September 11, 2007

So word on the street is executive chef ~MICHELLE MAH~ is leaving Kimpton’s Ponzu, and has a project in the works with Joie De Vivre Hospitality. I’m not allowed to say what the project is yet, but there are six new sites JDV is working on, and three of them are Bay Area locations. All I know is it will be a new bistro concept debuting in 2008—I’ll let you know more in a couple weeks. For now, Mah is joining JDV at the end of September, which is also when their 20th anniversary party is happening!

The old Splendido and then mysterious Monte Cristo Cafe space (like, how did that place stay open for so long?) in Embarcadero Four will now be home to ~SENS RESTAURANT~ (hint: throw some French pronunciation on that name and you’ve got it—click here for further edification). The project is from executive chef Michael Dotson (formerly of Evvia, Heirloom, Slow Club, and PlumpJack Café in both San Francisco and in Tahoe), GM and sommelier Saeed Amini (Evvia, Cetrella, Robert Mondavi Golden Vine Winery) and pastry chef Shuna Lydon (French Laundry, Bouchon, Aziza, Citizen Cake). Each brings a minimum of 15 years’ restaurant experience to the table, and all have been working very collaboratively on the project. Like, pouring lots and lots of love into it. Expect a lip-smacking menu evocative of Southern Mediterranean cuisine, primarily Turkish, North African, and Greek, made with a light hand. Considering Dotson and Lydon met at the farmers’ market, and the restaurant’s proximity to the Ferry Building, local and sustainable ingredients will be figuring high on the menu (they are calling the style “Sustainable Mediterranean”).

A few preliminary menu items include starters like chicken brodo with cauliflower citrus dumplings, squash blossoms, and marjoram; grilled octopus with fennel, fresh shell beans, piquillo peppers, and mint pistou; mains include grilled lamb loin chops with spice-braised breast, slow-cooked dandelion, quince, and chickpeas; and Wolfe Ranch Quail with clams, Merguez sausage, escarole, and fingerling potatoes. Sounds delish, no? Some desserts include warm chocolate, cocoa cake, Shuna's famous hot fudge sauce, and cardamom ice cream, and Woodleaf farm peach sorbet, toasted kataifi, Manouri cheese, and verbena-butter sautéed peaches. The wine list will prominently feature biodynamic and organic wines, and there will also be a really groovy array of non-alcoholic drinks. The opening is slated for October 1, with lunch and dinner offered. The 225-seat space includes a spacious patio, a lounge, and all kinds of private dining options. I always liked the view, the light, and the nice stonework. Sounds like a lovely new addition to the area. Four Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level, 415-362-0645.

More news after my Mediterranean heart: opening in the former Just Desserts space in the Castro will be ~GUSTOFINO FINE FOODS~, a specialty market and café offering in-house dining or gourmet dishes to go. There will be home-style hot foods, like two kinds of lasagne and chicken alla diavola, plus salads (like beet and goat cheese, pesto pasta, mixed greens, risotto), panini, focaccia pizza, antipasti (salumi, olives, cheeses), pastry (90% of it will be house-made), and Blue Bottle Coffee. The shelves will also feature local and imported foods, from Acme Bread to olive oil, from here and afar. Owner Matt Rutledge, who went to culinary school in Italy and graduated from the restaurant management program at the CCA is working closely with his mother, who has come out of retirement to help her son with the new biz (she has extensive experience in running delis, go mom). There will be a spacious patio with umbrellas, lights, and a fountain, with room for 40. There will be room for 20 inside, plus an espresso/wine bar with whole beans for sale, and whole bottles of wine, too. The soft opening is slated for October 8, and the grand opening will be later in the month. Gustofino will be open from 7am–10pm daily. 248 Church St. between 15th and Market.

After mucho project delays and a recent fire, ~BOULANGE DE HAYES~ is nearing completion and should be open by the end of month or so. This Boulange outpost will offer both indoor and outdoor seating, and will potentially be offering catering in the future. Open daily 7am–7pm. 500 Hayes St. at Octavia, 415-863-3376.

After working at Cortez since its opening with the Hatfields, ~NICK FLORES~, the talented pastry chef, is heading over to work at Myth. His first day is this Thursday. Look for his innovative desserts with fresh seasonal ingredients and always a fun little twist. 470 Pacific Ave. at Montgomery, 415-677-8986.

I was bummed to miss the ~CHEFS COOK OFF FOR AFTER SCHOOL~ event at Jack Falstaff over Labor Day weekend, but I did want to report on the winners for you! The girls kicked some kitchen booty: Elizabeth Falkner (Citizen Cake) and Christine Mullen (Cav) beat out the boys, Joseph Manzare (Tres Agaves, Zuppa, Pescheria, Globe) and Hiro Sone (Ame, Terra). The other challenge had restaurant chefs Nate Appleman (A16) and Craig Stoll (Delfina) victorious over TV chefs Tyler Florence and Joey Altman—reportedly Stoll’s hand-cranked cavatelli machine from Italy rocked the judges hard. There was also a Master Mixologist competition, with five bartenders competing to make the next classic cocktail with a secret spirit, which was Oronoco Rum. Ronaldo Colli from Americano was the winner with his drink, “Romeo,” spiked with fresh red chile.

Speaking of PlumpJack land, the new executive chef of ~PLUMPJACK CAFE~ in Cow Hollow is the talented Tyson Greenwood, who was most recently the sous under James Syhabout (who left to return to Manresa’s kitchen in Los Gatos). Greenwood, 29, earned his chops at Masa’s and Auberge up north, and has time in Europe in his history as well. A peek at a recent menu reveals starters like soup of Brentwood corn with huckleberries and sherry gel, and a tuna tartare has reappeared on the menu: big eye tuna tartare with Yellow Doll watermelon, Thai cardamom, and white soy. Some mains include roast of Berkshire pork, with braised shoulder, dandelion greens, pimiento de Padron, and Charentais melon jus; and rack of Sonoma lamb with Imperator carrot mousse, tarragon, and chocolate jus. 3127 Fillmore St. at Filbert, 415-563-4755.

Having trouble scoring a dinner reservation at ~SPRUCE~? Now you can go check it out at lunch instead—it’s a perfect spot for a biz lunch. Open Mon–Fri for lunch from 11:30am–2:30pm. 3640 Sacramento St. at Spruce, 415-931-5100.

After 25 years, Max’s Classic Opera Café has reopened as ~MAX’S AT THE OPERA~, with a new menu and look (it’s still casual, just a bit more “casual sophisticated”). Small plates after 8pm have been added to the menu, but the singing servers remain untouched! Open Sun–Tue 11:30am–10pm, and 11:30am–11:30pm Fri–Sat. 601 Van Ness Ave. at Golden Gate, 415-771-7300. http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

Potpie fans, raise your forks: chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls of the ~BIG 4~ at the Huntington Hotel is offering tastings of her famous chicken pot pie with two other kinds, braised buffalo short rib and porcini mushroom potpie, and Maine lobster-rock shrimp sweet corn potpie. The potpie trio will be on the Big 4 menu from Sep. 19–21. 1075 California St. at Taylor, 415-771-1140.

Cheese-o-holics, did you know the ~CHEESE SCHOOL OF SAN FRANCISCO~ has opened in new, bigger digs? It’s now in North Beach, and a new round of classes have just begun! Classes are generally held in the evenings, and are $60 per person. Check out the Fall 2007 schedule for more information. 2155 Powell St., between Chestnut and Francisco, 415-346-7530.

Hello restaurants, markets, and specialty food makers: have you heard of the upcoming ~EAT LOCAL WEEK~ in San Francisco? The first-ever event will be held September 23–29. From the press release: “Restaurants will offer daily specials made from 100% local ingredients; stores and markets will feature displays emphasizing local products; area farmers, ranchers and specialty manufacturers will offer tastings in select locations; and neighborhood associations will offer special events inspired by the Eat Local theme. Participating restaurants include La Folie, Sutro’s at the Cliff House, Jackson Fillmore, Scott Howard and New Delhi. All San Francisco stores, restaurants, markets and other food oriented businesses are invited to be listed year round on the Eat Local website for a nominal administrative fee ($60). Area farmers, ranchers and manufacturers of any consumable product sold in San Francisco are also encouraged to register. An Eat Local newsletter keeping the public advised of future events is also available by sign up on the website.” The project comes from San Francisco Small Business Commission vice president Jordanna Thigpen, with support and underwriting from the Council of District Merchant Councils. What is local, you ask? Any product produced, grown, or sourced within a four-hour drive or a 250-mile radius of San Francisco. Lets support local farmers and producers, keep our money local, and our fuel consumption low. Readers, visit the website and see what locally focused businesses and restaurants you can support. For more information contact Jordanna Thigpen at 415-409-4743 or email eatlocalsf [at] gmail [dot] com.

So I fully enjoyed a TWO-go boxed lunch when I was heading off to Coachella and needed to bring something to eat while driving the bleak I-5 strip to LA. Now TWO is launching ~GOURMET TWO-GO AND READY TWO-COOK~. Gourmet TWO-Go includes a selection of house-made stocks, dressings, demi-glaces and other specialty items available for purchase via the restaurant website, like Smoked Lamb & Garlic Sausage and Double Smoked Bacon ($5), and the chive biscuits ($5 per dozen). Meanwhile, Ready-TWO-Cook offers ready-to-make meals from TWO’s menu, with ingredients that are measured, prepped, and packaged with instructions for easy preparation at home—all dishes take less than 15 minutes and can be ordered for any number of servings. So the next time you want a meaty dinner, consider the slow roasted marrowbones with caramelized onion broth and crusty bread ($8) or braised lamb cheeks with creamy polenta ($12). Everything can ordered online at www.two-sf.com and picked up via the restaurant’s drive-through courtyard. Ready-TWO-Cook dishes must be ordered at least 24 hours in advance; Gourmet TWO-go items can be ordered within 30 minutes (unless it’s Sunday, when TWO is closed). 22 Hawthorne St. at Howard, 415-777-9779.