Lolinda–Gaucho Gourmet

Recently we had the good fortune of celebrating at Lolinda, the new hipster Argentine restaurant on Mission Street, in San Francisco. Sister restaurant to Beretta (Italian food), the massive warehouse used to be the home of Medjool, a Middle Eastern restaurant.  Now, Lolinda has been transformed into a sleek, dimly lit open space with two bars, dining area seating approximately 200 people (including some banquettes on the side). Fabulous food in a boisterous, somewhat noisy setting–very lively and urbane!

It’s a carnivore’s delight:  Argentina is world-famous for its churrasco barbecue style and chimichurri sauces.  The beef selections are imaginable and delectable with over seven different types of grass-fed, grain finished beef cuts (ranging from short ribs to blood sausage).    The fish and vegetable selections more than hold their own. Additional options include two types of ceviche and a handful of vegetarian offerings such as a pastel de choclo (squash, onions, raisins, and olives, cooked in a corn crust) and platano al horno (ripe plantains with queso fresco, and jicama salsa).

An affordably priced wine list primarily focuses on lesser-known varietals from Portugal, Spain, Chile, and Argentina including sherry and port and 20 options available by the glass. We had a full-bodied Malbec blend with  Cabernet: a bottle of Syrah Petite Fleur from Bodega Monteviejo winery, in the Mendoza region of Argentina.  I also had a superb glass of a Spanish rose cava that was a special feature that night.  There is a  shorter but exemplary selection of European and South American beers too.

Four of us were able to test this restaurant’s capabilities with a wide range of dishes:  ceviche de pescado, an unusual and delectable halibut with aji amarillo, fried corn, and sweet potato; grilled  artichokes with lemon aioli (alcachofas); charred vegetables with tiny beluga lentils on a bed of  frisée with almonds in vinaigrette (ensalada de lentejas), two types of empanadas–corn (maiz) with aji amarillo, ricotta and  salsa criolla as well as chicken (pollo) with raisins, potato and aji amarillo.  It would have been very difficult for us to choose between the two.

The grilled dishes came next: grilled baby octopus (pulpo) with  beans on a bed of  frisee; branzino with a medley of root vegetables in escabeche and mild pepper sauce (lubina a la plancha); hanger steak (asado) with onion, zucchini, red anticucho sauce, and crosscut beef short ribs (tira de asado).

Ending this feast was a crunchy culinary delight of   peanut butter mousse  (cajeta crust with  peanut brittle bits) with  dulce de leche ice cream with peanut crunch.  One of these was enough to enjoy with four spoons!  Lolinda is a must among the very newest restaurants in San Francisco!

Lolinda restaurant is located at 2518 Mission St.; 415-550-6970; open seven days a week, serving dinner on Sunday-Thursday 5:30 PM-12 AM, and Friday-Saturday until 1 AM.


Moxibustion–Moxie for Spinning Babies

Moxibustion Sticks
Last week while visiting our expecting daughter, we learned about moxibustion firsthand. A traditional Chinese medical therapy closely related to acupuncture, moxibustion involves using the mugwort herb (not Harry Potter territory) to supplement the benefits of acupuncture.  Mugwort is sold as black-colored cigar-shaped sticks, not unlike chubby incense. While Asian medical specialists actually burned the mugwort onto the patient’s skin, the Californian way of doing this is to wave the burning mugwort as close to the acupuncture point as possible without actually making contact.
Why, you may ask, would a pregnant woman be seeking acupuncture and moxibustion? Since our daughter’s baby-to-be is in breech position, moxibustion is believed to flip and “spin the baby”.   The latest medical trend among some San Franciscan obstetricians is to refer patients to acupuncturists who use pressure points (which are believed to stimulate circulation through the pelvic and uterine regions) as the target points for encouraging increased blood flow for women whose babies-to-be are in breech position. The acupressure point for the pelvis and uterus is the pinkie toe on each foot (!) We lit the mugwort cigars until there was a deep red ember glowing, and for twenty minutes we circled that pinkie, (see the technique on a You Tube clip),  circling and circling around that pinkie, not quite touching  our daughter’s skin. We concentrated but sometimes she retracted her toe when it became too red.
It isn’t hype if it works for the women who are “moxibustioned”.  The believers are on the Internet–look at the number of websites.  (See one example at As for me, I am waiting for the verdict–the jury is still out (see research article  here) — but the moxie of trying to spin a baby-in-utero with mugwort was an experience I am very happy not to have missed!


“Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy”– Ink Dancing On Paper

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is currently featuring an exhibit on Chinese calligraphy .  Two rooms house a wide range of calligraphic styles from the private collection of Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo. Video clips and animation aid the viewer in understanding the background for becoming a master calligrapher.

Chinese calligraphy and monochromatic ink paintings are closely related, dating from classical pre-Han through Tang dynasties (pre-3rd century BCE through tenth century CE).  Emphasizing motion and emotion through stroke pressure, the five very distinctive calligraphic forms require expressing individual interpretation within the confines of each style.

The first–the “seal” style– is the oldest, derived from the Shang oracle bones (16th-11th centuries BCE) carved for divination purposes.  These Chinese characters are very difficult to read because of their archaic nature.  However, they are quite exquisite and the most pictorial, the closest to the origin of Chinese writing.

“Clerical”, the second calligraphic style, refers to the boxy brush strokes developed by civil servants–a kind of “illuminations” style comparable to medieval Europe, that has evenness of width and brush pressure, intended for important government and religious texts.

  “Semi-cursive” is very quick, fluid, and idiosyncratic–like an individual’s personal handwriting style.  With some practice, most Chinese can read these characters.  However, the calligrapher must master judging the correct amount of ink into which to dip the brush in order to finish the character without lifting the brush.  Too little ink and the character cannot be completed.  Brush drag is extremely beautiful and dramatic, even bold–each stroke having differences of width, length and intensity of color.

Cursive or “Grass style” is the most spontaneous as well as the most difficult to read, a type of “short hand” requiring training to decipher, as some strokes run into each other and others are abbreviated or eliminated altogether.

And finally there is the standard style–the “Palmer” method of calligraphy–clear, neat, easy to read, used in newspapers and books.  This is the calligraphy each child practices for hours, painfully and slowly, each stroke separated by a lift of the brush.

The exhibit moves on to a few examples of American painters and printmakers who are influenced by Chinese calligraphers, including Brice Marden, one of my favorites.  On the second floor is the exhibit “Words as Art/ Art with Words”. Examples of paintings and calligraphy from Korea and Japan are highlighted along with Chinese paintings to emphasize how there are no bounds to the richness of interpretation of brush stroke emanating from calligraphy.


Dunhuang–The Caves of A Thousand Buddhas

Two weeks ago I visited the incomparable Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, located in Gansu province, northwestern China, at the edge of the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts, directly north of Tibet.  These caves remain one of the most well-preserved, splendid sanctuaries of sacred art in the world.

Mogao Caves

From the 3rd century BCE through the 12th century AD, Dunhuang was a prosperous oasis situated at the entrance to the Silk Road, where ancient caravans of Bactrian camels, donkeys, and horses carried cargo for more than 7,000 kilometers from China and Tibet through the Middle East to the Mediterranean.  These merchants became purveyors not only of merchandise but also of ideas – religious, cultural and artistic. By the 4th century AD, the Silk Road had brought Dunhuang both commercial prosperity and a growing Buddhist community of monk-scholars and pilgrims.       

Silk Road watchtower


The artifacts (totaling over 45,000 items) include murals, paintings, sculpture and manuscripts, in more than fifteen different scripts and languages.  The history of interreligious relations in Dunhuang is a history of peaceful exchange involving Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Manichaeism, Nestorianism, and folk religions.  The early communication was followed, in some cases, by conversion but the region remained one of peaceful co-existence until the nomadic invasion of Islam in the 12th century.

Dunes of Dunhuang

Aurel Stein (1862–1943), a Hungarian-British civil servant working in India, made four perilous expeditions to Central Asia, beginning in 1901, removing thousands of   manuscripts from the ‘Library Cave’ (Cave 17). French, German, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese treasure hunters and explorers also took their toll on the collection.

In graduate school I had translated a third century Buddhist sutra, The Srimaladevi Sutra, a sermon by Sakyamuni about a woman who becomes a Buddha without waiting for rebirth as a man.  I have seen the original Dunhuang manuscript of the Srimaladevi at the British Museum, where many of the manuscripts are now stored.  Seeing the cave where the manuscript was transported by Stein to London was a dream come true!

Buddhist Pilgrim

Accompanied by a specialist from the Dunhuang Research Institute, we were able to see the celebrated “Library Cave” (Cave 17) where the oldest dated printed book was discovered–The Diamond Sutra–about the Buddha’s sermon at Jetavana grove. The Diamond Sutra is now housed at the British Museum. Virtually every cave has at least one image of the Buddha, various dancers, musicians, and Bodhisattvas in heavenly realms embodying a fusion of Chinese, Persian, Tibetan, Indian, and other regional art styles.  The magnificence and grace of the Mogao Caves left me breathless.

The removal by Stein of so much cultural and archaeological material from China has caused anger in China, and there have been calls for the texts and artifacts collected by Stein from Dunhuang that are now in the British Museum and British Library to be repatriated to China. Although the Chinese government has not formally requested their return, in 2003 an official at the Chinese Embassy in London stated that all artifacts should be returned to the ancient grottoes of their origin. Currently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding a visitor center and digital library of art to be completed in 2015, with the intention of preserving the fragile Mogao Caves. The Dunhuang art has been considered China’s Elgin Marbles.