Pacific Catch, I'm sorry I ever doubted ye. I would see you from afar whenever I emerged from Golden Gate Park, a Frisbee in my mouth and throat dry, yet I always gravitated further down the street to less cheesy-looking establishments. But I should have known that you can't judge a book by its cover. You might look like Chicken Soup for the Lame Out-of-Towner at first glance, but damn if you ain't Ulysses on the inside.
So, let's talk about your dust jacket. You have a big, Las Vegas food-court sort of edifice, with a snappy logo and big windows. Inside you are a mishmash of contemporary bamboo patterns and Denny's-style booths.
One-third of your place is a bar, and that is of course what drew me in. The saloon's in front and pretty much looks like a watering hole at the front of a chain restaurant: big long bar with nice wood, TVs, seating around the windows, and a cheery, burly barkeep. This is still San Francisco, so patrons can expect some good beer selections on tap, but if they want something brewed by Sufis in Salinas, they're in the wrong place.
Further investigation of your establishment can be perused online, where anyone can go to your website and hit "About Us" to find out the real story. You were started by the dudes who brought us World Wrapps. You are locally owned and operated by Aaron Noveshen, who has "over 20 years experience creating leading edge products and concepts for the food and beverage industry," and Keith Cox, who has been a financial consultant at some place named Deloitte & Touche. He's also a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. (I'm not sure if he ever played keyboards in Emerson, Lake and Palmer, though.)
Sorry guys, but you don't have the proper S.F. foodie credentials. Which is a total breath of fresh air. Especially since your food rocks. Totally delicious. Your servers were awesome, too. Have I been thinking about that pok you gave me all week? Oh yes. Yes I have.
Now I am tickled to say that this is one of my new favorite bars/restaurants. It might also because of the company I was keeping, a gigantic table full of employees of the Conservatory of Flowers, who were giving a royal retirement send-off to my friend. I placed myself squarely across from two of the horticulturists, truly a dream come true, although once the fantasy was made real I found myself at a loss for words. "Do you get tired of people asking you about your job?" I asked Mario.
"Depends on what they ask," he replied. I was sunk, because if I know myself well enough, my questions would be particularly inane.
"Let's talk plant theft," I offered. He nodded.
"They know what they are taking," he said. "They pull the entire things out by the roots." There could be a few reasons for this: A) they are total dicks; B) it's expensive to propagate such plants on your own. Or, C) they are Plant Emancipators, dedicated to freeing green eukaryotes under duress. Do they stuff them in their backpacks? Wouldn't that crush the plant? Maybe they put them underneath their gigantic cowboy hats. Nah, too conspicuous. Once they get home, how can they re-create the muggy humidity of the greenhouse? It's all a mystery. Perhaps Susan Orlean will write a book about it.
The waiter brought another round of mojitos and some Sriracha. He remained upbeat despite the new requests we made every time he returned from fulfilling another one. Growing puckish, we looked at the menu, which is big and full of fish choices, all cooked in different styles. You can go Japanese, Thai, Korean, or even Mexican. We started with sweet potato fries, which disappeared quickly. I noticed that the waiters had T-shirts that espoused the virtues of said fries. Now I got it.
Anyway, back to the gardener. What fascinates me most about the Conservatory is the 150-years-plus-old philodendron, which was a wee lad when the slaves were emancipated and now stands as tall as a tree. Mario assured me it was thriving and healthy, and would probably survive even a Mitt Romney presidency at this point.
Those were my two big questions, so I decided to let him off the hook for a while. The conversation switched to funding issues, which are deplorable at the Conservatory. Despite being a very beloved landmark, it's always struggling to make ends meet. Surely, with all the über-rich people in San Francisco, someone would want to splash their name up on the Donors Board of Greatness for all to see? One thing's for sure: They aren't reading this column, so we shall never know.
Pac Catch (that's my new nickname for the place) began to really fill up, and this was a Thursday night, so I'm thinking that a lot of S.F.ers have figured out that Ulysses is a good read. The bartender was in his Giants shirt, the sweet potato fries were flowin', and several hundred yards away, the plants at the Conservatory had shut down photosynthesis for the night. The philodendron was readying himself for another "I remember when ..." story, this time about Teddy Roosevelt's historic visit. The bromeliads rolled their eyes, the Javanese palms yawned, and the Paleozoic gymnosperms felt superior.