Christopher Caen: Getting back to normal and to the old places

Here in the little town on the edge of the world things seem to be getting back to normal. Which of course means that nothing normal is going on at all. Don’t worry, my editor will untangle that sentence. The SF Weekly is doing their annual Best Of The Bay poll, which means every weird, funny and uniquely San Francisco institution will get their moment in the sun. Who am I gonna vote for? Well, I always have a soft spot in my heart for the Institute for Unpopular Culture, the traveling art caravan of craziness that has had a no-commission policy in place from the get-go. And their stick figure thumbing its nose is one of my favorites. They will be getting my vote again.

And nonprofit DonorsChoose has hooked up with Bank of America and the San Francisco Education Fund to launch The San Francisco Challenge. This is part of their nationwide Teacher Appreciate Month during May. Bank of America has agreed to match all the donations during this month, so any of those Bay Area teachers you support on their site will get twice the money. You can find the Challenge at www.donorschoose


Stories, stories everywhere. On Monday, the immigration protests forced changes at many local establishments and eateries. Over at the still-hopping Town Hall, Doug Washington was not at his usual place at the front of the house. When I inquired, he came bounding out of the kitchen in jeans. It turns out that his dishwasher was in the march, so Doug filled in for him. It was coming full circle for Doug, who got his first restaurant job washing dishes at a place in Canada. Unfortunately, the tale did not end well as Doug was ultimately fired. I am hoping Monday turned out better; firing yourself can get quite messy.

With a friend in town, the inevitable problem came up last week. Where do we have dinner? Whenever an auslander wants a classic, serious San Francisco meal, one of the places I send them is Tommy Toy’s.

At Tommy Toy’s, the formula has always been the same. Great food, incredible room and impeccable service. But there is something else that is unique, and something that ties back to our collective dining history. It’s the pace. There is no feverish turning of tables. There are no cell phones ringing. There is no loud music intruding from speakers overhead. It is an experience from long ago, a different rhythm from a different time. Things happen very slowly at Tommy Toy’s. You are ready when you are ready and each dish is not served, but presented. Can a dining room have choreography? It seems that way sometimes when you are eating there, and when you emerge hours later you are strangely relaxed. Not many places can do that to you anymore.

Another place that seems to have found its groove again is Jack’s. I mean, Bistro Jeanty. Or Jeanty at Jack’s. Oh the heck with it, we’re going back to Jack’s. Another old-time place with an old-time pace. The ghost of Lurie seems to have found its way back, and theplace has that little snap back in the room. I popped in for drinks one night and it was a pleasant mix of locals eating at the bar and bantering with the bartender. Topic of discussion was a new drink foisted on the bar by their distributor. It was allegedly a liquor made to taste like watermelon. The consensus at the bar was that it smelled like a watermelon Jolly Rancher. No one knows what it tastes like because none of us were up to it. The bottle was put back and hidden from view. Sometimes the new things don’t belong in our old places.

Yes, indeed, most places today seem to make you stressed out and crazy, which probably explains the following sighting from Dave Schneider. He was at the Cold Stone Creamery in Lafayette last week and was watching a mother and her overactive kid. In other words, stressed out and crazy. Finally, the mother told the kid, “You better learn patience or you can’t watch TV in my care any more!” Is this the beginning of “Only in the East Bay?”

And one more story before the weekend. A friend was shopping for scotch and started talking to the owner. Turns out the owner’s father was a friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, who is also a favorite designer of my friend. So the owner tells her a story his dad loved to tell of Wright having dinner at the owner’s house he had designed. During the dinner with the great man, a leak sprung in the roof and started to drip, drip, drip onto the dining room table. The shocked owners turned to Wright and asked what they were supposed to do. Wright looked at the puddle for a moment and then answered, “Move the table.”

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