Pizzeria Bruno, Pop Thursdays, Nobunny And Astra Kelly Top Our Weekend Recommendations
Thursday, January 21, 2010
To cap off this rainy week in San Diego, we have a handful of music and restaurants options, including a new pizza joint, the end of restaurant week, and a garage-rock musician who wears a bunny mask and sings in his underwear. Now you have to tune in!
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Food and music, music and food, there's hardly a better combination. And it's easy to enjoy both in San Diego right now. Some interesting musicians are bringing new music to town, and if you act fast, you can even get in on the tail end of San Diego's restaurant week. Joining us for this tasty weekend preview are my guests. Erin Chambers Smith, she is senior editor of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, former editor of San Diego City Search. Erin, good to see you.
ERIN CHAMBERS SMITH (Senior Editor, Balboa Park Online Collaborative): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: And Seth Combs is the arts editor at San Diego CityBeat. Seth, hello.
SETH COMBS (Arts Editor, San Diego CityBeat): Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s start out with food. Erin, there’s still a few more days to Restaurant Week. You’ve been covering the dining scene in San Diego for years now. One of the restaurants you recommend is Cowboy Star. Why?
SMITH: Well, for Restaurant Week I’d like to recommend restaurants where you get the best value. And just a quick primer on Restaurant Week, this is the week in San Diego where over 100 different restaurants sort of sign up to offer a prix fixe menu where you get three courses at the restaurant for either $30 or $40. Some of them are even doing a $20 menu. But – So, for a restaurant like Cowboy Star, it’s a steakhouse in the East Village so in that newer developing part of downtown, right on 10th Avenue.
SMITH: And if you were to go to Cowboy Star with two people and order a couple of great steaks, a nice glass of wine, a dessert, maybe an appetizer to share, you would be spending well over $100. So to go during Restaurant Week where you can get – two people can get three courses each for $40 each, it’s a really great value. It’s just a great opportunity to try a really sort of an upscale restaurant that normally would be expensive, and the menu at Cowboy Star looks great, especially the desserts. For Restaurant Week, they have profiteroles on their dessert menu, which are just, you know, just decadent and lovely and you rarely see those on a menu in San Diego. They’re like little cream puffs, a puff pastry that are little round little puffs. They split them in the middle and they fill them with butter pecan ice cream then they kind of cap them off like a little sandwich and drizzle it with hot chocolate sauce.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right.
SMITH: It’s so good.
CAVANAUGH: This is going…
CAVANAUGH: …to be lethal for me.
SMITH: Both of us.
COMBS: Yeah, me, too.
CAVANAUGH: You also like a restaurant called Cavaillon. Where is this restaurant and why do you recommend it?
SMITH: Well, it’s out in the Santaluz neighborhood of San Diego, which is way up north off the 15. And another really great way to kind of utilize Restaurant Week is to try a restaurant that’s both like Cowboy Star maybe would be too expensive otherwise, but try one that’s out of your comfort zone. Try one in a new neighborhood like Cavaillon. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere. There’s not a whole lot out there in Santaluz. It’s in kind of a nondescript strip mall with lots of condos and homes around it. But it’s this really neat, rustic French restaurant. They have a great menu for Restaurant Week: lobster bisque, wild mushroom ravioli, a couple of different cuts of steak that they’re cooking there. And it’s just a beautiful, quiet, quiet setting. I remember the first time I went to Cavaillon to review it years ago, I was living downtown at the time where there are sirens and people and everything and my husband and I, we drove on the winding, beautiful roads up to Santaluz, you park in the parking lot, you get out of the car, and we closed our doors and it was like…
SMITH: …nothing. So it’s just a – it kind of feels like if you were going on a vacation eating out at a restaurant.
SMITH: It’s a neat restaurant up there.
CAVANAUGH: Any others you think people would be interested in visiting during Restaurant Week?
SMITH: Well, again, some of the restaurants downtown in San Diego that normally would cost you hundreds of dollars…
SMITH: …to go to, like Oceanaire Seafood where you can do, you know, oysters and all the best seafood. For Restaurant Week, you can get two people there for $40. Café Chloe’s one of my favorite, favorite restaurants in San Diego. They’re doing a $30 menu. One of the hottest restaurants in San Diego right now is called Cucina Urbana. That’s in like Bankers Hill area of Hillcrest. And if you can get a reservation there, I would say go. But that’s one of the only restaurants I think in San Diego right now that you probably couldn’t get a reservation at unless you had about a week in advance.
CAVANAUGH: Well, to that point, in the past, Restaurant Week has sometimes been extended an extra week. What’s happening this year?
SMITH: Yeah, a lot of the restaurants, like I know Cowboy Star is extending theirs another week. But you gotta be careful because I think that the Restaurant Week technically ends tomorrow, and then the ones that are extending it are extending it Sunday through Friday, again, next week. So Saturday night might be…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, I see.
SMITH: …a catchy night…
SMITH: …to get one, but they’re really easy to find. Sandiegorestaurantweek.com…
SMITH: …you can sort of sort by price point or sort by neighborhood of town or, you know, a million different ways to sort because there are a couple of hundred restaurants participating in that.
CAVANAUGH: And, again, if you want to find out more about Restaurant Week, that is sandiegorestaurantweek.com. We’re moving on. Seth, tomorrow night, a duo that goes by the name Myth will be playing at Tin Can Ale House. What can you tell us about Myth?
COMBS: Well, admittedly, not a whole lot. I know the basics but I am recommending them just because of the two people involved in it. They might actually be mythological, I’m not sure. But it’s two pretty big names in the San Diego music scene, the first being Paul Jenkins, who’s probably best known for legendary local bands like Three Mile Pilot and Blackheart Procession. And the other person is a – in the duo is a local hip hop artist named Adequate, who’s a female emcee who’s been getting a lot of buzz the past few years but for her mix of brash lyrics and, you know, MIA resembling sounds.
CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. And so what kind of music are these two going to make together? What kind of hybrid music?
COMBS: Well, as I mentioned, they have – Well, they have no music posted on their…
COMBS: …their MySpace site as of yet but they’ve remained – and they’ve remained kind of mum as to what they have in store. But since it is a duo and the opening bands are more hip hop and electronic in nature, I would imagine that it’s going to be some hybrid of sort, like you said, and something similar to those genres. If I had to speculate, I would imagine it’s going to be Adequate performing and rapping where Paul would be playing all kinds – with all kinds of electronic gadgets and live instruments and – It’s a mystery but I can’t imagine it won’t be at least interesting to hear.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hear what Adequate sounds like. This is her track “Bermuda Love Triangle.”
(audio of Adequate performing clip from “Bermuda Love Triangle”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s Adequate, her track “Bermuda Love Triangle,” and Adequate is one half of the duo Myth that’s going to be playing at Tin Can Ale House this Friday night. And, Seth, they also have some bands opening for them. Tell us about those bands.
COMBS: Sure. The first one is a electronic and deejay group called the Illuminauts. They were originally a trio, one guy, you know, would be on turntables, one guy would be playing keyboards and samplers and so on. And they made this really trippy electronic instrumental music that would probably be best compared to someone like DJ Shadow. One of the guys moved away and since then they’ve been sort of experimenting with their sound a bit and incorporating more live instruments. Last time I saw them, they had a live bass player and that was a few months ago, so it’s – it’d be interesting to see how they’re evolving since. And the other group is another sort of hip hop electro duo called Inspired Flight, and they’re similar in scope to the Illuminauts, they – but they also sing and they play live instruments and they even rap. They also do some really cool mashups where they’ll remix two songs and, together, they have their own little flavor to them. I saw them at the Casbah a few months ago and there was some fellow reporters from the Union-Tribune there and I spotted them and I got so excited after seeing these – the Inspired Flight that I immediately ran over to them and told them, don’t talk to those reporters over there, I want to do the first story on you, you know. So I wanted to get the scoop on them and, yeah, that’s how good – how impressed I was…
COMBS: …at the time, so…
CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, it’s really a packed bill then. Myth, the Illuminauts and Inspired Flight play the Tin Can Ale house this Friday night. Erin, the Museum of Photographic Arts is holding their Pop Thursday event tonight during this downpour.
SMITH: I know.
CAVANAUGH: What happens at a Pop Thursday?
SMITH: Well, Pop Thursdays is an event series that they’ve had for a couple of years running now at MOPA and they don’t do it very often. It’s a little bit sporadic, once a quarter, sometimes just twice a year. And they’re really neat event, kind of pop culture, kitschy, cult classic movie nights that they have at the museum.
CAVANAUGH: And at this one, they’ll be showing “The Lost Boys.”
CAVANAUGH: I do remember this movie.
CAVANAUGH: But for those who haven’t seen this old school vampire movie, Erin, can you describe it for us?
SMITH: It’s an ‘80s – I think it was made in 1987 or nineteen – an ‘80s cult classic vampire movie about, you know, kids that move to a new town in high school and the vampires take over. A lot of people will remember that this is the Corey Haim, Corey Feldman duo that sort of – one of those movies that they did together.
COMBS: Hey, the two Coreys.
SMITH: Yes, the two Coreys.
CAVANAUGH: The two Coreys, Kiefer Sutherland.
SMITH: Exact – yeah, Kiefer Sutherland.
CAVANAUGH: I remember it.
SMITH: Platinum blond Kiefer Sutherland.
SMITH: You know, just one of those kind of cult classic movies that if you were ever sort of around in the ‘80s that, you know, you’ll remember, have fond memories of.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this circus group, Zirk Ubu? Am I saying that right? (phonetically) You-bo, Oo-bo? Will also be there. They seem to be everywhere. Seth, how would you describe Zirk Ubu?
COMBS: The part circus – They describe themselves as part circus, part mystery cult, so it’s definitely not Ringling Bros. They’re more like a combination of performance art and old school circus acts and sort of freak show type entertainment. You know, the old ‘Behold, the Amazing Kid Boy’ kind of stuff.
CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. And the…
COMBS: Or Pig Boy, rather, I think it’s Pig Boy.
CAVANAUGH: And the sword swallower kind of guy?
COMBS: I don’t know. I don’t know if they have a sword swallower. They do have, you know, fire breathers…
COMBS: …acrobats, you know, dancing. It’s very engaging and they’re definitely really in your face.
SMITH: Well, and that’s what’s neat about the Pop Thursdays events at MOPA, is it’s not just a movie. They kind of open up the museum after hours. They always have some, you know, local restaurant either doing, you know, little bites of food, appetizers, or cocktails. I know the restaurant in South Park, Alchemy, is going to be there mixing some cocktails. They have music going on, either a deejay or they’re calling this one their side show this time…
SMITH: …that circus act. And then they have a really neat theater inside MOPA where they do show the movie. But the theater’s not too big and it’s first come, first serve for seats. So a lot of people don’t even end up getting to sit and watch the movie. You can just kind of mill around the museum, have a cocktail, you know, meet the people. They’re really neat social events and tend to cater towards the younger crowd, although depending on which movies they show, you get a real wide variety of…
SMITH: …people that show up.
CAVANAUGH: And that’s at MOPA’s – that’s at MOPA tonight. Pop Thursday takes place tonight at 7:00 p.m. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
SMITH: And one thing about that, it does cost six dollars to get in…
SMITH: …if you’re not a member. If you’re a member, it’s free but it’s six dollars if you’re not a member.
CAVANAUGH: We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the weather there.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Seth, a local singer/songwriter named Astra Kelly will perform at the Ruby Room on Saturday night. Now, she – you say she transcends the normal singer/songwriter pitfalls. What do you mean by that?
COMBS: Well, I think what I meant by that is that she’s been at it for a while and she’s built a pretty loyal following but I think that what most impresses me about her is she refuses to pigeonhole herself or trap herself into something like one particular genre. You know, one minute she’s channeling Joan Jett, the next she’s singing a heartfelt ballad. Now while this might not help her land a record deal with some huge corporate label that would probably want her to just play acoustic folk and show more skin, it is varied enough to appeal to more than just one type of music fan, if you know what I mean.
CAVANAUGH: Now is it true that one of the things that she did was actually had a good thing going as a subway performer in Chicago?
COMBS: Well, I don’t know if anyone has a good thing going on by playing in ‘L’ stations in Chicago, but, yeah, she sewed her proverbial oats there in the ‘90s playing in bands with names like Sumo and the Junction but she also released her first two solo albums and she was selling out clubs there. But as far as the subway performing goes, you know, she has a great voice and I would imagine that on a busy weekday she made enough money to buy herself a nice, you know, stuffed pizza pie or something.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Yeah, right, that’s a tough way to come up, being a subway performer. What’s her career been like here in San Diego?
COMBS: Well, after Chicago, she sojourned in Santa Fe, I believe, and she moved here in 2006 and really hit the ground running. As I mentioned before, she’s got a great local following. She’s been written up in about every publication in town. She’s been nominated three times for a San Diego Music Award. And she’s even worked as a deejay at KPRI, hosting like a local music show. And all this while, you know, self-releasing her own music and touring around the country.
CAVANAUGH: Now there’s a really interesting and harrowing story that she tells. It happened in 2006 on her way to a gig in Chicago. She describes it as the single most important event of her evolution. What happened to her?
COMBS: Well, it was actually on a way to a show in Colorado. What happened was, she hit a patch of black ice and skidded off the road, flipped, and landed on a set of train tracks. Now…
COMBS: Yeah. Now, if that wasn’t scary enough, it’s dark, it’s pitch black dark and she’s obviously shaken up but under the light of the full moon, she manages to grab her guitar and make it to safety right before the train comes down the tracks…
SMITH: Oh, my.
COMBS: …and slams into the van. Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that would change my life, too. Wow.
COMBS: Yeah, and, I mean, to me, it’s proof enough – Like I don’t know about you guys but if that happened to me, I’d be like, you know what, maybe this music thing ain’t for me. So – But, you know, the fact that her priority was to grab her guitar just kind of shows how serious she is about music.
CAVANAUGH: It certainly does. Let’s hear a track by Astra Kelly. This is “All Right.”
(audio of Astra Kelly performing a clip from “All Right”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s Astra Kelly and the track is called “All Right.” Seth, have you seen her perform live? What is her show like?
COMBS: Well, I’ve only seen her once and it was a while ago but I guess the best description would be just full of energy. I mean, she’s talented but so are a lot of female songwriters but they can be downright boring to watch live. Astra’s a vet at this point. She knows what works on stage, what flies, what doesn’t, and she’s perfected it. And it doesn’t hurt for, you know, a fellow like me that she’s pretty damn sexy as well.
CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Well, I’m getting the feeling that maybe singer/songwriters are not your cup of tea naturally.
COMBS: Not – not – Well, no, actually on the contrary. It’s just don’t be mundane when you’re doing it.
COMBS: You know, you need – I need a little bit more, you know, good lyrics, good performance.
CAVANAUGH: Astra Kelly plays the Ruby Room this Saturday night. And we move again to Erin and food.
SMITH: Back to food. I always bring food.
CAVANAUGH: A new pizza place has opened up in University Heights. Now, are you a pizza fan, Erin?
SMITH: I am. I am such a pizza fan.
CAVANAUGH: Who is not?
SMITH: I know.
COMBS: I was going to say, who isn’t a pizza fan, you know?
SMITH: Especially in this day and age. You know, it’s cheap, it’s comforting. I love pizza. And I actually live in Normal Heights and I feel like the last year or so I’ve been sort of invaded by pizza places. They’re opening everywhere. It’s kind of like pizza and burgers are coming back into vogue now. I think because they’re cheap and comforting.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, but the quality. The quality is everything.
CAVANAUGH: Each pizza place tends to have its special selling point, so what is this one’s.
SMITH: Okay, this one is a certified—and I’m holding up my fingers in quotation marks right now—a certified Napoli style pizza place. So what that means is they – that’s a certain kind of pizza in Italy made in Naples, different than the kind of pizza made in the north of Italy, different than the kind of pizza made in Sicily. And one of the owners here is a certified pizza maker from Naples. Their pizza oven, if you walk in, it’s sort of the centerpiece of the restaurant. They had it built by family craftsmen in Naples and shipped over. It has like a volcanic surface that the pizzas are cooked on and then, like I said, their owner is trained in this 200 year old style of pizza making.
CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone we are talking about Pizzeria Bruno, that’s the name of this place. And I want to let everyone know, too, that I found out that if you Google ‘Napoli pizza’ you will get a big old picture of a beautiful pizza. So you’ll be able to see exactly what we’re talking about.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering what makes a certified Napoli pizza maker.
SMITH: Well, it’s kind – It’s actually called VPN for the Verace pizzaiolo certification (sic) or something. It is an actual…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, an acro…
SMITH: …you know, certification in Italy. And the kind of pizza that it is, it’s cooked at a really, really high temperature so it has to do with the dough and how they stretch the dough and then it’s a light sauce and really fresh mozzarella cheese, usually, and then it’s cooked at a very, very high temperature. So the top part of the crust kind of blackens and bristles a little bit and yet the center of the pizza where the sauce and the cheese are is actually a little bit runny when you get it. It’s really soft and almost—this is the wrong word but it’s the only word I can think of to describe it—goopy, a little bit in the middle, but it’s delicious but it’s a little big messy…
SMITH: …to eat. It’s not the kind of pizza that you can fold over or, you know, cut with a knife and fork. You kind of have to…
CAVANAUGH: You have to contend with it.
SMITH: …you kind of have to handle it a little bit. But, I mean, it does melt in your mouth. It’s very, very soft and wonderful.
COMBS: Had I known your descriptions were going to be so vivid, I would have eaten before I came here.
SMITH: I know, that’s my goal, is to make everyone hungry.
COMBS: I mean, like where’s an intern at? Someone get me a muffin, please.
CAVANAUGH: No muffins for you, Seth. What price point are we talking about?
SMITH: The price point is great here. The pizzas, they come in one size, the regular size is about, you know, 12 or 13 inches, like dinner plate size, plenty for two people, and they’re all around between $12 and $16. But I love their happy hour here. If you can get there between 4:00 and 7:00, they’ll make you kind of a smaller, individual size pizza for five bucks and they have a list of imported beer and Italian wine, and this is not fancy wine, this is just table wine from Italy, but that’s some of the – I mean, ohh, pizza and table wine is just the best.
SMITH: And their wine is $4 at happy hour.
CAVANAUGH: We are talking about Pizzeria Bruno on Park Boulevard in University Heights. And we have to go on to the man named Nobunny performing at the Casbah on Sunday night. He wears a bunny mask. What is the deal with Nobunny?
COMBS: Well, where do I begin? He’s a garage rocking student of old school punk and Chuck Berry style rock, from Oakland who once contemplated becoming an Elvis impersonator and likes nothing more than to strip down to his briefs and bounce around and get the crowd involved, even if they’re a little weirded out.
CAVANAUGH: Well, how – Well, we – we – that’s…
COMBS: You’re already weirded out.
CAVANAUGH: That’s normal enough but what about the music?
COMBS: Oh, the music. Well, it’s – like I said, it’s a garage rock kind of a – and it sort of harkens back to like the old style – you know, the old days of rock ‘n roll, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry. I think he even has a song with the name Chuck Berry in it. And he has a band behind him. He wears a bunny mask but it’s, you know, if you heard it on the radio, you would never think that there was this weird person behind this, you know, this cool music.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hear a little bit of Nobunny. This is a song called “I Am A Girlfriend.”
(audio of Nobunny singing a clip from “I Am A Girlfriend”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s Nobunny performing a song called “I Am A Girlfriend.” I can’t imagine anybody having Nobunny not their thing but also performing with them is a band called the Black Lips. What can you tell us about them?
COMBS: Well, they are another garage rock band. They’re from Atlanta. And they’ve become very popular all over the world for their raucous live shows and catchy songs, and they’ve released five albums since 2003 and they just seem to get bigger and bigger, you know, with getting rave reviews from everyone from Vice magazine to the New York Times. And they’ve been all over the place stylistically but their last album was a little bit more mature and experimental and they were writing more tender and experimental songs.
CAVANAUGH: You are not kidding with the idea of those raucous shows. Have they toned down their act at all? Because they used to get in a lot of trouble.
COMBS: They did. There was a lot of bad behavior onstage, got kicked out of a lot of clubs. They have toned it down a bit, I would say, but not much. I mean, they still put on a really, really good show. There’s just not as much crude behavior, I would say.
CAVANAUGH: And what about Nobunny live? Have you seen Nobunny live and can tell us what the show is like?
COMBS: I have seen Nobunny live. They’re – He’s just really, really full of energy, as I mentioned, and it’s certainly – And, of course, it certainly makes for a unique experience when a guy, you know, is in his underwear and a bunny mask and he’s singing in your face. So, you know, hire a babysitter, set the Tivo, and leave your inhibitions at the door.
CAVANAUGH: You’ve led a sheltered life, Seth.
COMBS: Me? Never.
CAVANAUGH: The Black Lips and Nobunny play the Casbah on Sunday night. I want to thank you both so much for coming in and telling us what we can do on this rainy weekend but, who knows, the rain might let up on Saturday and Sunday…
CAVANAUGH: …so we’ll keep our fingers crossed. Erin Chambers Smith and Seth Combs, thank you so much for coming in.
SMITH: Thanks very much.
COMBS: Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: And for more options on your weekend, you can go to KPBS blog Culture Lust and if you’d like to comment on anything you’ve heard this morning here on These Days, you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Pat Finn, Megan Burke, Sharon Heilbrunn, and senior producer, Natalie Walsh. Production Manager is Kurt Kohnen, with technical assistance from Tim Felten. Our production assistants are Jordan Wicht and Rachel Ferguson. The executive producer of These Days is John Decker. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, hoping you’ll enjoy the rest of the week. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.