April 29, 2008

I was hearing rumblings last week, and it seems that ~NUA~ in North Beach has closed. Things weren’t looking good with the diminished dinner hours (Wed–Sat only). Some rumors have owner David White involved in a potential project elsewhere in town—will report back if I hear anything definitive. 550 Green St. at Jasper, 415-433-4000.

Another project that just went kaput: the ~FRISSON/SPREZZATURA GROUP/SEAN O’BRIEN COLLABORATION~. Raising money proved to be difficult (what, in this challenging business climate?), and it ends up that the Sprezzatura Group (Andrew McCormack and Joe Hargrave) are also splitting up. There’s no drama or hard feelings: Hargrave will continue focusing on the operations of Laïola, and McCormack is returning to hedge funds (but he still owns his equity). The frisson space is now on the market, and in case some of you out there were originally hoping to court O’Brien to your project when he left Myth, here’s your chance. Well, maybe. (He alluded to something else potentially in the works, but it’s way too soon to tell.) Just reply to me if you’d like to get in touch with him. You know, there are a lot of vacant spaces in Jackson Square: MacArthur Park, Scott Howard, Myth, and now frisson… Hmmmm. It’s getting rough out there.

Some good news about ~LAÏOLA~ (which I totally heart): the restaurant is kicking off lunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30am–2:30pm this weekend. There will also be outdoor seating, with room for 12, plus heaters, which will be all set up by this weekend, or next. 2031 Chestnut St. at Fillmore, 415-346-5641.

Whoa, ~BORIS PORTNOY~, only one of my favorite pastry chefs ever, is no longer at Campton Place. He is traveling right now in Indonesia, but will be heading back home to SF soon. Nothing quite final about what his next gig will be when he returns… Will keep you posted, naturally. I have a vested interest in knowing where he is—it’s all about the pursuit of deliciousness.

Heard word that the executive chef of ~CORTEZ~, Seth Bowden, is leaving on June 2nd (he might stay a little longer if necessary). Bowden and Cortez’s new owner, Ron Silberstein, are on good terms—the departure is more about the fact that Bowden is moving to South Africa this summer with his wife, and is fired up to be doing some stages in Europe during his “sabbatical.” So the chef hunt is on—Silberstein is considering a concept that might be a little less high-end. Any interested candidates out there? 550 Geary St. at Jones, 415-292-6360.

And just a few blocks away, co-executive chef Charlie Kleinman of ~FISH & FARM~ is leaving at the end of May—he’s going to focus on getting his own project off the ground. Co-executive chef Jake Des Voignes will continue to hold it down. 339 Taylor St. at O'Farrell, 415-474-3474.

~FRJTZ~ in Hayes Valley is officially open. It’s much larger than its former Hayes Valley address next door, when it used to be in the awesome Mad Magda’s Russian Tea Room space with the back patio (anyone know what is going in there? I loved that spot), and now has moved into the former Montauk furniture store, for those of you who keep track of these things. Stylistically, things have changed too: the look is more minimalist and modern than bohemian. No mussels at this location, however—just at Valencia Street. Here you’ll find fries, crepes, salads, and sandos. 581 Hayes St. at Laguna, 415-864-7654.

Some news in the Western Addition/NoPa area: ~ON THE CORNER~ had its soft opening last week, and is hosting its grand opening this Saturday, May 3rd. Look for coffee, tea, soups, sandwiches, bagels, and some pastries, with breakfast sandwiches, pizza, and panini starting up next week, on May 5th. There will be daytime and nighttime bands and jazz, and the beer and wine should kick in five weeks from now, so let’s say June. Open 8am–10pm, and will start opening at 6am on May 5th (rise and shine, yo). Hours will eventually extend to midnight—they are playing it by ear (ha ha, yes, a pun!) until the beer and wine license is in effect. Oh, and there’s free Wi-Fi for you laptop warriors. 359 Divisadero St. at Oak, 415-522-1101.

Since some of you are asking me, “Wassup with ~BAR CRUDO ON DIVISADERO~?,” I wanted to give you an update: permits are still in the works, and will hopefully wrap in June. August is the new hoped-for opening date. No name for the biz just yet either. Stand by! 655 Divisadero St. at Grove.

Been waiting, and wondering, what was going to be moving into the ~PIER 5~ restaurant/café spaces, located a bit north of the Ferry Building. Well, thanks to a tablehopper reader who sent in this tip just before I published this week’s column, now we know! “Russell Jackson (aka Dissident Chef) wrote in his last blast email that he signed a lease last Friday for a space on Pier 5 on the Embarcadero of San Francisco's waterfront.” I hope to have more details by next week!

On these warmer days, sometimes what you need is a secret little space to grab a table and hang out. Well, last week I was at ~SPORK~ checking out their lunch (they are now serving lunch Tue–Fri 11:30am–2pm) and lo and behold, their deck/patio in the back was almost complete! It should be up and running by now. You’d never know it’s back there—well, unless you read tablehopper, of course. They built it over the old KFC parking lot, and umbrellas and heat lamps are included. There are also some old water troughs that have been converted into mini-garden plots. It’s cute. Oh, and if you go for lunch, don’t miss the deeeelish carnitas on some over-easy eggs and a tortilla, plus avocado and queso fresco. I was calling it a perfect candidate for a hipster breakfast: you can wake up late, it’s cool, bro! The pasta with beef Bolognese sauce smelled really good too. Check out the rest of the lunch menu here. 1058 Valencia St. at 21st St., 415-643-5000.

And just a block away… A while ago I mentioned a business called ~ZAYTOON~ was moving into the old Bistro Annex space in the Mission. As I was reading this week’s spring “Feast” insert in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, I spotted an ad for Zaytoon, serving Mediterranean wraps! Ok, so now we know. The ad says, “Mention this ad for a buy one, get one free” deal during the opening month of May. Ah ha! More details. So, it opens in May! No one is picking up at the number just yet… Can someone let me know when it’s open? And a tablehopper reader kindly informed me the last time I mentioned this mystery biz that zaytoon means “olive” in Farsi. Now you know. 1136 Valencia St. at 22nd St., 415-824-1787.

Here’s a little teaser from you: next week I’ll be releasing some exciting news about a new project related to ~DESTINO~—I’ve been sitting on this for months (can’t wait to let the cat outta the bag) but based on some online sleuthing, here’s a little hint about what is going into the space next door at 1817 Market Street. Salud!

Since we’re on “secret spaces,” have you had a chance to check out ~FOUR BARREL COFFEE~ yet? (Or as I am now going to call it, alley coffee.) After my lunch at Los Rosales this week (see fresh meat for more on that), I finally had some time to cruise by and check it out. You literally have to go down a slightly sketchy alley—just look for some folks hanging out at the end. No, you won’t get shanked. (Although it does prove what ends San Franciscans will go to for good coffee.) There’s a cool Deco-lookin’ fabricated bar/kiosk thingy where you’ll order up, and then you can stand around and kick it with some neighborhood architect types while savoring your stellar espresso. Don’t say I didn’t warn you—it’ll put you in the zooooooone. I almost ordered a second shot on the spot. For now, they are using coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland until the Four Barrel Coffee roastery part of the biz is up and running, which could be in a month or so (ditto on the café). So enjoy the novelty of alley coffee while you can! Just enter the alley (Caledonia) off 15th Street—it's parallel to and a little bit east of Valencia (i.e. going toward Mission, for the directionally challenged).

Looks like there’s another place to power lunch in SoMa: ~JACK FALSTAFF~ has just added a “Power Lunch” menu to the regular lunch menu. The new offerings include a lunch-size starter paired and served with an entrée (which means a nicely-sized lunch that’s not too filling and won't take too long). Some combos include potato and leek soup paired with a chicken Caesar salad; apple, walnut, and baby green salad paired with a “PBLT” sandwich of slow-roasted pork belly and beefsteak tomato on grilled sourdough; and seasonal soup paired with Liberty Farms duck breast Cobb salad (with poached egg!). “The Power Lunch” pairings range from $16–$19. For those avoiding the three-martini lunch scene, there are “Zero-Proof Concoctions” as well, like a grapefruit spritzer, or grape lime Rickey, with Navarro gewürztraminer juice with a splash of lime and soda, each $6. Lunch Mon–Fri 11:30am–2pm. 598 Second St. at Brannan, 415-836-9239.

I don’t need any convincing about the sublime factor of the pesto at ~FARINA~. The mandilli al pesto dish is truly one of the city’s best pasta dishes, meow. Seems the rest of the world thinks so too, because their sous chef, James D. “Danny” Bowien won the 2008 Golden Pestle for Best Pesto Sauce in the World at Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale. A Korean-American beat the Italians! Love it, and it ties in well with the recent New York Times article about non-Italian chefs cooking Italian food. ‘Nuff said! I am sure Farina’s executive chef, Genoese Paolo Laboa, is thrilled since he’s the one who taught him the way of the pesto (it’s like samurai knowledge). 100 finalists (both professional and amateur cooks) from all over the world competed to make pesto with a mortar, pestle, and solely authentic Genoese pesto ingredients (Genoese basil, Parmigiano Reggiano, Fiore Sardo cheese, Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, Vessalico garlic, sea salt, and Italian pine nuts). Read more on the event here. Tanti auguri, Danny!

Wanted to mention I’ll be a panelist at the upcoming ~RESTAURANT BOOTCAMP~, an all-day conference on Tuesday, May 13th, at Fort Mason. I’ll be on the afternoon’s “Create the Buzz” new media panel, with Nish Nadaraja from Yelp, Liz Johannesen of OpenTable, and the featured restaurateur is Eric Rubin from Tres Agaves. On Wednesday, April 30th, 1pm, a special pre-conference tele-seminar will feature Danny Meyer, author of Setting the Table. Participants may join a live telephone call with Meyer. To register for the call, and get more info, visit www.restaurantbootcamp.com or call 888-471-4447.

Next Thursday, May 8th, is ~EAST WEST EATS: AN EVENING WITH THE BAY AREA'S BEST CHEFS~, a culinary fundraiser for student journalism scholarships at the Ferry Building Marketplace. Chefs from the following restaurants will be featured: Straits Restaurant, Betelnut, Three Seasons, Junnoon, Butterfly, Poleng Lounge, Red Lantern, Maharani, Namu, Ponzu, and Hilton San Francisco. The event also will feature wine and entertainment. 7pm, $100 for AAJA (Asian American Journalists Association) members, and $115 for non-members. Tickets can be purchased online at www.aajasf.org/ewe.

Interested in entering the first-ever contest to determine the most environmentally friendly restaurant in the Bay Area? Anyone can nominate a restaurant that they believe is "green" in some way, including the restaurants themselves. Nominations can be done online at www.thimmakka.org. The nomination period for the ~WHO'S THE GREENEST OF THEM ALL~ contest is from April 22–May 31, with winners to be announced on June 24th. Winners will be selected in a variety of categories. In case you were wondering, Thimmakka is a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to environmental outreach—in the last six years, it has helped over 120 restaurant owners 'green' their establishment by implementing at least 60 measures in the areas of water and energy conservation, pollution prevention, and waste reduction.

Time for some East Bay love—and when I say love, that means free food! There’s a new restaurant set to launch called ~QIN’S ASIAN BISTRO & BAR~ (pronounced chin) in Antioch, and the team at Full Plate Restaurant Consulting (with clients like Bin 38, Dosa, Maritime East, Namu) is looking for Contra Costa dining guinea pigs. On Friday, May 9th, and Saturday, May 10th, they will be hosting a pre opening “dry run” to see if their latest client is ready for prime time. Fast-acting tablehopper readers are invited to bring guests for an “on the house” menu tasting (limited to first 100 total diners). The catch? You must each fill out a detailed survey that will take ten minutes. Be honest, but kind—this will be the first time that the kitchen is working together, and they want constructive criticism that will help them fix glitches before they open to the general public.

When you arrive, there will be regular menu with several selections in each category. Food is free for you and your guests. You need only pay for drinks and gratuity; credit cards will be accepted. You’ll need to make a reservation via jsimon [at] fullplateconsulting [dot] com. Reservations deadline is by Monday, May 5th. Put “tablehopper tasting” in the subject line and give your name, preferred day (Fri or Sat), seating time (any time between 6pm–8:30pm), number in party (maximum four), and contact phone number. You’ll get an email confirmation within 48 hours (if not, call Joan Simon at 707-795-4885). Have fun, and enjoy! Some dishes I saw on the press release include creamy Thai chicken chowder; whisky lobster bisque; sriracha chili-soaked chicken wings; twice-cooked crab for two served over garlic noodles; and traditional Peking duck. Hungry? Do something about that, why doncha?