tablehopper
table of contents This week's tablehopper: hearts and meatballs.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
the regular
it's about time we met

the socialite
shindigs/feasts/festivals
the health nut
take a lap, tablehopper
the starlet
no photos please

the sponsor
this round is on me


FEBRUARY 13, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Why hello, and happy Wednesday. I know we normally don’t see each other on this day, but that’s the joy of technology snafus totally messing with our relationship (I know BlackBerry users can feel my pain).

So Thursday is the day of the red rose brigade, when almost every table in every restaurant is converted into a two-top. Well, except the large round table where I’ll be feasting on some Chinese with my best buds. We’ll play “spin the lazy Susan,” with frisky prizes like a pot sticker or a crab leg!

Since romance is on the collective brain this week, I thought I’d highlight one of my fave date spots, Baraka, in the regular since it recently got new owners who have spruced it up nicely. And the food has only gotten better too—in fact, super duper delicious. Checkity check it.

Love and kisses,

~Marcia subscribe
the chatterbox
FEBRUARY 13, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Both the Birkin bag-toting set and the nightlifers have been awaiting the opening of ~LE CLUB~ in the landmark 1250 Jones Street building on Nob Hill. People, it’s close! March 1 marks the day the doors officially swing open for dinner to Gina Milano and Todd Traina’s swank new hideout. You’ll need to make reservations, whether you are drinking, dining, or both. There are four rooms total, including a dining room, a bar, a lounge, and a billiards room—an outdoor space is also in the works. Milano says the sexy glam space feels like visiting a friend’s fine home with private club ambiance—the luxurious interior will make a firm nod to the past, with silks, leather, velvets, a green onyx bar and light blue and rose onyx-topped tables, French marble floors, and custom furnishings. The chef is Bob Cina from Chez Henri in Boston, who is putting together a menu of Cal-French cuisine with some classic Continental provenance: look for dishes like escargots, steak tartare, lobster pot pie, a vegetable tart, and baked Alaska for dessert. Apps will range from $7–$14, entrées $16–$28, dessert $6–$9, caviar service $75–$240, fondue for two for $18, and cocktails will run from $7 for well drinks to $12 for specialty drinks. Cocktail service begins at 5:30pm, and dinner is from 6:30pm–midnight; Mon–Tue the kitchen will only turn out bites like charcuterie and cheese. The reservation lines open February 18—you can reserve a spot all the way up to 1am. There is also a Champagne-colored Town Car available for car service (with “2leclub” on the license plate, natch). 1250 Jones St. at Clay, 415-922-2582.

I was checking in with Stephen Weber on how things are looking for ~BEST-O-BURGER~ opening soon in Belden Alley, and he said they will be open in about four weeks. MECCA’s former executive chef and Weber’s Best-O-Burger business partner, Randy Lewis, will be back from Wisconsin to help him with the opening; Lewis is now Director of Food and Beverage at the Relais & Chateaux resort Canoe Bay in Wisconsin, and is reportedly loving it.  Small sidebar: I didn’t realize both Lewis AND Weber had resigned from the MECCA team, but they did.

~A16’S~ Skye LaTorre, one of their senior sommeliers, has left the restaurant as of last Tuesday—will keep you posted where she lands, and if A16 decides to fill her place.

On a sunny and unexpectedly glorious February afternoon, like the one we just had this Sunday, there are very few things I’d be game for attending in a dark room with no windows. Unless, of course, it was an invitation to hang out with the SF chapter of the ~LES DAMES D’ESCOFFIER~ society for a seminar with some of the city’s best bartenders at Bourbon & Branch. Sign me up, yo! It was a stellar line-up, as good as the back bars and bitters these folks curate, and included Scott Beattie (Cyrus in Healdsburg), Erik Adkins (Slanted Door and consultant to Flora in Oakland), H. Joseph Ehrmann (Elixir), Jeff Hollinger (Absinthe), Dominic Venegas and Todd Smith (Bourbon & Branch), Amanda Washington (Rye), and Greg Lindgren (Rye, Rosewood Bar)—and Charlotte Voissey was in town, who I will be happily seeing again at the Hendrick’s Gin dinner at Absinthe tonight.

Not to tempt you with things you can’t order, but Hollinger was behind two of my favorite drinks of the day, which (sob) aren’t currently on the menu at Absinthe, but they could very well appear again someday. One was Jitterbug Perfume, an epiphany of a drink made with Tanqueray infused with roasted red beets and green Szechuan peppercorns, plus sherry gastrique, Aperol (or Punt e Mes), and a splash of Szechuan tincture (red Szechuan peppercorns steeped in vodka for a week or more) and orange bitters. Garnished with a clove-scented cocktail onion. Uh, dude. Wow. Or how about the Mushroom Hunter: Old Overholt Rye infused with locally foraged candy cap mushrooms, plus Cossart Gordon Rainwater Madeira, Aperol, orange bitters, thyme tincture, and flamed orange for garnish. Again, dude. The earthy note of the mushrooms was so funky-cool, reminded me of a truffle grappa I had in Venice when I was 20. (Yes, a while ago.) Talk about an intersection of culinary and cocktail! Everyone’s drinks were so fab, but being the food-meister I am, of course I got fired up on beets and mushrooms in my drink. Thank you Les Dames for your hospitality! Oh, and East Bay folks, be sure to try Erik Adkins’s awesome elderflower fizzes made with St. Germain at Flora in Oakland. There’s one with raspberry, or cucumber with mint… we tried four, all were quite meow.

Since we’re on liquids… the latest new business to open on Fillmore (man, that area is getting busy) is going to be ~WINE JAR~, in the former Trio Café space. This modern-looking wine bar and lounge will have about 150 wines, with 60% from California, mostly hard-to-find or smaller production wines (think less than 500 to 1,000 cases), and the rest will be international, like French, Aussie, Italian, and the like. There will be 25 or so available by the glass, ranging from $7–$18 for something special, and a variety of half bottles too. There isn’t a retail component, but you can get a bottle to go at a discount. The wine director is Julie Henderson, who was a buyer at California Wine Merchant, and is also the GM and wine director of Wellington’s Wine Bar in Sausalito. Small bites will also be served—the menu is getting finalized right now, but one thing that’s sure is desserts will be featured prominently, with fruit tarts, chocolate, and the like, making it a nice place to hang out for a sweet and a vino nightcap. The bar will have room for 16, with another 20 or so seats for lounge-style seating with tables. Your new waiting room for your table at SPQR is almost here—Wine Jar should be open by next weekend, the weekend of the 23rd. Hours will be Tue–Sun 3pm–11:30pm or midnight. 1870 Fillmore St. at Bush, 415-931-2924.

~UMI~ in Potrero Hill has opened, plying neighbors with sushi and small plates in the former Thai Bar-B-Que space, and is launching lunch service soon. You can refresh your memory with the restaurant’s details in my January 15 column. Dinner nightly at 5:30pm. 1328 18th St. at Missouri, 415-355-1328.

~TINDERBOX RESTAURANT~ in Bernal not only has a brand-spanking-new website, but they are also launching lunch service next Tuesday, on 2/19. Look for a reportedly “amazing” grass-fed burger on a brioche bun, a variation of pho, plus some salads, beignets, and other items on the small bistro-style menu. And for those of you craving some suds with lunch, both North Coast Brewing Company and Ommegang are on tap. Hours will be Mon–Fri 11:30am–2pm. 803 Cortland Ave. at Ellsworth, 415-285-TBOX (8269).

Here’s an update on a couple upcoming projects since I know some of you are wondering: the ~OUT THE DOOR~ location in the Fillmore area is slated to open in March—stand by! 2232 Bush St. near Fillmore.

I’ve been hearing rumors about February 26th for ~ORSON~ in SOMA—this is totally unconfirmed, so stand by for more details in the next couple weeks! 508 4th St. at Bryant.

I can’t help but think ~COCO500’s~ new happy hour is geared toward freelancers. Or the unemployed. Or day traders. The restaurant is launching a new afternoon tapas and cocktail menu, running from 3pm–5:30pm Mon–Fri. The menu will feature a rotation of six different tapas priced at $3 each, and drinks for $6. Now I know where to go when my column is all done on Tuesdays, conveniently at 3pm on the dot. 500 Brannan St. at 4th St., 415-543-2222.

Lastly, if you can’t go to New York, then you might as well bring New York to you. I’m leaving the 415 environs and will be heading down to ~QUATTRO RESTAURANT AT FOUR SEASONS HOTEL SILICON VALLEY~ when they are hosting executive chef Marco Canora and sommelier Paul Grieco from NYC’s Italian eatery, Insieme, for a series of events from February 21–24. (Insieme was on Frank Bruni of The New York Times’s list of ten best new restaurants—some of you might recognize Canora and Grieco’s names from Hearth, the restaurant they opened in 2003, prior to Insieme.) There will be three- and four-course traditional and contemporary Italian dinners offered, a wine tasting seminar, a cooking demo, and a brunch. I was invited to check it out so I’m going to head down for a dinner—hmmm, what to do, traditional or modern? Both menus look killer. Interested? You can learn more and can make reservations at Quattro Restaurant at 650-566-1200. Ciao!

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

 
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the regular

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Baraka
288 Connecticut St.
Cross: 18th St.
San Francisco, CA 94107

415-255-0370
website

Sun–Thu 5:30pm–10pm
Fri–Sat 5:30pm–11pm

Apps $8–$17
Entrées $17–29
Desserts $6–$8

 

FEBRUARY 13, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO ~BARAKA~ has been a Potrero Hill (and citywide) favorite for a number of years—it’s where both Ola Fendert’s and David Bazirgan’s dishes enchanted me years back, giving me my first taste of Argan oil, and I will never forget the revelation of mint tea with toasted pine nuts floating on top, and the dreamy orange blossom beignets.

It can be tough when a chef inherits a legacy of previous chefs’ menus, loaded full of favorites the neighborhood would stage a revolt over if ever taken away. When I dined at Baraka in August 2007, I remember being impressed with the direction executive chef Chad Newton was taking the French-Moroccan-Mediterranean menu in, but honestly, the restaurant itself was looking shabby, with tired upholstery, chipped paint, a beat up menu (the wine list cover fared even worse), let alone the wine list itself, with very few choices that rung my bell.

And then poof! New owners! The whole place got a much-needed freshening, with new dishes, flatware, and stemware, the menu was redesigned, the interior got a paintjob, plus new pillows were on their way. A few things still needed attending to: the bathroom was jealous of the main room’s fresh paint, and when I was there again in December 2007, the interrogation-worthy light above the front door still needed a cover. I’m sure the owners have all of this on their list, and are crossing these things off one by one. Who knows, that door light could very well be the picture of ambiance right now.

Fortunately, the wine list also got some attention and is more versatile and food friendly, and whoa, Newton’s food really seems to shine after the restaurant’s Tim Gunn-worthy makeover. He’s very passionate and committed to the restaurant, and to making his guests happy—it’s nice to see (and taste, hello).

Classics that continue on the menu include the crowd-pleasing pistachio-crusted goat cheese ($9), or the quartered dates ($8) stuffed with chorizo and Cabrales cheese, with a crispy exterior wrapped in prosciutto—the dates come topped with a salad of frisee, sultanas, and pine nuts that helps cut the richness of these wicked bites. There are also the lamb meatballs ($9) sporting a nice firm texture, delicious with their wading pool of goat yogurt zhoozhed with mint and cumin.

So, now that we have the stalwart faves out of the way, how about Newton’s additions? I recommend starting with the soup of the day—in the summer, it was a corn puree topped with lavender honey, while in the winter it was sunchoke with the inspired undertone of maple and the tang of sherry vinegar. Oh, and don’t fill up on the addictive fresh bread served with complimentary (though a bit chunky) hummus.

The summer also brought pole beans ($9) coated with dill crème fraîche, and topped with frizzled shallots—almost a cold and classy variation of the old school green bean casserole with Lipton onion soup mix, ha ha! It was actually the perfect summer salad, creamy and cool, salty and crispy, with lightly dressed sweet 100s on the side.

There are plenty of crudos around town, swing that cat, but the hamachi crudo ($14) here is especially scrumptious: slices of hamachi are topped with a parsley emulsion (translation: foam) and a sprinkling of smoked sea salt, plus the brill addition of cubed and crisp Brabant potatoes, along with crème fraîche nestled underneath. There was a touch too much salt, but the way all the elements played together was so on point. Hearts.

The house-made potato gnocchi ($10) dish rotates with the seasons—in the summer it came with peas and smoked ham, while the winter delivered braised oxtail, tender roasted cippolini onions, grated fresh horseradish, and a Parmesan emulsion. Yes, I know, another foam, but it nicely infused the flavor of the cheese into the dish, with flavors that bordered on a hearty and delightfully rich stew. The sear on the toothsome gnocchi reminded me of the ones I’ve had at Postrio, and since Newton got his start in the Postrio kitchen, well, there you have it. In this case, the sear actually helps the gnocchi stand up to their juicy surroundings.

Mains include a most rocking dish of roasted black cod ($22) that rests on a bed of shelling bean ragout and Tuscan kale, all brought together with a caramelized onion sherry jus. It’s the kind of dish that could single-handedly get you through the winter. Even the classic seared ahi ($25) gets perked up with a caraway crust, smoky chunks of Hobb’s bacon, apple, frisee, and whole grain mustard butter.

I know I’m fired up, but not everything passes with flying colors—on one visit, the poached then seared octopus ($11) was under-salted and mushy, and the flavor-bereft couscous needed to follow the lead of the couscous at Aziza (well, all couscous does, really). Desserts also needed some triage—the orange Ligurian cake was “something has gone very wrong” dense, but one bite of the chocolate bread pudding dish’s cashew brittle with the roasted banana helped to save dessert.

People tend to sink right into this sultry space, with its red walls, banquettes lined with brightly colored pillows (plus pillowed iron chairs), exotic/gypsy-esque music, and dim lighting with candlelit tables and niches, and there’s a dramatic candle chandelier overhead. This place is also tiny, don’t get me wrong, so while it’s good for a date, it’s not good for a quiet date—tables are very close together, and the volume can climb.

There are lots of couples dining here, plus double dates; singles can happily find a space at the bar in the back. If you’re in a group, the prime group table to score is the alcove with curtains and room for six—great for girls’ night out. It’s also worth noting this not quite a good place if you’re in a rush—things can move at a leisurely pace here.

This chef is one to watch—I look forward to seeing even more innovations happen on Newton’s menu as he continues to evolve his style, source different ingredients, and try even more combinations. His time as an opening sous chef at Redd up in Yountville assuredly helped craft his elevated technique and vision. He “gets” flavor, and what tastes good together without muddling or overpowering the individual elements. Which is why I’d inquire about having him put together a tasting menu if you’d like to go that route—it could make for a delightful tour.

Early birds and bargain hunters will be stoked with the three-course prix-fixe menu ($25, or $35 with wine pairings, Sun–Wed 5:30pm–6:30pm, Thu–Sat 5:30pm–6pm). There is also a separate room downstairs with room for 25, totally a swell spot for private parties.

So when all the Valentine’s Day madness is over, scoot yourself on over to Baraka for your next date night—it could be with anyone, really, because the real date is with the food.
 
the socialite

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tablehopper supper
Sun., March 2, 2008

Piccino
801 22nd St.
Cross: Tennessee St.
San Francisco, CA 94107

415-824-4224
website

$100

For reservations, reserve with a credit card—call Margherita 415-407-0019 or Sher 415-298-9535

FEBRUARY 13, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, these ~TABLEHOPPER SUPPERS~ are just too much fun, and there are so many places to host them, so I’m going on a monthly schedule for now and am hosting another one this March! This supper is special for a variety of reasons: first, it’s at the ever-charming Piccino in Dogpatch, which has a knack for making me happy every time I’m there.

Piccino is closing the restaurant and making it a private space for the tablehopper supper; anyone who has been there will understand—the place is super tiny (hence the name!). So we’ll only have room for about 20 folks total—it will be cozy and intimate with all of us seated around one table. (And attention event planners and folks seeking a private room for a party: did you know you can rent Piccino for the night and have it all to yourself for a dinner party!? Dreamy!)

Secondly, I’m fired up on this event because it’s going to be featuring Donnafugata wines. Since trying these wines at a wine tasting event a while ago, I’ve wanted to do something with them besides just drink them. Duh, a wine dinner! These wines hail from three vineyards in Sicily—you can read more about the Rallo family and their winery here.

And now, the menu!

While mingling in the beginning, there will be two seasonal pizzas passed around, plus baked clams stuffed with lemon and fennel confit. There will be prosecco from Villa Sandi Prosecco Claxa (the only wine not from Donnafugata) to start, plus Donnafugata’s Anthìlia white, IGT Sicily, ansonica and catarratto.

A seasonal salad course.

Midcourse: baked mackerel filets served on bruschetta with romesco sauce, with Sedàra IGT Sicily, nero d’avola.
 
Entrée: Marin Sun bollito misto, with marrow bones and traditional sauces (salsa verde, etc.); contorni of boiled/roasted new potatoes, carrots, spring onions, and braised greens, with Tancredi, DOC Contessa Entellina, nero d’avola and cabernet sauvignon.
 
Dessert: mascarpone and blood orange tart, and Gorgonzola dolce latte-stuffed figs, with Ben Ryé DOC Passito di Pantelleria, zibibbo, a scrumptious dessert wine.
 
The $100 price is all-inclusive (tip and tax included). Come feast with a fun and passionate group of fellow friendly gourmands! I look forward to seeing you there.

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Celebrity Crab Festival
Sat., March 1, 2008

Union Square
San Francisco, CA

website
 
noon–3pm
competition 12:30pm


FEBRUARY 13, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Dungeness crab season brings all kinds of events around town—I know many of you are crab crazy, so here are a couple that have crossed my desk here at ‘hopper HQ. First is the sixth annual ~CELEBRITY CRAB FESTIVAL AT UNION SQUARE~, when San Francisco 49ers team up with local chefs for this fundraiser for the San Francisco 49ers Foundation. A noontime demonstration about cracking crab will be followed by a timed crab cracking and cleaning contest to see who can clean the most crab.

Local restaurants will provide tastes of Dungeness crab, and there will be a Wine & Beer Garden. Tickets for food, beer, and wine tastings are $5 each, or six for $25. Tickets can be bought the day of the event at a designated ticket booth—cash only. Music from Diego’s Umbrella, family entertainment including a children’s booth, and raffles will be featured throughout the day.
Union Square chefs include: Mike Koenig, Scala’s Bistro; Keira Moritz, Puccini & Pinetti; Robert Helstrom, Kuleto’s; Robert Petzold, Ponzu; Sharon Nahm, E & O Trading Co.; Fernando Padilla, Master Baker, Boudin Bakery; James Chan, Bistro Boudin; Thomas Rimpel, The Oak Room at the Westin St. Francis; Richard Slusarz, Grandviews Restaurant atop Grand Hyatt San Francisco; Darren Lacy, Luques Restaurant & Bar at the Chancellor Hotel; and Mauro Pando, The Grand Café.

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Crab Challenge
Until Feb. 22, 2008

Scoma’s
Pier 47
Al Scoma Way
San Francisco, CA 94133

415-771-4383
website


FEBRUARY 13, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Next, Scoma’s is kicking off its first official ~CRAB CHALLENGE~, where all crab lovers can put a favorite crab recipe to the test. Simply email the recipe to contest@scomas.com before Friday, February 22, 2008. Scoma’s judges will choose the best and feature it on Scoma’s menu for the rest of crab season. The top crab recipe also wins dinner for two at Scoma’s, and a weekend at San Francisco’s Orchard Garden Hotel. The winner will be notified no later than March 7, 2008. Official contest rules are available here.

Prefer to eat crab instead of cook with it? Scoma’s executive chef Steve Scarabosio has created a ~FOUR-COURSE DUNGENESS CRAB TASTING MENU~, available throughout February. The menu includes crab leg Louie and a crab cocktail shot; roasted cracked crab; house-picked crab and chanterelle cappellini; crab cioppino; and for dessert… crab! Kidding. You get chocolate. $65 per person without wine pairings; $90 with wine pairings.

 
the health nut

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FEBRUARY 13, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Man, have I been glad the weather dried up for a bit—a few fit camp classes got rained out a couple weeks ago, and I couldn’t ride my bike either, so guess who wasn’t getting enough exercise. Funny how your body can change in just a couple weeks. Actually, it’s not funny. Not funny at all.

I wanted to let you know to keep your eyes peeled for a free one-week trial the gents at Titan Fitness will be offering in March. You’ll be able to check out a week’s worth of classes and experience the joy of “around the world” planks, running stairs at Kezar, and resistance exercises that give you triceps. All taught in a supportive and “not out to kill you” manner. Stand by for more!

 
the starlet

FEBRUARY 13, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Mike Ness, the lead singer of Social Distortion, was spotted at La Taza on Post—supposedly he’s a big fan of their breakfast burritos.

Richard Branson dined at South Monday night—he had some barramundi, and drank semillon. Two girls at the bar asked him if people told him he looked like Richard Branson—he charmingly played along.

And perhaps one of my favorite star sighting reports of all time: MC Hammer was spotted dining at Aqua. And now for the icing on the cake: he was reportedly running a little late, and when he sat down at his table he quietly announced, “It's Hammer time.”

There is nothing I could possibly add to that. It’s all up to you, dear readers, to top that one. Show me what you’ve got.

 

All content © 2008 Marcia Gagliardi. I am more than happy if you want to link to my reviews and content elsewhere (thanks, glad you dig it), but republishing any part of them in any way, shape or form is strictly prohibited until we talk first. Please take a look at my Creative Commons license for more detail.To subscribe to this list, please visit http://www.tablehopper.com/lets_talk/subscribe.html

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