Noe Valley Voice December-January 2009

Store Trek

By Lorraine Sanders

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling new stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce a new neighborhood eatery on Dolores, and a 24th Street store that's returned to the neighborhood--and the same store space--30 years after it originally opened in 1979.

Noeteca Cafe and Wine Bar
1551 Dolores Street (at Valley)

If you think the man preparing your boeuf bourguignon at this cozy eatery looks familiar, it's with good reason. Alex Kamprasert, who opened Noeteca Cafe and Wine Bar with partner Scott McDonald on Oct. 2 in the space that once housed the Last Laugh Coffeehouse, spent the better part of the last decade working at Chloe's Café on Church Street.

After deciding to open an establishment of his own and searching more than a year for the right space, Kamprasert found just what he'd been looking for only a few blocks from his former stomping grounds.

"I looked around, and I said, you know, this is it," recalls Kamprasert of the day he visited the corner storefront at Dolores and Valley streets.

With its outdoor café tables, coffee bar, impressive wine list, and a versatile menu that ranges from chicken salad and challah French toast to specialties like Croque Napoleon (bread pudding layered with ham and cheese, $8.95) and flat-bread tarts ($7.95), the eatery aims to become a regular stop for neighborhood residents--for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

"Alex and I wanted a place that we felt we would be able to come for more than just a special occasion, a place that feels comfortable, a place you could go to every day, take my parents to when they come to town, a place where I can take my friends with kids, a place for a drink after work," McDonald says.

While the lack of a full kitchen shapes the menu's offerings, it does little to hamper the owners' pursuit of affordably-priced fare made with ingredients sold by local and small, family-operated businesses. The restaurant's cage-free eggs hail from Willamette Farms, while bread arrives daily from Il Fornaio. Organic dairy products come from the Straus Family Creamery. The coffee on offer is from Rodger's Coffee and Tea, and is brewed one cup at a time.

You'll find a soup ($3.95) and quiche of the day ($7.95) and cheese plates ($5 to $15) listed on the specials blackboard in back, as well as heartier offerings such as Three Little Piggies ($8.95), which sandwiches pulled pork shoulder, onion confit, white cheddar cheese, and house-made barbecue sauce between toasted challah buns. Salads ($7.95 to $9.95) range from a caprese with fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, and sweet basil vinaigrette to a Belgian endive salad with bacon, gorgonzola, and honey roasted walnuts. Chocolate features prominently in the desserts.

"I call it European-influenced comfort food. It's all very simple, wine-friendly. Soups and stews, lots of slow-cooked items," McDonald says.

The most expensive entrée on the menu is $14.95, and to appeal to those who enjoy sampling a variety of wines, every wine is available by the half-glass.

Taking over the space late last spring, Kamprasert and McDonald, who live in the Sunset District, updated the café's interiors with new lighting fixtures, dark wood cabinets, and a fresh coat of paint on the walls. They kept some elements from the Last Laugh, including several dining tables, a long pew bench, and the idea of using a dresser in the front as a coffee station. The raised area in the back was removed, and a coffee table and cushy chairs brought in to create a "conversation area," says McDonald. A bar-level table for two was added in the restaurant's back corner and looks perfect for a quiet, romantic dinner. Wireless Internet is available, and there are children's toys on hand to entertain young diners.

Says McDonald: "We wanted to have that simple, homey feeling."

Noeteca (pronounced "NOE-tech-uh") is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. At press time, Sunday evening hours were coming soon.

Star Magic: The Second Generation
4028 24th Street (at Noe)

Describing one's own merchandise as out of this world might be a bit boastful coming from most retailers. But at one new Noe Valley shop, it's a matter of fact.

"It's all about what's magical and spiritual about the universe that we live in," says Michael Hanfling of the offerings at Star Magic: The Second Generation, the 24th Street store he operates with his father, Robert Hanfling.

In Star Magic's display cases and lining its shelves, tarot card decks mingle with sparkling geode statuary, stained-glass works, soy candles, meditation-worthy Steven Halpern CDs, glow-in-the-dark children's toys, crystals and stones, and a selection of books and DVDs on topics ranging from conspiracy theories to unsolved mysteries. Toys under $10, many by the Slinky brand, are plentiful, as are one-of-a-kind metal "warrior" accessories by artist Ramiro Perez and paintings, prints, and sculptural creations by the younger Hanfling, who creates art under the name 3Satva. The most expensive items in the store are handmade jewelry and sculptural pieces costing up to $2,000.

While the shop devoted to all things cosmic may be new to many passersby, it is far from a new concept for the elder Hanfling. In 1979, Hanfling and then-business partner Justin Moreau opened the original Star Magic in Noe Valley in the very same retail space it occupies today (previously home to Simply Chic). Popular among amateur astrologers and astronomers, as well as those interested in the intersection of space and New Age spirituality, the original shop was known as much for its far-out merchandise as it was for its elaborately decorated interiors and a light show that played across the ceiling. The business expanded in 1982 to include a second Star Magic location, in New York, and was eventually sold to an investor. The planets were no longer aligned, however, and in 1998 the owner was evicted from the Noe Valley space for failure to pay rent.

"It had become more of a space toy store. The greed of the eighties and nineties played itself out at Star Magic," says Robert, who is also producer of San Francisco's New Living Expo and the Whole Life Expo held in Los Angeles.

Adds Michael, "The product mix here is more similar to the original concept than what it was in '98."

When Robert, who currently lives in Glen Park, noticed the storefront was available this fall, he struck up a deal with his former landlord to rent the space for the last three months of the year. The new Star Magic opened, appropriately enough, on October's new moon (that was the 18th, for anyone without a lunar calendar).

Before opening the doors, father and son cleared out and cleaned the space, added new carpet, and painted the walls with stars. Along with the merchandise that fills the shop, there's an aura photography station designed to capture on film one's personal energy field using a Polaroid camera and a biofeedback machine ($10 per aura picture), as well as a kid-friendly "outer space room" painted black and adorned with toys, celestial shapes, cushions, and decorations illuminated with a glowing black light.

The shop may be a temporary venture at the moment, but the Hanflings are open to remaining into the new year.

Says Robert: "We're here through Christmas, and we'll stay as long as customers support the business. The response from the community has been overwhelming, and I would prefer to stay."

Star Magic is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.