Starting to fall behind on SF posts, sorry about that. I asked the concierge at the Hyatt where I could find the best dim sum. She swiftly disparaged all of Chinatown with some references to mystery meat and suggested Yank Sing in the Rincon Center. Dim sum in a food court? I’m not sure if I’m ready to sign up for that. On the other hand, Zagat rates the place tops for dim sum, too. During a meander South of Market, I stumbled into the Rincon Center (a refurbished art deco post office with a Rivera-esque mural!) anyway. The place looked right. I came back the next day with Professor N.
Yank Sing spells it “deem sum” which suggests a certain history and pedigree – they’ve been serving it up since before the orthography settled down. They consider Shanghai soup dumplings a specialty, so we had a batch of those. Also, some shrimp dumplings, my old fave turnip cakes and some interesting veggie items with spinach and peapod stems.
Clockwise from top above: Shanghai soup dumplings (xiao long bao), snap peas, basil dumplings, turnip cake (lobag gao), and shrimp dumplings (ha gow). If you haven’t had the soup dumplings, you should try them, perhaps at Joe’s Shanghai in NY. They somehow make a dumpling containing both meat and soup. You eat them carefully (since they’re usually piping hot) with both chopsticks and a spoon. Ha gow and lobuk gao are standys, both executed well but not stunningly. The basil dumplings were refreshingly different.
From the veggie cart, we sampled (clockwise from top) savory vegetable dumplings, spinach dumplings and peapod stem dumplings. The colorful savory had a touch of curry in it, or maybe it was just that they were orange. Spinach and peapod stems were fresh and flavorful. The peapod stems have something in common with fresh grass clippings, but in a good way. Oolong tea in a nice glass no drip pot was a great addition.
Having great Chinese food is always a treat, but having it in such a location was just another reminder that the touristy Chinatowns aren’t always what they used to be. Or at least its not so easy for random outsiders to find the gems.
I’ve written about the odd similarity and familiarity of Chinatowns I’ve been to around the world before and it came together again in San Francisco’s Chinatown when I walked past a kosher deli just inside the gate, saw designer fakes openly for sale, and sat on a bus that was stopped to make way for a random passing lion dance. It looks like the same lacquered ducks hang obscenely in shop windows around the world.
Chinatown is a classic immigrant neighborhood. Most of the original immigrants who could afford to have moved away, possibly creating newer, nicer, Chinatowns in their suburbs even while they visit the city center for weekend shopping. And new immigrants from other places have made themselves at home in the old downtown Chinatowns.
Boston’s Chinatown has an additional layer of history on it – it’s one of the oldest, and its been carved up by highways and other urban renewal projects even while it remains a lively patch squeezed in between other old Boston neighborhoods.
For all these reasons, I’m very glad that this weekend, my good friend C will be opening a temporary art space right in Boston’s Chinatown. It will be interesting to see how the mix of contemporary photography and Chinatown history goes down as masses of locals and tourists turn out for the August Moon Festival on Sunday. Read more about the Hudson Street Gallery on facebook, upcoming or going. I hope you can make it to the open house. There will be a grand opening later on.
On Thursday I was lucky enough to meet up with La Doctorante, buddy of LKB, art-historical dissertatrix and author of an excellent secret blog, for lunch and some museum-going. I could tell you more about the blog, but you know what would have to happen next. What I can tell you is that we were lucky enough to get seats at the bar at The Slanted Door in SF’s refurbished Ferry Building.
We started off with some cocktails, including the Indian Summer – Tanqueray #10, ingredient of the moment Nikolaihof biodynamic elderflower syrup (which also made an appearance later that day at Chez Panisse), and grapefruit juice – and Ginger Limeade – Hangar One Kaffir Lime vodka, ginger, lime. Both drinks were declared ducky.
Next up, spring rolls. You have to have them, and they delivered admirably. Tofu, mushrooms, glass noodles, mint and chunky peanut sauce. The fact that I had two chopsticks of very different thickness and length didn’t slow me down at all.
Continuing the thread begun at Salt House, I ordered the Dwelley Fram sweet white corn with green onions and chanterelles. Fancy succotash, perhaps, but the quality of ingredients made it all worth it. For some reason, I ate it with the odd chopsticks. The Slanted Door does a great job of recognizing the local farms that provide their produce. They all have great names, too: Allstar Organics, Catalan Farm, Dirty Girl Farm, Heirloom Organics, and Star Route Farm to name just the vegetable providers.
La Doctorante ordered the Hodo Soy Beanery organic lemongrass tofu – another great name – which was no less impressive. Slabs of shitake mushroom stood up in the middle, and the whole thing was tossed with a nice onion and chili sauce, but not too spicy.
After lunch, we ambled over to SFMoMA, a place that like Boston’s ICA is sometimes accused of having architecture greater than any of the work inside. I’ve always liked the building, and vistas inside like this one always make me happy.
We took in two great exhibitions, on Lee Miller and Frida Kahlo, about which I will blog separately, but I will leave you with this sculpture that was part of a show on contemporary Chinese art, well-timed to the auspicious day and Olympic opening.
I passed it during the day after checking out SF Camerawork – an unassuming brick building, formerly a warehouse or something like that, with subtle signage that says “too hip for the likes of you” while reading simply, “salt house.” Was it really a salt house? What is a salt house anyway? Could somebody who likes salt as much as I possibly pass this up? Especially after the morning’s flyover of salt ponds? I made a note and resolved to return in the evening.
At 9pm on a Wednesday, salt house (they use e. e. cummmings’ capitalization – or more likely, k. d. lang’s – in the name) was packed. It seemed a little late for the after-work crowd but maybe people work late here, or just go for a drink after work and linger. Lots of business casual and not so casual, and a few poor souls who were still wearing their company logo gear after a trade show. True to its warehousy heritage, Salt House is all exposed brick and weathered metal and wood. Way too dark to photograph without flash. There’s a loft space in the front and double-high ceilings in the back, lit by fixtures made from postcard racks with 4×6 bits of wood in the slots. In addition to regular tables, there’s a small bar and a long but narrow communal table that reminds me a bit of the one at Toro in Boston. I found a spot at the group table.
I immediately got a 3-segment pain d’epi (that French bread that looks a bit like a stalk of wheat where you tear off individual rolls) served on a sheet of butcher paper, and after asking, a milk bottle of tap water. The wine list divides the universe into reds and whites by new world and old world. Being in California, I chose a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Silver Palm on the new world’s North coast. It was extra purple with a big plum cherry currant thing happening, a little spicy at the end. Delicious.
The dinner menu was on the brief side with seven entrees and a dozen or so small plates. Keeping it light since I intended further grazing, I ordered white corn soup with aleppo chile and crispy scallions and heirloom tomatoes with garlic croutons and balsamic.
The soup arrived first with dire warnings about the plate temperature. It was a bisque with a small pile of whole kernels and fried zucchini flowers in the middle. No sign of the scallions, but there were a few swirls of chile oil to keep things interesting. The white corn was smooth and sweet, and the flowers perfectly done with just a bit of crunch, and the chile oil wasn’t overpowering. I had to slap away an attempt at premature bussing as I reached for some bread to mop with.
I’m almost never disappointed by a nice plate of tomatoes, but I have to say my heart sank when I saw this one. It was huge. I was hoping to have room for a third dish (peaches with bacon and pistachios, marinated yellowtail, and poutine were all on deck in my mind) or even dessert. And it was tasty enough that I ate nearly all of it anyway. Big chunks of red and yellow tomatoes were heaped in the center with the croûtons under a layer of microgreens and some shaved cheese on top and pools of oils and vinegar all around. The thoughtful waitress brought salt and pepper. The tomatoes were meaty and sweet, working well with the cheese and greens. The croûtons had gotten soaked in balsamic, and I’m not that big a fan of overbalsamified things, but it all worked together well. I did add salt, but not that much. it was sea salt from a grinder, but nothing special, salt-wise.
Definitely worth a return to check out the entrees and desserts.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been to San Francisco and somehow missed out on SF Camerawork, a place that “encourages emerging and mid-career artists to explore new directions in photography and related media by fostering creative forms of expression that push existing boundaries.” I went today to check it out.
I was not disappointed. SF Camerawork is an extensive space on the second floor of a building that includes a handful of galleries and small museums a stone’s throw from SFMoMA and the rest of the South of Market artsy scene. There were three solo shows: Sunburn by Chris McCaw, Ruins to Renewal by RonRong and inri, and Alan B. Stone and the Senses of Place.
You should see them all, and they run concurrently through August 23, so you’d better hurry. But it was McCaw’s work that really held my interest, and I’ll share some of it with you. Here’s some of the exhibition text:
SF Camerawork presents a solo exhibition of the work of emerging, San Francisco-based photographer Chris McCaw as part of its New Works Program. In his series Sunburn, McCaw turns the subject of his work, the sun, into an active participant in the printmaking process, creating fascinating prints that are literally burned by the path of the sun. The body of work was the result of a happy accident. Intending to create an all night exposure of the stars while camping, McCaw failed to wake up before sunrise. He discovered that while the night’s exposure had been destroyed, an interesting phenomenon had occurred on the film base, which had a hole burnt through it from the intense rays of the rising sun.
The exhibition at SF Camerawork displays McCaw’s most recent images that are made by putting paper, in place of film, in his camera’s film holder. Each paper negative, due to varying sky conditions and length of exposure, is scorched by the sun to differing degrees, sometimes burning completely through the paper base. McCaw uses both an 8 x 10” view camera and a home made 16 x 20” camera to create the paper negatives. As a result of the intense sun exposure, the sky reacts in an effect called solarization, which turns the paper negative into a positive. When developed, the paper negatives become actual one-of-a-kind prints.
We’ve all seen long-exposure photos that turn celestial spheres – stars, moons, planet, the sun – into arcs and lines. McCaw’s work takes those lines from cool geometry to a powerful physicality. What is hard to see from any web-based representation of this work is that the prints are actually burned, in some cases, all the way through. You can see char marks on the print and sometimes the mat board behind it, and imagine a little wisp of smoke in the air.
Even photographers need to be reminded once in a while that light can cut and burn.