tablehopper
table of contents   This week's tablehopper: dirty farmers.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
the regular
it's about time we met
the socialite
shindigs/feasts/festivals


 

AUGUST 8, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Summertime is in full-tilt (love that morning fog), and how much are you just grooving on all the fab fresh produce these days? I say get your tookus up and over to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market this weekend and battle with the "foraging" ladies—the jackpot you'll cart home is beyond inspiring right now. In celebration of the season, I am writing up Aziza, one of my favorite ingredient-driven restaurants in town, plus a couple special dinners in the socialite that showcase how spoiled we really are. Like, really. Oh, and the reason there's no starlet this week is I didn't quite feel like solely reporting Barry Bonds and Gavin sightings.

Dig in!
~Marcia

the chatterbox

AUGUST 8, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO So after some remodeling and a repainting, the old Julie's Supper Club on Folsom location is reopening within a week as ~CLUB J2~ (as in Julie's Two). The former business office was transformed into a dance floor, and the tented back room is currently closed until they bring it up to code—it might become a patio instead. Meanwhile, the rest of the space got a serious modernization—I barely recognized the joint. They plan on serving small plates nightly, with DJs and jazz. Lunch will be served by mid-August or so. 1123 Folsom St. at 7th St.

So I have more details on the weekly dinner I mentioned last week at ~WINTERLAND~: every Thursday, Chef Vernon Morales will prepare a special six-course tasting menu, for $110 per person, tax and gratuity included. Seatings are available at 6pm and 8:30pm. The whole thing starts August 17. Sweet!

Okay, some downtown workers are gonna be bummed with this: ~CAFÉ VENUE~ on Market Street is no more. (When I worked on Maiden Lane, that place was totally my go-to for lunch.) Ends up there is a new building owner and they're remodeling, so Café Venue got squeezed out and is down to their other two locations (at 218 Montgomery Street and 70 Leidesdorff Street). However, they are trying to reopen in the old Bistro Boudin space on 5th St. at Mission—if all goes well, they should be open in October.

Gardeners around town are probably well acquainted with Flora Grubb Gardens (yes, one of the proprietors is really named Flora Grubb—her name is crazy like that, like Emily Wines, the sommelier at Fifth Floor), formerly known as Guerrero Street Gardens and the Palm Broker. Well, in Spring 2007 Flora will be opening a second location in the Bayview district. So you're probably wondering, "Yo, where's the food news?" Well, anyone living out in this newly developing district is gonna be stoked to know that ~RITUAL COFFEE ROASTERS~ is going to be opening a café in the new nursery location. So not only will you get to enjoy their sublime coffee, but there will also be seating in the courtyard. Dreamy. 1634 Jerrold Ave. at 3rd St.

The very kind and talented chef at ~ANNABELLE'S BAR AND BISTRO~, Matthew Lee, is returning to his native New Zealand—ends up he bought a restaurant in the Opua Marina in the Bay of Islands area, a premiere destination for yachters. Sounds downright blissful to me. His last day is August 15, but attention chefs out there: he is still interviewing for the position. Annabelle's has a great chef's kitchen since it was newly renovated, so if you feel like running the rotisserie there, give him a buzz.

Oenophiles, you are gonna be fired up with this bit of news: by the end of September (or early October), you're actually going to have a place to safely store your wine in San Francisco! After a two-year quest for the right space, the ~SF WINE CENTER~ is opening in the former Del Monte Meat Company space in SoMa. It will offer state-of-the-art storage, with temperature and humidity control, plus ease of access—this is what happens when you have some wine guys who want to create a place for real wine storage. Partners Paolo Mancini and Brian McGonigle have a wholesale business, Indy Wines, which is focused on independent and small artisan producers—their portfolio covers California, Oregon, Australia, and New Zealand, and will be extending to Europe soon; so they'll have a consulting office on the premises as well. The SF Wine Center is being designed by Architects II, but it's going to be more than 7,000 square feet of storage: the proprietors are really keen on creating a community around wine. So wine collectors will be able to interact with each other, and there will be winemaker tastings, and even some classes. If you want to learn more about getting your Silver Oak Cab out of your apartment and into some storage, you can email Paolo (paolo.mancini [at] sbcglobal.net). 757 Bryant St. between 5th and 6th St.

Okay, this wins my newly founded "Bad Ass Chef of the Month" award: Chef Mike Selvera of ~BAR CRUDO~ is now diving every Wednesday in Bodega Bay for his own sea urchin, and serving it up on Thursdays. (I know, is that obsessed or what?) This week will be a special with three types of tobiko (red, wasabi, and citrus), quail eggs, and ponzu sauce. That sounds too freaking delicious, and the presentation is supposed to be awesome. Bring it on—who's next month's bad ass?

I read this on Chowhound—the old BY Grill on Geary is now ~SANMI~, a third restaurant for the Suzuki family. Expect sushi with some not-your-usual-Japanese-restaurant-in-San Francisco home-style cooking—like hiyashi chuka, a cold noodle dish you typically eat in the summer. Yum. Tue-Sat 11:30am-2pm, 5pm-9:30pm, Sun 5-9:30pm, closed Mon. 3226 Geary St. at Spruce St.

~BELDEN TAVERNA~ has decided to stay open between lunch and dinner, and started offering a patio/bar menu from 3pm-5:30pm during the month of August. Eats like BLTs and burgers (for $7 and $8, respectively), yucca fries ($5) and spicy fried olives ($5) are available outside or inside at the bar, plus bar drinks, wine and beer for $4. The menu may change up a bit in September.

Also, those of you who like to read ~EDIBLE SAN FRANCISCO~ will be happy to know the latest issue is out! You can find it at Rainbow Foods and the Ferry Building, and other spots, like Green Apple Books, Period George, Bi-Rite Market, Cheese Plus, 24th Street Cheese, Lettus Café, SF Wine Trading Co., and the West Portal Book Store. (Real Foods and Whole Foods should have copies of it by the end of the week.) In case you haven't read Edible SF before, you should check it out—a number of fab local writers contribute to it, and it's, like, free. Cool.

 
the regular

Aziza image

Aziza
5800 Geary Blvd.
Cross: 22nd Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94121

415-752-2222
website

Wed-Mon 5:30pm-10:30pm

Apps $7-$11
Soup/Salads $7-$9
Entrées $15-$23
Desserts $7

AUGUST 8, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO No matter how many people I steer to this restaurant, it continually surprises me how few have eaten there. Trust me, people, it's worth that trek to the Richmond, which really isn't a trek at all (unless you are in a cab, in which case it would practically be the same price as going to the airport, but it's so worth it, darling). ~AZIZA~ is one of our city's gems, and is totally in my top five. I love the food the way I love Kokkari, or Zuni's—I don't even think twice about sending someone there. I've sent chefs to Aziza, restaurant publicists, lovebirds, parents, birthday gatherings, out-of-towners looking for something unique—everyone comes away happy. No easy feat in this town of picky palates and fleeting favorites.

Most people hear "Moroccan" and they immediately envision lounging on pillows like a pasha, a hussy belly dancer shaking her groove thang in your face while you pull on a hookah, and drinking mint tea. You can drop that caterpillar-from-Alice-in-Wonderland fantasy right now. Instead, Aziza is a contemporary Moroccan restaurant with California at its core, offering a more traditional sitting-upright-at-a-table dining experience. (The décor still rocks the Casbah, though.)

This sexy restaurant is composed of a couple rooms (plus a spacious private room in the back)—I prefer the dusky front room (especially if you're on a date), with its moody lighting and cozy blue suede booth or corner seating; but if I was in a large group, the back room would make more sense. There are touches of exotica, like inlaid wood tables set with flickering candles, chandeliers of red glass, and a two-tone patterned floor with Mucha-like swirls of flowers. Soft jazzy music plays (don't worry, we're not talking Kenny G or Zamfir), and the tone of the room has some vibrant pockets, but is never rambunctious.

It's time to acquaint yourself with Aziza's famous bar—you'd be hard-pressed to find more exotic cocktails anywhere in the City. I know, bold statement, but trust me, I have seen a lot of bars in this town (can I get an amen?!), and this one rocks ingredients like you rarely see—the lines where the drinks end and the food begins are definitely hazy, like the wispy curtains when you first walk in.

A fez fizz is a natural beginning, with champagne and pomegranate purée, but a couple cocktail champs are the "cilantro," an adult limeade that goes to Mexico, with lime and Hangar One Kaffir lime, or the tarragon caipirinha, with cachaça, lime and cardamom. I know, tarragon—not just for béarnaise anymore. I have a friend who adores the almond margarita, but another found it too cloying—just go with ingredients you know you like, but don't be afraid of trying the celery, vanilla, and peppercorn combo, either. This is one place you can definitely stick with cocktails throughout your dinner if you are so inclined, or inspired. I certainly was. Hic. (All the drinks are $10.)

Beer drinkers will utter a "Cheers, mate" with all the Belgian ales and Bavarian lagers—it's an admirable roundup. I've heard some kvetch about how tight the wine list is, but Wine Director Mark Ellenbogen (Slanted Door fans should recognize his name) seriously knows what he's doing, and he really knows his Rieslings. There are some high-acid Rieslings that pair perfectly with the flavorful dishes (yes, yes, I'll get to them in a second), plus some spicy reds—you can check out the wine descriptions on the website, the first time I've seen this on a restaurant site that I can recall.

Chef Mourad Lahlou's thoughtful menu reads like a who's who of Bay Area farmers and producers; his commitment to local and organic ingredients is not just a P.C. name-checking exercise—it really shows his love and respect for his craft and his ingredients. A native of Marrakech, and a self-taught chef, Lahlou’s modern and Cali-influenced take on Moroccan cuisine is unlike any Moroccan food you’re ever tasted before. So don't fill up on the fluffy sesame and anise-studded bread that comes to the table—easier said than done. The herby and citrusy olives are also dangerous.

On one visit, I was fortunate to be able stick my fork into a pile of tender Marin Roots fava beans ($7) accompanied by a fanning across the plate of alternating ricotta and fava-slathered toasts with a bright drizzle of peppery McEvoy olio nuovo. A refreshing starter is the avocado and pomelo salad ($7), another elegant fanning across the plate of perfectly ripe avocado, a small pile of peppery curly cress that I initially mistook for arugula, and peeled pomelo that was lightly salted, all drizzled with a citrus and shallot vinaigrette that wasn't shy.

Those who know can't resist the tender kefta skewers ($9), succulent bites of grilled Prather Ranch beef and grapes, with a cucumber and torpedo onion salad dressed with an unexpected black sesame vinaigrette. Most of the dishes are really built to share, like the Mediterranean spreads platter ($9) (wait until you taste the pomegranate and walnut spread, with flatbread that rivals Kokkari's), or the wedge of Bodega goat cheese ($9) that's delicious on the za'atar-dusted crostini that you top with cherry tomato and citrus jam holding hunks of pistachio (I would love to have a jar of this stuff). Trust, you will clear your (colorful and ceramic) plate—they alternate between soft hues like sandstone and terracotta and even Prussian blue, visually appealing backdrops for Lahlou's artful presentations.

Now, I try not to order the omnipresent rare-seared ahi tuna when I go out, but Aziza's longline-caught yellowfin tuna ($19) is a different beast: it comes with the most decadent and rich roasted tahini—it's just irresistible. The Tunisian salad with pine nuts, peppers, cucumber, tomato, and black olive makes a nicely acidic counterpoint. The guinea hen ($22) arrives moist and tender, with piped purple potatoes and sporting a spray of chive (which I found a little unnecessary—it's not a peacock), and an addictive savory-sour flavor of lemon, saffron, and black olives. A few of those ingredients appear in the black cod claypot ($18), which on one visit was a pleasing and piping-hot (literally, watch your mouth) combination of saffron, tender potatoes, and green olives, but on another visit the broth was so pungent with saffron it was almost like it was telling me to take my medicine, and the green olive flavor contributed to a wildly over-salted taste. Not sure what happened there—it needed to get dialed back from "eleven."

Vegetarians will adore the fluffy and buttery vegetable couscous ($15), with plump golden raisins, and fresh ingredients like squash, parsnips, and carrots that really shine—the vegetables are the picture of organic, and are cooked perfectly; harissa comes on the side. The pleasantly stew-like Berber vegetable tagine ($16) has a tangy ginger-sorrel broth, with a mouth-entertaining balance of sour and sweet, thanks to the appearances of ingredients like lemon, green beans, peas, and black olives.

Desserts from Janet Rikala Dalton (formerly at Postrio and Town Hall) continue the overall theme of total deliciousness, balancing a variety of flavors that harmonize like the Gay Men's Chorus. The raspberry-watermelon sorbet has a side of Maldon-salted watermelon and buttery shortbread cookies with raspberry jam that truly taste homemade, or the decidedly minty ice cream sandwich with almost cake-like chocolate brownie cookies and a chocolate dip in the middle—I liked the touch of the accompanying herbal tisane. All the desserts are $7.

True to its Moroccan roots, Aziza is a delightful place to relax, and indulge—there's even a five-course tasting menu for $42. It's one of the best deals in the City—you have the run of the menu, and it's downright generous. The only trick is you need your entire party to take part in the tasting menu—and they hopefully came with a good appetite.

Small little detail that is so clever: if you have any leftovers to bring home, your kind server places a petite picture frame on your table to remind you (and the server) to pick up your goodies before you leave. So smart.

 
the socialite

Jack Falstaff logo

Grower's Dinner
Mariquita Farms

August 9, 2007

Jack Falstaff
598 Second St.
Cross: Brannan St.
San Francisco, CA 94107

415-836-9239
website

5:30pm-10pm

$60 per person
$80 with paired wines

AUGUST 8, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, you Ferry Building Farmer's Market fanatics, Jack Falstaff has started a series of ~GROWER'S DINNERS~, designed to highlight their favorite local producers, and of course, the growers' seasonal and organic produce. Coming up is one of everyone's favorites: Mariquita Farms of Watsonville! The ladybug duo of farmer Andy Griffin and his wife Julia will be there—Executive Chef Jonnatan Leiva will prepare a special four-course dinner, with pairings from Wine Director Gillian Ballance. Overalls optional.

tomato image
Pic taken at Bacco restaurant

Annual Tomato Dinner
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Millennium
580 Geary St.
Cross: Jones St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

415-345-3900
website

Reservations available 5:30pm-9pm

5-course prix fixe menu $60/person
$20 optional wine pairing
$12 Bloody Mary Flight
all prices exclude tax and gratuity

AUGUST 8, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO There is nothing quite like tomato season. Or even better, heirloom tomato season. And when ~MILLENNIUM'S ANNUAL TOMATO DINNER~ happens on August 30, you know they're going to be beyond delicious. Millennium will host a special five-course heirloom tomato dinner, with the option of a wine pairing and a flight of Bloody Marys from their "Do It Yourself Bloody Mary Bar." All tomatoes used for the special dinner will be exclusively handpicked by the Millennium staff at Eatwell Farm.

[Sidebar: those of you who love eggplant should check out Millennium's eggplant menu, served the entire month of August, Thu-Sat. It's a prix fixe menu, for $45, and a $20 optional wine pairing.]