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The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion.

This week's tablehopper: taco tuesday.

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Salmon and ikura wappa meshi at Maki.

Hey, dude. Happy 4/20. As if San Francisco doesn’t already smell like one big doobie, I can only imagine what 4:20pm is going to smell like today. In honor of San Francisco’s favorite stoner chow, I have not one or two but three mini reviews of three very different Mexican establishments in the city. Buen provecho.

Speaking of good appetite, last week’s Hop Dog Happy Hour with CUESA was a blast—many thanks to everyone who cooked, made drinks, and came out to eat and drink. A very special thanks to the CUESA team for organizing it! The faboo Bunrabs posted a detailed photo essay on all the marvy concoctions.

This Thursday April 22nd, I’m going to be at The Tyler Florence Shop in Mill Valley for a reading and book signing, and Tyler is going to be there with me! Yup, there’s going to be some banter. The talented Jackie Patterson is going to be making a refreshing cocktail, the Spring Cup, featuring Hangar One vodka from St. George Spirits. The event starts at 6pm, see you there?

And a little reminder on the boozy tip that next Thursday April 29th is the two-martini lunch with the tablehopper at Bix, an event in conjunction with Bay Gourmet/the Commonwealth Club. Cocktails and passed apps (hello caviar pillows) kick off at noon, and Jordan Mackay will be there to ask me good questions. You can get your tickets here. (Future book events and dates are all listed here.)

Happy 40th Earth Day this Thursday.

Marcia Gagliardi

the chatterbox

Gossip & News (the word on the street)
Apr 20, 2010

Delfina's Expansion in the Mission

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Flickr photo by Jonn.Gordon.

~DELFINA~ owners Craig and Anne Stoll were trying to keep their new location under their hat, but news has a way of getting out, so let’s just talk about it. If everything goes according to plan, they will be taking over Ramblas on Valencia, and will be launching a Roman restaurant. They plan to make their own pastas, offering a larger list since they’ll have room for two pasta cookers and an extruder. There will be a full bar, and they will be able to do larger parties—they envision it to be a more lively restaurant. Anthony Strong, who has been with Delfina for five years, will be heading up the kitchen, and Brandon Wells (who has been working for Delfina for four years) will move up and oversee both pizzerias. You can read more in Craig Stoll’s interview with 7x7 here, which mentions the restaurant’s working name of “Locanda” (or “Locanda something-something”).

The End of AQUA (A Unique Website Commemorates It)

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Flickr photo from that guy 252.

I received this email from a former AQUA employee: “AQUA (and fine dining in general) may have fallen out of favor as of late, but I wanted to point you to a sort of tribute site that I put together using some of the more than two thousand pictures that I took while I worked there. It’s set up as a blog and I put up new posts when I’ve gotten enough pictures into a theme.”

“Seeing as the restaurant never put out a book or cookbook during its nineteen years of service, I thought that it might be cool to sort of make one on the web—where everyone can have access to it and contribute to it. I think it’s important to do whatever possible to preserve its legacy.” (You can read more about contributing to “My Life AQUA-tic” here.)

Although May 1st was the expected date for the restaurant to close, AQUA actually closed this Sunday the 18th.

It is the end of an era…

The Mina Group will take over the lease at 252 California Street on May 1st, but there’s nothing released yet about the next concept, name, or timing. There have been rumblings about MICHAEL MINA closing at The Westin (rumors have circulated about that for months), but according to an official statement, “Although the Mina Group will take over the new location, the plan is to continue to operate restaurants at both locations; its flagship venue at The Westin St. Francis and the 252 California Street. ‘We have every intention of operating restaurants at both addresses,’ stated Chef Michael Mina. ‘Having both locations gives us the opportunity to consider a range of creative options to better accommodate our guests and dining trends in San Francisco.’”

Chef Chad Newton Off to His Next Venture

I had a chance to catch up with chef Chad Newton, who had his last day at ~FISH & FARM~ on April 17th. Owners Frank Klein and John Duggan sold the restaurant, and Newton is now going to be working with Frank Klein on two ventures: American Box, the box lunch program they started at Fish & Farm, and Parcel BBQ, which, according to Newton, is going to be all about “meat on brown butcher paper that’s been slow smoked, well-sourced, and served with limited sides like slaw and potato salad, and white bread, with minimal sauce.” There will also be big red wines on tap, a root beer list, and, hopefully, late hours. They are still seeking a location for both ventures, so timing is TBD.

As for Fish & Farm, you’ll still be able to get that excellent beef-tastic burger, because taking Newton’s place is Obed Ix Yah, aka the burger king—he has worked with Newton since Baraka, and was the one grilling up all the burgers every night at Fish & Farm.

Flour + Water Expands in the Neighborhood

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Well, the rumors I heard about the partners of ~FLOUR + WATER~ (David White, David Steele, chef Thomas McNaughton) doing something in the new Southern Exposure building proved to be true. The expansion includes Central Kitchen (a sort of commissary-meets-culinary events space); The Dining Hall at Central Kitchen, open five nights a week for two seatings at communal tables, with the intention to host guest chefs and serve brunch; a deli/market tentatively named Salumeria that will feature cured meats, fresh pasta by the pound, a cheese program of local and international options, oils, and sandwiches; and a catering operation. They are targeting spring of 2011. 3030 20th St. at Alabama.

Some Closures (Temporary and Permanent)

While having drinks (yes, plural) at 15 Romolo last week, a North Beach local told me ~MANGAROSA~ was closing soon. Sure enough, their website says their last day will be April 23rd. (You can read owners Marcelo and Gina Betti’s farewell note on their website.) According to the letter, the landlord is opening a new project in the space.

Some readers also wrote in to say the ~ON THE CORNER~ café on Divisadero and Oak has closed. And whaddya know, the number is disconnected.

Meanwhile, ~TRADER VIC’S EMERYVILLE~ has announced a temporary closure from April 30th until September of this year so they can revamp and revitalize the location. They will be posting updates and sneak peeks of the progress throughout the temporary closure on their Facebook fan page. The press release also states, “Check the Facebook fan page daily as they will be running a week’s worth of too-good-to-be-true specials from April 25th-April 29th as a special thank you to their loyal customers.”

Arlequin Joins the Saturday Farmers' Market at the FB

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Photo from Arlequin.

Starting Saturday May 1st, Luis Villavelazquez, the pastry chef of ~ABSINTHE BRASSERIE & BAR~ and Arlequin Café, will be offering riffs on bakery classics at the new Arlequin Booth at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. (You may have sampled his wares already at the Thursday market.)

Items on the spring menu will include a S’mores cupcake with graham flour cake, chocolate cake, and toasted marshmallows; a malted cupcake with banana cream and Oreo frosting; a strawberry- and tobacco-infused scone with crème fraîche (keep that one away from the kiddies); a rhubarb-ginger scone; a spiced ramp and provolone biscuit (that sounds amazing); and signature cookies including double chocolate cherry fudge. Booth hours are going to be every Thursday and Saturday 8am-2pm, and it’s going to be located next to Blue Bottle Coffee’s exterior stand.

Pinkie's Bakery and Bento 415 Find New Digs

Good news: both ~PINKIE’S BAKERY~ and ~BENTO 415~ found a new space in SoMa, currently Ideal Café and Delicatessen. It has two kitchen spaces side-by-side, so one side will be the bakery and the other will be a restaurant. But some new changes are in store: Cheryl Burr of Pinkie’s and Chris Beerman of Bento 415 will be merging companies to form one cohesive brand.

On the bakery side, they will be executing wholesale breads and cakes, with a retail counter where people can walk in and get pastries, breads, cookies, cakes, and savories like the delicious bacon cheddar brioches and breakfast biscuit sandwiches. The bakery side will hopefully be open in mid-May, still serving Blue Bottle Coffee.  

The restaurant side of the space needs a little bit of a face-lift, so they are aiming for a June 1st opening. The restaurant will offer lunch and dinner with weekend brunch. Detailed concept is to be announced, but count on casual American fare. The new address is 1198 Folsom St. at 8th St.

Where to Listen to Live Music While Noshing

A couple musical things to take note of (har): ~SHOW DOGS~ has launched Jazz Fridays, with classic jazz and modern bossa nova from local saxophonist Cyril Guiraud every Friday afternoon from 6:30pm-8:30pm. In addition to their array of dogs, you’ll also be able to order fried chicken wings, mini corn dogs, a fried chicken sandwich, and the Show Dogs cheesesteak. Oh yeah, and don’t forget their nice selection of suds.

I’ll consider this a good sign: pianist Michael Udelson is scheduled to return to ~SEASONS BAR AT FOUR SEASONS HOTEL SAN FRANCISCO~ next Wednesday April 28th. He will start playing four nights a week: Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30pm-10pm, and Fridays from 5:30pm-11pm. Michael plays everything from Mozart to Oasis to Metallica to Radiohead, and is always willing to share the spotlight with a celebrity who may be in town and staying at the Four Seasons (like Billy Joel)!

Farina's Festa del Pesto Is On Now!

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Photo from Farina.

Remember that faboo event last year, when ~FARINA~ offered their magical mandilli al pesto dish for half price for a week? Well, that lucky week has returned: it’s the Festa del Pesto, running from April 19th-28th. For ten days, you can order Farina’s signature dishes at these hard-to-resist prices: focaccia di Recco, $8; 
mandilli di seta al pesto genovese, $10; pan-seared Jon Dory filet in a Ligurian-style sauce of white wine, Italian pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, and taggiasche olives, $16; and Genovese sweet milk fritters served with citrus salad and blood orange vanilla sauce, $5. You can also buy the pesto for $15 a jar.

Speaking of the pesto, here’s “The Perfect” video I made with Chow.com about it in case you have any doubts about how utterly delicious it is, and here’s the recipe if you feel like working out your mortar and pestle at home.

Monday Apr 19, 2010 – Wednesday Apr 28, 2010
more info

Farina - 3560 18th St. San Francisco - 415-565-0360

Anchor & Hope Turns Two

~ANCHOR & HOPE~ turns two this Thursday April 22nd, and will celebrate with $2 draft beers, live music, and they’re making lobster rolls, angels on horseback, and fish and chips, in addition to their regular happy hour specials. If you want to come and stay for dinner, service kicks off at 7:30pm.

You’ll also be able to say “ahoy!” to the new chef, Peter Janiak, since chef Sarah Schafer has moved permanently to Portland for the launch of Irving Street Kitchen, the new northerly restaurant project from the Rosenthal brothers and Doug Washington. Janiak, formerly of Presidio Social Club, came on a few weeks ago. Sarah’s two sous chefs have stayed on board, and chef Peter doesn’t have any immediate plans to change the menu around, though he has given himself the task of beefing up the happy hour.

Thursday Apr 22, 2010
4pm–7pm
more info

Anchor & Hope - 83 Minna St. San Francisco - 415-501-9100

RN74 Turns One: Check Out the Celebratory Specials

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Photo from RN74.

~RN74~ turns one on April 24th, and has already started the celebration by offering spontaneous $1 bottles of wine on the “Last Bottle” wine list—so when you hear that little clackity-clack sound, be sure to watch the board! And then on Saturday April 24th, Rajat Parr has selected $1 glasses of wine, available starting at 5:30pm. And from April 24th through May 24th, guests at RN74 will be entered into a drawing to win two round-trip tickets to Paris from San Francisco. Once in Paris, the lucky winners will be provided round-trip ground transportation to Burgundy, where they will be treated to a wine tasting agenda personally organized by Rajat Parr, along with overnight stays at select winery estates. (The drawing will take place on May 24th, 2010.)

Also new to RN74, there is an ongoing Sunday evening prix-fixe menu for $39 (view a sample here), plus rotating Sunday wine bottle specials (red and white) offered at $30, which guests can order with or separate from the prix-fixe menu.

RN74 - 301 Mission St. San Francisco - 415-543-7474

Yats No Longer at Annie's Bistro

Bummer, po’boys are no longer in my neighborhood: according to this tweet from ~YATS~, here’s the latest, “We are no longer doing lunches at Annie’s while we finalize a deal for our own freestanding establishment.” Apologies to the tablehoppin’ reader who headed over, expecting something good (but oh so bad for you) to eat. Meow.

Deli Board Now Doing Delivery

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Photo of the Boca from Deli Board.

Sandwich caterer ~DELI BOARD~ is now offering lunch delivery during the week for folks located in SoMa—and orders are delivered by bike! Call in your order ($20 minimum) Tue-Fri from 11am-2pm and allow 30 minutes for delivery. Pictured here is the Boca ($9) with pastrami, corned beef, brisket, muenster cheese, Board sauce, brown mustard, and pickles on a soft roll. Call 415-552-SOUP (7687).

This Week: It's Time for Dirty Dishes

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~DIRTY DISHES~, the new street food and DJ party, returns to The Lookout in the Castro this Thursday April 22nd. This upcoming third event will be featuring The SF Soup Lady, Ninja Pie Cart, Mad4Madelines, and Pearl’s Kitchen, with DJs Gordon Gartrell and B-haul holding it down, with special guest ONE-Z, playing indie electro, dirty house, and future bass. You can read their Facebook page for more.

Thursday Apr 22, 2010
9pm onward
more info

Dining Out for Life Is Thursday April 29th

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Next Thursday April 29th is the annual ~DINING OUT FOR LIFE~ fundraising event, when for one night, more than 3,500 restaurants around the nation donate a portion of their proceeds to the licensed organization in your area to fight HIV/AIDS. While the event is occurring in numerous cities, here’s the list of participating restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes notables like Baker & Banker, Fifth Floor, Mission Beach Café, Pizzaiolo, and others.

All restaurants listed are donating 25% of food sales, and some are donating 25% of food AND liquor sales. SKYY Vodka will also show their support by donating $1 for every Bay Area Blast cocktail sold in participating bars and restos for the STOP AIDS Project.

Thursday Apr 29, 2010
more info

Noodle Fest Comes to Chinatown and North Beach

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Get that fork ready for some twirling and those chopsticks primed for some slurping: on Sunday May 2nd is ~NOODLE FEST 2010: CHINATOWN AND NORTH BEACH, A CULTURAL AND CULINARY CELEBRATION~. This unique street fair will feature noodle and pasta dishes from over thirty restaurants from Chinatown and North Beach, all along Grant Avenue between Pacific and Vallejo Streets. There will also be live entertainment, noodle-making demonstrations by chefs, and a chance to win a grand prize raffle of two round-trip tickets from SFO to New York! For more information, click here.

Sunday May 2, 2010
3pm–7pm
$15 presale; $20 day of the event
more info

Dish Opening in Mill Valley

Peter Schumacher of the Buckeye Roadhouse and Bungalow 44 is partnering with Mike House to open ~DISH~ in Mill Valley this May. It’s moving into a new building, and will be a family-friendly restaurant that Schumacher described as “Grove-meets-Chow.” Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served, and the eclectic menu will include California ethnic food made with local ingredients, ranging from Italian dishes to Moroccan meatballs, from Thai soup to a Greek sandwich, and American classics like chili-cheese fries. Beer and wine will also be available. The look will be cozy, with a fireplace, reclaimed materials, and there’s an outdoor heated patio (there will be room for 55 inside, and 20 outside). It will be quick-service during the day (order at the counter), with table service at night. There will also be Wi-Fi, and Equator coffee. 507 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

Bakesale Betty's Second Location MAY Open This Week

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The original fried chicken sandwich (photo from Bakesale Betty).

East Bay folks have been eagerly anticipating the second location of ~BAKESALE BETTY~ opening in Oakland’s Uptown (it’s just across from Luka’s Taproom). Yup, now you’ll have two places to get your fried chicken or brisket or egg salad sandwich fix. And of course the kickass baked goods. If all goes well, the second location from owners Alison Barakat and her partner and husband, Michael Camp, will open this Thursday for a trial run. And depending on how things go, it will stay open the next day, or close for more tweaking. What this all means is follow their Facebook page for updates before you head over, with your heart pinned on a lemon bar.

As for the space, it will be a similar format to the original: no seats, just ironing boards outside, and hours (to start) are Wed-Sun 7am-3pm. But since there’s a larger kitchen area, there’s talk down the road about some expanded offerings, like wedding cakes or ice cream, and maybe even opening on first Fridays for Oakland Art Murmur, or at least later hours. Stand by. 2228 Broadway at W. Grand.

More Gelato for Berkeley

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After my post last week about the latest location of Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, a tablehopper reader wrote in to let me know that ~LUSH GELATO~ in Piedmont has just opened a second location. The new location replaces Ciao Bella in the Epicurious Garden, and has double the amount of flavors to try than the first location, 24 in all. Flavors include classics, like stracciatella, and the modern, like açaí sorbet. There are also panini, espresso and coffee drinks (hello affogato), and fresh juice. You can follow flavor announcements on their Twitter feed here. Hours are Mon-Sat 11am-9pm, and Sun 11am-8pm. 1511 Shattuck Ave. at Vine, 510-666-0644.

Two New Places in the 925

Since I was kickin’ it in Blackhawk over the weekend, I figured some of you 925 folks would like to know about these two new restaurants on your dining horizon: ~SASA RESTAURANT~ just opened this past weekend in Walnut Creek. It’s an izakaya-style restaurant from Philip Yang (Blue Gingko) and chef de cuisine Sam Castro, along with sushi featuring fish from Tsukiji market in Japan, and a full bar, plus outdoor seating. Open for lunch and dinner. 1432 North Main St. at Bonanza, Walnut Creek, 925-210-0188.

And due to open April 28th or 29th is ~VESU RESTAURANT~ from owners Chrisopher Velez and Melisa Suitos, with chef Robert Sapirman (formerly at Parcel 104). The cuisine is described as international, global, seasonal, and local. There are 130 seats, with a full bar. Dinner to start, and hopefully lunch and outdoor seating will come at a later date. 1388 Locust St. at Cypress, Walnut Creek, 925-280-8378.

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the sponsor

This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)
Apr 20, 2010

(Sponsored): Celebrate Earth Month at Whole Foods Market

If you’ve been thinking about making some changes in how and what you eat, come to NorCal Whole Foods Market stores. Throughout April, we’re celebrating Earth Month with our “Let’s Retake Our Plates” campaign of special events, tastings, and film series (including Food, Inc. and No Impact Man) to show how making conscious food choices can support the earth—and your body.

And at Whole Foods Market, we believe choosing food that supports your values doesn’t have to break the bank. When you come in, you’ll see that we’re doing more than ever to make your dollar stretch way beyond the check-out lane.

Find out more about Let’s Retake Our Plates online or just come into your local store to see how good life can taste.

fresh meat

New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
Apr 20, 2010

Chilango

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Sopes.

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Chile relleno.

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Carnitas (1/2 lb.).

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Pozole.

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Churros. (No snickering.)

Is it the dawn of Taqueria 2.0? With the growing number of places in San Francisco serving more than burritos and the same old taco line-up, and a commitment to using sustainable and quality ingredients, it’s a good thing to see. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not abandoning my al pastor super burrito, hells no, but I do like adding a few more dishes to my Mexi mix.

Let’s survey Exhibit A: owner Victor Hugo Juarez opened ~CHILANGO~ in his former Azteca Taqueria space on Church (near Chow). The new menu from chef Roberto Aguiar-Cruz (Mexico DF, Fonda) features a number of Mexico City “antojitos” (which are basically snacks for when you are jonesing for a little something-something to eat), and his California spin on them is to use quality meats (Niman Ranch) and organic produce when possible. It’s a burrito-free zone, so stop looking for them right now.

If you’re with a group, start with a trio of sopes ($11), three thick little “tortilla tarts” of the bright green house masa that’s made with cactus. They come topped with your choice of beef picadillo (my table’s favorite), papa con chorizo (great flavor), Oaxaca cheese, poblano rajas, or mushrooms. They all come sprinkled with cotija cheese, shredded cabbage, and crema (Mexican-style sour cream).

The chile relleno ($10) was almost perfect—the plump roasted poblano pepper was masterfully battered, and had a pleasant tickle of heat. Unfortunately, the Oaxaca cheese inside was rubbery. The bright tomato sauce that covered the plate was a good foil to the fried and cheesy elements of the dish.

While I prefer the seasoning and presentation of the juicy carnitas at Nopalito, the chunks o’ carnitas you can get here are also delicious (1/2 lb. for $12, or 1 lb. for $22). They come with a side of fresh guacamole, four delicious salsas, and made-to-order tortillas, so you can assemble your own tacos as you eat your way through the plate. The handmade tortillas are thick and rather durable—be sure to eat them while they’re hot.

Really hungry? Is it Manwich time? Go for the torta ahogada ($10), a tender and spongy bun stuffed with carnitas, black beans, and avocado, plus delicious pickled red onions that really perk it all up. The whole thing is soaking under a blanket of chunky tomato and jalapeño chile sauce, so it’s a definite fork-and-knifer. Our table christened it the Mexican sloppy Joe.

My favorite dish, however, was the pozole ($10), a beautiful steaming bowl of such a flavorful broth, full of the rugged sexiness of guajillo chile, with shredded chicken, hominy, and topped with shredded cabbage and thin wisps of radish. You should add a squirt or two of fresh lime, and crunch in as many of the house-made chips as you like. It tastes hearty and homey—love the texture, balance, heat, and depth of this dish.

Dessert: it’s all about some of the best churros ($5) I’ve had in the city. They’re almost cake-like, and put those ridged and desiccated street numbers to shame. And yes, our table made plenty of jokes about what these plump donut sticks look like. Hey, we were in the Castro. (The Castro location also accounts for the somewhat sassy service I’ve encountered here.)

Décor is nothing really of note: it’s pretty nondescript (the bathroom doesn’t even have a mirror), but there are some cool pictures of street food scenes in Mexico City on the walls. The continuous hours between lunch and dinner make it an easy pitstop for parents with kids early in the evening. The really bright light in the open kitchen makes it bad for a date, so save this one for a midweek meal or “I don’t want to cook” night—it’s the casual kind of place that fits the bill.

Chilango - 235 Church St. San Francisco - 415-552-5700

Gracias Madre

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Mosaic on the patio.

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Quesadillas de calabaza.

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Enchiladas con mole rojo.

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Coconut-lime cheesecake.

Almost anyone who lives in San Francisco has an opinion on Café Gratitude, and when I heard their vegan-organic-Mexican offshoot, ~GRACIAS MADRE~, was opening on Mission Street, I think my brain had already selected flash cards that went something like this: grrrrls-faeries-vegan power-viva la raza and rajas-tofu tacos-Yo Tengo Hambre-I work at Rainbow-live nachos. But after a couple bites of my (cooked, not raw) quesadilla de calabaza, with our friendly server who kept checking in on us like an abuelita, and nary an Abounding River Game in sight, I promptly played 52-Card Pickup with that deck.

First of all, the place looks great. They really did it right. It has a cozy little patio in the front with a stunning piece of original mosaic art, while inside is quite spacious, with wood floors, sturdy wood chairs and stools, a long bar, and a big open kitchen with a predominantly female crew. (Although the gauzy muslin table napkins reminded me a little of bandages. No matter.)

The menu has completely abandoned all the “I am…” oppressiveness of Café Gratitude’s menu and service, and just gets down to the food. Appetizers include the rich and filling roasted cauliflower soup ($7) topped with pepitas, or the aforementioned quesadillas de calabaza ($8): two half moons of house-made tortillas filled with butternut squash and caramelized onion, topped with pepitas, creamy cashew cheese (subbing in for sour cream), and a pumpkin seed salsa (I added a hit of the habanero salsa [you gotta ask for it], which added some ooomph).

Entrees feel like quite the deal: in fact, they’re honking. The enchiladas with mole rojo ($13) were filled with firm mushrooms (you gotta like mushrooms if you order this dish), slathered in a rather spicy mole and more cashew cheese, with smooth black beans and bright green dino kale on the side (you know there had to be some kale on the menu). I only made my way through half the plate, which tasted like a harmonious showcase of good for you. (If only I always ate this healthy.)

But the chile relleno ($15) was less of a poster child for the joys of eating this way: the poblano is roasted instead of fried, stuffed with small pieces of squash that weren’t mushy but weren’t particularly flavorful either, with plain brown rice and black beans on the side. I really really love the black beans, but overall this dish didn’t quite come together for me. And I was bummed that the whole thing was topped with a pico de gallo made with almost-white and out-of-season tomatoes. But the feisty escabeche on the side (pickled cauliflower, carrot, and onion) brought some authentic punch to the plate, and it came with made-to-order corn tortillas as well.

All the vegetables were fresh and flavorful—and they come from the restaurant’s Be Love Farm, so they are organically and biodynamically grown. (Not sure where those tomatoes in February came from, however.) The tortillas also feature stone-ground masa made from non-GMO organic heirloom corn, some of which is grown on their farm as well. The tortillas were really delicious (I’m digging this “handmade with organic masa” tortilla trendlet happening in SF). Sides included the soft and sweet rajas with onions ($5), a better showing than the dry tamal ($5) with calabaza, onion, and tomato paste.

I don’t know how you’re going to have room for the coconut-lime cheesecake ($8), but you should really try. It tasted so bright and refreshing, and the date-coconut-nut crust was a marvel—but so was the flan ($8), made with roasted cashews and almond milk. The flan tasted like cookies and cream, so unexpectedly chocolatey. No, it didn’t have the smooth, decadent creaminess of traditional flan, but I loved this flan for what it was: a feat of non-dairy desserts.

Service was some of the nicest I’ve encountered in a while—really attentive. You can pick a variety of organic wines, beer, and non-alcoholic choices, like the super ginger-y house-made ginger ale ($5/$8) or aguas frescas.

It’s an energetic Mission scene inside, complete with mariachis stopping by, and tables full of groups of friends and families dining out (sit at the bar if you don’t want to be seated communally—one holdover from Café Gratitude). I know this restaurant is making a lot of local vegetarians and vegans happy, and whaddya know, I think some healthy-minded carnivores are in that mix as well.

Gracias Madre - 2211 Mission St. San Francisco - 415-285-7550

Tacolicious

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Interior, with illustrations by Paul Madonna.

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Tuna tostadas.

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Trio of tacos.

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Nopal chupito.

Restaurant reinventions are interesting: there are things you may long for from the previous place (I really did enjoy the food at the Spanish Laïola), but I’m happy for the success owner Joe Hargrave and co-owner Sara Deseran have found with their restaurant’s new incarnation: ~TACOLICIOUS~. The name is a little cutesy for some, but I think it’s a case of knowing your audience (heck, there’s a “Marina Girl Salad” on the menu). Guys, you can just call it T-lish if you need to. The space now has some clever illustrations by Paul Madonna (check out the salsa containers), a fresh paint job, and some new tables and chairs. And an entirely new Mexican menu. Say hola.

I recommend starting with the house fave tuna tostadas ($9.50) served “Contramar-style,” inspired by a research trip to Mexico City. The crisp tostadas feature a combo of thin pieces of raw tuna, crispy leeks, smoky chipotle mayo that isn’t shy, and a slice of avocado—it borders on tasting a bit fusion-y (blame all the wacky sushi rolls we’ve eaten in our lives for that first impression), but in a great way, with a playful balance of texture and temperature. The tostadas had more flavor than the made-to-order guacamole ($6.50)—we had to doctor ours a bit with some salt and salsa, but it ended up tasting good, especially the notes of cumin. And with the (free) crisp and light house chips, just watch it disappear.

All the tables (and trust me, the place is packed) have platters of tacos on them (1 for $3.50, 4 for $12, 10 for $29). My favorite was the guajillo-braised beef short rib—a bit smoky and so beefy-good, with a nip of onion and cilantro; the carnitas really popped with the addition of fresh salsa (you get three to choose from: tomatillo, chipotle, and the damned hot-ay yi yi-habanero). The fried rock cod was moist and cooked perfectly but sadly was bland; and I’ve had the chorizo-potato number at the Tacolicious Thursday stand at the farmers’ market—some folks dig it but I find it to be too much starch-on-starch for my taste. The tacos come quite stuffed, and thankfully feature the classic double-taco layer of corn tortillas that help hold it all together. The meats and fish are grass-fed/sustainable/humanely raised, so no mystery meat here.

I love it when side dishes end up being stealth hits, like the drunken beans ($4), a luxurious side dish of velvety beans with bacon-y bits. (I wanna learn how to make those beans.) Vegetarians also have plenty to choose from, like the vegetarian pozole ($7.50), featuring a springy mix of hominy, asparagus, and carrots in a deep and flavorful chipotle consommé. Chef Telmo Faria is a regular at the farmers’ market, so everything is seasonal, local, and fresh—and often organic.

While you’re making your way through your meal, don’t miss out on the chupitos (4 for $12, 8 for $22, 12 for $30). These flavorful shots are dangerous, like the Nopal, a magenta shot made with tequila, prickly pear, and citrus. (Down. The. Hatch.) The Pasión with habanero-infused tequila, passionfruit, and lime was another shot of trouble (keep your eye on that one)—you can also order these as full-sized cocktails. I think the chupitos are to blame for some of the volume and rowdy vibe in the room, along with the impressive list of tequilas, over 40 in all. (The non-alcoholic choices, however, are a thoughtful touch for the few people in the room who aren’t drinking.)

If you’re ready for dessert, fortunately Laïola’s pan con chocolate ($7) remained on the menu, because that dessert has proven it’s a champ: a scoop of dark chocolate ganache (drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of Maldon salt) that you spread on small pieces of bread. Ay, dios mío. Some things are just meant to stay.

Tacolicious - 2031 Chestnut St. San Francisco - 415-346-1966

the lush

Bar News & Reviews (put it on my tab)
Apr 20, 2010

Help Chile, One Glass at a Time

I received this note from Chris Deegan, the wine director at ~NOPA~, about a new feature he has implemented on the restaurant’s wine list to help support Chile as the country recovers from the devastating earthquake. I’m hoping it inspires some other local places to do the same? And please consider ordering Chilean wine with your meal. Here’s the story from Chris: “We are pouring five wines by the glass from Chile. Nopa goes south! The idea is to give a little support to the Chilean wine industry. I have been talking with the folks at NESsT about the Levantando Chile fund that they started. (The people at Wines of Chile turned me onto them.) The fund is designed to channel money to local non-profits in Chile who are working in the hardest hit areas. They are working with all sorts of people, some of them tied into agricultural—both food and wine based. 

“We are donating a portion of the sales of all of these wines to this fund.The distributors and/or importers are also donating either a dollar amount or product that I am turning directly into dollars to donate. I am not sure how long we will run it, maybe a month or six weeks, but we are hoping to have a decent check to present at the end. And to give some exposure to the industry in the meantime. We are doing a similar thing at ~NOPALITO~ as well.”

Nopa - 560 Divisadero St. San Francisco - 415-864-8643

Paella Party (with Iberian Vino!) on Saturday 4/24

This seemed like quite the deal: ~QUE SYRAH~, a small, family-run wine bar in West Portal is hosting a paella party on Saturday April 24th. The event will be $20 per person (no reservations required, just come on over), which includes paella, tapas, and a tasting of six unique Iberian wines. The importers of the wines will also be there, pouring and talking about the wines.

Saturday Apr 24, 2010
5pm–8pm
more info

Mount Eden Vineyards Dinner at Farallon

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Photo provided by Farallon.

~FARALLON~ is hosting a winemaker dinner featuring Mount Eden Vineyards from the Santa Cruz Mountains next Tuesday April 27th. Owner and winemaker Jeffrey Patterson will be present to share the story of this historic property in the Santa Cruz Mountains, offering tastes of both current releases and rare library selections, all with a four-course menu from chef Fred Sassen. You can read the menu and pairings here.

Upcoming dinners include El Molino in May, Flowers in June, and Robert Sinskey in July.

Tuesday Apr 27, 2010
Reception 6pm
$140 per person, all-inclusive
more info

Brooke Arthur Heading to Prospect

I had heard bartender Brooke Arthur was leaving her home (at) the Range, but didn’t know what her next destination was. Camper at Alcademics has the story: she’ll be at Prospect, the upcoming SoMa project from the Boulevard team.

Camper notes the lounge will be “almost triple the seating capacity of Range’s bar. Brooke will be creating a cocktail program featuring seasonal cocktails, but will be decidedly more classics-driven than the list at Range. She also plans to include new classics from select bartenders around the city, so don’t be surprised if you see a beverage created by Carlos Yturria, Dominic Venegas, or Thad Vogler. You might even see a cocktail from the current Range drink-slingers.”

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the socialite

Shindigs, Feasts, & Festivals (let's party)
Apr 20, 2010

Art Changes Lives 2010: A Benefit for Creativity Explored

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Event Info

Thursday May 6, 2010
6:30pm–10pm
$125
Buy tickets
Foreign Cinema
2534 Mission St. at 21st St.

It’s time for Creativity Explored’s annual fundraiser, and this year it’s called ~ART CHANGES LIVES 2010: COLOR~. The event takes its title from Creativity Explored’s positive impact on the lives of artists with developmental disabilities working in their studios, and the community of people connected to the organization. This eccentric, spirited, must-attend fundraising event attracts 400 guests annually.

Enjoy seasonally inspired cuisine prepared by Foreign Cinema, along with colorful cocktails, wine, non-alcoholic beverages, and beer provided by MateVeza. There will be live music by Tammy Hall and Michaelle Goerlitz and The Baguette Duet, and you can watch over 80 videos of Creativity Explored artists working in the studios, which will be shown in living color on Foreign Cinema’s big screen.

Chromatic attire encouraged since the theme is “Celebrating Color.” And back by popular demand, Peaches Christ will serve as the Mistress of Ceremonies and auctioneer. Guests can bid on exceptional, original artworks by Creativity Explored studio artists (you can view a preview of the artwork here), plus an array of luxury items. It’s shaping up to be a wonderful event for a wonderful organization.

Farm to Feast in Santa Rosa on May 8th

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Event Info

Saturday May 8, 2010
5pm-10pm
$150 per person
Tickets/info
Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm
655 Willowside Rd., Santa Rosa
707-575-7194, ext. 105

Fans of chef Traci Des Jardins (Jardinière, Mijita, and Public House, and Manzanita in Lake Tahoe) may want to take this opportunity to venture out of the city for ~FARM TO FEAST~, an evening of biodynamic food and wine plus an auction held on the grounds of idyllic Summerfield Farm on May 8th. She will also be cooking dinner alongside Duskie Estes and John Stewart of Sonoma County’s Zazu and Bovolo; orchestrating the menu and service is Nick Peyton, owner and maître d’ of Healdsburg’s Cyrus restaurant. Another participant is Jean Yves Charon of Galaxy Desserts. Special guest Randall Grahm—founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard and biodynamic pioneer—will lend his formidable wit as the featured speaker for the evening. He will also sign copies of his newest book (recently nominated for a James Beard Award), Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology, and will donate a portion of the proceeds from books sold at the event to the Summerfield Waldorf School’s scholarship program.

Participating wineries to date include: Bonny Doon Vineyards, Davis Family Vineyards, Littorai, Martinelli Winery, Preston Vineyards, Quivira Vineyards and Winery, Sky Saddle Wines, and Small Vines Wines.

Farm to Feast is the main fundraiser for Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm’s ambitious scholarship program. 35% of the school’s students receive assistance in the form of scholarships. Last year over $700,000 in assistance was awarded. Guests will have the opportunity to tour the farm, and bid throughout the evening on one-of-a-kind experiences in live and silent auctions.

the sugar mama

Giveaways (get some)
Apr 20, 2010

Enter to Win Tickets to a Tasting of Paso Robles Wines

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Over 30 winemakers from Paso Robles are bringing over 150 of their finest vintages to the Bay Area April 21st-23rd for the Paso Robles 2010 National Grand Tasting Tour.

In addition to the Grand Tasting on April 22nd in Menlo Park, where the wineries will showcase a sample of their portfolio that best exemplifies the over 40 varietals (and blends) from Paso Robles Wine Country, winemaker dinners and tasting events will be taking place throughout Menlo Park, Redwood City, and Palo Alto. This is a terrific opportunity to meet the winemakers, and taste the distinct and different wines of Paso Robles Wine Country—without the drive (although that’s pretty worth it, too).

tablehopper is giving away TEN pairs of tickets (20 tickets total). All you need to do is forward this week’s tablehopper newsletter to two friends (but even more would be so very fabulous), and add a note to your friends about the event, then Cc: or Bcc: me at luckyme@tablehopper.com so I know you sent it—I promise I won’t use anyone’s email address. The deadline to enter is this Wednesday April 21st by 11:59am. I will notify the winners Wednesday afternoon. Good luck!

All tablehopper readers get $10 off the $45 ticket price. Just use code Tablehopper at checkout!

the starlet

Star Sightings in Restaurants (no photos please)
Apr 20, 2010

You Can't Touch This

Nothing makes my week like an MC Hammer sighting. Both ~will.i.am~ and ~MC Hammer~ had dinner in the private dining room upstairs at Waterbar with several tech titans, including Biz Stone (Twitter) and others. Managing partner Pete Sittnick, ever the prankster, exclaimed, “You can’t touch this” when he went to shake Hammer’s hand. will.i.am was reportedly wearing a chain link “murse” (man purse) with an American Flag on it, and both waved and greeted fans on the patio as they walked in.

Tasting Menu Now

Two tablehopper readers spotted ~Francis Ford Coppola~ having dinner at Baker & Banker last Friday with his wife, Eleanor. (It was reportedly his second time there.)

A Late-Night Dinner

~Corinne Bailey Rae~, the English singer-songwriter and guitarist, had a late dinner at Kuleto’s with three friends last Wednesday night. She had a bowl of minestrone and the tuna crudo appetizer. She was reportedly as sweet and lovely as her voice, chatting and bidding goodnight to the staff as she left. She performed at the Regency Ballroom last Thursday evening.

Dining Outside of La Mission

~Benjamin Bratt~, star of the just-released La Mission, was spotted by a tablehopper reader dining at Koh Samui & the Monkey.

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