tablehopper
table of contents   This week's tablehopper: south p(o)rk cafe.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
the regular
it's about time we met
the wino
in vino veritas

the socialite
shindigs/feasts/festivals
the matchmaker
let's get it on

 

JUNE 19, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO Hola amigos. I’m here to report from the culinary beyond! Yes, I’ve been plummeting the depths. Last week was full of scrumptious discoveries, from the crostini topped with a creamy swath of pureed monkfish liver with saffron and other spices at Oliveto’s Oceanic Dinners (you MUST go next year if you love seafood—it was one of the nicest meals I’ve had all year), to the dee-vine Deutz 2000 Blanc de Blanc at Jerry Horn’s Champagne Feast at Scott Howard (next feast will be at Picco in Larkspur, stand by), and if you haven’t had a chance to visit the back garden at Blue Plate lately, you really should. A lot has grown in since I last saw it—it’s downright lush back there, and with the heat lamps it’s quite nice, even on a chilly night.

Last night was the opening of Ducca (pretty darned spiffy—I loved the Venetian bordello-esque rotunda adjacent to the bar). Tonight I’m heading to the StarChefs gala event which seems like everyone is attending (so it should be a barrel of monkeys fun). Thursday is Taste of the Nation (ladies, it’s your chance to check out Tyler Florence—tickets are still available), and Saturday is Pink Saturday, one of my favorite party days in SF. Dolores Park explodes with the ladeez. Pray for sun.

This week we’ve got the last of the trio of wino pieces about corkage from Alex Fox at Myth—it’s a long one, so I say crack open at least a 375ml bottle of something swell to enjoy while reading it. Heck, why not a Jeroboam of bubbly?

And yay, next Wednesday I am heading to NYC for a week for some business, and a whole lotta pleasure. Feel free to point me to some of your fave dining and drinkin’ can’t-miss spots! My list is scary long, but then again, I wouldn’t be the tablehopper if it was short. Word.

Ciao/meow,
~Marcia subscribe


the chatterbox
JUNE 19, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO Have you ever been to the ~AXIS CAFÉ~ out at the base of Potrero Hill, on 16th Street? It’s a friendly little spot, good for a mid-week sandwich out on the often-sunny and enclosed patio. (You can check out their menu here.) It’s looking like the cafe will most likely close for a little bit in mid-July to expand the kitchen, putting in a full grill, some hood vents, and a stove and burners so they can really rock it. When it reopens, expect a bigger menu (it will keep a seasonal focus), plus a full-service dinner will be added as well. They also now have a beer and wine license. Open Mon­­­–Fri 7am–7pm, Sun 9am–3pm. 1201 8th St. at 16th St., 415-437-2947.

So I had a chance to get more details from the owner of Le Metro Cafe about the new Nepalese concept they are launching. The name will be ~METRO KATHMANDU~, serving a limited menu of Nepalese small plates with Indian influences, such as momo, which are like Chinese pot stickers filled with spicy chicken and served with chutney, plus chhoila (smoked lamb salad), a couple of curries, kebabs, plus some vegan friendly dishes. The Nepalese chef is Bishnu Chaudhary. As I mentioned last week, everything will be under $10. Drinks will include an international wine list to pair with the spicy food, plus tap beer and soju and sake cocktails. They hope to open by early July. And yes, brunch will continue to be served—the spacious back patio is a prime spot where you can enjoy it. Open Tue–Sun until 1am. 311 Divisadero St. at Page.

Seems ~FRJTZ~ will be opening its second location on Valencia (in the former Amira space) some time the week of June 25. I can’t really tell you a lot about it because no one ever calls me back. All I do know is you’ll find their Belgian fries and crepes, plus mussels will reportedly be on the menu too. Late hours and brunch are supposed to be in the works as well. 590 Valencia St. at 17th.

Changes around town in wino land:

Chris Wright is no longer the beverage director at ~AQUA~—taking his place is Aaron Elliott, formerly of TRU in Chicago and The Peninsula Chicago. I’ll let you know where Wright lands when that news is final! (Yes, that was a thinly veiled reference/pun to the Wright brothers, har).

Also, Carl Grubbs is no longer managing the beverage program at ~SCOTT HOWARD~—he is now bartending at Globe by day and working the floor at night at Quince. Busy guy! Go say hi!

After a quick renovation to the kitchen and downstairs, ~BACAR~ reopened just last week. They are also starting up the cool-sounding Sommelier Suppers, led by wine director Mickey Clevenger. He will be on hand to pour and discuss two dozen different wines for guests to sample, all informally set up in bacar's new downstairs wine salon. And with over 1,200 eclectic wines from all over the world, bacar’s collection has always been one to ogle. An intimate group of guests (say 25-30 people max) will be able to hang out and taste the wines, and then move upstairs to the mezzanine level to dig in to a family-style dinner by executive chef Robbie Lewis. Cost is $55, not including tax and tip. The next Sommelier Supper is Sunday, July 15th. 448 Brannan St. at 3rd, 415-904-4100.

Some closures to report around town:

~ANDREW JAEGER’S HOUSE OF SEAFOOD AND JAZZ~ in North Beach will be closing at the end of June. Sadly, it seems the restaurant was just hitting its stride, figuring out what the local dining public wanted and was doing some better numbers, but their rent getting raised to $25k a month, coupled with the weekend ruckus in North Beach drove their decision to close—the weekends have been having the opposite effect on their business, translating into fewer walk-ins and less volume at the bar. I hope the efforts to mellow out the weekend scene (rowdy crowds and aggressive police) in North Beach meet with some success soon, especially with Enrico’s slated to open next month, and `E Tutto Qua open just across the street. I spoke with Rhoda, Jaeger’s wife, who wanted to express how grateful they are to the SF community for teaching them so much about quality food and good service, and they look forward to bringing their learnings back with them to Louisiana; Andrew is a partner in a new restaurant project on the Amite River in French Settlement Lousiana. Best wishes and good luck to them.

Awww, after being open since 1977, the ~WELCOME HOME RESTAURANT~ in the Castro has closed. 464 Castro St. at 17th.

Owls are already rather weird birds, so I guess it follows suit that there is some serious weirdness going down at ~C. BOBBY’S OWL TREE~. I heard from a tablehopper reader someone stole all the owls from the bar, but then caught this story in the SF Weekly about some family strife and some crazy mixed in too. For now, the hutch is closed while things hopefully get sorted. Hoot. 601 Post St. at Taylor.

Another old school bit o’ news: ~LITTLE JOE’S~ is officially moved and open in its fifth location, since opening back in 1965 in North Beach. It’s moved into the Pickwick Hotel on 5th and Mission, a historical building, so that fits nicely. You can get some classics like chicken parm and pasta dishes, plus there’s a full bar, open until midnight or later. Breakfast is 6:30am–10am, lunch 11am–4pm, and dinner 4pm-11pm (open until 10:30pm on Sunday). 85 Fifth St. at Mission, 415-433-4343.

Here’s an interesting food-related project that floated into my inbox: ~REPLATE~. Some local chaps are encouraging people to leave their resto-leftovers on top of trashcans to help reduce food waste. Have questions? I did too. Here’s their FAQ. So maybe the next time you don’t finish that honking carne asada super burrito, or maybe your dinner wasn’t that good but you don’t necessarily need your leftovers thrown away, you know where to put that doggy bag.

Another interesting project starting up will be ~THE CULINARY ARTS STUDIO~, a flexible space opening across from the Moscone Center this winter that will function as a full-service rental kitchen and event space with its own show kitchen. The 2,000-square-foot rental kitchen will be able to be used by culinary professionals, catering companies, private chefs, and food and event folks, for daily, weekly, or monthly rental. The event space is 4,000-square-feet, with its own kitchen and staging area, ideal for cooking demos, cooking classes, dinners (room for 200-250 for sit down), and cocktail receptions (300+ people)—it’ll also have some tricked-out LED lighting. The project is from chef Jesse Branstetter and chef and restaurateur Chris Pastena, with an eco-friendly design by Architects II. Folsom St. between 3rd and 4th.

And now for some fun ways to keep you wined and dined (and cooking!):

I heard ~FRISSON~ is hosting some groovy Monday night menus for $30. You get three courses with a glass of wine, hello. Next Monday’s menu (June 25) has frisee and chopped endive salad with bacon vinaigrette and a fried duck egg; herb-roasted baby chicken with spinach and wild mushroom gratin; and lavender-scented pannacotta with peaches and saffron sable for dessert. Score. 244 Jackson St. at Battery, 415-956-3004.

In case you prefer to drink your dinner, Monday nights at ~AMERICANO~ would be the time to do it. Now through August 31 is Martini Mondays, when they are pouring martinis featuring a different liquor sponsor each Monday on the updated outdoor patio. There’s also an olive bar where guests can choose from a variety of olives, including goat cheese olives, almond stuffed olives, ginger olives, and bell pepper olives. Just so you don’t go totally without dinner, chef Arenstam also features a toasted brioche across the top of the martinis. 8 Mission St., 415-278-3777 

Now, if you are as fired up as I am with all the fab produce in the farmers’ markets right now, but feel like you are too busy to cook, you should swing by the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market for some inspiration with ~EASY MARKET MEALS~, a new culinary program from CUESA. Every other Tuesday this summer, you can attend a free cooking demo designed for the busy home cook. Each featured dish can be prepared in about 20 minutes using the fresh ingredients found at the Tuesday farmers' market. Every attendee leaves with a sample, a recipe, and a suggested shopping list. Easy Market Meals will take place in the north side of the market on June 26, July 10 and 24, and August 7 and 21. Demos begin every 30 minutes, at 11:45am, 12:15pm, 12:45pm, and 1:15pm. Get cookin’!

Got a hot tip? You know I'd love it (and you). Just reply to this email!

 
the regular

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South Park Café
108 S. Park St.
Cross: Jack London Alley
San Francisco, CA 94107

415-495-7275
website

Mon-Fri 11:30am–2:30pm
Tue-Sat 5:30pm–10pm

Apps $7–$12
Entrées $18–$22

Prix-fixe $32

JUNE 19, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO There are some restaurants where you just can’t help but order the same thing, again and again. To wit: how can I possibly visit A16, and not order the burrata, the tripe, and the gnocchi? It would be scandalous not to. I’m normally an adventurous diner, sometimes too much, but there is one place in town where I practically act like an old fogey and always order the same damned thing, again and again and yet again: ~SOUTH PARK CAFÉ~.

You don’t even need to put the menu in front of me. I know exactly what I want. Yes, the pig salad and the steak frites, thankyouverymuch. The pig salad ($9 lunch/$10 dinner) is total piggy bliss: you get jumble of fresh greens perfectly dressed with a tangy mustard dressing, with slices of tart green apple, shallots, and glorious hunks of slow-cooked pork confit mixed in—they’re almost like a French version of carnitas! Oink.

Then the steak frites ($12 lunch/$19 dinner) means you get a juicy hunk of grilled Angus New York steak, always cooked exactly how I want it (some days rare, some days medium rare—depends upon how carnivorous I am really feeling), with a red wine sauce and substantial hot fries to sop up all the juices. I don’t care what kind of a day at work/break-up/tax day/bad hair day you’ve had; odds are good these two items for lunch or dinner will set you straight. (Or if you happen to be gay, they will just make you happy.)

I have a friend who adores the ahi tuna salad with cannellini beans ($10) for lunch, and I’ve tasted the lovely blue nose bass with pancetta and mashed potatoes and the hearty beef “en daube,” but in the end, I’m a pathetic creature of habit. Tragic.

I am quite grateful that the chef-owner, Ward Little, is also a creature of habit—he’s been holding the kitchen down here for years, since 1993. Ward is a kind man who works hard—if you get a chance, ask him about his days touring and cooking in France. He does put some racier things on the menu, like lamb tongue, so have fun being adventurous since I cannot.

This homey little French bistro is perched on the anomalous South Park (I wish we had more Euro-style residential parks like this) and for reasons besides the pig salad, it occupies a sweet little space in my heart. I remember a dreamy late afternoon lunch on a rainy day, sitting at a window table with a man I was deeply in love with, getting tipsy on a bottle of wine, with just the two of us and the server in the restaurant at that later hour. Beautiful light in this place, with cheerful yellow walls. Yup, we were madly in love, we even had a little rose in a vase on our table, but I’ll be damned if we were going to share our pig salad and steak frites—we each had our own.

I also remember celebrating a dear friend’s birthday here one night, a perfect setting for a four-top of friends to get together—the vibe is relaxed enough so you can share a joke and no one really cares if your whole table is suddenly cracking up. The servers also tend to stay in the background, only appearing when you need them—casually efficient.

This place also draws quite the lunch crowd—the days of table service at lunch are gone, however. After dot bomb went off, the whole South Park area became quite sedate, and if I remember correctly, South Park Cafe’s lunch service went away entirely. But things picked up, and hurrah, they reopened for lunch. Now you simply order at the counter, grab your silverware, and your PIG SALAD will be brought to your table rather expeditiously.

A citron presse at lunch is also recommended, or if you are my kind of diner, go for some vino—the list has plenty of bistro-friendly choices on there. And bonus, they have a full bar in case you need something stronger. While they don’t take lunch reservations, things always move pretty quickly. It can get quite boisterous, FYI, so don’t plan on a quiet tête-à-tête—that’s more likely during a Tuesday night dinner.

Next time you’re wondering where to go for a dinner date, and would be happy with some rustic bistro cuisine, this place is the ticket. Or if you’re a miss(ter) lonely-hearts, you can easily dine at the bar here solo. Parking is usually pretty painless, and the $32 prix-fixe dinner (your choice off the menu, you know what mine would be!) is a nice deal if you plan on tucking into some dessert too.

While new is nice, dependable places like this are a big part of what San Francisco dining is about to me. I’m grateful to have this place be a part of my time living in the City. And viva the pig salad!

 
the wino

Alex Fox is the Wine Director for Myth Restaurant in San Francisco. The focus of Myth's wine list is small production wines from California and archetypal wines from Europe. Myth's corkage policy allows for a maximum of two bottles corkage per party at a fifteen-dollar fee per bottle. In addition, for each bottle purchased from Myth's list, one corkage fee will be waived.

Corkage Unplugged by Alex Fox

The last time I went to fill up my car with gas I left annoyed. I made it to the pumps using the few fumes I had left in the tank and did a double take when I saw that I would be paying close to four dollars for a gallon of gas. I pulled out my abacus and, after a few movements of the beads, realized that it was going to cost me around sixty dollars to fill up my gas tank. This seemed outrageous.

What angered me most was not the actual price of the gas—I am all for gas taxes as long as the money goes to improving infrastructure/building better forms of public transportation—but rather that my money was going directly to pad the profitability of the gas and oil industries. I am not stupid. I can see that the cost of a barrel of crude oil plus the cost to refine that oil does not add up to the price at the pump. It is also apparent that I am held hostage to this pricing because I don’t have many other options other than dusting off my 1987 Schwinn.

So what does this have to do with bringing corkage into a restaurant? The answer is plenty. After working in the restaurant industry for the past several years it is clear to me that there is a disconnect between restaurants and their patrons regarding the costs and prices of wines on a wine list. This has led to consumers bringing in pleasant, but frankly ordinary wine to restaurants, in part to save money but also to avoid feeling ripped off. Nobody wins in this scenario because the restaurant loses a sale and the patron misses out on the potential of being introduced to a wine that will more fully enhance his or her dining experience.

In all fairness to the consumer, this has a lot to do with a history of price gouging by restaurant ownership. Wine for too long was regarded as a luxury rather than a dining staple and, as such, one was expected to pay top dollar for even the most pedestrian of wines. The consumer being ill informed shelled out the cash and then when they bought the wine at a retail venue was ticked off at the difference in price. The restaurants dug in their heels and countered with the argument that price was determined by the internal costs of running the restaurant, fixed margins on food, and the holding, service, and storage of the wines. None of this rang true to the consumer, especially in restaurants where service and storage seemed like a joke. This brings us to where we are today.

The landscape has changed dramatically. Restaurants and their patrons are much more sophisticated in terms of wine. However, the residual effects of past mistrust and misunderstanding remain.

In an attempt to clear this up, here are few tips to help determine when and when not to bring corkage into a restaurant.

There are several things I look for in determining the overall quality of a restaurant’s wine program. First, the wines on the list should complement the restaurant’s menu. Secondly, there must be a range of different styles of wine offered. Big bonus points go to the lists that search out unique regions or grape varieties and small, artisanal producers. There should also be wines available in a range of different price points to accommodate different budgets. These prices must reflect reasonable but not excessive mark-ups relative to the size and depth of the list. Finally, there must be a knowledgeable person on staff to assist in helping to make a selection from the list.

If all these criteria are met, then bringing in a bottle of wine should be the exception rather than the rule. This is because ordering a wine from a conscientiously chosen wine list will greatly enhance your meal. And, honestly, no matter how good the bottle of wine you are planning to bring happens to be, it is a known entity to you. Shouldn’t you be as excited to try a new wine as you are to taste a dish you have never had before? I think so.

With that said, if a restaurant fails you on any of these counts, bringing in a bottle of wine is not only okay but also a way of voting with your wallet. Believe me, restaurateurs are quite aware of consumer opinion concerning all aspects of their business. Letting them know that something is amiss will at the least give the restaurant food for thought and at best may lead to significant changes for the better.

Another reason to bring in a bottle of wine is that you may have had the patience and resources to procure and hold a special bottle of wine from a great producer in a particularly strong vintage. Most restaurants can’t and won’t hold many bottles like this because the goal is to keep total inventory costs low and to sell what inventory it has as quickly as possible. In this scenario, if the wine list is good and you plan on having more than one bottle, consider bringing in only that one bottle and ordering something from the list. Do you really need that special white Burgundy or vintage Krug to go with your simple green salad?

Be aware as well that there are more and less prudent ways to bring your wine in to a restaurant. Some personal pet peeves, in no particular order are listed below.

Hiding the bottles under the table until the server or sommelier has already gone through his or her spiel is really annoying. It is better to give the wine to the hostess or leave it sitting on the table so that the staff can prepare for the type of wine service you need i.e. an ice bucket, decanter, stemware, etc.

Avoid bringing in wine at grossly wrong temperatures. This applies primarily to bubbles. When you bring in warm Champagne, you end up having it with dessert—which is fine, but kind of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?

When you offer a taste of your wine, please don’t ask the person to taste out of your glass. I don’t know where your lips have been and you certainly don’t want to know where mine have been.

When you bring in your trophy wines don’t make a big deal about them. Don’t ask me what I think about them because, while I’ll probably tell you how delicious I think they are, I am really thinking, right or wrong, that I have twenty wines on my list that offer the same or better quality at a much lower price.

What it boils down to is this: the ability to bring wine from home into a restaurant is a good thing. However, be aware that the choices you make regarding which restaurants to bring wine to have an effect on that restaurant’s wine program’s bottom line. If you like the restaurant’s list, do your best to support it with your dollars, as well as your words of praise.

 
the socialite

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Sake Brewer’s Dinner
Thu., June 28, 2007

ANZU
Hotel Nikko
222 Mason St.
Second Level
Cross: O’Farrell St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

415-394-1108
website

6pm

$75
(tax and gratuity addl.)
Reservations required.
A valid credit card is required to make a reservation.


JUNE 19, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO For this special ~SAKE BREWERS DINNER~, ANZU executive chef Barney Brown will be pairing six courses with six sakes. There will actually be two different brewers in town from Japan for this event: from Chikurin in the Okayama Prefecture, Master Brewer Niichiro Marumoto presents his special sakes made from acclaimed Yamada-nishiki rice, since 1986; and from Wataribune in the Ibaraki Prefecture, Master Brewer Takaaki Yamauchi from the Huchu Homare Brewery presents his heirloom rice sakes that have earned them cult status in Japan.

And, you get four free hours of validated parking, sweet. Just be careful not to drink too much, eh?

The menu includes:

AMUSE
Tempura of Morel Mushrooms
stuffed with fava bean purée and chèvre
Chikurin Karoyaka Junmai Ginjo

FIRST
Toro Tartare
yuzu-soy gelée, yamaimo, caviar, and wasabi
Wataribune Junmai Daiginjo

SECOND
Ankimo-Bamboo Steamed Monkfish Liver Pate
momiji oroshi and ruby grapefruit ponzu
Wataribune Junmai Ginjo 55

THIRD
Smoked Misoyaki Black Cod
braised furofuki daikon and roasted chili miso
Chikurin Fukamari Junmai 55

FOURTH
Pearl Rice Cracker Crusted Sweet Prawns
Matcha green tea risotto and uni butter sauce
Taiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai

SWEET
Coconut Tapioca Pudding Tart
caramelized bananas
Chikurin Hou Hou Shu Sparkling

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Pinot Days
Fri. June 29–Sun., July 1, 2007

Various locations

website


JUNE 19, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO More than 150 of the world’s top pinot noir producers will participate this year for the finest comprehensive tasting of the hottest grape around, pinot noir, at the third annual ~PINOT DAYS~ event. Every region of California and Oregon will be represented during the many events over the course of the festival. With three days of tasting events, you’ll be able to try wines you have sought but could not find, and will be able to meet winery owners and winemakers.

Corks from more than 400 current release and barrel samples will be popped and ready to taste, along with delicious bites from specialty food purveyors.

Check the site for all the events, here are a few:

WINEMAKER'S DINNER AND CHARITY AUCTION
Friday, June 29
6pm–10pm

Fort Mason Officer's Club
Fort Mason, San Francisco
$150
Limited Tickets Available
Enjoy a five-course dinner, specially designed for pairing with pinot, while seated with the featured winemakers. Dinner will be prepared by Jeff Mall, owner and chef at Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar in Healdsburg.

GRAND FESTIVAL
Sunday, July 1
1pm–5pm

Festival Pavilion
Fort Mason, San Francisco
$50
Sunday’s Grand Tasting will showcase 170+ producers of pinot noir. This will be San Francisco’s largest single gathering of pinot producers ever. Consumers will be able to sample up to 400 pinots from every important region in California, Oregon, New Zealand, and Burgundy. 

 
the matchmaker

JUNE 19, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO

Parties That Cook, as seen in The NY Times and Gourmet Magazine, stages hands-on cooking parties and corporate teambuilding events in homes and rented kitchens around the Bay Area. Our events are perfect for corporate team building, client entertaining, birthday parties—any event you want to make deliciously fun! We are seeking high-energy, professionally-trained, charismatic service-oriented leaders with dynamic presentation skills for our fast-growing company. Chefs present lively cooking demonstrations, facilitate group cooking, plate food, and clean-up. Ideal candidate would live in San Francisco and would drive. Please send your resume to Info@PartiesThatCook.com and list CHEF in the subject line.