Letters for August 5 

Readers sound off on our review of Lettucetown Lies, what's killing soul food restaurants, and our news coverage.

"The Corporate Co-Opt of Local," News, 7/8

The Co-Opt of Local News?

Your article about the corporate co-opting of the word "local" would be great ... if it had some local sources. How about the Montclair bookstore owner whose windows point out the community benefits of local stores? That would be a start.

Instead, you've published a generic article by a writer who, if my Internet research proves correct, lives in Maine.

Way to go, local paper. What's next? Movie listings for Florida?

Jennifer Hilberman, San Francisco

"Man About Town," Theater, 7/1

Laughter 'n' Lettuce

Rachel Swan's review of Kenny Yun's charming and touching play Lettucetown Lies (playing at the Marsh) misses the mark. She complains that the author/actor did not reveal his own personality to the audience, while his characters are more interesting than Kenny Yun himself. According to Swan "Lettuce Town Lies draws back the curtain on Yun's interior world, but doesn't allow much access to Kenny Yun the character."

If Ms. Swan wants confessionals, she ought to become a therapist or a priest. Lettucetown Lies is a delightful romp through the world of Yun's confusing adolescence that transcends time and culture. The storyteller happens to be Asian and gay, but it is the characters he brings to the stage that intrigue us. Go see for yourself, and you're sure to identify with the poignant friendships and angst you faced during adolescence. Thanks to Yun's writing and performance, laughter takes center stage.

Karen Broder, Oakland

"What is Killing the East Bay's Soul Food Restaurants?," Feature, 7/8

Ohh Shyt

I grabbed the latest copy of the East Bay Express with great anticipation. I had literally just walked out of Souls, a soul food restaurant located on Bancroft at Foothill in the flatlands of Oakland. I heard about Souls from word of mouth, it is owned by Act Full Gospel Church and according to the gracious hostess, it has been opened for six months now. I walked out telling the hostess that if it was good I would come back, if it is still good on the third visit. I will "pass the word," but ... if it was bad ... I'm gone for good. One thing I know for sure is "everybody can't cook soul food," it is a calling and an inherent Ashe (gift). I am known in my circles as a connoisseur of food. I know how to cook it, I know some of its history, and I know where to get it.

I have followed soul food restaurants in the SF Bay Area for over 25 years. I have seen them come and go, usually to a bad or no business plan, poor customer service, and bad food. Few lasted, Southern Café formerly known as Lady Esther's comes to mind, a restaurant I followed for twenty of those years, horrible service, nice people, slow as hell, busy as bananas, and consistently fresh and good. I swore every time I walked out I was not going back ... funny tho, I watched their children grow up. I actually visited some of the restaurants you covered and can say ... I am actually surprised that the Gingerbread House lasted as long as it did, other than it being a cute lil building, it felt like a morgue inside, the waitresses really were spooky and the food was neither good nor fresh. I have also seen a many fail because they don't have the "real resources or sense" to sustain a restaurant in good times and bad. Restaurants that cut on quality and substitute cheaper ingredients or are not consistently fresh or good — usually are short lived. Good macaroni & cheese and yams are still good macaroni & cheese and yams; cans and boxed food are easily detectable. And BTW ... you cannot call it banana pudding if there are no bananas.

A few things bugged me about your article. When you are talking soul food — it as a rule does not consist of Caribbean or nouveau riche soul food. I wanted to jump out of my chair and scream when I read Peter Jackson's quote "those hit the hardest can't support the cuisine that reflects their culture".... How could that be?? We are talking about soul food where its origins are food made from scraps! I then went to Miss Pearl's Jam House web site and saw the menu.... And none of it is soul food! I thought ohh shyt ... it survives cause white people think they are getting something with pretty lil names and interesting ingredients that don't even comprise of a soul food staple or diet. It is the same way the Mojito survives ... everybody wants an adventure, a taste of exotica — and so now it is on every menu — yet, I have never tasted a "right" Mojito outside of Cuba (yes, I have been there five times).

Another good example is this week; I went to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in San Leandro to get some Vietnamese chicken noodle soup for my husband who had been sick for the past two days — it always makes him feel better. The owner pulled me to the side and suggested I try his gumbo, he had two kinds ... crawfish and chicken & sausage, he then proceeded to tell me about his roots in New Orleans and how he has connections to fly in fresh blue crabs, shrimp and crawfish when he wants. I hesitantly took a sample cup that lacked chicken, sausage or crawfish for several reasons because what I know is, you really can't mass produce gumbo in a restaurant, a gumbo must be made from a roux base, tomato soup with gumbo ingredients do not constitute gumbo — no matter if you got the ingredients from N'awlins and besides ... what I really wanted from this Vietnamese man was "his medicine" to make my husband feel better.  I tasted and as I expected — not gumbo.

In closing, thanks for a great attempt at highlighting some of the challenges soul food restaurants face.

Y. Maria Aldana, San Leandro

Why Some Thrive and Others Die


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