June 5, 2007

I’ve always has a soft spot for Buca Giovanni in North Beach—it was the site of one of my earlier childhood dining memories, and I tasted rabbit for the very first time there. (No Thumper trauma here.) Anyway, I was very excited to find out that by mid-July, it will be opening as ~LA TRAPPE~, named after a Dutch Trappist brewery, and the only Trappist beer produced outside of Belgium. That hopefully gave you a hint about what is going to be going on here. Let’s just say that beer will be served, Belgian and Trappist beers to be exact, with pub-style food sporting some continental flair and designed to pair with the brews, like coq au vin cooked with wine and Belgian ale; braise of short ribs with cherry Belgian beer reduction, served with potato cakes and vegetable du jour; mussels and fries with a variety of sauces, like butter, wine, and garlic, or curried with lemongrass, or with a tomato-based bouillabaisse sauce, plus hand-cut fries with dipping sauces. The chef is Darrell Simon, who has cooked in NYC, Baltimore, and Louisiana—look for some touches of old-style Creole on a few dishes. Partners in the venture are Mike Azzalini, whose family has owned the building since his great-grandfather bought it in 1928, and John Lawton. (Three generations of Azzalinis have also worked at Liguria Bakery—how’s that for some SF provenance?) For those who can recall the Buca Giovanni space, the upstairs will now have windows on the Mason Street side, and will feel really open, with lots of seating and an Art Nouveau look. Downstairs will have a fountain, and the curved ceiling will be dramatically lit. Groups will be able to plunk themselves into a pew (which will be the seating at the larger tables) and there will be a loungier vibe, with hopes for acoustic music and DJs down the road. La Trappe will be open for evenings to start, but eventually the plan is to be open continuously from 7am-10pm, and until midnight on the weekends. Breakfast, brunch, and lunch will be coming, with smoked meats, fish, crepes, and Belgian waffles on the brunch tip, and all-day pub grub like fish ‘n’ chips, curries, BIG burgers, sandwiches, and artisanal pizzas for lunch. 800 Greenwich at Mason, San Francisco.

A few blocks away, the now-shuttered ~AVENUE G~ space is now on the sales block, with $350k as the asking price. 1570 Stockton St. at Union.

And now for a round up of changes to existing places around town:


The classic “neighborhoodie” ~REX CAFÉ~ just reopened last Friday after a ten-day remodel, and has a new chef on board: executive chef John Pauley, who hails from the fancy La Folie across the street—he was there for more than eight years, starting as a sous and then worked his way up to chef de cuisine. Pauley is taking a break from four-style style, and is having fun with the menu he has crafted for Rex Café, whose style he is currently calling San Francisco contemporary cuisine. The menu is designed to be easy to pick and choose from, with many smaller plates, and is arranged from lighter to heavier dishes, starting with beet carpaccio ($7) and an Asian-inspired tuna tartare ($10), and then in the fun camp (or should I say fat camp?), you’ll find a catfish corndog ($8) and a twist on chicken and waffles: Southern-fried poussin with a Belgian waffle ($12). There are dishes like rock shrimp linguine ($11) with a fresh pea tarragon sauce and Parmesan, while the most expensive dish is baked scallop ($18) in puff pastry. The winning brunch, however, is staying exactly the same. The remodel included refinishing the floor and fresh paint on the ceiling and walls. Banquettes were added throughout, the bar was gutted and enlarged, and the top of the bar was refinished—overall the restaurant now feels more open and welcoming. 2323 Polk St., at Green, 415-441-2244.

There have been some major changes to the menu at ~JACK FALSTAFF~—executive chef Jonnatan Leiva has constructed an appealing new menu that is sure to make a number of people happy (and hungry). Overall, the style is a lot more laid-back and graze-friendly, with Leiva adding some raw and charcuterie selections, like Pacific halibut with ruby red grapefruit, mint, horseradish, chives, and local Delta asparagus; and house-cured duck breast with pickled wild ramps and baby arugula. There are also some pasta options in half or full portions, and some wicked-sounding sides, like duck fat fries, and braised kale with guanciale. Mains include cassoulet with duck leg confit, butter beans, pork belly, and a poached egg (meowza!), and there’s even an ahi dish I’d consider ordering: pan-roasted with Catalan-style spinach, sweet peas, and saffron soubise. Leiva’s focus on seasonality is still front and center, but the menu has broken out of the standard “choose one appetizer and your main course” format. Definitely one to check out. 598 Second St. at Brannan, 415-836-9239.

Over in lower Potrero/China Basin, ~THEE PARKSIDE~ recently got a new owner, Malia Spanyol of Pops Bar in the Mission, and now has a new chef: Cynthia Morrison, who was at Universal Café for two-plus years. Morrison is totally revamping the menu, adding a local/fresh/organic approach with some American and Southern flair. The new menu just started last week, with offerings like hand-dredged buttermilk fried chicken with house-made pickles, and smoky pulled pork quesadilla. There is a curry cauliflower fritter that is part samosa and part pakora, with a cilantro verde sauce, and it’s both vegetarian and vegan-friendly—Morrison says there will always be a few vegetarian and vegan options. There are also nightly bar menu specials, with grilled items like chicken and burgers. Charcuterie is in the works, and they even use local meats, and butcher in-house. The “It’s a Free Country Sunday” all-you-can-eat BBQ (it ranges from $6-$10, depending on what’s being served) is going strong, with quality meats to go along the free music. Come July, Thee Parkside will be open for lunch, with a to-go window for local businesses. (They are hiring for all kinds of positions if you’re interested.) 1600 17th St. at Wisconsin, 415-252-1330.

For those wondering what Nick Fasanella (previously of Nick’s Crispy Tacos and Nicky’s Pizzeria Rustica) has been up to, he’s been a consulting GM at ~TORTILLA HEIGHTS~. He’s made some good changes, too: the kitchen is now using Niman Ranch meats (makes for some killer carne asada) and Fulton Valley Ranch chicken, the margaritas are now made with fresh-squeezed lime (no mix here), and there’s almost an entirely new (and well-trained) staff. I had a chance to swing by last week, and was happy to see crispy tacos “Nick’s Way,” plus his awesome Baja-style tacos are on the menu (three for $12.50). There’s also the “street treat” with mango, orange, and jicama with chile and lime. Perfect spot if you’re looking for a place for groups of 12 or more—they have some generous fiesta menus ($15-$21 per person). I’ll be back for “heads or tails Tuesday,” when you flip for your meal. The buckets of beers are also pretty spiffy. 1750 Divisadero St. at Bush, 415-346-4531.

Some unexpected changes are happening at ~MECCA~, which had a kitchen fire towards the end of service on Sunday night. The fire department responded extremely quickly, but let’s just say the dining room’s velvets and leathers are not quite going to be the same. So the restaurant is taking this opportunity to close, renovate and redesign, and plans on a grand reopening in hopefully a couple weeks. I’ll have more details in next week’s installment. 2029 Market St. at Dolores, 415-621-7000

Some news in Maktub land: chef ~DAVID BAZIRGAN~, who has been at Baraka for a bit, will be the opening chef for Jocelyn Bulow’s new Chez Papa Downtown, which is gunning for a Labor Day opening. It made me wonder how this is affecting the gastropub project, Baz, that he was slated to be doing with Sean and Isabel Manchester (of WISH Bar and Mighty). Ends up the western SoMa location the Manchesters were hoping would be the site of the restaurant unfortunately fell through. So while they keep scouting for a location, Bazirgan will continue working with the Maktub Group. Will let you know what develops, naturally!

As for ~BARAKA~, it seems it’s no longer for sale. In fact, Maktub just hired a new chef, Chad Newton—he is formerly from Boston, where he was at Spire with the Kimpton Group, and at Postrio while in SF. He just started a couple weeks ago—I will keep you posted on any menu changes. 288 Connecticut St. at 18th St., 415-255-0387.

One Maktub spot that does seem to be up for sale is ~SUTRA RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE~, unless I am totally reading this listing wrong, which is possible.

Another ever-growing empire is Charles Phan’s—he will be opening another ~OUT THE DOOR~ concept in the Fillmore neighborhood by early fall, right across from the Unitarian church for those of you who pay attention to details like that. The space was formerly a silk flower store, and was originally a firehouse—it’s supposed to be quite stunning. The current status of the space is “in the middle of permit hell,” but it may end up having 50 seats, or perhaps a little more. The Vietnamese menu is still in development, but an interesting component of this specific project will be what to pair with the dishes—it looks like the Slanted Door’s precedent of having no Californian wines on the list may now expand to include some local wines, as long as they make the flavor-profile cut. Another potential offering is the range of take-home cooking kits may be expanded (Have you ever tried them? The daikon rice cakes rock. Hard.) and takeout will also be readily available. 2232 Bush St. at Fillmore.

Opening this Wednesday for lunch and dinner is the long awaited ~FARINA~ on 18th Street. This Genovese/Ligurian restaurant under executive chef Paolo Laboa is downright snazzy, with room for 90 guests and a private dining room on the second floor, and outdoor seating to boot. However, they won’t be accepting reservations until the 18th—they are trying to start things off slowly. Release the focaccia. 3562 18th Street at Dearborn, between Valencia and Guerrero.

I just noticed Bar Crudo and Globe are now on ~OPENTABLE.COM~.

Hey, some of you have expressed curiosity about the ~TASTE3~ conference I attended last month up at COPIA. Ends up some of the amazing 20-minute talks have been posted on the site. Take a peek and see what interests you—the ones from Ben Roche of Moto in Chicago, the honeybee expert, and the wine fraud expert, David Molyneux-Berry, were three of my faves.

And folks, the ~WHITE BOOT BRIGADE~, an awesome group of New Orleans-area sustainable shrimpers, is coming to the Bay Area this week and doing demos all over town—you can try the brown shrimp at various Kimpton restaurants, and the brigade will be at Williams Sonoma AND the Golden Glass on Saturday. Definitely try to catch one of their demos.