February 2, 2010

February 2, 2010

T.S. Eliot may have said, “April is the cruellest month,” but for the restaurant industry, it has to be January. With the end of holiday parties and a typically slow beginning of the year, plus looming taxes, it’s when a lot of places decide to throw in the towel and call it quits. I was sorry to come home to such a long list of restaurant closures, including ~POLENG LOUNGE~ (damn damn damn); ~VIVANDE PORTA VIA~ (heck, no more of my favorite eggplant sandwiches—I loved that snack); ~CAFE MARITIME~ (I’m hoping Mark Micheltree pops up elsewhere as promised with his chowder and coconut cream pie); ~CONDUIT~ (here’s wishing the talented team all the best); ~SHANGHAI 1930~ (although it seems George Chen is potentially opening a project at 101 California); ~COTE SUD~ in the Castro (replaced by a place called Curry Boyzz, cough); ~MI LINDO YUCATAN~ (I was a fan of their cochinita pibil); and ~CARTE415~ has also been parked.

And then there’s the news that the truly infamous 24-hour ~PINECREST DINER~ has its windows papered over—I was wondering if it was truly kaput, because the number is still connected, but I didn’t get a call back. (This just in: Eater reports it’s just closed for a quick remodel.)

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After ten years on the corner of Grove and Gough, Elizabeth Falkner is closing ~CITIZEN CAKE~ on February 23rd, and will be reopening in the Vivande Porta Via space on Fillmore Street in mid-March. She said she is sad to leave their wonderful Hayes Valley customer base, but she’s looking forward to having more foot traffic, and is excited to be working on the new lunch and dinner menus. Citizen Cake’s fabulous brunch is going to be moved to ~ORSON~, and is kicking off the first weekend in March. I’ll have more details on everything next week; this was just a little amuse bouche, if you will.


One of Darsky’s pizza margheritas.

I returned to SF to learn the much-lauded pizzaiolo at ~FLOUR + WATER~, Jon Darsky, has left. We had a chance to talk, and the departure was amicable and respectful—he is leaving so he can start focusing on his own project, which is hard to do while working full-time in such a busy kitchen. He says of his departure, “Not to say the experience wasn’t great, but working all those hours wasn’t going to get me closer to building my dream.”

Darsky, a New Yorker whose background also includes Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Delfina, is currently scouting neighborhoods where he can open a pizzeria with a wood oven, turning out Neapolitan-style pies made with American ingredients. (The dough-obsessed Darsky is proud to use American flour.) He would also like to offer sandwiches during the day, made on fresh-baked bread. He is going to be working with his brother on the project, who will be coming out from New York to work with him. As for Flour + Water, chef and partner Thomas McNaughton is running the show, with staffing adjustments being made in the kitchen as needed.

Ronnie New, the former chef of ~MAGNOLIA GASTROPUB & BREWERY~ is now at ~THE REPUBLIC~ in the Marina, and taking his place at Magnolia is Matt Kerley, whose track record includes Myth, Zinnia, Slow Club, and One Market.


Another project I have been tracking for a while is ~FRISCO FRIED~, a new soul food joint that opened up on January 16th after months of work and preparation. It’s a family affair: owner Marcel Banks and his uncle-chef Geeto, who have both grown up in Hunter’s Point, are working with the rest of their family to get the project going. And so far, the neighborhood is reportedly loving it. The menu includes chicken and waffles (with two pieces of chicken, only $5), all kinds of seafood (like the popular garlic-roasted crab and noodles), oxtails, and get ready for this: the burger dog. Chef Geeto’s creation is either ground chuck or turkey that’s seasoned and then rolled up like a link, and served with condiments in a hot dog bun. I am all over it—will report back soon!


The Ferry Building. Photo courtesy of Ferry Building Marketplace.

Changes are happening at the Ferry Building Marketplace, with some grumbles that tenants are reportedly moving on due to challenging lease negotiations/higher rent. The casualties: Tsar Nicoulai Caviar closed (Heath Ceramics is moving into their space), and additional departures include LuLu Petite, and Mastrelli’s Delicatessen is closing in March. Read some reports on what’s happening here and here.


Photo: Judy Parker.

A while back I mentioned the wine bar-gallery-restaurant called ~HEART~ opening in the Mission. Well, it’s now open, and there are all kinds of additional details to share. The menu is not just your usual wine bar cheese plate or charcuterie spread, no sir: Kitchenette is actually behind the menu, ranging from offerings like chopped liver to a crudo of scallops (both $8) to heartier small plates, like cider-braised Marin Sun Farms goat shank ($14) or a Berkshire pork blade steak ($12). It’s a wine bar that’s trying not to take wine toooooo seriously, so when your Gaglioppo turns up in a Mason jar, don’t freak out (you can read more on the owner’s reasoning for the quirky glassware here). You can also buy bottles to take home. And then there’s always craft beer. Or cider. Or sake. Or sherry!

Hours are 12pm-10pm, closed Tuesday, and dinner is served Wed-Mon 5pm-10pm; lunch service is slated to kick off February 10th (here’s hoping for some of the insanely delicious Kitchenette sandwiches!!), and brunch is also in the works. One more thing to look forward to later in the year: Arizmendi Bakery will be opening a location in the building, hopefully by the fall.  


Exterior pic during the opening party.

Well, it’s official: the old burnt-out Cafe Organica space in NoPa is gone gone gone, and in its place is a brand-spanking-new building, with ~BISTRO CENTRAL PARC~ now open on the ground floor, and residential units upstairs. The owners are Jacques Manuera and his wife, Claude Belliot, who formerly owned ~BAKER STREET BISTRO~ for 17 years. Chef Nicolas Jardin’s menu features French bistro classics, with appetizers like a frisee salad with lardons, a gravlax tart, French onion soup, and escargots, and main dishes like duck confit with lentils, Cornish game hen with black pepper sauce, fish ragout, and homey dishes like a lamb shank or pasta of the day (all under $22). There is also a set early-bird menu from 5pm-7pm for $17.50, which includes an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Hours are Wed-Fri 5pm-10:30pm, and Sat-Sun from 9am-10:30pm, with brunch from 9am-3pm, light fare from 3pm-5pm, and then dinner service begins at 5pm. The interior is simple and spare, with contemporary wood tables and chairs, a wall of windows, and an open kitchen. 562 Central Ave. at Grove, 415-931-7272.

Just a little listing of places I’ve mentioned before that officially opened while I was away: ~BARBACCO~ and ~CREDO~ in the FiDi; ~CURRY VILLAGE~ in the Sunset; ~TACOLICIOUS~ in the Marina; and ~PASSION CAFE~ in SoMa on Cracker Street, aka 6th Street.

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Exterior; photo by Daisy Chow.

A while back I was wondering about a wine bar called ~CORK~ opening on Market Street in the Castro. Thanks GrubStreet for doing research while I was gone so now I don’t have to: “owner Maarten Bon went before Planning and scored his permit to convert the space from what was the former Alliance Title Company at 2111 Market Street (remember when mortgages and title companies were big business?) into a cozy, adult wine haven with a small food menu. In contrast to the just opened Heart wine bar in the Mission with its Euro-centric list, and CAV down the street with its international focus, Cork will feature only California wines with an emphasis on boutique wineries in Napa and Sonoma.” The targeted opening date is June; you can read more on the project here.


Photo by Sara Remington.

While I am a huge fan of William Werner’s desserts (heck, the guy made me like white chocolate), it looks like I’m going to have to enjoy his sweet treats elsewhere, because ~QUINCE~ has hired a new executive pastry chef, Joel Reno. Reno comes from the nationally acclaimed Everest in Chicago, where he was executive pastry chef for the past five years. Prior to that, he was pastry chef at the classic French Les Nomades, and the North French-Vietnamese restaurant Le Lan, both Chicago institutions. Meanwhile, stand by for more news on what Werner is up to next.

While I missed the first two events in the new Quince “In Residence” winter program, an informative Italian wine and dinner series, there are two more remaining in the season. Coming to town this Sunday February 7th is guest chef Benedetta Vitali of Trattoria Zibibbo in Florence, and Italian wine expert and journalist Filippo Bartolotta. Quince will be opening its doors on Sunday (a rarity) for a semi hands-on cooking class with Benedetta for 16 students in the stunning kitchen at 5pm.

Following the cooking course, Quince’s doors will open to an additional thirty guests and Filippo will kick off a fun and engaging wine tasting. Filippo will share his knowledge of some of the finest (and a few rare) Italian wine labels while guests sample prosciutto from Parma and taste balsamic vinegar from Modena. The evening culminates in a four-course meal, prepared by Benedetta with help from the Quince kitchen, paired with Filippo’s wine pairings. Both Benedetta and Filippo will be available to speak to diners during the meal. (Coming on March 9th is Martin Foradori of Hofstätter winery in the Alto Adige; six-course dinner for $195, excluding tax and gratuity.)


Dario Cecchini at Nopa. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

There are all kinds of meat-tastic events happening this month: starting today, ~POGGIO~ is hosting its annual Bollito Misto dinner through February 6th. You get a plate piled with tender oxtail, brisket, veal breast, tongue, cotechino sausage, and house-made sauces, all served tableside, for only $19.

~OLIVETO~ in Oakland is hosting its annual Whole Hog Dinners this week from Wednesday February 3rd-Saturday the 6th, but from what I hear, the dinners are pretty full. However, here’s a little insider tip for you: the normal Sunday menu will feature many of the Whole Hog dishes. Oink.

Later this month, meatpaper is hosting a Meat & Greet party at Pizzaiolo on February 21st, and is doing a Devil’s Gulch rabbit-centric dinner on February 22nd at Bar Tartine; look for a full event write-up next week, but here are some details in the meantime!

Lastly, Cochon 555 is returning, and is hosting a “5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers” in Napa Valley on Sunday February 28th with Christopher Kostow, Meadowood of Napa Valley; Devin Knell, The French Laundry; Peter Pahk, Silverado Resort; Dennis Lee, Namu Restaurant SF; and John Stewart & Duskie Estes, Zazu Restaurant. Buy tickets here.

John Quintos, the coffee and Lambretta fanatic behind Cento on Ritch Street and Vega at Langton, has now opened a third coffee kiosk in SoMa: ~SPECIAL XTRA~. Yup, it’s another fueling station where you’ll be able to get your Blue Bottle caffeination on. You’ll find it right behind Salt House, tucked in the smoker’s lounge at the bar Harlot (which is obviously closed during the day, so don’t fret about having to deal with the Marlboro man while enjoying your macchiato). Hours are Mon-Fri 7:30am-4pm. 46 Minna St. at 1st St.


Sardine toasts with avocado.

As if the food at ~CONTIGO~ wasn’t delicious enough, now they’re offering a new “Menú del Dia” that will keep you coming back—it’s a great deal. Come into Contigo Sunday through Wednesday nights and you’ll be able to order a four-course dinner for only $35. Guests will be able to choose any primer plat (Catalan for first course), segon plat (second course), acompanyment (vegetable dishes), and postre (dessert) on the menu. While the menu changes nightly, first course choices always include fresh salads, roasted or fried sardines, calamares, albóndigas, and dishes like piquillo peppers stuffed with oxtail (uh huh) or gambas al ajillo. Second courses always include a vegetarian coca (a Catalan flatbread), plus more substantial seafood and meat dishes, like scallops with arròs negre, fried chicken, and pork belly with butter beans, trotters, and fried ears. The vegetable choices include greens with pine nuts and raisins or patatas bravas. For dessert, tuck into some chocolate con churros or burnt caramel flam (that’s the Catalan spelling for flan). Yup, see you there.

Oh, and in case you’re trying to find an affordable and delicious Valentine’s Day dinner, they’re offering one for only $55. And contigo means “with you”—awwww!

Don’t fret too hard, but both ~DELFINA~ and ~PIZZERIA DELFINA~ in the Mission will be closed from Monday February 1st through Thursday February 4th, reopening on Friday February 5th. Nothing dramatic—they are just redoing their floors and taking care of some general restaurant maintenance. In case you need a pizza napoletana fix, the California Street location will be open!

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Photo by Daisy Chow.

As reported by Daisy Chow, tablehopper intern extraordinaire:

Amateur bread makers, pastry students, and professional bakers came out swinging in Yeast Affliction!, last Sunday’s artisan-bread bakedown hosted by SF Food Wars at ThirstyBear Brewing Company. The San Francisco Baking Institute, a school dedicated to the craft of artisan baking, co-sponsored this fourth installment in the SF Food Wars series. Attendees eagerly gorged on 20 different scratch-baked breads ranging from grandma’s naan to healthy sprouted grains to the whole gamut of sourdough possibilities. Though plenty of butter and olive oil was on hand, you hardly needed any for these tasty breads. Add ThirstyBear’s organic craft beers, and you had one serious carb fest. You can view pics of the event here.

Every freshly baked loaf was lovingly crafted by dedicated bread enthusiasts, but they couldn’t all win. The judges gave top honors to SFBI student Jen Rosa’s perfectly-shaped rosemary sourdough loaves. Team Fire in the Fornix! won the People’s Choice award with their “Hurricane” loaf, an umami-laden sesame seaweed bread with whole wheat and brown rice. If this last sold-out event was any indicator, the chocolate cookies event coming in mid-March is gonna be down-right chocolicious!

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Pic of vada pav at Swati Snacks, Mumbai.

This was definitely something I was looking forward to coming home to, in an effort to assuage my acute Indian food cravings: ~VIK’S CHAAT CORNER~ has opened in a new and larger space just a couple blocks away from its original location. Can’t wait to get my Mumbai street food fix of pav bhaji and lamb baida roti. RAWR. Open Tue-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat-Sun 11am-8pm. 2390 4th St. at Channing, Berkeley, 510-644-4432.

I also got word about this place now open in Fremont called ~BOMBAY EXPRESS/VEGETARIAN CHAAT CAFE~, also rocking a menu of chaat and a casual vibe. There are some new inventions on the menu (read: wraps), but there are plenty of classic street food numbers, including vada pav, a variety of dosas, and cholle bhatura. The owners are behind Sakoon in Mountain View and four Bombay Garden restaurants in the Bay Area (San Mateo, Newark, San Rafael, and Santa Clara). Open daily for lunch and dinner, and brunch on the weekends. 5029 Mowrey Ave. at Blacow, Fremont, 510-713-0155.

After chef Bruno Chemel’s abrupt departure from Mountain View’s Chez TJ, he has now opened his own place, ~BAUMÉ~ in Palo Alto. Named after French chemist Antoine Baumé, the contemporary French menu is going to give your wallet a workout (five courses for $78, ten for $108, fifteen for $178), but I guess some Silicon Valley folks won’t even raise an eyebrow. There are only 22 seats, with two seatings each night, open Thu-Sun. The website also mentions lunch is coming February 18th, and will be served Mon, Thu, and Fri. 201 S. California Ave. at Park, Palo Alto, 650-328-8899.