Appetites and Afterthoughts

With apologies to Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Coltrane: Here are a few of my favorite things

Beyl takes off his hat to the magical performance of the Charles Lloyd Quartet. photo: Ernest Beyl

Usually when I write one of these Appetites and After-thoughts columns, I write only about food. But there are other appetites not necessarily related to the stomach. So here I’m writing about a few of my “other” favorite things — to toy with the Julie Andrews’ song in The Sound of Music. But a few of my favorite food things may creep in here as well.


I bought my first Panama hat many years ago — a Charlie Chan model known technically as the Optimo — from Michael Harris at Paul’s Hat Works way out on Geary. The shop opened in 1918, and my buddy Michael bought it in 1980. Then a few years ago he retired, and some enterprising young women bought it and are keeping the Panama hat flame alive. I’m now a collector of these Ecuadorean, Montecristi beauties, a passion I share with Willie Brown, who is also a Panama hat hotshot.


One of the all-time truly great creations — right up there with baseball and the Boeing 747 — are martinis, created across the bay in Martinez, it is said. Ice cold and straight up, please!


As a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter, I read the paper every day. It was better when I worked there a long time ago. Not because I made it better, but because writers like Herb Caen, Stanton Delaplane, Monty Waite, Kevin Wallace, J. Campbell Bruce, Carolyn Anspacher, and Pierre Salinger (yes, that Pierre Salinger) made it better. These days I read the Chronicle because of Carl Nolte. His Native Son column makes it worthwhile for me.


Fly-fishing is one of my favorite things. I share this with Dr. Denny Zeitlin — the San Francisco psychiatrist-fisherman-jazz pianist — and Eric Clapton.


True carnivores will understand this. If I had to choose one food to take with me to that mythical, tiny desert island seen in so many New Yorker cartoons, it would be steak tartare: ground top sirloin, an egg yolk thoroughly mixed in, chopped onions, capers, a big whack of Worcestershire sauce, and a lot of salt and pepper. If you don’t get it, so be it.


Back to that mythical desert island: If I could take just one record album with me and sit under that lone palm tree listening all day, it would be Forest Flower by the Charles Lloyd Quartet. In 1966, Lloyd, still in his 20s, played Forest Flower at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The live album of that performance changed the course of his life. Within months, the Charles Lloyd Quartet played Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium — the first jazz artists to do so. With that one thematic composition, tenor saxophonist and flutist Lloyd brought jazz to youngsters who had avoided it earlier. He set the stage for what we now call fusion and world music and inspired other jazz artists to stretch out to rock audiences — notably Miles Davis who soon was performing with Lloyd’s Forest Flower sidemen — pianist Keith Jarrett and percussionist Jack DeJohnette.


Eau de vie — the French white lightning — is a favorite. I have a cousin who lives in a tiny village in the French province of Lorraine. Her husband makes Eau de Vie Mirabelle with small yellow plums from a tree in his garden. When I first met him, we bonded over his Eau de Vie, and as a going away present he gave me some in a whiskey bottle stopped with a cork. That night in my hotel I had a whack of it before I went to sleep. Next morning, the room smelled like plums. It was glorious, and I had another whack.


My kind of restaurants are Tadich Grill, Swan Oyster Depot, Original Joe’s, and my quintessential choice, Sam’s Grill. Everything about Sam’s Grill is “legit” — as my old news pal Carl Nolte might say. The seafood is the freshest to be found. It’s prepared in the simplest fashion — no frills. No decorating with foams, smudge pots of hay smoke, or piles of ash. No edible flowers. No seaweed. In other words, no bull stuff. Do I need to tell you that Sam’s cooks do not place the food on the plate with tweezers?


I miss the Washington Square Bar & Grill. And I miss Capp’s Corner — late, lamented, lost! There was a sign hanging over the door at Capp’s Corner that I admired every time I saw it. It read:


1. Grab your coat and get your hat

2. Leave your worry on the doorstep

3. Just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street.

When Capp’s closed — a neighborhood tragedy — proprietor Tom Ginella gave me the sign. It now leans against my desk reminding me of what we’ve lost.


John Coltrane, the deified jazz saxophone giant, had a habit of turning saccharine pop tunes into powerhouse renditions with seemingly endless improvised variations. He took the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music and made it a jazz classic. It, too, is one of my favorite things.

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