February 3, 2009

February 3, 2009

After a day of fruit bombs at ZAP, I was fortunate to be invited to a test dinner at ~NOPALITO~. People, let me tell you, I am counting my blessings that this little gem is a mere four blocks from tablehopper HQ. This second project from the Nopa crew is about highlighting authentic Mexican fare, under the direction of a couple of star Nopa cooks, José Ramos (from Guanajuato) and Gonzalo Guzmán (from Veracruz). Nopalito isn’t a taqueria, so don’t get upset when you don’t see a burrito on the menu. Some dishes you can look forward to are a savory pozole, the most bomb-ass carnitas I have tasted in I don’t even know how long, a quesadilla made with a dark and handmade chili tortilla and filled with crispy pork belly, and an earthy tamale with house-made masa, black beans, huitlacoche, and mushrooms. That’s just the tip of the cactus. The items are made with quality ingredients—and organic ones where possible—and everything is made from scratch, so the price-point will be a skoch more than Mission taqueria prices. You can taste the difference. Oh yeah, and José’s salsas are fantastic—such bright flavors. Can’t wait to return for tortas, barbacoa (grilled lamb), and chilaquiles.

There’s table service, so don’t worry about ordering at the counter—unless you just want take-out, because there’s a special counter for to-go orders. There are 22 seats inside, either at a small counter overlooking the open kitchen, or at handmade wood tables. Plus there’s an outdoor heated patio that will soon have glass windows and plants from Plant It Earth (it’s located just around the corner). The style is natural and rustic, with avocado-green chairs and staff shirts, instead of Nopa’s usual brown-shirted style. To drink, take your pick of beer (both on draft and in tasty bottle options), wine, and fantastic aguas frescas, like hibiscus and blood orange. Oh yeah, and FREE PARKING in the Falletti's Plaza lot. Score. Nopalito opens for dinner tonight at 5pm, brunch kicks in with a couple chilaquiles dishes this weekend, and then lunch service starts next Monday the 9th. Hours will be Mon–Fri 11am–10pm and Sat–Sun 10am–10pm. 306 Broderick St. at Oak, in Falletti’s Plaza, 415-437-0303.

Yay, there’s some great news to announce from Michael and Lindsay Tusk of ~QUINCE~: they hired pastry chef William Werner as executive pastry chef for Quince and the upcoming new locations in Jackson Square. I am a huge fan of Werner, whose background includes training with Daniel Boulud in New York City, working as the executive pastry chef of Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay and Spruce, and running his own creative consulting firm, polite/persuasion.

As for the Jackson Square projects, the first one out of the gates is the casual restaurant concept that’s opening in the former Myth Café space. It will be called ~COTOGNA~, “quince” in Italian. Cotogna is scheduled to open in April, and will have a wood-fired oven and rotisserie featuring a different daily roast, like spit-roasted whole fish, small game birds and meats, pizzas, house-made pastas, and seasonal vegetables, all made with high-quality local and seasonal ingredients. Cotogna will have 40 seats, offering continuous service that will start with lunch at 11am, then dinner (5:30pm), and a late-night menu until midnight. There will also be a cocktail and spirits program, custom-blended house red and white wines offered by the glass and carafe, and an extensive by-the-glass program. (I don’t know where they are putting all this...) Olle Lundberg (Slanted Door, Moss Room) is designing both spaces—Cotogna’s look will be “a modernist palette of grey and black, juxtaposed against the rustic brick and exposed timbers of the existing 1902 Jackson Square building,” while the new Quince location that is slated to open in May will be spacious, elegant, and contemporary, with platinum and dark chocolate. Cotogna, 490 Pacific Ave. at Montgomery.

More sweet news: I was very happy to learn the ~THREE TWINS ICE CREAM~ is going to be opening the first organic ice cream shop in San Francisco, in the Lower Haight to be precise—it will be their third Three Twins shop. The space used to be Urban Forage, and is conveniently next door to Estela’s Sandwiches. I love their certified-organic ice cream (the mint in particular). They are going through some fundraising efforts right now (check out their site if you’re interested), and will hopefully be opening in three months. Now that’s what I call perfect timing. 254 Fillmore St. at Haight.

My North Beach stringer had some exciting news about what’s moving into the short-lived Lou’s at the Square space, formerly Avenue G and La Felce. Let’s just say this is the kind of concept I think is going to work very well: ~TONY’S PIZZA NAPOLETANA~. And not just any Tony, but Tony Gemignani of Pyzano’s in Castro Valley, the well-known world cup pizza cup (2007) and nine-time world pizza champion, pizza acrobat, and the first-time winner outside of Naples to claim the title of best Neapolitan pizza at the Trofeo Città di Napoli Campionato Internazionale Per Pizzaioli. I know, dude. He’s opening the project with partners Bruno Di Fabio, who owns pizzerias in Connecticut, and Nancy Puglisi.

So, the concept: during the day, it will be the ~INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF PIZZA~. Gemignani, a certified master from the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli, will be certifying chefs in Classic Italian, Neapolitan, and Roman pizza styles, plus New York, California, and Chicago styles. Gemignani is the first master instructor and U.S.-based representative of the Scuola to open a location in the U.S. Some Italian masters will fly in to teach courses as well. There will also be two-day courses for home chefs, kids, and senior citizens. As for the ovens, there will be a special wood-burning oven, a Cirigliano that Gemignani won from the Naples competition, plus a brick oven, and Italian electric oven—all three styles of oven are needed for classes at the school.

For dinner, there will be traditional Neapolitan, Italian, and American classic pizzas on the menu, plus some pastas, dessert, and there’s a full bar. And yes, it will feature an open kitchen, with Gemignani working alongside other professional pizza makers. Ingredients will be a mix of imported and local ingredients. The owners are really excited to be opening in North Beach, and hope to make it happen by May. 1570 Stockton St. at Union.

When I was cruising around North Beach a few weeks back, I noticed ~NORTH BEACH LOBSTER SHACK~ had a “closed for vacation” sign that was a bit past due. My curiosity was piqued, and Eater soon confirmed thereafter that the restaurant was not going to reopen. I spoke with owner Russell Deutsch, and he said it was a tough location for the business, like parking issues and a lack of a big lunch scene. They do ten times the business at their Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City, so they plan to open another location in Cupertino or Sunnyvale, or somewhere like that. He sold the location to two brothers who are going to be opening a Belgian fry place that will be open late into the night—stand by for more. Sounds like they need to befriend the folks at Church Key on Grant—this could almost be a Rosamunde/Toronado match made in heaven. Or even better, since Church Key is delightfully missing the Toronado ‘tude that made me stop drinking there. Pfffft! 532 Green St. at Grant.

Folks has been wondering what is UP with ~RED’S JAVA HOUSE~—it’s been mysteriously closed for a while. Fortunately, a Chowhound reader noticed a sign that said Red’s will be opening their doors at 6am this Thursday. Longshoremen and hung-over cheap-burger phreeks rejoice! Pier 30, Bryant and Embarcadero, 415-777-5626.

I can’t say I am sorry ~ONE WORLD CAFÉ~ has closed, the café that was on the corner of McAllister and Baker—let’s just say the experience left something to be desired. So I am mentioning it here because I have fantasies of a kick-ass place opening there, like a sandwich joint (Estela’s? Ike’s? Want a second location?) or a cute little noodle shop! The space is for rent, so here’s hoping something good moves in there. 1799 McAllister St. at Baker.

If you’re wondering what the former head cook at ~PICCINO~, Carlo Espinas, is doing on the line at Bar Jules, it’s because his last day at Piccino was Saturday. He will be working at Bar Jules to hone his line-cooking chops and then hopefully travel by year’s end. The departure is completely amicable—he just needed to experience working in other kitchens. Margherita and Sher will be watching the Piccino kitchen in the meantime. Â

Some very sad news on Bernal Hill: many are mourning the loss of Cathie Guntli, the owner of ~LIBERTY CAFÉ~, who recently passed away after a battle with cancer. She was as sweet as her banana cream pies. Condolences to everyone who knew her and loved her. As for the fate of the space, in the still-unconfirmed department, I heard a rumor that the restaurant and bakery have been sold, and that Hard Knox Café might be opening a third location there. I should have more details next week. 410 Cortland Ave. at Bennington.

~SF BEER WEEK~ is kicking off with so many great events, and a couple that really caught my eye are the Brew’s Sunday Tea at 21st Amendment with Fatted Calf sausages on the grill ($30), and the Feast of Meat at Magnolia on Tuesday February 10th, a six-course meal with the Fatted Calf crew and beer pairings for $100. Can you say risotto with truffled cotechino (poached in beer)? Dag. Even Chez Panisse is getting in on it, serving local beers on the menu and choucroute garnie à la Panisse (homemade sauerkraut with pork shoulder confit, braised pork bellies, and garlic sausage) in the downstairs restaurant on Monday February 9th. For reservations or more information call the café at 510-548-5049 or the restaurant at 510-548-5525. You can read all the SF events here— and there are a bunch of ‘em.

Sunday should be interesting for a lot of local chefs: Top Chef season six is coming soon, and ~DUCCA~ is hosting open casting call auditions on Sunday February 8th from 10am–2pm. The Top Chef folks expect as many as 200 chefs to audition. Ducca executive chef Richard Corbo will keep his chef friends happy with a spread of cicchetti (Italian rustic bar snacks) including his popular arancini (crispy risotto fritters). 50 3rd St. at the Westin, 415-977-0271.

Mark your calendar: local favorite ~A16~ is turning five on Sunday February 15th. To celebrate, the restaurant has created a special menu that includes two variations honoring the mighty meatball, like spicy lamb and roasted rabbit meatballs. 2355 Chestnut St. at Scott, 415-771-2216.

Let’s hear it for free events. Be sure to check out these upcoming readings at ~OMNIVORE BOOKS ON FOOD~, like Jeannette Ferrary, author of Out of the Kitchen: Adventures of a Food Writer on Saturday February 7th; Mani Niall on Saturday February 14th to discuss Sweet! and Covered in Honey, and more—check out the line-up here. 3885a Cesar Chavez St. at Church, 415-282-4712.

7x7 released a list of what they think are the ~100 THINGS IN SF TO TRY BEFORE YOU DIE~. I love stuff like this. It was a little scary to discover I only have a few left to cross off the list: loaf of bread straight out of the oven at Tartine, katsu curry from Muracci’s Japanese Curry & Grill, milk-roasted pork at L’Osteria del Forno, goat stew at Kokkari Estiatorio (but nothing can top the lamb-tongue skewers for me), arancini at Ducca, onion strings at Alfred’s Steakhouse, chicken curry at Punjab Kabab House, and the fried chickpeas at Piqueo’s. Looks like I gotta get crack-a-lackin’.

There were definitely items I’d swap out in order to add in a few of my faves, like a super burrito (mine would come from Castillito Taqueria on Church), Acme sourdough bread, mandilli al pesto at Farina, salt and pepper crab from R&G Lounge, steak tartare from Bix, the burrata and tripe dishes at A16, shrimp cupcakes at Bong Su (an obsession), focaccia from Liguria Bakery, and, oh, my list can go on fo-evah. Love this town.

Since we’re talking favorite dishes (of course I have a ton), a while ago I was asked by the folks at Glam.com what are ~MY TEN FAVORITE PLACES IN SAN FRANCISCO~ (be forewarned, the formatting is a little wonky). I ended up sharing 20 of my favorite dishes instead. What’s sad is that some of them aren’t available anymore, like the carrot soup at Scott Howard, Joel Huff’s dish of bacon and eggs at Silks, monkfish liver/ankimo at Sebo (now not sustainable), and sniff, dessert at Rubicon.

Tomorrow, Wednesday February 4th, there is a cool presentation from 10am–11am, ~WOMEN IN FOOD AND DESIGN: THE SECOND GENERATION~ at the San Francisco Design Center. The keynote presentation will be an informal conversation with some of the Bay Area’s new generation of women innovators: Holly Baker, co-owner of AVA in San Anselmo and Marche Aux Fleurs in Ross; Susie Biehler, a well-known consultant in restaurant public relations and marketing; Jennifer Johanson, an award-winning restaurant architect and designer who is President/CEO and owner of EDG, a San Rafael-based restaurant design firm; Sarah Shafer, executive chef at Anchor and Hope; and Anne Le Ziblatt, proprietor of Bong Su in San Francisco and Tamarine in Palo Alto. The keynote presentation discussion will take place in an informal “living room” setting in the Atrium of the Galleria Building, and will begin promptly at 10am, and at 11:30am there will be an informal reception at the Christopher Peacock Showroom, Suite 445 in the Galleria for all participants and attendees, sponsored by California Home + Design magazine. Atrium, The Galleria, San Francisco Design Center, 101 Henry Adams St.

It’s now time for more ~TOUGH TIMES DEALS~:

Every Wednesday, the Petite Cafe at ~GRAND CAFÉ~ is offering steak frites and a draft beer for only $18. 501 Geary St. at Taylor, 415-292-0101.

Throughout the month of February, ~AMERICANO~ at Hotel Vitale will be taking good care of its lunchtime and dinner guests with free valet! 8 Mission St. at Embarcadero, 415-278-3777.

Even the ~RITZ-CARLTON~ is getting in on the deals: guests can go into the Ritz-Carlton Bar for the new small bottles/small bites offer starting February 5th, with bites from chef Ron Siegel, like tuna tartare, lobster risotto, and chilled oysters to seared foie gras, crispy chicken wings, seasonal greens, and sweets like pot de crème and chocolate Manjari caramel cake. Guests will also be able to order off the à la carte menu in the Bar. To drink: take your pick from 111 half-bottles of wine and Champagne, chosen by sommelier Stephane Lacroix. 600 Stockton St. at California, 800-241-3333.

~LE COLONIAL~ has decided to keep their Dine About Town menu available throughout February Sun–Thu night. It’s $34.95 for a three-course prix-fixe meal. 20 Cosmo Place between Sutter and Post and Jones and Taylor, 415-931-3600.

~CHEZ PAPA RESTO~ has also decided to keep the Dine About Town menu running for the month of February, for lunch Mon–Sat and dinner Mon–Thu. The citrus menu I mentioned last week will be available Friday and Saturday night only. 4 Mint Plaza at 5th St., 415-546-4134.

I have wanted to experience a calçot lunch since seeing it on food show one night, and whaddya know, ~UBUNTU~ is doing one on Monday February 9th! What is a calçotada? It’s the annual Catalan feast when friends and family gather to scarf down the young shoots of spring onions that have been grilled over a hot fire, and are then dipped in romesco sauce. Rarely served in the United States, Ubuntu’s garden is one of the few places in the country where calçots are being grown. I went through a pile of YouTube videos and found this one that shows a little calçot-eating technique in case you’re planning to go (there are a bunch of videos full of phallic calçot-eating jokes, no surprise). The calçots will be served in the Catalan tradition, fire roasted and wrapped in newspaper, with romesco sauce and sea salt. Available for parties of two or more, the dish will be $12 per person, with supply dependent upon what the garden produces for the event. 5:30pm–9pm. 1140 Main St., Napa, 707-251-5656.

Since we’re in the middle of Top Chef season, I thought some of you would like to know Richard Blais will be cooking up a special multi-course dinner on February 7th and 8th at ~STEVENSWOOD SPA RESORT~ on the Mendocino coast. On the menu: oysters with cocktail sorbet and salmon berries, a gin sashimi with carbonated lime and tonic jelly, followed by fish ‘n’ chips with ranch caviar. Next, house-made linguine with geoduck clams, “impasta,” then a canned soup of whiskey and rye, followed with local smoked salmon in an aroma dome, Blais's chicken-fried rabbit and baby food and a special McLamb rib dish. Dinner will be finished with a pistachio toffee white truffle. Funky! Stevenswood's executive chef, Patrick Meany, will introduce Blais to guests on Friday February 6th at a wine reception held on the Ocean View Terrace of Stevenswood Resort. Book your Saturday or Sunday table at 800-421-2810.

On Monday February 9th, ~MAYFIELD BAKERY AND CAFÉ~ is opening in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village. The bakery will supply fresh-baked bread to all of Bacchus Management Group’s restaurants on a daily basis, and the cafe will serve an all-day menu of wood-fired American cuisine. Pastry chef and baker Nancy Pitta, formerly of Boulevard restaurant, is overseeing the bakery, where she and her staff produce eight to ten kinds of slow-proofed breads daily, including baguettes, boules, and country loaves, along with traditional French pastries, cakes, and desserts.

The café will have a rustic and seasonal menu, created by Bacchus executive chef Gordon Drysdale and Mayfield chef Andrew Hash, formerly of Spruce and Hawthorne Lane in San Francisco. The cafe will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, with dishes like Niman Ranch pork scrapple with a fried egg and maple syrup; smoky chicken soup with elbow macaroni and olive oil; and spit-roasted Fulton Chicken with rosemary polenta and green olive-melted tomato sauce. There will also be wine, artisanal beers, and organic, fair-trade coffee roasted by Bacchus’ ROAST Coffee Company in Oakland. The coffee is delivered to the restaurant within 48 hours of roasting, where it is then ground and brewed to order. There is also a 35-seat outdoor patio. The bakery is open 7am–7pm daily. The cafe will be open for lunch and dinner, and for breakfast starting March 2nd. 855 El Camino Real at Embarcadero, Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-853-9200 (café) and 650-853-9201 (bakery).

A neighbor to Mayfield in Palo Alto is ~CALAFIA CAFE & MARKET A-GO-GO~, the project that opened a few weeks back from ex-Google chef Charlie Ayers. The menu is full of affordable Californian, Asian, and Latin dishes like tacos, panini, wraps, noodle and rice bowls, pizza, salads, and larger plates for dinner. Most menu items range from $4.50–$12.50, with dinner entrées costing up to $18 after 5pm. The market is due to open in February, and will feature an organic salad bar and pre-made, grab-and-go items, such as sushi, wraps, salads, sandwiches, and drinks, plus made-to-order market items like smoothies, sandwiches, and salads. Open weekdays for lunch and dinner from 11am–10pm, and open for brunch at 9am on the weekends. 855 El Camino Real at Embarcadero, Town & Country Village, Palo Alto, 650-322-9200.

More Shallow Alto news: I heard about a place called ~TOOTSIE’S~ (site not live yet) that is from some ex-Batali restaurant folks—the name was supposedly inspired by Leland Stanford Jr.’s son’s dog’s name. Arf. It’s an Italian café and restaurant on the Stanford Campus, at the back of the Stanford Barn. I heard they serve a killer burger, made with veal and pork, plus a fried chicken sandwich, salads, good coffee from Terzi in Italy, zeppole, and more. 700 Welch Rd. at Quarry, Palo Alto, 650-566-8445.