June 12, 2007

Okay, before we dive in here, did you happen to see the article about the evils of the CCA in the most recent issue of the SF Weekly? No? You gotta read it—it’s pretty ugly to read about the crippling debt aspiring chefs are racking up by going to school there. Here’s a link.

Things are getting close for ~LAÏOLA~, the pet project from Joe Hargrave who partnered up with Andrew McCormack of Frisson, where Hargrave was formerly the GM (but is still involved in the restaurant). This new Spanish-inspired eatery will have some definite Cali flair, taking its inspiration from afar, but sourcing quality local ingredients as much as possible. Executive chef Mark Denham is putting together a menu that sounds downright delish and has a definite nose-to-tail sensibility: there will be all kinds of charcuterie and house-made sausage, like dry-cured chorizos, wild boar, fuet (a Catalan-style dry-cured pork sausage), lomito (a pork sausage that’s kind of like coppa), plus suckling pig, and whole roasted lamb from Don Watson of Napa Valley Lamb Company. Seafood will also be highlighted, like sand dabs, petrale a la plancha, and other local stars, like sardines. The plates will range from smaller to bigger, basically whatever is the right size to serve something at, and will take their cue from Spain’s sizing styles, from tapas to “raciones” (larger platefuls); expect 20 or so dishes in all. Denham has some serious chops—many will remember his savory cooking from 42 Degrees; he has cooked at a vast array of local spots, including Chez Panisse, Postrio, Manresa, and Elisabeth Daniel.

The 45-seat space will have a long 18-seat all-copper Spanish-style counter (it’s where you will find me parked with my hazards on) and will encourage a fun and casual vibe—starting with no uniforms for the wait staff. It’s a smaller space (it was formerly Pizza My Heart) and the design was a collaboration with Tim Murphy, who was the architect behind Frisson. The rustic look is more Old World than New World, with a stained concrete floor the color of a deep mahogany, with rich rosewood and copper hues.

The wine list has 100 bottles that are all from Spain, many from the south, except a white and red from Lodi. Most will cost between $20-$45, with a by-the-glass program that will actually be based on 250ml carafinas, which comes out to a glass and half (most will hover around $10, with one at $13). There will also be a house blend, part of the new Bodegas Laïola line—the first will be Borracho y Loco, a custom blend made with fruit from Sonoma. The boys are gunning for a grand opening to the public by early July. Dinner will start at 5pm nightly, staying open until 10:30pm, and until 11:30pm Fri–Sat. 2031 Chestnut St. at Fillmore, 415-346-5641.

In the Lower Haight, ~BAGHDAD 1,001 NIGHTS~, an Iraqi restaurant, is opening August 1, just next door to Zuzu Petals. The owner of the building, Husain Nasir, has dreamed for the past 12 years of having his own place that would serve Iraqi-style Arabic cuisine, so he’s beyond excited. The chef is coming from Iraq, and will be preparing authentic dishes like biryani and one called snobar with lamb, pine nuts, and walnuts, plus okra with lamb and tomato sauce. Many dishes will come from the tandoori, including some naan breads. The two-level will have 49 seats. It’s meant to be spacious, comfy, and casual, with an exotic and colorful look. Dinner to start, with lunch later on. Beer and wine will be available. And expect some belly dancing shows. 682 Haight St. at Pierce.

More changes in the 94117: ~LE MÉTRO CAFÉ~ on Divisadero served their last Frenchie dinner on Sunday night, June 10. They are closing for a (hoped-for) two weeks, and when they reopen, according to my source, it will be called Kathmandu, serving small plates of Nepalese food for $10 and under, with plans to stay open late, until 1am. (Owner Roshan and his wife Sharadha are from Nepal.) I see some future confusion with the tiny family-run Kathmandu Café, just a few blocks away, on Fulton and Divis. 311 Divisadero St. at Page, 415-552-0903.

Another dueling business arrangement on Divisadero will be happening when a ~yet-unnamed Texas-style BBQ joint~ opens on Divisadero at McAllister, just two blocks away from Lilly’s-Bar-B-Que (formerly known as Brother-In-Laws, AKA the pit that I can smell from my apartment when the wind is right). I have to say, my mouth began to water when I started hearing the line-up: slooooooow-smoked brisket, pork ribs, chicken, and links made by someone specially chosen for the task, so the casing will be less tough/more refined. There will be 20 seats, with a long banquette and tables—the space is being designed by Architects II (who also recently did Mexico DF—more on that in a sec). The project is from Regional Burrell and Al Bourges, friends who met playing racquetball some 20 years ago. Beer and wine will be served, and the plan is to be able to phone/fax in orders for take-out. Opening is slated for September. 853 Divisadero St. at McAllister.

I had a chance to catch up with ~EDDIE BLYDEN~, the former executive chef of The Alembic in the Haight, who just returned from some world travels, including an extensive trip to Sierra Leone (where his 90-year-old father lives and is from). Blyden has some exciting plans brewing for a new space in the Mission, at 18th St. and Treat. These details are VERY preliminary, but he is opening a restaurant/café with some serious global vibe, cooking personal food from the numerous places he’s traveled (expect some inspiration from Sierra Leone to figure prominently). The space will feel tropical and funky, with some fun details, like a terrace for Saturday night barbecues (here’s hoping!). He’s considering communal tables, and there’s a potential spot for a movie screen—and of course there will be plenty of music. It’s all taking shape for now, so expect a detailed update from me come August or so.

A temporary closure: the ~BIG 4 RESTAURANT~ in the Huntington Hotel is closing from July 2–August 1; they have to replace the aging and erratic freight elevator that transports practically everything up five floors from the street below, from linens to food and liquor. They also might try to get the bathrooms renovated to be more ADA-compliant as well during the closure. The Big 4 bar, however, will remain open, so you can still enjoy your cocktails with some piano on the side. 1075 California St. at Taylor, 415-771-1140.

Over in Noe Valley, ~BISTRO 1689~ has closed. The word is that it will turn into a casual Indian joint, but I haven’t been able to confirm this part of the news yet—will keep you posted. 1689 Church St. at 29th St.

Folks in Bernal are going to be pretty stoked with a new market and butcher shop opening in July called ~AVEDANO's HOLLY PARK MARKET~. The project comes from Tia Harrison, the executive chef and partner in Sociale, along with Angela Wilson, of Divine Chai Tea company, and Melanie Eisman, who is part of the staff at Sociale. The space was historically the home of a butcher shop, since 1901. The most recent incarnation was as Cicero’s Meat Market; Harrison named it Avedano’s in honor of her Italian grandparents who emigrated from Asti. The market will have meat and fish, with a focus on organic, local, wild, and sustainable products. Harrison is also excited about showcasing the best of seasonal produce, offering access to some producers that normally only sell to chefs There will be a variety of take-out items for sale, like house-made sauces, fresh pastas, soups, and panini. They are also launching a line of quick and healthy baby food, like fresh purees and gourmet Spaghetti O’s, along with a totally decadent line of cookies (I got an “advance taste” of a couple—in a word, yum). In three months or so, expect to see some house-cured meats, too. Opening hours will be 11am–8pm, Tue–Sun. 235 Cortland Ave. at Bocana.

Opening this week:

~Mexico DF~, the new Mexico City-style restaurant in SoMa should be open by this Thursday! For a refresher on the project, check out my write-up from April here. Hello carnitas by the pound. 139 Steuart St. at Howard, 415-808-1048.

~DUCCA~ starts lunch tomorrow (for hotel guests only), June 13, and dinner on June 21. 50 Third St. at Market, adjacent to The Westin San Francisco Market Street, 415-977-0271.

Lastly, listen up winos, for the fifth year in a row, every bottle on every wine list at each of Lark Creek Restaurant Group's Bay Area restaurants (excluding Yankee Pier SFO) will be offered at half price for brunch, lunch, and dinner throughout the entire month of July—that’s more than 800 different labels in their all-American wine collection. Restaurants in the group include The Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur; One Market Restaurant and LarkCreekSteak in San Francisco; Lark Creek Walnut Creek; Yankee Pier in Larkspur and at Santana Row in San Jose; and Parcel 104 at the Santa Clara Marriott (Friday and Saturday only). Drink up!