table of contents   This week's tablehopper: the joy of meat.
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

 

APRIL 18, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, what is up with all the happenings in this city? It's a good thing, but this week's chatterbox is definitely out of hand. (Thanks to a couple of you who wrote in some hot tips! Keep ‘em coming!) And I kicked down two reviews. Just call me a giver.

Ciao for now,
~Marcia
 

APRIL 18, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO There's so much going on this week, we're going to have to do this neighborhood by neighborhood. First, to Russian Hill we go. It ends up local favorite, ~FRASCATI~, has new owners since April 1: Jon and Rebecca Rader. Jon was the GM of Scala's Bistro at the historic Sir Francis Drake for five or so years (which included overseeing Caffe Espresso, banquets, and the Starlight Room, which means he was one busy mofo), and prior to that was the GM of Harry Denton's Starlight Room from '97-'01. The Raders are long-standing friends with Rich Wood, the former proprietor. So far, the neighborhood has been totally receptive, especially since the Raders plan to keep things on track with no drastic changes, including keeping chef Max DiMare at the stoves. 1901 Hyde St at Green St., 928-1406.

Over a few blocks, Scott Holley, owner of North Beach's Steps of Rome and Figaro, in addition to the G Bar (next door to the Laurel Inn), has bought ~YABBIE'S COASTAL KITCHEN~ on Polk St. The previous owner, Windee Smith, grew tired of the commute from the wine country (I don't blame her). Holley is keen to maintain the friendly, easygoing, and quaint Russian Hill ambiance (and good wine list) Yabbie's is known for. The chef, Megan Smith, will also remain. She has been there for a year and a half, and in fact is working on a few tasty new dishes for the menu, like a lobster fritter appetizer, and an entrée of salmon with crispy artichoke and potato with tarragon butter sauce. She has wanted to try some new dishes for a while, and with the new ownership, she has been given the clearance to do so. But regulars, fear not: they are keeping many of the classics firmly in place on the menu, including the clambake, half a Dungeness crab, the sesame-crusted tuna, the cioppino, and, of course, the Monday night fish 'n' chips. 2237 Polk St at Vallejo St., 415-474-4088.

The Western Addition is seriously on a tear: not only did ~NOPA~ open last week, and I’m hearing it’s getting high marks, (560 Divisadero St. at Hayes St., 415-864-8643), but a few doors down is ~ZIRYAB~, a Middle Eastern joint (at last—a different kind of wrap for the 'hood) from Sameer Nasser, who owns the Star-ell liquor store on Divis. Ziryab has a pretty extensive menu, serving kebabs, shwarma, falafel, salads, and there is even free-range chicken breast with sumac sauce. There's also a front patio that is recessed from the street, and hookahs (apple and strawberry). The only bummer: the hours are daily from 4pm-11pm, which means no lunch (yet)—but they plan on opening for lunch soon. 528 Divisadero between Hayes and Oak Streets, 415-522-0800. There is also a pizza joint that just opened, ~AMINA'S PIZZERIA~, right across from The Independent, which should make concertgoers happy. Granted, the unparalleled Little Star is right up the street, but sometimes you just need a slice of some thin-crust pizza, fast. 655 Divisadero St at Grove St., 415-441-4102.

Over on Fulton near Masonic in the old Storyville/1751 Social Club will be a tea café by day/performance space and restaurant by night called ~POLENG LOUNGE~. During the day, the café will serve bahn mi and desserts and snacks to accompany their tea program, which is designed to be approachable and will highlight floral and flavored blends. During the evening, the the pan-Asian menu will feature Southeast Asian cuisine, with Philippine/Thai/Balinese/Vietnamese influences. The chef is Tim Luym, a former sous chef from Fifth Floor. He plans on integrating tea into a variety of the dishes, like Ceylon-encrusted duck breast, or chocolate cake with green tea anglaise. They will be putting in floor-to-ceiling glass windows to lighten the place up, they put in a water feature on either side of the fireplace, and sourced the exotic furnishings while on trips to Bali, Java, and Taiwan (which is where they went to source their oolong teas as well). The back room, called the Temple Room, will have a hand-carved statue of a deity from Java. They intend on being open in late May. 1751 Fulton St. at Masonic St.

And right around the corner, until Poleng Lounge opens, bahn mi fans will be happy with the ~SAIGON DELI-CAFÉ~ that recently opened on the corner of Masonic and Hayes. (They serve standard American deli sandwiches too.)

On Fillmore Street, the ~CREPEVINE~ is slated to open on Tuesday April 25. The affable owner, Maher Fakhouri, has made the neighbors happy by repainting the building in charcoal and greenish hues; in its previous incarnation as Leticia's, it was a bright orange. The interior underwent serious renovations, with all new equipment in the kitchen, and the formerly massive bar is now smaller and much less dominating. Expect a more familial and casual atmosphere, and its quick and efficient service will be perfect for the lunch crowd. This location will start serving breakfast at 7:30am, and will stay open until 10pm, even later on Fri-Sat. Since this Crepevine has a liquor license, you will be able to enjoy a Ramos Fizz over breakfast, fizzzzzzzzzz. This will be Fakhouri's seventh Crepevine, and he also owns Savor in Noe Valley. 2301 Fillmore St. at Clay St.

Speaking of Noe Valley, there are a few changes happening there too: the greasy spoon, ~HUNGRY JOE'S~, after holding it down for 35+ years will become a Middle Eastern place next month. The owner retired and left for Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, ~YIANNI'S~ is being taken over by Joseph Manzare (Globe, Tres Agaves, Zuppa) and will reopen in a couple months or so as Joey & Eddy's Seafood. Patio hounds will be pleased to hear they plan on serving brunch on the weekends. 1708 Church St. at 29th St.

I had the honor of a sneak peek this weekend of the future home of ~PRANA RESTAURANT~, the Indian-fusion restaurant soon to open under Jamie Lauren, formerly the executive chef of Levende Lounge. Some dishes on the preview menu include spiced chickpea blini with mixed domestic and foreign caviars and horseradish-chive crème fraîche; house-made masoor dal ravioli with caramelized torpedo onion sauce and black truffle butter; and ras el hanout and almond-crusted black cod, with chana masala stew, Sungold tomato, and micro-greens salad.

The owner is Paul Hemming of the record store and label, Zen City Records. They're currently waiting on some permits, but the hoped-for opening date of the restaurant is July 1. The restaurant and lounge area are on the ground floor, and you'll enter on 540 Howard St. Some will recognize a few remaining elements from the space's former incarnation as Dr. Winkie's Mercury; in the lounge you'll find gorg mirrored panels with inset bubbles (tres glam), while the main dining room is definitely spacious: it even features a mezzanine.

The multi-level building (formerly the home of the legendary DV8 and the kooky Caribbean Zone, which used to house the Doobie Brother's tour plane, remember?) is slated to become quite the 22,000-foot playground/nightclub called ~TEMPLE~, which is opening before the restaurant does (for now, the opening date is May 27). It will have three levels, three dancefloors, six bars, and four VIP rooms. Who said mega clubs were over? Downstairs is the Destiny Lounge, all outfitted in white with padded walls (which doesn't mean it's cool for you to go crazy), a lighting installation that looks like a huge equalizer, and the room is lit with changing LED lights (a la Supperclub) that give the room differing hues, from pink to green to purple. There's also the main room with a dancefloor called the Catacombs, with a moodier and darker vibe. (No skeletons that I could see.) The DJ booth will have outlets where you can plug in and listen in to the DJ mixing live. Then upstairs on the fourth floor is a groovy little private playhouse/playpen/penthouse space that's built for pre-parties, after-parties, private parties, and banquets. You'll enter the club on the alley-side of the building, at 55 Natoma. Cocktails in both the club and the restaurant will focus on herbal elixirs and ingredients with holistic and healing properties. Here's my favorite detail: for those who remember the old DV8 (holla!), they are preserving the entrance into the private ladies lounge through a stall in the women's bathroom. So New York, 1977.

Okay, turn that house music down. ~L'OLIVIER~ just reopened on April 17 after doing some renovations. They have removed the wallpaper, replacing it with brighter painted walls, in addition to adding new carpet, and a stage for live jazz during the week. The original owners, the brothers Guy and Christian, sold the classic French restaurant to a pair of husband and wife teams (the Fudyms and the Rabins) not too long ago. While the new owners have no intent to remove the famous "Bouillabaisse Marseillaise" from the traditional French menu, they will be adding some new dishes in the coming months. 465 Davis Ct., 415-981-7824.

Outside of town, there are a couple big chef changes. First off, Aaron Zimmer, the sous chef from the well-regarded CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental Washington, D.C., has been appointed chef de cuisine at ~NAVIO AT THE RITZ-CARLTON HALF MOON BAY~. While at CityZen, Zimmer worked under the buzzed-about Eric Ziebold, a former chef de cuisine at French Laundry who was named by Food & Wine one of America's Best New Chefs in 2005. (Before CityZen, Zimmer was a sous chef at Navio for a year and a half.) Zimmer is replacing Peter Rudolph, who went to SF's Campton Place. Zimmer's wife, Jewel, is a pastry chef who used to be at Fifth Floor and most recently was the pastry chef at CityZen, is accompanying her husband westward—expect her to pop up somewhere in the Bay Area. Both Delfina and Campton Place are presently seeking pastry chefs, hmmmm…

Over in Sausalito, ~POGGIO~ has appointed Peter McNee to the position of executive chef. His track record includes Stars, Tra Vigne, Bacchus Restaurant in Sonoma County, and working closely with Chris Fernandez at Poggio in the position of sous chef, then chef de cuisine, and now executive chef.

A couple other mini-updates: I got a date for ~BEARD PAPA'S~ opening. May 12. We may need to make it National Cream Puff Day. Also, ~CANTEEN~ lovers take note: they are closed for renovations and a staff vaykay until April 21.

 

California Street Delicatessen and Cafe
3200 California Street
Cross: Presidio St.
San Francisco, CA 94118

415-922-3354
website

Open daily 11am–8pm

Apps $4.95-$9.95
Sandwiches $5.95-$11.95
Dinner plates $9.95-$14.95
Dessert $5.95

APRIL 18, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Since the first night of Passover was on the 12th, I figured it was as good a time as any to write about a new place where you can enjoy some matzo, which is especially fantastic when you've spread some chopped chicken liver on it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As part of the former Sydney's makeover in the JCC is the addition of the ~CALIFORNIA STREET DELICATESSEN AND CAFE~, right next door to the new (415) Asian Restaurant & Lounge. The authentic New York-style deli menu was put together and sourced under the watchful eye of local cookbook author, restaurant consultant, and all-around culinary goddess, Joyce Goldstein, who worked alongside executive chef, John Beardsley.

The café has a crisp look: black and white checkered floors, vintage black and white photos on the walls, glossy black chairs, and a marble counter for those who want to look out the window and gross out passer-by while scarfing on a messy meaty sandwich. The menu is a melee of opportunities for indulgence. And since I was having lunch with Ms. Goldstein, I totally let her drive. (I'm smart that way.) We started with the afore-mentioned chopped chicken liver (who, me?) ($5.50), which was smooth and studded with hard-boiled egg, heaven. Especially sublime with the crispy little bad-for-you chicken skin crackling bits (called gribines) on top, which Joyce charmingly referred to as Jewish popcorn.

The saga of the crispy and the fatty continued with the toothy potato latkes ($5.95), fried pancakes of shredded potato and onion, served with thick sour cream and applesauce. What's not to love? Well, my waistline probably had a couple things to say about it, but I told it to shut the hell up. Because next up was an order of kasha varnishkes ($4.95), which I am totally craving as I write this. It's a hearty little side dish of petite bowtie pasta with buckwheat, caramelized onions, and mushrooms. Totally homey. I need to pretend I'm a Jewish grandmother and make this for myself, stat, and then kvetch to myself about how I made it wrong and it's not as good as Joyce's.

We also tried "Grandma Rae's" sweet and sour stuffed cabbage ($9.95), tight bundles that arrive in pool of bright tomato sauce. No offense to Grandma Rae, but it just wasn't my favorite dish. Especially for $9.95, oy vey. But I am sure there are those who will order it for dinner every week. Now, how about some cheese blintzes ($7.95), why hello there. More sour cream, along with apple-huckleberry compote, and a dusting of sugar. And butter. This is exactly the kind of sweet and sour I like to hang with.

And who could resist a side of a potato knish ($2.50)? Especially this one with its flaky and fluffy crust. And it has Joyce's name in front of it, so you know it represents. I also dug the complimentary pickle, which was brined (no vinegar), so it was tart without being totally puckery, and had a nice snap.

So you're probably wondering where the hell is my review of their sandwiches, right? Well, unless you haven't been paying a lot of attention, Joyce and I seriously chowed down. There was no way I was gonna sneak a corned beef or tongue sandwich in there between the latkes and the knish and the cabbage. So I'll have to report back on the sandwiches another day.

All I can say is Joyce was very choosy about the meats they use, so you'll find Niman Ranch braised brisket, but the rest of the meats were sourced elsewhere. They offer three sizes for their warm sandwiches (nosher, fresser, and super fresser)—I can only imagine what a $14.95 super fresser corned beef on rye looks like. Maybe I'll stage a battle of the hand-carved pastrami sandwiches, pitting East Coast West Deli, Moishe's Pippic, and California Street's sandwiches against each other in a blind tasting. Sounds fun. I'll let you know.

 

Kokkari
200 Jackson St.
Cross: Front St.
San Francisco, CA 94111

415-981-0983
website

Lunch weekdays, dinner Mon-Sat

Apps $4.75-$10
Entrées $19.75-$34.75
Dessert $6.50-$9

 

APRIL 18, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO So, for those of you who celebrate it, Easter has passed. (Thank you Easter bunny, bwok bwok!) Perhaps you had your lamb, or your ham, or if you're really hardcore, you had some baby goat (that would be my family). But I'm here to tell you: you're not done with your springtime lamb just yet. Not until you have gotten your heinie over to ~KOKKARI~ for their milk-fed lamb off the rotisserie, which comes with little cracklings of skin tucked into a baa-worthy pile of meat. Even if lamb doesn't really turn your crank, this dish is a must-try. It'll change how you feel about lamb, i.e. make the rest of what's out there less fabulous.

You know, everything in this restaurant is top-notch. I've always had enjoyable meals here, both lunch and dinner. Chef Erik Cosselmon's menu hits that sweet spot of authentic Greek cuisine made with quality Californian ingredients. Let's start with some mezethes (apps), like the crispy smelts ($6.50), AKA fries with eyes, perfect with a squeeze of lemon and served with skordalia, a potato and garlic dip. Did you notice that price? Seriously, like, cool. Especially since you will eat every last one of them. Crunch crunch.

Each and every time I simply can't resist the tractor beam of the grilled octopus ($11.75), meaty yet tender hunks of hacked tendrils, with a dousing of lemon, oregano, and olive oil. Get used to that delicious olive oil, because it's going to turn up all over the place. (As Martha would say, it's a good thing.) The grilled artichoke and eggplant skewers ($10) also rocked, especially with their partnering of thick Greek yogurt. And again, olive oil. Just think how good it is for your skin.

They also offer an array of dips to go with their house-made grilled pita ($5.50). Yes, eggplant is good (melitzanosalata), and so is mashed cheese (tirosalata), but the winner is the taramosalata, a thick and rich dip made with fish roe, bread, white wine vinegar, and a combo of canola and olive oil. It probably has some garlic and lemon in there too. Don't pass it up. It will haunt you later. I want some right now, and it's breakfast time.

The star dish, however, is the grilled lamb tongue skewers ($6.50). I know, you're probably like, "What? That sounds so wrong." But why would the tablehopper steer you wrong? Exactly. My dining partner deemed its future as a replacement for foie gras, it was so supple and succulent.

The entrées will seriously transport you to some remote island in the Aegean. The night we were there, we had red mullet from Greece, grilled and served whole on a bed of braised greens with lemon, and surprise, olive oil. All it took was one look out the window upon the rainy San Francisco street, and I was no longer at my seaside village. But putting another bite of the scrumptious mullet in my mouth, surprise, my waiter instantly grew a mono-brow and I was really tan and drunk on retsina.

Kokkari's moussaka ($19.75) is much adored (what's not to love about a rich dish of béchamel, eggplant, lamb, and potato bubbling in an earthenware bowl?), and their lamb chops ($27.75) are legendary. But the reason you're here is that rotisserie milk-fed lamb I was telling you about, which has been turning on the spit in the fireplace in the main room, waiting for you to show up. It even comes with lemony potatoes that are perfectly seasoned. In the wintertime, they'll swap the lamb for a pig. (I hope I don't end up on the spit.)

Desserts are traditional: I love the galaktoboureko ($8), a creamy semolina custard wrapped in phyllo dough, served with roasted pineapple and star anise ice cream. Now, the pineapple isn't the most authentic ingredient, but whatever, it works. I found the rizogalo ($6.50), the rice pudding, a bit sweet for my taste, especially with the mango and strawberry compote. On the opposite end is the Greek yogurt ($7), made in-house daily, and comes with candied walnuts and dates, and a drizzle with honey. It's divine in its simplicity.

So, it's shocking how large the restaurant is, yet it manages to turn out total quality, across the board. The service is also efficient, and friendly. I love the space: it's cozy and welcoming yet polished, with wide-plank wood floors lined with Persian runners, beamed ceilings, high-backed chairs, a fireplace in the front room, and an open kitchen in the back room. It's one of those restaurants that fits the bill for numerous occasions, like dinner with the 'rents, a business lunch, or a birthday dinner. I often see tables of ladies who lunch or are having "girl's night out," and there are always happy couples sharing the seafood platter for two. And hey, and did I tell you about the lamb?

 

Oliveto
Rockridge Market Hall
5655 College Ave.
Oakland

510-547-5365
website

APRIL 18, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, I am totally going to this wine dinner on Wednesday, and I think there's a little space left so you can too. Here are some highlights from the press release: The esteemed Chianti Classico producer, Emanuela Stucchi-Prinetti of Badia a Coltibuono, will visit the Bay Area for two events at Oliveto restaurant, courtesy of Dalla Terra. First up is a wine dinner on Wednesday April 19. Oliveto's menu will be expanded for the evening to include traditional Tuscan dishes paired with Badia a Coltibuono's wines. Emanuela Stucchi will be on hand to welcome guests and answer questions about the wines. The menu and wines will be offered à-la-carte. The Badia a Coltibuono wines to be poured include a 2004 Trappoline (Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend), 1993, 1995, and 2000 Chianti Classico Riserva, 1999 Sangioveto (100% Sangiovese, Super-Tuscan), 2003 Chianti Classico, and 1998 Vin Santo. Seating starts at 5:30pm.

Badia a Coltibuono was founded in 1051. All grapes grown in Badia a Coltibuono's estate vineyards are organically grown, handpicked, and vinified using natural yeast. The estate is strongly dedicated to the preservation and vinification of the Sangiovese varietal: it has dedicated its own vineyards to the production of three different Chianti Classico wines and one IGT exclusively made from Sangiovese. They are also highly regarded for their organic olive oils.

And then on Saturday April 22, Emanuela Stucchi-Prinetti will host a talk on "Modern Day Life in Tuscany." As the daughter of Lorenza de' Medici and Piero Stucchi-Prinetti, Emanuela is a member of one of Tuscany's best-known families. She was the first woman elected president of the Marchio Storico del Chianti Classico, the governing consortium for Chianti Classico designated wines. Now a mother of her own two children, she is involved in Tuscan public schools, active in local politics and art, and is the sponsor of Eroica, a bicycle rally along unpaved roads which features historic Stucchi-Prinetti bicycles. The rally is part of an effort to preserve Tuscany's dirt roads that are a symbol of the traditional agricultural landscape and also provide an important refuge for species that still live in the area that would otherwise be endangered. Emanuela will discuss this and the estate's accomplishment of becoming a certified organic wine and olive oil producer. The talk will take place at Oliveto Restaurant at 1:30pm. There is no fee for this talk, but reservations are necessary. Call 510-547-5356.


Photo courtesy of Ferry Building Marketplace

Commonwealth Club at The Ferry Building Marketplace
Ferry Building
2nd floor
Port Commission Hearing Room

website

Tasting with Our Eyes: The Art of the Cookbook

Thursday, April 27
5:30pm, check-in/wine & cheese reception
6pm-7:15pm, program

$12 for members
$19 for non-members


APRIL 18, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Next week, on Thursday April 27, there will be another Commonwealth Club talk at the Ferry Building as part of their Bay Gourmet series, called "Tasting with Our Eyes: The Art of the Cookbook." There will be a panel of experts to discuss the art of producing a cookbook, from conceptualizing to illustrating to styling and publishing. And not just any experts: try Nancy Austin, Creative Director, Ten Speed Press; Patricia Curtan, Cookbook Illustrator, Chez Panisse Fruit and Chez Panisse Vegetables; Christopher Hirsheimer, Food Photographer and Co-founder of Saveur magazine; Peggy Knickerbocker, Author, The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Cookbook; and Thy Tran, Writer, Wandering Spoon - Moderator.