Saturday, November 15, 2008

Scenes From a Mall

Actually, this is A Tale of Two Malls.
There is a pair of malls in my county, directly across the freeway from one another. We used to call one the "rich mall" and the other "the poor mall."
The rich mall has a couple of major department stores, a Williams-Sonoma, a Gap, a Banana Republic, Pottery Barn. Decent middle-brow places to shop.
The poor mall used to look like it was in danger of closing down entirely, with a Pier 1, an eyeglasses place or two, and even a discount clothing store (Marshall's or Ross, can't tell the difference).
But the poor mall started bringing in food purveyors, including a stellar butcher (to add to the several rather OK food places that were already there, including a fun Italian deli). It got a twee French cafe (pastries, mostly, I suspect — not my tasse of thé). It got a whole little outdoor food court of fast food joints, but hey — wraps and burgers are somebody's can of SoBe, I suppose. It got a frisky fish restaurant, sorta fusion-y, to replace one of those dreary salad bar lunch emporiums populated by disheartened office workers. There's even a very good, once-a-week farmers market.
Meanwhile, the rich mall shut down its food court. Too tacky, I guess, although Cranky and I used to happily go there for sushi, Korean dishes and bottles of beer, which we would enjoy at the outdoor tables. There are still places to eat at the rich mall, and I'm going to name one: The Cheesecake Factory. (Shriek!) And there's a hot dog stand.
I am perplexed. Is food slummy? Did the rich mall kick out the eateries because eating is incompatible with Bailey Banks & Biddle?
I suspect they ousted the food court to put in a higher rent-paying tenant.
So on the other side of the freeway, the poor mall is now looking fairly swank, with an influx of good stores, my favorite of which is The Container Store (but that's just me; many of the other places are fancy, and there's a Sur La Table). The mall is busy, happy, rescued.
There's a moral in this story.
And there's a PS. The "poor mall" is now home to P.F. Chang's Chinese Bistro, a totally fake, sort of American-delicious restaurant so large it almost echoes. Nice looking; part of a chain. But it has the stink of sadness — deserted after lunch hour; waitstaff forced to act as bussers. We brought home some of our leftover hot and sour soup; not bad but not great. We'll see where this goes.


kudzu said...

My friend used to refer to the "rich mall" as The Sheds because of the way it looks from 101. I am delighted with the way the "poor mall" has become a place where people actually hang out and I love the little Wednesday farmers market. I'm glad Il Fornaio is still one of the anchors. Chang's? I dunno. It's fiendishly popular across the US of A but seems redundant here where we can get better, more authentic Chinese food. And hurrah for the little elephant fountain outside Ferrari -- and the big turkey for collecting food for the holidays for the food bank.

Greg said...

Did you hear they are booting the Mikey D's to be replaced by a more upscale hamburger emporium? Southern Marin love it or hate it.

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu: You got that right. It is a sort of plaza, whether or not you're shopping. We bring Bean Sprout there in his dapper tote bag, and make lots of new friends.
And we're allowed to take the Sprout onto the patio at Il Fornaio, bless their hearts.
And hurrah for the little mouse holding his umbrella over the elephant's head!

Greg: Wouldn't you know it? Jeez. I hadn't heard that.

cook eat FRET said...

ok so - we have pf changs and you wanna hear what's sad? it's the best chinese in ALL OF GREATER NASHVILLE. so i go on occasion. i realize it's fake. but the food does not totally suck. and it tastes chinesey in that american kinda way...

you do what you gotta do...

kudzu said...

Newsflash, of sorts: the new place that is replacing McD's is still going to sell burgers....And to cook eat fret: I totally understand and didn't mean to sound snobbish. I would have fallen on my knees to have had Chang's in the Midwest when I lived there. We're just so spoiled.

Chilebrown said...

Is the Stellar Butcher worth a Meat Adventure? What is the name please.

cookiecrumb said...

ceF: Claudia, of course you go! I would too. The food tastes good. And they bring out that tray of sauces and squirts so you can really tinker; plus several of the dishes come with their own custom sauces. What's not to like? Well, on my one experience, there were some problems with execution, but that could be remedied. We loved the chicken in lettuce cups. Chin up!!

Kudzu: Yeah, that's what Greg says. Well, I'm looking forward to that.

ChileBrown: It's stellar in a clean, Marin way, so be prepared. But it's really nice, and we order aged beef from him (he ages it himself). It's called Bryan's Fine Foods, in the Town Center mall in Corte Madera.

Dagny said...

Say what? The "rich mall" has gotten rid of its food court? That was one of the best things about that mall. Well, that and the fact that it's open air. Because we don't really see the open air thing in the East Bay.

Sweet Bird said...

Back in my waitressing days I had a friend that was fabulously, flamingly gay that worked at PF Chang's. Seeing him flitter about in all his over-exaggerated, dramatic glory was the only thing that could get me in the doors - I don't actually even remember the food. The entertainment was that good I guess...

KathyF said...

What an interesting recap of life in America. I haven't been back in over a year (when, I confess, I spent a lot of time at a rich mall) so hearing about the changes--mostly positive?--is intriguing.

I'd definitely take a PF Changs, since Chinese food here is barely edible.

Anna Haight said...

CEF: What a coincidence, my first experience of PF Chang's was in Nashville, and it was very refreshing after a week of the typical food there.

Cookiecrumb: I so agree with you about these malls! And I so miss that Korean place in the 'rich' one! The Container Store and REI seem to equally draw me to the other.

cookiecrumb said...

Dagny: You want open air at the rich mall, you'll have to eat a hot dog. Sigh. (Actually, I might try one. I'll let you know if it's good.)

Sweet Bird: That sounds like fun.
Yeah, the menu is a bit unmemorable, but if you're desperate for soy sauce, there you go!

Kathy: I confess, I'm feeling a little slighted that we got "our" PF Chang's way after all the other US cities.
Maybe it'll come to London; I bet it will. (I must warn you, there is steak on the menu. I avoid it, as I know you will.)

Anna: Life is funny. To think you can revitalize a moribund mall with food. Interesting!
(And REI -- I got some great gloves there.) ;)

Sam said...

I think, years ago , I sometimes used to go to an Asian (is this the Korean one Anna is speaking of?) restaurant on the edge of the rich mall that served this delicious side dish of pea shoots. It was the first time I had ever had pea shoots.

Other than that - I hated that mall and always felt more at home in the 'poor' one on the other side. In fact - when I first arrived in the US I was put up in a motel just a few steps away from it for several weeks.

cookiecrumb said...

Sam: In my recollection, the Korean place was the only Asian one, besides the surfboard sushi place. Shoot! I never had the pea shoots!
I think I know the motel they put you up in. I'm so glad you live where you do now. :) With the Frenchman.

David said...

I agree about PF Chang's in CM. We had to try it once and I will never go back. The food was awful.

cookiecrumb said...

David: Yeah, with all the other choices we have around here, it's hardly worth going there.
Now. Get crackin' on your blog! I'd love to read a fellow Marinite.

limoncello said...

I love your Tale of Two Malls, CC!!

(Sorry, I'm once *again* chiming in way after the fact; isn't the beauty of the Web its timeliness?!)
I couldn't resist, though, because I seem to be Granny Marin around here. When I was a kid, in the dark days of the 1970s, there was no Rich Mall. It was called "The Marsh". On accounta, well, yea, it was a marsh. The Poor Mall was called "CMC", a grim strip of stark and dreary 1950s-era shops, home to Penney's, Ward's, WT Grant (Grants!!), Woolworth, Zim's, Cala Foods, a place called The Scratch Pad (with "You break it, you buy it!" warnings everywhere) and a dreary little place I found extravagant because you could buy a roast beef sandwich "on a hard roll"- "Sandwiches, etc." Birthday cakes came, always, from the Lady Baltimore bakery there. "Fashion" came from Florsheim shoes (remember those deep display windows shoe stores always had?) or a corner place that sold t-shirts featuring such clever imprints as "I'm a virgin [asterisk]" "*But this is a very old t-shirt" at the bottom. GAWD! I'm scarred for life! Wish I could go get a rotating-pronged, heat-lamp swelled, sweaty hot dog from Herbert's Sherbet down there, next to Crocker-Citizens National Bank. Crocker Bank IS still there, right? ;->

cookiecrumb said...

Limoncello: Thanks for this great bit of history! I only go as far back as the decrepit JC Penney (although some of the stores you named may still have been there as late as the early 80s, but nothing much compelled me to explore).
Your version of the old mall (Grants, Woolworth, Florsheims!) makes me nostalgic for the malls of my youth (one at South Shore in Alameda with a Thom McAn's, Woolworth, Safeway...). In a weird way.

Kel said...

i think i went there yesterday! to the 'poor mall' the one i thought was looking pretty posh! it was the elephant and turkey that twigged my consciousness and the Italian deli where we got sparkling wine when we walked in- thats my kinda deli! im lovin the sur kitchen!

cookiecrumb said...

Kel!!! That's it. You did go there. How cool that you are visiting my sleazy part of the world. Cranky and I have been known, on several occasions, to buy a bottle of chilled prosecco from the Italian deli, and drink it from paper cups out on the patio. Whatever gets you through the night. 'S'all right.
Merry Holidays!