May 15, 2002


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The brunch bell tolls

WHEN RESTAURANTS NOT known for brunch start serving brunch, you can be pretty sure things are weird. And so we can be pretty sure things have gotten weird in the Mission when three places indelibly and forever linked to dot-commery start trumpeting their brunch menus. The three are Andalu, the tapas place; Luna Park with its mom's-cookin' menu (if mom is Jennifer Aniston); and Foreign Cinema, which just two years ago was such a hot ticket that approaching the host's station was an experience not unlike gazing at the firing squad.

In those days it was a little easier for restaurants to defy the principle that airlines have long understood: You must have customers in your seats if you hope to make money and stay in business. Empty seats are useless seats. So ... in straitened times, start offering brunch, the restaurant equivalent of deeply discounted tourist fares to Cancún; a way to fill some seats while using up leftovers in comparatively undemanding dishes.

And speaking of empty seats: They're empty forever at J.J Thai Bistro, which didn't last long in the old Radio Valencia space. Now Luna Park partners A.J. Gilbert and Joe Jack have taken it over and are going to turn it into some kind of Luna Park-ish bistro. Will brunch be on offer? Not right away, one suspects.

Other Mission weirdness: the Ne O space on Guerrero at 22nd Street, which was briefly reborn as Trattoria Luisa, has again been reborn, this time as La Pinyata Luisa – which leads one to suspect that Italian-food impresario Luisa Hansen is still lurking about somewhere nearby. The restaurant is actually open for business, as the mysterious Trattoria Luisa seldom seemed to be, and actual people can be seen eating – dinner – there. The walls, one bright red, the other bright blue, remain from Ne O's last-gasp incarnation.

And, in non-Mission weirdness, ConAgra, the industrial-food behemoth with a name reminiscent of some monster from a sci-fi horror picture, is shouting its Wolfgang Puck conquest from the rooftops. Puck, who started his stroll down celebrity lane 20 years ago, when his first Spago opened in West Hollywood, will now take his proud place as wood fired-pizzameister alongside ConAgra's other distinguished brands, which are too numerous to mention in their entirety here but include Reddi-wip, Hunt's Snack Pack puddings, PAM, and Chef Boyardee.

And not to worry about that corporate ConAgra cooking! They promise to bring "Puck's unique and irresistible flavor combinations and an authentic Old World pizza cooking method to the homes of millions of Californians." Old World? I assume they're referring to flash-freezing.

Paul Reidinger paulr@sfbg.com