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Without Reservations

The tao of wine

THE ONETIME HOTTEST of restaurant spots, the corner of Guerrero and 22nd Streets, lately has looked more like a graveyard. Of the Big Three places that bestrode the corner like colossi two years ago, only Mangiafuoco is left standing. The now-it's-open, now-it's-shut, now-it's-repainted-and-open-again NeO looks like it's finally shut for good after an abortive relaunch (including a see-Jane-run, primary-colors paint job that obliterated the original, sensory-deprivation-chamber white) over the summer. The furniture has vanished, and mail piles up inside the front door. Why would a restaurant need the Utne Reader? Could that have been part of the problem?

Across the street, meanwhile, the longtime home of Flying Saucer has been gutted and is supposed to reopen in a month or so as Tao Café, serving "cuisine Vietnamienne." The rebuild has a ways to go, but a soft lime green paint scheme with brass accents does look attractive even through a floating sheen of plasterboard dust.

Apparently there cannot be too many upscale Asian restaurants in today's Mission. Or, if there can be, we have not yet reached the saturation point. Flying Saucer was one of a kind, the first chic restaurant in the area and the forceful projection of its chef-owner's personality. He was an autocratic man named Tordjman; even his tongue-twisting name was scary. When he sold the place, it lost its meaning, even though he stayed on for a while as some kind of consultant. There was a hard-edged whimsy to Flying Saucer that's difficult to imagine in our present, corporatized circumstances, and the Tao Café people have wisely decided to let that spirit rest in peace.

One wine, fat and thin: In honor of yet another Valentine's Day, I would like to say that I've finally found a French wine I dislike. I speak of Condrieu, the tony white from the Rhône Valley. It's made from viognier grapes, a variety California vintners have been notably unsuccessful with. Before having the Condrieu, I just assumed that the marginality of local viogniers was the local vintners' fault, since most California whites tend toward insipidity.

But viognier evidently thwarts the French, too. I found the Condrieu to lack that citrusy acid that gives Chablis and Sancerre their vivid presence; I complained to a knowledgeable friend, who suggested that Condrieu is possibly the only French white wine that could be described as "fat."

The word that had occurred to me was "thin," actually. But no matter. When you're out for that special evening, order something else. You'll spend less money and be happier, and really, who could ask for anything more on Valentine's Day?

Paul Reidinger paulr@sfbg.com