January 22, 2008

You know, sometimes I hear things, but usually I have to go out and find things. (Thank you Google, I couldn’t do my job half as well without you.) But wow, let’s hear it for when I discover news totally by accident. Surprise! I was trying to confirm some info about when the ~TOP CHEF~ contestants are going to be announced for Season Four—Chicago, and whoa, what have we here? A blog with pics of some contestants on a challenge while at Whole Foods! Now, I already have a hunch about some of the SF contestants who might be on the show (it’s funny how some mysteriously disappeared for a few weeks), but the proof sure is in the cock’s comb on this one. Next week I’ll be able to officially name names since the press release comes out later this week, but let’s just say I sure am glad we’ve got a super-talented SOMA badass in the competition. Those of you who are good with faces (and hair), have fun. Man, one of my favorite Cali cuisine outposts is going to get even more press, good for them. More next week! Go SF!

Big drama on Telegraph Hill: ~JULIUS’ CASTLE~ is closed—they served their last meal Saturday night. the operators are engaged in a lawsuit with their landlord, who took over from the former owner, Jeffrey Pollack, who had the restaurant for 26 years, until 2006. Now we’ll have to see how the allegations of fraud, misrepresentation, and lease issues shake out in the Superior Court. 1541 Montgomery St. at Union, 415-392-2222.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. This Wednesday marks the opening of ~BLUE BOTTLE CAFÉ~ in Mint Plaza! (It is incidentally the three-year anniversary of the kiosk on Linden!) I took a peek at the menus, and it looks like mornings will have creamy polenta with speck and Gruyere (or maple syrup and butter!), an egg and potato torte, and a wicked variety of poached eggs (hello, with pancetta, or morels, or with béarnaise-glazed artichoke hearts and tomato sauce, yum!). Evenings will bring cured hams, salami, chorizo and other charcuterie, olives, cheeses, and additional wickedness in the form of pancetta soufflés, porcini flan, or gnocchi with a wild nettle and pine nut pesto sauce, along with some salads. And yes, all the ingredients are local, organic, and sustainable, natch.

There will also be six wines by the glass chosen by Coi’s Paul Einbund, three white and three red (including a bubbly, and a Madeira, Paul’s favorite). As owner James Freeman put it, you’ll be able to get a wonderful glass of wine for just $5. All right! There will be 23 seats total, with 12 at the communal hickory table and stools, plus a low table, and room for ten standing at some bar space. You can geek out and check out some pics of the space on their Flickr page here. Blue Bottle will open at 8am this Wednesday, but moving forward, the hours are Mon–Fri 7am–7pm, Sat 8am–8pm, and Sun 8am–4pm. 66 Mint St. at Jessie.

~SOLUNA CAFÉ AND LOUNGE’S~ former owner, Rick Nyman, has sold the business to new owners after running the show for 2 ½ years (he’s going to be moving to Chicago). Meanwhile, the new owners are reportedly involved with Biscuits and Blues and First Crush, and I heard the new name will be Civic. I’ll be able to confirm and report more details as they come in. 272 McAllister St. at Larkin, 415-621-2200.

Executive chef Jeremy’s Bearman’s last day at ~LARKCREEKSTEAK~ was Friday the 18th—the new chef is John Ledbetter, who was Jeremy's sous chef. Ledbetter has been in the industry for about eight years now, previously at Restaurant August and Emeril’s in New Orleans for three years. Prior to that, he was in New York for three years, where he was a tournant at Union Square Cafe and also helped open Spigolo as sous chef in 2004. He joined LarkCreekSteak in August. Rock on, Ledbetter. Westfield Centre, 845 Market St., 4th Floor/Suite 402 at 5th St., 415-593-4100.

I’ve been following the posts about ~BOILING CRAWFISH~ on Chowhound, and must admit my curiosity is piqued. This place just opened last week in the Outer Sunset in the former Ha’s space (not to be confused with Ho’s, or ha ha)—they also have locations in San Jose and Sacramento. Reportedly crawfish is flown in every other day from Louisiana. You can eat the crawfish with corn and sausage, and there are also shrimp, clams, crab, and oysters on the menu. Open daily 3pm–10pm. 2333 Irving St at 24th Ave., 415-665-6033.

And then in the Outer Richmond there is ~PAGAN~, a new hippie organic café. Kidding. It’s actually a 48-seat place with a dual Thai and Burmese menu that moved into the former Sarin space. According to some posts on Yelp, the new look is “cozy” and “glowing.” A Yelper also conveniently explains the name, a region in northern Burma/Myanmar now known as Bagan. Open Wed–Mon (closed Tue), 11am–3:30pm, and then 5pm–10pm. 3199 Clement St. at 33rd Ave., 415-751-2598.

Chowhounds also have the word that after 11 years of business, Firecracker in the Mission has closed. The first San Francisco location of ~UDUPI PALACE~, the South Indian vegetarian place people adore in Berkeley, Fremont, and Sunnyvale, will be opening around the end of February or so. I don’t quite understand why they had to go and open near the lovely Dosa, when they had the entire city to choose from, but that’s the irony of the Mission restaurant scene for you. 1007 1/2 Valencia St.

Got a few more details on ~LUCE~, the restaurant opening in the InterContinental San Francisco in the end of February or so. I read that Bar 888 will have specialty grappa-based drinks created by master mixologist Francesco Lafranconi! And some menu items mentioned in the press release include a trio of mini sandwiches at the bar, plus flatbread with tomato confit, olives, arugula, salami, and pecorino, and a white bean soup with parsley oil and avocado. Lunch will include a lobster BLT sandwich with tomato confit, spicy mayonnaise, and applewood-smoked bacon, and a quinoa risotto with beets, aged goat cheese, and curry oil. Some dinner items on the six-course tasting menu include pappardelle with red snapper, saffron endive nage, and olio verde, and aged beef tenderloin with wild cress, California Camembert, and calvados. There will also be a four-course “farm to table” tasting menu. 888 Howard St. at Fifth.

I had a chance to chat with ~DANIEL PATTERSON~ of Coi before he headed off to Spain to MadridFusion, the big four-day conference most chefs dream of attending. He’s the only chef from the U.S. presenting this year. Patterson is going to do a cooking demo of two dishes and talk about the traditions and practical usage of essential oils. He’s really excited, this being his first trip to España. Can’t wait to see what he discovers—he said he’s going to be hitting both some traditional and modern restaurants while he’s there.

SF is soon to get its first winery in a national park: ~FOGGY BRIDGE~ is opening in the Presidio. According to the press release, there will be a tasting room, a working winery, a casual café, and a 120-seat restaurant. First the tasting rooms will open this summer in a former Army machine shop, and will offer educational seminars, food and wine pairings, and a traditional tasting bar. The second phase will wrap up this fall, and will be part of a former aircraft hangar dating back to 1921, all 20,000 square feet of it, which will be restored and include a concrete tasting bar with a floating translucent glass top lit from below. Roland Passot’s Left Bank Brasserie is behind the casual café opening in the summer, and the flagship San Francisco brasserie will open in conjunction with the winery’s second phase, in late 2008.

Look for a warm industrial feel, with exposed steel beam supports, natural wooden walls, and wood cabinetry inside that is reminiscent of the military barracks of the World War I era. Howard Backen of Backen Gillam Architects is the designer (they also did Kokkari, Cyrus, and wineries like Harlan, Sterling, and Cliff Lede). It gets better: in addition to the winery, Foggy Bridge will also operate food and wine bay cruises aboard the historic USS Potomac, which was FDR’s presidential yacht and was also owned by Elvis Presley. Does this mean they will serve fried peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwiches? ‘Cilla! Foggy Bridge Wine Cruises will sail April through November of 2008.

As for the players: Daryl Groom is a principal and winemaker at Foggy Bridge Winery (he was formerly senior vice president at Beam Wine Estates, executive winemaker at Geyser Peak Winery, and senior winemaker at Penfolds in Australia). They are adopting organic farming practices in the San Francisco Bay vineyard, producing a range of wines from grapes that will be crushed, fermented, and bottled at its Presidio winery. There will also be a cab from Napa Valley and a sauvignon blanc from Sonoma; Foggy Bridge will announce its partner wineries in spring of 2008. Foggy Bridge’s founder and principal is John Kontrabecki, CEO of TKG International. Northwest corner of Crissy Field at Presidio Buildings 935 and 937, Old Mason Street.

Want a sneak peek at ~EPIC~ or ~WATERBAR~ before they officially open to the public next week? Well, if you have some ducats, there are two charity dinners this Friday, 1/25, with the bulk of ticket sales, if not all, going to support each charity. There are only 100 tickets per each restaurant, and the chefs are chomping at the bit to start cooking for people, so you know they will be pulling out all the stops on these menus. Tickets are $500 each for either event. Cocktails are at 6pm; the four-course dinner with wine starts at 7pm. Waterbar’s event will benefit KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program; please call 415-284-9922. EPIC Roasthouse’s event benefits the 49ers Foundation; call 415-369-9955 for tickets.

You can also live large at a tasting of big reds from magnums at ~OTTIMISTA ENOTECA-CAFÉ~ this Thursday from 6pm–7:30pm. The tasting is $35, and includes small bites. Check out the listing of what will be poured on their site. If you can’t make it at 6pm, come by Ottimista anytime that night to taste the wines—they're offering special flights all evening. 1838 Union St. at Octavia, 415-674-8400.

Yo home chefs, here’s a fun little competition for you! ~PARTIES THAT COOK~ has announced the first “Virtual Cook Off 2008: What’s your best appetizer recipe?” contest. Send your most original appetizer recipe with a photo to cookoff [at] partiesthatcook [dot] com by March 1, 2008. Include your name, contact info, and a couple of lines about why your dish should win. Entries will be judged on originality, taste, and presentation. Your recipe should be mind-blowingly delicious and possible to prepare in an hour or less. One entry per person, please. They will eat their way through the entries and announce a winner on March 31. The first-prize winner will receive a private cooking party for 16, courtesy of Parties That Cook (a $1200 value). Runners up will win tickets to their Gourmet Dating events or the Sumptuous Small Plates recipe card deck. The winning recipes will be inducted into the culinary hall of fame on the Parties That Cook blog, and have the chance to become the next hit dish at their Parties That Cook events. Get cookin’!

On a much more serious note, I am sad to share the tragic news about ~DAVID GOGOLAK~, 36, of Hobson's Choice Bar and the co-founder of Asqew Grill, who was killed in an avalanche on January 13 while skiing in Whitefish, Montana. Here’s a link to the article in USA Today and here’s more from a release I received:

David was an entrepreneur as well as a family man, respected by business associates and much loved by his employees and partners. After graduating from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University in 1997, Dave, along with friend Mark Nicandri, opened the first Asqew Grill in San Francisco’s Haight district in May 1999.

“The memories, the laughter, the love, the gratitude, the respect and the adoration for David will fill each heart and each restaurant — now and in the future.” said Michael O’Keefe, president and chief operating officer of Asqew Grill.

In mid-2007, Dave realized a second life-long dream by moving to Whitefish, where he could pursue his outdoor passions, including hiking, boating, swimming and skiing. During the week, Dave remained committed to both personal and professional dreams by commuting between Whitefish and San Francisco.

Asqew Grill was the result of David’s vision to create restaurants in which everyday people could enjoy solid food and drink at reasonable prices with superior service — establishments that became a part of the fabric of their neighborhood. One can see the realization of these efforts in the eight Asqew Grill locations. David’s dream will continue to thrive as the multi-unit operation opens its ninth location this spring in Mill Valley, Calif, the town in which Mark and until recently, Dave, both lived with their families.

David's zest for life was widely recognized and exuded through his outdoor pursuits, his passion for culinary creations and most of all, his love of people. He is widely regarded as a person larger than life, someone who had a kind word for everyone, a boundless sense of humor and a deep devotion to his family and friends.

David is survived by his wife, Nicole, their two children, Graylin and Johnny; David’s parents, Peter and Kathy; and his brother, Tommy, of Darien, Conn.

Donations in David’s honor may be made to two non-profit organizations close to David and Nicole’s hearts:

Flathead Nordic Ski Patrol
P.O. Box 433
Whitefish, Montana 59937


Montana Land Reliance

324 Fuller Avenue
PO Box 355
Helena, Montana 59624-0355


The Cottage in Daren, Inc.
C/O Kelly Associates
Attn: Doug Milne
780 Post Road
Darien, CT 06820