October 7, 2008

True to my name, I’ve had quite the week of tastes, many of them new, so I thought I’d do a fun mini-recap. Taste-hopping, if you will. First, have you tried the roasted corn ice cream with skillet bread and honey and bacon brittle at Nopa? Mother of God. And with some bourbon to sip on the side? Uh huh. Flavor nirvana.

Another winner: my macchiato and chocolate spice doughnut from Dynamo Donuts at Four Barrel Coffee on Sunday (we had three kinds of doughnut to choose from—yes, we chose all three). If only every Sunday started this way.

Also got to try the new Bols Genever at a launch party last week (NOT for breakfast). Look for the smoky glass bottle at bars around town—it’s a delicious Dutch spirit based on malt wine and botanicals, unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, and sure to appear in many a new cocktail (or classic one being faithfully resuscitated).

Had a charming meal at Velo Rouge Cafe on Thursday during the new weekly supper night, courtesy of personal chef Melissa Claire. It’s a fun night because you sit with strangers at three communal tables while munching on a downright generous prix-fixe meal for $45, all made with seasonal, organic, and quality ingredients (the flat-iron steak with chimichurri hit the spot). It’s a casual, easygoing, and homey affair—so if you’re looking for a little something different than the usual restaurant set-up, check it out. You can read the weekly menu and learn more on Melissa’s site.

Was also thrilled to have literally the last bite from Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s table at the Sunday Supper reception: warm sweetbread and tongue terrine, bound with some crème fraîche. Like, whoa. Which reminds me: Stuart and Nicole have returned from their month of marriage festivities and are full-tilt into their private cheffing. If you have a holiday gig coming up, and want some supreme vittles, email Stuart at sbrioza [at] hotmail [dot] com.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the perfetto clam pizza I had over lunch last Friday at the new Pizzeria Delfina California Street location, and for dessert, the affogato made with espresso off their Faema E61 and homemade gelato. So very meow, although a few items were less-than-meow (eh, growing pains). 2406 California St. at Fillmore, 415-440-1189.

And in the not very meow at all department, ~THERE’S ANOTHER PURSE-SNATCHER ON THE LOOSE~, brazenly hitting up some of the city’s best restaurants. He seems to have a penchant for the Embarcadero, because he’s been spotted and/or has struck at places like Boulevard, Chaya, Americano, Waterbar, Shanghai 1930, Town Hall, and Salt House over the past two weeks. I spoke with some GMs at a few of the restaurants, and here’s what he seems to look like: he’s in his 30s or early 40s, shaved head with ears that stick out, stocky build (maybe about 5'6"–5'10"), and appears to be ethnically mixed, with medium-toned skin. He has a prison-style homemade tattoo on the inside of his left forearm, and a more decorative tat on his left bicep. He’s smooth and dresses to fit in well—he was spotted with a white button shirt with short sleeves, tucked into jeans or dark pants, and he carries a shopping bag (it was once a GAP bag). He will either hit a restaurant’s bar area, or smiles at the host and then goes into the dining room, taking womens’ purses off the back of their chairs and putting them directly into his shopping bag, and then he’s out of there. He’s been spotted alone, as well as with a few accomplices who “shadow” him, including an Asian woman, but he tends to mix up his company.

So if any of you are bringing a purse or shoulder bag into a restaurant, put it where you can see it. We had a bunch of purse-snatcher nonsense happen last year too, so it’s always an unfortunate possibility, especially when times are tougher than usual. Ladies, have you tried a purse holder yet? I know Town Hall / Salt House / Anchor & Hope just bought 60 of them for their guests to use while dining there—it’s a lot better than having your purse on the floor, or on the back of your chair where you can’t see it. And front of house staff, be on the lookout for this guy—he’s pretty brazen. If you are FOH and want to see a picture of him, Matt Stuhl, the Director of F&B at Americano, has a security picture of the purse snatcher that he can forward to you—just call the restaurant at 415-278-3777 and ask for Matt. Everyone in the restaurant community wants this guy stopped, immediately.

There’s another shift happening at ~ORSON~ in SoMa: chef de cuisine Ryan Farr is leaving on October 25th to pursue other interests (more on this in a moment). The restaurant has been open for seven months and is continuing to make adjustments to its style and format, not exactly unexpected in this increasingly challenging economy. I spoke with Elizabeth Falkner, who said upon Farr’s departure, Orson’s menu will be morphing into a brasserie style, a modern Stars of sorts, offering honest and creative fare at a reasonable price. She said to look for the wood-burning oven being utilized even more, for dishes like mussels, plus additions like a modern Caesar, boudin blanc with potatoes mousseline, and grilled items, including grilled quail. Falkner also said she is considering adding some familiar dishes to the menu, like a burger, and steak frites with creamed spinach pudding, but there will still be elements of flair and playful flavor.

Falkner stated, “The restaurant has been stamped too much as a fine dining location, and I want to broaden its audience and appeal to more people.” (I tend to think this is what happens when you open a stylish place in SF—some equate stylish with fancy, which it’s not.) In the meantime, Falkner and Farr are gearing up for the Whiskey and Pig dinner this Wednesday, and their Beard House dinner on October 14th. She is not looking for a replacement at the moment, and said with this economy it makes sense to hold on that for a bit. Instead, she is working closely with the restaurant’s talented sous chefs, Elgin and Josh, during this transition. Falkner added, “Restaurants are supposed to take care of people when they’re not feeling great, and besides, people need to drink in times like this.” I say amen, and to that end, don’t forget their killer happy hour from 5pm–7pm, with $5 drinks.

Meanwhile, Ryan Farr is off to pursue his interests, which include working more with nonprofit and educational/community groups like Nextcourse. He will also be the new CHEFS (Conquering Homelessness Through Employment in Food Service) instructor starting in November, plus continuing his work with butchery, charcuterie, and will also be doing some private chef gigs (at the end of the month he is off to New York to host a high-end dinner for a client). Farr stated, “I’ve been working with Elizabeth and Sabrina [Riddle] for the past 2 ½ years, I have been very fortunate to share their vision and dreams on this project. I love this restaurant and its wonderful staff, I know that it will be a success and I am looking forward to seeing it bloom.”


I wanted to extend a big congratulations to ~JAMIE LAUREN~, the executive chef of Absinthe, who will be the sole chef representing SF in the upcoming and fifth season of Bravo’s Top Chef. You can read more about whom she will be competing against here. The season kicks off November 12th!

And now, a couple items in the hi-lo category. I’m already a big fan of the burger at ~SPRUCE~, and now they had to go and make it all extra-Spruce-y with their new Sunday special of Burgers & Burgundy. Through November, Spruce will open three boutique red Burgundies from their extensive cellar. The burger is $14, and the three different selections of Burgundy are available at $12, $25, and $50. A flight of all three is also available for $40. The selection will rotate each week and may include Saint-Romain, Christophe Buisson 2006; Mercurey, Les Montots, Aubert de Villaine 2006; or Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Bousselots, Robert Chevillon 1999. You can also “spruce” up your burger with house-made pancetta for $3 or seared foie gras for $13. See you there. Oh, and congrats to the Bacchus team who is in New York gearing up to accept an award from Esquire magazine as one of their “Best New Restaurants.” 3640 Sacramento St. at Spruce, 415-931-5100.

Folks were fired up in the Mission last week when Anthony Myint, a cook at Bar Tartine, started his new late-night gourmet street food venture called, appropriately enough, ~MISSION STREET FOOD~. On Thursday nights from 8pm–2am, you can walk up to the food truck he’s subletting at the corner of 21st and Mission for fresh home-made flatbread sandwiches with combos like fried pork belly, marinated jicama, pickled jalapeno, and cilantro aioli (you can peek at a Yelper’s pic of this new-style PB&J here), or a veggie one with king trumpet mushrooms, triple-fried potato, garlic confit, and scallion sour cream, all for $4–$5 each. He emailed me to say last Thursday his truck wasn’t delivered until late, so expect a few kinks while the deets get worked out, but let’s hope this is a tradition that continues. You can read updates on the truck’s blog here. Corner of 21st St. and Mission.

A while back I mentioned a café that was opening called Stefano Café in the Outer Mission. Well, a tablehopper wrote in to tell me the place is much more than a cafe. Namely, it’s now ~STEFANO CAFE & RESTAURANT~, serving authentic pasta dishes and pizzas (you can read the menu online). I spoke with Sicilian Stefano, and he said the lasagna is delicioso. He also mentioned their coffee is from Messina, and they feature other Italian products. The place has 32 seats, and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Hours are 9am–3pm, and then 5pm–10pm daily. I’ll check it out soon and will report back! 59 30th St. at San Jose, 415-970-9213.

Not too far away, another tablehopper reader wrote in to say, “The latest I have heard about ~BELGANO~ in Noe Valley is that it is going to become a ~TUTTIMELON~ [frozen yogurt place]. Their website indicates that too and I had heard that the folks who ran Belgano are in fact the guys who are the ones behind the franchising of Tuttimelon (can't confirm that part though).” Thanks, T! 3901 24th St. at Noe.

And now, a brunch report. ~RESTAURANT CASSIS~ in the lower Fillmore is kicking off brunch service beginning this Saturday October 11th. The menu includes omelettes, poached egg dishes, caramelized French toast (natch), and some more lunch-y items—perfect for a weekend brunch (or lunch) date followed by a movie at the nearby Sundance Kabuki. Cassis is also working on adding outdoor sidewalk seating very soon. Hours will be Sat–Sun 10:30am–2:30pm. 2101 Sutter St. at Steiner, 415-440-4500.

~PAUL K RESTAURANT~ in Hayes Valley has added brunch service, with menu items like brioche French toast, steak and eggs, and duck confit hash, with most hovering around $11. Sat–Sun 10:30am–2:30pm. 199 Gough St. at Oak, 415-552-7132.

Over in Cow Hollow, ~SPUNTINO DI OTTIMISTA’S~ grand opening is this Thursday October 9th. To recap, there will be a take-out selection of artisan cheeses, cured meats, and specialty food products, plus panini, par-baked pizzas, prepared foods, salads, and pastries made fresh daily in Ottimista’s kitchen just up the street. A permit for retail purchases of wine should be in effect in November. There will also be catering and optional sommelier wine tasting services for in-home and corporate events. Hours are Tue–Fri 11am–7pm, and Sat–Sun 10am–7pm. 1957 Union St. at Laguna, 415-931-6410.

And then in the Marina, if everything goes according to plan, the 65-seat ~CHILAYO~ will be opening in the old Andale spot on Chestnut this weekend. This is the third venture from owner Jorge Saldana of Tlaloc in the Financial District and Cancún in Berkeley. Chilayo is a Jaliscan stew-like dish of pork loin with vegetables, and Saldana said to expect some new dishes on Chilayo’s menu, many inspired by the mercado and sidewalk stands of Mexico. A peek at the menu includes authentic and affordable enchiladas, tamales, tlacoyos, plus a number of tortas (like one with poblano rajas!), a taquito special each day, and seafood dishes. Everything will be a la carte, instead of the standard beans and rice combo plates. Ingredients from his organic farm in Sonoma County will be featured, including a variety of heirloom tomatoes and peppers (hello salsas!), and even farm-fresh eggs. Lunch and dinner will be served daily 10am–10pm, with breakfast on the weekends. 2150 Chestnut St. at Steiner, 415-674-1814.

I didn’t get a chance to check out the opening of ~LILAH BELLE'S~ this weekend, the new healthy eating spot for take-out (or eat-in) by Dolores Park. Another new place that is similarly based on offering pre-prepared nutritious and delicious food will be ~BEAUTIFULL~ in the former Cafe Lo Cubano space in Laurel Heights. The plan is to open this takeout location in mid-January, offering “five-star spa food, with a foundation of nutritional science and research, and outstanding flavor.” The food is prepared fresh, and there will be on-site seating and grab-and-go options, with eventual expansion to high-end grocers. You can also have the food delivered to your home. (Two more locations are also in the works outside the City.) Items will range from $5 for smaller dishes to up to $20 for a salmon entrée. I had a chance to try a few of the meal items and I found the food to be tasty and well prepared (my steak was impressively tender, and the zucchini bread for breakfast was tender and moist); Donna Insalaco of Paula Leduc Catering and Dr. Dean Ornish were involved in the development of the products/concept. 3401 California St. at Laurel.

Next Thursday October 16th is ~MARIQUITA FARM NIGHT~, with another “guerilla” vegetable delivery. You can pick up your $25 “mystery box” from 5pm–7pm—just click here to place your order, and swing by Piccino for your pick up. 801 22nd St. at Tennessee, 415-824-4224.


More farm goodness: on Tuesday October 21st, ~JACK FALSTAFF~ executive chef Jonnatan Leiva is hosting a farm-to-table dinner highlighting Star Route Farms little lettuces, Manteca Farms suckling pig, and Iron Horse Vineyards. Guests will be able to mingle with the growers and winemaker all in one night. The dinner will be held from 5:30pm–10pm, $100 per person. For more info or to make a reservation, call 415-836-9239. 598 Second St. at Brannan.

Litquake continues: this Saturday October 11th is the Lit Crawl through the Mission (from 6pm–9:30pm), and Edible San Francisco presents ~A SMORGASBOORD OF FOOD WRITERS~ at 18 Reasons during the first session, from 6pm–7pm. Allison Arieff, Novella Carpenter, Sara Deseran, Andy Griffin, Bonnie Azab Powell, and emcee Bryant Terry will all be reading. Free. 18 Reasons, 593 Guerrero St. at 18th St.

The 7x7 Bits and Bites blog had the scoop on Joseph Manzare’s new joint, ~HECHO~, “a high-end sushi and robata restaurant with a touch of Mexican.” Which I guess means tequila and tataki? It’s going to open in SoMa in the beginning of 2009 on Stevenson Street near 2nd Street. Read all about it here.

Oh, and wanted to report that less than a week after the ~TYSON HUNGER RELIEF SITE~ kicked off, they went over the top with 2,000 comments. Which means 200,000 pounds of high-protein foods are headed for Bay Area food banks. Good work.

A tablehopper reader wanted to be sure I knew chef Fabio Flagiello, formerly of Risibisi Restaurant and Wine Bar in Sonoma County, is now at ~BRIO RISTORANTE~ in Burlingame. Flagiello was raised in Trieste, was reportedly the guy who taught Tony Shalhoub how to cook for the movie Big Night. On October 22nd, he is celebrating the restaurant’s grand opening in the former train depot building that is now Brio. For a look at the menu and wine list go here. 1190 California Dr. at Broadway, Burlingame, 650-348-6615.

Over in the East Bay, ~MUA~, a new restaurant-bar-lounge-art studio-gallery-neighborhood joint is opening Monday. The husband and wife team includes Soizic owner Hi-Suk Dong and his wife, San Ju Dong. More from them about their vision for Mua: “[it’s] a place where the amazing variety of people they have gotten to know over the years as restaurateurs and artists, would enjoy coming to eat, drink, see some art, hear some music, watch some video, have an event or just hang out. Mua aspires to be a pan-generational cross-cultural place with interesting as well as comforting food in a lively, eclectic space… seasonal and random inspirations from San Ju's fabulous new additions to her kitchen staff will also be featured.” The Deco building will be open for dinner starting Monday October 13th and will expand to lunches soon. 2442a Webster St., at Broadway, 510-238-1100.

And then over in Hayward, ~BIJOU RESTAURANT & BAR~ is offering contemporary French/California cuisine at reasonable prices by executive chef Christian Nam-Hee, a native of Paris. The wine list was compiled by Tom O’Connor of Manresa, and there is also a full bar. The space sounds sleek, with one-of-a-kind glowing ring chandeliers, leather chairs, a lounge area, plus an outdoor sidewalk patio. Lunch and dinner daily (until midnight Thu–Sat). 1036 B St. at Main, Hayward, 510-888-1092.