Thursday, May 23, 2013

Out and About: Green Street, North Beach, San Francisco

By Stephanie Wright Hession

All photographs by Stephanie Wright Hession. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Green Street, North Beach, S.F.: Italian immigrants settled in this neighborhood, bringing their language, skills and regional fare from their native homeland. They opened restaurants, delis, bakeries, shoe repair shops, grocery and hardware stores and more. Despite the influx of tourists and 20 somethings coming here to party on weekends, some of the old North Beach remains in the family owned businesses where generations of Italian Americans continue their traditions.

1. Amante

570 Green St.: Unwind with a martini while perched on a comfy seat in the lounge area or with a beer while watching sports at the bar in this jovial neighborhood spot. The Chubby Noodle also serves up Korean pork tacos, buttermilk brined, organic fried chicken and other small plates here. (415) 362-4400,,


2. Gigi’s Sotto Mare

552 Green St.: At Gigi Fiorucci’s place, it’s all about the cioppino, the fresh fish and the shell fish. From oysters on the half shell to mussel and clam steamers to cracked, Dungeness crab to Boston style, clam chowder to baccalà, this is the place for seafood lovers to get their fix. (415) 398-3181,

Gigi’s Sotto Mare

Gigi’s Sotto Mare

3. Vicoletto

550 Green St.: Sit outside and people watch while dipping, house made focaccia bread into bowls of rich olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Choose from Francesco Covucci and Peter Fazio’s menu, which draws from the cuisine of their native Calabria. Standouts include the lobster raviolis topped with sautéed prawns and a tomato brandy cream sauce (415) 433-5800,


4. Dante Benedetti mural

Jasper Alley (at Green Street): Anyone who dined on the family-style meals at Dante Benedetti’s New Pisa Restaurant couldn’t miss the baseball mementos the collegiate coach displayed on its walls, an expression of the passion he held for the sport. Sadly, Benedetti died in 2005 but friends including Gigi Fiorucci honored him with this mural.

Dante Benedetti mural

Dante Benedetti mural

5. Gino and Carlo

548 Green St.: If you want to get a sense what North Beach used to be like, stop at Gino and Carlo, a sports bar and cocktail lounge opened in 1942. Start a conversation with the regulars—some whose families have frequented this establishment for generations—and hear their personal tales of the neighborhood. (415) 421-0896,

Gino and Carlo

Gino and Carlo

6. Golden Boy Pizza

542 Green St.: At age 19, Peter Sodini opened Golden Boy Pizza in the late 1970s. Today, his sons continue to make its square pizza, sold by the slice or the sheet. Varieties include
a pesto vegetarian, the combination made with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini and onions, and the clam and garlic.
(415) 982-9738,

 Golden Boy Pizza

Of Note:

North Beach Festival activities include blessing of the animals, Italian street paintings, live music, poetry, arts and crafts exhibits, gourmet food booths and beer and wine gardens throughout the North Beach neighborhood. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16. Rain or shine. Free. www.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night," through June 23.

Scarlett (Felicia Benefield) and Drumhead (Wiley Naman Strasser) of Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night. Photo by Laura Mason.

By Stephanie Wright Hession

Andrew Saito didn't intend to write "Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night," his fantastical murder mystery premiering at the Cutting Ball Theater. Its germination started during Octavio Solís' playwriting workshop at Intersection for the Arts in 2006. There, Solís utilized exercises to encourage creative fluidity and stream of consciousness writing.
"Octavio is a master teacher. He really introduced me to a new way of writing - not operating from a conscious thought or a calculated plan but really opening one's self up to one's inner realms of creativity and subconscious," says Saito, 34, who lives in San Francisco.
Solis instructed his students to imagine themselves on a street corner observing a person, reaching into that person's pocket for a photograph and conjuring up an image of the photograph's subject. For Saito, the subject morphed into Drumhead, a morgue attendant. A few months later, richer details emerged during Migdalia Cruz's workshop at the Playwrights Foundation.
"That's when a lot of these other characters started to come in," he says. "Before I really only had Drumhead, so that's when Scarlett and Snowflake and Gran Ma Ma came in. Some of my plays are about experiences I've had, or I've become fascinated with a historic event or an episode, so my plays are sometimes based on these. The writing of those plays is more conscious or deliberate. With 'Krispy Kritters,' I don't know where it's coming from, and it's exhilarating and terrifying at the same time."
Centered upon two adrift souls, Drumhead and a charismatic prostitute named Scarlett, the story takes place in what the playwright describes as "a forgotten city in a nearly forgotten state (perhaps Nevada)" and "a ghost town inhabited still."
The play became further defined after Rob Melrose, Cutting Ball's artistic director, invited Saito to participate in "RISK IS THIS ... The Cutting Ball New Experimental Plays Festival" in 2011.
"I just loved the play, but I thought maybe no one else would like it because I can have odd taste, but I knew that I wanted to have time with this writer. Then a number of our board members went to a reading, and they just went crazy for the play," says Melrose, who directs the upcoming production. "I was worried it was too outrageous, but people have been really excited by it. I'm just really thrilled by the response."
A $166,000 grant awarded to Cutting Ball from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation enabled Saito to become the company's resident playwright and work intensely with Melrose on "Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night."
"I hadn't showed it that much, and it was a big mess and I didn't really know what to do with it," Saito says. "The play is where it is because of Rob and Cutting Ball."

(R-L) Drumhead (Wiley Naman Strasser) lusts after Scarlett (Felicia Benefield) even though Snowflake (Mimu Tsjuimura) is more available in Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night. Photo by Laura Mason

Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday. (This weekend's shows are previews; opens next Thursday.) Through June 23; check website for full schedule. $10-$50. Cutting Ball Theater at Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., S.F. (415)

Robert Minervini art at Electric Works through June 28, 2013

When pondering a title for his solo exhibition, "After Glow: As the Wick Burns," Robert Minervini recalled, "Sa squagghiate la cer," a phrase that his relatives in Italy exchange with his immediate family when their visits end in Molfetta, a town on the coast of the Adriatic sea, and before they return home to the United States.

"The latter part of the title, 'As the Wick Burns,' is a poetic adaption of a familial saying. I'm a first-generation Italian American; my mother and father were born in Italy and their native language is Molfettese," says Minervini, 31. "It translates roughly to 'the candlewick is about to burn out.' I thought it was a nice nod in terms of a personal connection and it's something that isn't very common to an English saying. It's sort of romantic, and it's very Puglia. The 'After Glow' is descriptive of the paintings and alluding to a sense of timing, both referring to the fading of sunlight, twilight, and to a sense of time as well."
"As the Wick Burns," (2013) by Robert Minervini. Courtesy of the Electric Works Gallery.

"It came to me because it's a specific way to talk about the content of the work without it being overly politicized." Minervini says. "These (species) are fading out, and even with the work themselves, the plants and animals are transparent and done in layers, as if they are fading out."
In the show, through more than a dozen floral still life acrylic paintings and a group of graphite drawings, the artist depicts several of California's endangered plant and animal species. Since these particular flora and fauna are on the verge of extinction, he references vanitas paintings by Dutch Masters in his works but sets them in contemporary windows backdropped by cityscapes and high rise buildings.
"United by Fate," (2013) by Robert Minervini. Courtesy of the Electric Works Gallery.
In small- to large-scale works including "As the Wick Burns," "United by Fate," "The Waning Light," and "Rhizomatistic," the viewer searches through the flowers, plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals to spy a California tiger salamander, a California condor and more.
"The Waning light," (2013) by Robert Minervini. Courtesy of the Electric Works Gallery.
"I work preedominately with acrylic paint, and I use a variety of techniques. It's a combination of hand brushing, complicated stenciling, acrylic spray paint and acrylic airbrush," says Minervini, a resident of San Francisco who's currently in the middle of a residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Neb. "Sometimes I glaze on a little bit of oil painting as well. I'm interested in complicating or abstracting the composition of the paintings to create a semi-impervious, semi-illusionistic space."

The pieces also continue the artist's use of floral still life paintings, landscapes, and utopian and dystopian cityscapes as vehicles to exploring the ways in which contemporary society environmentally impacts the landscape.
After Glow: As the Wick Burns: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Through June 28. Electric Works Gallery, First floor, 1360 Mission St., S.F. (415) 626-5496.

Out and About: Sonoma Highway Kenwood

 By Stephanie Wright Hession

All photographs by Stephanie Wright Hession. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

The small, unincorporated town of Kenwood encompasses magnificent vistas of rolling, vineyard-covered hills. Located in the Sonoma Valley, also known as the Valley of the Moon, it's where family-owned wineries and olive oil companies welcome visitors who appreciate tasting rooms, vineyards, historic structures and gardens.
1. Kunde Family Estate
9825 Sonoma Highway: In 1904, German immigrant Louis Kunde established his winery here. Today, his descendants own and manage the sustainably farmed 1,850-acre estate. Its four tasting options include sampling a variety of estate-produced wines in the main tasting bar and a mountaintop tour and tasting. (707) 833-5501.

 Kunde Family Estate

2. Figone's of California Olive Oil Co. store

9580 Sonoma Highway: Visitors sample certified-organic extra virgin olive oil. The flavored oils include Tuscan herb, Meyer lemon and porcini mushroom, all milled, blended and bottled at Figone's. (707)

The 100-year-old olive tree at Fignone's.

3. Kenwood Plaza Park

200 Warm Springs Road: If you've packed a picnic, stop in at this little park, where trees provide shade for a cluster of picnic tables. Take the kids across the wooden bridge to romp on the tepee-shaped play structure. (707)
Kenwood Plaza Park

4. Simon Levi Cellars

9380 Sonoma Highway: Step up to the horseshoe-shaped tasting bar at Simon Levi Cellars, located inside a one-room schoolhouse - the old Los Guilicos School - dating to the 1890s. Try Almondine, Framboise and Grand Cuvée, its three Pour La Vie sparkling wines. Or enjoy a glass on the front deck. (707) 833-5070.

The deck and historic schoolhouse at Simon Levi Cellars 

Simon Levi Cellars

5. VJB Vineyards and Cellars

60 Shaw Ave.: Dine on artisan cheeses, antipasti and panini sandwiches at umbrella-topped tables in the courtyard. On weekends, wood-fired pizza, rotisserie chicken and ribs are also served. In the tasting room, sip a glass of 2009 Estate Montepulciano and other Italian-style wines. (707)

VJB Vineyards and Cellars

6. Chateau St. Jean

8555 Sonoma Highway: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals of grapes grow in the vineyards at Chateau St. Jean. Founded in 1973 around the former summer home of the Goff family, the winery features tastings on the patio, a charcuterie, picnic areas for customers and a Mediterranean garden. (707)

Chateau St. Jean

Chateau St. Jean

Of Note
At Chateau St. Jean, enjoy a glass of Pinot and a wood-fired pizza while listening to live music during its Pinot and Pizza Music Series. Noon-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, May 25-Sept. 2. $16-$20.