July 17, 2002

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cheap eats
by dan leone

Wind and rain

THE HOUSE HAD two bathrooms, and in one of them it was raining. The other was occupied by one of the many houseguests. If I waited, who knew how long I would have to wait?

I went into the open bathroom, closed the door behind me, and opened my umbrella. The sound of the rain on the umbrella was the same as the rain on the shower curtain, which made it sound like someone was taking a shower in there. I peaked behind the curtain. There were rain puddles in the bathtub, and in one of the puddles there was a duck.

But no people, so I pulled down my pants and, as an afterthought, tried to dry the toilet seat with wet toilet paper. The rain started to come down harder.

"Quack," the duck said.

I giggled and quacked back.

The duck, disbelieving that I had spoken, was speechless. I heard one startled little splash, and that was all.

It lightninged. Five seconds later: thunder.

In another part of the house, where houseguests were warm and dry and happy, breakfast would soon be served. Pancakes and sausage. Toast. Potatoes. Meanwhile, I sat there with my pants puddled around my ankles, holding an umbrella over as much of me as possible, wondering about ducks and making an enormous effort to just be regular.

STUDY QUESTIONS: 1. Who do you think is the narrator of this story, and what does he/she mean by "regular"? 2. Who is the duck, and what does it mean by "quack"? 3. How many houseguests are staying in the house, and how many bathrooms are there? 4. How many bathrooms are there really? 5. Do you like to use the bathroom in the morning, and if so, would you be willing to use one with weather systems in it? (Put yourself in the narrator's shoes.) 6. What's for breakfast? 7. Really? 8. How many little black tractors do you see in the above text? (Hint: Squint your eyes.) 9. Compare this with the back of a box of cereal. 10. Really – what's for breakfast?

For dinner I went to a Japanese noodle place on Ninth Street and Irving, which someone's friend Yvonne recommended to someone – not necessarily me. Hotei. Right across the street from the ever popular sushi place Ebisu. In fact, they serve Ebisu-made sushi at Hotei.

But I was there for the noodles. I love Japanese noodle soups a lot and permanently, thanks to the movie Tampopo. If I ever start to stop loving Japanese noodle soups, all I have to do is watch Tampopo, and that will put a stop to the starting to stop.

Hotei is a real nice little place with hanging ornamental globes, nice lighting, woodwork, and stone walls where the windows look out across the street at the suckers waiting in line at Ebisu. And when you get tired of looking at that, turn your attention to the ceiling nook in the back corner where the bathroom is. There's a virtual forest up there, with this water-running-over-rocks effect in back of all the green. (Hey, that could be what made me think of that story up there. Let's say that it was, for the sake of aproposterity.)

Anyway, I started to order shoyu ($5.75), which is, as the menu puts it, "a soy sauce flavored arrangement of roasted pork, green onion and boiled egg." Nothing beats an arrangement of pork ... until I noticed cha-shu, one thing down, which says "extra sliced roasted pork," and then all the same stuff as shoyu, but for $7.50.

"What does 'extra sliced' mean?" I asked, wanting to make sure it didn't mean the same amount of pork just sliced into smaller pieces.

"More pork," she said.

"Same soup, but more pork?"

She said yes, so I changed my order to cha-shu. If one thing beats an arrangement of pork, it's extra slices of arranged pork. So I splurge on the cha-shu, and it's a big bowl of soup and very delicious and all, with colorful, pleasant things afloat in "arranged" fashion: spinach, the customary cross-sectioned half of a hard-boiled egg, one or two of those pink and white imitation faux fake fishy things, bamboo shoots, and pork. Underneath this all was a tangled mass of ramen. Egg noodles.

Oh, but I forgot to mention that this came with a house salad, and before that I forgot to mention that before anything, as soon as I sat down, I got a tall cup of green tea, which they refill for you like a bottomless cup of coffee.

So that was nice and nice, respectively.

Unfortunately, I can't recommend the cha-shu. It was good, but there were only four, five at the most slices of "extra sliced" pork, total, as opposed to 90 million bamboo shoots.

STUDY QUESTION: What's wrong with this picture? Hotei. 1290 Ninth Ave. (at Irving), S.F. (415) 753-6045. Wed.-Mon., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Takeout available. American Express, MasterCard, Visa. Beer and wine. Wheelchair accessible. Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).