June 17, 2008

Whoa, ~TOP CHEF~ is really over? Wednesdays just won’t be the same… but I certainly won’t miss Lisa’s “dead eye” and surly body posture at the judges’ table—bugged me every time. I was almost convinced Blaise was going to win it, but I’m so fired up that my second guess (and hope), Stephanie, ended up taking it home. There are a couple fun recaps out there of the final episode, including this one from the Cooking With the Single Guy Chef blog–his reference to Eric Ripert as Zeus had me howling. And then we have Frank Bruni in the Diner’s Journal who KILLED me with this observation, “…only “Top Chef” has Tom and Padma, who couldn’t be more perfectly matched. He: beefy and brooding, a rib-eye of a guy. She: languid and silky-voiced: a panna cotta of a gal. Together they almost make a meal.

“I wish Tom and the producers would get a little more creative with his threads, because hers are killer. He’s choking on her Gucci dust. It’s been said that restaurants are the new theater, but she proves that the dinner table is the new catwalk. Forget food-wine pairings. Frock-appetizer pairings are the trickier challenge, and she masters them.” Choking on her Gucci dust. Flawless, Frank.

I shall continue savoring, literally, the half-hour episodes of ~AFTER HOURS WITH DANIEL~ on MOJO (You know this show? It’s brilliant.) and just have to sit tight until Project Runway kicks in.

Enough with TV: let’s talk local eats. First, an update on the Bacchus Management Group’s Cow Hollow brasserie that’s developing slowly but surely in the Prego space. The name has finally been decided on, ~DES AMIS~. (Sorry not one of you who suggested names for the restaurant is going to Paris, but the Bacchus team thanks you all for the great name suggestions!) Also, Skye LaTorre, formerly a sommelier at A16, is joining the Bacchus team as a lead sommelier at des Amis. The opening is slated for fall. 2000 Union St. at Buchanan.

Over in Union Square, where Caffe Kuleto's used to be, will now be ~BAR NORCINI~, a new salumi, cheese, and wine bar (Caffe Kuleto’s and the Villa Florence’s lobby wine bar have been combined into one space). The name Norcini is Umbrian for “pork butcher”—chef Bob Helstrom of neighboring Kuleto’s is well known for his love of salumi-making, using pigs from Devil’s Gulch that are actually fed kitchen scraps from Kuleto’s. In the morning, Bar Norcini will serve Illy coffee and pastries, and then after closing for half an hour, lunch will bring panini, pizzettas topped with salumi, salads, and cheese. The evening means the menu goes back down to just pizzettas, salumi, and cheese. There will be some well-chosen Italian wines, and eight special cocktails, each featuring Italian liqueurs and ingredients. The soft opening is this week. 225 Powell St. at Geary.

The rumors are proving to be true that ~IL BUCO~ of New York will be opening a location in the 54 Mint Street space (formerly El Balazo). I’ve heard sightings of the owners recently visiting the space, although nothing has been confirmed. Their publicist says, “il Buco has no information to offer at this point.” Yes, but my sources do! This is getting exciting, because I know numerous folks who totally adore il Buco. Stand by…

Is it just me, or is the resurgence in all things Italian beginning to feel like the 1980s again? With all the salumi, wine, and artisanal cheese popping up everywhere, maybe it’s just Italia Fever 2.0.

24th Street is shaping up to become the new gourmet ghetto. This weekend I got word that handmade donuts and coffee from baker Sara Spearin and her husband Jonny Raglin of Absinthe are coming to the neighborhood. The 7x7 Bits + Bites blog broke the story yesterday about ~DYNAMO DONUT AND COFFEE~: the donuts are the creation of Sara, a pastry chef and avid baker for the past 20 years. Look for flavors like banana dulce de leche, and bacon-apple with maple glaze and caramel fleur de sel. Mmmm, bacon donuts. There will be five to six donuts available, and to go with them, it will not just be any coffee, but Four Barrel Coffee, yo. There will be a killer La Marzocco machine for espresso, a few single origin varietals available on drip, and French press for to-go. Look for this small walk-up kiosk to hopefully open in mid-July (permits and construction pending), and then as things roll out, the shop will be bigger, with additional American-style bakery items added to the line-up, like some breads, plus lunch items. There will also be a back patio! The space is the former home of La Torta Gorda, which has already moved one block down—Dynamo will be just next door to Casa Sanchez. Hours are tentatively 7am–5pm Mon–Sat, and opening possibly earlier (like 6am, depending on how things go). 2760 24th St. at Hampshire.

A few months ago I alluded to a new ice cream project happening on 24th Street—let’s break the lid off of that one too! Coming soon is an ice cream shop called ~HUMPHRY SLOCOMBE~, named after a character from the lowbrow British show Are You Being Served? (as the owner noted, not quite as lofty as the origin of Chez Panisse’s name, heh). Jake Godby, a local pastry chef whose background includes Candybar, Coi, Tartare, Fifth Floor for two years, and Boulevard for four, is calling this “ice cream for grownups,” with small batch, artisanal, and unusual flavors, like Secret Breakfast, a bourbon ice cream with caramelized corn flakes, a salted licorice flavor, and caramel ice cream with balsamic vinegar. Godby described the interior as a 1930s French café that has been remodeled in 1973, featuring eight stools from an old Woolworth’s counter, plus glass bricks, tile, and Formica. The opening is targeted for mid-August, and will be open Tue–Thu and Sun 11am–9pm, and Fri–Sat 11am–10pm, closed Mon. 2790A Harrison at 24th St.

In the Richmond, after three months of construction, Mamasan has been converted to ~HALU~, a tiny 25-seat non-sushi Japanese restaurant. I had a chance to talk with new owner Shigemi Komiyama over the weekend, who is partnering with his wife Mimi on the project—they just had their grand opening on Sunday. (Some may remember Shig from Yoshida-Ya—he was there 20 years ago). Mimi and Shig both went to cooking school in Yokohama for three years. HALU will feature ramen handmade by Mimi (five different types will be served), and will highlight an array of yakitori. The menu sounds delicious: upwards of 20 kinds of yakitori ($3.50–$5.50 for two skewers) will be available, including chicken wings, hearts, liver, thigh, and gizzard, plus bacon combos like enoki bacon or scallop bacon or asparagus bacon, beef tongue, kalbi, plus an array of vegetables and kushi katsu: deep fried skewers, like chicken with basil or stuffed mushroom, served with tonkatsu and karashi mayo sauces. There are also dishes like agedashi tofu, hiyayakko (cold tofu with ginger, green onion, bonito flakes, and dashi), chicken kara age, a variety of salads, lots of vegetarian dishes, some don/brown rice bowl dishes, and plenty of sake, beer, and shochu drinks. Don’t be surprised with the fun rock memorabilia, like the collection of vintage Fillmore posters—Shig was in Hot Tuna, and plays drums for the Shitones. Dinner to start. Rock. 312 8th Ave. at Clement, 415-221-9165.

Over in the Sunset, after 30 years of business, ~PJ’S OYSTERBED~ suddenly closed. No idea what happened—at least the rotting seafood that was left in the case was finally cleared out, as Eater noted (some not very nice “lagniappe” for the neighborhood in last week’s heat). 737 Irving St. at 8th Ave., 415-566-7775.

Another old-timer that has closed is ~LONDON WINE BAR~ in FiDi, which lost its lease after 35 years in business. Eater mentioned there might be a new location in the works in the Russian Hill/Polk Street area. Nope, not many wine bars there at all. 415 Sansome St. at Commercial.

If everything maps out correctly, opening tomorrow (Wednesday June 18th) is ~KASA INDIAN EATERY~ in the Stro. Here’s your chance to give a burrito a rest, and try a kati roll instead, one for $5.50, two for $8.95. You can check out the menu here. Open daily 11am–10pm. 4001 18th St. at Noe, 415-621-6940.

Another place to indulge in Indian treats: barring any snafus, ~AMBER INDIA~ in Yerba Buena Lane is due to open its doors this Saturday June 21st. The owner is Vijay Bist, who went to culinary school in India, and then trained in Baur au Lac, Switzerland; Excelsior, Germany; and France—he is working with chef Anish Potdar. The multi-level and 5,000-square-foot space will be open for lunch (Mon–Fri 11:30am–2:30pm) and dinner daily (Sun–Thu 5pm–10pm, Fri–Sat 5pm–10:30pm), brunch on the weekend (Sat–Sun 12pm–3pm), and the lounge will be open and serving appetizers and bar bites daily, continuously from 11am–11pm, and until 11:30pm Fri–Sat. 13 Yerba Buena Lane, 415-777-0500.

Last week I mentioned the turnover of North Beach’s Palermo Deli into ~LA SPIAGGIA~. Now I can release more details about it since the deal is done: Nick Fasanella is running the joint. Many of you will remember him from Nick’s Crispy Tacos and Nicky’s Pizzeria Rustica on Polk Street. He has a variety of (lucky) 13 sandwiches, all named after beaches around the world. So the Amagansett will be a Niman Ranch roast beef sandwich, while the Marina Grande will be made with prosciutto di Parma and mozzarella. There are also sandwiches made with Niman Ranch porchetta (Nick is roasting his own meats), Willie Bird turkey, plus some East Coast combos, like meatball, chicken parm, and sausage and peppers. There’s even a vegetarian sando on the list, and PB&J for the kiddies. Here’s my favorite part: for $5, you can rent a beach chair and take it out to Washington Square Park while you enjoy your sandwich. If you want to kick at the (North) Beach all day, it’s $15. Open 10am–6pm daily. 1556 Stockton St. at Union, 415-362-DELI (3354).

More on the ~WASHBAG~: Once it reopens under the Tiernans, rumor has it Michael McCourt will be back behind the bar. 1707 Powell St. at Union.

The new executive chef of ~PLUMPJACK CAFÉ~, Rick Edge, has just rolled-out his new seasonal menu, which includes a return to the restaurant’s classic technique yet modern style of American dishes, like a puree of sweet corn soup with warm mushroom salad, smoked bacon, and crème fraîche ($9); Maine peekytoe crab cakes ($15); and yes, the big eye tuna tartare cones ($15) have returned. Mains include buttermilk-braised chicken breast ($22) with creamy polenta, Castroville artichokes, morel and maitake mushrooms; and red wine-braised beef short ribs with toasted farro, stone fruit salad, garden herbs, and flowers ($27), but some creative twists remain, like a carrot risotto with Idiazabal cheese, argan oil, and chive blossoms ($11/$20). In addition, he has added a “Power Lunch” section to the lunch menu, a selection of two-course paired menu items for those short on time. 3127 Fillmore St. at Filbert, 415-563-4755.


Talk about upping the ante: chef Thomas Keller will now be building a training facility next door to the French Laundry in Yountville for the ~BOCUSE D'OR~ team that ends up being selected to represent the U.S. From October–January, the team of chef and commis candidates will be housed in a private residence in Yountville, and will be compensated by Bocuse d’Or USA at a rate equivalent to compensation from their current employers. During this period, the team will work intensely with a chef coach in a kitchen custom-designed for Bocuse d’Or training to perfect their dishes for presentation in Lyon, France, when the USA team will compete at the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest in late January 2009. Does it get much better than that? Don’t think so. Candidates, you have until June 30th to apply at www.bocusedorusa.org.

Remember the ~OPEN SOIL RESTAURANT~ project I mentioned a few months ago? They have a new project called Open City: they are creating a menu for a temporary bistro using ingredients that have been grown, foraged, and crafted within the city limits of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. Their call for help is as follows: “If you are a gleaner, gardener, forager, or farmer and have produce that will be ready for harvest in late August, contact us at seed [at] openrestaurant [dot] org. Please tell your neighbors and friends.”

This Sunday June 21st, chef ~MARK SULLIVAN OF SPRUCE~ will be doing a demonstration on grilling at Williams-Sonoma as part of their guest series. Expect some seasonal and summer ingredients to be highlighted. The demo is from 12pm–2pm and is open to the public. It will be on the third level of Williams-Sonoma in Union Square, with seats set up for everyone and recipes provided for all of the dishes that he prepares. Mark will also be holding a Q&A at the end of the demo. 340 Post St. at Stockton, 415-362-9450.

According to a Chowhound, ~WILL'S VIETNAMESE~ in the Duboce/Church Street/Transfer bar triangle (or as I like to call it, “Upper Safeway”) is morphing into Jasmine Garden, also a Vietnamese restaurant. 708 14th St. at Church, 415-861-2682.

Over in the East Bay, former Chez Panisse pastry chef Charlene Reis (and wife to executive chef Paul Arenstam of Americano) is opening ~SUMMER KITCHEN BAKE SHOP~ on College Avenue in Berkeley in late 2008, just two doors down Ici, the ice cream shop from another Chez Panisse alum, Mary Canales. It will offer organic, specialty, to-go comfort-based foods for lunch and dinner, like simple long-cooked braises, stews, and sautéed fish that are meant to be shared family style; plus made-to-order Roman-style pizzas from the hearth oven, sandwiches and tartines, artisan cheeses and salumi, salads, house-made gourmet pantry staples, tarts, cakes, and cupcakes. The menu will change daily according to the seasons and will rely on small local farmers and artisans for organic produce, cheeses, breads and specialty items. The design will have a nostalgic beach house feel, and takes its name from the East Coast grand residences that had second buildings where cooking was done during the hot summer months, in order to keep the main residences cool. 2944 College Ave. at Ashby, 415-533-4012.

In downtown Oakland, ~CAFFE 817~, a small Italian caffe/enoteca, just started opening in the evenings as an Italian wine bar. The all-Italian wine list features 50 bottles from small boutique winemakers and is arranged to represent the 20 Italian wine regions. There are also 15 whites and 15 reds included in the list that are served by the glass or the quartino. There is also a selection of antipasti, cheese, salumi, and pasta dishes. Open Thu–Sat 5pm–10pm. 817 Washington St. at 8th St., Oakland, 510- 271-7965.