When I was kid, San Francisco was by leaps and bounds my favorite city in the world.  It was figuratively and quite literally the farthest thing from my birthplace, Kuala Lumpur.  My parents had taken me there as a kid and I was blown away by all the touristy bits I got to see (I was a kid, gimme a fuckin’ break).  Fast forward about 20 years, and San Francisco is easily one of the most loathsome cities on earth.

It makes me believe that that South Park episode involving Stan’s parents moving to San Francisco and facing the smug invasion wasn’t so much a piss-take as much as it was a documentary.  You know, the same way Portlandia is a documentary (don’t argue, it is).

I’ve come off another manic cross-country trip: overnight in Chicago, then quickly off to San Francisco, and 20 hours later, on a plane back to New York.  I got to squeeze in a Cubs game whilst in Chicago, but I knew I had almost no time to spare after that so I had to be quite decisive about how to use my time in San Francisco.

Much as I loathe a city, I’m loathed further to not make the best of it.  So when I arrived on the Tuesday evening, I thought it’d be a good idea to grab some dinner in Chinatown.  Oddly, I realized that in the countless times I’d been to San Francisco, I had never eaten at their Chinatown.  Didn’t seem right, so I sought to rectify it this trip.  Despite how most in the know say that the best Chinese food in San Francisco is outside of Chinatown, not in it.  But whatever, I had very little time here and I had to make the best of what I had.

Hop in the cab, I did my usual thing of asking the driver where I should grab a meal.  He was Asian too, so I figured my chances of a decent reco were pretty good.  “Tell me where you like to eat.”  He mumbled, spaced for a bit, then mumbled some more.  So to help him, I suggested that I “don’t want any place that has lots of qwai-low”.  “Huh?!  What’s that?!”  I couldn’t tell if he was fucking with me or not.  I let it drop and not mention the qwai-low thing again.  He mumbles something about a place called “Dragon-something” on Broadway and Columbus.  I Google Map it on my phone and don’t see anything called Dragon-anything on that cross street (Google Map street view is the greatest thing evah).

At this point, I’m don’t trust this driver one iota, so I bail on his idea and head to the R&G Lounge.  This place is rated all over Chowhound, Eater, Yelp, and it came with Bourdain’s endorsement.  None of travel companions wanted to come with me so it was dinner for one lonely tourist, thankyouverymuch.  I even sat at the exact same table Bourdain sat in in No Reservations segment.  I settled in an ordered half a Peking duck and a plate of Hong Kong fried noodles.

I couldn’t decide what was a bigger letdown: the food or the fact that I got seated next to a table of insufferable art students with their stupid conversations and their stupid pointless vacuous delusions.  Fuck the art students, this food was pissing me off now.  As a rule, duck is fat, no question, but this duck looked like it lived generously on bacon pies at an Oklahoma state fair.  And the plate of Hong Kong noodles was easily the most amateurish presentation of the dish I had ever had.  I’ve had better off-the-boat Chinese food 20 minutes from my house.  I had flew 2,600 miles for this shit?I  Fuck you, Bourdain.  That’s right, I’m blaming you.

 

The next morning, I had work up early (as you do when you fly coast to coast) and knew I had to find a way of redeeming the previous night’s culinary failure.  Staying at Union Square, I learned of the Sears Fine Foods diner a block away.  I ventured over – what a fucking delight this place was.  To paraphrase a Guy Richie film (I know, I know), there’s no school like the old school, and this place was the fucking headmaster.  Declining a table, I sat at the counter and ordered pretty much the only thing a first-timer should have: an order of their 18 Swedish pancakes and black coffee.  It was perfect.  Like perfect.  The six stacks of tiny delicate pancakes, the side of lingonberries, the real maple syrup, right down to the hearty black coffee in the cracked cup.  It made up for the false start the previous night.   San Francisco was starting to suck a little less that morning.

When I got up to pay, the waitress handed me a token and said, “This is for the slot machine out front, good luck.”  Any more charm and this place would’ve been made of candy and Nigella Lawson would’ve emerged from the kitchen.  I fucking loved this place.

And by the time I hopped on a plane at 4pm that day, that breakfast would prove to be the absolute highest point of my brief visit.  Because the rest of my day consisted of the following:

  • I learned that people are keeping chickens in their apartments as livestock.  Live chickens.  In their apartments.  “When you reach into a coop and retrieve a warm egg that’s just been laid, it’s the most magical thing in the world.”  Well, fuck me for thinking the birth of my kids was kinda cool.
  • Related to the chicken thing, I learned the chicken diapers are a thing.  These people who are keeping egg-popping chickens in their tiny apartments are doing so by putting diapers on their chickens.  Take a minute with that one, I’ll wait.
  • People want to compost inside an office building.  That’s right – I actually ran into someone who was frantically looking for a compost bin in an office building, then seemed to lose his shit when he couldn’t find one.  I was then treated to a lengthy diatribe on why composting is the greatest thing on earth (wait, I thought that was a freshly-laid egg; make your minds up, you fucks), and that everyone everywhere on earth should compost.
  • “I loooove Arnold Palmers.  But this one’s the wrong color.”  Please, PLEASE, PLEASE fucking kill me now.

And with that, I hauled ass outta there and returned to my own world of madness back in the New York.  At least that that madness I’m familiar with.