Noe Valley Voice September 2006

Livin' on the Edge (of the Neighborhood)

By Lorraine Sanders

Chances are, the last time you heard neighbors buzzing about happenings down at 22nd and Guerrero streets, the ruminations had something to do with pot. From the time the Green Cross set up shop on Noe Valley's easternmost edge in July 2004, until it closed its doors earlier this year, the medical marijuana dispensary sparked more than its fair share of neighborhood chatter--and controversy.

Stroll down to that same intersection these days and you'll catch an altogether different sort of buzz. New businesses are sprouting up, and some old favorites are finding new ways to please their faithful patrons.

Newcomers Josephine & Debudda, an eclectic boutique featuring vintage and vintage-inspired jewelry, accessories, and finds for the home, and Little Tree Gallery, a pint-sized art space dedicated to showing work from emerging local artists, have moved into the Green Cross' former digs.

Josephine & Debudda owner Jessica Goldberg grew up in San Francisco but recently moved back to the West Coast from Brooklyn. She was happy to find the space on 22nd Street, where browsers are greeted by the store's canine mascot, Josephine.

"It's very intimate. Everybody kind of looks out for each other and supports all the businesses," she says of the neighborhood atmosphere.

A few storefronts down from Goldberg's shop, the Little Tree Gallery greets passersby with crisp white walls and open doors--quite a departure from the previous tenant's blacked-out windows and security cameras.

Owners Forest Swartout and Brent Large opened the gallery in July. They hope to make reasonably-priced contemporary art more accessible to city residents while giving local artists an appealing venue for showing their work. "You don't need to whisper in here," says Large, noting that the gallery's aim is to avoid the stuffy attitude often associated with major art galleries.

Swartout and Large also want to encourage emerging artists to stick around the area and remain part of the arts scene.

"The Bay Area has a lot of great artists, but they like to leave all the time," laments Large.

This month, the gallery features work by Haden Nicholl. A new solo exhibition appears each month.

While new businesses have been taking root, veterans like the Tao Café have been expanding their offerings. After operating her Vietnamese restaurant at the corner of 22nd and Guerrero alone for several years, owner Thuy Nguyen has brought on new partner Trang Luu.

The new arrangement has made a world of difference for Nguyen, a busy mother of two who spent four years juggling family life with the demands of running a restaurant and serving as its head chef.

"It's like I had a small blanket put over my head and it exposed my toes. Now this blanket is bigger," Nguyen says.

Now that she has help in the kitchen, Nguyen can actually stay home and watch a movie with her kids one night a week.

For Tao Café patrons, the partnership means new dishes such as Luu's savory garlic noodles. Diners will also notice an announcement about cooking classes at the top of Tao's menu. Nguyen, who owned a restaurant in Paris before coming to the United States six years ago, will teach you anything from cooking basics to weekly menu preparation, plus the how-to's of choosing the right cuts of meat at the butcher shop and making healthy desserts for kids.

Across the street on the other side of Guerrero, Moroccan restaurant Zagora, which opened last December, has new management at the helm. Next door, Kiji Sushi Bar & Cuisine, which opened last October, continues to draw diners with its classic rolls, fusion entrees, and selection of over 30 sake varieties. Blush Nail Spa, which also opened late last year, has carved out a niche in the area by offering reasonably priced manicures, pedicures, and waxing with add-on options like those found at posh downtown spas, including lavender foot soaks, mango-scented lotion, and sea mud masks for legs and feet.

Not every business at 22nd and Guerrero is new. You can still enjoy a pint at the Liberties pub, which now sports a Tots on Tuesdays children's menu. You also can sip martinis at the Lone Palm, surf the web on your laptop while downing strong java at the Que Tal coffeehouse, keep your mop in shape at Shear Delight or Victor's Hair Salon, and, last but not least, view what is purported to be the world's largest rubberband ball at Pride Superette, the convenience store on the corner.

To be sure, you'll find many things at this bustling little commercial enclave on Noe Valley's outskirts. But compared to the always-packed Valencia corridor nearby or the heavily trafficked 24th Street, the intersection of 22nd and Guerrero is decidedly mellow.

La Provence, which opened in June 2005, is one of the not-so-new newcomers to this little strip of Guerrero. Owner Lionel LaFite, who likens the neighborhood to "a little village," enjoys the quiet easygoing pace that surrounds his restaurant at 1001 Guerrero Street. The Greenbrae resident has noticed a marked difference in the area since the Green Cross shut down.

"That was attracting a lot of so-so people," LaFite says. "Now it's back to the people who live here, a nice San Francisco neighborhood where you expect to raise a family."

But that doesn't mean LaFite shuns visitors who come from the surrounding hills to dine on his French Provençal cuisine. Arrive by cab, and he'll reimburse the fare in restaurant credit.

"Just don't come from Pacifica," he laughs.