Noe Valley Voice June 2005

Store Trek

By Olivia Boler

Store Trek is a regular feature of the Noe Valley Voice, profiling new shops and businesses in and around Noe Valley. This month we introduce a Peruvian restaurant in a freshly renovated building across from Bell Market, an antique shop with ties to a popular tearoom, and a fitness center that specializes in circuit training.

3946 24th Street between Sanchez and Noe streets

It's been a long and bumpy road, filled with city permit potholes, but finally on May 9, the newest Noe Valley restaurant, Fresca, opened its doors to long lines of eager patrons.

Almost a year and a half after taking over the space left by Tien Fu Restaurant, executive chef and owner Jose Calvo-Perez, along with his partner and father Julio Calvo-Perez, are relieved and excited about bringing their trademark "nouveau Peruvian cuisine" to 24th Street.

"We completely ripped the place apart and started from scratch," says the 27-year-old jefe de cocina. The results bring a touch of sophistication to what had been a mishmash of styles--notably Tien Fu's leftover hippie woodcuts and Asian scrollwork. The restaurateurs reconfigured the entryway, took up the rugs and installed shiny wood floors, and painted the walls a bright mango-yellow, giving the new restaurant a feeling of spaciousness and light.

"Our customers can interact with me and the chefs at the counter of the open kitchen and watch as we create dishes," says Jose, adding that Fresca is about both the food and "having a good time."

There are tables in the front next to the bar, and the back of the room, lightened by skylights, is lined with banquettes upholstered in patterned greens and oranges. Two large half-booths are set into the walls flanking the cevichería or ceviche bar, and are appropriate for large parties. All in all, the restaurant seats 110 diners.

The Calvo-Perez men own two other restaurants called Fresca (Spanish for "fresh"), one on West Portal Avenue and another on Fillmore Street. The latter also has a ceviche bar, and according to Jose, Fresca's ceviche bars are the only bars of their kind in San Francisco. They're similar to a sushi bar--customers can walk up to the bar and order one of nine ceviches, loosely defined as a seafood cocktail. The ceviche mixto has calamari, fish, scallops, and prawns, and is seasoned with lime and rocoto pepper (a red chili pepper), red onions, sweet yams, and corn ($13). A traditional Peruvian ceviche is the "Five Elementos," composed of halibut, lime juice, red onion, sea salt, and rocoto pepper ($12).

While seafood is the specialty, there are dozens of other offerings on the menu, from tiradito, described as "Peruvian-style sashimi" featuring Kobe beef, to the traditional Peruvian adobo de chancho, a braised pork dish ($15.50), to a special creation by Jose called salmón de Tumbes, coriander-crusted Atlantic salmon with squid-ink rice and creole salsa ($17.50). The most popular Peruvian dish is lomo saltado, strips of sirloin steak stir-fried with French fries, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro ($17).

Prices range from $3 for a side of pure de papas (mashed potatoes) to $24 for churrasco a la chorillana (grilled rib-eye steak). Oyster enthusiasts will be happy to know that a marisquería or raw oyster bar, will open the first weekend in June.

Another feature of the restaurant is the full bar, which highlights pisco, the national beverage of Peru made from Inca Valley grapes. Jose imports Peruvian coca leaves for his Coca Sour: pisco-infused coca leaves, egg white, lemon juice, cane syrup, and bitters ($8). Specialty cocktails are $7 to $9. There's also imported Peruvian beer, and $27 will buy a pitcher of sangria (one glass is $7).

Although Julio Calvo-Perez discovered the Noe Valley location for the restaurant, it's Jose who has taken up residence in the neighborhood. About eight months ago, he moved into a place on Clipper Street, and in April he got married to his wife, Vanessa. A San Francisco native, Jose is a Riordan High School graduate. He had plans to become a firefighter, but admits with a grin that scaling great heights made him queasy. Instead, he went into his father's business. The first Fresca, in West Portal, opened in 1996 as a roast chicken eatery. "Those are popular in Peru," Jose explains, "like pizzerias."

After graduating from the California Culinary Academy, Jose traveled throughout Europe, working in restaurants and honing his cooking skills. In 2002, he became the executive chef of the second Fresca, on Fillmore. He often visits Lima, Peru, where his family has a home, to keep tabs on the latest in Peruvian food preparation.

So far, hundreds of San Francisco foodies have been checking out the restaurant, and Jose says he's had customers from the East Bay and Peninsula as well. "I definitely recommend reservations for Thursday through Sunday," Calvo-Perez says with a satisfied smile.

Fresca serves lunch, brunch, and dinner. The restaurant is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Lovejoy's Attic
1350 Church Street at Clipper Street

Afternoon tea devotees and vintage lovers should have something to smile about: In early May, Gillian Briley and Muna Nash, owners of Lovejoy's Tea Room, opened Lovejoy's Attic directly across the street from their popular teashop at the corner of Church and Clipper. While Lovejoy's has always offered for sale a selection of teas, as well as china and antiques (even the furniture upon which patrons dine), the new shop will showcase these items.

According to Briley, who will spend most of her time at the new store while Nash takes care of the Tea Room, the business partners and friends had no real plans to expand Lovejoy's, which they have owned since 2000. But when the space at 1350 Church formerly occupied by a chiropractor opened up, the ideas started bubbling. "We saw this as a perfect opportunity to provide a space for our customers to browse and shop while they waited for a table," Briley says, "or for us to send them after they'd had their tea."

In addition, the shop would allow the partners to indulge their passion for vintage things. "Lovejoy's began as an antique shop," Briley points out. "But when we bought it, it became such a popular tearoom that we gradually phased out the antiques. But we always kept some items for sale, because the vintage things were such a part of Lovejoy's. Both Muna and I like to collect old things, and scour flea markets and find treasures," she adds.

The Attic has two small rooms in use at the moment, the main room and the Tea Cellar. A third room, to be opened eventually and used for hand-me-down toys and garden furniture, has four steps leading up to it that are decorated in Lovejoy's familiar mosaic of broken chinaware. The floor throughout the rest of the shop is a rich chocolate-brown, painted here and there with whimsical gold and pink teacups.

The Tea Cellar, which gets its name from being under the brick stairs to the flats above the shop, has warm yellow walls, evoking thoughts of lemon curd. And lemon curd ($1 for a sampler jar) is indeed one of the items you will find on the shelves, along with a large assortment of tea--in boxes, bags, and tins. You can purchase the same teas and tisanes offered in the Tea Room, including Lovejoy's Tea Room Blend and Taylor's of Harrogate, as well as teas not carried across the street, such as PG Tips and Barry's Tea from Ireland. Most teas are $6.50 per box.

The Cellar also displays big and little teapots, and several styles of knitted or fabric cozies to keep them warm ($16 to $45), plus imported edibles such as McVitie's Digestives biscuits ($4.95), Branston Pickle chutney ($4.95), and the pièce de résistance--English Double Devon Cream ($5.25).

In the main room, one finds lamps, birdfeeders, tea trolleys, chairs, and a few larger pieces of furniture, including a Victorian-era vanity ($525) and an $850 hutch, both from Scotland. Nash and Briley's concentration, however, is on small vintage and faux-vintage collectibles. There are vintage tea towels ($3.95) and handmade aprons ($8 to $12)--the same ones worn by the Tea Room servers--and other items such as cups and saucers, serving tiers, infusers, and used-teabag holders (plastic $1.50, ceramic $4.50).

Gift items include postcards made from recycled album covers ($1), music CDs in funky tins ($16), and journals fashioned from old book covers. These are a particular favorite of Briley. "I just love items made from reclaimed objects," she says with a smile.

Lovejoy's Attic is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and stays open until 7 p.m. on Fridays.

Fit Lite by 24 Hour Fitness
3800 24th Street, Suite 2, at Church Street

In late April, Fit Lite by 24 Hour Fitness, a circuit-training gym, opened its doors in what was for many years Launderland, on 24th Street at the corner of Church Street. For those unfamiliar with circuit training, manager Barbara Pochop explains that it's a 30-minute, full-body workout utilizing 18 different machines, geared towards busy folk who have a hard time squeezing exercise into their hectic schedules.

"The goal is to keep one's heart rate up while also using the body's major muscles," she says. This fitness routine works in part because of the lack of down time between exercise sets. After warming up for three to five minutes on a stationary bicycle, a person moves on to various "stations" or machines. A chime sounds over the speaker system, interrupting the music that's constantly playing, every 60 seconds, signaling that it's time to move on to the next station. The first 10 stations are hydraulic machines working on air compression with six levels of difficulty. Because they are air resistant, the harder a person pushes or pulls, the harder the machine's resistance--and the harder those muscles have to work. Included are a stair-step machine to tone the legs, a chest press, and a squat machine to strengthen the thighs and buttocks.

Moving on, one faces off against the Nautilus weight machines on the other side of the room. Pochop says these are a little more challenging than the hydraulic machines, and thus a little more advanced. These eight machines include a leg press, vertical chest machine, and shoulder overhead press. The goal of these machines is to create lean muscle mass.

Most people work through the 30-minute circuit once, then choose one or both sides of the room and do it all over again.

The long room's floors are a reddish orange, as are some of the walls--the others are a warm beige. At the back of the room, members can use one of eight lockers but will need to provide their own padlocks.

There are men's and women's restrooms but no showers. "There really wasn't room for them," Pochop explains, "and most of our members live nearby. Since this is all about fitting a workout into a busy, hectic schedule, most people don't want to carry a bunch of stuff to the gym."

For those starting out, Fit Lite recommends doing the workout three times a week. Those more experienced could go more often. A fitness assistant will go through the machines with new clients the first time, helping them to fill out a card that tracks their machine settings.

Fit Lite, like its parent company 24 Hour Fitness, will run different specials on membership packages. Currently, a new membership is $74 down and $37 a month. There's no contract, and after paying for the first month as well as the last two months, members pay month to month. There are other packages that include access to all the 24 Hour Fitness clubs.

Fit Lite is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.