October 5, 2010

October 5, 2010
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In conversation at the Delancey Theater.

Last night, I took a break from my writing to go listen to chef ~RENÉ REDZEPI OF NOMA~ (interviewed by Daniel Patterson) at the Delancey Theater. It takes a lot to get me to leave my usual Monday night prison (my desk) on deadline night, but when the chef of the world’s best restaurant (as voted by The S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants by Restaurant magazine) is in town from Copenhagen, well, I know where I should be. He’s been getting a lot of attention lately, from winning the Best Restaurant award (the restaurant also has two Michelin stars), to this excellent New York Times profile by Frank Bruni, and now his brand-new and second book is out, NOMA: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine.

His food is a beautiful homage to nature, the land, the seasons, Danish food traditions, and place. His process is fascinating—his ingredients are wild, foraged, mysterious, hyper-local, and fleeting, depending on what nature provides week to week. And listening to him at last night’s event was so revealing: his childhood in Macedonia was extremely rural, full of stories of shared meals around family-style platters of food (with no silverware or individual plates), of hand-churned butter, and living off the land (it reminded me very much of the stories my father tells of growing up on a farm in Calabria—such formative memories and experiences). It helps explain Redzepi’s connection to the land, and ease in it, which serves as the inspiration for his soulful and ethereal-yet-rooted cuisine (I write like I’ve eaten his food—sadly, no, but it’s how it strikes me).

It was fascinating listening to him explain—while watching some of his short cooking video clips—how four different dishes were originally conceived, from pairing ingredients on the plate that grow near each other (like the spruce trees next to a field of asparagus), to his discovery of “vintage”’ carrots. During last year’s very brutal winter, they were running out of ingredients and options to serve their guests, and the carrots were a desperate discovery: bordering on a year and a half old, left in the ground by a farmer, they proved to be the most revelatory carrots after a long bath in goat butter. They were so delicious it made him wonder: is this the way carrots are actually supposed to be eaten, and cooked? Have we been eating carrots the wrong way all these years?

He’s an avid historian—in NOMA’s beginning years, he went on a quest to research Nordic cuisine deeply, trying to find the soul of the region’s cuisine and culinary traditions, seeking answers to how Danish people have eaten over the centuries.

Redzepi also said he doesn’t believe there’s a place that has better ingredients than another. For him, it’s about what you grow up with. (He said he found our local ingredients to be too sweet.)

What struck me last night is how he uses technique to showcase the best of ingredients, and often to recreate their natural state on the plate—it’s not about transforming ingredients into another form for the sake of presentation, to entertain the diner. It’s about how to present flavor best, and naturally. Like the roasted asparagus that he then juices—he said it’s such an extraordinary flavor. But he also uses completely primal techniques, like tying spears of white asparagus to spruce branches with twine, then roasting them over a grill slightly to infuse a spruce flavor—very culinary caveman.

He has 25-30 people in his (gorgeous) kitchen, and he said he has his cooks harvest, prep, cook, and serve guests—a full circle of experience. He noted that cooking is one of the last trades that will not be replaced by machines. Amen.

He’s charismatic, smart, handsome, talented, and was totally engaging to listen to—he’s real, and doesn’t hesitate to drop a few F-bombs. (I’m so glad it wasn’t a night of stuffy and precious food geekery—quite the opposite.) Of course, at the end of the event, Redzepi and Daniel Patterson headed to Plum, where Daniel also cooked for Tim Hollingsworth of The French Laundry, Corey Lee of Benu, and David Kinch of Manresa. (Yeah, our local ingredient mafia.)

I was fortunate to have Daniel Patterson extend the opportunity for me to send René some questions prior to his visit (here they are below), and after last night’s presentation, I have so many more questions. I suppose they will have to wait for some magical time when I get to visit his restaurant. And I imagine that’s a big part of his cuisine’s charisma: it has a knack for making people curious.

My Questions for René Redzepi

If you had to sum up your cooking style in three words, what are they?
What weather brings.

What is one of your favorite ingredients to cook with? What dish did you make with it?
I really don’t have a favorite ingredient, my favorite thing is the changing of the seasons.

Tell us a story about one of your favorite ingredients that you discovered through foraging.
Sea arrow grass. I remember it like yesterday, one spring morning looking at this succulent with an appearance like chive, thinking to myself that it looked edible. I tried it and to my great surprise it tasted like coriander/cilantro with a strong salinity to it. A flavor I had always thought only existed in warmer areas of the world.

If there was one ingredient from California that you wish grew in Denmark, what would it be?
Citrus fruit!!!

Who is someone who has really influenced the way you cook?
Several, but my first mentor is my chef back from when I was an apprentice: Phillipe Houdet from restaurant Pierre André in Copenhagen.

How are you managing all your success? Is all the current publicity changing how much you can work in the kitchen?
I’m dealing with it quite well I would say, I keep reminding myself what made the success, which is cooking. So that is what I keep doing and what makes me most happy really!

Is there anything you wish you could take back or change about your career path?
No.

Name three chefs you admire, and why. (They can be from anywhere…)
This is just impossible for me to point out only 3, there are just too many. If I was to mention a few from California, it would have to be David Kinch for his intuition, Thomas Keller for his excellence, Daniel Patterson for his intelligence, and Corey Lee for his talent.

What are you working on right now? What are some of your future goals?
My future plan is to have more children.

Thanks to René for taking the time to answer my questions, and to visit us here in San Francisco. Thanks to Daniel Patterson for his enthusiastic presentation of what makes Redzepi and his restaurant so very unique. And many thanks to Celia Sack of Omnivore Books for organizing a signing at her store and the excellent talk last night. I am confident it was inspiring for many.

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Last Thursday, while dining at Morimoto, my table was visited at separate times by Tyler Florence, Rob Mondavi, Jr., Michael Mondavi, and chef Jeremy Fox. (For once I didn’t have to tablehop—thanks for coming to me, gents.) I got to taste Tyler’s new and delicious ‘08 cabernet (made by Rob), and a glass of M by Michael Mondavi—but it was Fox’s presence in that group which struck me as the wild card. Well, until the Inside Scoop just broke the news that Jeremy Fox has been named the creative director for the Florence Group. Fox will help open Florence’s Rotisserie & Wine, which is launching in November as part of the Napa Riverfront Development (where you’ll find Morimoto and the newly opened Fish Story from the Lark Creek Restaurant Group). There’s also the upcoming El Paseo in Mill Valley, and don’t be surprised if you see Fox pop in at Wayfare Tavern as well. We’ll have to stand by and see what the two Southern boys cook up.

Last night over the Twitters, it was revealed that David Bazirgan is leaving his Mint Plaza outpost, ~CHEZ PAPA RESTO~. I received a call from David this morning, letting me know he is leaving Chez Papa Resto at the end of the month, and will be starting at ~FIFTH FLOOR~ in mid-November. He’s excited to be doing more refined cooking without the limitations of the French Provençal style at Chez Papa Resto, and said he looks forward to striking the right balance of fine dining and approachability. I’ll keep you posted on his replacement.

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Photo from BOURBON STEAK.

The ALL CAPS ARE BACK: the transition from MICHAEL MINA to ~BOURBON STEAK~ at The Westin St. Francis on Union Square is complete, and the steakhouse opens this Thursday October 7th. The executive chef is Omri Aflalo, an extern from the Culinary Institute of America at AQUA when Mina first met and worked with him (he has also worked for Gary Danko and Michel Richard).

On the menu: “Starters For The Table,” like potato skins ‘poutine’ with short ribs ($14), crispy Korean chicken wings ($15), or Michael Mina classic lobster corn dogs ($16); appetizers include All Star Organics little gem salad with pancetta and hard-boiled quail egg ($14), and American wagyu tartare ($18); and entrées like San Francisco cioppino ($32), Prather Ranch lamb chops ($48), and an $18 burger. Oh yeah, and butter-poached steaks, like an 18-oz. bone-in rib eye for $42, or a 10-oz. American Kobe flatiron for $49.

Designer Michael Dalton has brought in a strong and masculine color palette (cognac, bronze, steel blue, and nickel)—there are 102 seats, with 42 in the bar and lounge. Open for dinner Sun-Thu 5:30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10:30pm; bar opens at 5pm. 355 Powell St. at Geary, 415-397-3003.

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Sashimi deluxe; photo from Tataki South.

After Deep Sushi/Deep Modern Izakaya didn’t work out in Noe Valley, the owners of Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar on California Street have officially opened their second location in the space this past weekend, ~TATAKI SOUTH~. The menu will continue their focus on only serving sustainable sushi, although since there is a robata grill, they now have a yakitori section they’ve added as well. There are also even more vegetarian and vegan selections.

There are two rooms and a sushi bar with room for 12, although just the front room is open now with seats for 30—there will be seating for 55 (there’s the possibility of using it as a private dining room as well, TBD). The look is also similar, with pumpkin-orange walls, and even more reclaimed wood (they built many of the fixtures themselves), and water elements. Hours for now during the soft opening are lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm, and dinner nightly starting at 5:30pm, with the last seating at 9:30pm. Hours are subject to change as they gauge the needs of the neighborhood. 1740 Church St. at Day (between 29th and 30th Streets), 415-282-1889.

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Eggs Benedict photo from Prospect/Facebook.

As of this past Sunday, ~PROSPECT~ started serving Sunday brunch from 11am-3pm. Dishes on chef Ravi Kapur’s menu include fried chicken with biscuits and Jimmy Nardello pepper jelly ($15); a double-smoked BLT ($12); and eggs Benedict ($14), along with a burger ($10)—you can view the entire menu on the site. With Brooke Arthur’s cocktails, I’d say this is definitely one way to rise and shine. And one of my favorite features: you can make reservations: 415-247-7770.

~RADIUS~ has also launched Sunday brunch, served from 11am-4pm. Think waffles ($11), croque-madame ($11) and croque-monsieur ($9), oysters (6 for $12), duck confit hash with poached eggs ($13), and more.

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Campton Place dining room. Photo courtesy of Campton Place.

Depending on where you work (or where you ladies like to lunch), here are three new lunch specials you can check out. First up is a $28 prix-fixe business lunch at ~CAMPTON PLACE RESTAURANT~, where they will get you in and out in an hour. The menu is available during the week, and includes appetizers like a green salad, or tomatoes and burrata, or white corn velouté with duck leg confit; main courses include ricotta cheese dumplings, or king salmon, or roasted chicken with truffled cauliflower, braised kale, and chanterelles; and dessert is either chocolate cake or a passion fruit tart.

Also debuting: ~COMSTOCK SALOON~ has launched a $20 three-course prix-fixe menu. It includes a soup of the day or little gem salad; fried oyster po’ boy or corned brisket with sauerkraut or grilled cheese; and for dessert, maple bourbon pudding and shortbread, because hey, if you can’t drink bourbon for lunch, you should at least get some in your dessert. Lunch is Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm.

Lastly, ~E&O TRADING COMPANY~ has created a new $10 “Lunch Break” menu available for dine-in and take out (for $3 more, you get a side of miso Caesar salad or housemade soup). Items on the menu include a chicken katsu sandwich, Chinese chicken salad, duck confit noodle soup, wood-fired flat bread with a choice of grilled steak or portobello mushroom, or a spicy grilled pork sandwich. And to celebrate the kickoff week, this Wednesday October 6th, “Lunch Break” guests will receive a complimentary scoop of E&O Trading Co.’s new sorbets and ice creams from DeLise Dessert Café; Thursday E&O will “extend your break” for free with an additional soup or salad; and on Friday, those working or living in the 94108 zip code will receive 10% off their lunch (guests will need to show a business card or form of ID that notes the “94108” zip code).

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Now here’s a brilliant way to handle your vacation: while Elan and Brett Emerson of ~CONTIGO~ are in Spain for their honeymoon from October 12th-30th, they invited chef Mark Denham to be the guest chef in their absence. Mark will of course be bringing in a few whole animals, and will feature some of his signature Catalan dishes, and some new ones inspired by his trip last month to Barcelona and Girona. Buen provecho!

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Thermidor at the end of service. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

A few new pastry chefs around town: Sarah Ballard has left ~PERBACCO~ to take a break, and her replacement is Suzanne LaFleur. Her new dessert menu features zeppole (warm orange-scented doughnuts) with salted hazelnut caramel; chocolate torrone with marinated black berries; and lingue di gatto and fig leaf panna cotta with fig caramelle, capramiele, and olive oil.

And over at ~EPIC ROASTHOUSE~, Elizabeth Falkner has joined the team as consulting pastry chef. Her new creations include a four-layer devil’s food cake with a toffee sauce and toasted pecans, served with a bourbon ice vanilla milk shake; and apple tarte tartin with cheddar cheese pastry, served with cinnamon toast ice cream. There will eventually be nine new desserts in all. (And the beignets will stay on the menu, but there will be a new trio of dipping sauces.)

At ~THERMIDOR~, now that the restaurant is up and running, pastry chef Kyle Caporicci is back to focusing his energy full time at Campton Place (he has been working there since February). He is being replaced by his opening pastry assistant, Grace Sumee Kim (she was formerly at RN74).

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Mirtille’s future home.

Coming to the Civic Center/Tenderloin area at the end of the year will be ~MIRTILLE~, a café that will be open all day and into the evening. The owners, François and Isabelle Chevillotte, are French—this will be their first business in San Francisco. Their focus is on serving healthy and flavorful food with local and seasonal ingredients, including fresh salads, sandwiches on house-baked bread, and being French, some pastries and excellent coffees will also be in the mix. The proximity to the Heart of the City farmers market and the theater district will also make it an easy spot to swing by for a bite. They are starting construction soon on the 30-seat space, so stand by for updates (they also plan for outdoor seating). Hours will be 7am-8pm daily. 87 McAllister St. at Leavenworth.

Permits show ~GRANDEHO’S KAMEKYO~ is opening a third location—this one will be in the former Mariachi’s space on Valencia. The number for Mariachi’s is already disconnected. 508 Valencia St. at 16th St.

I received an invite to the opening of a business whose ABC license I was wondering about, ~MA’VELOUS~, opening in the former Quincy’s in the Mid-Market area. Thanks to Grub Street for doing the recon so I didn’t have to: “the place is aiming for an early November opening with a farm-to-table menu from young Sacramento-based chef Tyler Stone. They’ll also be featuring an international wine and beer list from sustainable producers, as well as coffee from Intelligentsia and Ecco Caffe.” Extra points to Grub Street for the funny quip, “No word on whether the name is a tribute to Billy Crystal, or what.” Way to bring back the memories. “It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look!” 1408 Market St. at Fell.

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Photo from The Moss Room.

Since chef Michael Morrison has taken over for Justin Simoneaux at ~THE MOSS ROOM~, his menu has taken a more Asian/modern Californian turn (it’s a style he knows well, since his background includes working at Ame). The new approach can really be seen with the appetizers on the menu, including barbecue octopus and pork belly with pickled burdock, Fresno chili, and scallion oil ($16); sashimi of kombu-cured ocean trout with freshly grated wasabi, shiitake mushrooms, and citrus ($15); and a chawan-mushi with Manila clams, shimeji mushrooms, and white soy ($13). Mains have more of a California feel, from the roasted Sonoma County squab with confit, potato purée, and molé sauce ($29), and there are two new entrées-for-two, like a rack of California lamb with lentils, harissa, and preserved lemon ($49).

One thing that caught my eye is for the month of October, Morrison is hosting a prix-fixe Sunday Supper Series. This month will feature his famous roasted Tuscan pork loin using organic pork from Llano Seco Rancho (served with organic cannellini beans, fennel, rosemary), along with Indian summer heirloom tomato salad, and lemon verbena panna cotta with organic strawberries and cinnamon puff for dessert. Dinner is $40, and the wine pairing featuring wines of the Willamette Valley is an additional $20.

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Hmmmm, a lunch break of delicious bites while listening to Steve Sando (author of Heirloom Beans), Gordon (“Zola”) Edgar (author of Cheesemonger), food writer and cookbook editor Sarah Billingsley, and cookbook editor Amy Treadwell—sounds like the makings of a winning afternoon, right? This lunchtime event, ~LITQUAKE BITES~, will have tasting items provided by Cowgirl Creamery, Steve Sando with bean dishes and whoopie pies, and others. It all goes down on Thursday October 7th at Book Passage in the Ferry Building—and admission is free! The Litquake festival runs through October 9th—check out all the events and get advance tickets here.

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From October 8th through November 1st, local food writer Tamara Palmer (The Feast San Francisco, SFoodie, BayAreaBites/KQED) and fabric8 are presenting ~LOCAL FLAVOR~, a group art show that’s all about the delicious relationship between the visual and culinary arts. Featured Bay Area artists include Jason Mecier, Reuben Rude, Nome Edonna, Rachel Major, Romanowski, Dmitri SFC, Phokos, Andy Stattmiller, and Brandon Maddoc. There will also be a series of events in conjunction with neighborhood food establishments, such as Lucca Deli and Papalote. The opening reception for Local Flavor will be this Friday October 8th from 7pm-10pm. The gallery is open daily. 3318 22nd St. at Valencia.

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Photo from Chocolatier Blue.

A tablehopper reader tipped me off that ~CHOCOLATIER BLUE~ is opening a location in Mill Valley, in Strawberry Village. A call to Chocolatier Blue confirms they are aiming for early November. 

Meanwhile, ~CHARLES CHOCOLATES~ is trucking along with their Westfield Centre location. They plan to open a temporary retail shop right before the holidays, and then the day after Christmas, they will be closing and moving everything upstairs to the fourth level under the historic dome, where there will be a retail store and a 5,000-square-foot, glassed-in open kitchen, so you can watch the confections being made. Founder Chuck Siegel will also be adding handmade ice cream, housemade pastries, and an espresso bar.

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Photo from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers.

I am so excited to check out this new book from Jessica Theroux, ~COOKING WITH ITALIAN GRANDMOTHERS~. She traveled all over Italy, through the seasons, photographing and documenting Italian grandmothers and dishes they prepared—it’s part diary, part cookbook (with over 100 recipes), and part photographic essay.

To celebrate the launch of the book, a number of restaurants across the nation (most of them Italian) will be hosting a special dinner celebrating local food and the publication of the book. The launch dinner is Monday October 11th with Theroux at Pizzaiolo in Oakland (5:30pm-10pm); then in Napa at Oenotri on Thursday October 14th (5:30pm-9:30pm); and a brunch on Sunday October 17th at Boulettes Larder (10am-2:30pm). There will also be signings, like at Book Passage in San Francisco on October 12th at 6pm; The Pasta Shop in Berkeley on October 23rd from 12pm-2pm; and more.

Other restaurants around the nation will be sponsoring special dinners in conjunction with local Slow Food organizations and Edible magazines (Theroux will be present at a small number). The complete list is posted here. For more information on all the events, go here.

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Exterior photo from Disco Volante’s Facebook page.

One of my favorite Italian phrases, ~DISCO VOLANTE~ (flying saucer) will be launching in Oakland in mid-October. The restaurant will feature live music, and will serve until midnight. The kitchen is headed by Douglas Bernstein (formerly of Eccolo, Bacar, and Farallon), and the ownership group includes nightlife impresarios Damon Gallagher (Ghost Town Gallery) and Tim Tolle (Radio Bar and The Ruby Room), and food writer Kevin Cook (The OakBook). Look for local, seasonal, sustainable cuisine grounded in French technique, with nothing over $20, and the wine list is by consulting sommelier Stephen Lebord. The restaurant/club is in a jade-tile Art Deco commercial block, and includes stained glass panels rescued from San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. As for the music, there will be an eclectic array of select musicians Thu-Sat starting at 10pm, including local but seminal jazz and blues musicians, with shows ranging from Afrobeat, to bluegrass, and roots country. There will also be lunch Mon-Fri, and dinner daily until 1am weekdays and 2am on weekends. 347 14th St. at Webster, Oakland.

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I know, I KNOW, I don’t even want to think about Christmas right now. But Meadowood Napa Valley just announced the lineup of chefs for their annual holiday event, ~THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS~, and trust me, once people get a look at the chefs who will be cooking (and winemakers who will be pouring), tickets will get snapped up! Well, for those of you who can afford it (pricing begins at $990 for weekday events and $1065 for Friday and Saturday events—the price is per couple per night and includes one night’s lodging at Meadowood and dinner seating for two).

Anyway, it’s a great event from December 3rd through December 18th, and a portion of proceeds will benefit Share Our Strength. Meadowood will also make a $2,000 donation to Share Our Strength in the name of each of the twelve chefs who have generously donated their time and talent. Here’s the lineup, with chefs coming from Los Angeles, Sweden, Atlanta, and other places:

Day 1 ~ December 3
Masaharu Morimoto - Morimoto, Napa, Honolulu, Philadelphia, and New York
Shari & Garen Staglin - Staglin Family Vineyard

Day 2 ~ December 4
Mathias Dahlgren - Mathias Dahlgren, Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, Sweden
John, Janet, Loren & Hailey Trefethen - Trefethen Family Vineyards

Day 3 ~ December 7
Roland Passot - La Folie, San Francisco
Kary & David Duncan - Silver Oak Cellars, and Twomey Cellars

Day 4 ~ December 8th
Michael Mina - MICHAEL MINA, San Francisco
H. William Harlan & Deborah - BOND Estates

Day 5 ~ December 9th
Ludo Lefebvre - Ludo Bites, Los Angeles
Koerner Rombauer and KR Rombauer - Rombauer Vineyards

Day 6 ~ December 10th
Mark Fuller - Spring Hill, Seattle
Cherie & Philippe Melka - Melka Wines

Day 7~ December 11th
Linton Hopkins - Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta
Delia Viader - VIADER

Day 8 ~ December 14th
Trey Foshee - Georges at the Cove, San Diego
Margaret Duckhorn - Duckhorn Wine Company

Day 9 ~ December 15th
Jeremy Fox
Daphne & Bart Araujo - Araujo Estate Wines

Day 10: December 16th
Shawn McClain - Sage, Las Vegas
Ann Colgin & Joe Wender - Colgin

Day 11~ December 17th
Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina - Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
John Conover - PlumpJack and CADE, and winegrower Andy Beckstoffer - Beckstoffer Vineyards

Day 12: December 18th
Christopher Kostow - The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena
Jae Chun - Dana Estates

For reservations, call 707-963-3646 or via email.