February 19, 2019

February 19, 2019
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Sanuki udon from Udon Time (and tempura vegetables). All photos: Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Executive chef Steve Brown slicing up some meat magic.

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Niku’s caviar service.

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Kimchi tartare hiding under a cloud of beef tendon puffs and cured egg yolk.

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The extraordinary fat webbing of A5 beef.

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The simple and perfect presentation of off-menu A5 Takamori “drunken wagyu” New York strip.

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The tomahawk getting some thyme love on the binchotan charcoal grill.

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Sides at Niku include the can’t-miss nitro potatoes with crème fraîche.

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Chocolate-miso wagyu fat brownie.

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The Tradition cocktail (with citrus caviar).

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The view of the refrigerated windows of The Butcher Shop by Niku Steakhouse.

Kash Feng and Jackson Yu’s Omakase Restaurant Group (Omakase, Okane, Dumpling Time, Live Sushi Bar, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) has been bizzzzeeeee, and their unofficial takeover of Showplace Square is in full effect with the opening of their latest ventures: ~UDON TIME~, ~NIKU STEAKHOUSE~, and ~THE BUTCHER SHOP BY NIKU STEAKHOUSE~

First, let’s look at ~UDON TIME~. I stopped by for lunch yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed my bowl of Sanuki udon ($8), with their signature broth, green onion, wakame, and tempura flakes—I loved the ginger on top as well, and you can add an egg (do it). I wished the broth was a bit hotter, but I enjoyed its light and clean flavor (the bowl got a nice boost when I shook on some shichimi). The slippery and springy noodles were supple but not mushy—you’ll see the noodle-making machine as you walk in. The noodles are aged overnight for more flavor and a softer texture.

There are other udon options, from hot to cold, curry to vegetarian. I’m coming back for the Kamamata udon ($12), with Jidori egg, soy sauce, parmesan, and butter, oh yeah. The Niku udon ($14) features wagyu from their butcher shop next door, so that seems like a no-brainer as well.

Chef Edgar Agbayani trained at Sanuki Menki Noodle School in Kagawa, Japan, and learned all about udon noodles, the different dashis, condiments, and ingredients, and tasted udon all over the Sanuki prefecture (there are hundreds of shops).

There are a variety of tempura vegetables and proteins you can add on the side, like kabocha and shrimp and zucchini, or heartier bites like a curry potato patty—most pieces are $1.50 each or more. The fry on the shrimp was delicate and light, but I just wish I was getting it hot out of the fryer—the heat lamp situation needs some work. You’ll also see some onigiri.

The fast-casual format is a lot like Marugame Udon (if you have been): you get a tray, tell the staff which udon you want, pick out your tempura from the bar, pay up, and you can hit another counter for tempura dipping sauce and more of the toppings (tempura flakes, green onion, daikon, cilantro, ginger, and togarashi). You can also order beer, wine in a can, and sake. The price is right, and a bowl really hits the spot on these chilly days—I can see this place getting even better once they sort out the tempura counter. Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm and 5pm-9pm. 55 Division St. at Rhode Island.

Steak lovers all over the city are talking about the newly open ~NIKU STEAKHOUSE~, and for good reason. It’s a modern steakhouse, with Japanese influences, some American DNA, and some French elegance as well. Executive chef Steve Brown was known for his CosechaSD Supper Club in San Diego, and anyone who has A5 tattooed on their forearm is obviously obsessed and someone you want preparing your steak.

If you can swing it, you’ll want a seat at the raised 18-seat chef’s counter, which encircles the binchotan charcoal grill, and is a great way to learn a lot about the prized beef they’re offering and preparing here. You also get a blast of beef fat and heat in your face throughout your meal, and it’s heady stuff. It’s also really fun—the counter is convivial, and the fun vibe keeps things from getting stuffy, which could easily happen with four ounces of A5 Satsuma New York strip going for $110. It’s not to say the other tables don’t have any fun—the music is bumpin’, the staff is attentive and engaging, and there’s a lot to watch. The sleek dining room—designed by Aya Jessani—features dark wood, a glass wall of wines, dark leather chairs, and ceramic earthenware from Sven in San Francisco and Humble in Los Angeles.

Appetizers include a Japanese A5 wagyu jerky flight (Ono, Takamori, Satsuma, $20), which would also make a great bar snack over whisky cocktails at the main bar. The kimchi beef tartare (made from Imperial wagyu, $26) was a definite standout, covered in puffed beef tendon and a shaving of cured egg yolk. And if you’re here to splash out, go for the Noble Russian osetra caviar ($65), served in a cloud of potato espuma and a ring of chive oil—chef Steve likes to call it French fries and ice cream, and it will make sense upon your first bite from the chilled caviar spoon.

So, the beef! They have painstakingly sourced top-notch beef from numerous sources, and you can enjoy both domestic and Japanese wagyu, from a $45 hanger steak to A5 Kobe New York strip for $160 (four ounces). And four ounces of the A5 is really all you need—it’s so rich, with powerful fat and a perfectly seared and crisp edge, that gets cut with a brushing of a light soy glaze that Steve developed, along with some wasabi you can dab on. They charmingly let you choose your steak knife, but you barely need more than your fork for the A5.

There are some secret off-menu cuts and selections, so inquire what chef may have “under the counter”—we got lucky with his prized Takamori “drunken wagyu,” which is fed the leftover mash from nearby Dassai sake brewery, and there’s off-menu tongue as well. Imperial wagyu tomahawks ($180) seemed to be the hot item the night we were there (getting a rigorous brushing from a bundle of thyme on the grill), and there’s a 40-day, dry-aged prime angus porterhouse ($110). There’s also seafood, pork, and plenty of appetizers.

DO NOT miss a side of the nitro potatoes ($13), the product of an involved process that has the Kennebec potatoes boiled, mashed, chilled (ice bath and in the refrigerator for 24 hours), frozen, nitro blasted, and fried, and then they get a little spritz of black vinegar. The crisp exterior against the creamy interior is potato perfection. And a side of the braised greens ($13) in veal glaze will remind you of smoky BBQ greens, but richer.

Dessert can be a lighter chazuke ice cream with matcha anglaise ($14), or a decadent chocolate miso brownie ($16) made with wagyu fat (and wagyu caramel on top). There are also some special wine selections, like Chateau d’Yquem (2005) poured from a Coravin, which is a busy device here. You’re in excellent hands with lead sommelier Brian Kulich, who is offering over 100 wines by the glass, from small-production to hard-to-find wines, and he’ll pair expertly with your meal.

The front bar is so eye-catching, with a wall of liquor and beautiful glassware (each cocktail has its own unique glass). Spend some time before dinner to enjoy the show from bar manager Julien Bertrand, who was the bar manager at Frida in Bordeaux, and has been in San Francisco since 2013, working at Tunnel Top and Bar Fluxus in San Francisco and Michel Bistro in Oakland. The cocktails are sophisticated, with complex layering of flavors and fresh ingredients.

Launching March 1st is a ten-course, seasonal tasting menu, featuring vegetables from Kicking Bull Farms (of course, right?) in Sonoma, which is when they’ll really be able to kick their Ferrari red, Hestan-outfitted kitchen into high gear. There’s also a private dining room for 14, and there will be the option to dine in the Butcher Shop by Niku Steakhouse next door. Niku Steakhouse is open Wed-Sun 5:30pm-10pm. 61 Division St. at Rhode Island.

Speaking of ~THE BUTCHER SHOP BY NIKU STEAKHOUSE~, it’s the domain of Niku’s in-house butcher, Guy Crims, who also oversees the restaurant’s nose-to-tail meat program, along with chef Steve. The duo will collaborate on The Butcher Shop’s daily sandwich program (launching soon), and Steve will be making his housemade sausages available at retail.

They have toured Japan extensively, both together and separately, fostering relationships with some of the country’s top farms, including Urban Farm in Yokohama, which was one of the first Japanese farms to bring wagyu to the U.S., and Ono Farms in the Hyogo prefecture, which is providing its wagyu as an exclusive to Niku and The Butcher Shop. The butcher shop is one of five certified Kobe beef retailers in the U.S., and the first in SF.

You’ll also find domestic meats, including USDA Prime beef from Nebraska (fresh and dry-aged); Heritage Berkshire Kurobuta pork from Iowa; USDA Choice Superior Farms lamb from California, and wagyu from Imperial Wagyu in Nebraska. It’s meant to be approachable, whether you’re picking up a traditional cut, like a porterhouse, to something more exclusive, or just some Kobe filet fat. Walking by on the street, you’ll see all the aging meats in see-through refrigerators, and there are some well-selected retail items inside for beef lovers. Look for upcoming “Butcher’s Counter” events with internationally acclaimed chefs and butchers later this year. Open Tue-Sun 10am-6pm to start. 57 Division St. at Rhode Island.

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The lineup of bagels from Daily Driver. Photo: Frankie Frankeny.

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Hadley Kreitz paddling butter. Photo: Frankie Frankeny.

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Baking bagels in the wood-fired oven. Photo: Frankie Frankeny.

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Pastrami on a caraway and sesame bagel with pickles. Photo: Frankie Frankeny.

We’re always on the hunt for good bagels in this city, but then what if I told you we’re about to hit a total jackpot with a bagelry, creamery, and coffee roaster, all in one spot? It’s true. Coming to Dogpatch in March (hopefully) will be ~DAILY DRIVER~, serving wood-fired bagels, housemade cheeses, butter, and Red Bay Coffee.

The project is from two couples: Tamara Hicks and David Jablons of Toluma Farms and Tomales Farmstead Creamery in West Marin (which they started 15 years ago), and Hadley and David Kreitz—Hadley has been working on the farm for five years, working as cheesemaker, herdswoman, and events coordinator, and has perfected the European-style cultured butter and cream cheese, using milk from Jersey cows from Marshall Home Ranch & Dairy. David Kreitz is an industrial designer who built the farm’s wood-fired oven and is managing the construction of Daily Driver, and developed the bagel recipe we’re going to be thanking him for soon enough.

The bagels will be hand-rolled, boiled, and wood-fired every morning, and they have a crunchy, crackly exterior (so satisfying to bite into) and soft interior, with a developed flavor. The bagels will come in classic flavors like poppy, sesame, everything, salt, garlic, onion, and plain.

The tangy cream cheese is also made in-house at Daily Driver, as well as the butter, ghee, and other fresh cheeses. You can add fish, herbs, and seasonal vegetables to your cream cheese to create a special spread of your liking (fun!), plus there will be seasonal compound butters, including a butter dusted with local seaweed. The butter is hand-paddled, and wait until you taste how creamy, sweet, dense, and rich it is—I was lucky to get a preview chunk of it, and it’s something special, what a mouthfeel. You can try quark, a German-style cheese similar to yogurt—you’ll be able to order it plain, or served with fresh fruit, honey, or granola on top. You’ll also be able to buy fresh buttermilk, a byproduct from making butter. Bring on the best pancakes at home.

There’s going to be a menu of bagel sandwiches from a B.E.C. to pastrami (enough to make me drive over in the morning and back again for lunch!), salads, soups, pretzels, bagel dogs (awesome), and a Maine lobster bagel roll. Martin Siggins, most recently the sous chef at Nico for four-plus years, will be running the kitchen. You can peep his menu here, which includes some of the brunchy weekend specials like Turkish eggs and biscuits made from their house buttermilk. Down the road, look for some dinnertime pop-ups in the summer.

Oakland’s Red Bay Coffee—from Keba and Rachel Konte—will be roasting a special coffee blend on-site that is only available at Daily Driver. Beer and wine will also be available for those dining in, featuring neighborhood breweries Triple Voodoo and Harmonic, and local wineries such as McEvoy and Miner Family Wines. 

This dream concept will be opening in a 5,000-square-foot industrial space in the American Industrial Center building—you’ll be able to sit on a mezzanine (130 seats!) and watch the bagels and cheese being made, butter being hand-paddled, and Red Bay Coffee being roasted. There will also be a retail area, where you can pick up a number of items, including plenty of cheeses.

Daily Driver will be open in March 6am-3pm daily, with an extended brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday. 2535 3rd St. at 22nd St.

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BSK’s impeccable waffles (at its original location). Yelp photo by Pei K.

Release the fried chicken and waffles! Tanya Holland must not be getting much sleep right now, since she just opened the ~BROWN SUGAR KITCHEN~ location in the Ferry Building, and her new Uptown Oakland location, both at once! BSK is now in the former Il Cane Rosso space, serving her famed buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal waffles, along with smoked chicken and shrimp gumbo, buttermilk or bacon-scallion-cheddar biscuits, sandwiches, sides, and breakfast items too (peek at the menu here—breakfast is available until 11am). Soft opening hours are 8am to 2pm (closed Monday) until February 26th, when it will switch to Mon-Fri 8am-7pm, Sat 8am-6pm, and Sun 11am-5pm. 1 Ferry Bldg., Ste. 41.

As for the Uptown location, Eater reports it’s opening on Wednesday February 20th in the former Picán and Ozumo location, which was divided into smaller restaurant spaces. After numerous construction delays, the new space will open with 85 seats and a large bar—yup, there’s full liquor. It’s just serving breakfast and lunch for now, with dinner coming in the spring. Hours for now are Tue-Sat 7am-2pm and Sun 8am-2pm. 2295 Broadway at 23rd St., Oakland.

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One of the charming corners at Cerf Club’s stylish event space. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The (rotating) menu at Verjus. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Last month, I was invited to check out a preview party of ~CERF CLUB~, the beautiful new event space from Stag Dining in Polk Gulch, and now they’re hosting Après, a weekly wine bar on Fridays. Come by for natural wines, sick bites from chefs Jordan Grosser and Ted Fleury (like crispy Brussels sprouts with country ham XO sauce, Scotch olives, and smoked local seafood chowder), low-ABV cocktails, hang out in their stylish space, and listen to some good music. It’s just what your Friday needed. Fridays 4pm-10pm. 925 O’Farrell St. at Polk.

Have you been wanting to check out ~VERJUS~, the chic, new French-inspired restaurant and wine bar from Lindsay and Michael Tusk? Of course you have. And now it just got easier to score a table at this no-reservations hotspot since they are now open for lunch, and staying open continuously into dinner. Come by Tue-Wed 11:30am-10pm and Thu-Fri 11:30am-12am, or Sat 5pm-late (kitchen closes at 10pm).

Chef-owners Carrie and Rupert Blease at ~LORD STANLEY~ have decided to make their Sunday Supper a permanent thing on last Sundays (four courses for $65), and starting this week, they’ll be offering a $45 special menu every Tuesday through Thursday. It’s a three-course menu, featuring some of their favorite standbys (this week, it’s salt cod beignets with kimchi dip; roasted suckling pig with grilled pineapple, ginger, scallion, and pork jus; and malted sourdough ice cream with apple caramel and sweet apple granola for dessert). 2065 Polk St. at Broadway.

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The distinctive custom leather banquettes at Belcampo. Photo via Belcampo’s Facebook page.

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Ta-da! MORE!jones with Juanita MORE! and her trusty team, chef Cory Armenta and Cole Church. Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux.

Some changes are coming to various locations of organic meat company ~BELCAMPO~: the Russian Hill location is going to close (as well as their location in Palo Alto’s Town and Country Center), but on the flip side, they will be opening a flagship at the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo, and their first commissary kitchen in SoMa, which they will be using as a base to prepare and deliver food all over the city. The San Francisco location closes on March 2nd, and has stopped serving cooked food in the meantime. Stop by to get a goodie bag with ecommerce discounts, complimentary products, and gift cards for use at other Belcampo locations. 1998 Polk St. at Pacific, 415-660-5573.  

After numerous drag brunches and saving us with hangovah pizzas, Juanita MORE! and Cole Church are leaving ~JONES~ in Lower Nob Hill on February 28th, which means you have one last drag brunch you can attend on Sunday February 24th. It’s a tough space and was a lot of work (and werq), but now they’re going to be taking part in other opportunities (which they will now have more bandwidth to do). 620 Jones St. at Geary. [Via SFWeekly.]

A reader tipped me off to the unfortunate news that it looked like ~COLETTA GELATO~ had closed, and sure enough, when I emailed them for more info, their email said, “Sadly, our operations are closed until further notice.”

Best wishes to the ~HONG KONG LOUNGE II~ team, who got burnt out of their space after a terrifying gas main explosion out front. (It’s a miracle no one was hurt.) Fortunately, the city of San Francisco is providing some assistance through San Francisco’s Small Business Disaster Relief Fund. We’ll have to hear what’s next for the beloved business regarding relocation or rebuilding…

After almost 10 years in SF, brothers Austin and Tony Ferrari of ~HILLSIDE SUPPERCLUB~ and Provender Coffee are heading back to their hometown of Cincinnati. Both places will continue to stay open—Hillside’s chef and co-owner Jonathan Sutton will continue to run the restaurant. The brothers are going to be heading back and forth, but are just relocating their home base. They’ll be opening a new coffee shop and a restaurant back at home, and have also created a wine business (they partnered with Graham Tatomer on it), as well as a line of espresso: Ferrari Bros Espresso “Bro Spro,” roasted by their friends at Deeper Roots in Cincinnati. So, if you head to Cincinnati soon, you know who to visit!