Stories to Sip with Your Amuse-bouche
A book review by Christopher Bernard
This beautifully designed little book is based on a thoroughly charming premise: to offer brief stories, vignettes, anecdotes, sketches, set in eateries and boozeries in and around San Francisco, from Minx to Delirium, from Gott’s Roadside and Nomad’s Kitchen to the Yellow Submarine and the Little Spot Cafe.
The original idea seems to have been to write a different kind of restaurant review: one that paid almost no attention to such mundane matters as quality of cuisine, friendliness of service, or stylishness of ambience, but instead plunked down characters entirely imagined (one supposes!) in locations identified only by name and nearest major intersection, and let them have at one another in love, lust, convivial competition, or long-planned revenge: to create dramatic, romantic, satirical or sentimental “fictional stories in real places.”
At Vesuvio, a young man, between quaffs of a nameless spirit, practices damage control over a failed romance, writing a last love letter in the shadows of the old Beats’ North Beach watering hole. At Radio Habana Social Club, a saintly schizophrenic delivers an incoherent exhortation to a warmly bleary reception in the Mission’s tiny gem of a restaurant bar, while not far away, at Shotwell’s, a trio of gazillionaire geeks blackball the brew pub beize. At Soma’s Bar Agricole, a failed date encounters a successful marriage, proving that jealousy and resentment do not a successful evening make, while in the Financial District’s Boxed Foods Company, a young female exec-wannabe is eyed by two financial sharks way, way too into Pilates and commodities and asset destruction, and across the Bay, at Mill Valley’s Depot Bookstore and Café, an older man contemplates his newly acquired loneliness as he slowly constructs, one word at a time, the acrostic of the rest of his life.
Some of the stories are first-person anecdotes, some third-person shaggy-dog stories, some brief but penetrating glimpses into the hearts of those ordinary-looking people sitting at the second table down from you. Most of them last no more than a couple of smoothly turned pages. There is humor, there is insight, there is lots of satire, and there are moments of genuine poetry, as when the young husband at Noeteca whose wife has sacrificed her musical career to help him make partner in his law firm, fails in a sweet gesture whose greatest value, nevertheless, lay in its intent.
And Tuttle has a definite way with a phrase:
“Wood, bare, like inside skin, and wine. Kyle watches his four ladies not drink, just tap nails against the jars. The obscure bottle recommended, expensive, boutique. He drinks, even though they won’t, out of his own mason jar.”
This from a story set, benignantly, in a wine bar called Heart where a newly liberated, divorce-bound husband hangs with a quartet of available lovelies between a Turkish red and his new scarlet car.
The little volume is a lovely piece of bookmaking too, with witty illustrations by Jason Toney―not much larger than a passport, it’s pocket-portable to the nearest café.
Leslie Sbracco, you’ve got company. PBS’s “Check Please, Bay Area” and StretchyHead could, between them, make a poem of every night by the Bay.
By Ian Tuttle
Portuguese Artists Colony Books
Christopher Bernard is a San Francisco writer, founding editor of Caveat Lector magazine, and author of A Spy in the Ruins.