Tag Archives: featured

Barcelona: Packing Checklist


Packing is my Waterloo. The only antidote to overpacking is careful planning. Since I have less than a week before we leave for Spain, it’s time and I’m the one. Here’s where we stand as of this morning:

  1. I’ve checked with American Airlines’ web site and sure enough, as long as I pay the $100 fee, I can bring a javelin to Spain. That’s a relief. I was worried that I wouldn’t have anything to do at the Olympic stadium. Now I just need to find a javelin emporium and someone who can teach me how to throw one in under a week and I’m all set.

    Mind you, my javelin can’t weigh more than 70 lbs. or they won’t accept it. This is very generous of them since women’s regulation javelins clock in at 1.32 lbs. I’m assuming that that that means I can bring 53 of them. (Of course, I’d bundle them up like firewood and wrap them in bubble wrap to make one single 70-lb. javelin. I’m not an idiot.)

    If I had 53 on-hand, I could give three of them as hostess gifts to R’s godmother and her daughters, whom we’ll be seeing while we’re there, and still have 50 to lose in the outfield. Perfect.

  2. My antlers will cost another $100 to bring along. I’m not sure I’ll need antlers while I’m there, but you never know. Our hotel room might be too drab to tolerate and there’s nothing like a good set of branching antlers to liven up corporate digs.

    I wonder if Javelins ‘R’ Us also carries taxidermy.

  3. The Encyclopedia Britannica in 32 volumes is a must-have on the road. I think Spain has electricity and internet access, but you can’t be too careful when you’re dealing with mission-critical information, so better safe than sorry. What would I do if someone asked me about the half-life of strontium or the primary exports of the Niger Delta and I was Wikipedia-less? I’d look like a fool, that’s what. The American reputation abroad is damaged enough after the Bush years. I don’t need to add to that national burden just because I couldn’t be bothered to be prepared.
  4. Fresh eggs are a luxury of the modern world that soften the blow of hangovers and jetlag. I care enough about my own comfort abroad to make sure that I have a nice soft-boiled one waiting for me at breakfast every morning.

    Don’t worry: I’ll pack them carefully. Ten eggs, one for each day, wrapped carefully in a clean shirt, stuffed gently inside a shoe or boot in my suitcase and handed over to conscientious professional baggage carriers should do the trick.

  5. As I understand it, in countries with suspicious water supplies, you can’t drink tap water nor can you have their ice, which is, of course, made from the tap water. I have no reason to believe that Spain has issues with water-borne illnesses, but really, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything, right? So safety first: I’m taking ice with me. Two large bags should be plenty and shouldn’t weigh more than, say, 20 lbs., which, happily is exactly the carry-on weight limit on international flights. Since it’s a solid and not a liquid, it shouldn’t be a problem to take it on the plane with me.

I love it when a plan comes together. This is going so smoothly already, I can’t imagine how anything could possibly go wrong.

Irrational Fear #847


I come into a building, keys in hand. I walk to the elevator. I step over the threshold into the elevator. Do you see that space between the floor and the elevator floor, that crack of doom? That is where my keys will fall if I drop them at exactly the wrong second.

It happened to a friend of a friend of mine who told me about it once when we were in an elevator, so I know it could happen. Statistically, given the floor space to crack real estate ratio, I guess – maybe – the keys are more likely to land near the crack than in the crack. But that probably wouldn’t happen if I did drop the keys at that instant. My keys would definitely head for the crack. Although, I do have a lot of keys and and a keychain and one of those car unlocker things that really wouldn’t – probably – fit into the crack and the whole bundle might, instead, just get stuck at the top of the crack. Maybe. But if the keys and the keychain and the unlocker thing all lined up just right as they fell, they probably could slip through. Then they’d be lost forever, fallen into the darkness, inaccessible.

And then what would I do? I wouldn’t be able to get into my apartment. I don’t have a spare key anywhere. I’d be homeless. God. I don’t even know where to get a grocery cart to carry my stuff. Not that I’d have much because most of it’d still be locked up in my super-secure apartment. I’d have to get a tent or something to sleep in, but I don’t know how I’d pay for it because even though I have my ATM card, I can’t ever remember the PIN because I switched banks recently because my old bank went under because of bad lending policies. Not to me, mind you. Me they charged $14 when I took money out of an ATM in France. Jerks. So now I have this new bank but I can’t remember my PIN, which I also blame on my old bank because none of this would have happened if they hadn’t been such jerks. Except for the part with my keys. That wasn’t their fault. Just the tent part is them.

So here I am, keyless and homeless and tentless. One bad decision. One moment of inattention. A loosening of my grip, a fumble at the wrong instant and I’m living on the street. A second of…

I’m sorry, what? You say that the super will just open the door at the bottom of the elevator shaft, pick up my keys and give them back to me?


Lego Love

When I was a kid, we had a huge basket of Legos. Ours were in primary colors only and none of them had moving parts. No winches or wheels or people. No curves or corners. Your basic 90-degree building blocks, period.

In keeping with the no TV rule and the all-natural peanut butter policy, our parents weren’t going to upgrade us to the Star Wars pack or the garage set or any of that other super-fun nonsense. We could damn well learn to build with plain-colored bricks the way God intended.

A new age is dawning, though. In the not too distant future, I will be sitting right up close to my big, flat-screen TV, ruining my eyesight, eating Jif out of the jar and building Falling Water out of my new taupe-colored Frank Lloyd Wright Lego set (150-page instructional booklet hopefully included). (Details here.)

I’m glad Falling Water and peanut butter are approximately the same color. That should make some of those tricky cantilevers a little easier to manage.

What to Say: Homebound Senior

I’ve just started working with an organization that pairs younger mobile people with homebound seniors. The youngers visit the olders in their homes. Easy enough.

But then I have to think of things to say to a stranger.

Me: Hello.
Older: Good morning.
Me: ….
Older (calls organization): I would like to return my current person and get a different person.

Let me try again.

Me: Good morning.
Older: Good morning.
Me: How’s tricks?
Older: Not good.
Me: Yahtzee anyone?
Me: Boggle?
Older: Can I get some help in here?

This is going to go great.

Sunday Realization

Let today be remembered as the day I officially admitted that our Netflix queue has gotten out of hand. The current crop of films is living in a stack in front of the television like friends of friends who crash on your couch for a weekend and just won’t leave.

Currently in-house and holding on for the eighth straight week: Rachel Getting Married, the well-reviewed but very possibly depressing story of an annoying, alcoholic chick played by a very possibly annoying starlet going to her sister’s wedding and wreaking havoc. A perfect choice for those of us already completely paralyzed at the prospect of planning a wedding. Possible happy ending: I have no sister and therefore this movie will not happen to me.

In a close second, Happy-Go-Lucky, a movie about an incurable optimist (likely deeply irritating) directed by Mike Leigh (known to be deeply irritating. To me. I don’t like disorder, and people who don’t use scripts reek of disorder. I like scripts. It’s why I write them. Don’t ask me why I put Leigh in our queue. It was a trap.)

Closing out the list and holding on for a month is Keane, the tale of a man who lost his kid at Port Authority a while ago and is still really upset about it. Which is understandable. Port Authority is pretty upsetting all on its own without layering the whole losing your kid thing on top of a visit.

I know. You don’t have to say anything. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Once those go back though, we’re all teed up for Shark Week: Ocean of Fear: Disc 1. It’s going to be awesome. I can feel it.



We saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine this weekend. Just a couple of notes.

First, it doesn’t seem fair that eight gajillion people on the planet know where Wolverine came from before he does. (In case it’s not clear, Origins takes place before the rest of the previously released X-Men movies, like Batman Begins and those godawful Star Wars prequels.) I wasn’t paying super close attention to the details of the previous X-Men movie (because it was unbelievably terrible which made me faint/squint/go get popcorn), but I seem to remember that the last time we saw Wolverine, he was still trying to sort out his, um, origins.

Just doesn’t seem right that I know and he doesn’t. It’s his life, after all. Although, I guess there’s a good chance that one of those eight gajillion people is gonna let it slip to him at a barbeque. Or he’ll pass one of the billboards and go see it himself, which would be kind of a shock to the system but probably more efficient than 10-15 years of psychotherapy.

Second, I do not like sideburns, ergo mutton chops make me gag and I wish they would stop. Someone who knows way too much about X-Men told me that Wolverine, in the comics, isn’t tall like Hugh Jackman, but kind of squat and broad, like, well, a wolverine. If the studio was going to compromise on the short, they could have cut out the nasty (mutton chops) as well and just hung onto the brutish.

Third, and this is unrelated to the movie but it also contains the word “wolverine” so it’s relevant, remember that piece on The Morning News from last February that walked you through getting your beloved a wolverine for Valentine’s Day?”Once she accepts the animal’s presence…it won’t be long before she develops a deep, maternal love for her wolverine–much like she would for a puppy, except that this puppy has razor-sharp claws and eats cats.” You should read that again. It’s funny.

Also, it will remind you about wolverines and make you wonder what [insert name of dude – and I’m 100% certain it was a dude – who came up with X-Men] was thinking. Wolverines are not sexy. You know who is? Hugh Jackman. You know how I know? ‘Cause People Magazine said so. (Also, I am alive and a girl.) So it’s not quite the right match. Maybe they should’ve gone for, like, a toughened up Peter Lorre or Danny DeVito (with fur).

But they picked Hugh and he’s a good guy and Liev Schreiber is always interesting to watch, so yeah, go see it. Just don’t expect too much and keep your mouth shut about it at your next barbeque until you’ve looked around to see who’s hanging out by the chips.

San Francisco: The Guide – What I Would Do If I Were You

I do not like San Francisco. But that’s because I live here. When I visited here (once) before I moved here, I liked it fine. So will you. It’s a nice place to visit. Not like Paris, but sure, yeah, come on out for the weekend. Have some granola and wheatgrass. Enjoy.

When to Visit

April, May and June are good bets. So are September and October. November – March is likely to be rainy; July and August will be chilly and foggy.

Where You Should Stay

The major concentration of hotels is in Union Square, conveniently located right next to the worst neighborhood in San Francisco, the Tenderloin, home to tranny hookers, the mentally deranged and crack vials in the streets. (What did they expect when they named it the “Tenderloin”? If they’d’ve called it “Daisyville,” maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible.) Your best hotel deals will be in Union Square, with its shopping and theaters. Take them. Despite its drawbacks, it is central.

If you can swing it, book a place on the south side of Market Street (the W, the Intercontinental) so you’re not smack on the side of a hill (which is a totally impractical novelty, so pull yourself together) and bunking with all the other tourists. If you’ve got some extra change, get a place on the Embarcadero, like the Vitale, which fronts on the bay, but keep that south of Market too or you’ll end up too close to the surreally schlocky Fisherman’s Wharf area.

Alternatively, check for an apartment rental or trade on Craigslist or Air B&B. This will almost certainly kick you into one of the more residential neighborhoods. To stay fairly central, I’d stick to the Mission, Potrero Hill, SoMa, the Marina or North Beach. Bernal Heights, Noe Valley, Sunset, and the Richmond are a little far for comfortable touristing. Chinatown and the Financial District are crowded and deserted respectively.

Getting Around

Get a car. San Francisco is a town masquerading as a city. The BART (subway) and rail lines do not provide comprehensive coverage of the city and the busses, which do, are inconsistent. Your chances of ending up with a crazed meth addict next to you are about even with your chances of scoring a banker. As a result, with the exception of some of the nice-neighborhood-to-business district lines, I find that riding buses in San Francisco depresses my optimism about the human race. Hence, get a car.

(Related, the city is crawling with the drug-addled and the homeless – don’t ask: yes, it should be solvable, no they’re not solving it – so car break-ins are routine. Never, ever leave anything in your vehicle that you aren’t OK with having stolen, even in broad daylight. Conversely, if you have some bags of stuff you were going to drop off at Goodwill, you can leave them in your car and there’s a good chance someone will break in and save you the trip.)

What You Should Do

The de Young Museum. It re-opened in its spectacular new form in 2005 and you should go. It’s a great building, inside and out and just wandering around in it is calming. Their special exhibits run to the popular – Nan Kempner’s clothes, a Vivienne Westwood retrospective – and, whether or not that’s your cup of tea, the standing collections are worth the visit. Climb to the top of the tower and have a look out over Golden Gate Park and the rest of the city. On Friday nights, they usually have music and late hours. The café is pleasant and the food’s good, although predictably pricey. If the current exhbition is popular, book tickets ahead through their web site.

The Legion of Honor. The Legion of Honor and the de Young are sibling museums, so a ticket to one will get you in (on the same day) to the other. This is a truly beautiful museum, a hidden gem, and home to the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside Paris. Walking out the front and towards the water, you’ll find miles of paths along the cliffs with stunning views of the ocean, the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Academy of Sciences. Across the plaza from the de Young, the Academy re-opened even more recently (2007) in a building by Renzo Piano, complete with a living roof, an enclosed rainforest and a great set of aquarium habitats. Be warned: as a kid magnet, it is very often very crowded. Get there when they open and queue up for the rainforest first or you’ll have a wait on your hands. Alternatively, if you’re in town over a Thursday and are over 21, the Academy is open late, brings in DJs and serves cocktails, so you can check out the trippy seahorses until 10PM. The café is very good and there’s a proper restaurant, Moss, on-site as well if you want to feel like a grown-up after stumbling over 3-year-olds for a couple of hours. Admission is a whopping $25.

Napa/Sonoma. Even if you’re not a wine connoisseur, you should go. The countryside is beautiful, the tasting rooms friendly and casual, and, if you time it right, it can be a relaxing day trip. If at all possible, go during the week when the roads and vineyards are so much less crowded. There are plenty of guides to the area that can provide details, but here are a couple of my personal highlights and recommendations:

  • Unless you’re bent on visiting a specific vineyard in Napa (along Route 29, the most common wine route), the Russian River Valley is altogether more charming. It’s a nicer drive to get there (up 101 through Marin instead of out 80 to the East Bay), less crowded once you are there, and the small vineyards tucked into the hillsides are less commercial and have more personality than the high-traffic wineries like Mondavi.
  • Among my favorites: Iron Horse, a tiny place with a killer view that specializes in champagnes; White Oak, in Healdsburg; Cakebread, if you are venturing over towards Napa; and St. Supéry (just up the road), which has an antiseptic feel but makes the most lovely moscato that will win over even the most jaded non-moscato drinker.
  • I am a huge fan of Mom’s Pies outside Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley. If you’re passing by, get a pie to eat in the car or one to bring home frozen. If it’s lunchtime, their sandwiches are top notch, particularly the meatloaf. Also in Sebastopol, Screaming Mimi’s homemade ice cream which is breathtakingly good. None of that whipped bullshit. Cream, nuts, fruit, done.

Driving circuit of the city. In a sort of circular order, starting from somewhere around Union Square.

  • The Painted Ladies. Classicly painted Victorian homes along Alamo Square (actual address: Steiner Street between Hayes and Grove). Continue on down Fell Street into the Haight for more Victorian action.
  • The Presidio. Windy roads through what used to be an army post but is now a huge park with views of the water. End up in the Marina, San Francisco’s trendiest (read: typical nouveau riche) neighborhood and revel in the absence of homeless people. (It’s amazing what a pile of money and political clout can achieve!)
  • The Golden Gate Bridge. You have to at least drive across it. If you’re a masochist and a cyclist, you can save this for your bike trip up into the Marin Headlands.
  • Presidio Heights. Home to massive homes that have no business inside a real city’s city limits, but what are you gonna do? These are the places you see in movies about San Francisco. If you want more of the same head east towards Pacific Heights.

Eat. San Francisco is famous for its restaurants. Partially this is because we are California and can get a diversity of fresh produce year round. The other part is because we all eat out enough that a lot of very good chefs have touched down here and made themselves at home. See the restaurants section below.

What You Could Do

Giants game at AT&T Park. This is a really nice park. And I’m saying this as someone who is bored out of her skull by baseball. For one, the park’s on the water which is – literally – cool. For another, you can get lattes and sushi so if you’re not part of the hot dogs and churros crowd, there’s something for you too. A Giants game with the family is a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon. (If it’s not sunny, bring blankets, ’cause it is seriously chilly on the water.)

The San Francisco Zoo. The zoo is way the hell out of the way, but it’s a great zoo, as zoos go: the habitats are as authentic as they get, the animals look pretty happy, the paths are pleasant to walk, they have an excellent petting zoo if you have kids who like petting animals, and they have a baby giraffe and a baby gorilla. For now. (You know they grow up, right?)

Marin Headlands. If you like hiking or biking, the Marin Headlands are a great place to do this. They have spectacular views of the Bay and are often, but not always, sunnier than the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge. As a non-hiker, I’m not a good resource, but there are a ton of guides that are more than happy to help.

Drive south down Route 1 along the coast. It is a stunningly beautiful drive, as long as you’re not doing it in the frustrating traffic of a weekend. I personally don’t think Carmel (rich, small), Santa Cruz (hippies, hemp), and Monterey (killer aquarium) are worth spending one of your precious days in northern California, but if you’re here for a while, have a free weekday to mosey, or are a surfer, go for it. Make sure you stop at the winery with the best labels ever (also some quite good wines: try the Big House Red and Cardinal Zin), Bonny Doon, and do not – DO NOT – fail to go to Vasili’s Greek Restaurant at any hour for the best souvlaki I’ve ever had. (Please note: I have not yet been to Greece so don’t get all huffy if you have been, OK?) Both of those just north of Santa Cruz.

What You Can Totally Miss

Fisherman’s Wharf / Ghirardelli Square. If you have never, ever been to a city before and you would like to meet other people who also do not have the good sense they were born with, by all means, head over to Fisherman’s Wharf. If you think Branson, Missouri, is a gem, Ghiradelli Square will make you feel at home. If not, don’t go. The place is packed with tourists and all the things that tourists live for: overpriced garbagey clothing with logos and pictures of landmarks drawn in glitter; sub-par food for exhorbitant prices; pennies flattened with sea lions on them. Trust me: there is nothing there for you except pain. Fisherman’s Wharf is to San Francisco what Disneyworld is to the planet Earth.

The only exception is if you feel you must take a ferry somewhere or if you are a big fan of sea lions. If either of those is the case, go early or go late and, in the case of your ferry trip, pre-buy your tickets, get in and get out as quickly as possible.

Alcatraz. I’m claustrophobic and it’s crowded, so I’ve avoided it. The only reason anyone goes to visit Alcatraz – and the only reason this prison was noteworthy in the first place – is because it’s on an island. It’s a prison, people. Come on. If you’re dead set on going to an island, you can hit Angel Island and get the ferry ride and the exercise without all the hassle, tourists and nightmares. (They don’t lock you in the cells as part of the tour anymore because there was an incident a few years ago when they couldn’t get people back out again. I’m telling you: nightmare central.)

Cablecars. The lines to get on the cablecars are ridiculous at both ends of the Powell Street line and it’s not worth the wait. Trust me: it’s like driving very, very slowly up a hill and down the other side. If you want that experience without the line, rent a convertible. If you insist on getting on a cablecar, look up the route, skip the lines at either end and jump on at one of the intermediate stops.

Lombard Street. If you took my advice and got a car, you can drive down it at some point in your driving tour of the city. If you didn’t get a car, let it go. It’s really not that interesting. It’s a curvy street and you’re going to schlep out of your way to see it. The only exception to this recommendation is if it’s the weekend of the races down Lombard. I wouldn’t recommend participating, but if you like X-Games, you’ll like this. (Note: they moved the race this year to Potrero Hill, maybe permanently.)

Coit Tower. It’s a tower. If you haven’t ever been in a tower, you probably don’t need to spend the money to come all the way out here to see one.

The Ferry Building. I’m not saying the bakeries and cheese shops and olive oil kiosks here are not top-knotch. I just know you could spend half as much money finding these goods elsewhere in the city and spend half as much time finding parking in the process. Much is made of the farmer’s market set up in the alcoves on Tuesdays and Saturdays but it’s no different from other farmer’s markets except that it’s way more expensive.


Union Square. This is for people who do not live in a.) the United States, or b.) cities. I can’t think of one store there that is not a chain, but, to be fair, the chains have enormous footprints. That is, the Levi’s store is the flagship Levi’s store. The Nike store has five or six stories. There’s Saks, Nieman Marcus, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and, recent additions, Barney’s (on one end of the spectrum) and H&M (on the other). There’s also a new Bloomingdale’s, but if you’re used to the one on 59th in New York, this one’s kind of an insult. All the usual hangers on are represented in the San Francisco Center (mall) and the streets and alleys around Union Square. Disney, Tiffany’s, Banana Republic and so on. The “square” in Union Square is no longer the swaths of grass interrupted by palm trees that won me over when I visited. Now, it’s tiers of concrete.

If you want young designers, go to the Mission. There are also a ton of vintage stores stretching up Valencia Street from 15th out to 24th. Amongst them are all manner of quirky offerings, from high-end Japanese luggage (Hideo Wakamatsu) to small designers collected at places like Candy Store (on 16th between Valencia and Guerrero) and Sunshee Moon (same block). There’s even a pirate supply shop at 826 Valencia, the front entrance of the writing workshop concern founded by Dave Eggers of McSweeney’s fame. If you want to pick up some sex toys, books or porn, you can get them at the well-lit Good Vibrations store where the staff will be happy to answer your questions. Be aware that the Mission is not your mom’s tourist destination: the streets are dirty and there are a lot of crackheads and homeless wandering around. Not dangerous, just grimy.

If you want expensive young designers, go to Hayes Valley. Uko has great, pricey offerings from France. Scandinavian Details has Swedish housewares, and jewelry. Bulo has shoes from everywhere. There are art galleries and cafes interspersed among the shops. If you’re over there, stop at Frjtz for an excellent crepe or salad or Suppenkuche for the best spaetzle outside of Switzerland (early dinner is best to miss the crowd). Blue Bottle Coffee, in Linden alley, is supposed to be the best coffee in San Francisco, if not anywhere.

Your kids will want to go to the Haight. When rents skyrocketed all over the city, the Haight lost a lot of its character, but the grungy potheads still hang out on the sidewalks and there are still a lot of shops hawking bongs and tattoos. I don’t go over there much anymore, not since I stopped going to Burning Man (and needing corsets, tutus and other oddities) and the little design shops got priced out of their real estate, but it’s still a landmark destination. Just don’t expect to walk away with anything super-cool. (If you know St. Mark’s Place in New York, Haight Street is just a longer version of that).

The Marina is a pretty, expensive neighborhood that’s home to professional moms who spend their days getting manicures, doing yoga and looking for the perfect throw pillow. Their husbands are post-frat boys made good and the bars and shops reflect that demographic. If you live and die by Daily Candy, this is the place for you and your wallet. For a quick and excellent lunch, hit Blue Barn Gourmet.

North Beach has a scattering of cutie places to shop on Grant Street as does Fillmore Street (between, say, Bush and Pacific) but, like the Marina, you’ll pay quite a bit for that adorable dress that will make you look just like everyone else. While we’re on the subject, I wouldn’t look for dinner in North Beach if I were you. Yeah, there are good places, but there are way more places serving sub-par, over-garlicked Italian food to tourists. Get an espresso at Cafe Greco or any of the other places rated here and head to the other side of town for your evening meal.

Where to Eat

This is San Francisco’s claim to fame. Below are some of my current favorites. These are mid-range places (dinner for about $80 – $150 for two people, depending on how much you like wine) that serve great, fresh, usually local food.


Mama’s in North Beach, on the southeast corner of Washington Park has a killer breakfast. Fair warning: everyone knows this. So don’t plan on going on the weekend unless you want to wait.

Tartine. Go for the morning buns. Oh. My. God. Even if you get there when they open, you’ll have a wait, but it shouldn’t be too long, especially if you’re taking out. It’s worth a trip. Their coffee sucks, though, so you might want to take your morning bun and wander back over to Valencia’s Ritual Coffee for a latte made with care by a barista who takes coffee far too seriously.


Get a burrito from one of the Tonyanese burrito trucks scattered around the Mission. Carnitas with everything. It will weigh more than your infant. It will taste the way a burrito’s supposed to.

Burma Superstar. It’s like Indian food only different. And worth the trip out to the avenues for their Rainbow Salad, Tea Leaf Salad and Samosa Soup. If you get there for lunch around noon or 12:30, the wait won’t be long. A great place for lunch after a morning at the de Young.

Awkward Hour: post-lunch hour food or mid-afternoon cocktails.

Ti Couz, no question. Breton crepes of all kinds (the daily special is invariably the best), truly excellent salads, the Ti Couz 10 (a cocktail of champagne, muddled blackberries and vodka), and a central location on 16th St. at Valencia make this a medium-priced must. [Sadly, Ti Couz have closed their doors. For crepes, try Frjtz just up Valencia between 16th and 17th for slightly less good – and less French crepes – but very, very good Belgian fries and beers to accompany them.]


Range. My current favorite of favorites. The menu is hard to pin down – don’t bother. Everything is perfect. You will definitely need reservations at least a week ahead of time, unless you go during the week. But go. The lamb is worth it. I love the space, the service. And the lamb. Even the standards – like a Lyonnaise salad – are better here.

Firefly. Off the beaten track in Noe Valley, Firefly serves rich, perfect food in a laid back atmosphere. It’s small, so you’ll need reservations. Lovely for a date or for a not-too-loud party of 4-6.

Blowfish Sushi. If you like sushi and are down for a trendy evening at the same time, reserve at Blowfish. It’s noisy – definitely not a romantic dinner for two – but the sushi is top-notch and they’ve build a substantial menu of offerings you can’t find anywhere else.

For a business dinner, if you want to eat on the water, or if you want good, albeit pricey, Vietnamese food, the wildly popular Slanted Door is for you. You have to reserve a couple of weeks in advance or you can show up on the day-of at 5:30 and they’ll sort you out if you’re lucky. I know a lot of people who Love This Place. The businessmen put me off a bit. But there’s no doubt that the food is top-notch Asian.

Beretta. Recently opened in the Mission. Super-trendy, retro (is that contradictory?) cocktails and a superb menu of Italian comfort food. Everything is good. Except the seating: they don’t take reservations which annoys me no end, but once I went once, I couldn’t stop going back. Getting there early is best, but if you’re with a couple of loud people who don’t mind sipping Pisco Punch in a pack, go whenever and just wait it out.

Culture (ish)

    • The San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, and the San Francisco Ballet are world-class. If you’re into dance, also check out ODC, a modern dance company in the Mission with great studio spaces, open classes and regular performances.
  • There are a lot of theater groups in San Francisco, ranging from the experimental (Killing My Lobster) to the established (American Conservatory Theater), but…how do I say this? Um. I am not attached to any of them and have been disappointed by most of them. If you want theater, go to New York or Chicago.
  • Through the fall, winter and spring, City Arts & Lectures brings in everyone from Madeline Albright to Amy Sedaris to talk about what they do.
  • Cal Performances series in Berkeley hosts everyone from Ira Glass to Chinese acrobats to Renee Fleming.
  • Cobb’s Comedy Club in North Beach and the Punchline downtown usually have good rosters of comedians in pretty friendly spaces.
  • The Bay area is home to some serious literary talent. In any given week, some event or other is sure to have Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon, Tobias Wolff, Amy Tan or any of the other over-exposed literary lights reading or fundraising. Weekly round-up here.
  • Literary-type standout events include the Porchlight Storytelling series and Mortified, a monthly-ish night of (curated, thank God) people reading about their worst embarassing experiences, usually from adolescence.
  • There are a ton of sporty options in the general vicinity of SF: hiking, biking, surfing, camping, skiing, and so on. But since a.) I am not outdoorsy, and b.) if you are, you are probably planning those pieces of your trip west as their own little adventure, I’ll stick to what I know. The San Francisco Circus Center offers group flying trapeze classes under controlled and safe circumstances on Saturday or Sunday morning classes. No fitness required.

Las Vegas: The Guide: Abbreviated

The Guide ran about 4000+ words. If you’re The Decider for your weekend in Vegas, if you like detail and options, or if you just can’t get enough of my writing, The (long) Guide is for you.

If you’re into being told what to do, if you have a short attention span, or if you just love blunt directives with no explanations, this “You’ll Just Have to Take My Word For It” Guide is for you.


Where to Stay

The Bellagio.

For: Vegas haters, fakery haters, plastic and plaster haters, luxury likers, people looking for a resort (as defined outside Vegas).

On-site worth seeing/doing: Cirque du Soleil’s “O“, the botanical gardens, the art gallery, the Chihuly glass lobby ceiling, the fountains out front.

The Wynn.

For: People looking for a resort as defined within Vegas, serial fine diners, people who like enormous plaster umbrellas.

On-site worth seeing/doing: Boulud restaurants, Cirque du Soleil’s Le Reve.

Palms Place.

For: People who like excellent suite apartments, people who do not plan on leaving their suite apartments except for brunch, people who like bathrobes.

On-site worth seeing/doing: Brunch at Simon. Nothing else.

The Mirage.

For: Fans of wild cats, baby dolphins, and tropical fish.

On-site worth seeing/doing: The Secret Garden, the lobby fish tank, Chihuly glass in the baccarat lounge.

What You Should Do (daytime)

  1. Go to the Bellagio. See the fountain shows out front (every 1/2 hr after noon), gape at the Chihuly ceiling in the lobby, visit the botanical garden next to the lobby, hit the art gallery if you’re into that, and book a ticket to “O”.
  2. Visit the Liberace Museum. Buy as many trinkets as you can, snicker behind your fan and ask a lot of questions. It’s like time travel back to before irony.
  3. See The Secret Garden. It sounds like porn or saccharine kiddie entertainment, but it’s not. It’s cool.

What You Should Do (nighttime)

  1. See a Cirque show, preferably Mystère, or “O“.
  2. Eat dinner someplace nice. Le Cirque (Bellagio), Boulud (Wynn) or any of the other big-name places in The Strip’s behemoth resorts.

What to Avoid

  • Caesar’s Palace and related shopping mall. (Hell on a Triscuit drenched in mayonnaise and Mafia chic.)
  • The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. (Bad lighting, mini sharks.)
  • Large black pyramids. (Luxor horror.)
  • The Hoover Dam. (Not worth the drive time.)

Have a nice trip, kids!

Miami: The Keys


The one thing we’re glad we did in south Florida was rent a car and get the hell out of Dodge down onto the Keys for several hours. The keys – or rather, the waters on every side of them – are very beautiful and kind of piratey and, as long as I didn’t have to spend more than 40 seconds in Miami en route, I’d go back for the diving and snorkeling we didn’t have a chance to do.

Renting the car was as bizarre as the rest of the Miami experience. First, Kayak offered to rent us a full-size white van for the same price as an economy car. It would’ve been handy for a mass revenge kidnapping of the city elders, but I didn’t know where we’d start with that, so we got a compact instead. At Alamo, you snag your paperwork, head out into the car lot and pick up whatever car you want that’s parked in your category area. Hmmm. Stubby silver Ford. Mediocre white Chevy. Hold the phone: is that bright yellow, two-door sports car sitting under the “Compact” sign? Niiiiiice.

We got a NaviWhore, or, as she is more commonly known, a “navigation system with a melodious female flirty voice” who, before her battery expired, estimated three hours with no traffic from Miami out to Key West. (In my experience, if the NaviWhore doesn’t come included and pre-attached to the car, it’s going to be flaky, so just use your iPhone Google Maps app.) We got about halfway down – Marathon Key – in two and a half hours in moderate traffic and had dinner and drinks at The Island, a busy place recommended by a local. Full menu of all kinds of fresh fish, oysters and shellfish as well as those tropical drinks you’ll be looking for at non-Miami prices ($7-ish).

I was startled to see fried dolphin on the menu and my Greenpeace hackles went haywire, but it turns out that that’s not your Seaworld buddy but a dolphin fish, which is something else entirely. (Or so they would have you believe.) We got a fish wrap (incredibly good) and fresh peel-and-eat shrimp (excellent) and settled in for the sunset which was predictably lovely, despite the obese, smoking Americans chatting with the pelicans in the foreground. (What is it with Americans? I think we should go back to the finishing school system. Everyone has to spend a year in Denmark and get some class before they’re let loose on the world.)


  1. Don’t go to Miami.
  2. If you do go to Miami, get a car. There is no place worth walking and you need to be able to flee rapidly and efficiently the inevitable disappointment of most destinations.
  3. First choice in your car: the Keys. Don’t worry: you won’t miss anything while you’re gone because there wasn’t anything there to start with.

Las Vegas: Prep


  1. Remove money from wallet. Carry around in rolls. (Rolls make thighs look odd. Roll up each bill separately. Decide maybe this is a guy thing.)
  2. Watch Ocean’s Eleven and Thirteen, The Cooler and Viva Las Vegas.

  3. Put shoe polish in hair. Put on slinky 1960s swimsuit. Sing all the verses to “The Lady Loves Me,” while pretending to be Elvis and Ann-Margret. Shower.
  4. Take half the rolled-up money and hide it from self for half an hour. Give self back a fraction of the hidden money. Repeat until all money is hidden. Do not cry.
  5. Do not watch Casino, Leaving Las Vegas, or Vegas Vacation.
  6. Smoke a thousand cigarettes.
  7. Think about watching Showgirls. Don’t.
  8. Download slot machine sound effect. Loop it. Play for three days.
  9. Put on oxygen mask. Stay up for 24 hours.
  10. Watch Revolver.
  11. Re-read scary impressive New York Times Magazine article on gambling machine designer guy. Wonder if that dude needs any new friends.
  12. Pack velour jumpsuit.