Friday, September 25, 2009

On the road again: San Francisco, day 8

I'm on the plane to DFW. We left SFO about half an hour late due to the need to repair some problem on the plane. Whenever that situation arises, I'm fine with waiting. If the plane isn't working correctly, I want them to fix it. If they can't fix it, I want another plane that is performing up to snuff. These feelings strike me as entirely logical, which is why I'm always amazed when I hear other passengers complaining and suggesting that the airline just let us board and take off despite the problem. Yes, I understand that some problems for which airline rules and/or FAA regulations require the airlines to hold planes are relatively minor, but still, if the rules say a plane shouldn't fly until the airline has fixed a certain problem, I'm willing to wait.

Last night, we went to see the Sendak on Sendak exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was less than three long blocks from our hotel. It was a marvelous exhibit, with dozens and dozens of original drawings, both roughs and finished pieces. Two facets of Sendak's art particularly captured my attention.

First, he appeared to work almost all the time at scale or even below it. Most illustrators I've studied tended to draw or paint on a much larger scale than the printed final product, an approach that has the benefit of making the published version appear much more detailed when it's shot down to the smaller, printed scale. Sendak's drawings were frequently quite small and yet reproduced beautifully.

The second interesting aspect of his work was the wide variety of styles he uses. From illustrations with the simplistic lines and fuzzy edges of a child's drawing, to images as detailed and sharp and crowded as photographs, he adapted his approach to his subject matter and the style he had chosen for the book.

To me the best praise I can give any such exhibit is this: I left it a much bigger fan of the artist than I entered it. If you're in San Francisco, definitely check out Sendak on Sendak.

After our time in the gallery, we had planned to head to a Chinese restaurant that Bourdain had featured in the episode of No Reservations on SF. We were concerned, however, that we might not be in the mood for truly authentic Chinese food that night. We were walking down the street discussing this topic and our options for dinner when a guy in front of us turned and said, "Want to know where the best Chinese food in town is?"

We gave the only reasonable response: "Sure."

He then explained that it was at a hole in the wall called China First, which was a long cab ride away but quite worthwhile. His wife, who was Chinese-American, then turned and told us that the restaurant was both her favorite and the favorite of her parents when they visited from China. She even suggested a bunch of dishes we should try.

Having received such a spontaneous and unexpected recommendation, there was only one thing we could do: Go with it. We walked over to the Marriott, got in the taxi line, waited until we were almost frozen solid because taxis were scarce on the ground, and finally secured a ride.

Our cabbie proved to be a transplanted New Yorker with a wonderfully dry sense of humor, so the drive, though long, passed quickly in a flurry of jokes and commentary on everything from the surrounding areas ("I could let you out here, but you'd die") to the Giants prospect of making it into the playoffs ("the Fat Lady has warmed up and is holding a fork").

At China First, the one waiter--for about forty people, almost all of them Chinese-American--pointed us to a table, plopped down some tea, and eventually returned to take our orders. He raised his eyebrows at the sheer quantity of food we requested, but we assured him we were hungry.

We were wrong. He was right. We left about a third of the food.

What we did consume was tasty, different--in a good way--from what I've had in most Chinese restaurants, and warmly comforting on a cold, foggy night. I particularly enjoyed the hot and sour soup and the beef fu yung, both of which the young woman on the street had recommended.

Though none of us ordered seafood, the restaurant's claimed specialty, we did admire the gigantic live crab in the tank near the kitchen.

I'd give you the URL if I could, but I don't believe the place has a Web site.

I'd certainly go back there if I were in the mood for Chinese food. More to the point, it was a perfect story moment with which to end a long trip to San Francisco.

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