North Beach Journal

The Clooney caper; an ode to the perfect bloody Mary; the osso buco episode; and Amanda, the deputy sheriff


This paragraph should have appeared in my May Sketches column but monthly deadlines being what they are, I missed it. However, I think it’s worth recounting even a month late.

There’s an attractive young woman (that’s the politically incorrect part; more below) we call Jas who is a server at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe in North Beach. One day as Jas (Jasiel Berg) served me my daily espresso, she invited me to protest with her at a Nob Hill fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. George Clooney and his wife, Ama1, were scheduled to participate, and the cost of head table seats for two was $353,000. Yes, you read that correctly — $353,000. Jas thought that was obscene so she was planning to protest the event, and that day in Mario’s she took out a slip of paper and wrote down the Nob Hill address of the party house in case I wanted to join her.

I don’t protest much anymore, except with my computer. Jas protested and the papers covered it. But the fascinating thing is that Jas and her fellow protestors got through to George Clooney. The day after the event, the heart-throb actor issued a statement agreeing with her. He said that to raise that much money for political reasons is obscene. I’m waiting for Clooney to call Jas and apologize.


As I write this, Chief Sullivan’s is about to open in the Green Street premises formerly occupied by O’Reilly’s Irish Pub (622 Green Street). I dropped by the other day to make sure that the mural on the back wall was still there. It is. In case you haven’t seen it, the mural depicts famed Irish writers Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, and Brendan Behan — in full color, red noses and all. But who was Chief Sullivan? A fireman who lost his life in the 1906 earthquake and fire!


In my last month’s column, I identified the woman in a photo on the wall of the Original U.S. Restaurant as Rose Cippolina, wife of Al Cippolina, one of the owners of that North Beach establishment. Al’s wife was Anna. She’s gone now and much missed by all of us.


If you and I have ever had lunch together you know that I’m a bloody Mary kind of guy. And these days I’m engaged in a protracted bloody Mary-off. It’s like a chili cook-off, but my serious research is on the tomato-based beverage. I’m a bloody Mary collector. Not so strange! Some collectors go for rare bottle caps or funny-shaped cocktail glasses — the kind with pineapple chunks and miniature umbrellas stuck in them. Though I have a long way to go with my bloody Mary-off, I have come up with four San Francisco saloons that craft the exemplary beverage. They are Sam’s Grill, Original Joe’s, Gino and Carlo, and Lefty O’Doul’s.

Tony Bosque, daytime bartender at Sam’s Grill, does an admirable job of keeping me bloody Mary-happy. Tony’s are a bit spicy and thick with pureed tomatoes thinned down to juiciness.

Then there’s Michael Fraser at Original Joe’s — another bloody Mary specialist. He knows how to please me with a spicy beverage, shaken with ice, then strained into a tall wine glass.

Ron Minolli, a barkeep at Gino and Carlo, makes his one at a time — “Just like I put on my pants, one leg at a time,” he says. Each one is crafted separately. Ron lines up all the ingredients, mixes and muddles, and only then adds the ice. It’s an intense bloody Mary — but Ron Minolli is an intense guy.

Then there’s Lefty O’Doul’s, the downtown saloon and hofbrau founded in 1958 that has raised the bloody Mary to an art form. The story goes that baseball legend O’Doul himself developed the recipe. The result is thick and spicy. The mix includes tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, distilled vinegar, molasses (there’s a surprise), garlic powder — and the other usual stuff.

On your behalf, I will continue my bloody Mary investigations along with my search for the perfect meatloaf.


This old Italian restaurant celebrated its 130th anniversary last month. I should have noted it in my column then, but missed it. Sometimes I feel Fior D’Italia doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. I will try to remedy that — give it a try again and maybe write about it.

Located in the San Remo Hotel on Mason Street in North Beach, my first encounter with the Fior was many years ago when it was located on Broadway. I was a reporter for the Chronicle, and Scott Newhall, Sunday editor at the time, gave me the job of writing the paper’s annual Gourmet Guide. All I had to do was eat out and write about it — not a bad job for a skinny and hungry kid.

One day at lunch time, I dropped into the restaurant with all the insouciance I could muster and acquired a table for one by the swinging doors that led to the kitchen. On the long menu was something called osso buco. I had never encountered osso buco or even heard of it. I ordered osso buco.

In a sophisticated manner, I sipped my glass of red wine and waited. In a few minutes, my waiter pushed through the swinging doors from the kitchen, lurched sideways as he slipped on a damp floor and something resembling a red softball came rolling along the floor toward me. Yes, it was my osso buco — a large veal knuckle braised in an aromatic tomato sauce.

With his apologies, my waiter said he would bring another. I demurred and had the spaghetti with meatballs. Next time I’m in Fior D’Italia, I’ll have the osso buco and give you a report.

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