Tango in the Night
I'm not saying that Fleetwood Mac doesn't get the credit they deserve—they're one of the biggest bands to ever not be the Beatles—but I am saying they don't not not get the credit they deserve.
A band like The Darkness does 70s and 80s glam rock and power metal, but there's enough borderline-irony there that it feels modern. Belle & Sebastian do Nick Drake and Nico, but filtered through decades of literary punk, grunge, and indie ethos. Joey Bada$$ does early 90s boom bap, but there's no confusing it with the real thing. But Once and Future Band are something else. They don't try to look the part (find a clip of of their live shows, they look very much like a modern bearded indie band), but everything about their sound is of the era. It's as if they've played the last 15 years as a Yes/Genesis tribute band, honing their chops at bars and state fairs around the country, then took what they learned and put it into their own songs. And aside from being good, maybe even great, songs, they somehow take this stew of influences and make it their own. There's no points where you say, Oh now they're being Genesis, Oh now they're being ELO, oh now they're playing "Welcome To The Machine". As obvious as their influences are, they've truly been distilled here. It's a pretty amazing thing to hear. And super fun.
1. Walter Martin - Arts + Leisure
2. Moon Tooth - Chromoparagon
3. Okkervil River - Away
4. Cate Le Bon - Crab Day
5. Mammal Hands - Floa
6. Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts
7. Trust Fund - We Have Always Lived in the Harolds
8. Opeth - Sorceress
9. Hamilton + Rostam - Had A Dream That You Were Mine
10. Nicolas Jaar - Sirens
11. VRTRA - My Bones Hold A Stillness
12. Japanese Breakfast - Psychopomp
13. Laura Mvula - The Dreaming Room
14. Starling Electric - Electric Company
15. Ian William Craig - Centres
16. The Avalanches - Wildflower
17. Devendra Banhart - Ape In Pink Marble
18. Angel Olsen - My Woman
19. Pinegrove - Cardinal
20. Solange - A Seat at the Table
21. Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered*
1. Japanese Breakfast - “Everybody Wants To Love You”
2. Walter Martin - Every single song on Arts + Leisure**
3. Devendra Banhart - “Saturday Night”
4. Ian William Craig - “Contain (Cedar Version)”
5. David Bowie - “Blackstar”
6. Beyonce - “Formation”, but just the part where she says “…bama!”
7. Cate Le Bon - “Love Is Not Love”
8. Astronoid - “Up and Atom”
9. Opeth - “Chrysalis”
10. Leapling - “Alabaster Snow”
11. Maxwell - “1990x”
12. Radiohead - “Decks Dark”
13. Grumbling Fur - "Heavy Days"
14. Michael Kiwanuka - “Cold Little Heart"
15. The Saxophones - “If You’re On The Water”
16. NAO - “Bad Blood”
17. Hope Sandoval - “Let Me Get There”
18. case/lang/veirs - “Atomic Number”
19. Pinegrove - "Old Friends"
20. Moon Tooth - "White Stag"
* I feel like I have an asterisk every time a Kendrick Lamar album is on one of my lists, so let this be no exception. Point is, I worry Untitled Unmastered doesn't really count as an "album", since it's essentially an outtake collection from his last album. So that keeps it from being higher on the list. I'd leave it off entirely if it wasn't of such impeccable quality that it demands to be on.
**This is not really a joke. Every song on this album, on its own, could easily be in my top 10, at least, songs of the year. It's amazing. And then the face that all these wonderful individual songs actually do follow a certain thread, both thematically and aesthetically, and it really wasn't even a contest in my mind for what was the best album of the year. Sadly I've seen it on nobody's Best Of lists. Maybe if he got Kanye and Bon Iver to appear on it...
First of all, it's called "Spitz." That's disgusting. Nobody wants to eat at a place called Spitz. Secondly, they describe themselves as "Mediterranean Street Food," which, I mean, would be cool if they were, but they basically sell gyros and fries. And then you have the interior design decisions. Which I'd describe as "Avril Lavigne chic." Just the gaudiest faux-punk rock dripping-neon-paint nonsense this side of Target's teen girl section. There's a full wall-sized photo of Kurt Cobain crowd surfing, for fuck's sake. Kurt Cobain. There's just no rhyme or reason for any of it.
But that's all secondary, right? We're here for the food, right? Well my gyro (they don't call it a gyro, they call it a "Berlin style" something or another, which, Fuck You) tasted like nothing, and was cold. The dipping sauce with the fries tasted like nothing. The fries were Aramark's special "beer battered" style I assume, and tasted like such. The whole place basically made me sad, and further makes me sad when I consider that Spitz is basically the symbol of what is happening to Northeast.
1. Juniper (Boise, ID)- Maple bacon sweet roll, mole huevos rancheros
2. Hi Lo Diner - Chicken wings and pancakes
3. Spoon & Stable - Grilled venison
4. TIE - L&L Hawiian Barbecue (Honolulu, HI) - Plate lunch
4. TIE - Cafe 100 (Hilo, HI) - Moco Loco
5. Revival - Roasted pork
6. French Hen Cafe - Banh mi benedict
7. World Street Kitchen - Beef shawarma tacos
8. Lu’s - Pork banh mi
9. Koja Kitchen (Berkeley, CA) - Korean short rib bowl
10. El Farolito (San Francisco, CA) - Al pastor burrito
11. Bibuta - Sushi burrito
12. Surly Brewing Co. - Cornbread
13. Red Stag - Limousine burger
So I went to Spoon & Stable by myself on my birthday, because I deserve it. I think? It's been a long time since I've been to a "good" restaurant, and I didn't have any other plans, so I just said Screw It, I'm gonna go and sit at the bar throw down 100 bucks on a ridiculous dinner. Usually in these cases I'd try my best to be careful and thoughtful about my choices, or maybe I'd actually be there with another human to be able to split and try things. But nah, I just went for it. Here's the rundown: Beet-cured trout, served kinda like lox, with some citrus and beets and other assorted nibbles... Grilled venison with malted jus and some kinda puree over a big fat celery root... Goat goulash pasta. The food itself (not the surroundings) reminded me of the 112. Favorably even! Which was a pleasant surprise; the cynic in me half expected to hate it, given its bound-to-come-back-down-to-earth-in-time reputation. But nah, it was good. In fact, the venison was one of the best dishes I've had anywhere in a long time. It's one of those entrees that you've had a dozen times before—quality piece of meat atop some starchy puree with some deglazed pan sauce and a some greens—but this was pretty much flawless. Every bite of the meat was lean and perfect, and the sauce had a deep rich body that came as a surprise. If I had any gripes (other than the fact that I don't love celery, so the celery root wasn't exactly my favorite), it's that the whole dish was so richly savory that it needed an extra stab of something else. Some little sweet or vinegary burst somewhere. But really it was fantastic. The beet trout, I won't blab much about, because I don't have much to say about it. It had that deconstructed Travail sort of vibe, without the Travail surprises. But it was fine. So then after ate those, I tallied the damage and decided that I'd be wasting a birthday dinner if I didn't get one more dish. Which of course was the goat goulash, because of course I'm going to order the goat goulash. If I'd never been to the 112 or La Grassa before (or the late lamented JP's) I would've sworn this was an incredible plate of food. But in truth it just made me wish I was eating the comparable—and slightly better—pastas at 112 and La Grassa. But whatever. It was still delicious!
Oh, and I also made the mistake (?) of mentioning to the bartender that it was my birthday. Because as I was paying up, he brought me an embarrassingly large ball of cotton candy. It was the Uptown Cafeteria Pork Rind Incident all over again. Everybody stared at me. People commented under their breath. I literally died. But I also shared some with the rest of the bar, so I guess I made some friends. And isn't that what it's all about? No?
Focusing my attention on Northeast this time around, specifically the 'downtown' Northeast area, anchored by Surdyk's and Kramarczuk's and, well, formerly Nye's [this space reserved for future angry essay about the motherfuckers who destroyed Nye's, and pretty much sealed the deal on proving nothing in this town is sacred and that we'll all just be a condo eventually]. Here's a quick tour of those couple blocks:
• Rachel's - dying
• Chipotle - chain
• Noodles - chain
• Ginger Hop - lame
• Kramarczuk's - god help us the day they close
• Pizza Nea - fine
• Punch Pizza - chain trying to shut down Nea
• Jimmy Johns - chain
• Keegan's - fine
• JL Beers - local chain from Mankato
• Rachel's - dying
• Butcher Block - fine
• Masu - locations in MOA and Apple Valley
• New Bohemia - locations in Golden Valley and Roseville
• The Bulldog- locations downtown and Uptown
• Whitey's - second location in Stillwater
• Ray J's - chain
• Conga - fine
• Brasa - at least one other location
• Rusty Taco - chain
• Spitz - probably a chain, or will be soon. Either way, who on earth wants to eat at a place called Spitz??
• Savoy Inn - chain. Used to be a beloved mom n pop joint.
Which brings us to:
• Lu's Sandwiches - second location on Nicollet
I liked Lu's pork banh mi a lot. With the standard banh mi caveats applied (that french bread is always too crusty!), it was a pretty flawless and authentic sandwich. Awesome, great, good. But to bring us back around to my central issue here: This isn't just a quality Vietnamese sandwich place. It's the second, new-construction condo based, location of what maybe once was just a quality Vietnamese sandwich place, but is now clearly gunning to become the next Chipotle. Funky fresh clean interiors. Funky fresh clean graphic design. A big logo on their bright green wall. A menu and build-it-in-front-of-you service taken straight from the Chipotle playbook. And of course a price tag for a sandwich that was a solid couple bucks pricier than what you'd pay at a "real" Vietnamese sandwich place. Because the interior design firm doesn't work for fish sauce and shaved carrots.
What am I complaining about? I enjoyed my sandwich. Can I really fault somebody for trying to make a buck? Maybe this is the only way you can run a restaurant these days. Franchise or die? I guess? But this doesn't seem to be the norm in places like New York and Chicago and other "food cities." Or is it? I don't know. I just know that I just moved to Northeast, and was excited to see what that area has been up to lately. And when 75% of the options around are places that I could have anywhere else in the city, what's the point? At which point does living in the city become no better or different than living in the suburbs? I can get Masu there too. And now Nye's is gone and there will be a new glass box there, probably with a new Hola Arepa location, or maybe a Sonora Grill, or really just probably a Potbelly, because what's the difference anymore.
If you'd like to follow the epic narrative of my big road trip eating adventures in their proper order, scroll down until you get to River Rock Coffee, 19 or 20 posts down. And then go up from there. Or don't worry about that and just do whatever. See if I care.
So it's my last morning in San Francisco, and I'm flying home in a few hours, and in these final moments of reflection and contemplation, there's one feeling that I can't shake: There's no way La Taqueria is the best burrito in San Francisco, right?. So in my last dwindling hours of vacation freedom, do I walk across the Golden Gate bridge? Do I visit an art museum? Do I ride a street car up to the Full House house and take a selfie with a loaf of sourdough? No, I do not. There are burritos to be eaten. Specifically, burritos at El Farolito, La Taqueria's most insistent challenger on the internet's endless collection of Best Mission Burrito lists. Farolito isn't so different than Taqueria, or probably any of the places on Mission, and as such isn't so different than any random Mexican taco/burrito joint you're likely to visit anywhere else. So what's the deal? Why do these Mission places get this universal acclaim to be the Worlds Greatest Burritos, when they're seemingly doing nothing different than 1,000 other spots in the country? To be honest, beyond simple history and reputation, I don't know. But I do know this: El Farolito's al pastor burrito was fantastic, better than La Taqueria. Maybe the best al pastor I've ever had. Still, as a pure burrito experience, it was fine? Above average? At least better than any random place on Central? Look, I like San Francisco's burritos. They're just probably not worth the airfare.