December 18, 2007

December 18, 2007

As many of you may have already heard, Craig and Anne Stoll are opening a second location of ~PIZZERIA DELFINA~, this time in the Fillmore District. I couldn’t release the location info last week, but here it is: the pizzeria is moving into the Zao Noodle Bar space on California at Fillmore, and is slated to open in May. It will have 44 seats, twice the size of the current space, but will pretty much have the same format of the original, i.e. it’s a pizzeria, not a restaurant serving pizza. They will be putting in a wood-burning oven and are discussing an antipasto case, and beer on tap. Zao will close when escrow is all finished up, in about 60–90 days after the ABC posting, which was just posted last week. 2406 California St. at Fillmore.

Ask any San Franciscan gourmand who has lived here for ten years or so, and they should have fond memories of ~THE MEETINGHOUSE~, Joanna Karlinksy and John Snell’s restaurant that was the home of the famed fabulous biscuits (it’s where Quince is now). Well, like a phoenix, The Meetinghouse is rising again. I can’t say where, but let’s say it is exactly 7/10 of a mile from the original. Get your Google Maps out, LOL. Stand by for more in coming weeks.

Eater broke the story about Franck LeClerc of Café Claude’s latest project. No, not Gitane, which is due to open in April, but yet another addition to Claude Lane: ~CINQUE, ITALIAN WINE BAR & RESTAURANT~. The name is Italian for the number five, and comes from the address, 5 Claude Lane—the former home of MAC (Modern Appealing Clothing). LeClerc elaborates, “It’s also a powerful symbol stretching from ancient roots meaning unity. Cinque will be an expression of the five human senses brought together in one place where sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell are bound to create a unique and harmonious dining experience.” (Yoga not included.) The menu will feature fresh pasta inspired by the Emilia-Romagna region, with a list of approximately thirty wines by the glass. Indoor seating will be counter/bistro-style tables, chairs, and counters (approximately forty seats), while outdoors in the lane there will be seating for 30. The designer is Elmer Lin of Consortium Architects, who led the design of Bocadillos. Lunch and dinner will be served six days a week. Opening date? For now, let’s just say 2008. Once some permits go through, I’ll report back with a better idea of timing. 5 Claude Ln. at Bush.

~GLOBE~ restaurant suffered a fire Monday night that started in the grease flue, thank goodness there were no injuries. Here are a few more details in the Chronicle. While the damage is reportedly minor, the time it takes with insurance and repairs makes me think you’ll need another late-night place to eat for at least the next week, if not more. Will confirm once it’s back open. 290 Pacific Ave. at Battery, 415-391-4132..

Over in the Mission, ~VELVET CANTINA~ (or as my friends like to call it, the Reagle Beagle) had a kitchen fire on December 7—fortunately no one was hurt. The restaurant will remain closed into 2008—the best-case scenario will have it reopening in the first week of January. Fortunately the damage is minor—I’ll let you know when they reopen so you can get your margarita on. 3349 23rd St. at Bartlett, 415-648-4142.

Also in the neighborhood, I am sad to report ~EDDIE BLYDEN’S~ West African-inspired project that was going to open at 18th Street and Treat is no longer happening. We’ll just have to see what Eddie cooks up next.

Are coffee bars becoming the new wine bar? At least they keep moving closer and closer to my zip code. Jeremy Tooker, one of the cofounders of Ritual Coffee Roasters, is starting a new venture: ~FOURBARRELCOFFEE~, with partners John Abrahams, David Huebner, and Duane Sorenson (two hail from Ritual, and Sorenson owns the much-admired Stumptown Coffee Roasters up in Portland). The concept is more coffee bar than café, with some seating, but it will primarily be a space to showcase their coffee to wholesale clients (and people obsessed with coffee). So don’t plan on making this your new office. There will be a limited menu, so no syrups, nonfat milk, chai, or espresso to go will be served. (They will have soymilk, however.) There will be two La Marzocco Mistral machines, the only ones in California. Fourbarrelcoffee will be sourcing single origin coffees, and doing their own espresso blend. Instead of going through brokers, one of the partners will always be traveling to find and pick the best lots of coffee direct, before they are blended—almost like wine, really, discovering what makes better coffee. Tooker said they will cup and taste daily, numerous times a day.

The partners are taking over a former upholstery shop, and here’s a fun trivia tidbit: about 20 years ago, it was a Hell’s Angels clubhouse of sorts—during construction they’ve discovered some “curious” items in the walls, like license plates and some dentures with a gold tooth (nice). The location is spacious (try 5,000 square feet), with room for two roasters from 1957 and 1960. Wholesale accounts will be able to purchase espresso machines (new or used) at cost—there won’t be any leasing of machines. The coffee will only cost a slight bit more per pound than other suppliers. The opening date should be the end of February or early March, open daily from 7am–8pm. 375 Valencia St. at 15th.

Just down the street and possibly opening this Friday (and most definitely by December 26), will be ~CONDUIT~, a slick new addition in the northern Mission (looking forward to a nickname for this micro-neighborhood soon—anyone have ideas?). Executive chef Justin Deering’s contemporary American menu with French and Italian influences will range from $9–$12 for apps, fresh pasta for $12–$15, and entrées for $18–$25, with 125 wines to choose from. Some preliminary dishes that caught my eye include a pigs’ feet terrine, warm duck salad, porchetta, agnolotti with oxtail and Gruyere, corvina with guanciale, and where would we be without some short ribs? (Not in San Francisco, I’d say.) The flatware, dishes, and glassware are reportedly gorg and stylee. Dinner nightly, bar opening at 5pm, kitchen at 5:30pm, serving until 10pm, and until 11pm Fri–Sat. 280 Valencia St. between 14th and Duboce, 415-552-5200.

Reza Esmaili, who is formerly of Pesce and most recently was consulting for Enrico’s, has been brought on to oversee an innovative beverage program at Conduit—look for classics and new drinks alike made with top-notch spirits, sodas from out of the bottle (no gun here), and purees made in-house. There will even be a section on the drinks menu highlighting cocktails created by bartenders from around town, a unique way to pay homage to cocktail colleagues. Esmaili will be behind the bar in the beginning, but will soon be busy with his ~NEW PROJECT~ that is launching in the New Year in Hayes Valley. It will be a brand-new space, featuring a young and up-and-coming chef. Expect more details on this after the lease in signed in January.

I had a reader asking what was up with ~VINOVENUE~, and is it closed permanently? According to a story in the Chron, there are some lease and rent rumblings to blame for the closed doors—we’ll see if they reopen. 686 Mission St. at 3rd, 415-341-1930.

Just so you know, ~TASTY AT JACKS~ wins for the short-lived business of the year: the chef is gone, and so the tiny kitchen that was supposed to churn out southern eats is closed. You can still get stiff drinks at the bar, however. 2545 24th St. at Utah, 415-641-5371.

Speaking of drinks (that segue always has to happen somewhere in the tablehopper column, fortunately it’s easy), the partners behind Bourbon & Branch (Dahi Donnelly, Brian Sheehy, Doug Dalton, and Todd Smith) are launching a badass new whiskey and artisanal spirits shop, ~CASK SPIRITS~. In fact, their goal is to revolutionize the liquor store biz. Can you say limited editions? Uh huh. The shop should be open by late January, and is opening in the Financial District, just next door to the divey Dave’s Bar. You’ll find star B&B bartenders, like Todd Smith, Jon Santer, Joel Baker, and Yanni Kehasiaras all doing shifts at Cask, in addition to service staff too (Melissa Wolfe and Jessica Morin). There will be downtown delivery on 1920s-style three-wheel pedal bikes (free to start), and a 24-hour turnaround bottle engraving service for personalizing bottles—I’m already fantasizing about getting my very own bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Family Reserve, with “Peach” engraved on it. There will also be wines available, and a strong online ordering component too. Open 11am–9pm daily. 17 Third St. at Market.

Update on “saving” ~CAFÉ FLORE~: they had their hearing on December 6, requesting the option of offering 24-hour food service, and permission to serve alcohol until 2am. The request was approved by the planning commissioners, but there are a few conditions, like no seating at the sidewalk tables after 9pm Sun–Wed, and after 11pm Thu–Sat. Seating on the outdoor patio will also be ended at 3am—until the commission holds a hearing next year in September, and will make a ruling about future 24-hour access to the outdoor tables. Owner J.D. Petras still has some ABC and Entertainment Commission approvals to secure, and there will be some sound monitoring in the coming months, but overall Petras is thrilled with the outcome. You can read more on the site.

There are some tweaks happening over at ~TERZO~ in Cow Hollow. They have removed the glass tapas case to allow more space for guests at the bar, and the small and separate tapas menu (of six or so items) has been axed. Instead, the small plates menu will expand to about 20 items, with two-thirds running as small plates and one-third that are large plates. And to wash it all down, executive chef Mark Gordon is adding a Mark's Selections section on the list, with 20 or so high-end wines priced between $100–$300 per bottle, featuring hard-to-find and boutique wines. 3011 Steiner St. at Union, 415-441-3200.

Rick Bayless’s ~FRONTERA FRESCO~ fast-casual concept has opened in the Macy’s Union Square basement, his first restaurant opening outside of Chicago. The menu features authentic Mexican street food, like tortas, huaraches (Mexican corn flatbreads topped with meats and vegetables), handmade tamales, and quesadillas.

The annual ~MENU FOR HOPE~ campaign kicked off last week, raising an impressive $37,495 thus far to benefit Lesotho in South Africa via the World Food Programme. Take your pick of incredible raffle items, including tickets to Madrid Fusion, unique dinners and excursions, swell autographed books… basically, if you love food and wine (and I know you do), you’re going to have a hard time choosing from this bounty of prizes generously donated by food bloggers from around the world. You have until this Friday to enter the raffle. Why not buy tickets on behalf of some of your gourmand pals for holiday presents? (They are $10 per ticket.) Just think: your friend could win, and might even take you to Madrid Fusion.

Love bitter? I do, which is why I can still keep a smile on my face while I’m drinking something “amaro.” I know everyone drinks Fernet in this town, but have you ever tried Averna? L’adoro. Bartenders: there is an ~AVERNA HAVE COCKTAIL COMPETITION~, running January 1–March 31. A judging panel of leading spirits experts will select winners from five regions: New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. You can win a trip to Sicily to compete in the finals at the Averna distillery, and $1,500. Submit your most creative cocktail recipe using Averna Amaro as a base ingredient here. Let me know if you need a taste tester, ha ha.

So a couple weeks back I mentioned I got to hang out with the newest Iron Chef, ~MICHAEL SYMON~ (AKA Mister Chuckles) of Cleveland’s very popular Lola and Lolita restaurants. He’s 38, and has been working in restaurants since he was 14—he opened Lola when he was just 26. He was also voted a Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 1998—prescient, I’d say. Michael’s family had the biggest influence on his cooking: his mother is Greek and Italian, and his father is eastern European; they always cooked together and ate at home, especially around the holidays, which is why he says he has a “heritage-driven style.”

I had a great time hanging out with him and his awesome wife Liz at the bar at Hog Island Oyster Company. Both super-cool people, and Michael is really easygoing, with a refreshing lack of pretense. So instead of asking a bunch of questions that I came up with, prior to the interview I asked some local chefs what they would want to ask him. Let’s do it:

What do you think of SF dining, and our restaurants? (Joel Huff of Silks)
I think next to New York, it’s the best food city in the country. The greats here are as great as anywhere. I love this city, adore it.

How do you find the time to do it all? (Ravi Kapur of Boulevard)
I don’t sleep. [Laughs.] I get about five hours a night. To be honest, I haven’t figured it out 100 percent. I always used to take off Sundays, now it’s more of a rarity. We have a really good infrastructure and great chefs and partners in the restaurants, which makes it all do-able. But it’s been hard.

Where do you find your line cooks, and do you have any to spare? (Ravi)
We do pretty well—there are a lot of young cooks who work for us who have worked all over the country. We’ve been really fortunate. A lot of people come work for us for a year, but then they want to take the next step and move on. Sometimes we have a list of ten guys to replace them, sometimes only two.

What advice do you have for chefs about getting sponsorships? (Ravi)
I have been lucky in the sense that they’ve built up over time. I’ve been with Calphalon for nine or ten years—they called Liz at the restaurant wondering if we’d be interested. And they’re an Ohio-based company. Pick stuff you believe in. I’d never represent something I don’t have strong feelings about. I also have a brand manager based out of New York who reps several chefs, Scott Feldman of Two-Twelve Management, so some things come that way too.

How do you honestly feel about Iron Chef? (Jonnatan Leiva of Jack Falstaff)
At the end of the day, it takes very little time out of your life, and being in your restaurant: eighteen days, and then when we film the season for Iron Chef, it’s just three weeks. All you’re doing is cooking, it’s not like you’re learning lines like an actor. I enjoy it, I love competition—I’m a very competitive person. I thrive on it.

How is Iron Chef going to help your career? (Jonnatan)
A lot of ways. The viewership is huge, so it really gets you out there, and really helps establish your brand and your name. If you want to do a project in Vegas or cities like that, it gives you the name recognition to do it. Not like it makes me cook better or anything like that, but it gives me the ability to do things for a larger market.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? (Jonnatan)
Retired! Actually that’s in 12 years. So in ten years I’ll be thinking very hard about retiring. You know I’ll still be working. [Laughs.]

Are you thinking about Vegas? (tablehopper)
Yeah, I’d like to do a project in Vegas, very much so. I think Vegas is a neat city to do projects: you get to do a lot of different concepts, there are great chefs there already. And look, Mesa Grill got two Michelin stars, and Mesa Grill in New York got one. I love them both—but man, it’s impressive. Good for Bobby [Flay], doing multiple projects in multiple cities, and getting that kind of recognition.

Where do you like to go when you’re in Vegas? (tablehopper)

Do you want to be a TV personality now? (Jonnatan)
You know, I’ve always been of the thought process that if something happens, it happens. I just let it happen naturally, and don’t really force it. Every break I’ve gotten on television has been due to what I’ve done in the restaurants, so they are always my main concern. I always want to do them well.

Is this the future for chefs? (Jonnatan)

No. I don’t think it is. It’s a small little market, and there is only going to be so much room. It’s scary to me: there are kids that want to go to culinary school to be on TV. That scares the sh*t out of me. The future for chefs is always going to be in restaurants. That’s where you make it as a chef.

And, well, not counting Iron Chef, but look at the Food Network as a whole, the only “chef chefs” are Bobby, Emeril, Mario… Giada is trained, but she doesn’t currently have a restaurant. There are very few chefs on the Food Network—it’s more personality-driven. The future of chefs is in restaurants. Once you’re out of the restaurant, I question how much of a chef you actually are. You’re chef of what? The legions of your fans? What are you a chef of? Other than Jacques Pepin, I can’t think of another chef who doesn’t have a restaurant.

What do you want for your last meal? (Jonnatan)
It’s funny, the person who I would want to cook it is Jonathan Waxman. For sure. I’d just let him cook whatever he wants to cook. [Thinks some more.] But I would love for him to make his perfect roasted chicken, with some of those perfect Waxman fries, and then I’d just let him have at it. And I would have to have a little pasta from my mom.

He’s just the greatest cook, I love his food. We’ve been friends for over ten years, he’s always kind of been there for me in the business, and had a mentoring thing with me. He’s done and seen it all. It’s great to have someone like that who is so giving of their knowledge that has built up from doing right and wrong things over the years. I mean, he’s taught me a lot about food, and doing the right things as a chef. About staying relaxed and not freaking out. He’s very good, he’s like Valium, he’s got this way about him that just takes the edge off. I can be having the worst f*cking day of my life and I’ll call him and he’ll be just like, “It’s all right, it’s all fine.”

So you call him? (tablehopper)
Yeah, I call him quite a bit! [Laughs]. I have a couple chefs I call for advice, asking, “What should I do here?”

Why Cleveland? (Jonnatan)

I was born and raised there. Was in New York for a little bit, then returned home, met my wife, and decided to open a restaurant, and never left. It’s comfortable there. The neat thing is we were able to be such a part of the food movement, and to watch it grow and happen around you. The food scene is better than it’s ever been there. There are some great chefs there.

Braised pork or grilled? (Jonnatan)
Braised. I do love a good wood fired grill, but I’m a braiser. I braise everything.

Do you cook for you or your guests? (The Cortez kitchen during staff meal)
It’s gonna sound like kind of a copout answer, but it’s the truth: it’s almost like a half and half. There are things on the menu that are geared towards me and the other chefs in the kitchen, like, we do a lot of offal—we know we’re not going to sell a ton of it, but we do it for us. It does sell, but not like other stuff. At the end of the day, this restaurant supports me, Liz, my other partner Doug, the 120 employees that work for both restaurants, and you know, if I am just going to sit and cook chef jerk-off food for myself and have an empty restaurant, it’s not good for anybody.

Even the things we do for the guest, we are very proud of. At the end of the day, as a chef, if I don’t make the guest happy, then I’m a sh*tty chef. You’re in the business of making people happy. We write the menu, putting things on there we know the guests are really going to love, and then we always have some dishes on there that we feel are great dishes, but are going to take a little more time to sell and educate the guest on them. A lot of those dishes have become dishes that are signature dishes for the restaurant that people love, like the pork cheeks. And sweetbreads. Anything we did with rabbit was a tough sell at first. And we’ve even had success now with braised pig’s head and fried pig’s ears—that were tough sells initially, but now people come in and ask for them. I think it’s your responsibility as a chef to educate people, but let it happen naturally, too.

How does it feel to go up against the best chefs in the U.S., and win? (Ryan Scott of Myth Café)
Feels pretty f*cking good. [Laughs.] I really don’t know how else to put it. It’s funny, I get there, and chefs all know each other, so you’re like, holy sh*t, Traci [Des Jardins] is here, it’s gonna be tough to beat Traci. It felt great, it felt awesome, not to beat them, but to compete against them. It was brutal, but it was enjoyable too. It was stressful, but it was fun. And to win felt great. Not just for me, but for the city. It had a big impact on our city. The city erupted, it was insane. It really made the city feel good about themselves, and other cooks in the city, and chefs, and customers. It really felt good. That’s so flattering. It made me feel happy. And honored.

You have a great attitude and laugh a lot. What fuels your attitude and keeps it going? What’s your secret? (Ryan)

[Laughs.] I dunno. You know, it’s just kind of how I am. I have like one big blowup a year and I throw a coffee cup. I’m a thrower. Not at anyone though! But I’d much rather be upbeat than negative. It’s just a waste of emotion to be all negative. It makes everyone around you miserable. You just get so much more out of yourself and your employees if you remain positive and upbeat.

What are your favorite three places to travel? (tablehopper)

Greece, [pause], Greece, [laughs], Italy. And here, San Francisco. And I’m not just saying that!

How about a shout out to three of your chef pals who are doing great things. (tablehopper)
Paul Kahan of Blackbird and Avec.

And even though he is so different and nothing like how I cook, but I respect him so much: Wylie Dufresne of WD-50. It’s the total opposite of the way I cook, so it interests me in that sense—it gave me a whole new respect for it when we did it on the show. I respect his mind and what he does.

Jonathan Waxman, I just love his respect for product.

I like Mark Vetri a lot too. We have a lot of similar feelings about food. And other stuff too: we’re also two bald guys, with the same dogs (bull mastiffs), and totally into motorcycles.

Many thanks to Michael Symon and his wife Liz for taking time to chat during their trip to San Francisco. And I gotta get to Cleveland. Never thought I’d say that, but there it is.

In closing, did you read Michael Pollan’s article about what sustainable means in the New York Times on Sunday? You can (and should) here.