Noe Valley Voice July 2011

And Now for the Rumors Behind the News: Surreal Foods

By Mazook

“UNREAL” is the way the Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation (NVBI) is describing its case file on the empty building that once was the home of Real Food Company.

As loyal Voice readers know, this Labor Day will be eight years to the day (almost) since Utah-based Nutraceutical Corp. closed the grocery store at 3939 24th St., leaving its employees in the lurch.

Since then, the huge storefront has stayed vacant, and Noe Valleyans have been twisting slowly in the wind, waiting for Nutra to do something—anything—with the building.

Faced with a dearth of news, NVBI Director Rog Rubin threatened early last month to close the Real Food investigation. Then suddenly he reopened it mid-June, after a flurry of activity at the building.

NVBI agents reported that the Nutra people had apparently sent workmen to the site, to put a fresh coat of paint on the building’s fa¨ade. The only remnant of their visit was a “Wet Paint” sign.

After more research, the NVBI determined the paint job was done in response to several calls Nutraceutical received from Noe Valleyland last month.

First, Carol Yenne, acting on behalf of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, left a message with Sergio Diaz, Nutraceutical’s designated spokesperson, asking for a status report on the building. She received no call back.

Then, the NVBI director himself attempted to contact Diaz, to get a comment about the paint job or maybe an update on plans for the building. Again, no reply.

Our representative on the Board of Supervisors, Scott Wiener, told the NVBI that he and members of his staff tried to reach a representative of Nutraceutical several times during the past six months, most recently in June. But there were no return calls to Wiener from the corporation.

“We’ve not been able to talk to anyone from Nutraceutical,” confirmed Wiener’s chief of staff, Gillian Gillett.

In a follow-up interview, the NVBI asked Wiener if he had any thoughts on nudging Nutra forward. He said he thought that the only practical way to bring about a change at Real Food would be to encourage the building owner (Nutra) to come up with a plan for development of the site or to sell the building to someone who would be so willing. The supe said he’d continue to try to convince Nutraceutical that development of the property was in their best interest. The reason?

“They are paying approximately $50,000 a year in property taxes,” said Wiener. “That’s a large number.” Sure is.

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WHAT’S ON TAP: The NVBI also reported that the local blog,, was flooded with June comments on what folks would like to see in the R.F. spot.

One commenter suggested that Real Food should become a community day care center during the day and a beer garden at night. Others said they’d prefer “a gay bar with a stripper pole” or “a tin foil hat store.” A pundit named Nelson had the best line: “You could probably fit two title companies in there, maybe a nail/waxing salon in back.”

By the way, a poll of the agents at the NVBI showed nearly unanimous support for a two-story building housing a bowling alley and beer garden on the ground floor and a multipurpose theater on the second, and beneath it all, a subterranean parking lot.

Estimates are that nothing will happen until circa 2020.

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LITTLE LOUNGING PIXIES: Noe Valley kids who will be in high school from 2020 to 2023 have their eyes on the real construction project at the corner of 24th and Diamond. The ground floor is set to become a children’s activity center called the Little Lounge. “It will be a play center for kids of all ages,” says Lounge creator Kim Lipkovitz, “but all children will have to be accompanied by a parent or caregiver.”

Her space was the longtime home of the Diamond Suds Laundromat. The building was sold in November, and the owner has been remodeling the residential units on the second floor and is now expanding the space for the play room.

Lipkovitz, who has lived in Noe Valley for the past three years, says she is creating a Little Lounge website and hopes to survey the neighborhood for input as to activities and classes parents would like to see at the center. She says she used to be a computer engineer and then was into product management, but she is very much looking forward to working on her new project.

Meanwhile, the folks at Pixie Hall Studios, which is a popular art studio for kids at the corner of Diamond and Elizabeth, are currently shouting out to the neighborhood (especially within a block or two of the studio) for a property owner who might allow PH to hold classes in “the art of gardening” in their back yard once or twice a week.

“We are expanding our classes to include subjects such as photography, art textiles, and sewing, as well as trying to find a back yard to grow things,” says Pixie’s head teacher, Kristin Scagliotti, who opened the Hall two years ago. “We hope to fill 10 spaces in the class, which will be supervised by three teachers, and do great things in one of our neighbors’ yard.” The kids range in age from 5 to 15, she says.

You can reach Scagliotti telephonically at 400-4846 or electronically, if you would enjoy hosting the creative endeavor.

In a related and contiguous item, congrats to Kangaroos Play and Learn Activity Center at 816 Diamond, which managed to jump through all the hoops required for licensure as a state childcare facility.

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ON THE CHEF: Popular café La Boulange de Noe, at 24th and Sanchez, wants everyone to know that it has hired a world-class chef, Alain Bourgade, who is partnering with founder Pascal Rigo to create new items on the menu reflecting Proven¨al and southern French cuisine. Bourgade’s inaugural menu included things like a Proven¨al Chicken with Creamy Polenta, Snapper Brandade ­Tartine with Pesto, and Roasted Vegetable Salad. The seasonal dishes will change every two months.

Folks up at Firefly, the very busy 17-year dinner house on 24th Street near Douglass, are happy that Chef Luke Prellwitz has returned to lead the dinner menu, which changes weekly.

Says Firefly founder and head chef Brad Levy, “We are happy that Luke was longing to return to Noe Valley, after he left us three years ago to do a stint at the French Laundry and then Obuntu up in the Napa Valley. He said it was great being at both of those restaurants, but he got lonely for Noe Valley.”  Levy is pleased that the neighborhood supports its restaurants and that places like Omnivore Books (on Cesar Chavez and Church) are attracting so many great chefs from around the country.

“A couple of months ago, Gabrielle Hamilton, who is a world-famous chef and author, came to Omnivore for a book-signing for her Blood, Bones, and Butter memoir,” says Levy, “and with a mutual friend we had a great conversation of the joys, trials, and tribulations of the restaurant business.” He says he and Hamilton first had a Negroni at Bliss Bar and then went up the hill to have dinner at Firefly, a meal composed of shrimp-and-scallop pot stickers and gnocchi with truffled Mornay sauce.

They had such a good time “we had to hurry her [Hamilton] to the airport for a flight to Portland, where she was going to promote her memoirs.”

If you want to try that meal (who wouldn’t?), take a tip from Levy. Make a reservation—especially if you’re dining on a weekend. Tip No. 2: For a bargain, try the three-course fixed-price meal for $37—it’s a great deal, Levy says.

So what is the most popular dish on Firefly’s menu? Levy says that’s a hard question, because the menu changes so frequently. But  if he thinks back over time, the dish most in demand by patrons is “the fried chicken—people love the fried chicken.” 

My last chef item sends kudos out to Noe Valley resident and chef Traci Des Jardins (Jardini¸re, Public House, and Manzanita in S.F.). Des Jardins got the runner-up spot in the recent Top Chef Masters competition on Bravo’s Top Chef: Masters show.

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SHORT SHRIFT: Amberjack Sushi, serving sushi and Japanese cuisine on the corner of Church and 27th streets, has closed after an 11-year run. The restaurant had been for sale for a number of months with an asking price of $125,000. It will be replaced by another sushi restaurant, this time called Kama Sushi, according to the sign posted in the window.

REALLY SHORT SHRIFT: The space recently vacated by Tuttimelon frozen yogurt is currently being offered for lease at $4,500 per month on Craigslist.

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THINGS TONSORIAL: Many folks will be happy to learn that local barber Mike ­Skoufas is coming back to Noe Valley. He will be available by appointment on Saturdays, starting July 9, at his daughter’s shop, Of Barbers and Bears, on 24th between Castro and Diamond.

“I am so happy he is coming back part-time,” says daughter Stephanie Smith. “The barbershop he was working in on Saturdays, down in San Bruno near his home, changed hands and he decided to come here.”

Mike semi-retired several years ago. He first started barbering in Noe Valley in 1951 and was joined by Smith in the late 1970s. Welcome back, Mike, and put me down for noon on July 16, please.

Also, congrats to Smith. Her cloth doll creations—besides barbering, she makes stuffed teddy bears, porcelain dolls, and doll clothing—were shown in the prestigious Flying Phoebe Cloth Doll Club’s annual show.

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WHERE’S THE MORTUARY? A big thank-you to longtime Noe Valleyan Judy O’Malley for setting the record straight on a quiz answer in my April column. The question was about what businesses had occupied the space where the Valley Tavern is today, at 4054 24th near Castro. I said that way-back-when the spot had been a mortuary. According to O’Malley, the only mortuary on 24th Street was where Fresca Restaurant is now, at 3945 24th. The tavern’s storefront was occupied by a popular bar in the 1940s and ’50s known as Murphy’s Irish Inn.

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THAT’S ALL, you all. Have a great summer vacation and we’ll be seeing you right here in September. Ciao for now.


News Flash: The date for the mayoral candidates forum at James Lick School—sponsored by the Noe Valley Democratic Club, the Merchants Assocation, the Friends of Noe Valley, and Upper Noe Neighbors—has been tentatively set for Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m. Nine candidates have been invited so far!