October 17, 2006

October 17, 2006

The "best of" and "top-rated" flurry of activity continues: this month is Esquire's annual issue with John Mariani's picks for the "Best New Restaurants in the U.S." NorCal landed four winners: Ame; Bong Su; Junnoon, Palo Alto; and Redd, Yountville. Congrats to the winners! I was especially happy about Redd—Richard Reddington kicks culinary butt. You can check out the entire list here.

Continuing on the trail Slanted Door and Bong Su are busy blazing is a new contemporary Vietnamese restaurant called ~HUE L'AMOUR~ that has opened in the old Habana space on Van Ness. I can imagine the former colonial/exotica look-and-feel of the space was rather seamlessly integrated, plus there are some new additions, like a bar that looks like a boat in the spacious bar and lounge area that seats 30, and murals depicting scenes of Vietnamese life. The partners in the venture are Dao Diep and her husband, chef Doanh Huynh—they also own a restaurant in Oakland, Vietnamese Huynh. I spoke with the chef the other day, and I just have to say, he is so gosh-darned nice. He is quite keen on recreating the dishes he remembers from his childhood, and the entire project is very personal to him.

I took a look at the menu, and it includes some tasty-looking dishes like Nem Hue (pickled sour pork sausage with pork, pork skin, garlic, and spicy chili wrapped in banana leaf, $6.50); spicy beef salad with celery, carrots, cilantro, jalapeño peppers, and mint leaves, $9; sizzling sea bass with black mushrooms, vermicelli, onions, spices, coconut milk, and a sprinkling of mint leaves, $23; and chef's favorite, the Saigon Chicken with specially-marinated chicken, onion, and a spicy homemade sauce, $17. And check this out: you can park for free in a lot across Van Ness Sun-Wed after 5pm—on other nights valet parking is offered. Open for dinner Sun-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm. Lunch begins at the end of October, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm. 2080 Van Ness Ave. at Pacific, 415-567-1700.

A new wine bar and lounge serving small plates will be opening by the end of October on Polk Street. It's called ~AMELIE~, after one of the partner's daughters. Samie Didda, the owner of Chouchou and a pastry shop in Paris called "Les Petits Mitrons" is partnering up with Germain Michel, who has managed the floor staff of Chouchou for over two years. (Ends up they also play soccer together.) The menu will rotate daily, featuring an array of appetizing dishes like adobo-marinated seared beef carpaccio (or you can order it as a tartare); Chinese black beans with pork spareribs; roasted bone marrow with garlic, ginger, and chimichurri sauce; and classics like charcuterie and oysters on the half shell. The wine list will have around 150 wines (ranging from $20-$150) with 25 available by the glass and 10 by the half-bottle, with a focus primarily on Rhone Valley wines. The modern space will feature a variety of woods and will seat 40, with room for 15 at the bar. 1754 Polk St. at Washington St., 415-292-6916

Anne Gingrass (of Desiree Café and Hawthorne Lane) is back on the scene with ~ESSENCIA~, a contemporary Peruvian restaurant moving into the former Pendragon space in Hayes Valley. Gingrass was originally hired as a consulting chef, but is now partnering with the husband-and-wife team of Juan and Carmen Cespedes, who hail from Lima, Peru. Gingrass said the SF-friendly menu will include authentic favorites, like ceviche, octopus, and anticuchos, along with some complex dishes making their way into the mix as well. Carmen Cespedes, who has an importer's license, will be assisting in the importation of olives, pickles, coffee, fish, cheese, and even the uniforms for the restaurant. The 45-seat space will have a rich color palette of red, gold, and a deep chocolate-eggplant hue, and there will be a pisco bottle collection on display. An art instructor is currently welding a sign for the exterior—check out the logo on the site to get an idea (and to sign up for their mailing list). The look will be contemporary gaucho, with some elements that elicit the ocean, forest, and tropical elements of Peru. The plan is to open the second week of December, and they hope to eventually add outdoor seating as well. Essencia will be open for lunch Mon-Fri, and dinner Mon-Sat. 401 Gough St. at Hayes St., 415-552-8485.

This news totally bummed me out: the sweet chef, Kamar U. Barbhuyan, and his wife Nimmie who were at my favorite Indian place, ~LITTLE DELHI~ have left due to issues with their business partner. Like, dang. So they are currently seeking a space to set up shop yet again—will let you know as soon as they land somewhere. Please note it won't be under the Little Delhi name since they lost it when they left the partnership...

Folks in Potrero Hill have been following this news quite closely: after being in the same location since 1979, ~KLEIN'S DELI~ will be closing its doors on December 15. Avery McGinn, the current owner since 1990, decided not to renew her lease since the new terms were going to be too economically challenging for the business (the profit margin of a deli can be pretty slim, no surprise). Reportedly a new venture from the building’s owner, an organic wine bar and deli called Jay's, will be moving into the location. While talking to McGinn, she was very clear about not wanting to stir the pot o' controversy brewing around the closure of Klein's, so I'll just leave it at that. McGinn is very loyal to the neighborhood and her clientele, so she is looking for a new commercial space to buy in Potrero Hill. For now, she is seeking a shared community kitchen where she can do her prep for her two Klein's locations at SFO. McGinn will be holding a big community party on December 16, the day after Klein's Deli closes, so be sure to come by and say farewell, hopefully for only a short time. 501 Connecticut St. at 20th St., 415-821-9149.

A couple readers asked me what was up with ~BYBLOS~, the Mediterranean restaurant moving into the former VXN space on the corner of Broadway and Columbus. They just had their soft opening this past weekend, and should be running on all cylinders by thiscoming weekend (the 21st). 270 Columbus Ave. at Broadway, 364-0082.

Some sad news rocked the food world this last week: ~CHARLES CONDY~, the man behind local powerhouse Aqua, unexpectedly passed away last Wednesday from pneumonia (he was in the hospital for about a week). He was only 69. Condy's other projects under the Aqua Development Corp. umbrella included Café de la Presse, Pisces in Burlingame, and the now-closed Charles Nob Hill/C&L Steakhouse and Redwood Park. You can read more about his background on SFGate. His memorial service was held this morning in San Anselmo, and friends and family are gathering after the service at Café de la Presse, which closed during lunch in order to host today’s memorial reception. There are many people in the City, and beyond, who send their condolences to the family.

I was heading over to the ~OWL TREE~ for a drink a couple weeks ago and discovered it oddly closed. Just last week it all became clear when I found this notice about ~ROBERT "BOBBY" COOK~, the owl-loving and feisty barkeep, who sadly passed away from cancer this September. A really big piece of San Francisco folklore is now lost… rest in peace, Bobby. I guess it's all up to Carl at the Ha-Ra to hold the torch as SF's crankiest bartender.