tablehopper
table of contents   This week's tablehopper: out to lunch. No, really.
the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
new restaurant reviews
the socialite
shindigs/feasts/festivals
the starlet
no photos please

 

MAY 23, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Ya know, sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. Hard. (Please join in.) In last week's starlet, guess who completely missed the boat on the entry about Virginia Madsen, the Academy Award-nominated actress from Sideways. Yes, yours truly. I mean, really now, Marcia, hello! I thought I'd share some charming reader comments—thank God someone is paying attention:

"As an avid reader (or at least an avid reader for past two months or so), I wanted to make a comment on this past week's missive. I'm sure someone has already pointed this out, but it's too amusing not to send it along. Virginia Madsen, you'll recall, was in "Sideways," and thus MUST be a great aficionado of the pinot noir. Much like any actor who appears in an "issue" movie suddenly becomes the issue's greatest advocate. Finally, after checking their site, I discovered that they have Robert Sinskey pinot, which, though it won't change your life, isn't bad. Perhaps VM was hoping for central coast...? Keep up the great work. You've been blowing the "Inside Scoop" out of the water." ~J.V.

"Just because she was in Sideways she thinks she knows wine? Dear God. Good story. Thank you tablehopper." ~M.A.

"Funny bit about Virginia Madsen -- even funnier if you recall that she was the co-star of Sideways, in which she played an earthy, well-informed, and completely unsnobby wine connoisseur." ~B.W.

"Sweetie—you missed this one-Virginia was the star (blonde) of Sideways. So of course she'd pay attention to the Pinots! Oh well—there's a lot of info to keep track of." ~J.S.

"Just wondering whether you were funning in the item on (Academy Award winner) Virginia Madsen. And if what you said is true, perhaps she was funning about the pinot noir. Remember SIDEWAYS." ~P.F.

Yes, dear readers, I will remember Sideways. And I will also try to remember my actors, and not just my chefs. And with that, to the news…

Faithfully yours,
~Marcia
 

the chatterbox

MAY 23, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Oh, so you don't think my Sideways gaffe was the only place where I was asleep at the wheel, do you? How about this one: I completely spaced on telling you the fantastic news about who the chef is going to be at the new ~YOSHI'S WORLD CLASS JAZZ HOUSE & JAPANESE RESTAURANT~ at the Fillmore Jazz Heritage Center. Excuse me while I put down this bong (kidding) and tell you: Sho/Shotaro Kamio, formerly of Ozumo! How's that for a coup?! You might remember Sho was on the brink of opening his namesake restaurant in the Marina, but the deal fell through. I'm glad he didn't leave SF—his unique and contemporary take on Japanese cuisine would be welcomed anywhere. So come Spring 2007, Sho will be back in effect. The owner of Yoshi's, Kaz Kajimura, says, "My dream chef has materialized. I could not have imagined anyone better." I have to say, he's right. Sho is currently building his dream kitchen, and planning the menu for the 420-seat jazz club and restaurant.

Been hearing really good things about two restaurants that opened last week, ~BRICK~ (1085 Sutter St. at Larkin St., 415-441-4232) and ~BONG SU~ (http://www.bongsu.com/). I was at the opening party for Bong Su and the space is definitely spiffy. Naturally, I'll let you know once I've formally checked 'em out!

I also heard from my friend at the 222 Club that ~farmerbrown~ finally opened last week. Can't tell you much since after swinging by twice to drop my card off, I didn't get any callbacks. I know, they're busy. But hey, I tried. (Twice.) The space looked cool, with distressed metal touches, like copper and some oxidized bits. Nice long bar. The owner is Jay Foster, formerly of Blue Jay Café on Divisadero, and according to their website, it looks like there will be some entertainment in the evenings. Groovy. 25 Mason St. at Market St., 409-FARM.

The Castro will soon have a slick little place to hang out, tucked under the infamous Café on Market Street. While the 23-year-olds wiggle to the latest Madonna remix and get drunk on Midori in the bar/club upstairs, the adults will be downstairs in ~CRAVE~, a lounge/restaurant from the same owners (they also own Malacca on 18th Street). Executive Chef Matthew DuTrumble was the opening chef at Geranium, the vegetarian restaurant in Bernal that closed at the end of March, and was also a chef/instructor at the CCA. Crave's approachable American-goes-International menu will have a big focus on health and creativity, showcasing new flavors and fresh ingredients. The restaurant concept is that it will be an ideal place to swing by and have a drink and a bite to eat before heading out for the evening, or winding down with some late-night nibbles (it will be open until 3am Thu-Sat). The menu will include share-ables like grilled prawns with a Marsala-spice rub and coconut cream sauce, a grilled four-cheese pizza, and New York sliders in a potato bun with shredded carrots, tomato, and their special house sauce, kept company with crumbled Gorgonzola, caramelized onion, sautéed mushrooms, and a house pickle. (Dishes will hover around $6-$12.) Dessert will feature a dish DuTrumble is calling Rendezvous Fondue, with Bailey's Chocolate, Tuaca toffee, and Amaretto white chocolate fondue served with butter cookies, cereal bar treats, candy bars, fresh fruit, almonds, brownies, and cheesecake balls. In fact, a number of the dishes and desserts will feature alcohol from the bar—even the ribs will have a Seagram's and 7up barbecue sauce.

The loungey space is designed by Lucy Dawson (who did the Malacca design), and will feature a loft with black leather ottomans for seating (a few will be flat-topped for food to rest on them) and a DJ booth, while the downstairs will have a sleek onyx bar with stainless steel wrapping and an under-light, plus curving banquettes and tables for more traditional seating. The space will be lit with a groovy LED lighting system that seems to be built in to the ceiling (LED is popping up everywhere: first Supperclub, then Temple and now Crave) and will reflect off the mirrors. Crave is opening June 2, Sun-Wed 6pm-11pm, and Thu-Sat 6pm-3am. 2367 Market St. at 15th St., 415-865-0192.

On the other side of town, one of the best late-night dining places to hit (try 1am, nightly, people), ~CAFÉ MARITIME~, is going to start taking care of the morning risers too, by serving weekend brunch as of June 10. Expect some delicious brunch fare like crab frittata, their lobster roll and crab and shrimp corn fritters, and some brekkie classics, like pancakes, French toast, and perhaps some huevos rancheros. Don't forget they have that great raw bar, and a full liquor license, so Bloody Mary can join you at your table.

So check this out: it ends up ~HAWTHORNE LANE~ is following the steps of Charlie Trotter and has taken foie gras off the menu. Hawthorne Lane served their last PB&J with foie gras from Sonoma Foie Gras about a week ago… I spoke with owner David Gingrass, and he said it was just becoming too much of a hot topic for him to want to keep it on the menu. He says, "It offends enough customers that I had to consider taking it off the menu. Even a few people are too many in my book. There are so many other things in the world I can prepare instead. In the end, you have to pick your battles. I will say I wish our politicians had a better use of our time and tax dollars, however, since there are much bigger issues that affect human lives out there that need attention besides legislating fat ducks." Die-hard foie fans can find a similar PB&J execution at Frisson when the hankering strikes.

For those who want to read more:

  • Here is a link to an in-depth piece about foie gras in New York magazine from last June—perhaps you read it? David also told me Danny Meyer in New York is taking on the politicians (after fighting with the animal rights activists for the past year) and is becoming the pro-foie/anti-government foie legislation poster child for those in the restaurant community who want the government out of their kitchens.
  • Here's a Chicago Tribune piece about what exactly goes on at Sonoma's producer, Sonoma Foie Gras. See, well, read for yourself.
  • And here's an update on the lawsuit filed by Sonoma Foie Gras against Whole Foods on May 5, 2006, for interference with their contract with Grimaud Farms.

I had a chance to speak with the new owner of ~BYBLOS BAR AND GRILL~, which is going into the former VXN space in North Beach. No, it's not the latest boutique of the Italian fashion label sporting some loud prints. Byblos the restaurant is going to have a Mediterranean menu with California touches, and will include authentic Lebanese dishes, for lunch and dinner. The owner, Toufic Mahfouz, stressed that he has extremely high standards for quality, cleanliness, and healthy ingredients. The space should be ready to open in July, with the upstairs mezzanine featuring a fireplace and a mosaic wall, and bright colors on the walls. Byblos has a liquor license, and Mahfouz mentioned there will be entertainment once dinner service is complete, like belly dancing a couple nights a week, and a range of music, from Arabic to house. He's a recording artist himself, so maybe you'll get serenaded over your shwarma plate. 270 Columbus Ave. at Broadway.

Lastly, here's a shout-out to all you writers and artists out there. My good friend (and tablehopper's designer) and her trés-talented pal are launching a new print magazine about one of my favorite subjects, meat. ~MEAT MAGAZINE~ is looking for contributors, from essays to photography to the visual arts. Definitely take a look at their call for proposal on their site—it's a great little missive about meat! They aren't paying anything right now, but they'll send you a salame if your work is accepted. Expect Meat Magazine to be released this Fall. Viva meat! And now, to Fresh Meat!

 
fresh meat

Nicky's Pizzeria Rustica image

Nicky's Pizzeria Rustica
2109 Polk St.
Cross: Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94109

415-771-4222

Tue-Wed 11am-10pm
Thu-Sat 11am-11pm

Slices $3-$4.75
Salads $3.75-$4.75

MAY 23, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Oh, this town and it's incessant quest for the perfect pizza. I swear, it's a constant debate about who's tossing the best pie, whether it's the divine toppings at Pizzetta 211 trouncing almost everyone (let's hear it for the anchovies, no, the egg, no wait, two glorious eggs!), but then again, Pizzeria Delfina is no slouch (and no one has their cannoli for dessert), and let's not forget there's the perfect crust and sauce-to-mozzarella ratio at A16, and oh man, have you ever had a slice at Arinell hot out of the oven when you're a little drunk? Manna, I tell you. (No, we're not trekking to Larkspur or Oakland for this little discussion—you know exactly who I'm talking about.) And then there's a pizza that comes along that is totally different. Baa baa baa! Why hello, little black sheep!

People don't know what to make of the slices at ~NICKY'S PIZZERIA RUSTICA~. They complain the crust is too thick, the slices are too expensive (so a caramel frappuccino for $3+ is cool, but a handmade crust made with tipo 00 flour imported from Naples with organic and sustainable ingredients on top doesn't merit a $4.50 price tag for a hefty slice of homemade Italian sausage and pepper pizza? Come ON. As Nick says, it's just another example of the Miseducation of Russian Hill.). And then there are those who complain there's no place to sit.

Okay, let's break this down. Let's start with the pizza. Like the name says, it's rustica, which is the oldest style of pizza: a Roman-style crust that is more like a bready focaccia crust than a thin Napoletano crust. When coming up with this pizza, Nick was inspired by the pizza his nonna made. I'd say he had a good childhood. You'll get a hefty square cut into two triangles, and let's all just pause for a moment in this carb-phobic world. [Pause.] That nice slab of crust tasted hella good. And considering it's coming from a gas oven, Nick is doing one heck of a job. The crust had an addictive flavor and texture from the olive oil he uses, with a perfect balance of doughiness yet crispiness, and is topped with a lovely mozzarella that Nick has sourced from an old family producer. He's even trying his hand at making his own mozzarella. Bravo.

My friend and I tried the tre funghi, a mycological melee of portobello, shitake, and porcini mushrooms, with white truffle oil. Take that, Golden Boy! (They're the other thick-crust folks in town, but you can't even compare the two, really.) Personally, the Niman Ranch pancetta and caramelized onion slice rocked me hard, but my friend, who was being naughty, said, "Ya gotta sample Nick's sausage." Let's hear it for some sausage. Anyway. Nick's sausage is homemade, has a nice little kick—it hails from a recipe from the Inn at Little Washington's Patrick O'Connell. It's some mighty tasty sausage. The slice also comes with some nicely roasted peppers. Unimpeachable, that slice.

I even did a follow-up taste test: my very exacting and official Friday night tipsy test, and man, that slice was good enough to fall into bed with. A total pepperoni party. Especially since it was 11pm and it was literally the LAST SLICE. You know you're blessed in moments like that. The last slice. It's right up there with finding money, Doris Day parking, and asking to try on the last pair of shoes in a store window, and they're your size.

Speaking of size, so yes, the space is tiny—but what the heck, it's a pizza joint! There are some window seats available, with a few tables outside. Otherwise, there's a long counter where you can stand (pretend you're European!) over by the pizza oven, and on a typical SF night, that's not such a bad place to be. Toasty. It has cheery butter yellow walls, original black-and-white checked floors, tall windows, vintage-inspired overhead fans, and a spacious pizza display cabinet Nick had custom-made so you can survey your victim in the case before you commit to having it warmed up for you.

What's great is the sense of community in this place. Nick knows a lot of people, and fortunately has enough energy to keep up with all of them. They all say hello, whether they're saluting him from the sidewalk, coming in for a high-five, or trying to evade the eye of the watchful Walgreen's parking lot attendant across the street and surreptitiously park their car in the lot so they can sneak in for a slice. Where else can you meet characters with names like Edwin Heaven? It's enough to make you sit down (or stand, heh) with a glass of one of the nice wines Nick has selected, sink your teeth into a serious slice, and thank your lucky stars you live in San Francisco.

Sidebar: as many of you may, or may not know, I mentioned in a previous issue of tablehopper that Nick is no longer involved with Nick's Crispy Tacos next door. Lawsuit. Issues. Drama. Bottom line: I miss those tacos. So when I start jonesing for a taco "Nick's Way," I have to share a little secret: La Taqueria (2889 Mission St. at 24th St.) in the Mission has a pretty good approximation. Just order your taco "dorado" and you'll get a crispy taco wrapped up in a soft one, with cheese. No, it's not on the menu. Yes, it's ridiculous how much La Taqueria charges for their tacos, and they aren't even name-checking a designer meat on their menu. But I gotta hand it to them, their carnitas really are all that. And don't miss their agua fresca of melon. Buen provecho.

Le Colonial image

Le Colonial Lounge
20 Cosmo Place
Cross: Jones St.
San Francisco, CA 94109

415-931-3600
website

Tue-Fri 4:30pm-10pm

Apps $7-$12
Dessert $8

MAY 23, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Sometimes you just want a spot where you can hang out with a friend and hear each other speak, drink a few potent cocktails, graze on some tasty apps, and not have some pushy people crowding around you at a bar or evil-eyeing you for your seat. I know just the place.

I mentioned in tablehopper last month that ~LE COLONIAL~ was opening a pho bar in their upstairs lounge, and Chef Mike Yakura, inspired by a trip to Vietnam, was introducing some Vietnamese street food items on the modern Vietnamese menu. A pal and I went to check it out on a Tuesday—a very important fact, since this place reportedly gets mobbed on the weekend by 20-somethings with very white teeth, pastel shirts and a penchant for boozing it up.

I was quite content to sink into one of the rattan seating areas in a corner, with lazily rotating fans overhead and mismatched Asian rugs underfoot. There's also a balcony with heat lamps if you want to try snagging an outdoor table. The French Colonial atmosphere of the space has always been pleasing to me—it's a perfect place to get your expat groove on.

Le Colonial offers a variety of tropical cocktails ($8) that all manage to pack a nice woozy wallop by the time you finish your second one. Go nuts. So, the food. Now, full disclosure, I'm a big fan of trolling around Larkin Street and the Avenues for authentic Vietnamese food. Bad lighting, no problem. Raspberry sherbet-colored vinyl chairs, bring them on. $4.50 bowl of lip-smacking pho, excellent. Instead, here in the lounge, it's all flipped: the atmosphere is sultry, the lighting is flattering, and the food is double what you'd pay at most Vietnamese joints in town. But you knew this. You can't compare the two, really.

We started with the chao tom ($9), quenelles of minced prawn bound with egg white and wrapped on sugar cane and then grilled. Served with some rice noodles that had a peppery kick. Scrumptious. Slightly difficult to get the goods off the skewer, but these were my hands-down favorite.

I also enjoyed the banh xao tom ($9), a rice flour and mung bean crepe stuffed with tender prawns and sprouts. You tear bite-size pieces of it off and wrap it in a piece of fresh lettuce leaf, maybe slip some carrot inside, dunk dunk, delicious. The prawns were perfectly cooked, and tasted much better than what you'd get at most dives, I'll hand them that.

The caramel pork tenderloin ($11) was a little too deconstructed for me—seared pork tenderloin arrives in a bowl with two halves of a hard-boiled egg, some jalapeño slices, bell pepper, and on the side, a small mound of rice topped with crispy onion bits (an upgrade from the usual onion bits you get in some of the dive-ier places). The presentation was pretty, but I wanted it to come all mixed up so the flavors could blend together, especially that egg—not the easiest thing to do at the table, or share.

There are also a ton of other menu items, like mouth-melting braised pork ribs with five-spice and a sweet hoisin sauce ($11), or their duck spring rolls ($9), with duck confit inside, and accompanied by a flavorful ginger dipping sauce. There are two other kinds of spring rolls, plus cold noodle salads, coconut-crusted crab cakes… it's a long menu. Some things are not quite street food, but whatever, you're not really in Vietnam, either.

Now, to the pho ($7 small bowl/$9 large). I liked how the menu has a little primer about it, from how to say it (f-úh) to how to order it. And there's a small glass on the table holding individual ordering sheets and tiny golf pencils inside. For some people who have never had pho, this might be a novel way to introduce them to it, but it won't make them converts. The checklist with an array of ingredients to choose from was great, I love the concept, love it, but unfortunately the noodles were a tad underdone, and the broth wasn't hot enough, which is essential. If you don't get a face steaming with the first few spoonfuls, it won't be so good by the time you get to the bottom of the bowl. I will admit, it's really hard to beat having some pho with a bunch of fellow slurpers hunched over our bowls at my Larkin Street dive. And it was a little challenging to really get into it while sitting on a couch. But that chao tom, yum. I'd totally come back for that.

Enough with the lettuce leaves and dipping sauces and sriracha, to dessert! You could go with the trio of beignets ($8), but the real star of the dessert menu isn't even on it. It ends up there's this wicked chocolate soufflé you can request, and I say do it. It's piping-hot, fluffy, smooth, and looks like a cupcake with a topping of whipped cream. (Sounds like a hot chick, huh!) It also comes with a wading pool of crème anglaise that reminded me of condensed milk, tasty. I think I was on my third cocktail by this time as well, so don't quote me on that.

According to an ad I just saw, they have a new line-up of live music Wed-Sat, starting around 6:30pm or so, and wrapping up by 10pm, which is when the DJs kick in on Friday and Saturday and someone releases the Kraken. But if you're looking for a nice little hideaway mid-week, now you know where to go. And if you want to party like it's 1999, now you know that too.

 
 
the socialite

Millennium logo

Millennium Restaurant
Thursday, May 25

580 Geary St.
at Jones St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

415-345-3900
website

reservations available 5:30pm-9pm
5-course prix-fixe menu

$39.99/person
(gratuity & tax not included)

MAY 23, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO This cracked me up. How often do you get to see a baked potato bar? Exactly. ~MILLENNIUM~ is hosting their 25th Annual "Southern Comfort" Dinner, which will have a vegetarian variation of some BBQ, plus baked casseroles, and cola showing up as a significant ingredient. They'll also have mint juleps (or lemonade and iced tea for teetotalers). And some live music to boot. Looks like it's one last opportunity to wear your ironic trucker hat.

Wines on Wine

Wines on Wine
Wednesdays, 6pm-7pm

Lounge on Five
(located adjacent to the Fifth Floor restaurant in Hotel Palomar)
12 Fourth St.
Cross:
Market St.
San Francisco
415-348-1555

classes are $35 each

MAY 23, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO So I had a chance to check out one of the ~FIFTH FLOOR/LOUNGE ON FIVE~ wine classes with sommelier Emily Wines, and I gotta tell ya, it rocked. There was a group of about ten of us in the lounge, tasting some mighty fine vinos while Ms. Wines poured and talked for an hour or so. Nice people. Good pours. Totally informative.

Fifth Floor just announced a new series of classes starting on June 7—check one out! I attended the Vive la France! class, and it definitely helped to get an overview of all the regions, and to learn about the châteaux of Bordeaux!

Here's more from Fifth Floor:
Wines is expanding her consumer version of her popular wine course, "Wines on Wine," to ten classes this summer. "Wines on Wine" is a casual and educational program designed to teach the art of wine tasting to any level of enthusiast. Participants may attend individual classes or the entire series.

The series begins on Wednesday, June 7, with "The Truth Behind Terroir - Pinot Noir." Other topics include "A Sweet Finale - Dessert Wine" (June 14); "Vino Italiano!" (June 28); "Wine Down Under - Southern Hemisphere" (July 12); "Food and Wine Pairing 101" (July 19); "Sensory Evaluation" (July 26); and "The Joy of Bubbly" (August 23). Additional classes are on August 2, 9, and 16.

 
the socialite

MAY 23, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, things seem to have ramped up in the star department, and I have my act together this week.

First up, Ringo Starr (!) was seen in the Pork Store Café on Haight—can you imagine being in there for your hangover special and there he is, eating some bacon? Crazy. Wait, he's a vegetarian. So maybe he just had some coffee, black. Anyway. Ringo. Starr. Cool.

A pal saw Robin Williams (who I can't bear, but no matter) at Range over dinner. I hope he wasn't giving his food voices. The poor waitress.

The Black Eyed Peas, who did their super-last-minute-surprise show at Mighty last week, were seen at the Clift Hotel last weekend.

And I heard Vincent Gallo had dinner at Walzwerk while he was in town for his performance at Bimbo's for the Mission Creek Music Festival. So lo-fi.