May 15, 2018

May 15, 2018

The airy and serene main dining room at Birdsong. All photos:


Half of the chef’s counter overlooking the open kitchen.


The downstairs bar and meat locker/aging room.


Fish and chips: a scallop snack with pomme soufflé.


The Birdsong spin on New England clam chowder (with the evil Parker House roll brushed with pork fat lurking in the background).

Last week, I took a break from the madness of my new business launch and event hosting and soaked in the tranquil and chic atmosphere at the newly opened ~BIRDSONG~ in SoMa. The former AQ has been given quite the makeover from the design firm SAINT. There’s a handcrafted aesthetic with all the custom woodwork, but it doesn’t feel like something we’ve already seen before. Jeremiah Collection and Max Johnson crafted ash tabletops, Douglas fir flooring, custom cabinets, and more, balanced with pops of sea green. Even the open kitchen is full of wood instead of stainless steel, so diners who opt for the chef’s counter have a view of an enviable kitchen (designed by Alec Bauer from Kitchen Restaurant + Bar Specialists), with a Hestan custom oven suite and hearth.

Below, there are two private dining rooms (with room for 10 and 30), with a fun bar counter with peacock blue seats that look into a custom, walk-in glass meat locker accented by tiles that shimmer like abalone shell. There’s also a comfortable lounge area—the idea is guests will eventually be able to enter the downstairs lounge through a separate entrance on Minna and enjoy wine and bites.

The chef-owner is Chris Bleidorn, whose background includes Saison, Atelier Crenn (where he served as chef de cuisine), Benu, and Alinea. For Birdsong, he is creating a menu that pays homage to the Northwest (although he’s from the East Coast), nature, and employs heritage cooking techniques (like live fire, smoking, dry-aging, and fermenting). His ingredient sourcing is impeccable, as you can imagine, spanning NorCal to Alaska, featuring beautiful seasonal mushrooms, cold-water shellfish, and wild game. His chef de cuisine is Brian Limoges (previously executive sous at Quince and sous chef at Atelier Crenn).

Right now, you can experience the tasting menu for $135, which will go up to $168 on May 29th, when the preview is complete (an à la carte menu is launching soon as well). It includes 13-14 dishes, including playful yet elegant snacks like a fun spin on fish and chips (halibut draped over little puffs of pomme soufflé stuffed with tartar sauce), and their bacon and eggs (little rolls of dried bacon filled with egg yolk, caviar, and crème fraîche and dipped into chives). Inventive and delicious, another round, please.

A stunning dish was a play on New England clam chowder, with geoduck clam in whey instead of traditional dairy, celery, smoked potato, and lardo (its cured flavor beautifully permeated the dish), and on the side were Parker House rolls with a nice brushing of pork fat. Dipping those rolls into the broth, let me tell you, it’s the business. (There are other breads on offer, you should probably get them.) I have never had morels stuffed with spring Sonoma lamb, with a kiss from the fire, so it gives you an idea of the creativity going on here. (I’m posting pics on @tablehopper tonight if you want to see even more!)

Everything is served on custom ceramic plateware, designed by Bleidorn with Korean ceramic company KwangJuYo (taking a page from Benu’s playbook). The Benu connection doesn’t stop there: Bleidorn’s life and business partner is Aarti Shetty, director of operations for Benu, Monsieur Benjamin, and In Situ. The sommelier is Freddy Foot (formerly Gary Danko), featuring lesser-known selections from the Pacific Northwest, along with classic European wines, plus quality craft beers from Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

Open Tue-Thu 5pm-8:30pm and Fri-Sat 5pm-9:30pm. 1085 Mission St. at 7th St.


The Table at Merchant Roots. Photo: Kassie Borreson/Fotografie.


The counter at Merchant Roots. Photo: Kassie Borreson/Fotografie.


The café tables and stunning woven fiber art piece by Meghan Bogden Shimek. Photo: Kassie Borreson/Fotografie.


Now that’s what I call a mortadella sandwich. Photo: Kassie Borreson/Fotografie.

It kind of kills me that I had to miss the preopening party of this new beauty, because all I want is to head over and spend an evening in one of their spiffy chairs, stat. This long-awaited project (oh, SF, why do you make it so hard to open a business?) is such a cool concept: ~MERCHANT ROOTS~ is a specialty food store, wine shop, casual eatery, and fine-dining restaurant, all rolled into one. So whether you want to come by for a mortadella sandwich, glass of wine, full dinner (launching in five weeks!), or pick up a bottle to bring home, your bases are covered. It’s all highly curated and crafted, and everything is made in-house, from the housemade pastries to all the items in the larder.

This project is from life and business partners Madison Michael and chef Ryan Shelton (previously Baumé, Palo Alto). They are quite the power duo: she is a certified sommelier and cheesemonger, and he’s a skilled chef with a passion for all things Italian (hey, it’s in his blood!).

During the day, you’ll find salads and sandwiches (which you can also get to go), daily pastas, and more. And not just any sandwiches: there’s smoked carrot with shaved carrot, Point Reyes Toma, and raisin jam on focaccia ($9), and pasta like ricotta cavatelli with wild mushrooms, porcini cream, and sage pesto ($11) (check out the menu here). House-baked cannoli, cookies, and more will be there for you when your sweet tooth strikes. Coconut-lime doughnuts in the morning, that sounds good too.

Launching in five weeks is The Table at Merchant Roots, which will be offered three nights a week, featuring a themed tasting menu that will rotate every four to six weeks. There will be room for just eight guests, who will dine at the live-edge Monkey Pod wood table (by woodworker Ian Avidan of Berkeley-based Z&E Slabs). The Table experience will be $110 per person, with the option to add a wine pairing ($70) or partake by the glass.

It’s a petite 1,000-square-foot space, but they also managed to squeeze in quite the larder, stocked with their housemade food products, like salt blends, seasonal preserves, charcuterie (including salumi and uni pâté!), and five kinds of dried pasta, including kale spaghetti chitarra and gnocchetti sardi. (Impressive! They must have elves. Actually, they don’t—you’ll see chef Ryan and his team making pasta at the counter). They also have Eric Miller (Maker’s Common, Mission Cheese) helping out on the cheese selection and in-house charcuterie program, which will need some time.

And then there’s the wall of wine! Madison has selected more than 80 bottles, highlighting rare finds, natural wines, and lesser-known grapes, both locally and internationally. You can grab a bottle for a party, or come by for some daily selections by the glass. The space is so pretty, you’ll actually want to do both. There are live-edge wood café tables with copper wire chairs, and a showstopping 30-by-5-foot custom-made woven wool fiber art piece by local weaver Meghan Bogden Shimek. Obviously so much thought has gone into this place, can’t wait to check it out and soak in the details. And they have some great neighbors (like State Bird Provisions). That little stretch in the Lower Fillmore now has a lot going on.

Open Tue-Sat 9am-5pm. I’ll keep you posted on the dinner launch. 1365 Fillmore St. at Ellis.


The handsome interior of Cento Osteria. Photo: Nadia Andreini.


The menu is full of housemade and stuffed pasta dishes. Buon appetito! Photo: Nadia Andreini.


The katsu sandwich at Stonemill Matcha. Photo: ©


Trust, you want everything in that case at Stonemill Matcha. Photo: ©


One of Mikiko Yui’s cream puffs (filled with black sesame cream and made with two kinds of dough). Photo: ©

Many of you got a taste of the dishes at Donato Scotti’s ~CENTO OSTERIA~ at the tablehopper preview party a couple of weeks ago (thanks for comin!), and now everyone can head over since it’s officially open, right on the Embarcadero. It’s a handsome and spacious room, with enough seats for 110 diners and barflies (if amazing barman Casey Carr is bartending, that’s where you’ll find me!).

The casual but crafted menu spans all the regions of Italy, with dishes from Sicily to the Veneto. You’ll find plenty of antipasti (including unique ones like house-cured beef with Castroville artichoke and Parmigiano), housemade pasta (including raviolo norma with eggplant, almond pesto, garlic, spring onion, ricotta salata), fantastic pizzas from the wood-fired oven, and larger dishes like roast chicken. (Take a look at my Table Talk post on KQED Bay Area Bites for more and some pics too!)

There’s an extensive wine list featuring small-production Italian wineries, plus a house cocktail list (with plenty of amari!). And there’s a nice outdoor patio with room for 30, which is where you’ll want to hang out when Cento Osteria launches predinner apericena, starting this Wednesday May 16th (they’ll open at 3pm). Open daily for dinner Mon-Thu 5:30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-9:30pm. Lunch and brunch are coming next. 100 Brannan St. at Embarcadero, 415-543-1000.

Last week, I was lucky to get a preview of the newly open ~STONEMILL MATCHA~ on Valencia, and it’s quite the charmer. It’s the flagship from a Japanese founder—Eijiro Tsukada—with a focus on quality matcha, so it’s your chance to try the really good stuff, and not what’s usually ending up in those iced matcha lattes you’re seeing all over town. I was a little sad to think that the iconic Bar Tartine space they moved into was no longer, but what can you do, time marches on. And they created a truly tranquil space, well, except for the crowds of people crushing the place right now. I love how they worked out a partnership with Tartine Manufactory, a classy homage to the DNA of the space, creating amazing treats like a matcha croissant and an everything croissant topped with furikake and cream cheese inside.

Pastry chef Mikiko Yui (State Bird Provisions, Coi) has created a lineup of pastries and desserts that is full-throttle delicious, from one of the best chocolate tarts I’ve ever had with feuilletine and sesame, to inventive cream puffs with two kinds of dough (and you can choose matcha cream or black sesame). Her matcha matcha mochi and the “matcharelli” cookies (inspired by Italian ricciarelli) are both studies in fantastic texture and flavor. The lineup is truly fine—it’s like having a dreamy Cal-Japanese pastry shop inside a café.

There’s a savory menu from chef Keisuke Akabori, with a fantastic rice porridge I am so coming back for soon (it’s the perfect all-day kind of dish), a katsu sandwich, and more. Take a peek at more pics (and details) in my Table Talk post!

The list of matcha beverages is extensive, featuring high-quality, stone-ground matcha from Kyoto (the birthplace of Japanese matcha). There are sparkling matcha drinks with yuzu or mint, a matcha latte with ginger, and you can enjoy hand-whisked matcha from the Slow Bar. They are dealing with a crush of humanity right now, so maybe plan a midweek visit if you can while they ramp up! Open daily 8am-6pm. 561 Valencia St. at 18th St.


The Marlowe burger, with fries of course. Photo by Eric Wolfinger.

Some quick updates on the north side of town: coming to Cow Hollow in September will be another location of Big Night Restaurant Group’s Marlowe: ~COW MARLOWE~. Eater reports the popular SoMa bistro is opening in the former Eastside West, and chef Jennifer Puccio will be adding some dishes just for that location. 3145 Fillmore St. at Greenwich.

Fort Mason is going to be getting quite the Bavarian beer hall! The beer-lovin’ folks behind Biergarten and Suppenküche are opening ~RADHAUS~ in Fort Mason Center by early summer. The Chronicle reports there will be some Cali-Bavarian food and beer and wine. The industrial space (it used to be a U.S. Army machine shop) is 3,700 square feet, offering enough room for a 200-foot ponderosa pine tree to be carved on site and transformed into a bar, communal bench, and tables. Envelope A+D is behind the new design. Stand by for more.


The private back room at Palio. Photo courtesy of Palio.


The famed Chubby Noodle pork tacos. Photo: ©

Some big news at FiDi longtimer ~PALIO RESTAURANT~: after making it through some positive lease negotiations, owner Martino DiGrande is going to be closing the restaurant on May 28th for a renovation and refresh. He plans to reopen in August. He’s excited to make it truly his own after taking it over seven years ago.

DiGrande has brought on AnV Architects, and they will be transforming the main dining room from its massive 120-seat capacity to 70, and also adding another private dining room. Another big change: the front dining room on Sacramento will become a bar and lounge. Since it’s a pre-1906 building, there will be a number of behind-the-scenes structural changes too.

They’re also going to take the opportunity to update the menu, focusing on their housemade pasta and pizza. DiGrande has such a dedicated team, with chefs Mauricio and Jose Martinez, who opened the restaurant in 1990, and their pasta-maker Eva has been making pasta with the company since the Blue Fox days—we’re talking more than 40 years ago! And Donaldo at the pizza oven? He’s been working it for 25 years! What a crew. The antipasti cart is also going to get dusted off and come back into service—it used to roam Palio’s dining room in the early years.

The private dining rooms will also get some new AV systems, which the business crowd will appreciate for their lunch and dinner presentations. The largest private dining room will also be getting a private bar. Cheers to all the changes after 30-plus years in business. 640 Sacramento St. at Montgomery, 415-395-9800.

Meanwhile, Mr. Busy, aka Pete Mrabe (of Pete’s on Green, Chubby Noodle, and Don Pistos) is going to be expanding his territory and opening a ~CHUBBY NOODLE~ location in Cabo San Lucas by the end of the year. He’s going to be opening in the Medano Beach area of Cabo, and as someone who frequents the area often, he’s looking forward to bringing Chubby’s fun flavas (love those Korean pork tacos so much) and party vibe to Cabo.


My kind of boat: the Salty Lady. Photo courtesy of Ted Wilson.

Many of us love our salmon, so let’s give thanks to the Golden Gate Salmon Association, which helps protect our beautiful Northern California rivers and fights to keep fresh water flowing from the mountains to the oceans—crucial for salmon migration. Coming up on Friday May 18th is the GGSA’s fundraiser event, San Francisco for Salmon 2018. There will be a dinner from WaterBar, Hook Fish Co., Stag Dining, 25 Lusk, Scoma’s, Fine & Rare, and Drakes Bay Oyster Co., plus wine from Seghesio and beer from Lost Coast Brewing. There’s also an auction, and you’ll hear from fisherman, restaurateurs, and advocates that are passionate about seafood sustainability as well. All proceeds benefit the GGSA.

Cocktail hour starts at 7:15pm, followed by dinner. Business casual attire. Tickets are at various prices. TwoXSea, 10 Fishermans Wharf on Pier 45.


The housemade sausages at Schmidt’s. Photo via Schmidt’s.

German beer and sausage lovers will mourn the upcoming closure of ~SCHMIDT’S~ in the Mission, which is serving its last dinner on Saturday May 26th and its last brunch on Sunday May 27th. Eater reports that after eight years in the location, co-owner Christiane Schmidt has decided to close after a difficult rent increase by her landlord (as if dealing with the difficult neighbor upstairs with a penchant for making angry signs wasn’t enough). At least you can visit her over at Walzwerk, while her business partner, David Pierce, is planning to revive the brand in some form, somewhere. 2400 Folsom St. at 20th St.

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