After Midnight: Prowling Around in the Sunset
It was one of those nights where the fog is so thick it could pass for rain. I had to turn on my windshield wipers just to navigate the empty avenues. I was up late again, wired from too much coffee, tea, and worries of impending deadlines. That's what being a writer gets you.
My roommate came along for the ride, her own worries of a recent audition to keep her awake. It was her first time on the other side of the table, meaning, she was finally auditioning people for her own dance crew, as opposed to being judged. The post-audition recap with her crewmate was conducted at full volume in our apartment via telephone. I could hear every word as I typed my last few sentences of the day.
Her partner's final assessment: "We need to have another audition."
And with that, it was dinnertime.
We cruised down Irving to the beach and back up Judah with no luck. The Sunset can feel like a ghost town late at night. Eventually, we found two open restaurants on Noriega. The first, Oriental Seafood Restaurant, was green and white and showed no signs of a host, or any type of employee. I went inside to shuffle awkwardly for a moment before heading to the second restaurant, ABC Cafe. It was open until 3 a.m. Bingo.
The seats were a little worn, but the tea was on the table within thirty seconds. A window booth was open and we had a perfect view of the restaurant and the street. If a flaming skillet kung-fu match or a showdown between a cabbie and a Lyft driver were to break out we would have a perfect view. But, of course, nothing like that happened. That's what it's like in the Sunset. There is plenty of space and you can find a seat, but once you get there, it's not very exciting.
If the Sunset had a motto, it would be, "at least I didn't have to move to Oakland."
This lack of action was apparent at ABC, where most of the restaurant was empty. The only conversation we could hear was a Muni driver and an older gentlemen chatting in Cantonese. For entertainment, I turned to the menu. It tells an origin story sweeter than condensed milk, or Hong Kong style french toast (both available).
"'A-B-C' read a little girl as she strolled by a small bakery being put up for sale in San Francisco Chinatown with her two parents in hand," it says. "And with that, the tiny bakery on Stockton Street that had captivated their attention that breezy night in Chinatown soon became ABC Restaurant Group, with a chain of restaurants and bakeries throughout the Bay Area."
But I wasn't in the mood for sweets. Lots of people know where to find snacks late at night. After Midnight is all about finding dinner.
I opted for white sauce over spinach with salmon, took honey ginger chicken wings as an appetizer, and my roomie went for the sizzling tepper style pepper beef with udon/spaghetti. Udon and spaghetti are the same thing according to the ABC menu, large sections of which are entirely in Chinese.
With the orders placed my roommate filled me in on the intricacies of audition decision making. One or two people would be offered a spot in the crew, and one or two would be offered an apprenticeship. Of those who didn't make the cut, some were great dancers but couldn't keep up with the choreographed steps, some were "energetic but sloppy," and other people could dance but didn't pay attention. "I just kept having to tell him to get out of my space," she says.
Budding dancers take note: when you go to an audition, pay attention.
The sizzling tepper style beef arrived. It did, indeed, sizzle. The noodles were thin and tasty, the beef a bit too chewy but flavorful. The white-sauce salmon came next. The fish was more than passable for 1 a.m., but the spinach was just that: boiled spinach. Its only attempt at flavoring was a fried egg hovering on the border of over-medium and over-easy placed directly on top of the spinach.
The honey ginger chicken wings came last, so hot that neither one of us could touch or eat them for 10-15 minutes. After cooling off they weren't bad, but the addition of ginger to the sauce gives them an unsettling aftertaste.
When the bill came it was reasonable, and we packed up our leftovers into two take-out boxes. I give the ABC Cafe a B for late-night eats, and my roommate offers a C.
After leaving we deposited our leftovers in an obvious place in front of the Safeway at Noriega and 30th. Last night's leftovers tend to pile up into last week's leftovers at our house -- better to leave them out for San Francisco's many food scavengers. We zig-zagged through the avenues, one budding writer and one budding choreographer heading home. The fog was thick and the hour was late, but our stomachs were full.
Somewhere in San Francisco, a hungry scavenger prowled around for a meal. We hoped they found ours.
There are two ABC Cafes in the city, but only the Sunset location is open late. It's at 2500 Noriega St. (at 32nd) and open until 3 a.m. daily.