San Francisco's Restaurante Familiar on Mission Street
CHEAP EATS When it's cold and dark in the trees, and drippy. When I get cabin feverish. When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when Weirdo the Cat camps out on my forehead and taps my cheeks all night to make sure I don't drift ... when my witchy, woodsy ways bite my own bad ass and instead of chicken farmerly I start to feel isolated and scared, that's when my bathtub steps up. Or, more literally, I step in.
If you ask me, I've got the sweetest bathing situation in the whole Bay Area. Yeah, rats in the chicken coop, yeah, skunks under my shack, yeah, my clothes and me smell like smoke all the time (at best), yeah, it's been three days since I saw another human being, yeah, raiding Dumpsters for firewood, yeah, washboard washing and an indoor clothesline ... but at least I get to take a bath like this. Outside. Smell of eucalyptus, sight of my raspberry-tipped toes against a California-blue sky, the creaking of redwoods, taste of popcorn, or chicken.
And then the sound of chicken too, a live one making that very particular sound live ones make when something has teeth in them. Or, in this case, talons. A hawk's got my chicken.
But a farmer who bathes out of doors has a say in this, see? Indoor bathtub, or worse, a shower ... forget about it. Your girl is someone else's dinner. There was a corner of a woodpile and a wall of a coop between me and the action. I couldn't even see my adversary, at first, let alone get a good angle on it, from where I soaked. But if there's one thing the English-speaking predators of west Sonoma County will tell you, it's that the pretty little kook in the old white boat does not throw like a girl. She's got toys, shampoo bottles, stiff-bristled brushes, bars of soap, and a big, slow, loopy curveball that she's not afraid to use, behind in the count or behind a wall and a woodpile.
This is me talking again, and I mean to tell you (in case you don't know from personal experience): there's something enormously gratifying about spooking off four-foot wing-spanned, razor-beaked, bloodthirsty birds of prey with a rubber ducky. You wouldn't think it possible, but then, you haven't seen my rubber ducky. It's black with a pink mohawk and an A-for-anarchy tattooed to the side of its head. Not no standard-issue Bert and Ernie model, no.
So it turns out that big bad hawks are every bit as skittish about anarchy as, say, my dad, or most people. Fwop fwop fwop fwop ... and awayyyyy.
But this isn't the Nature Channel. Sockywonk, who happens to have given me my punk rocker rubber ducky, moved and then moved again, as I was saying. Me and her little hockey player boyfriend Flower "The Fury" Flurry helped with the haul. Two weekends in a row! And after the second one Socky took us to dinner. Technically, we didn't know she was going to pay, or we'd have held out for sushi instead of ducking into the first cheapo Mexican/Salvadorean joint we saw, which was Restaurante Familiar, Sockywonk's new neighborhood being the Excelsior District.
It's a cozy, comfy, cheerful, friendly, tasty little place. The fried plantains were great. The black beans were great. The pupusas were great. Chicken soup, great. Enchiladas with green sauce, great.
The chicken tamale was great. It had whole chickpeas in it, and was wrapped in a banana leaf instead of a corn husk. That's Salvadoran style. Great.
Everything was great, but for my money (or, for the sake of accuracy, Sockywonk's) the tamale is the way to go, because for $5.75 it comes with beans, rice, and salad. And that's more than a meal. It's a meal and a nap.
I count chickens in my sleep. It's not like counting sheep, or blessings, for one thing because I'm already asleep. I don't need help going to sleep. Thanks to Weirdo the Cat, I don't need help waking up, either. I count chickens because, in my heart of hearts, I suppose, they are exactly what I have.
Sun.Thu.: 10 a.m.10 p.m.; Fri.Sat.: 10 a.m.11 p.m.
4499 Mission, SF
Beer and wine
L.E. Leone's new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.