The Best of Silicon Valley 2011

Arts | Editors' Picks

New Mozart Music NEW MOZART SCHOOL OF MUSICJennifer Tzeng teaches violin and viola at a music school conveniently located next to a pizza parlor. Photograph by Jen Anderson

Best Place to Practice a Polonaise Over Pizza

New Mozart School of Music

220B University Ave., Palo Alto; 650.324.2373. The New Mozart School for music lessons has two locations in Palo Alto, one of which is actually upstairs above Pizza My Heart. You can literally work on your pizzicato over a pizza. You can practice sul tasto violin passages over a slab of pesto. You can write ledger lines above pepperoni and mushroom. It's not a retail store; instead, it's purely for lessons. They teach repertoire, technique, ear-training and sight-reading. At both locales, the school provides private instruction in piano, violin, viola, cello, guitar, electric bass, voice, clarinet, flute and saxophone. What a combination.

Best New Bridge From East to West

Japanese-American Museum

535 N. Fifth St., San Jose; 408.294.3138. Now occupying the former residence of Tokio Ishikawa, M.D., on North Fifth Street, the Japanese-American Museum in Japantown is perhaps the most solidified organization that documents the history of the East-West experience in San Jose. As an idea, the place has a long history, going back to 1987, when it grew out of a 1984-86 research project on Japanese-American farmers. There are many exhibitions. "Pioneers of San Jose Japantown" draws heavily on the valley's agricultural history and the role Japanese immigrants played in its growth. "Asahi/Zebras Baseball" explores two Japanese-American baseball teams that existed in San Jose during the first half of the 20th century.

Best Place to Support a Dying Art

Foto Express

304 E. Santa Clara St. #C, San Jose; 408.971.3977. While many big-box stores make claims, local outposts like Foto Express quietly demonstrate why chains can never compete in the area of service. After only one visit, proprietor Henry Chang is known to remember a client's name, and he takes note of what every order entails. Services include on-demand passport photos and digital prints, but Foto Express is also one of the few places that still processes color 35 mm film. Chang also develops 120 film and black-and-white 35 mm film by hand, typically having it ready for customers in only a few hours. For those still enjoying what film can do that digital cannot, and who don't have access to a darkroom, Foto Express is a gem.

Best Open-Mic Night at an Art Gallery/Cafe/Flower Shop

The Canvas

Sunnyvale Art Gallery, 251 W. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale; 408.737.8188. Every first and third Thursday of the month, performers present anything from spoken word and standup comedy to full-band live music and DJing at this one-stop shop for culture and culinary delights. Regulars include accordionist and artist Gianfranco Paolozzi and singer/songwriter Randomher0, but highlights often come from the unexpected, such as a sing-along to the Proclaimers' "(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles." Plus, there's a full cafe so patrons can sate both their minds and their appetites.

Best Local Supporter of Words

Mike McGee

Known as "Mighty" Mike McGee, this slam poet has been a fixture in the local spoken-word scene for more than a decade, presenting his quirky, humorous and all-too-relatable worldview around the South Bay as well as across the country on various tours. In the late 1990s, McGee helped to establish the San Jose Poetry Slam, and in 2003, he was crowned National Poetry Slam Individual Grand Champion. The SJ Slam has now become a little more than just poetry, as McGee and fellow poets David Perez, Tatyana Brown and John Staedler have taken the original slam format and added a musical component as well as "something uncommon." Past installments of the bimonthly event included one or more of the following: audience-participant strip Scrabble, juggling and a burlesque show—"something uncommon," indeed.

Best Intro to Old-School High Culture

Opera San Jose

Performances at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose; 408.437.4450. Any excuse to go to the magnificent California Theatre is a good excuse, but the place is perfect for the opera, where shameless grandeur meets shameless grandeur. Opera San Jose is a superb company, and generally chooses sure-fire crowd pleasers that have withstood the test of a few centuries. Opera is one of those things that must be experienced live, and this is the best place to do it.