July 24, 2007

July 24, 2007

I know some of you out there love hot Cubanos as much as I do. (The sandwich, silly.) Well, you downtown workers are officially stoked because the former Banana Hut on Kearny is now ~PALADAR CAFÉ CUBANO~, a project from Rita Abraldes, the co-founder of Charanga in the Mission, and Vicky Khan, who worked there as well. Paladar takes its name from paladares, which in Cuba are small family-run restaurants that serve home-style Cuban cooking. This place offers a nice twist, using organic, local, and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Paladar just opened last Monday and is serving what sounds like an awesome lunch, with five kinds of bocadillos (sandwiches) including the afore-mentioned Cubano ($8.75), made with Niman Ranch roast pork and ham. There is also picadillo Cubano estilo Elena ($10.50), which is Niman Ranch ground beef seasoned with aromatic sofrito, and served with white rice and sweet plantains; and sancocho Colombiano ($11) a beef rib and chicken stew with corn, potatoes, yuca, plantains, and spicy ahogado sauce. ¿Tienes hambre? Just don’t get your heart set on dinner because they are only open for lunch Mon–Fri 11am–3pm. 329 Kearny St. at Bush, 415-398-4899.

See, I did get some work done last week! I actually got to hear this tasty tidbit after a big walk-around spirits tasting at Tales. As ~ABSINTHE BRASSERIE & BAR~ approaches its tenth anniversary (no easy feat in this town), some changes continue. Not only is new executive chef Jamie Lauren up and rocking her new menu, but GM Jeff Hollinger and bar manager Jonny Raglin are going to be opening up a new bar with Absinthe’s owner, Bill Russell-Shapiro. (Hollinger and Raglin have been talking with Russell-Shapiro about the idea for the past year or so.) The bar will be more of an affiliation than an extension of Absinthe; it will be a different vibe and concept, but still a place that will celebrate classic cocktails and feature new ones inspired by the classics. (For more on the classics and their offspring, have you ever have a chance to peek at the fab book, The Art of the Bar, written by Hollinger and Rob Schwartz? There’s a reason why it won “Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book” at Tales this year!) The new bar concept is being described as a grand saloon of the pre-Prohibition era, a grand time for cocktails, but since a space hasn’t been locked in yet, there will still be some fine-tuning of the idea and execution (it will also have a name, obviously). Expect a focus primarily on gin and whiskey.

Hollinger’s GM duties at Absinthe will be winding to a close in the coming month or thereabouts so he can focus on the new bar’s business plan and location search, but you can still expect to see him popping in to handle private events and the like; Absinthe is in the process of searching for a new GM now. Raglin will also (eventually) be stepping back from his bar management role, but they will both be keeping a watchful eye on Absinthe, upholding its reputation as one of the city’s prime destinations for cocktails. I will be keeping you posted on developments, like the new bar’s name and location once it’s all final, but for now, let’s hope for an opening in early 2008. Purr.

While I was away getting saucy in New Orleans, I missed a couple big openings. First up is ~LAÏOLA~, which unfortunately can’t serve wines off their fab list just yet, but hopefully in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, you can take advantage of their BYOB (or as I like to say, BYOGV, GV is for “good vino”) policy, with no corkage for the time being. You can visit Nectar Wine Lounge just around the corner on Steiner, which has a retail license and has offered to give customers a 10% discount off retail wine sales when you tell them you are eating at Laïola. Sweet. Once Laïola’s beer and wine license issue is resolved, you can enjoy their house blend of Borracho y Loco, and wine-based cocktails made by Camber Lay of Frisson and Range bar fame. 2031 Chestnut St. at Fillmore, 415-346-5641.

Was also sorry to miss the opening parties of ~ENRICO’S~, but will be making my way in there soon to check out the new look, menu, and vibe. And dranks. Way to go on the team saving a San Francisco icon, and from what I’ve heard, they have done it right. Open for dinner (for now) Mon–Sat—extended hours will be coming later. 504 Broadway at Kearny, 415-982-6223.

~METRO KATHMANDU~, the new Nepali small plates concept that moved into the former Le Metro Café space on Divisadero just opened last Tuesday. Nothing is over $10, and they are open Tue–Sun until 1am. 311 Divisadero St. at Page, 415-552-0903.

As the Miyako Hotel in Japantown morphs into Joie de Vivre Hospitality’s Hotel Kabuki (it should reopen after a major remodel this November), the hotel’s DOT Bar and Lounge is becoming ~O IZAKAYA LOUNGE~, with a hoped-for opening of October 1. The chef is Nick Balla, who worked as a sous under Paul Arenstam at Americano, another JDV hotel restaurant (in the Hotel Vitale). O will offer mid-priced Japanese-influenced shared plates with a California spin (don’t call it fusion). Balla recently spent two weeks staging in a bunch of restaurants and izakayas in Japan. His approach will be simple and modern, putting together dishes like pickled saba with fresh wasabi, beets, and cucumber; braised pork belly with kimchee (yes, kimchee is Korean, but is popular in Japan) and mushrooms; and a version of kamonasu, a dish of duck and eggplant (cured in duck fat) with grated daikon and red shiso jus. Yes, my mouth just watered. Balla will even be using local seaweed in his seaweed salad. There will also be a separate bar menu, with items like a burger made with organic beef, and chicken wings.

Michael Guthrie & Company (he also designed Myth, Bix, and Tra Vigne) is designing the 90-seat restaurant—there are also two communal tables, and room for 20 at the rounded bar in the center. O will have a minimal style, with comfy surroundings and hues of reds, orange, and elements like glass embedded with reeds. The look will also celebrate the Japanese fascination with baseball, with sports team baseball art, like large graphic screens of vintage Japanese baseball cards facing the street, and flat-screen TVs above the bar where guests will be able to watch U.S. games, and games broadcast from Japan. There aren’t many casual places in the area with a full bar where you can hang out and eat, so it definitely will fulfill a niche. There will be breakfast for hotel guests, but otherwise it’s dinner only, and will be open late night plus weekend afternoons. 1625 Post St. at Laguna.

Ugh, this is totally the pits: poor ~BRUCE HILL~ of Bix and Picco wrecked on his bike last week while track racing at Thunder Hill—and going 70 mph. Thank goodness he’s okay, but he broke his ankle (the talus—oh, it only connects the leg and the foot!) and now has four screws holding it all in place. So lousy. He’s interacting with his chefs before service each day and is very confident they’ll be doing an excellent job over the next few weeks while he is stuck keeping his leg elevated. Such a drag. I am selfishly hoping Bruce will be up for hosting a four-course Champagne feast he is scheduled to hold at Picco Restaurant in Larkspur on August 20 with Jerry Horn, AKA Dr. Champagne. I had a great time at Jerry’s last shampoo event at Scott Howard—talk about some swell bubblies. Like, ridiculous. If you want to buy tickets to the event, they are $150 (including tax and gratuity) and space is limited to 18 guests. Get in touch with Jerry directly at 415-497-7693 or email him at drchampagne [at] comcast [dot] net. Heal up and feel better, Bruce!

So, wrecks are the pits, and closures are the pits, too. That cursed space on Van Ness has struck again, and has now gobbled up ~HUE L’AMOUR~. The owner was the nicest person, sorry they didn’t make it. 2080 Van Ness Ave. at Pacific.

~VIGNETTE~ in the Orchard Hotel on Bush Street has also closed. According to a goodbye note on their website you can visit owner-GM Stephen Walker and chef-owner Jason Yeafoli at their year-old restaurant in Pacifica, Barolo.

~NUA~ in North Beach has started up some weekend brunch for you eggheads. The menu includes bruschetta with scrambled eggs, braised chard, and sausage; and a leek, onion, and herb frittata, plus items more on the daytime side of things, like grilled tuna or lamb brochettes. And, of course, a burger. There are also some libations like Bellinis and the Shady Shandy, made with Bundaberg ginger beer, fresh lemon and lime, and a lager float. Sat–Sun 10:30 am–2:30 pm. 550 Green St. at Jasper Place, 415-433-4000.

In the “rise and shine” news department, ~JAMIE MCCORMICK~, of Blue Bottle kiosk and Piccino fame, and the former bartender and barista of Oliveto for nine years, has moved to New York. Now, I don’t typically mention news outside of San Francisco city limits, let alone the eastern seaboard, but anyone out there will be beyond stoked to know homeboy is opening a café called Abraco (it means embrace in Portuguese), which is want you’ll want to do to him after he makes you a pretty coffee. He took over a little falafel shop (all 9 x 18 feet of it) with some investors/partners who are all Bay Area musical alumni, and will be opening a coffee bar with all kinds of good morning eats, like frittatas, house-made yogurt, and fresh-squeezed juices as the seasons provide. Elizabeth Quijada of Suspicious Suppers fame and recently the head baker at Babycakes (a bakery in NYC where you can find awesome sugar-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, vegan treats) is putting together a sweets menu with treats like olive oil cake, almond spice cake, deep fried ricotta fritters, zeppole and the like. During the day they will do panini, and in warm months, gazpacho. At night they will cater to the bar crowd (there are five bars across the street) with patatas bravas, warm olives, and made-to-order crisps (potato chips) plus house-made ketchup and garnishes for ‘em. Yup, it all sounds mighty tasty (and convenient). As for what kind of coffee they will serve, it’s still being finalized. Abraco will be opening on August 13th. Congrats, and rock it, Jamie! 86 7th E. 7th St. at 1st Ave.

And in closing, this fully broke my heart yesterday. This statement below was forwarded to me—it’s from ~GRANT ACHATZ~, by way of his publicist. As many of you know, Achatz is the incredible chef of the cutting-edge Alinea in Chicago, winning restaurant of the year by Gourmet in 2006, and admired worldwide for his inventiveness and talent.

I wanted to personally report that I have been very recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the mouth. I have consulted several prominent physicians and will likely begin aggressive treatment within the next few weeks. I remain, and will remain, actively and optimistically engaged in operations at Alinea to the largest extent possible. Alinea will continue to perform at the level people have come to expect from us -- I insist on that. I have received amazing support from friends, family, and everyone who has thus far been told of the disease, and I look forward to a full, cancer-free, recovery.

I had the honor of meeting Achatz at the Masters of Food and Wine in Carmel this year (pictured here)—he was kind, funny, and delightfully absent of any chef puffery. Pete Wells of the New York Times had a chance to connect with him yesterday—here’s more on the Diner’s Journal blog. I know there are people around the world whose hearts are going out to him. Here’s wishing him all the best in his fight—may he recover swiftly like the brave and lovely soul he is.

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