July 28, 2015

July 28, 2015
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Chef-partner Ron Pei. Photo courtesy of Chino.

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Fresh housemade tofu with fried garlic, shallots, and chile oil. Photo courtesy of Chino.

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Taiwanese fried chicken with fried herbs. Photo courtesy of Chino.

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Ron Pei with his father. Photo courtesy of Chino.

Some big news over at 16th Street and Guerrero: ~CHINO~ has gone dark for a couple of weeks, and when it reopens on Monday August 10th, there will be a new chef-partner, Ron Pei, and a new menu too. There will also be an updated kitchen and some interior design tweaks too.

It’s funny how things work out: Pei worked as a sous and eventually as chef ​at Laiola (where Tacolicious is now) back in 2009, and owners Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran talked about opening a dumpling-driven restaurant with him. But when Laiola closed and the first Tacolicious took off, Pei ended up moving to the East Coast, where he worked at Blue Hill Stone Barns and Commis in New York, and José Andres’s minibar in DC. But Pei recently came back to SF, and the timing was now perfect to bring him on to change the course of Chino (especially since Chino is Pei’s nickname from Laiola’s Spanish-speaking cooks).

Pei has cooking in his blood: his family is originally from Shandong, and after emigrating to the U.S. from Korea, his parents opened restaurants in the Midwest and eventually California—they ran Cafe Yulong in Mountain View until seven years ago. Pei says his father, who started cooking when he was 17, was his inspiration to become a chef. And even though pop is 70, Pei is getting him back into the kitchen and working with him to improve the dumplings and handmade noodles. He says, “I wouldn’t do it without him! He is my Chinese compass.”

As for the new incarnation of the menu, almost everything will be all-new. Pei explains there will be Shandong roots and flavor profiles in the dishes, but it will also be market-driven, with some Californian creativity. Pei also mentioned his travels will come into play, whether it’s inspiration from Taiwanese night markets to his Midwest background to skills he learned in New York. Pei has been thinking about this concept for years and is looking forward to having some fun with it.

Noodles will be made with wheat instead of rice flour (which is southern), and Pei will be using his dad’s recipe for some water-boiled dumplings (plus some other family recipes). Some dishes he mentioned include an updated version of clams with fermented black beans in a ham-hock jus with jalapeños—it will come topped with a scallion pancake made with bacon fat, mmmmhmmm. Another will be a larger family-style dish of slow-braised lamb shoulder mu shu, with seasonal plum salad, housemade plum sauce, green onion, and cucumber. Look for a Taiwanese beef noodle soup, made with quality boneless short rib, shank, and tongue too. Summer radishes with charred scallion dressing and tomato-orange salad with shiso, cabbage, and crispy rice were also featured on some test meals. A couple of Chino classics that will remain are the xiao long bao (although those are being tweaked too) and a version of the matcha soft-serve.

Some additional news: bar manager Danny Louie is also being brought on as a partner in Chino. Fun history: Louie’s father worked at Cecilia Chiang’s Mandarin and so did Pei’s father. How about that?

Founders Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran “intend to step back ​(a little) ​and let these two be the true A team, [and] we ​are personally ​funding the makeover because we believe in this restaurant.” I know I am not the only one looking forward to seeing what Ron Pei has in store for us—it’s gonna rock.

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The future home of Wise Sons’ bagel operation and commissary bakery. Photo courtesy of Wise Sons.

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Construction at Wise Sons Bagel and commissary. Photo courtesy of Wise Sons.

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The exterior of Wise Sons bagel space on Fillmore. Photo courtesy of Wise Sons.

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Bagels! (And a very happy Leo.) Photo courtesy of Wise Sons.

Like a phoenix rising from some tragic flames earlier this year, the ~WISE SONS DELI~ duo, Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman, have some great news to share: they found a new commissary location to replace the one they lost in the January Mission fire. And they’re going to be opening a bagel shop!

They reached out to me last week, letting me know they are currently gutting a space that dates back to the 1920s in the Fillmore, right across from State Bird Provisions. Not only will the 2,200-square-foot space (with 26-foot ceilings!) be a commissary bakery for their production of bagels, rye bread, their famed babka, challah, and rugelach, but they will also be setting aside 300 square feet for a retail section, Wise Sons Bagel. They look forward to keeping the space open and visible so people can see the baking operation, which is going to be pretty big. Good thing they salvaged their special bagel-forming machine.

As for the shop, you’ll be able to order at a counter, choosing from toasted bagel sandwiches (New Yorkers can go ahead and groan, just get it out), schmears, and sliced pastrami by the pound. They also plan to roll out some sable, lox, and sturgeon, plus other items will be in the grab-and-go case, all so your brunch spread at home will rock. There will be 10-12 seats for those who want to hang out, plus some seating outside and potentially 8-10 seats on the mezzanine. Coffee and espresso service will also be offered. The operation will be open daily, from the morning to the early afternoon.

Are they out to re-create New York’s Russ & Daughters? No, Bloom says that while Russ & Daughters is a wonderful and amazing place, that’s their thing, and Wise Sons Bagels will be different. Kind of like what the Bay Area is doing out here in regards to bagels. The New York Times piece “Why Is It So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?” from the weekend was, in my mind, a bit off, with a headline that bordered on a Buzzfeed clickbait tone. The headline should have read “Why Local Bakers Don’t Give a Shit About Making a Facsimile of a New York Bagel in the San Francisco Bay Area?” Because that’s the real story.

Maybe it’s because our local bakers like to make bread products that are naturally fermented and full of flavor? I have been thoroughly enjoying our city’s NorCal, artisan, hand-rolled spin on bagels at places like Nopa, Marla Bakery, and 20th Century Cafe (I wrote an article about this more than a year ago). The East Bay’s Montreal-style Beauty’s Bagel Shop, Authentic Bagel Company, and Baron Baking are all making great product too. And then there’s the classic (since 1962!) House of Bagels on Geary, which has a dedicated local following. That’s fine, everyone keep complaining (especially you, New Yorkers) while many of us continue to enjoy all these rather excellent handcrafted bagels.

The article almost set Bloom and Beckerman up like they are going to save the day with their upcoming bagel operation and are here to fix THE SITUATION, obliquely dismissing these other bagel makers—which couldn’t be further from the scenario (hello, they serve Beauty’s bagels on the weekends at Wise Sons Deli). All our local bakers just want to do things their way, which is pretty much how the boys have run their deli from the beginning. (Thank you, don’t change a thing about your matzo ball soup!)

When asked about their bagels, Wise Sons say they will be traditional: “They are proofed for 36 hours and boiled with malt and baking soda so you get a chewy crust with those little ‘fish eye’ bubbles and a depth of flavor that doesn’t just taste like a white roll.” (And you know they are still going to hear all kinds of comments—just like they have from day one.)

Anyway, the bigger and more important point is that we’re going to have a new shop dedicated to bagels. And based on the quality of the other items Wise Sons make, that’s exciting. We deserve this.

It’s interestingly a full-circle kind of scenario for the neighborhood, which Bloom tells me used to have kosher butchers and other shops where SF’s Jewish community would come to do their shopping since so many synagogues were/are nearby. Bloom and Beckerman are looking forward to uncovering more history of the neighborhood as they research even further.

Bloom also wanted to express their profound gratitude to Bi-Rite Market, which has allowed Wise Sons to use their commissary space during this challenging post-fire transitional time and have been instrumental in helping them keep things going. If their projections are correct, they’ll hopefully be baking in the new space in October and probably starting the retail operation soon thereafter.

With future neighbors like ~BLACK BARK~ from 1300 on Fillmore, and the upcoming po’boy shop, ~BRENDA’S ORIGINAL PO’BOYS~, from Brenda Buenviaje and Libby Truesdell, this section of Fillmore keeps making me really happy I have my gym right there too. 1520 Fillmore St. at O’Farrell.

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The interior of Fine & Rare. Photo courtesy of Fine & Rare.

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Fine & Rare’s crab roll at an Off the Grid event. Yelp photo by Jenny Q.

We reported in June that the ~FINE & RARE~ team (Scott Peterson and Ted Wilson) found a permanent location in the former Stars space. They are now open Monday through Friday, serving sandwiches and salads featuring their impeccably sourced seasonal seafood and produce.

The menu is tight, with just a few sandwiches that can also be made as salads, like the cold-smoked salmon pastrami and grilled skirt steak, all served on housemade bread. There are also a handful of sides, like carrot ginger kale chips, and watermelon, cucumber, and tomato salad. There are several wines available by the 8-, 12-, or 25-ounce pour (easy, tiger), including two whites, two reds, and a rosé.

The space has been refreshed, with a new coat of paint, but the cool ceiling and exposed brick remains. Vintage educational posters adorn the walls, with handcrafted wood tables and benches. You order at the counter and can then dine at one of their 35 seats or take your food to go. Hours are Mon 11am-3pm and Tue-Fri 11am-8pm, and you can still find them at Off the Grid events if you’re looking for them on a weekend. The hours will be especially handy if you’re looking for a bite before going to the opera or symphony. 555 Golden Gate Ave. at Van Ness, 415-297-3980.

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Dipped cones with almonds and sprinkles from Twirl and Dip. Yelp photo by Julia K.

Back in June, we reported that the Marina location of Udupi Palace had closed, and a new restaurant called ~KOBANI MEDITERRANEAN GRILL~ would be moving in. According to Yelp it is now open, and a great story on Berkeleyside Nosh explains even more about the project.

It’s from owner Emin Tekin, a Kurd who was born in Turkey and immigrated to the United States in 1999. The restaurant is named for a Northern Syrian city that’s been in the news a lot lately, and is a nod to his heritage. In addition to the Marina location, Tekin has also opened another location in Berkeley and is planning a third in San Francisco in the coming months. He is also helping his brother reopen Hayes & Kebab, which closed last year but will reopen in 2016. 3242 Scott St. at Chestnut, 415-872-9911.

Meet new ice cream shop ~TWIRL AND DIP~, which opened in Potrero just in time for a little heat wave this week. This is the first brick-and-mortar location for the ice cream truck, and they’re whirling up organic soft serve with a housemade TCHO chocolate hard-shell dip. They’ve also got a fun selection of toppings, including fruit sauces, honeycomb candy, and toffee pieces. Hours are Tue-Sun 12pm-8:30pm. 1717 17th St. at Carolina, 415-205-8261.

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Plating at a recent Uma Casa pop-up. Photo from Facebook.

On Sunday August 2nd, catch another fab pop-up from chef Telmo Faria’s Portuguese Uma Casa at Merigan Sub Shop. It’s happening from 6pm to 9pm, and no tickets or reservations are required. This week, the menu includes caldo verde, pasteis de bacalhau, salada de polvo, and a francesinha (I AM SO THERE), plus port, Madeira, and sherry cocktails from Nora Furst. 636 2nd St. at Townsend.

Celebrate our warm weather on the gorgeous patio at a garden party at ~STEM~ next Thursday August 6th from 4pm to 8pm. Several restaurants will be popping up in the outdoor space, and Stem will also be serving food and drink specials. There will be bocce ball, gardening demonstrations, and local CSAs will also be in attendance. The Commissary, Sea Star, and Public House will all be participating, along with Nomad Gardens and West Oakland Woods Farm. 499 Illinois St. at 16th St., 415-915-1000.

Don’t miss a fried chicken feast picnic party at ~STARBELLY~ on Tuesday August 11th. It’s happening on the back patio and includes fried chicken plus picnic classics like pasta salad, four-bean salad, corn bread with maple butter, and peach cobbler for dessert. Tickets are $45 including all food, and beverages will be available for purchase as well. Seatings are at 6pm and 8pm. (September 15th is a BBQ Ribs Summer Patio Picnic, and October 6th is A Whole Pig Picnic on the Patio.) 3583 16th St. at Market, 415-231-6267.

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The bar scene at Urchin Bistrot. Photo from Facebook.

A couple of closures to report: ~URCHIN BISTROT~—the restaurant in the former Slanted Door/Wo Hing space on Valencia from Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani—is closing after service this Friday July 31st. (Via Scoop.) 584 Valencia St. at 17th St., 415-861-1844.

Meanwhile, Eater reports ~TAPS SOCIAL HOUSE AND KITCHEN~ has closed, and according to ABC records, a chain from Southern California, Killer Shrimp, is moving in. Huh. That’s, uh, interesting. Curious to hear where the talented chef Michael Lamina ends up next. 1516 Broadway at Polk.

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East Bay Express reports that ~TROUBLE COFFEE~ now has a location in West Oakland. The tiny, original Outer Sunset location of Trouble Coffee kicked off the $4 toast trend and received national media attention for owner Giulietta Carrelli’s fascinating personal story. This is the third outpost for the shop, which added a Bayview location in 2013 in addition to the original. In Oakland, there is no posted menu, so you have to talk to your barista (and yes, the Yelp page offers a wide range of opinions on that choice), and it’s an electronics-free zone, so no computing or pic-snapping. 1545 Willow St. at 16th St., Oakland, 510-735-9214.

On Monday August 3rd, chef Paula McDade is doing a pop-up at Juhu Beach Club called k.pop! There are two seatings for the dinner, one at 5:30pm and another at 8pm. The four-course prix-fixe includes dishes like pork belly “tacos,” octopus pancake, and braised short ribs. Tickets are $55 and include food but not drinks or gratuity. 5179 Telegraph Ave. at 51st St., Oakland, 510-652-7350.

Uptown Oakland is getting an ice cream shop, Scoop reports. It’s called ~LITTLE GIANT~ and is from owners Kevin Best and Neil Rideout. The pair is making all their ice cream on-site, with lots of unique flavors. Most ice cream shops purchase a base from creameries like Straus, but Little Giant is working with their own pasteurizer so that they can customize their ice cream from the very beginning. This also means they can alter the base for boozy flavors, like Negroni and old-fashioned. Their creamery will be walled off with glass, so you can check out the action while licking your scoops too. They’ll be serving scoops out of a trailer in front of the shop on Friday August 7th at Oakland’s First Friday event, giving out free samples and offering tours of the shop, and will open the shop a couple of weeks later. 1951 Telegraph Ave. at William, Oakland, no phone.

On Tuesday August 11th, ~UMAMI MART~ is celebrating their third annual birthday with a bash, Matsuri (which means “festival” in Japanese). They’ll be taking over their back parking lot with food from the likes of Hopscotch, J-Shack Truck, and Casa de Kei, and there will be Japanese beer on tap from The Trappist. There will also be fun activities, including a live taiko drumming performance from Emeryville Taiko, J-Pop music from DJ Chungtech, and screen printing from Team Print Shop. The party runs from 6pm-9pm and is free to attend. Food and drink available for purchase. 815 Broadway at 8th St., Oakland, 510-250-9559.

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