Machka–Istanbul in San Francisco

A new Mediterranean restaurant opened in San Francisco last month ( at 584 Washington St. in the Financial District) called Machka. The small 32-seat dining room features long communal tables, a few smaller tables, and lots of dark wood paneling, suggesting an old tavern with its exposed brick walls.   A beautiful flag with the Tengrian crescent symbol (used for the restaurant’s logo), representing the moon and stars, hangs outside by the front door.

Serving dishes that artfully combine Turkish cuisine with the flavors of Spain, Greece and Italy, Machka  would be the perfect place for either  lunch or late dinner in a district of San Francisco not known for many top restaurants.

Stuffed Dates

A signature appetizer of blue cheese and chorizo-stuffed dates with pastirma, or Turkish pastrami, on a small  frisée salad served with sherry wine and mustard vinaigrette was our favorite, a culinary flavor bomb!

Pistachio-crusted Goat Cheese

A close second was pistachio-crusted warm goat cheese with caramelized onions on crostini topped with golden currants and drizzled honey!

Other signature menu items include house-made falafel, grilled octopus, grilled kebabs (smoked paprika marinated beef, lamb or chicken), and flatbread wraps (durum) stuffed with vegetables, meat (lamb, chicken or beef), and tahini. The wine list has both Turkish wines as well as California ones.   We chose a white Turkish wine, Kavaklidere’s “Cankaya” which was dry, crisp and delicious.

Next time we go (and we definitely consider this a winner), I want to try the kebabs and falafel.  The durum, I thought, was not quite as good as at other places where I have eaten –a bit too dry and the lamb should have been more tender.  The flatbread was also a bit thick for my taste.  Still, the appetizers (mezes) and service were outstanding and I am still thinking of those flavor bombs!

Visit Machka at  584 Washington Street, at Montgomery Street (415-391-8228)  and let me know what you think!

“Hit and Miss”–Or, “Boys Don’t Cry” meets “Dexter”

This new mini-series created exclusively for DirecTV’s Audience Network stars Chloë Sevigny as a transgender hired assassin living in Yorkshire, England and fated to parent four children who have just lost their mother to cancer.  One of the children, Ryan, is her son whom she fathered before pursuing her journey to becoming Mia. Now she finds herself the legal guardian to  four children.  When the children she inherits begin to affect her, she is shaken by her own amorality.

In each opening scene, the camera moves over Mia’s pre-op transsexual body: nude with both breasts and a penis.  The grey drizzle of the scenery of Yorkshire emphasizes the “film noir” mood of the narrative. Sevigny, an extraordinary American actress, has mastered a Yorkshire accent in a cast of British and Irish actors.   Every episode features her gangster boss, Eddie (Peter Wright), assigning a “hit”, which Mia has to carry out, usually disguised as a young boy in a hoodie or as an alluring prostitute.

Chloë Sevigny’s first breakout role (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award) was in “Boys Don’t Cry“, as the girlfriend of a transgender youth.  It is a tribute to Sevigny that the role of Mia in “Hit and Miss”  feels remarkably natural.  The audience is forced to contemplate how gender defines our identity.  Sometimes Mia is a  deadened or robotic self, but she is awakening to the gentle self of mother, father, and lover.

Ben (Jonas Armstrong) will certainly become a heartthrob for his exceptional performance as the one so deeply in love with Mia he can accept her pre-op transgender body in graphic sexual scenes while questioning why he is so attracted to her.  Armstrong’s cool but empathetic air in understanding the problem of a relationship with a transgender partner is an incredibly moving window into the heart of gender identity.

“Hit and Miss” fits into a recurring theme in some of the most talked-about current television series:  the dark past of the anti-hero who has hidden himself or herself in order to blend into “mainstream” society.  Family complicates the secret life by forcing honesty with those the hero loves (or wants to love).  Think:  “Dexter”, “Breaking Bad”, “Mad Men”, “Suits”, and “Damages”.  The back-story inevitably unfolds: an explanation–not quite a justification–for the main character’s moral ambiguity or sociopathology.  “Hit and Miss” clearly fits into this ferociously psychological contemporary genre, engendering a visceral response to the uncomfortable but familiar rabbit hole of human relations.


Bar Pintxo: In a pinch

Recently on a trip to LA we embarked on a culinary adventure beginning with a cooking demo by Bar Pintxo Chef David Planowski   at Surfas, a gourmet kitchen supply store in Culver City.  Recently rated as one of the top 10 bars/tapas restaurants by Los Angeles Magazine, we wanted to check it out for ourselves by sampling at the demo.  Surfas had about fifty participants with several audience volunteers helping Chef David with an unforgettable gazpacho, including his secrets: squeezing the tomatoes and cucumbers to get maximum juice and the variability of  his standard vinaigrette (has to do with the mustard options).

  At Bar Pintxo in Santa Monica we tried a delectable array of small plates and had a chance to talk with Chef David about some of his dishes.  “Pintxo” in Basque (pronounced “pinch-o”) refers to small plates that are speared with a toothpick or skewer and usually a bit smaller than tapas. Although we are tapas addicts, I can’t say that most of the pintxos were smaller than the tapas plates we sample in San Francisco and New York.  We thought the restaurant was generous with proportions.  Some of the menu items we had not seen at other establishments before: dates with smoked bacon and valdeon cheese,  crab with citrus essence and avocado cream, seared calamari salad with pickled radishes, albondigas (lamb meatballs) filled with pickled grapes, on a bed of spinach with pumpkin seeds. and snap peas with fresh mint. We did have some dishes we have tried elsewhere as well:  grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes and infused olive oil (a little stingy with the octopus, I thought), chorizo with tomatoes, white asparagus with romesco sauce , and jamon serrano and jamon iberico We finished off with a strawberry ginger flan that was an original interpretation of the classic dessert with just the right combination of fruity sourness and gingery tang.


Chef David explained to us that he loved experimenting and changed the menu often.  So, Bar Pintxo is a keeper if you find yourselves walking along the beautiful Santa Monica beach and want to have a delightful and unpretentious meal of  Spanish small plates this side of Madrid and San Sebastian!  Bar Pintxo’s also has an unbelievable wine list , including some difficult-to-find Penedes cava.  Try Bar Pintxo’s –you’ll love it!



“Between the Folds”–Origami as Scientific Art

Vanessa Gold, producer of the film, “Between the Folds”  (winner of the 2010 Peabody award), chronicles origami, literally, “folding paper”.  Many American children have attempted this Japanese craft in elementary school, making an origami crane or simple fish.  However, origami is much, much more and has become something of a manic hobby among a number of Silicon Valley engineers.  And, this film explains why–through filming the stories of ten origami artists/scientists, who have developed origami “technology”, in engineering, industrial design, and the biological sciences. All are unconventional and provocative thinkers. As they converge on the art of origami, these artists and scientists reinterpret the world in paper. What unfolds is much more than creating a three-dimensional form from a two-dimensional sheet of paper without scissors, tape or glue.

With each artist’s unalloyed zest and devotion to his or her craft, the heroism of the art reveals itself. At first, this viewer was awestruck by the examples of modern origami–sculptural art which, in some cases, has been lacquered or bronzed: dazzling versions of birds, dragons, and almost porcelain, Hummel-like figures of musicians and court nobles. Each unique design must be individually folded: there is no mass-production process.  The  intricacy of the diagrams–templates for the folding– is an Escher-like pattern of tessellations.  Yet each artist (or should I say, performer?) expresses himself or herself through sometimes spontaneous interpretation and variation of folds.

The intersections between origami, mathematics, and science are manifested as the paper transforms into something else.  Visually, in a magical sleight-of-hand, we see how mathematics illustrates the underlying geometry of origami and conversely, as one elementary school teacher brilliantly explains, how origami illustrates mathematics.  At the highest level of mathematical abstraction, computational origami harnesses algorithms and theory to solving origami “problems”.  Mathematics in the form of paper poetry is the end result.

As if this were not mind-blowing enough,  “Between the Folds” then sketches the application of origami to medical and pharmaceutical science.  Erik Demaine, ( a MacArthur “Genius” at MIT,  and his father have pioneered computational origami  models for  the way materials can be folded. Erich has developed principles used to design car airbags and DNA protein folding.  Who would have guessed airbags and DNA  were in any way related to origami?!

I promise you–if you see “Between the Folds”, you will never look at a piece of paper, especially origami, the same way ever again!