tablehopper
table of contents This week's tablehopper: poolside reading.

the jetsetter
get outta dodge

the bookworm
another place for your nose
the sugar mama
get some
the starlet
no photos please

the sponsor
this round is on me


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APRIL 21, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO As some of you may remember, I am just getting back from four days of sun and music and heat (triple imagedigits, wooo!) and pools in the desert, so this week is a super-short issue. Looks like you had some nice weather yourself. Why thank you, yes, I enjoyed the much-needed break—Coachella is one hell of a good time.

Thanks to guest jetsetter and bookworm writers, I actually have a bit of a column for you to read today. Oh yeah, and there are some starlet sightings too. Next week I’ll share details on the latest news, like the opening of Mina’s RN74 this Friday, the upcoming opening of Bar Crudo on Divisadero, and the unfortunate temporary closure of Postrio this June.

This week I am looking forward to checking out Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation on Thursday, and am hoping the gorg weather continues when I head up to St. Helena for an overnighter and the Atelier tasting at Acme Fine Wines on Saturday (along with a whirlwind tour of eateries and wineries, natch).

Since I shouldn’t be the only one with quality wine in my immediate future, let’s do another giveaway, shall we? Check out the wine tasting event below in the new section the sugar mama, which is where you’ll find tablehopper giveaways from here on out!

Happy Earth Day tomorrow.
~Marcia subscribe

 
the jetsetter

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Outside at City Market

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Plate of food at City Market

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Outside at Smitty's

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Fire pit at Smitty's

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Outside at Kreuz

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Slicing meat at Kreuz

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The pits at Snow's

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BBQ Sandwich at Snow's

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APRIL 21, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO On the Road with Chef Charlie Kleinman

Chef Charlie Kleinman (Fish and Farm, Fifth Floor) is taking his roots in fine dining and the locavore movement and branching out in his new project, Wexler's. At his newest restaurant, the flavors of the American South's proudest tradition, barbecue, will meet Charlie's modern French technique. To this end, Charlie set out to Texas to taste some of the country's best barbecue, which will most certainly influence the menu at the upcoming Wexler's. The restaurant is set to open early June in San Francisco's Financial District.

Deep in the Heart (and Pit) of Texas

Beef, salt, and post oak. No, this is not a central Texas Earth Wind & Fire cover band, but the three main ingredients in Texas BBQ. That's it. Nothing fancy, no secret dry rubs, mysterious mix of hard woods, or some sauce bubbling for hours behind the scenes that only one person has the recipe to that is guarded like a nuclear launch code. The key to Texas BBQ is to take your meat, season it with salt (and for some, cracked black pepper), and let it smoke slow and low for hours on post oak until it reaches its culinary destiny.

This was a revelation to me when I headed on down to Austin with friend and writer Jordan Mackay to follow the BBQ trail. After two days of hitting five of Texas’s best BBQ joints, I had plenty of BBQ knowledge to help perfect my new restaurant, Wexler’s. Jordan had scouted out this trip just months ago, packing it with stops considered by many to be the best Texas had to offer—including one that is revered as the best BBQ joint in the country.

We set off early one Friday morning (okay not that early, but we can blame the car rental place for that) to Luling, Texas, some 45 miles from our home base of Austin. Our destination was Luling City Market (633 Davis St., Luling, Texas, 830-875-9019), a red shack in the middle of central Texas. Inside, the smells of smoke and meat were almost too much for us to handle. The three of us (we were joined by Jordan’s brother in-law, Seattle chef John Neumark) entered with mouths watering and laid down the ground rules: we would order brisket, beef sausage, and pork ribs—not classic in this area, but they have become a staple.

The setup is the same everywhere: you order by the pound, your order is sliced, weighed, and put on brown paper which doubles as plates. The barbecue comes with sliced white bread, sliced white onions, and pickles, also usually sliced.

After two days of eating like this, I think I’d like to debate with Emeril whether or not this is in fact the holy trinity. In order to be consistent, I tried everything in the same order always: first, brisket without sauce; next, ribs; and then the sausage. Once everything was tasted the way the pit master intended, I would make myself a true BBQ sandwich. One piece of white bread wrapped around some brisket with pickles, onions, and some BBQ sauce. Anyone who tells you that the key to a good sandwich is “good bread” has never had one of these—the light, Wonder quality of the bread lent the perfect balance of texture and flavors to the sandwich. “Good” bread would have been too much.

The food at City Market was just as expected: heavily smoky with that beautiful pink ring around the meat that, like the rings on a tree, denotes the time spent smoking under the tender care of a pit master. The brisket was moist, although the slices closer to the end did get progressively drier and smokier, with the slightest hint of seasoning. The ribs were tender, but still provided a nice mouthfeel when bit into. The ribs were finished with just the smallest bit of a sweet glaze that acts as a counterpoint to the richness of the meat. The sausage was heady, redolent of black pepper and surprisingly moist for a beef sausage. All in all, an excellent way to start the tour, and the bar was set high.

After eating too much at our first stop, it was time to go to Lockhart, Texas, the self-proclaimed barbecue capital of Texas. The main street here is littered with BBQ joints, but only two had been vetted and found worthy of our visit. These two spots were the product of one of the most classic culinary feuds: when two members of a family bound in tradition don’t see eye to eye, so they split off and each open their own place. In this case, the family spat spawned Smitty’s Market (208 S. Commerce St., Lockhart, Texas, 512-398-9344) and Kreuz Market (619 N. Colorado St., Lockhart, Texas, 512-398-2361).

First we arrived at Smitty’s. We were greeted immediately at the door by an open fire of post oak. We were lucky that the weather was extremely temperate, but one can only imagine what it must be like to wait on line here in 100-degree temperatures while standing next to an open fire. This place had all the ambiance one could ever want, with tables right next to the BBQ pit and Fox News discussing how Somali pirates were agents of Obama. One could actually feel the terroir.

The BBQ here was quite good, but a little dry and seasoned with a distracting amount of cracked black pepper. The sausage was so fatty that one bite each set us back for the rest of the day—our mouths seemed to be coated with fat from then on.

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Hoping to find more room in our stomachs somewhere in the half-mile to Kruez’s, we came upon its modern barn-like structure, replete with warning signs for salesmen and vegetarians to stay away. It is here that I found my favorite brisket of the day. It was so well marbled and juicy that in my current state I could only muster a few bites, but it was salty and sweet, if a little lacking in smoke.

After a restful night of drinking until 3am on Jordan’s chef friend’s porch near the University of Texas campus, we got up at the crack of dawn to head to Lexington, Texas, and to what was to prove to be the star of the show. Snow's BBQ (516 Main St., Lexington, Texas, 979-773-4640) has only been open for the better part of the decade, but to me it’s the Vatican in the Church of BBQ. We could tell this place was a cut above just by watching our brisket get sliced—it glistened with fat and seemed impossibly juicy. We didn’t make it early enough to this spot to try the chicken (Snow’s is only open Saturdays until they run out of meat), but we got plenty of brisket, ribs, and sausage.

When trying the best of the best of anything, one expects all entrants to be tightly bunched at the top. Not so here. Snow’s was far and away the best of what we tasted. I tried to ascertain what it was that made this stuff different, but was told that even if I arrived at 3am to watch them start the fires and proceeded to watch every other step they took, I would never be able to duplicate what came out of those smoky pits. The woman who is the pit master here has built up some seriously good BBQ karma—each pass of the electric knife slices brisket so tender that it falls apart in your hands.

After our visit to the BBQ Mecca, we had just one more stop. Louie Mueller (206 W. 2nd St., Taylor, Texas, 512-352-6026) was at a sizable disadvantage with its placement right after Snow’s, and this was not helped by walking in the door and seeing a poster with Guy Fieri’s smiling face and big thumbs up. Surely there was nothing here for us if the Food Network had already staked its claim.

Well, let’s just say I wish San Francisco had a place this good—although compared to the rest of our destinations, we all agreed this place came in fifth. The meat was covered in large-grind cracked black pepper, making the brisket taste more like pastrami than that sweet and smoky beef taste we had gotten used to. That said, this might have been my favorite BBQ sandwich of the trip for just that reason.

It is with a much more knowledgeable palate, and a good extra ten to fifteen pounds that I come back to San Francisco. Seeing the alchemy that occurs with nothing but smoke, salt, and meat underscores the simplicity and technical knowhow that go into this cuisine, leaving a high bar for us to reach.

 
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the bookworm

APRIL 21, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Recommends

Don't forget: the books mentioned below are available at 20% off for tablehopper readers for two weeks following this mention at Green Apple Books—simply use the code "tablehopper" at checkout (either at the store or online) for your discount.

Green Apple is constantly spreading the good word about local-ism: shopping at locally owned independent stores leads to many good things, like more money re-circulating in the local economy, a strengthened tax base for local government, support of local families, etc. And readers of tablehopper have all presumably read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (if not, don’t eat or read anything else until you do) and know all about buying locally produced food. And you clearly are already interested in supporting locally owned restaurants.

Which long-windedly brings me to today’s bookworm: you can do right by local publishers, bookstores, and restaurants by buying either or both of today’s featured books, both by local authors, restaurateurs, and publishers (and 20% off for tablehopper readers at this locally owned bookstore).

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First up is Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition by Gerald Hirigoyen, chef-owner of Piperade and Bocadillos (published by Ten Speed Press in Berkeley). Included are 75 popular recipes from the restaurants that are adapted for the home kitchen. They range in complexity from the simple (the spring-appropriate fava beans with crème fraîche and mint) to more complicated items (like cold and spicy tomato broth with chopped vegetable salpicon). The book is a handsome hardcover, clearly written with adequately mouth-watering color photographs throughout. And it’s only $24.95, which is really a pretty good deal for a book of this quality, and cheaper than a visit to either restaurant, for sure.

The other ultra-local book of the month is Bixology: Cocktails, Culture, and a Guide to the Good Life by Eve O’Neill and Doug “Bix” Biederbeck (published by SF’s Chronicle Books). The selling point on this sharp little faux-leather book is its voice. Like the restaurant, this book has character, from the page of “Nautical Drinking Terms” to pithy introductions to drink recipes, like this one before Irish Coffee: “Here’s a convenient way to combine your addictions.” Otherwise, it’s a basic (but not comprehensive) bartending guide with a strong voice. A fun little gift or bathroom book for those who like their sauce.

Thanks for reading, and goodbye from atop my Shop Local First soapbox.

 
the sugar mama

Edible San Francisco

Golden Gate Wine Cellars is hosting another Boutique Wine Tasting Extravaganza on Saturday May 2nd.

Come and meet with the owners, winemakers, and representatives of yet another bunch of stellar producers. You will be tasting wines from Hourglass, Fisticuffs, Chappelet, Buoncristiani, Atrea, Meyer, Ramian, Bella, Bohemian, Gain Bay, Redmon, Fantesca (Heidi Barrett is the winemaker), and many others.

The event is Saturday May 2nd, 5pm–8pm at the Lakeside Cafe (Private Room), 2529 Ocean Avenue. Food is provided.

tablehopper is giving away three pairs of tickets (six tickets total). All you need to do is forward this week’s tablehopper newsletter to one buddy, but even more would be so very fabulous. Just tell your friend(s) about the event, and CC or BCC luckyme@tablehopper.com so I know you sent it—I promise I won’t use anyone’s email address. Deadline to enter is midnight Friday April 24th—I’ll notify the three winners over the weekend.

You can also buy tickets for $35 per person or $50 for two (you don't have to be a couple!). Those buying six tickets will get two tickets free. For reservations, call 415-337-4083 or click here.

 
the starlet

APRIL 21, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO Condoleezza Rice dined at MacArthur Park Palo Alto last Thursday (she is back teaching at Stanford). She chatted it up with the GM, and had artichokes, chicken, and ribs. And she wasn’t alone: Secret Service came in right before her to check out the restaurant and dined at the bar.

Last week Charlie Rose ate at Scala’s three times, and Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Taxi) was also spotted in the house.

From an East Bay reader: “Blair Underwood, Miranda's hot boyfriend from Sex and the City (the one who said “I love you” on a cookie) was at Pican in Oakland Friday night. He was looking very good.”

And here’s probably one of my favorites, ever: Dita Von Teese was recently at Bouchon, and reportedly “looking amazingly beautiful” (is she ever anything but?).

 

All content © 2009 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.

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