Last week, Bay Area Bites blogger Stephanie Im called attention to Secret San Francisco's popular Facebook presence. A few days before Im's post appeared, I myself joined the group with a few lazy clicks, galvanized into action by the droves of friends doing the same. At least, with its relentless updates regarding their statuses, Facebook made me feel like I was part of a movement. "Is it because we all love a juicy secret? Is it because we're bored?" wondered Im in her piece. "Perhaps we gravitate to these projects because they exude a sense of authenticity, of being 'in the know,' and part of something special and communal," she continued. "Or, it could simply be...some things are just too good to keep to ourselves."
Im listed the Iso Rabins-curated Underground Farmers Markets, Mission Street Food's feasts at Lung Shan, and all manner of street carts as the sorts of secrets worth shouting around, but those examples might as well be echos -- almost old news to studious, Internet-savvy members of the eats-frenzied populous. At this point, despite their youth and D.I.Y. ethos, they are institutions, pillars of the city's mainstream, well-documented food culture. Still, regardless of your personal familiarity with Im's suggestions, Secret San Francisco makes its mission clear enough: "Share San Francisco's secrets! Post any lesser known great places to see in San Francisco. Please give details of how we can locate it and what makes it a hidden gem."
A certain variety of hard-charging food sleuth elitist loves dropping a rarified knowledge of the city's unheralded offerings. Another group of elitists takes no less pleasure in heaping abuse on the first for drawing attention to the sneaky little places they covet for themselves. Occasionally, they invade Secret San Francisco's Facebook page. The best naysayers employ deadpan sarcasm. One suggests Burger King for a great hamburger; another celebrates a little grocery store called Safeway. Some however directly criticize eager posters for sharing too much, operating under the not unreasonable logic that widespread publicity on behalf of something unknown tends to make that thing known pretty well very quickly. What if your favorite bowl of pho suddenly became half the city's favorite too? Would it suddenly start tasting a little bland and watery? Would you tell yourself that the cook was slipping? Would you maybe start believing that he'd gotten so drunk on the fame Facebook had brought his pho, that he'd -- with pungent irony -- neglected to keep preparing it with quality in mind? Or would you still love that pho but merely hate the swiftly forming crowds -- lines of pho-fanatics at the door, arriving earlier and earlier each morning, leaning against the cafe's glass windows, poking away at iPhones, waiting for the sign to flip. With their incessant chatter and their rows of white order tickets fluttering in the kitchen window, the people on the sidewalk swarming in -- presumably without jobs to attend, errands to run, or any otherwise consuming pursuits -- would scuttle your plans for timely lunch-break repasts. You'd stop going altogether. The cafe would start selling its pho at a stand outside the Ferry Building on Saturday mornings. The price would double. Amanda Gold would write about it. You'd find another favorite pho spot, which might or might not be an attention-seeking copy of the one you started out loving in the first place.
To shuffle in a music world hypothetical: If guttural blips, synthetic gurgles, and ambient drones suddenly enjoyed broad popularity, and noise bands displaced Jay-Z, The Killers, and Coldplay at the top of the charts, would the bands' old fans -- Aquarius Records employees, mostly -- take solace in the Black Eyed Peas, by now a fringe retro-pop act struggling to pack Bottom of the Hill on forays through the Bay Area? Probably not, but people stressing out over the decreased edginess of what they consume -- whether it be music or a bowl of pho -- tend to be overly concerned with how their consumption patterns reflect upon them as people -- at least, no less concerned than those who fire up the laptop every time they trip over a good sandwich.
In a comment to Im's post, Haggie (one name, like Madonna) accused Secret San Francisco of catering to "lazy suburb dweller[s]" trolling websites for cool food scenes to muck up. While it's pretty far-fetched to claim that "anyone...[living] in San Francisco knows about the secret spots" already, Haggie does have a point, albeit one couched in excessively feisty lingo. Since witnessing a half-block line curling along the pavement outside of Lung Shan on a Thursday evening at 5:35 p.m. nearly eight months ago, I have not even tried to go to Mission Street Food -- not because I think popularity has dulled the value or coolness of the operation's goals in the slightest, but because I don't like to wait. Waiting might not be a problem anymore. And I could always make a reservation, I guess, but just remembering the line makes me think of crowds, which I don't like -- and suddenly the idea of going starts feeling like an ordeal to weather.