table of contents   This week's tablehopper: it's all about the (415), baby.
the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
new restaurant reviews
the regular
it's about time we met
the socialite
shindigs/feasts/festivals
 

MARCH 21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Hola chicos y chicas,
So many of the eagerly awaited businesses in Hayes Valley have fallen behind schedule (oh, that never happens), so I thought I'd give you an update on their progress in the chatterbox. I also made my way through the extensive menu at (415) Asian Restaurant & Lounge, and I have the long write-up in fresh meat to prove it.

Hasta luego,
~Marcia
 

MARCH 21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO I had a chance to chat with ~SANTE SALVONI~, the former chef of ~SLOW CLUB~ who has very recently left the restaurant, but who was very elated to land that gig over seven years ago. He was extremely diplomatic when stating, "the restaurant was going in another direction." And that's where he left it. So out of respect for his desire to not say anything, we're just going to have to leave it as a parting of ways, and the real drama is only known to those who work there. Which is fine by me, because I like him, and I like the restaurant. He does have an idea in the works, which he said is now out of the frig, and on the back burner. What that is remains to be seen, but you know it'll be good. He lives in the East Bay, so I asked if it was going to be in the 510. And you know what? The answer is maybe. Or maybe the 415. Time will tell. So will Sante—he promised once things are officially in the works he'll give tablehopper the scoop. Let's wish him well, and for now the three burners at the tiny kitchen at the Slow Club are in the very capable hands of his former sous, Chris Kronner.

Starting yesterday (March 20), the Mission's comfort food headquarters, ~LUNA PARK~, started free delivery service to the inner Mission, Castro, Bernal Heights, and Noe Valley neighborhoods, with additional neighborhoods and lunch delivery slated for the summer. So when you start Jonesing for a Cobb salad or some mac 'n' cheese or s'mores, you know who to reach out to since your mother doesn't answer your calls anymore. Delivery is from 5:30pm-10:30pm during the week, and until 11:30pm Thu-Sat. Delivery line: 415-553-8547.

A second ~GELATERIA NAIA~ location will soon be opening in North Beach, sporting its trademark bright orange awning. Naia's gelato is the closest to true Italian gelato I've found locally for some time. Yes, Ciao Bella's gelato is really good, but I get tired of the domination of the sorbets, and the oddly cranky attitude or stingy vibe around samples. The folks at Naia have a notably nicer disposition—just because you're around all that gelato doesn't mean you need to be frosty. 520 Columbus Ave.

Just across the street from Naia, Pascal Rigo's pumpkin ~BOULANGE~ awning will soon be gracing Columbus Avenue in the long-vacant Sophie's Crêpes space (just next door to the recently closed Gold Spike). There were some delays in construction, but come May, it looks like folks will be able to dig in to open-faced sandwiches, buttery croissants, and the irresistible macaroons. Those cookies are like crack. Seriously. 543 Columbus Ave.

The upcoming ~BOULANGE~ Hayes Valley location is experiencing some delays—the landlord is doing some retrofitting, so Hayes Valley residents have to sit tight for now. You'll get your baguettes soon, don't fret. 500 Hayes St at Octavia St.

Another delay that will soon be over is when ~MODERN TEA~ opens its doors at the corner of Hayes and Laguna. It's looking like March 29 or so will be the opening of this "contemporary tea salon," serving full-leaf, fair-trade, and organic teas with delish edibles, from baked goods like galettes and turnovers, to seasonal soups, to home-style hot dishes. Oh, and they'll have old-school desserts like creamy pudding. Yum. The owner is Alice Cravens, who is to tea as Beau Timken (down the street at True Sake) is to sake. She is known for importing unique and rare varieties, and with the opening of Modern Tea, you won't have to wait for dinners at Chez Panisse or Delfina to enjoy them. There will also be a full retail line available. The look will be modern with some rustic touches. Modern Tea will open for an early lunch, serving salads such as marinated noodles with a choice of chicken, tofu, or prawns, and rustic hot dishes including heirloom bean stew with cornbread. I'm looking forward to weekend brunch, when there will be waffles made on vintage cast irons from the mid-1800s. It'll be like Little House on the Prairie, but not. Modern Tea will be open Tue-Sun 11:30am-9pm, with weekend brunch offered Sat-Sun 10am-3pm. 662 Hayes St. at Laguna, 415-626-5406.

More new business in Hayes Valley, and more delays! ~CAFÉ GRILLADES~ is also opening later than planned, due to construction issues with window installation. It looks like it won't be opening in its big corner space on Hayes at Octavia until mid-April. It will be a sister restaurant to a popular establishment in San Bruno, Crêpes du Monde. Café Grillades will be serving three square meals, from classic breakfast dishes including build-your-own omelets (served all day), to more of a Mediterranean-influenced menu for lunch and dinner. Expect rotisserie chicken, Algerian couscous platters, free-range and Halal grilled meats, panini, crêpes, and sundaes for dessert. There will also be some outdoor seating. Now if only this soggy weather would shape up. Hours will be Sun 8am-9pm, Mon-Thu 8am-11pm, Fri-Sat 8am-midnight. 501 Hayes St. at Octavia Street, 415-553-8500.

 

(415) Asian Restaurant & Lounge
415 Presidio Ave.
Cross: California St.
San Francisco, CA 94117

415-409-0400
website

Mon-Wed 5pm-9:30pm
Thu-Sat 5pm-10:30pm
Sun 5pm-9:30pm
Bar & Sushi Bar open Thu-Sat until 1am

Tapas $5
Small plates $9.50-$14
Entrées $16.95-$23
Dessert $7.50

MARCH 21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Well, the monsoon-like rains certainly prepped me for my Asian whirlwind tour at ~(415) ASIAN RESTAURANT & LOUNGE~. It's the latest incarnation in the former space of Sydney's and Sydney's Home in the JCC. The JCC is not the first place I'd look for a hip pan-Asian restaurant, but Laurel Heights fillies and G Bar patrons from across the street seem to be quite pleased with it. Two of the owners (John Hurley and Justin Hafen) also developed G Bar together, so no wonder. For those of you into these things, Hurley and Hafen also started the Home concept on Market St., and they own and operate Garibaldi's just around the corner on Presidio and on College Ave. in the 510, in addition to the neighboring California Street Delicatessen and Café (also in the JCC). I don't know if they are going to take over Ella's next, because that's about all that's left in that intersection. Anyway.

The space is pretty spiffy, courtesy of designer/co-owner Shirley Robinson, and has a bar/lounge area and two levels for dining. The prime seating downstairs is in one of the oversize booths (who doesn't love booths—it's primal, I swear) but they really call for more than two folks in them, so don't get your heart set on a booth if you're just a deuce. Upstairs is actually more of a mezzanine, destined to become a prime spot for Pac Heights bachelorette dinners.

The somewhat clubby-chic Asian Moderne décor is quite pleasing: deep orange walls that match the color of the menu, oversize lampshades suspended overhead, Asian architectural motifs in ebonized wood on the backs of the chairs or the hidden entrance to the facilities, and my personal favorite, the hand-painted tiger-skin patterned floors. Rawr.

When our server approached the table, dressed in the (415) uniform of a black top with classic Asian frog closures and matching black pants, I wasn't sure if he was going to ask me what I'd like to drink, or tell me my masseuse is ready to see me. The almost meditative string-plucky music would lead me to believe it's time for my massage. But no, the drink menu says it's time for a cocktail, boozily beckoning with names like M. Butterfly, the Lotus, and the Art of War (all $9). Hi-yah! Sake lovers will be fired up on the tour de force that consulting sake sommelier, Beau Timken of True Sake, has put together—there are 13 varieties of premium sakes available, from nine different prefectures, with premium hot sakes from Japan. Kanpai. Wine sommelier Nicole Burke, a rising star at 31, has also done a bang-up job assembling and grouping an approachable wine list to partner with the extensive menu, with many available by the glass. It's a fun read.

When you crack that dinner menu open, be prepared to be overwhelmed. It's almost like walking up to the Cowgirl Creamery counter when you're hungry—where do you start? Executive chef John Beardsley (of Ponzu, Betelnut, Le Colonial, Azie) is going to seriously globetrot your tastebuds. You'll find Chinese, Thai, Southeast Asian, Japanese, and even some Indian dishes. Tapas, small plates, large plates, satays, sushi… it goes on. Tell yourself, "Focus, must stay focused."

We started with the tapa of Golden Pineapple and Thai Chile Salt ($5)—you spritz the chunks of pineapple with lime and then sprinkle or roll them into the spicy salt—a total flavor extravaganza. I recommend keeping this dish on your table as a palate cleanser between courses. We also got a second tapa of "Beef from Heaven," which was like Thai street food from heaven: bite-size and nicely chewy pieces of steak with that pleasing tang of fish sauce, paired with green apple. Actually, both dishes felt very "street," and authentic. (You can get two tapas for $9.)

We couldn't deny our curiosity about the Shanghai scallion bread ($9) with "strange flavor" eggplant. What turned up was a cross between Jabba the Hut meets an "Awesome Blossom"—those deep-fried onions from some hellish place like Chili's. It was a mass of scallion-studded batter that bordered on a nightmare to eat—it was flaky-messy, oily, and too overtly bad for you. The top half of it was slightly burnt, and the other half was a doughy mass. But you know, some people will totally love it, because that's how people are. I would have preferred some sticky rice instead for the otherwise tasty dipping sauce of (unexpectedly cool) and "strange flavor" eggplant (with ginger, sesame oil and seeds, garlic, soy sugar, and rice wine vinegar). What's strange about it is these two were hanging out together. It was like a bad couple, a la Britney and Kevin. Divorce would serve them well.

Next up was the roasted duck salad ($11.50), with flavorful pieces of duck that weren't fatty (for a change), tossed with Thai basil, cabbage, ginger, mango and other salad-y ingredients. The Thai basil would benefit from being shredded, since it's rather potent as a whole leaf. Otherwise, I really dug this refreshing salad, although it tended toward the sweet, especially with the mango. Which is actually where most of the meal went from this point on: into candy-slut land, as I like to call it. How sweeeeeeet.

The sushi is courtesy of sushi chef Akira Yoshizumi, who is obviously having fun with the rolls. He had to be clever as well since the restaurant needed to be kosher-compliant, which means no shellfish and no fish without scales. So your California roll will actually be made with kanikama (a crab substitute, this one made of cod) instead of crab, and things like unagi will be amiss. Not a big deal—there's so much on the menu you really can't miss anything. We tried the big eye roll ($12.50), which came with kanikama, gobo (burdock root), and cucumber wrapped in seared yellowtail. Here's where the candy slut came out: it was topped with sweet miso, which the heatless jalapeños on top were no match for. Sweet miso, 1. Jalapeños, 0.

We also tried the signature (415) roll ($12) which fell into the camp of what I refer to as cheap thrills sushi—you know the type: indulgent, covered in tempura, and drizzled in some special sauce. It was totally good (kanikama, spicy tuna, avocado and shiso), but definitely would get you a reputation if you hung out with it too much. One small and not-so-stellar detail: the roll was noticeably cut unevenly. Huh. Dollops of sriracha on the plate were a nice hit of heat to cut a swath through the sweet. (Yes, I just rhymed.)

Next to arrive was the hacked ginger chicken ($16.95), which looked like a grilled chicken hiding in a field. It was topped with chopped greenage and the pomelo, which brought great flavor, but someone showed the chicken no mercy on the grill—it was totally overdone. Hacked, for real. The citrus and ginger flavor was so good I could almost forgive the dry chicken, but not quite. I'd totally order it again, hoping that it was cooked properly next time.

And then, the titleholder in Sweet Fest 2006: the miso-glazed black cod ($22). Cooked perfectly, silky, succulent, and yes, sweet. I was getting tired of it after three bites. The bed of sliced cucumber tried to balance the dish, but it was no match. The candy cod prevailed.

You'd think after al this sweetness I wouldn't want dessert, but you don't know me very well, do you? The profiteroles with green tea ice cream were initially deemed too hard, but once the ice cream melted into them, it worked. The green tea ice cream was surprisingly un-chalky. I forgot to ask where they get it, because it was right-on. My pal had the passion fruit tart, which was, surprise, really sweet with its shortbread crust and dollop of sweet cream on top.

So, the wrap-up. In the end, I love my Asian food at hole-in-the-wall places, forcing me to go to Larkin Street for some pho, and sit under bad fluorescent lighting for my beef salad. But I think a lot of people will like this place, because there's a melee of dishes to choose from, it's food that's fun to eat with friends, and the space is visually pleasing. Oh, and one big thing I don't get at my noodle joints are servers who can and will explain every component in a dish. The servers at (415) are well versed in the menu, which is nice to see.

One thing to note: while there is validated parking for diners after 5pm, you have to be outta there by 10pm or the JCC garage attendants will tow your Beemer. Don't forget.

 

Tsar Nicoulai
Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94105

415-288-8630
website

Tue-Wed 11am-6pm
Thu-Fri 11am-7pm
Sat 9am-6pm
Sun 11am-5pm

Apps $12-$14
Sandwiche: $10-$14
Mains $10-$32
Caviar samplers $16-$54

MARCH 21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, newsflash. Last week I canoodled with one of the most dreamboat sandwiches I've had in recent memory, and I'm already plotting to have another date with it. Imagine a sashimi sandwich that went to Paris. The fabulously spendy ~TSAR NICOULAI CAVIAR CAFE~ in the Ferry Building is where I found this super-fox of the sandwich world: try gleaming slabs (they say paillard, but these were straight-up slabs) of sushi-grade ahi tuna partnered with crème fraîche, red onion, a sunny-side-up quail egg, and a generous layer of American Golden Whitefish Caviar with a sprinkling of capers, all nestled into a toasted Acme roll. It's called "the Parisien" but I call it love. It's $14 and worth every penny. It's messy, meaty, silky, creamy, tangy, sweet, salty… a totally flavor jackpot. And I thought the truffled egg was the be-all and end-all. Au contraire! I'll see you at the counter. I'll be the girl whispering sweet nothings to her sandwich.

 

Meet Fritz Maytag of York Creek Vineyards
March 22, 2006

Tasting:
Arlequin Wine Merchant
384 Hayes St.
at Gough St.
415-863-1104
website

Tasting 5:30pm-7:30pm

Reservations are not required
$10 tasting fee

Reception and Dinner:
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
398 Hayes St.
at Gough St.
R.S.V.P. 415-551-1590
website

Reception at 7:30pm
Dinner at 8pm

$140 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity)



MARCH 21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Arlequin Wine Merchant and Absinthe are pairing up for a pretty special evening this Wednesday, March 22: James Beard Foundation Honoree ~FRITZ MAYTAG~ of York Creek Vineyards (also proprietor of Anchor Steam Brewery and Anchor Distilling Co.) will lead a tasting of his estate offerings (you didn't know he has a premier mountain winery in Napa, did you?) at Arlequin. After the tasting wraps up at 7:30pm, a reception and winemaker dinner will be held next door at Absinthe.

The reception begins with cocktails featuring Anchor Distilling Co.'s Junipero Gin and Old Potrero Whiskey paired with light hors d'oeuvres. Dig into a five-course dinner prepared by Absinthe's Executive Chef Ross Browne. Pairing wines include Pinot Blanc '02, Tempranillo '03, Meritage Red Vertical ('02 & '94) and Port Blend '02. Except for Pinot Blanc, all York Creek Vineyards selections will be made available for retail purchase at a 10% discount at Arlequin Wine Merchant.

Winterland One-Year Anniversary
2101 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94115

website

Tuesday, March 28, 2006
5:30pm-10pm

Dinner: $90

MARCH 21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO One of my favorite restaurants, ~WINTERLAND~, is celebrating their one-year anniversary on Tuesday, March 28. They will be offering a six-course prix-fixe dinner for $90, with complimentary champagne with dinner, from 5:30pm-10pm. You can just swing by for cocktails and snacks in the lounge from 10pm-midnight. Happy birthday, Winterland. Keep up the innovative work, chef Morales!

Hip Tastes
BUTTER
354 11th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
415-665-5194

Friday, March 31, 2006
7pm-10pm
Cost: $25

website
sign up here

MARCH 21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO For those looking for a different groove to taste wine to, there's ~HIP TASTES~, described as "wine tastings [that] are stylish events for adventurous enthusiasts looking to broaden their knowledge of the good stuff." The events definitely seem to draw a fun crowd. Hip, if you will.

The next one will be hosted at Butter in SoMa (not your standard wine tasting venue) for "Old School," a tasting event that will pair St. Supery and Bonny Doon wines with PB&J, Pigs in a Blanket, and Mac 'n' Cheese (definitely not your standard tasting fare). There will also be music and a couple nice giveaways for two lucky hipsters: a magnum of Bonny Doon 2002 Cardinal Zin 100 year vine and a VIP tour and barrel tasting at St. Supery for four. Cheers, good buddy.

 

MARCH 21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO This is pretty silly, but I kind of like the show. ~JESSE JAMES~ of Monster Garage and a posse of Italian-American builders with a lot of vowels in their last names showed up at the Fior d'Italia, America's oldest Italian restaurant, for a pasta showdown. It was the chef of the Fior (Gianni Audieri) versus a Ferrari, The Noodler, that churns out homemade pasta and sauce. Go Ferrari. It aired on March 20 and airs again on March 21 on the Discovery Channel, 8-9 PM, ET/PT and 12 AM respectively. Dude.