Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dear Mom: Did You Write Your Mom Today?

The sun always shines on the Mission.
I had an hour to kill, I was looking for a cold drink and I found a story.



Dear Mom is on the corner of 16th Street and Harrison in San Francisco. On the east-facing outside wall of the bar is the slogan: "Did you write your mom today?"


I was hesitant to set foot inside, it felt like enemy territory. It felt...weird. It felt like a lot of things: It felt like I was getting old, it felt like there is an unatural stratification of generations in San Francisco where there shouldn't be. It felt like the unknown.


Inside the bar is spacious: Glossy wood paneling, the signature large picnic table benches and oak barrels, track lighting and chalk-board menus. The bar juts out at odd angles, a bisected six point star like the badge of an Old West sheriff.

Half the staff and one of the owners of The Unresolved Love Life of Evelyn Lee ("the Lee") immediately spotted me, lit up, as if my presence signaled an entente between the "Potrero Hill All Stars" and the Dear Mom politburo. 

It doesn't*.


But...I don't hate it in here.


Chelsee, too fast for the shutter to capture.
The review is not going to be well met by a few people I know.


This review might seem to be a softening of my position, it will seem to ignore some of the (to my mind, private) criticisms I have with the Dear Mom politburo.

But I am, as always, a diplomat.



When I first moved to the neighborhood, technically down the street on South Van Ness, the space was a bad truly gawd-awful buffet Indian restaurant and nightclub known to serve minors.

Health code violations or the ABC eventually shut it down. 

The next incarnation was less lucky: El Rincon.



There were fights, gang activity and finally a shooting where an SFPD officer was shot in the foot by a stray bullet.


That was the last nail in the coffin for El Rincon.



Naming the bar "Dear Mom" was an intentional decision to soften the location's rough and tumble reputation.



So far, it seems to have worked.


I walked up to the pass at the kitchen, spotting Chef Sarah Kimon, my roommate's old boss and former chef at Hibiscus in Oakland.


She was prepping for dinner service, a pop-up of "Miss Ollie's Fried Chicken."


Pro-tip: the specials are a lie.
Dear Mom serves food 7 days a week, this particular Sunday featuring Montreal style bagels from the yet to open Beauty's Bagel Shop (TBD, soft open in June in Oakland) for "Bartenders Brunch". Each week a different set of chefs will provide brunch from 11AM-5PM.


Confusing matters more is a cart, pulled by a tricycle, parked in the middle of the bar opposite the kitchen, selling tacos.


Not satisfied with that level of chaos, an East Bay brewery has set up shop, doling out tastes of their oak barrel aged beers in another corner of the bar.


Food, whether from the kitchen or the taco stand, could be purchased using raffle tickets bought at the bar.


The whole enterprise had a wickedly "carnival" feel to it.


Compounding that, I could not shake off the enthusiasm of co-owner Oliver as he sat next to me and talked about how excited he was to be able to give so many local chefs and up-and-coming cooks a venue to showcase their wares.


--

Yes, that is sushi with hot dogs. Yes, it was delicious.
A return visit the following Tuesday was in order.


The first "pop-up" I frequented was Monday sushi at Bender's, which probably pre-dates the term "pop-up" by some years, or as least pre-dates the term being thrown around so casually in our current urban vernacular.


So, fitting that the Tuesday pop up was Rice Cracker Sushi -- I'll assume they aren't making a joke about the chef being a white guy (and let's remember: Europeans, the Portuguese specifically, brought fried food to Japan - bless them for it - resulting in myriad forms of tempura).


The only card you'll need.
Each menu item cost $6 -- a benefit of pop-ups being their low overhead -- so I ordered 3 rolls (four would have been too many as the portions were sizable, considering cost): A Mission hot-dog (hot dog wrapped in bacon and grilled with a home-made chipotle ketchup), chicken fried steak with a spicy Russian dressing and a "TNT" roll of rock shrimp braised in peppers and court bullion served with scallions and sprouts.




21st Amendment "Back in Black" IPA in the can, $4 (happy hour). A quick, cheap and quite tasty dinner then it was off the to gym.



--


It occurred to me: Food truly is the new rock and roll. Chefs really are the new rock stars.

As such, Dear Mom is some kind of latter-day venue, a CBGBs or Troubadour where memorable and forgettable acts alike will pass through. Who will be the next culinary Iggy Pop or Television (and, come to think of it, is that a metaphor anyone wants to ponder?), who will fade into obscurity.

Lots of bars will bill themselves as a "gastro-pub", but Dear Mom seems to take that further -- a gastro-venue.  Having worked in a small music venue, I know that a lot of the time the music doesn't work, or isn't my style, but every once in a while you get lucky and find yourself hearing Oasis or The Brian Jonestown Massacre or Built To Spill or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in a half-empty bar.


I should hope to get that lucky with a food pop-up at Dear Mom's.


--


* Manufacturing consensus between the Mission Hill Saloon ex-pats is a little like herding bi-polar kittens.