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Trick or Eat?

[whitespace] 2223 Market
David Fortin

Head to Toe: A seat next to the floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows at 2223 Market is a great spot for watching the Halloween parade--you can see everything from the tallest wigs to the largest clown shoes.

Watching the festivities without having to beg for food

By Michael Stabile

Although not everybody feels the need to dress up like Leather Smurf on Oct. 31, few are willing to forgo San Francisco's unofficial municipal holiday, Halloween. Although the sprawling block party was supposedly transplanted to the Civic Center three years ago, mummies and daddies alike still begin their evening at Castro and 18th. With the eve falling on a Saturday for the first time in seven years, one can expect that the costumes will begin with breakfast only to be taken off later when one finds one's trick or treat.

For those who are less sartorially adventurous--or reluctant to join the throngs of would-be Monica Lewinskys--the most appealing option may be more voyeur than vampire. Since Halloween began at least in part as a harvest festival, it's only natural that some of us may wish to celebrate in a more discreet fashion.

Fortunately, from swank to snack, Upper Market affords many prime spots for both eating and seeing, none of which requires the daring need to wear a codpiece. Whether you choose to eat light (perhaps in hopes of squeezing into a Dacron mermaid outfit later on) or to make a whole evening out of the meal, it's comforting to know that you needn't subsist on candy necklaces or Sun Maid raisins, even if it is only for one night.

La Méditerranée (288 Noe) provides just enough sustenance to keep one going all night, at a price only slightly more than a burrito (on Halloween proper, one needs to save cash for alcohol and cabs, even in the most abstemious circumstances). The meza plate, at slightly over $10 a person, includes what is possibly the best hummus in San Francisco, along with tangy dolmas, cinnamon- and nutmeg-redolent Chicken Cilicia and ethereal, flaky puff pastries. The ground-lamb kibbeh, served with yogurt and fresh fruit, is similar in presentation to corned beef hash, with two large triangles of savory, if slightly sweet, meat centered among Middle Eastern accouterments.

La Mediterranee
Close Encounters: A seat at one of La Méditerranée's curbside tables affords a close view of those fleeing the crowded Castro for north-of-Market house parties on Halloween night.

The front window, if in part obscured by a hanging stained-glass mural, nonetheless affords a view of those fleeing the crowded Castro for north-of-Market house parties. If one is lucky enough to sit at either of the curbside tables, one chances an even closer view of the elusive and fickle Ginger Spice while stuffing one's face with La Méditerranée's nutty and honeyed baklava.

For a quicker pit stop that doesn't require sacrificing taste, Zacky's (2312 Market) sells falafel and schwarma to go. The chicken schwarma is good, but it is no competition for the smoky Mission standards at Truly Mediterranean and Ali Baba's. Zacky's falafel, however, drips with lemony tahini and has enough parsley to freshen the breath of a small army (or at least a group dressed as such). Like La Méditerranée, Zacky's features outdoor seating.

Should one require a less exotic meal to accompany a night of extremism, the opposite corner of Market and Noe streets serves up a downhome variety of Californian cuisine at Baghdad Cafe (2295 Market). At worst, the Baghdad is reminiscent of unexceptional roadside diners, but at its best it fuses the accessibility of farmer's market vegetables with the simple and creative possibility inherent in San Francisco cooking. Baghdad's earthy avocado sandwiches are perfectly matched to its creamy carrot soup and crisp, paprika-ed potatoes. There is no outside seating at Baghdad, but with enough windows to contend as a small biosphere, one has a clear 180-degree view of the impromptu parade down Market.

Watching the parade from a seat next to the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows at 2223 Market (go early, before the gym crowd lets out, and they can hardly refuse) is akin to viewing it from a glass-bottom boat: you can see everything--the tallest wigs and the largest clown shoes--from literally inches away. Although during more bullish times this perch sometimes permits the homeless and muscle queens alike to hover unnervingly over your plate, it's as close as you can get to the parade without wearing makeup.

The food at 2223 Market, whose approach to Californian cuisine manifests itself as a culinary version of identity politics (an Italian portobello lasagna, a Chinese soy-glazed halibut with crab spring rolls, a New American-style salmon with an artichoke tart), tends to be slightly off point. For the price, one could do better, but the Pope-mobile closeness of the action may warrant giving this Market Street standard a second thought.

Of course, farther away from the center of the action is the more expensive, if eternally pleasing, Zuni Cafe (1658 Market). More upscale bistro than country diner, it presents a California cuisine with a heavy French accent and makes impressive use of such Gallic staples as butter, oysters and leeks. The costumed sailors who cruise by outside will no doubt look longingly at the fortunate customers, you among them.

Inside, however, one is more likely to find men with T-shirts and sports jackets than drag queens with pastel wigs. The menu changes daily but the ever-present Caesar salad is phenomenal, with just enough anchovy to lend honesty to the pungent dressing, without overpowering the delicate flavor of the romaine lettuce. The wine list, a showcase of California boutique wineries as well as a strong representation of Burgundy and Bordeaux, is one of the best in San Francisco.

If you're looking for the most intimate Halloween sightseeing vantage point, you may be less than impressed. Nevertheless, you are guaranteed that everyone else here will be fiercely evaluating what you are wearing. Reservations are strongly recommended, but Zuni reserves a third of its tables each night for walk-ins (a true rarity among higher-end San Francisco restaurants). Depending on the weather, one may choose to sit at the outside tables, where the dress code is no less strict, but the surrounding company tends to be more relaxed, even if none of them is dressed like a Beanie Baby.

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From the October 19-November 1, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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