Farewell to Iconic SF Restaurateurs Cecilia Chiang, Sylvie Le Mer, Sam DuVall

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A pic with Madame Cecilia Chiang at Meals on Wheels Star Chefs & Vintners Gala in 2012. Horrors, her glass was empty!

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Cecilia Chiang in “Soul of a Banquet.” Be sure to watch this beautiful documentary about her. Photo via Facebook.

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Yelp photo by Heather W.

The day after I sent my previous tablehopper newsletter, one of our city’s most treasured culinary icons departed this mortal plane, our matriarch of Chinese cuisine, Madame Cecilia Chiang. What a force. She made being 100 years old look youthful—and the way she lived, it was like she packed numerous lives into those rich, deeply textured, experience-filled years of hers. She was a mentor to many, and had an impact on so many chefs, businesses, restaurant industry folks, and fortunate friends. You can read my earlier homage to her here.

The evening she passed, I called a couple of her dear friends to check in: Patricia Unterman, who dined with Cecilia often, and has provided me with so many wonderful recommendations for banquet dinner locations with my friends over the years; and George Chen (China Live), who told me she affectionately called him her “problem child,” who has known her for over 50 years, and even worked for her at her groundbreaking Mandarin restaurant. It was so good to connect with both of them, and hear their stories and love and respect for her. You can read some remembrances in this Eater piece, and I loved some of the pics Hoodline dug up in their post. Cecilia was one of a kind, from an era that can’t be revisited, and her impact on our culinary scene will live on—what a life, what a legacy, what a lady.

Last week, I was so sorry to hear of the passing of restaurateur Sylvie Le Mer, the visionary behind our city’s beloved Ti Couz, which closed in 2011. That restaurant was so unique and was one of my favorite hangouts in the 90s and early aughts. The candlelight, the busy bar, the fantastic crepes, the music, the fun crowd, and it was where I first learned about French cider. I had fun looking at this old menu, reminiscing over old favorite dishes. I loved going there on dates, and always brought friends from out of town there so they could experience a slice of SF I adored, bookended with drinks at Dalva (I vaguely remember servers from Ti Couz would come get you when your table or counter seat was ready). Reading this homage in Mission Local, you read what a true heart of the neighborhood Sylvie was, helping her fellow business owners and more. RIP, Sylvie. Just 60 years old. May she be at peace.

And on Sunday November 1st, restaurateur Sam DuVall passed away at 80. He was known for many atmospheric restaurants, including Elite Cafe, Cafe Royale, The Front Room, and Izzy’s Steaks and Chops. The team at Izzy’s shared this farewell post to him on Instagram (which mentions this website, where people are sharing tributes), and you’ll enjoy reading his career history in this Chronicle piece.

I just realized each one of these precious folks have passed at twenty-year gaps: 60, 80, and 100. Thank you to each of them for contributing to our city’s culture, and condolences to their family and friends and fans.