tablehopper
table of contents   This week's tablehopper: culinary adventurin' at Cortez.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
the lush
put it on my tab
the regular

it's about time we met
the socialite
shindigs/feasts/festivals
the starlet
no photos please

 

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Nothing like starting the week with an open bar, I gotta tell ya. Absinthe hosted the launch party for "The Art of the Bar" last night, a fab new book from former Absinthe bartenders Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz—I'm hoping "The Art of the Hangover Cure" is next. Speaking of booze (and I do often), I had a mighty tasty dinner (lamb sliders, jerk chicken wings, oxtail cheesesteak, holla!) and dranks (old fashioned, negroni, shot of Averna, plus a few others, hic) at the newly opened Alembic in the Upper Haight last Friday—considering it was only its first week, this place is in the pocket, so check it out before it totally blows up. Full report soon.

Cheers my dears,
~Marcia

the chatterbox

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO A party at MAC last week was all atwitter with this big hunk o' news about ~ZUNI~: long-term partner Vince Calcagno has sold his share of the biz to Gilbert Pilgram; a number of folks know Pilgram through his 20 years at Chez Panisse. Pilgram has a pretty dreamy resume: he started at Zuni as an intern through Paul Bertolli, worked his way up to sous chef and then chef under the guidance of Catherine Brandel and of course the big A&W, and then moved to front of the house as GM for five years. During his years at Chez Panisse, he also worked closely with talents like Peggy Smith, who went on to start Cowgirl Creamery, and David Tanis. Pilgram left Chez Panisse a year ago to recharge, travel (spots on his globetrotting itinerary included South America, China, and Iceland) and to live at Punta del Este, the "St. Tropez of Uruguay," which proved to be too far away to travel back and forth from San Francisco.

About a year ago, Calcagno had said he was thinking about retiring so he could dedicate more time to fundraising. Flash forward to last January, when Pilgram and Judy Rodgers (who has been at Zuni since 1987) were on a ski trip in the Alps, and were discussing Calcagno's impending departure. On a long ride on a chairlift, Pilgram expressed interest in taking Calcagno's place. By the time they skied into Italy, it was decided: Pilgram was to be the new partner. The official transfer is November 30, and Pilgram will be focused on creating a cohesive flow between the front of house and kitchen at Zuni—he knows how a floor runs well, and a kitchen runs well, and is excited to put the knowledge gained from his many mentors to work. It's a big year for Pilgram, who just turned 50 this week as well. He's been a long-time fan of Zuni, and said it feels like a natural progression. He has a tremendous passion for the business, and his charisma is sure to shine through.

~BAR TARTINE~ has hired a new chef, their third since opening: Jason Fox, who was formerly at Scott Howard, has just recently started. No major waves—the same focus on a Cal-Med-French menu will remain.

I have been a big fan of the authentic Peruvian food at Mochica since it opened (and no, it's not because of its proximity to the End Up—those dark days are done). Chef/owner Carlos Altamirano will be taking over the old Moki's Sushi and Pacific Grill space in Bernal Heights, and reopening it as ~PIQUEOS~ (which means "small plates") by the end of December. Altamirano has had the concept in his head for some time, and says, "I wanted a second baby." The look will be colonial European, with more style and atmosphere than the Harrison Street location. The space will have 50 seats, and he plans to open the patio later into 2007. The menu will be focused on regional Peruvian tapas that extend past the usual suspects of ceviche and anticuchos. Altamirano recently traveled all over Peru, researching dishes from the various regions. While he gets this second location up and running, he will be promoting Mochica chef Abraam Rodriguez, who has been cooking there for the past two years. 830 Cortland Ave.

As of last week, the Big Easy-inspired ~KINGFISH~ located across from the ballpark has closed, but their San Mateo location will continue to let the good times roll. Ballpark seasonality certainly makes it a tough space to maintain (the former business in that spot didn't last there either).

I heard a tip that local favorite ~YUM YUM FISH~ has been missing its French fishmonger—seems some folks on Chowhound have noticed the same thing. It ends up Yum Yum Fish gained a new owner in July: Hong Tu, who owns New Hai Ky next door. Tu confirmed that Karim the beloved fishmonger is actually on vacation, and should be back soon—after ten years of working straight with no break, he wanted some time off. (Uh, yeah, I would too.) The original owner retired (he's 70) but still swings by. Tu expressed how everything is definitely going to remain status quo with no changes, and they are happy to uphold the establishment's reputation for kindliness and good product. 2181 Irving Street at 23rd Ave., 415-566-6433.

Residents of Upper Polk will be able to get their cappuccino and fire up their laptop on the free Wi-Fi at the latest ~IT'S A GRIND COFFEE HOUSE~ location. In addition to the usual caffeinated beverages on offer, there are also smoothies and sweets. Plus outdoor seating! 1800 Polk St., 415-441-1272.

The new executive chef for ~PLUMPJACK CAFE~ has been announced: James Syhabout, who has most recently served as chef de partie at Coi, Daniel Patterson's restaurant. He was also a sous chef at Manresa, and his resume includes stints at some of the more progressive places in Europe, working as commis at Ferran Adria´s El Bulli (as commis, he assisted the chef de partie in daily mis en place and service, along with directing and coordinating stagiaires for the kitchen), plus as chef de partie at Alkima (Barcelona), a stage at Mugaritz (Errenteria), and some time as commis at Heston Blumenthal's three-star Michelin restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Bray, England. I've been a fan of the cooking at PlumpJack Cafe, and look forward to seeing what Syhabout does with the menu. 3127 Fillmore St. at Filbert St., 415-563-4755.

More news from the PlumpJack empire: ~JACK FALSTAFF~ has launched "5 Spot Neighbor Night," offering small plates and $5 Skyy and Zen cocktail specials on Mondays starting at 5pm. 598 Second St. at Brannan St., 415-836-9239.

 
the regular

Infusion image

Infusion
in the Hotel Fusion
140 Ellis St.
Cross: Cyril Magnin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

415-568-2525 (hotel)
website

 

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Opening next spring in the Hotel Fusion will be ~INFUSION~, a sub-level lounge that is slated to be a classy and upscale downtown destination for young urbanites and hipsters who are sure to flirt in the unisex bathrooms. A Hong Kong designer is introducing some unique elements with Asian flair, like columns covered in smoked glass that will glow from underneath a layer of lattice, a hologram behind the bar, and an elevated area with beds that will be enclosed with glass panels in the main lounge area—it can be reserved for bottle service (there will also be a couple other beds in the general seating area for you non-bottle service types, like me). There will be a 25-foot-long water feature with a small strip of fire in the middle, and a waterfall from the DJ booth that pours into the trough. I know, how inexpensive! They hope to open in the beginning of March, playing trip hop and a "Redwood Room" style of music for the lounge area, and the dance floor in the back will be playing more up-tempo music. VIP memberships will be available for those who want access to the private lounge.

 

Woody Zips image

Woody Zips
1609 Powell St.
Cross: Green St.
San Francisco, CA 94133

415-982-8898
website

Mon-Fri 4pm-2am
Sat-Sun 10am-2am

 

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Now, most of my friends know I'm not a sports bar kind of girl at all. But when I heard about the "deconstructed" corn dogs at ~WOODY ZIPS~ in North Beach, I decided I just might have to break my usual "no sports bars" rule and head on over. They offer three kinds of meat on a stick, like spicy habanero chicken, lamb, or beef, which is then dipped in corn batter and fried up, three for $8. The guys running the show, Keith Wilson and Luke Gallagher, named the joint after their dads' nicknames (cute—I thought it was some quarterback I knew nothing about, surprise). This is their first venture—they were previously in software sales. The space, formerly Shannon's, was massively gutted and is reportedly a touch upscale, with flat-screen TVs, actual art on the walls, good cocktails, a nice selection of beer on tap, and bar food with a twist, like tequila and lime chicken sandwiches, sweet potato fries, and a black and bleu salad (seared hangar steak and bleu cheese), courtesy of chef Jack Correia.

 

 
the starlet

Cortez image

Cortez
550 Geary St.
Cross: Jones St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

415-292-6360
website

Dinner nightly 5:30pm-10:30pm
Bar until 1am

Small plates $6-$14
Mains $21-$26
Dessert $5-$12

 

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO When the Hatfields departed ~CORTEZ~ for Los Angeles in the beginning of 2006, the McCoys thumped their chests and said, "Ha! We kicked some major hillbilly ass." Uh, no, wrong story. What actually happened is opening sous chefs Louis Maldonado and Seth Bowden were each promoted to the role of co-executive chef, which I thought was a rather clever arrangement. I went soon thereafter to try their cooking, and let's just say after my second visit a few weeks back, I am left with the impression that they have come a long way, baby.

Cortez's menu is known for being an engaging one to peruse, peppered with intriguing combinations and appetizing elements like pancetta, saffron sauce, tomato marmalade, and tarragon aioli. The menu follows a small plates format, which magically equates to a somewhat spendy dinner, but the restaurant has now integrated main courses into the menu—eight, in fact (prices range from $21-$26). Cortez made this change because diners want more bang for their buck (Scott Howard's recent menu changes also reflect this growing sentiment about value) and the timing and style of a small plates format can make for some loosey goosey dining. Some folks (i.e. pot smokers) are cool with things being freeform, while other control-freak types (like CEOs, dictators) like things orderly—but now, both types can dine happily off the same menu and have things traditionally coursed, or like before, "as they're ready."

The complimentary amuse of goat cheese-stuffed gougères made for a pleasing kickoff (a warm mouthful of choux pastry and cheese, what's not to love?), and it is a tradition of the restaurant to start with soup shots for two ($6). This evening it was a musky shiitake soup topped with celery foam—not bad at all, but not really earth shattering in the mushroom soup department either.

You can commence on the light and refreshing side of things, especially appealing for you low waisted jeans-wearing ladies. There is a chef's crudo (this particular night was Thai snapper with avocado, grapefruit, and a perfect dusting of a salt that I'm sure is some obscure salt that's something like $26 a pound) or the (ubiquitous) tuna tartare ($12), but I'll be damned if it wasn't totally delicious. A variation of this dish is on every freaking menu in town because whaddya know, it's good. Our gentlemen chefs rocked this one with ginger sprouts, perilla (AKA shiso), and mustard seed oil that totally made the dish sing a high note—it was peppery and piquant and was perfect slathered on the house-made cracked fennel seed lavash. Crispy, smooth, peppery… all good things.

There are savory salads, like one with kicky (not colicky) baby mizuna, Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and figs with toasted almond butter ($9) or market-fresh heirloom tomatoes (if you are reading this in December, don't expect to find tomatoes on the menu) resting on a bed of fromage blanc with sweet and nicely chewy pancetta and a sprinkling of lemon basil ($9).

My personal fave was a bowl of toothsome farro ($12) that was treated like a risotto, with deep Parmesan flavor—a total umami fest. It was topped with a slow-poached organic egg that made for one helluva luxurious mix when the yolk was broken and then seeped into the farro. The house-made ravioli ($12/$15) are another favorite—tender ricotta ravs with English peas and preserved lemon resting in a sherry lobster emulsion that truly sang with lobster—yes, more umami. Laaaaaaaaaa!

Now, for the new mains. The caramelized diver scallops had a pleasing citrus touch, and the hunks of braised octopus ($22) were literally cooked to perfection (they also get a brief grilling for that hit of fiery flavor that is so divine with octopus)—they shared a drizzling of a smooth garlic emulsion. The fresh soybeans on the plate were completely sans seasoning, however, and I found the scattering of toy box tomatoes extraneous. Overall, the dish didn't feel integrated and was also not the prettiest presentation (read: a little sloppy-looking), with a sprig of parsley on the plate for garnish. Huh. This dish will be a lot better when it becomes version 2.0.

The presentation of the Japanese sea bream ($23), however, exhibited total artistry, both visually and on the taste buds: a swath of Thai basil ran around half of the plate, with the fish resting in a foamy bath of sweet onion soubise and roasted chiodini mushrooms, plus mouthwatering hints from a coconut lime broth. While the sea bream was in fact a touch overdone, dang, the depth of flavor in this dish is what remains in my memory. It was like a good concert, with a lead singer who was just a little too drunk on stage. Speaking of, the 2004 Chateau de Maligny Chablis from Kermit Lynch was a nice match (thank you, our fab server, for the pairing).

The breast of poussin and "southern style crispy legs" ($21) proudly featured a perfectly crispy crust, but it was coupled with the richness of caramelized artichokes, white asparagus (I must admit, I am prejudiced against this ridiculously indulgent ingredient—it always feels so needlessly fussy to me), and chervil-scented hollandaise that all conspired to do me in.

The duck breast ($23) delivered pleasing "pair with duck nicely" flavors: cherry, celery, herbed spaetzle… but the combination didn't strike me as anything particularly new or different like many of the other dishes. I will testify, the baby yellow carrots were divine—in fact, so many of the ingredients in all of the dishes show how much the kitchen cares about the produce they use. The duck was juicy and tender and plump, but the twisted ribbons of spaetzle were too doughy—spaetzle are like gnocchi to me: so many establishments do different variations of these dishes, but very few do them really really well. I wish everyone would lay off the spaetzle, and gnocchi, unless they are "grandma approved." Grandmas know what's up.

Since it is somewhat early on for the new entrées, I imagine things will be tightened up or brightened up as time goes on.

Desserts from Nick Flores all sounded quite tasty. Again, the dessert menu reads well, like the dinner menu, because it’s interesting. Most people swear by the beignets, which are just delish, yes. But sometimes you gotta branch out, and the winner was the adult version of PB&J: a silky peanut butter custard tart ($9) that had a brûléed crust on top, along with Concord grape sorbet and a round of toasted vanilla brioche. Wicked good, and unique to boot.

We also tried the dense pine nut caramel tart ($9) with a scoop of bay leaf ice cream that sat within a pine nut-studded tuile wheel that made dessert look like Saturn. Also different, but no match for the peanut butter custard. I appreciated that the stems were trimmed from the roasted black mission figs—it's the little things. Speaking of little things, Flores also sends out some complimentary treats at the end, like caramel corn, a chocolate pistachio nougat (wasn’t a fan of this), and raspberry pate de fruit. It’s a nice flourish.

The room has a sexy chic vibe, with dim lighting, the requisite smooth house jams, attractive servers flitting about the room (small plates restaurants keep servers moving constantly), and an interesting mix of a few hip locals plus a grab bag of out-of-towners staying in the Hotel Adagio, from sassy Spaniards to slightly out-of-place older couples who don't talk to each other anymore over dinner.

The bar area is usually buzzing, even with Rye and Swig within a toss of a crack pipe (yeah, the neighborhood borders on sketchy, but there's valet parking for those who don't like to deal with the crackers, or the dearth of parking over there). The room has "Kandinsky goes to the circus" style, with large canvases of circus-themed art, glowing orbs on the ends of large circular mobile-esque light fixtures, with some Mondrian elements thrown in as well. Yes, a 20th century melee of references. It's attractive for a hotel restaurant, but I just wish there were some windows—it's strange, but so many hotel restaurants don't have windows.

Service tends to get uneven reports, from extremely knowledgeable servers to somewhat green or clueless types. For example, upon getting my coat at the end of the meal, it was merely handed to me by the hostess, while most restaurants of this caliber (i.e. white tablecloths in effect) would help you put it on. On the other hand, our server knew the wine list like a champ and has a pretty good handle on the ingredients in each (somewhat complex) dish, but another pal recently reported on her inattentive server who also didn't seem to know much. I will say the busboys are on it, and changing plates often, which is otherwise a pet peeve of mine with many restaurants serving small plates: they don't replace the dirty dishes often enough.

The modulated volume makes it a good place for a date because you can actually talk, and birthday gatherings and other group dinners also seem to be popular here. It's also an easy place to blow some cash and impress your friends, like the guy next to me who proudly announced to his table he wanted to spring for a Super Tuscan (and said it something like three times). For a second there, it felt like 1998.

 
the starlet

K&L image

Fête du Champagne
Saturday, October 21

K&L Wine Merchants
638 Fourth St.
Cross: Brannan St.
San Francisco

1pm-4pm

$55 per person
purchase online
or call 1-877-KLWINES

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay you bubbly fiends (cheers to that)—K&L Wine Merchants is hosting a ~FÊTE DU CHAMPAGNE~, providing an opportunity to taste dozens of Champagnes from many of the hottest boutique and top producers in France and to meet the winemakers. Several esteemed guests will be pouring, including Chantal Gonet of Champagne Gonet, Laurent Perrier, and Benoit Tarlant of Champagne Tarlant. The event will take place in a special tent set up next to the store. Gourmet delicacies from The Village Pub in Woodside and the soon-to-open Spruce in San Francisco will also be provided, plus Nua restaurant, which I think is a new resto—I'm trying to get more info on that one. Anyway. The day's activities will also include a silent auction to benefit the Friends of St. Francis Childcare Center in San Francisco, and will feature such lots like a magnum of Cristal Champagne and a magnum of Dom Perignon.

Anti-Defamation League event image

Anti-Defamation League
2006 Food and Wine Industries Achievement Awards

Wed, November 1, 2006

The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
600 Stockton St.
Cross: California St.
San Francisco, CA 94108

6pm Reception
7pm Dinner

$275 per person
For info, call Deborah Mann at 415-563-6451

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Yes, this is a big-ticket item but it's one heck of an event. The Anti-Defamation League has announced its honorees for the ~2006 FOOD AND WINE INDUSTRIES ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS~. The awards honor those whose involvement in business and community programs bring together people of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds to join in the fight against bigotry and discrimination, and to create an understanding of cultural diversity. The ADL was founded in 1913, and is the nation's premier civil rights/human relations agency fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.

Fedele Bauccio, CEO and co-founder of Bon Appetit Management Company, and Emmanuel Kemiji, M.S., Owner and Winemaker of Miura and Almvs Vineyards, will receive these prestigious awards at "Command Performance," a five-star, wine-and-dine evening. Following a reception, a multi-course dinner will be prepared by chefs Gary Danko (Restaurant Gary Danko), Traci Des Jardins (Jardinière, Acme Chophouse, Mijita), Host Chef Jean-Pierre Dubray (The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco) and Suzette Gresham-Tognetti (Acquarello). Michael Dellar, co-founder of the Lark Creek Restaurant Group, and Andrew Freeman, President of Andrew Freeman & Co, will preside as event chairs and hosts for the evening, and Vicki and Scott Kahn will be the honorary chairs.

Purcell Murray image
A previous event with Georgeanne Brennan.

Cooking Classes
Thursday, October 12
Tuesday, October 17

Purcell Murray Culinary Lifestyle Center
185 Park Lane
Brisbane, CA 94005

415-330-5557
website

6pm-8pm
$55 each

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Some well-known cookbook authors will be teaching some upcoming classes at the Purcell Murray Culinary Lifestyle Center in Brisbane. I know, Brisbane sounds far away, but it's literally 10-15 minutes from the city, tops. First is ~DIANE WORTHINGTON~ on Thursday, October 12—she recently wrote "The New California Cook," which is the new edition of Diane's 1994 cookbook, the "California Cook."

Then on Tuesday, October 17, is ~JOYCE GOLDSTEIN~, who recently authored "Antipasti, Fabulous Appetizers and Small Plates." In addition to prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and chickpea salad; butternut squash torte; Gorgonzola custard; truffled rice croquettes and peperonata with potatoes, Joyce will share some ideas for quick "Shop and Serve" Antipasti.

 
the starlet

OCTOBER 10, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO A couple weeks ago some tablehopper readers were munching their dinner at Slanted Door and saw Jeff Garlin from Curb Your Enthusiasm, who was in town for a stand-up show. He was reportedly with a couple in a booth, laughing and enjoying the food. Glad to hear he wasn't all serious and quiet.

Both Molly Ringwald and Hilary Swank have been seen dining at Range—and this was before the one-star rating.