Back in the early 90’s there was a little joke that went like this: What’s the height of optimism? An Ethiopian in a dinner jacket. For most of us we only knew about the famine’s in Ethiopia and didn’t really know what was going on there. I didn’t either until I got invited to a place in the Filmore called Rassela’s.
My first thought when my friends told me about the place was Ethiopian cuisine? Isn’t that like, you know, an oxymoron? I was wrong. Totally wrong. I walked in the door with my friends and the Maitre D was in a full on fitted black suit. Here was my Ethiopian in a dinner jacket and he had plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Rassela’s is an upbeat jazz club with a cool vibe when you walk in the door and it was an experience I never had before in my life.
Ethiopian cuisine can be a little odd for those who’ve never had it before. After you place your order your plate comes out and is covered with injera bread. It’s a special spongy bread that looks kind of like a tortilla, but tastes completely different. On top of the bread is your order. Usually stewed meats or vegetables. No knives. No forks. You eat with your hands by pulling off some of the injera and scooping up some of the stew. It’s actually quite a lot of fun and the food is nicely spiced and has a good taste to it. Their Doro Wat which is Ethiopian chicken stew has a taste like no other chicken stew you’ll ever have.
While I don’t know the details it has become obvious that they will be closing due to an alcohol beverage control notice that ownership is being transferred to Lily Nguyen under the name Era Restaurant.
Opening in 1986 Rassela’s has been a fixture on the Filmore scene for almost 30 years. I’m sorry I never got to bring more people there because the food was always excellent if I could get people past eating dinner using their hands. Ethiopian dining is quite a communal experience with the custom of feeding each other. There really is no better way to get to know someone than to have them literally stuff food in your mouth.
Rarely something crosses my path that makes me raise an eyebrow and take notice. I happened to see something come across my twitter feed the other day about a guy running Ocean Beach BBQ that I had to look into a little farther and I have to say that I wasn’t sorry that I did.
Ocean Beach BBQ is a rogue food vendor. Not like some of the non-permit street food sales that you might find in the mission, but he is essentially a food truck without the truck, fully licensed by the city of San Francisco to sell food that he cooks. I have to say I was impressed when I met him. The pit master who runs Ocean Beach BBQ is an enigma clouded in smoke. A man of mystery who’s barbecue is located somewhere on the dunes of Ocean Beach wrapped in the fog. The pit master travels along 46th Avenue selling his food to people along the way to people who’ve reserved a plate based on the day’s menu via Twitter. He usually ends his daily, seven day a week trips at the Riptide bar which deserves it’s own article that will be coming soon.
I found him Friday night sitting right inside the front door and our conversation was interrupted frequently by people coming by to purchase more food. I do have to say that after talking about to him about his philosophy behind the Q for 15 minutes that I was offered to taste test some of the food. How could I say no? Friday night he brought with him chicken and goat [yes, I said goat]. I got to sample his chicken since knowing that chicken while being something every one can cook, not everyone can cook it right. He got it right. The meat was tender and juicy with a chewy outer char that wasn’t black and uninviting. This was definitely put down the fork and dig in with your hands type of food. It came with a side of coleslaw and potato which after sitting on the barbecue the potato was finished off with the marinate from the goat. You could definitely taste the earthiness of the goat all over the potato without it tasting like dirt which I’ve found in a few places I’ve actually had goat in the past.
While places like this you can find downtown easily, out by the beach it’s not so easy. I have personally been tweeting the food trucks to tell them when we have sun at the beach so they should get out there, but it is very rare to see them out there. Here is a guy that will be there to feed you even when it’s not sunny and we’re hit with a fogged in cold evening. We need more people like this.
Why would someone start a business like this? It turns out not only does he like food, but selling the food opens door for him to talk about carcinoid cancer which is a really horrible disease that struck a member of his family. He gets to raise people’s awareness of the disease and keep them fed all at the same time. To find out more you can follow the sport he started to help bring awareness to carcinoid cancer by following @fieldfootball or visiting fieldfootball.com.
Currently if you want to find out where he is you’ll have to follow his twitter account since that’s the rogue way he operates. His choice of foods changes daily, but there’s usually chicken, pulled pork or ribs and the occasional goat or even quail. Send him a tweet of what you want to order and he’ll wait for you at the agreed spot along 46th Avenue in the Sunset. He also uses Square so credit cards are easily accepted along with cash. He’ll be there until he runs out of food seven nights a week. I was told that there might be an expansion to serving lunch as well in the future now that he’s a new dad and is getting up earlier. That sounds like a win-win situation to me.