December 11, 2018

December 11, 2018

Ayala’s dining room. Photo: Grace Sager.


Ebert’s abalone. Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux.


Seafood charcuterie. Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux.

Now open in Union Square’s Hotel G in the former 398 Brasserie space is ~AYALA~, a seafood-focused restaurant with chef-partner Bill Montagne, executive chef Melissa Perfit (Bar Crudo, Hard Water), GM Essam Kardosh (Del Popolo), wine director Nick Tilly (who will also be working with Essam), and bar director Julian Cox (Tartine).

As I mentioned in a previous piece, the menu highlights California seafood designed to be shared. You’ll be able to start with selections from the raw bar—with oysters, and seasonal picks like Dungeness crab, and Santa Barbara uni (with shiso, cucumber and yuzu tobiko)—plus crudos, seafood “charcuterie” (including black cod with kombu and chartreuse), cioppino verde, nori spaghettini with Dungeness crab and white miso, and meaty dishes as well, like Full Tilt Farms roasted chicken with glazed trumpets and maitake mushroom stuffing.

The wine program was curated by Nick Tilly and Essam Kardosh, highlighting both old and new world coastal vineyards, primarily organic, biodynamic, or natural wines from smaller producers. The cocktail and martini program by bar director Julian Cox pairs spirits by boutique and unique producers with seasonal ingredients from local farms to showcase a rotating, nautical-themed list, including large-format drinks.

The style of the 1,400-square-foot restaurant (with 94 seats) is designed to feel fun and neighborhood-y, and the way it’s laid out makes it easy to swing by for bubbles and oysters, or a full meal. There are three areas: the Oysterette (a loungey extension of the bar, flanking the street, with a velvet banquette and marble-topped tables), the Dining Room (which is a little more private, with ash tables and navy banquettes), and the Raw Bar, with a standing communal bar under an arched ceiling.

Open nightly for dinner 5:30pm-10pm, with Martini Hour Mon-Thu 4:30pm-5:30pm and Fri-Sat 4pm-5:30pm. 398 Geary St. at Mason, 415-374-7971.


Unagi and butterfish arancini. Photo: Nicole Parisi.


Tropical fruit creamsicle brûlée. Photo: Nicole Parisi.


The bar at Trailblazer Tavern. Photo: Kelly Puleio.

Michael Mina’s latest project, ~TRAILBLAZER TAVERN~, in partnership with Hawaiian-born chefs Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka of Honolulu’s MW Restaurant, is now open in the Salesforce East building.

The project is a big one: 7,000 square feet! Designed by Bishop Pass, there’s a mezzanine for up to 72 guests that overlooks the lobby, while the main dining room and bar have 34-foot ceilings, with 24 seats at the bar (with a white bar top and teal blue base) and 47 seats at a mix of standard tables, banquette seating, booths, and more. Deep orange, sea blue, trellises, and green foliage create a tropical feeling. The private dining space holds up to 18 guests, plus the outdoor patio can seat 54 guests at rattan furnishings and colorful tables and chairs (there are also heaters and string lights). The accordion-style glass doors will open on the ground level on nicer days.

The menus of elevated Hawaiian comfort classics include shareable dishes of sashimi, poke, crudo, pupus, and dim sum, plus favorites from MW Restaurant: unagi and butterfish arancini with nori tsukudani and kabayaki mustard, and SPAM musubi with housemade, mochi-crusted, smoked pork-arabiki meatloaf. There’s a mixed plate sandwich (spicy Korean pork, kalbi, fried chicken, and mochi hoagie bread); mochi-crusted fish with somen noodles, assorted banchan, and yuzu kosho-soy vinaigrette; and Hawaiian-style stew and rice, with oxtail, corned beef, pork belly, and peanut risotto.

Desserts look fun, like a tropical fruit creamsicle brûlée with lilikoi sorbet, tapioca pearls, tropical fruits, and lilikoi custard; malasada bread pudding with banana kinako ice cream and miso apple cream; and coffee and cream shaved ice.

The cocktail menu from Brian Means is full of craft tropical cocktails, local and Hawaiian beers, a private selection of bourbon and Japanese whiskey, and the wine program from Rajat Parr features a boutique, 100-bottle wine list with an emphasis on “low-intervention wines” from around the world.

Open Mon-Fri 11am-2pm for lunch and Mon-Sat 5pm-10pm for dinner. Happy hour is Mon-Fri 3pm-6pm. 350 Mission St. at Fremont, 415-625-5445.


The pozole verde from El Pípila. Photo by John Ater.


Chef and owner Guadalupe Guerrero of El Pípila. Photo courtesy of La Cocina.


Khao mun gai at Gai. Yelp photo by Brandon R.


Paper Rooster’s Emperor: Chinese roast chicken, crispy chicken skin, housemade dill pickles, hoisin mayo, spring onions. Photo courtesy of Paper Rooster.

Big congrats to Guadalupe Guerrero and her daughters Brenda and Alejandra on getting their brick-and-mortar location of ~EL PÍPILA~ open in SoMa! We last got to enjoy their pozole verde and other authentic dishes from Guanajuato when they had a stand in The Hall on Market Street (you may also know their stand at Off the Grid Fort Mason).

Guerrero is a graduate of La Cocina’s business incubator program, and she has such an inspiring story. When she emigrated to the United States in 1998, she worked 12-hour days at a taqueria in Berkeley, seven days a week, in order to save up enough money to bring her two daughters here. She was accepted to La Cocina in 2012, and they have been working on putting together her restaurant for five years.

It’s located right across from Airbnb in a new building (condos), and thanks to Schwartz and Architecture, who offered their services pro bono, plus developer Equity Residential, various contractors, and in-kind donations from Fox Marble, Ceramic Tile Design, Ann Sachs, One Workplace, Delta Millworks, The Culinary Edge, Design is Play, and PritchardPeck Lighting who all helped bring this to fruition.

How incredible to pull this all off—and now we get to enjoy dishes like bigote dorado (a large corn masa pocket filled with carne asada, lettuce, crema, and queso fresco); classics like sopes topped with picadillo, chicken, or nopales made with fresh masa from Oakland’s La Finca Tortillería and crisped on the griddle; and enchiladas mineras: three corn tortillas filled with potato, carrot, and zucchini in a tomato-onion sauce topped with lettuce, crema, and queso fresco. You’ll also find tacos (their carnitas!), salads, chiles rellenos, and more on the menu.

Can’t wait to come in and salute these three hard-working women! Hours for now are Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, with hours extending to daily 11am-7pm in 2019. 879 Brannan St. at 8th St.

Some other openings for your radar:

The chicken and rice (khao mun gai) place opening in the former Sofia Cafe, ~GAI~, is now open. Bring on the poached chicken, chicken fat rice, broth, and sauces! Open daily 11am-9pm. 3463 16th St. at Church. [Via Hoodline.]

I received word that there’s a new Chinese-American sandwich shop that has opened in the former The Chairman location on Larkin called ~PAPER ROOSTER~. SF native and owner Stanley Yee has created a menu with awesome-sounding sandwiches, like Chinese roast chicken in six different sandwiches, with sauces like XO sauce, Chinese chimichurri, plus Vietnamese pickles, Chinese hot mustard (yes!), and more, along with a couple vegetarian sandwiches. There are also housemade chips, from shrimp to salt and pepper to sriracha, and housemade sodas as well, with his own syrups. I’ll be checking this one out stat, stand by for more. Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm. 670 Larkin St. at Ellis.


The exterior of Seven Hills. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.


Azalina’s laksa with hand-pulled noodles (and it’s vegan!). Photo: ©

I just love seeing some of the things that sizzle on the ABC liquor license transfer wires, especially when it involves our dear Azalina Eusope opening ~AZALINA’S~ in the former Contigo space in Noe Valley! She doesn’t want to talk about details just yet, but is very excited to share an update soon. For now, we can dream of being able to sit and enjoy her beautiful laksa and Malaysian curries with a glass of wine in a chic restaurant space, with real bowls and plates. I can’t wait to hear more. For now, continue to enjoy her casual counter in The Market in the Twitter building. I love her cooking so much, and I know many others do too—she has a busy catering business, but this is definitely an exciting development. 1320 Castro St. at 24th St.

A switcheroo on Russian Hill: ~SEVEN HILLS~ is going to be moving from its cozy digs (seriously, have you ever seen the size of that tiny kitchen?) into the Stones Throw space (1896 Hyde St. at Green) after the location’s seismic retrofit is finished next year. Look for an expanded menu and more. [Via Eater.]

In the meantime, keep following their Instagram to see when they’re serving their veal osso buco with saffron risotto again—I had some last winter, and it was a dream dish on a cold night. 1550 Hyde St. at Pacific, 415-775-1550.


Jay Foster doing his magic at Isla Vida. Photo: Melissa de Mata.


Now that’s an egg sandwich (on housemade English muffins). At Theorita. Photo via Facebook.

Man, some definite bummers in here, starting with the closure of ~FARMERBROWN~ after holding it down at the corner of Mason and Turk in the thick of the Tenderloin for 13 years. It really is so hard to operate a restaurant in SF these days—so much work for not enough profit. You can read more in the Chronicle piece here. Fortunately, you can still catch chef-owner Jay Foster at his new project, Isla Vida. But still, what a shame, farmerbrown had a lot of original soul and vibes. Thanks for all the memories and trailblazing in that neighborhood, Jay.

Another unfortunate old-timer is throwing in the towel: after a couple years of trying to sell the business, owner Sidney Weinstein of ~PAULINE’S PIZZA~ is retiring and closing the pizzeria on December 21st. She sold the building, which she owns with her husband Ray, to a nearby elementary and middle school. The restaurant has been open since 1985, known for its vegetarian pies, pesto pizza, garden-fresh ingredients, and one of the most memorable and quirky bathrooms. Thanks for all the meals over the years! She will continue to run her farm, so the restaurants she supplies can continue to enjoy her beautiful produce. 260 Valencia St. at Brosnan, 415-552-2050. [Via Eater.]

~THEORITA~, the diner-inspired restaurant downstairs from Che Fico is serving its last brunch on December 16th (it just opened in August)—you can come by for pie, coffee, and pastries until December 24th (8am-3pm). The closure is due to a multitude of reasons that are plaguing many businesses in SF: staffing, size, and not a high-enough check average to keep things going. Partners Angela Pinkerton, Matt Brewer, and David Nayfeld are relaunching in spring with a new concept. [Via Eater.]

I am sorry to learn the Castro’s ~HEARTH COFFEE~ is also closing on Sunday December 16th, after being in business for four years. The café and roaster are for sale in case someone is looking. Darn! It was one of my favorite meeting spots, and their baked goods were awesome. Best wishes to them. 3985 17th St. at Castro. [Via Hoodline.]


A brisket quesadilla with horseradish crema, pickled beets, and parsley from Tacos Oscar. OMG. Instagram photo via @tacososcar.


Mixiote’s incredible morita salsa and lamb tacos at last year’s SF Street Food Fest. Photo: ©

I wanted to make sure to pass along some great East Bay news, starting with the opening of ~TACOS OSCAR~’s first brick-and-mortar location—complete with 49 outdoor seats—after chefs-owners Oscar Michel and Jake Weiss have held many, many pop-ups around town. East Bay Express mentions the menu includes “a quesadilla, a carnitas taco, a vegan taco with persimmon habanero salsa, and of course, the fried egg tacos that Tacos Oscar has become famous for.” Hand-pressed tortillas (made with masa from La Finca Tortillería in Oakland) for the win. Lunch is coming too (pssst, tortas!). There’s also beer and wine. Open Thu-Mon 5pm-10pm. 420 40th St. at Webster, Oakland.

Taco lovers will also want to swing by the ongoing pop-up from La Cocina’s ~MIXIOTE~ that is being hosted at ~PLUM BAR~ for three months. These labor-intensive, Mexico City-style tacos from Alma Rodriguez are rare and special, be sure to come by.

From Mixiote’s site: “Mixiotes can be made from various types of protein (beef, chicken, veggies, etc.). There are two main components that make mixiotes special. The first is the secret guajillo sauce that becomes thick and flavorful upon cooking. The second is the cooking method: we start by wrapping the marinated protein in avocado and banana leaves which give mixiotes a very pleasant, earthy flavor. There are no added fats or oils to the protein, mixiotes cook slowly in their own juices inside the leaf wrap until fork tender. Eating a mixiote is truly an unique experience of flavors and textures.” They are SO GOOD.

​Check the food menu on the Plum Bar site to see the lineup. You can try them alongside some cocktails from now through February. Served Mon-Sat 5pm-11pm. [Via EBX.]

In the closures department, Mary Canales unexpectedly closed both locations of ~ICI ICE CREAM~ after 12 years.

And ~CAMINO~ has set a closing date: December 17th is the last night of regular service, and there are two going-away parties (December 20th: Camino Finale Dinner Party and December 22nd: Camino Finale Cocktail Party). Tickets and details here.