November 2014

November 25, 2014

One of the best desserts in SF: the palmier ice cream with Calvados caramel at Monsieur Benjamin. Photo: ©

Howdy, friends. I’m gonna be honest here, this is a hard intro for me to be writing this week. My heart really isn’t in it after watching and reading everything that transpired in Ferguson last night, with all the waves of pain and anger and disgust and shame rippling through all our cities. It’s a lot to process.

In moments like these, I am grateful for Twitter, which is full of so many poignant stories and observations right now. But in the midst of those nuggets of wisdom and insight are pictures of turkeys, and stuffing recipes, and pumpkin pie crust success stories, and selfies of people getting on planes to head home to their families. The duality of these two threads—fury and gratitude—is challenging to parse, to reconcile. Because Michael Brown won’t be sitting at a Thanksgiving table this year.

Although Michael Brown will be sitting at many tables—he is on our minds and his grieving family is in our hearts. We will talk about him and make plans for how things need to change in this world. Now.

There’s one Thanksgiving table I am particularly grateful for right now, and no, it’s not just my family’s. Tomorrow night, executive chef Sharon Nahm of E&O Kitchen and Bar is hosting another pre-Thanksgiving meal for current CHEFS (Conquering Homelessness Through Employment in Food Services) students, instructors, and their guests. It’s a thoughtful tradition they started and have upheld at E&O—I hope all the CHEFS students enjoy celebrating their accomplishments over such a special holiday dinner.

I know one person who will be celebrating is Nicole McCullum; she recently completed her internship at E&O. When Nicole started the CHEFS program, she and her family were living in an emergency shelter. Since graduating in July, Nicole has acquired transitional housing for her family, worked as a lead cook at an alcohol and drug recovery center, and is now pursuing a management position with one of the Bay Area’s leading sustainable restaurant management firms. What an inspiration.

Do you have family visiting right now? Or perhaps in the coming month? Then I have a great piece of content you’ll want to check out: The Tablehopper’s Top Picks for What and Where to Eat in San Francisco, brought to you by TripGo, who generously sponsored the piece. They understand how challenging it can be to get around a city (especially one you don’t know), so use their handy app as you tablehop throughout the city! (You can also find TripGo in the Google Play Store.)

And now, I leave you with a Tiny Hamster Thanksgiving, because, well, it’s just too damn cute.

Hugs and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,
Marcia Gagliardi

November 19, 2014

A warm welcome to our pretty city. All photos: © (except where noted).


TripGo helps you travel smarter. Streamline your trips and save time.


One of the many phenomenal dishes at Bar Tartine. All photos: ©


The start of a perfect meal at Zuni.


One of the best seats in the city: the kitchen counter at State Bird Provisions.


Making it rain (white truffles) at SPQR.


The beauty of Saison.


You never want to miss the cheese course at Quince.


Three at a time, it’s how it goes down at Una Pizza Napoletana.


Brunch at Nopa, one of the city’s best.


The prime rib at Harris’. Photo: Mathew Sumner.


Dim sum feasting at Hong Kong Lounge.


Crab at Swan Oyster Depot, a true SF classic.


Hot mess: the inside of a (packed) Cancún super burrito.


Omakase at Pabu is the way to go.


Geek out at the “top bar” at Sightglass.


Kin Khao is going to take you on a flavor journey.


The Cherry Bounce at Comstock Saloon, one of my favorite drinks, ever.


There are many ways to get things started at ABV.

The Tablehopper’s Top Picks for What and Where to Eat in San Francisco
Brought to you by TripGo

As someone who has been living in and eating her way through San Francisco for more than 20 years, I have far too many favorite spots that I love and adore to list in a small article like this one. It’s why I wrote a book, The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion. It was published in 2010, so while it still contains many of my top picks (SF is full of classic spots that endure), this piece definitely has some more recent openings in it.

I also understand what a traveler is looking for when they come to our city. They usually want a seafood experience, some California cuisine, maybe a dim sum feast, and a hidden gem or two. They want to know what’s good, what are the classics, and some new spots too. And of course some of our fantastic sourdough needs to be eaten. So let’s do this!

A big thanks to TripGo, who sponsored this content for you. They understand how challenging it can be to get around a city you don’t know, so use their handy app as you tablehop throughout the city!

Even if you’re not traveling, TripGo is much more than your average transport app because you can integrate it with your calendar—it will tell you when you need to leave for your dinner reservation (or meeting with your boss) and the best way to get there, saving you time and money. Thanks TripGo!

New-School Cali There is an exciting movement of New California cuisine happening in the city, which is a bit freestyle, pulling from different cuisines and cultures. One of the most inventive places is ~BAR TARTINE~ in the Mission, where chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns do all kinds of pickling, fermentations, dehydrations, and more. Every time I eat there, the menu has some new finds, from Mediterranean dishes to Japanese flavor profiles. And big bonus: you get to enjoy the incomparable bread from Tartine Bakery, some of which is baked on-site. It’s also a popular spot for weekend brunch.

Do you know the best way to get to the Mission? Use TripGo and see!

Old-School Cali Everyone needs to pay a visit to the inimitable ~ZUNI CAFE~ at least once in their life, and once you have the famed roast chicken with bread salad, you’ll be a customer for life. The Caesar, anchovies with celery, gnocchi, and oysters on the half shell are other fantastic standards on the menu. ~FOREIGN CINEMA~ in the Mission has one of the nicest sheltered patios in the city and also packs a great oyster list, enticing appetizers, and phenomenal fried chicken. Brunch on the terrace—with their unique egg dishes (and quality Bloody Marys)—is an SF institution.

The Hot Ticket Everyone wants to eat at ~STATE BIRD PROVISIONS~, and for good reason: there is nothing like the globe-trotting dishes that Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski create—it’s chef food on another level. It’s also incredibly fun: dishes come by on a dim sum cart, or a server offers something hot from the kitchen on a tray. It’s food for people who have adventurous palates and love appetizer-sized portions. Don’t miss the SBP classics: CA state bird with provisions, any of the savory pancakes, and the duck liver mousse with almond biscuits. The rest is fair (and very delicious) game. It’s worth lining up and trying to get a table at their first seating (doors open at 5:30pm), or come by on the late side (9pm) and see if you can nab a spot. They’ll do everything they can to seat you and keep you updated.

(Plan B) If you couldn’t score a seat at SBP and now you’re starving, you can walk a block up Fillmore Street to ~DOSA ON FILLMORE~ for flavor-packed South Indian dishes made with sustainable ingredients (and there’s a full bar). Don’t miss the vada pav, a killer bar snack if you’re waiting for a table. You can also head farther up Fillmore to ~SPQR~ for some of the most exciting soigné Italian cuisine in the city, where you’ll enjoy beautifully made pastas by chef Matthew Accarrino (and there’s a wine bar and kitchen counter where you can perch and taste your way through their extensive wine list). Never been to ~SLANTED DOOR~? Locals prefer to go to ~OUT THE DOOR~, a sister restaurant, which is also nearby. You can enjoy many SD Vietnamese faves (shaking beef, daikon rice cake, Dungeness crab and cellophane noodles) plus their amazing fried chicken in less of a madhouse and more of an easygoing neighborhood vibe. (OTD is a great breakfast/brunch spot too.)

Want to get across town and back to your hotel? TripGo can help you find the way.

Big Splurge Okay, so you came to SF and you want to do it up? Then you need to get yourself to ~SAISON~, which is THE honcho in the high-end game in SF. The tasting menu will put you back $248, but you’ll experience some of the finest ingredients, treated with such creative finesse by chef Joshua Skenes and his team. You should also pony up for the wine pairings, because Mark Bright is one of the best somms in the city. The custom dishes, glassware—everything is top notch. Enjoy the ride.

Another four-star pick is Corey Lee’s ~BENU~, especially if you are a fan of Asian ingredients and flavor profiles. The room is quite plain, so don’t expect much in the way of atmosphere, but the food, service, and choice wines will demand and hold your full attention. (Ditto the beautiful plates—they’re as beautiful to look at as to eat off of.)

Running late for your reservation? Use TripGo to find the fastest way there!

Italian If you want to go the high-end route, a favorite is the elegant ~ACQUERELLO~, with choose-your-own tasting menu options (their menus during truffle season are especially smashing) and a very deep wine cellar too. Another place noted for refined service and cuisine is the inimitable ~QUINCE~, with an eye-catching and très chic dining room that was recently updated, where you’ll find beautiful stuffed pastas and a posh crowd. If you have a business lunch or dinner, ~PERBACCO~ is your spot (don’t miss the agnolotti dal plin and the excellent salumi).

On the opposite end of the spectrum (i.e., getting more casual here) is the neighborhood favorite ~LA CICCIA~, featuring the cuisine of Sardinia. Downtown is ~54 MINT~, with authentic Roman dishes (their cacio e pepe is a winner) and a patio that’s ideal on warm evenings. Quince’s casual little sister, ~COTOGNA~, falls more into the Cal-Italian realm (their sformato and the raviolo with egg are legendary), as well as the touchstone ~DELFINA~ (best spaghetti in town)—there’s also their Roman offshoot ~LOCANDA~ (there’s a full bar). The hip and casual ~FLOUR + WATER~ (quality pastas) is also in the Mission.

You can also watch this video for some of my picks in North Beach, which has some very special spots you won’t want to miss.

San Franciscans loooove their pizza, and you’ll find a variety of styles all over the city. For those who want to experience an artisan-made pizza napoletana and won’t mind the bare-bones experience, you have to pay a visit to ~UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA~ in SoMa (and be sure to have a cocktail at nearby Bar Agricole before or after). For more of a lively scene, ~TONY’S PIZZA NAPOLETANA~ totally rocks and has so many kinds of pizza on the menu, you won’t believe it. They’re also faithfully researched, like the napoletana and the Jersey tomato pie, a favorite of mine. If you want true deep dish, head to Tony Gemignani’s other enterprise in the neighborhood, ~CAPO’S~. There are also a couple of ~PIZZERIA DELFINA~ locations in the city, which are always busy and have an excellent purgatorio (with an egg), a clam pie, and the chilled tripe is a killer app (get a cannolo for dessert). ~RAGAZZA~ is a fun neighborhood spot, with beautiful salads and I live for their amatriciana pizza.

Want to figure out which Pizzeria Delfina is closer to you and how to get there? TripGo has answers!

San Francisco has some classic steakhouses, starting with ~HARRIS’ RESTAURANT~, which has some incredible dry-aged beef (get the Harris’ Steak, a bone-in New York, or the porterhouse), but their rib-eye (not aged) is also notable. If you’re a prime rib fan, then the old-school experience at ~HOUSE OF PRIME RIB~ is over the top. For a more modern steak experience, ~ALEXANDER’S STEAKHOUSE~ sources phenomenal beef (hello, A5 wagyu from Japan) and their wine list is also extremely dialed. While it’s not a steakhouse, ~BIX~ has a great steak (and one of my very favorite burgers) in a swanky vintage atmosphere (with classic cocktails!).

Late Night For a true slice of SF late night, visit ~NOPA~, which has its kitchen open until 1am nightly. This casual urban spot has a long bar, a communal table, and two levels of seating, which are all usually packed to the gills. You’ll find California ingredients at their peak of season, and their burger, chicken, and pork chop are justifiably famous. Great wine list. Nopa also serves one of the city’s best weekend brunches. Oh, and if you’re looking for a party, ~CHINO~ in the Mission has a cocktail-fueled scene, with an eclectic menu of Asian favorites (killer wings, braised lamb noodles, and dumplings). Kitchen open until 1am!

Nopa can take some coordinating to get to, use TripGo to find the best route.

Chinese If you like Szechuan heat, head to Chinatown to experience ~Z & Y RESTAURANT~, while more sensitive palates will prefer the cuisine (and xiao long bao) at ~BUND SHANGHAI~. Another Chinatown classic is ~GREAT EASTERN~ (you can get dim sum during the day and Cantonese dishes until late), and one of my favorite dim sum spots on the weekend is ~HONG KONG LOUNGE~ (there are two locations on Geary), but be prepared to wait—trust, the Peking duck is so worth it. If you want to stay near downtown, ~YANK SING~ has quality dim sum, and really good XLB (but it comes at a price).

For some of my Chinatown picks, watch this video I did for the Hungry channel.

Seafood All hail ~SWAN OYSTER DEPOT~, which is the true heart and soul of San Francisco. The Sancimino family will make you feel like an old friend as they shuck fresh oysters. It’s especially great to come here for Dungeness crab when it’s in season (the season starts in November). There’s always a line, so come for a very early or late lunch. ~HOG ISLAND OYSTER COMPANY~ at the Ferry Building Marketplace has oysters galore and local seafood, plus a view of the water. If you have to eat at the Wharf, I enjoy the old-school vibe at ~SCOMA’S~ (get the lazy man’s cioppino).

For the best route to Swan Oyster Depot (you need to get in that line!), use TripGo.

You can’t come to San Francisco without experiencing a super burrito. I’m a fan of the al pastor version at ~CANCÚN~, and there’s nothing like a late-night burrito at ~EL FAROLITO~. The off-menu taco dorado at ~LA TAQUERIA~ is tops (get the carnitas), and the tacos off the ~TONAYENSE~ trucks are always damn good. (Ditto the tacos from the ~EL NORTEÑO~ truck in SoMa.) Try the tortas at ~LA TORTA GORDA~ (I prefer the tinga, although they are known for their pierna enchilada version), and chilaquiles at the family-style ~SAN JALISCO~ are a fave (and served all day). A visit to ~LA PALMA MEXICATESSEN~ is another top choice.

For a fun scene, don’t miss the colorful ~LOLÓ~ for dinner in the Mission—and their cocktails are fabulous. Over closer to Golden Gate Park is ~NOPALITO~, serving some of the best-made Mexican food in the city, with epic carnitas (and margaritas).

You can see a few of my favorite places to eat in the Mission in this video for the Hungry channel.

Sushi This is one area where SF lags a bit, but fortunately there’s ~AKIKO’S~, which has some of the finest seafood in town, and it’s beautifully handled (ditto the rice). Another downtown spot is newcomer ~PABU~ from Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga, which offers a chic omakase experience at a very long counter. Don’t miss the Happy Spoon as part of your night, and the sake selection is tops. For a hot and happening sushi experience, head out to Bernal Heights to ~ICHI SUSHI~, which will have hip-hop going and a fun crowd, with quality seafood handled in creative and innovative ways.

You’ll need to figure out how to get to Bernal Heights, so check out TripGo for the best way to get there.

Food Trucks and Pop-Ups
If you want to graze on a bunch of tasty bites from some food trucks all at once (mash-ups like a tikka masala burrito from Curry Up Now, and sisig nachos from Señor Sisig), hit up the various truck gatherings around town, like ~OFF THE GRID~ and ~THE SOMA STREAT FOOD PARK~, plus there’s the ~MISSION DISPATCH~ pod. Want to check out a pop-up dinner? ~NAKED KITCHEN~ in the Mission has a rotating roster of quality chefs each week.

Coffee San Francisco is obsessed with coffee. Like, really obsessed. You’ll find all kinds of third-wave roasters and their associated cafés in every neighborhood. For espresso lovers, a visit to the petite ~LINEA CAFFE~ in the Mission is a must. Also of note in the Mission: a stylish location of ~SIGHTGLASS~, the hipster-flooded ~FOUR BARREL~, and for those who appreciate a light roast, check out the new location of ~RITUAL~. Pay a visit to the ever-busy ~THE MILL~ on Divisadero, where you can enjoy Four Barrel coffee and a variety of house-milled and baked breads by Josey Baker (the black pepper and Parmesan loaf is a fave). You will find ~BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE~ all over the city (I always get a Gibraltar, their invention, or their New Orleans iced coffee on a warm day). And ~MA’VELOUS~ is a quality place to explore a bunch of different (and international) coffees.

Just Because They Are Totally Delicious…
- ~MERIGAN SUB SHOP~ makes some crazy-good subs, like their chicken Parm and Italian combo on locally baked bread.
- ~KIN KHAO~ features a completely unique Thai experience since the dishes have a California ingredient spin. The flavors pop, and the cocktails are also fun.
- ~4505 MEATS~ is making some of the best damn barbecue in town (their ribs rock) and their burger has quite the fan club. Because it’s AMAZING.
- ~FRANCES~ hits that perfect note of a neighborhood place with a pedigree—chef-owner Melissa Perello offers a personal and exceedingly delicious version of California cuisine.
- If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll want to check out the elegant sweets at ~B. PATISSERIE~, while ~TARTINE BAKERY~ is a gold standard for good reason.
- Heading to (or from) the beach? Plan a pitstop at ~MARLA BAKERY~ for breakfast, lunch, a snack, dinner, whatever—you’ll find a homey space with excellent baked goods, from bagels to bread.

It’s totally normal to take a cab or BART crosstown just to get an éclair at Tartine. Let TripGo lead the way.

Cocktails (and Wine) SF is a boozy town. There are far too many options for excellent drinks, but here are a few I love:
- ~COMSTOCK SALOON~ in North Beach for an authentic saloon feeling (their cherry bounce and Martinez are two of my faves).
- Also in North Beach, ~TOSCA CAFÉ~ is busy busy but the vintage 1930s atmosphere and Trouble in Paradise make it worth it. The late-night menu is also a bonus.
- ~TONY NIK’S~ offers an intimate niche in North Beach for a Boulevardier when everything else feels too busy and new.
- ~TROU NORMAND~ is a handsome new addition downtown, with fab cocktails (and some of the best salumi in town).
- ~RYE~ is one of the OGs in SF’s craft cocktail scene, and a quality pick if you’re staying near Union Square. - ~TRICK DOG~ in the Mission is absolutely packed all the time, but try to get a table upstairs to eat and enjoy their cocktails throughout dinner.
- I have been going to ~DALVA~ on 16th Street for years, and their backroom bar, The Hideout, has some notably delicious cocktails (try the Gin and Celery).
- Just across the street is newcomer ~ABV~—their lighter to midweight cocktails are great (and priced right), and you can’t beat their fantastic bar bites (served until 1am).
- Tequila lovers have to make a pilgrimage to ~TOMMY’S~ for one of Julio Bermejo’s stellar margaritas, which never stop at just one.

If you want to experience some quality wine bars (with great food!), visit ~LES CLOS~ (especially if you’re a Burgundy fan) or ~LA NEBBIA~ for Italian wine (and Champagne) lovers. ~20 SPOT~ in the Mission has a cozy neighborhood vibe.

It goes without saying, you’ll need someone else to be doing the driving when you’re drinking, so please check out TripGo for some ideas on how to get around!

This is by no means a totally comprehensive list, and there are many more quirky and offbeat places to visit, but it’s a good place to start. If you want to see some of the latest openings in SF, check out my Ten New Places to Eat at Now and weekly openings in the chatterbox. If you want a custom recommendation, there’s always my Tip Please service!

A big thanks to TripGo for sponsoring this content for you. They understand how challenging it can be to get around a city you don’t know, so use their handy app as you tablehop throughout the city!

Even if you’re not traveling, TripGo is much more than your average transport app because you can integrate it with your calendar—it will tell you when you need to leave for your dinner reservation (or meeting with your boss) and the best way to get there, saving you time and money. Thanks TripGo!

November 18, 2014

The stunning grounds at José Maria de Fonseca, which date back to 1834. Instagram photo ©

Bom dia! Yours truly is back from an inspiring, action-packed trip to Portugal, learning all about Portuguese wine (with a bunch of somms and wine buyers!), cuisine, history, architecture, and more the past 10 days. I had outstanding seafood practically every day (so glad I finally got to check percebes off my “funky foods to try” list), and just about as many pastéis de nata too! I can’t wait to share the deets on friendly Lisboa. That city is quite special and so very simpatico to San Francisco (they should totally be sister cities). I couldn’t believe how inexpensive wine was, about €3 a glass. (Dangerous, that.) And the cheeses! So glad the little beagle in the airport didn’t find my suitcase treasures on my way home, heh heh.

I want to give a big fat thanks to Blacklane limousine service, who gave me the most stylin’ ride to the airport (in a sleek Mercedes S550, holla). My driver (who was waiting for me 30 minutes early!) helped me with my bag, which is a big deal when you live on the top floor of your rickety Edwardian building, let me tell you. They have drivers in a bunch of cities around the world, so if you want car service in OG style for your next trip, check ‘em out. Obrigada, Blacklane!

The only major bummer of this whole trip is I came home with some nasty food poisoning (whether it was my last meal or the airline’s fault, I’m not sure) but I have been running at half-mast the past four days, ugh. NOT the way to come home. At least any weight I gained on this trip is gone, and then some. #silverlinings

Okay folks, this issue has a bit of food news catch-up for you, and we’re looking forward to Thanksgiving next week too. I’m taking Friday off to catch up on some other deadlines, so I’ll see you next Tuesday. Have a great week, enjoy the rain! I know, RAIN!

Marcia Gagliardi

November 4, 2014

How we got things started on the tablehopper-Cover crawl at Mason Pacific: Val De Mer brut nature rosé. Photo: ©

Bom dia! I’m practicing my Portuguese again, because tomorrow I depart for beautiful Portugal! I’ll be in Lisboa on my own for a few days (if you have any tips to send, please do!), and am then meeting up with a group of wine professionals (I know, lucky me) for an immersive tour into Portugal’s wine country. It’s going to be one heck of an education. And I’m so fired up to get my jamón, pastel de nata, and bacalhau on. You can follow along on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where I’ll be posting pics for the next couple of weeks!

I’m just happy to be getting out of here—United canceled my flight this morning. (What. The Hell.) But fortunately I was able to find another flight combination that gets me in on the same day. Whew. I return on November 14th, so the next tablehopper issue won’t be until November 18th! (Publicists and restaurant owners, please don’t pitch me on anything happening until after that date, obrigada!)

Last week was all kinds of awesome. We had the tablehopper-Cover crawl (you can check out pics here), with a group of us dining and walking from Mason Pacific to Stones Throw to Verbena. It was a truly fabulous progressive dinner. (Don’t forget, anyone can use code tablehopper for $25 off your first meal with Cover!)

Oh yeah, and there was that Giants win. There were also plenty of Halloween shenanigans going on, and I rocked out on my birthday on Saturday, complete with brunch at Verbena, bubbles and Barolo at Biondivino, a fantastic omakase dinner at the sushi counter at Pink Zebra, and disco dancing late into the night at Go Bang! at the Stud. Family supper on Sunday was the cherry on top of an epic weekend! (Although I managed to get a lot of writing done in there too, magic.) And now I gotta pack, and get these other deadlines done, oy!

A couple of final notes: here’s a fun piece I wrote for last week on seven restaurants that do really fun tableside service (I’m talkin’ flambé drinks and spinning bowls of salad here, people).

And please: don’t forget to vote today, okay?

Saludos! See you in a couple of weeks!
Marcia Gagliardi

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