Parker Café, at 1399 18th Street, opened only a couple months ago, but already feels like it was supposed to be in the community all along. Its unassumingly trendy, modestly upscale atmosphere matches that of neighboring eateries, with which it shares sufficient similarities to fit in, but not so many as to make itself redundant. It’s bright and airy, like fellow brunch destination Plow, but serves French-inspired cuisine in place of Plow’s San Francisco take on the classic American breakfast. Its Frenchness syncs up with Chez Maman on the opposite corner of Missouri Street, but the vibe is contemporary rather than traditional. While you may be more apt to end the night at Chez Maman, you’re more likely to begin the day with a coffee or smoothie at Parker Cafe. Yet with a lunch and dinner menu of salads and open-faced sandwiches, plus a license to serve beer and wine, it’s not so purely a coffeehouse as Farley’s. I had the mushroom tartine, which was delicious but so garlicky that, when I walked home, my wife refused to talk to me even after I’d brushed my teeth.
Through September 15, Dogpatch’s Fiction Science Gallery, 2291 Third Street, is running an exhibition entitled Robots!, in which comic-inspired paintings and oddball sculptures employ a humorously carefree tone in an articulation of the growing human anxiety over our automated future. Fiction Science’s two- and three-dimensional bots take their visual cues from Japanese animation, Star Wars, and the big, clunky, American-made appliances of the 1950s. They don’t much resemble the sleek humanoids of Ex Machina. The exhibition – which shows blocky robots that play guitar, flip through newspapers, fall in love, gaze up at the stars, and nod off while reading novels – theorizes that machines, when they finally gain consciousness, will be just like the people who made them: bumbling, clumsy, and confused, to such a degree that, with all our jobs gone, the constant need to reboot, reorient, and repair our robots will keep us as busy as we ever were.
FicSci occupies an interconnected space adjacent to the Dogpatch Cafe that’d housed an art gallery. Late last year, however, the gallery was reconceptualized as Fiction Science, which bills itself as “an exhibition and convening space for the Digital Art, Fiction, Gaming, and Creative Code Communities.” The project seeks to make a home for the tech landscape’s artistic side, where San Franciscans can use various media to interpret a future that’s rapidly closing in on us and the geek-dominant culture that looks to come with it.
Lately, I’ve been transfixed by the Chase Center construction site on Third Street, between 16th and South streets. Neighborhood folks protested and petitioned against the project – larger organizations filed lawsuits – but now, for better or worse, it’s happening. I’ve never lived so close to such an enormous urban undertaking, and plan to follow the building process pretty closely. Watching the massive structure slowly materialize may be interesting enough to offset the annoyance of the construction noise that daily permeates the nearby apartment into which I recently moved.
Presently, ten cranes tower over an 11-acre mud pit, moving metal columns from place to place to no apparent purpose, with a small army of workers and trucks swarmed around them. Someday, somehow, Steph Curry will be swishing three-pointers where this morass of raw materials now sits; so far, it’s hard to imagine. The best view of the site is from the top floor of the Third Street parking garage that serves the Mission Bay campus of the University of California, San Francisco. The nine-story garage is used by UCSF employees, but is open to the public between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The structure’s back side has a pedestrian entrance facing Gene Friend Way, which leads to a pair of elevators. The garage has security cameras, loitering probably isn’t allowed, but I’ve ridden up to the top a few times just to get an overhead vantage point on the embryonic Chase Center. No one has appeared to mind my brief spectatorship. In fact, I’ve run into others doing the same thing. It’s worth a brief, cautious, look if you’re in the area. It’s like a miniature, post-apocalyptic city down there.
For dinner, I visited Alta MSP, 1275 Minnesota Street, the restaurant that opened in May inside the Minnesota Street Project, a converted warehouse in Dogpatch that’s became a contemporary art collective. Alta MSP is an offshoot of chef Daniel Patterson’s successful California Cuisine operation on Market Street, Alta CA. The presence of a gourmet eatery within the Minnesota Street Project, an ambitious assemblage of respected San Francisco galleries in the Southside hinterlands, seeks to place it as an art institution on par with the City’s major museums. It’s disappointing that the restaurant isn’t an original concept, but the Alta name links the Minnesota Street Project to the Downtown establishment from which its brave galleries departed as rents rose.
Alta MSP serves lunch between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. My wife had the strozzapreti, $26; I ordered the squid ink porridge, $28. The fresh vegetarian pasta dish was surprisingly hearty. We both liked it better than the porridge, which had bright flavors, but lacked some of the creaminess I’d wanted. Hoping for an edgy take on shrimp and grits, I’d received a serving of rice drowned in a pool of black water, though to be fair, the plate was a lot more attractive and tastier than that description suggests.
Alta MSP is a no-tip restaurant – employees are paid a fair salary instead – which adds an element of curiosity. Service is warm and friendly, but has a slightly languid quality that I associate with European restaurants. My meal there owed more to my interest in the Minnesota Street Project itself than in the food. I was curious as to who was making the trek to 24th Street for dinner. Plenty were, in fact, and the restaurant – which feels intimate and, despite its location, not too coldly industrial in its interior – seems like a success.
Alta MSP has a dessert menu, but if you’d rather head somewhere else, the hottest new frozen novelty purveyor in Potrero Hill is Milkbomb, 1717 17th Street, which opened in June in the courtyard behind Philz Coffee near Jackson Playground, taking the place of an earlier ice cream parlor. Milkbomb serves normal ice cream in cones and cups, but its eponymous treat is a sliced doughnut sandwich, stuffed with ice cream and crunchy toppings, drizzled with syrup. First, you choose a doughnut, then an ice cream flavor – exotic options include Thai tea and Swiss orange chip – a topping, and a sauce.
Having never eaten an ice cream doughnut, I felt a little overwhelmed by the process, given that, at each step, there were so many choices; I later calculated that there were 5,880 possible combinations. I chose a glazed doughnut with blueberry ice cream, Fruity Pebbles, and strawberry syrup. I thought I’d be grossed out by the sweetness, but I wasn’t. I wish Milkbomb – 1 to 8 p.m. on weekdays, 12:30 to 9 p.m. weekends – was open later. It’d be a such a wonderfully bad decision to make after one too many drinks down the street at Thee Parkside, the Connecticut Yankee, or Bottom of the Hill.