhabitants. But a major positive about its unique weather is that you can dress for one season; fall. A scarf and a nice jacket is always appropriate. And one of the best things about a jacket is that you can pretty much be wearing your rattiest t-shirt underneath and no one will know!

But now, I am coming to the reluctant conclusion that the days of looking like a romantic Edwardian of a vaguely literary persuasion are over. Wool is pretty pointless here, and it is frequently so sunny, that dressing in dark colors just makes me look like a humorless German designer or a displaced aging goth.

So it may be time to donate some jackets.

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So that’s what that song was all about!

Tony Bennett sang about leaving his heart in San Francisco and every time I heard that song, I felt a little bit of smug warmth that this city was my home.

But I’m leaving, and while San Francisco will stay frozen in time for me; its people and streets will continue changing. Eventually, when  I come back to visit, it will treat me with the long suffering patience of a dismissive teenager who has no interest in hearing how I knew them when they were “still in diapers!”

What I expect to remain constant are the winding streets, the bridges, the views from Coit Tower. I thought that the cold foggy summers would also remain, but honestly, this year hasn’t been so bad.

(Yay global warming?)

Living in San Francisco as long as I have, it’s impossible to name any one thing that I will miss the most. There are places I used to go all the time but that I haven’t been to in years. I will miss those places as much as my new favorite place that I just discovered last week.

There are the iconic destinations where all tourists go; Golden Gate Bridge, Ferry Market, the Chinatown gate, the cable car turnabout at the end of Powell. So ubiquitous that for locals, they are simply a backdrop to our lives. But still, once in awhile, when running some banal errand, I’ll catch a glimpse of the bridge, and be delighted. Seeing that bridge always made me feel lucky, and I will always miss it.

Of course, what makes a place special is the friends I’ve made while living there. And often, I know that what I miss, is not really the place itself, but the specific point of time that I was there with a particular friend. I miss the moments.

Some of those friends haven’t lived in San Francisco for years. But when I pass by the places we used to hang out, I like to pretend that they’re still there, and maybe I’ll drop by in a bit and catch up like we used to.

Of course, what I’m really doing is pretending that I don’t miss them.

So to my dear, dear friends who remain in this beautiful city, here are the places you should pretend I’m still around. I know you’re busy right now, but you know, when you’re done with that errand, shoot me a text and let’s grab a quick cup of tea.

Maybe at Samovar in Hayes valley, Leland Tea Company, or if you’re feeling swank, the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus? Afterward, would you mind if we stopped by the Fatted Calf so I can pick up some rillettes, and Isotope for comic books?

Next weekend, let’s grab dim-sum at Ton Kiang and we can go to the DeYoung or Legion of Honor, then wander around Clement in Green Apple Books and perhaps dinner at Spices or Burma Superstar.

Or if it’s nice out, we can walk along the beach, past the windmills, and out to the Cliff House, all the way to Lands’ End. We can stop by Java Beach for coffee or Devil’s Teeth Bakery– if we make it there before it closes at four.

There’s a show at The Marsh that I’ve been wanting to see, and we can hipster watch at Ritual or Four Barrel, after window shopping along Valencia, and buying something vaguely morbid but cool, at Paxton’s Gate

We have all the time in the world…so just look for me.

Of course, I will leave my heart in San Francisco. But the truth is that I’ve left pieces of my heart behind in everything I’ve ever loved.

Because If you are lucky enough to have loved any place or anyone, a part of you will always be missing it. After all, nothing truly good and honest in life is replaceable, you simply add it to the bank of things that you’ve been fortunate enough experience.

Just as there is no substitute for sitting in the Cours Marly at the Louvre in Paris, there is no substitute for watching the fog roll in over the bay from the top of Fillmore hill in San Francisco. This is not a bad thing; it means there is a lot to discover and love in the world, always and every day.

Goodbye San Francisco, I love you!
Xoxo!

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