Bibulous at the Balboa
by Roberto Friedman
The Balboa Cafe, on the corner of Fillmore and Greenwich in Cow Hollow, is one of the classic old San Francisco eateries. It belongs right up there with the Tadich Grill, Sam's, and the late, lamented Enrico's and Ernie's. Weekend nights it goes into Marina kids' libido overdrive, but afternoons are much mellower, with the dining room populated by society doyennes, ladies (and gents) who lunch, locals. Out There once had a fabulous two-hour lunch with a pal there, starring two bottles of fine wine. Our friend knew our waiter well, so we got all sorts of insider dish along with impeccable service.
Last week we were in the house for a media luncheon celebrating the Balboa's 100-year anniversary, invited by PlumpJack partners Gordon Getty, Hilary Newsom , Gavin Newsom, Jeremy Scherer and John Conover. The affair also marked 20 years of PlumpJack and its trademark screw cap-finished luxury wines. For all of these reasons, it was definitely a lunch to remember.
Although the transom above the front door reads, "Established in 1914," Gavin Newsom assured us that the Balboa really did open in 1913, but the owners were superstitious about the number, hence the hedge. The old joint hasn't changed much over the years: long wooden bar, planked floors, dark-wood paneled walls. If only those wooden walls could talk!
Gavin and his father, retired Judge Bill Newsom , and colleagues sat at one head of the long dining table; Hilary, San Francisco Chronicle society columnist Catherine Bigelow, Gordon Getty and Out There held down the other end. The multi-course lunch was brightened by delicious glasses of Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2012, PlumpJack Reserve Chardonnay 2012, and PlumpJack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, all excellent and quickly drained. Hostess Pat Kelley, the so-called "face of the Balboa Cafe," hovered nearby. Everything was just so; even the table's colorful flower arrangements were exquisite.
A TV over the bar was tuned to the Giants -Red Sox game, so Gordon Getty kept a keen eye on the drubbing that Boston was dealing out, and kept us posted with bulletins. "Base hit!" "And he's out!" The celebrated composer, billionaire and SF icon turned out to be most delightful lunch company, keeping up with OT's wine consumption glass by glass, and offering decidedly candid and amusing opinions. We don't happen to move in the same circles, not owning our own private jet, but if we did, we'd want to dine with this gregarious gentleman more often.
A few hours later, after a double espresso, clutching our Balboa 100th anniversary souvenir pint glass and T-shirt, still high from our encounters, we were back out on the street in our working-class life, pinching ourselves on our working-class face, to make sure it hadn't all been a wonderful dream. Had we really been pal-ing around with our new bro Gordon Getty? Yes, we had!
Here's a joke the Plumpjack folks regaled us with: What do you call the fee when you bring your own bottle of screw-top luxury wine to a fine dining establishment? "Screwage."
Photo: Courtesy BARS
Over the rainbow
The Bay Area Rainbow Symphony [BARS ] has announced the appointment of Dawn Harms as its new Music Director. The BARS 2013-14 season's Opening Night Gala Concert is Sat., Sept. 7, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, starring diva Frederica von Stade , who will perform the trio from Strauss ' Der Rosenkavalier as well as Jake Heggie's "Primary Colors." Rachmaninoff 's Symphony #2 will conclude the program.
Maestro Harms' diverse musical career includes being a chamber musician, violin soloist, concertmaster and conductor throughout the Bay Area. She is a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra , Associate Concertmaster for the New Century Chamber Orchestra and Co-Concertmaster with the Oakland East Bay Symphony . Harms was also chosen to be one of the Fellows at the exclusive American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival, where she worked with many world-renowned conductors, including Marin Alsop . Harms has appeared in concert with von Stade, Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg , Zheng Chao, and Eugenia Zukerman, and has premiered works by composer Heggie. She is also co-founder and Music Director of the Music at Kirkwood Chamber Music Festival, and serves on the faculty at Stanford University.
The Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, heading into its sixth year, is an orchestra that provides a safe and supportive environment for musicians of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. BARS makes cultural, social, and educational contributions to the San Francisco Bay Area by performing ambitious repertoire to a high standard. More info at bars-sf.org.
The nonprofit Lesbian Home Movie Project [LHMP ] in Orland, ME, is collecting, preserving, and documenting lesbian home movies. They hold rare film from the 1930s as well as more contemporary collections. There's no charge for the service, all they ask is that the donor participate in an interview about the reel's history. In return, donors receive DVD or external hard drive-ready copies of their material, often within weeks. The LHMP works with a professional archive to restore and store the films, then makes them available for research, conferences, and selected exhibition. For more info, write LHMP, P.O. Box 308, Orland, Maine, or e-mail email@example.com.
We'll review the whole collection when it comes out in October, but we couldn't resist offering up a tiny portion of "Summer Journal," a poem from The Hotel Oneira by San Francisco poet/essayist August Kleinzahler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). These lines are marked "[3 p.m.]," and they're quite timely.
"Loss leaders in shop windows,/fog spilling down the slopes/of Corona Heights, Twin Peaks, Tank Hill –/my name on everyone's lips:/– August, they say,/with resignation and dismay,/pulling up their collars against the wind."
This fall, Kleinzahler and photographer Alec Soth (Sleeping by the Mississippi) will appear in conversation with Steven Winn at City Arts and Lectures on Mon., Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m., at Nourse Theater in Hayes Valley. Tickets ($27): Cityarts.net or (415) 392-4400.