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American Way Staff
American AirlinesNexos Magazine Staff
Celebrated Living Staff
Rumor Has It's Mark Ruffalo knows
more than his fair share about San Francisco's restaurants
and Beat Generation past. It's not just a rumor.
"San Francisco is four cities, not just one," says
Mark Ruffalo. "It's one-third Hong Kong, a third Paris, and a third
New York, set on seven hills, just like Rome. It's all against the
Pacific Ocean, the biggest ocean in the world." On another movie
set in another city, the classically trained leading man with the
skyrocketing career is talking about how he fell in love with San
Francisco. He was filming Just Like Heaven, this year's
supernatural comedy in which Reese Witherspoon's spirit pursues him
through the city of the seven hills. "That's when I really got an
idea of what the city was all about," he says.
He had first visited on a junket to promote his breakthrough hit,
You Can Count on Me, in which he turned in a searing
performance as the bad-boy brother of Laura Linney, but he spent
most of his time in a hotel room. But then two roles brought him
back for an extended stay: first, Heaven, and, most recently, to
scour the city as a detective in director David Fincher's
forthcoming film, based on a true story costarring Jake Gyllenhaal,
Robert Downey Jr., and Anthony Edwards. Ruffalo plays the San
Francisco homicide detective tracking the Zodiac serial killer, who
terrorized San Francisco for 25 years and who remains at large.
During the filming of both movies, Ruffalo saw the city like an
ordinary person, instead of like a star, heading out alone with his
scripts, disappearing, as always, into his role, getting tips from
locals he met in restaurants as he rehearsed his lines silently
while eating dinner at the bar.
This month, he's back in Rumor Has It, a loosely based
sequel to the 1967 classic The Graduate, costarring Jennifer
Aniston and Kevin Costner. But Ruffalo left his heart in, well,
where else? From playing everything from a bachelor chased by a
blond dervish to a detective chasing a serial killer, Mark Ruffalo
got to know San Francisco not from the hotel suite, but from the
streets. Here are the secrets of the city he uncovered.
The city has so many cultural influences, you must have
found some excellent restaurants. What were the more memorable
I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, which has the Dining Room, a
fantastic, five-star French restaurant. It's down in the lobby, and
it has a sort of Southern feel to it. I mean, a little bit of an
English, upper-class feel. They have an amazing foie gras, and
they'll bring you a paper if you show up by yourself for dinner.
Very friendly people.
You ate alone?
I ate alone quite a bit.
You never think about actors eating alone.
Well, you know, my family's not with me. I usually am working and
working on my lines, so I spend a lot of time alone. So, I will eat
alone often. I went to another place in San Francisco with Reese
called Quince, which is an amazing little Italian restaurant. It's
a small room; it's very elegant, a little bit looser than the
five-star at the Ritz. It's a husband-and-wife team. The kitchen is
connected to the back of the building and goes downstairs into,
like, a basement area. It's a very French country feel - very open,
you know, 15-foot ceilings. The husband's the chef. It's very
accommodating, kind of a homey feeling, with the most delicious
Italian food. They have a quince salad that is amazing. They have
really wonderful handmade gnocchi, with the thumbprints on them.
They're really light and perfect, made with very little flour and
egg, which is, I think, one of the strong suits of a great
gnocchi. It has a really wonderful wine list, with Northern
Italian wines. It's pretty small and kind of an exclusive
Did you find that one, or did Reese find it?
Reese found that one. Then, there's House of Nanking, which is a
little Chinese joint across from Francis Ford Coppola's building,
where they have the American Zoetrope offices. It's this little
Chinese kind of roadhouse, nothing fancy. It's sort of get you in
and get you out. There's always a line outside. There is a guy
there, Peter, who sits you down and asks, "Have you been here
before?" If you say no or yes, he says, "Let me bring you some
stuff out." He brings you out four or five things, like
family-style things. They have great seafood, of course, being in
San Francisco, and delicious teriyaki and stir-fries. And Peter
does this strange thing where he brings you the rice last, so you
don't get filled up on rice. He is very particular about not giving
you too much food, which seems to be the opposite of what you would
expect. It's important for him that you don't get too much food,
that no food goes to waste, which I thought was a very classy sort
of thing. They have great dumplings; it's fantastic if you want
great Chinese food. It is the place to go to in San Francisco, if
you want the down and dirty.
You know your food …
There is Cafe Jacqueline, which is a soufflé place - it's all
soufflés. Anthony Edwards took me there. You sit down and they have
everything. It takes an hour to two hours to have your dinner. It's
a nice long meal. They bring three or four soufflés out. We had a
sorrel-and-Gruyère soufflé, a Gruyère-and-garlic soufflé, and then
a crabmeat soufflé. We also had a lemon soufflé and a chocolate
soufflé for the end. It is the kind of place where you have to get
your arteries checked afterward. There's Rose Pistola in North
Beach; it's just fantastic. It's an open-grill, open-kitchen
place. They have a wood-burning stove and then two huge
wood-burning grills. It has a real Mediterranean flare to it. They
cook most of everything on those grills, except for soups and
whatever they have to fry. It is just exquisite. They have a
goat-cheese bruschetta that is incredible. They have a rabbit stew
that is incredible. Fresh sardines cooked on the grill, fresh squid
cooked on the grill. It's a little more casual than Quince or the
Ritz. Another great place we went to is the Slanted Door. It's a
huge place, maybe 20-foot ceilings, very modern and Asian. It has a
really clean, austere decor, which makes you focus more on the
food. We had great duck there. That was an amazing place to
When you're sitting alone, reading your lines in a
restaurant, do people recognize you?
Sometimes. There is a great vegetarian place at the Savoy Hotel,
downstairs. It's called Millennium, on Geary. It's a vegan
restaurant. I was sitting there at the bar, having dinner. I
couldn't get a table. I had a vegetarian jambalaya with vegetarian
dirty rice and a vegan sausage. San Franciscans are really nice. I
was sitting at the bar and started taking to a couple. I was by
myself again, working on my lines. They must have thought I was
crazy, sitting there talking to myself. They were like, "Oh, you're
getting that - we had that. What are you doing? Are you from out of
town? Well, we live here, let me tell you about this place … "
After a while, they asked me what I did. They had seen Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and they were like, "You've gotta
try this place and this place." This is kind of how I find my way.
I go to all these different places, and I will find a local there
and have them hook me up.
Tell me what you discovered on your last visit, playing a
cop chasing a serial killer.
We stayed at the Hilton for [the Fincher film] - that's by Union
Square, right on the edge of the Tenderloin - and I would just head
out. I had a good time just sort of wandering. It's a great place
to just walk around. The couple at the bar at the Savoy are the
ones who told me about this breakfast place, Dottie's True Blue
Did you wander through Chinatown?
I found this fantastic little art shop there, the Kee Fung Ng
Gallery. They have a lot of sandstone carvings directly from China.
This couple runs it. He does not speak English very well, and she
is this lovely woman. They have the best-priced, most interesting
limestone and sandstone carvings. It's such a funky little place,
and everything is covered with dust. It's probably the shabbiest of
all those little curio shops in Chinatown, but it's the most
authentic, with so many one-of-a-kind, original sculptures. We got
a bunch of stuff there. That was a real find.
Within walking distance from there is, of course, North
And the Tosca Cafe Bar, which is one of Sean Penn's favorite
haunts. It is the literary stomping ground of some of the great
American writers. The owner has an old registry that I guess Hunter
S. Thompson found back in a storeroom about 20 years ago. He
brought it out and wrote the Tosca Bar's preamble and constitution
in it, sort of. Over the years, all these great talents have signed
it. Sam Shepard, Thompson, Johnny Depp - the list goes on and on,
the people who have gone through there. It's this old-school sort
of Italian saloon right across from City Lights Bookstore, which
is, of course, just so, so intellectual, sort of an American
renegade. The City Lights Bookstore is the center of that whole
world there. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and all these other
great writers were just a common staple there. Lawrence
Ferlinghetti started City Lights. It's easily the best bookstore in
this country. It's what is slowly dying out in America, a bookstore
that came out of a literary explosion of poetry and new ideas. It's
right across the street from Tosca. The whole place is just wrapped
in this progressive, forward-leading, freedom-fighting,
Where would you go for a drink after work?
There is always the Clift Hotel, the Redwood Room Bar. It's a huge
room with dark redwood paneling, filled with a lot more girls than
guys, and a huge bar. It's quite a scene. I went there one night
and it was a little too much for me. But it was a big, beautiful
room. It's all wood-paneled. You are surrounded by wood.
I know you have two young children. Are there great places
There is this really great concrete slide. It's zippy, wide enough
for a grown-up to go down. It's at Seward Street Mini Park. It's so
much fun. They call it the best slide to go down at three a.m.
while drunk. A 14-year-old American girl named Kim Clark, who
entered a 1973 park-improvement competition, designed it. It's
really fun and really crazy.
What's something wild, strange, or funny that happened to
you while you were there?
We were [filming] across the Golden Gate Bridge, but we were staged
on the San Francisco side of the bridge. It was five a.m. They told
me I had about half an hour before I had to get ready. I went on a
little walk. Right underneath the bridge there is a little park. I
come down, and I see a guy in a wet suit and a helmet carrying a
surfboard walking toward the bridge. It was foggy and barely light
out. I said, "You people surf here?" He was like, "Yeah, right over
there." And he walked away and got his helmet on. I started walking
along, and joggers are going by, and I was thinking to myself, What
kind of surfing could they possibly have under the Golden Gate
Bridge? I mean, we are right in the middle of a bay here.
All of a sudden, he hits the water. I just followed him. The mist
starts to move off and it is a giant break right on the rock. These
guys are dropping in. It was one of the most treacherous surf areas
I have ever seen. They are dropping in, basically breaking right on
the shore. It starts a little offshore, and then just starts piling
up with these huge barrels. Everyone has helmets on. They are fully
wet-suited up. It was pretty astounding to see that at five a.m.,
underneath the bridge. I'm a surfer, and I have never heard of
What does that tell you about San Francisco?
It's a city [where] they are as close to being free as anywhere
else in the United States. It's kind of cool that they can pull