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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: home stretch.

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Corned beef brisket at Local Mission Eatery.

You’ve almost made it to the finish line—well, those of you who work normal office hours. Congrats. I’ve been off that track for 10 years, but I can still appreciate Friday. I am also appreciating how many cool restaurant openings we have going on right now—keeps my job very interesting. This week I’m dedicating some serious pixels to the upcoming Café des Amis project opening in Cow Hollow on July 21st, from the Bacchus Management Group. It’s an impressive project—and I was lucky to get my mitts on a working draft of the menu, so I hope you enjoy today’s hardhat-meets-sneak peek.

This issue also features a revisit to Bar Tartine. It’s been pretty busy over there—now you can see why. (The delicious-looking sandwich to the right, however, is from Local Mission Eatery, where I recently had a fab lunch—another one to add to your roster.)

I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday with some fun Bastille Day options and more, but in the meantime, take a look in the lush for reminders on three cool upcoming wino events coming up on Sunday and Monday. You can also get out of town and head up to Sonoma on Sunday for some beautiful weather (and eats) at this Nido oven lunch. And of course there’s that mega soccer game match happening on Sunday… FUN!

Ciao for now!

Marcia Gagliardi

the chatterbox

Gossip & News (the word on the street)
Jul 9, 2010

A First Peek at Café des Amis

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Exterior.

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The bar area, and its extensive wine storage.

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The bar of solid, poured zinc.

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View of the main dining room.

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Stairs to the back dining room.

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Limestone fireplace and mohair walls in the back dining room.

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Chandelier and skylight.

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Vintage artwork for the back dining room.

In a season of high-profile openings (Wayfare Tavern, Prospect), let’s examine the third heavyweight to enter into the ring, ~CAFÉ DES AMIS~. This long-awaited project from the Bacchus Management Group (Spruce, Village Pub, and more) and Perry Butler is opening July 21st in Cow Hollow. The former Prego space is nostalgic to many (I remember it was one of the “special lunch in the city” locations my parents would occasionally take me and my sister to), and it will be fantastic to have a lively restaurant anchor this corner once again.

I got a chance to tour the space last week, and it’s quite a beaut. The 7,000-square-foot location was designed by Stephen Brady (Spruce) and architect Anthony Fish. The light-filled 200-seat space has sweeping doors that open into the bar area, where the 25-foot bar is a solid pour of zinc (the craftsmen, Ateliers Nectoux in Paris, only do a few of this kind a year). It’s stunning, with its curving edges, and room for around 18-20 people, plus there will be a number of cocktail tables, and classic woven brasserie chairs in black. Marble is everywhere, from the floors to the bar counters—and not just any marble, but Carrara marble (hey, if it’s good enough for Michelangelo…). You’ll also note a lot of mirrors, and shiny, black lacquered wood, which will be counterpointed in the main dining room with lipstick red leather banquettes. When the floor-to-ceiling glass French doors are open, there will be three rows of sidewalk seating, 17 to-be coveted tables in all. The flickering gas lamps, both inside and outside, are a one-of-a-kind feature; this will be the only place in San Francisco where you’ll see working gas lamps (partner Tim Stannard was able to add this unique feature due to the tiniest of loopholes that he found—and he will never say where or how, so don’t ask).

In the back is a stairway leading to an elevated room, quite glam with bordeaux mohair panels and crystal sconces, a massive chandelier by Brady that was originally designed for the Ralph Lauren store in Moscow, and a French limestone fireplace that was reassembled here by a master stonemason. There’s soft light from the overhead skylight, a small Juliet balcony, and a ballroom feel with reclaimed tobacco oak floors—the room definitely has a tony vibe, and will look over the main dining room below. The walls will feature framed French cartoons from the ’20s and ’30s (see the picture). The 40-seat room is sure to become the hot private room rental (there will also be a couple loveseats and c-shaped oval tables at the top of the stairway that will be sexy and in-demand little nooks).

So, the scene is set—you ready to learn about this menu? Quite the team has been painstakingly assembling the brasserie-inspired menu: Bacchus Management Group’s chef/partner Gordon Drysdale, executive chef Ed Carew (Cottage Eatery, Florio), and chef de cuisine Justin Deering (CONDUIT). While the restaurant will just start with dinner service, it will ramp up and be open all day and night, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late-night menu.

A preliminary peek at the menu includes classic dishes that span many French regions, from a salade lyonnaise to a Niçoise; a brandade de morue fumé with celery and parsley salad; sardines escabeche over ratatouille and a charred pepper purée; a charcuterie program with rillettes and pâté campagne—it will grow to be quite extensive (eventually 10-12 selections); seafood like sand dabs meunière with potatoes and crème fraîche; a killer flatiron steak frites; and house specials like choucroute garni (braised bacon, smoked pork loin, and housemade frankfurter with housemade sauerkraut) or a côte de boeuf for two with béarnaise, bordelaise, marrow, and frites. There will also be rotating weekly specials, like Thursday may feature blanquette de veau, and cassoulet on Sundays. Prices will range from $9-$11 for starters ($17 for a foie terrine), and $17-$29 for entrées.

The raw bar is going to have a fantastic selection, perhaps one of the best in the city, with a variety of oysters (look for an extensive East Coast lineup), clams, mussels, spot prawns, crab, urchin, and lobster. The late-night menu (starting at 11pm) is especially exciting to me, creating the possibility of having steak tartare or onion soup gratinée at midnight on a Thursday—plus incredible-sounding dishes like hay-braised ham croquettes with sweet peas and béchamel, snails in bordelaise-Blue Ribbon style, or sea urchin with pork butter on brioche. Mon dieu.

The restaurant will be using whole pigs from Becker Lane, Creekstone for the beef, and of course quality local and organic produce, much of it from the group’s nearby SMIP Ranch. The breads will come from Bacchus’s Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto (including croissants in the morning), and the artisanal coffees and teas from their ROAST Coffee Company.

Speaking of beverages, Bacchus’s wine director Andrew Green (working closely with lead sommelier Skye La Torre) is offering a 500-bottle list composed almost entirely of French wines, with many from obscure towns and featuring good pricing, as well as a few domestic selections “from friends.” There will also be 35 beers, with 10 on tap (look for some small artisanal French and Belgian selections). Cocktails will be based on Parisian interpretations of American cocktails, with an 1800s flair—Brandon Clements, the bar manager at Spruce, oversaw the spirits program here. You’ll find cocktails like a Vieux Carré, The Corpse Reviver #2, and of course a French 75. There will be plenty to cheers with at this swanky and sure-to-be-a-hit brasserie when it opens for dinner on July 21st. Hours will (eventually) be breakfast daily 8am-11am, lunch 11am-5pm, dinner 5pm-11pm, and the late-night menu Thu-Sat 11pm-1am.

Café des Amis - 2000 Union St. San Francisco - 415-563-7700

the regular

Established Restaurant Reviews (it's about time we met...)
Jul 9, 2010

Bar Tartine

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Charcuterie board.

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Porcini and summer squash salad.

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Burger and fries (white cheddar mayo is lurking).

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Coconut rice pudding.

Some of you long-time readers may feel like the intro to this review is a little familiar… Truth be told, it starts exactly the way I wrote it back in 2008, because I still feel the exact same way about the décor. As for the menu and tone set by the new chef, Chris Kronner, well, you can jump ahead to the fourth paragraph.

Hey player. So, date one has gone really well (nice work), but now you want to step it up to the perfecto spot for date number two or three? Okay. Or maybe you have some cool out-of-town friends coming to visit, and you want to feed them some très San Francisco cuisine while impressing them with a place sporting some hip instead of hippie atmosphere. Or perhaps you’re a solo diner, looking for a friendly counter to perch at. ~BAR TARTINE~ is a good answer to all three situations, and let’s not forget those seeking a sophisticated weekend brunch.

Bar Tartine really is the picture of gentrification (I gotta call it), located on a grubby stretch of Valencia next to Arinell Pizza and La Cumbre that is usually teeming with 20-somethings. You could blaze right by it, actually—there’s not much of a sign proclaiming its existence. It’s a chic space with an authentic artsy vibe, with wood floors that have letters scattered here and there in the planks, a nod to one of the space’s previous incarnations as a letterpress (as I was told). There’s also a long marble bar, and I especially enjoyed the gentle lighting, with the backlit bench seats along the wall casting a soft glow. It’s romantic, but not at all in a way that would give most straight guys the heebie-jeebies.

I’m a fan of sitting at the bar, but larger groups will like the cozy round table in the back, and there’s a slew of two-tops along the wall, full of couples on date night. It’s like date HQ, straight and gay—it’s a nicely mixed room, from gender to age. Quite a few ladies out on B.F.F. dinner dates as well. The space feels sexy, comfortable, and there are always fresh, fragrant white lilies in the bathroom—classy. There’s also modern and lively art on the walls, currently displayed in an eclectic salon style.

You want to know what else is pretty? The beautiful charcuterie board ($11/$18). A swirling piece of burl wood comes layered with chef Chris Kronner’s marvelous charcuterie, from the pinkest, smoothest, and très elegant chicken liver pâté (think: meat peanut butter), to a slice of rustic pork terrine made with Range Brothers’ Berkshire pigs from Prather Ranch, rich with smoked ham, kidney, liver, belly, a note of star anise, and garlic confit. The wood slab also included quickly formed quenelles of housemade nectarine jam and whole grain mustard, plus some pickled vegetables (like chard stem), and of course thick slices of crusty, toasted Tartine bread. I would happily come back just to sit at the bar, drink wine, and munch my way through this board again (with some Lipitor in my purse).

There is definitely something to be said for good salads. Sure, $12 for a plate of White Crane Springs Ranch greens in a Champagne vinaigrette may seem a bit too “fig on a plate” for some, so you might want to skip that salad (although I found them revelatory in their freshness, bright with mint, arugula, purslane). More satisfying was the salad of porcinis ($13), shaved summer squash, and minty nepitella, resting under a generous layering of Bellwether San Andreas cheese—a savory, springy combo. I also thought the caper vinaigrette dressing on a salad of baby mustard greens ($12)—with Pt. Reyes blue cheese, almonds, and wedges of nectarine—was made with a deft hand. There are five larger salads in all—I like a kitchen that gets fired up on salad options.

The menu broadcasts on a Chez frequency, offering that mash-up of Frenchie-California, hyper-seasonal, fresh, and local we know so well. But there’s also some clever innovation, like Bar Tartine’s personal submission into the city’s melee of burgers ($16). The juicy and beautifully cross-hatched patty comes on a lightly sweet and grilled brioche bun slathered with white cheddar mayo, plus pickles and lettuce. It’s mega-rich. Uh, yeah, and that’s not all. How about the option to add marrow for $4? Pure evil. And back that all up with a glass of the Château Ferrière Cabernet blend (Margaux, Bordeaux), and you are tight (so are your pants). I’ll be shocked if any of the perfectly executed, medium-weight frites remain, served hot and crisp with a classic dusting of fresh herbs.

Meanwhile, the braised hog jowls ($23) with wheatberries, tangles of watercress, cracked pickled cherries and shallot, plus a scattering of favas, came together flavor-wise, but the decadence of the jowls meant I wouldn’t want them as a main course—I was done after a few bites. (But as an appetizer? Rock.) Other choices include a couple seafood dishes like sea bass or rex sole ($23-$25), steak frites ($29), and some simpler dishes like semolina gnocchi or a rolled omelet for vegetarians (both at a very pocket-friendly $16). Oh, and those of you who were a fan of Kronner’s savory bread pudding while he was at Serpentine, you can order it as a side here for $6 (it was listed with nettles, onion, and oyster mushrooms).

While I was a big fan of former chef Jason Fox’s impeccable dishes, the restaurant feels a lot more easy and flexible now—a place where you can come in with a friend for an aperitif (like the new fashioned, $8, with Antica Carpano vermouth, cherry, and bitters) and a quick nosh, or dine at the bar by yourself (semi-affordably), or with friends for a birthday dinner, or have a really hot date (we love those).

The wine program has been going under some adjustments with the new GM, Alex Fox (a good friend of mine who is one of my favorite people to taste wine with). Since there are many available by the glass (about 15), have fun engaging the staff for some on-point pairings. There’s a good mix of some local wines, along with plenty of Eastern French wines, and some Northern Italian picks. There are a few local beers on draught, like Linden Street (plus wine from Scribe), and the bottled beer choices are very food-friendly: you gotta try the charcuterie with the Verhaeghe “Echte Kriekenbier” ($9) from Belgium—crikey is right.

And of course you saved room for dessert—there are options like the oh-so-creamy coconut rice pudding topped with rum raisins served in a little glass jar (I especially loved the accompanying gingersnaps, they crumbled just so), and a simple Shaker Meyer lemon pie that didn’t particularly wow me, but it was a pleasant finish nonetheless (all desserts $7.50).

The menu changes almost daily, so don’t get fussy if some of these dishes have said à bientôt. You can also come by for breakfast Wed-Fri from 8am-11am, and weekend brunch. Oh, and a tip: try not to fill up on bread, okay? Try.

Bar Tartine - 561 Valencia St. - 415-487-1600

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