Saturday my brother and nephews picked me up for a day of sightseeing and to sample the kind of local dives they know I love. We started out with lunch at a disappearing San Francisco institution, a hofbrau. Tommy’s had me at the gaudy carnival mural. Inside, burly men hefty huge cuts of meat and weilded long, greasy knives. What more could you ask for? Beer? But of course. I split a giant brisket sandwich with one of my nephews and enjoyed a lovely amber. I could have easily hung around all afternoon.
There were sights to see and one more Tommy’s to hit before returning to my hotel for the late-afternoon workshop. Tommy’s Restaurant, which opened in 1965, is known for its excellent Yucatan-inspired dishes and vast array of tequilas. The entire back page of the menu contained a tequila list as extensive as many restaurant’s wine lists. And they definitely pour with a heavy hand. I couldn’t even finish my on-the-rocks margarita or I would have been completely wasted at my afternoon conference. The burritos were huge, the tortillas were fresh, and my Pork Adobado was juicy and flavorful. The house salad dressing seemed to just be a pico de gallo salsa, and the black beans were much more salty than I am used to. But if I had only finished that margarita, I’m sure I wouldn’t have cared about a little extra salt in the food or anything else. As we left the comfy little neighborhood restaurant, I overheard the guy behind me drunkenly insisting, “Hey! I have NOTHING against Norwegians!”
Out the Door
Out the Door in the Westfield Mall is the low-key version of San Francisco’s much-lauded Slanted Door. We were really excited to eat there, especially because of the cool minimalist decor and the large selection of vegan options. Our server did not seem nearly as excited to see us. When we asked him questions about the menu, he would just pause and stare at us. For example, if I were to say, “I’m undecided between these two dishes; what would you recommend?” Most servers would say things like, “Well, the noodles are really generous, so it depends on how hungry you are.” or maybe “The chicken is very popular.” Our server just stared at us, pencil poised above order pad. Finally, one of my friends felt uncomfortable enough to take over the server’s duties by saying things like, “That dish has chili paste in it. Do you like spicy food?” while the server stared impatiently.
Dishes were brought one at a time, about five minutes apart, and dropped on the table by runners who would mumble the name of the dish and race off. I caught one of the runners by the arm to ask for our drinks, which had not yet arrived. My chicken curry was good, but not any better or worse than if I had ordered from a random Hollywood take-out menu left on my doorhandle. One of my friend’s noodles were pretty bland. But the 5-spice noodles – WOW. They were fantastic, with intensely bright Vietnamese flavors. I would definitely return for them again and again.
My vegan friend was still waiting for her order. We all remarked upon how she always had to wait. Then they dropped a plate of chicken and noodles in front of her and whizzed away. She managed to hunt down our waiter, who had been hanging out at a table full of cute boys, chattering away. He showed her that the 5-spice noodles my other friend was eating were actually the vegan noodles. When the runner had brought them, she had clearly said, “chicken noodles.” Irritated, he took her chicken plate away, and ordered a vegan replacement. He did not offer the chicken noodles to the person who had ordered them, assuming apparantly that she had cast her lot when she started mistakenly eating the vegan noodles. Whenever we needed anything else, we stopped looking for our unfriendly waiter altogether and started seeking help from a different waiter, who my friend referred to as “The Mustache.” He was friendly and helpful. We complimented him to the manager as we left. I left “unfriendly waiter” a low 10-15 percent tip, but a few other people in our small party left him only a dollar.
It is no easy task getting a big group of out-of-towners to all be in the same place at the same time. After copious text-messages flew back-and-forth Saturday night, we all ended up at another San Francisco institution, Lefty O’Doul’s . Running along one side of the room is a carving station with big hunks of meat ready to be carved, hofbrau-style. It gave the place a weird half-bar, half-high school cafeteria feel. They stopped serving at midnight, and by the time we arrived at 11:45 pm the choice was either roast beef or ham. I chose roast beef. The sandwich could have been better, but I got the feeling that had I arrived at a more reasonable hour, it would have been. My friend declared her cherry pie first rate, although I’m not sure it was worth it to have to hear that fucking Warrant song over and over again after everyone started getting drunk. The draft selection was impressive (Bass! Fat Tire! Yay!), and the piano at one end of the room cranked out a strange mixture of requests, mostly golden hits of the 70s. If there was a place like Lefty’s around the corner from me, I would be there all the time.