October 10, 2006

A party at MAC last week was all atwitter with this big hunk o' news about ~ZUNI~: long-term partner Vince Calcagno has sold his share of the biz to Gilbert Pilgram; a number of folks know Pilgram through his 20 years at Chez Panisse. Pilgram has a pretty dreamy resume: he started at Zuni as an intern through Paul Bertolli, worked his way up to sous chef and then chef under the guidance of Catherine Brandel and of course the big A&W, and then moved to front of the house as GM for five years. During his years at Chez Panisse, he also worked closely with talents like Peggy Smith, who went on to start Cowgirl Creamery, and David Tanis. Pilgram left Chez Panisse a year ago to recharge, travel (spots on his globetrotting itinerary included South America, China, and Iceland) and to live at Punta del Este, the "St. Tropez of Uruguay," which proved to be too far away to travel back and forth from San Francisco.

About a year ago, Calcagno had said he was thinking about retiring so he could dedicate more time to fundraising. Flash forward to last January, when Pilgram and Judy Rodgers (who has been at Zuni since 1987) were on a ski trip in the Alps, and were discussing Calcagno's impending departure. On a long ride on a chairlift, Pilgram expressed interest in taking Calcagno's place. By the time they skied into Italy, it was decided: Pilgram was to be the new partner. The official transfer is November 30, and Pilgram will be focused on creating a cohesive flow between the front of house and kitchen at Zuni—he knows how a floor runs well, and a kitchen runs well, and is excited to put the knowledge gained from his many mentors to work. It's a big year for Pilgram, who just turned 50 this week as well. He's been a long-time fan of Zuni, and said it feels like a natural progression. He has a tremendous passion for the business, and his charisma is sure to shine through.

~BAR TARTINE~ has hired a new chef, their third since opening: Jason Fox, who was formerly at Scott Howard, has just recently started. No major waves—the same focus on a Cal-Med-French menu will remain.

I have been a big fan of the authentic Peruvian food at Mochica since it opened (and no, it's not because of its proximity to the End Up—those dark days are done). Chef/owner Carlos Altamirano will be taking over the old Moki's Sushi and Pacific Grill space in Bernal Heights, and reopening it as ~PIQUEOS~ (which means "small plates") by the end of December. Altamirano has had the concept in his head for some time, and says, "I wanted a second baby." The look will be colonial European, with more style and atmosphere than the Harrison Street location. The space will have 50 seats, and he plans to open the patio later into 2007. The menu will be focused on regional Peruvian tapas that extend past the usual suspects of ceviche and anticuchos. Altamirano recently traveled all over Peru, researching dishes from the various regions. While he gets this second location up and running, he will be promoting Mochica chef Abraam Rodriguez, who has been cooking there for the past two years. 830 Cortland Ave.

As of last week, the Big Easy-inspired ~KINGFISH~ located across from the ballpark has closed, but their San Mateo location will continue to let the good times roll. Ballpark seasonality certainly makes it a tough space to maintain (the former business in that spot didn't last there either).

I heard a tip that local favorite ~YUM YUM FISH~ has been missing its French fishmonger—seems some folks on Chowhound have noticed the same thing. It ends up Yum Yum Fish gained a new owner in July: Hong Tu, who owns New Hai Ky next door. Tu confirmed that Karim the beloved fishmonger is actually on vacation, and should be back soon—after ten years of working straight with no break, he wanted some time off. (Uh, yeah, I would too.) The original owner retired (he's 70) but still swings by. Tu expressed how everything is definitely going to remain status quo with no changes, and they are happy to uphold the establishment's reputation for kindliness and good product. 2181 Irving Street at 23rd Ave., 415-566-6433.

Residents of Upper Polk will be able to get their cappuccino and fire up their laptop on the free Wi-Fi at the latest ~IT'S A GRIND COFFEE HOUSE~ location. In addition to the usual caffeinated beverages on offer, there are also smoothies and sweets. Plus outdoor seating! 1800 Polk St., 415-441-1272.

The new executive chef for ~PLUMPJACK CAFE~ has been announced: James Syhabout, who has most recently served as chef de partie at Coi, Daniel Patterson's restaurant. He was also a sous chef at Manresa, and his resume includes stints at some of the more progressive places in Europe, working as commis at Ferran Adria´s El Bulli (as commis, he assisted the chef de partie in daily mis en place and service, along with directing and coordinating stagiaires for the kitchen), plus as chef de partie at Alkima (Barcelona), a stage at Mugaritz (Errenteria), and some time as commis at Heston Blumenthal's three-star Michelin restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Bray, England. I've been a fan of the cooking at PlumpJack Cafe, and look forward to seeing what Syhabout does with the menu. 3127 Fillmore St. at Filbert St., 415-563-4755.

More news from the PlumpJack empire: ~JACK FALSTAFF~ has launched "5 Spot Neighbor Night," offering small plates and $5 Skyy and Zen cocktail specials on Mondays starting at 5pm. 598 Second St. at Brannan St., 415-836-9239.