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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: tonight's the night.

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How could I not run this fantastic photo of Coit Tower by my pal Ron Henggeler? Tonight’s the night.

Whoa, this past week has been en fuego (and I’m not just talking about our beloved Gigantes!). Was great to see a bunch of you at the incroyable Champagne Bureau tasting on Tuesday (you can see a few of my favorites here and here), which was followed by the always fun Wine & Spirits Top 100. Yeah, Tuesday was quite the double play. More winning: you can check out the finalists for the upcoming Good Food Awards, from cheese to charcuterie to beer. The final winners will be announced on January 8th, 2015.

A personal highlight for me last week was heading down to Mountain View on Friday to interview Jacques Pépin for a Google Fireside Chat—I think they’ll be posting a video of the interview soon, I’ll let you know!

While I (hopefully) have your attention, I wanted to be sure you saw this Indiegogo fundraiser for the San Francisco Bay Guardian—they want to print a final farewell issue, which they deserve to do after 48 years, and to preserve the online and print archives. Can you please contribute and spread the word? If the Bay Guardian has ever written up your business, promoted your event, or gotten you in the Best of the Bay, please, throw ‘em a few bucks. Or more—give ‘til it hurts. Wouldn’t you like to be able to access any press writeups you got? As a former writer for the paper, I would love to be able to access my previous clips and articles. It’s an important part of our city’s archive! Let’s work it out, please and thanks!

A big thing hitting the news right now is about a few San Francisco Bay Area restaurants (Bar Agricole, Trou Normand, Camino and Duende in Oakland, and Comal in Berkeley) that are doing away with tips, and moving to a more European-style service charge of 20 percent. If you have ever dined at Chez Panisse, you are already familiar with this model. Ditto Coi, which has been charging an 18 percent service fee for some time that is shared by the staff.

Many things are driving the momentum on this new revenue-sharing model, one that I am excited to see. It’s about making sure back-of-house employees can earn a better living (and in our time of the great line cook shortage, this is a huge and important issue). There are a lot of facts to understand (like the impact of an upcoming minimum wage increase, or how under the current law, cooks can’t be tipped)—any changes impact a lot of hardworking folks in the restaurant industry. It’s a complex issue, and is opening up some much-needed dialogue about and changes to our currently rather flawed tipping system.

I’m dismayed to hear and see so many comments from diners viewing these restaurant tipping changes/service charges as motivated by restaurateur greed. It’s the opposite. It’s about making a working environment that’s better for everyone, front and back of house. It’s about retaining good talent. It’s about making restaurant industry jobs better as a career choice—they’re not just jobs to take on an as-needed basis. Dining in the Bay Area is respected as a high art, so why not take proper care of the people who make it so?

I wanted to write more thoughts on this, but in light of the aftermath of a tech disaster I have been grappling with (see below), I am out of time. More soon. For now, please read this SFGate article and have a listen to this program that aired on KQED yesterday.

There are many ways to get a headache, but I think being locked out of your website’s back end due to a database snafu for more than 36 hours when you’re on deadline is a guaranteed migraine. Yeah, today’s tablehopper issue was a bit impacted—we couldn’t access our site until this morning. Our current motto: doing the best we can. As for the Giants, well, tonight is about being the best. DO IT!

Thanks, catch you on Friday!
Marcia Gagliardi

the chatterbox

Gossip & News (the word on the street)
Oct 28, 2014

Brenda's Meat & Three Opening on Divis This Week!

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Time to acquaint yourself with the meat and three. Photo via Brenda’s Meat & Three Facebook page.

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Mural by Mural Arts at Brenda’s Meat and Three. Photo courtesy Jennifer Larzul.

And look at that, miracles do happen! A project is actually opening ahead of its initially projected date. Hold. The. Phone! Originally slated to open in mid-November, ~BRENDA’S MEAT & THREE~ is potentially opening on Thursday October 30th (if the construction gods cooperate)! Friday may be more likely. Let’s just say by the weekend, shall we?

To recap our original story, Brenda Buenviaje and her partner Libby Truesdell (Brenda’s French Soul Food, Libby Jane Café) are opening this project in the former Blue Jay Cafe (they didn’t buy the business from the current owners, André and Jennifer Larzul, but they are now majority/part-owners of the business).

It’s going to be a classic Southern diner, with stuffed johnnycakes, calas fritters, and a one-eyed jack (i.e., toad in the hole), with an egg inside of one of Brenda’s famed cream biscuits (with creamed gravy) for breakfast (check out the brunch menu here).

Lunch brings low-country gumbo, a Bibb lettuce and fried oyster salad (with buttermilk dressing, bacon, and cherry tomatoes), and a great lineup of sandwiches, including pulled pork, a seafood po’boy, spicy fried chicken, and fried bologna with pimento cheese (I am excited for that sandwich, I am the first to admit it). Check out the lunchtime menu glory here.

Supper is all about the meat and three action, which will be listed on a board. You can choose from five or six proteins, like fried chicken, oxtail, fried catfish, and country ribs, and then you will pick your three sides, with up to 15 in all, like bacon fat fries, smothered green beans, mac and cheese, creamed biscuits, and some seasonal sides, too, with plenty of vegetables (vegetarians will be able to make a meal of sides). The meat and three combos will range from $18-$22. Other items on the supper menu include the picnic board (bread and butter pickles, pimento cheese, ham jam, tiny biscuits, crackers) and rock shrimp hush puppies.

The place got really cleaned up in the remodel—there’s a new paint job, new counters, and check out that fun mural of a pig (by Mural Arts). The horseshoe counter is still with us (yay) but it got trimmed a little bit in the back to make more room for seating, so now it’s more of a “J” shape. There are some antique/distressed mirrors on a wall, and you’ll find new yellow chairs on the back patio. It’s looking cute.

Hours are Wed-Mon 8am-10pm. During weekdays, breakfast will be served 8am-3pm, lunch 11am-5pm, and dinner 5pm-10pm. On the weekend, brunch will be 8am-4pm and dinner 4pm-10pm. 919 Divisadero St. at McAllister, 415-926-8657.

Opening This Week in the Tenderloin: Huxley

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Window seating at Huxley. Photo courtesy Huxley.

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Seating in the back corner at Huxley. Photo courtesy Huxley.

A cozy and casual new joint is opening in the TL called ~HUXLEY~, and it has quite the pedigree of talented folks behind it. Kris Esqueda (Saison, Sons & Daughters) brought on Brett Cooper (Outerlands, Coi, and the upcoming Aster) to consult on the opening menu, which will be casual and rustic, with bistro-style dishes designed to be shared. He collaborated with exec chef Sara Hauman (formerly a sous at Bar Agricole), who will be running the kitchen. Take a look at the menu for dishes that include butter beans and leeks with fried egg and bottarga ($14) and larger dishes like a beef short rib “potpie” ($23) should hit the spot as our fall weather starts to roll in.

One more thing to note: the bread is custom-made/baked by nearby Jane on Larkin for the restaurant. Oh, and the wine list has some choice selections from Burgundy, Austria, and small, boutique domestic producers; look for some quality craft beers in the bottle too.

The Bon Vivants’ Design+Build (Nick Roberto and Colby Thompson) are behind the vintage-inspired interior, which has lots of wood used in a playful style (like planks in a vertical pattern on the walls), hand-etched mirrors that help the space seem bigger than it is (the floor-to-ceiling windows also help), and there are some touches of bright cobalt blue on the tables. There’s also a bar and counter area by the windows, with 10 seats on olive-colored stools and a spiral staircase up to the mezzanine. There are just 25 seats in all, so don’t expect to dine here with a big group of people. (Managing expectations!)

They hope to open tonight (Tuesday October 28th), but it might not be for a couple of days due to some issues with the hood. Call before heading over. Hours are Tue-Sat 5:30pm-10:30pm. No reservations. 846 Geary St. at Larkin, 415-800-8223.

Aatxe, Inspired by the Basque Region, Coming Soon to the Swedish American Hall

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Cafe du Nord. Photo from Facebook.

By Dana Eastland. As previously reported on tablehopper, the Café du Nord and Swedish American Hall space on Market has a serious new lineup of partners getting ready to reopen it this winter. Dylan MacNiven and Enrique Landa have paired up with the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group and the Bon Vivants, and they’ve released some details on the new restaurant moving in. It will be headed up by newly minted Ne Timeas partner Ryan Pollnow and called ~AATXE~. It’s inspired by the Basque region of Spain (and pronounced aah-CHAY), with a menu of plates ranging in size from pintxo-small to large and hearty.

To be clear, this is a restaurant component of the project, which will be upstairs on the right when entering the larger, 1907-built building. The downstairs entertainment venue is also coming from Ne Timeas and the Bon Vivants, but isn’t the same restaurant project as Aatxe, which will be more intimate and focused on functioning as a restaurant. Everybody got that? Okay, let’s proceed.

Spanish drinking culture will be celebrated here, with the bar at the center of the restaurant. The Bon Vivants are in charge of the cocktail menu, and you’ll find fun, sophisticated drinks with an eye toward sharing. An aperitivo section of the menu will include a cappelletti aperitivo with dry vermouth, red pepper, and almond bitters, and another section will offer beverages by the carafe, like a gin and tonic on tap. Since Spanish bars have been largely responsible for the resurgence of that particular bevvie, it’s rather fitting. The wine list will be exclusively Spanish, with mostly whites (and a few reds) from small producers.

Stellah De Ville is designing the new space, and will of course take lots of inspiration from Spanish architecture, including Moroccan and Moorish influences. The unique space already has an old-world sensibility to it, which will be respected and enhanced with some modern touches, like a white oak chevron-patterned floor. The dining room will seat 50, with an open kitchen with counter seating for 8. Right now, the plan is to open in late 2014; we’ll keep you updated on their progress. Hours will be Sun-Thu 5:30pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-12am. 2170 Market St. at Sanchez.

Orenchi Ramen Bringing More Noodles in the Mission, Ramen Underground Gets Bigger Digs

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A bowl of ramen from Orenchi. Yelp photo by Food E.

~ORENCHI BEYOND~, the San Francisco outpost of famed Santa Clara ramen shop Orenchi is now open on Valencia, Eater notes. As we reported last year, the new location is serving the same ramen soups found in Santa Clara, including tonkotsu, shoyu, and shio ramen. For now, their famed tsukemon is not available but may turn up on the menu next year, and they’ve added lots of new starters and side dishes to check out. The fryer is definitely cranking, with lots of deep-fried appetizers like shishito age (deep-fried shishito peppers), age takoyaki (fried octopus fritters), and spicy chicken karaage. They’ve got a beer and wine license and are serving beer, wine, and sake, as well as some soju-based cocktails. For now, hours are Tue-Thu 6pm-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 6pm-11:30pm, Sun 5pm-8:30pm, though later hours may be added. 174 Valencia St. at Duboce.

I was running an errand in the FiDi over the weekend and noticed there was a much larger and brand-new ~RAMEN UNDERGROUND~ that has opened on the opposite side of Kearny (RU moved out of their original hole-in-the-wall). The additional seating is a bonus, but Yelpers report prices have gone up, and it’s still cash only. 356 Kearny St. at Pine, 415-999-2503.

There's an Upcoming Project from Stones Throw/Fat Angel Folks

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The front entrance of Great Hunan. Yelp photo by Ed U.

ABC license activity points to something brewing from Stones Throw’s Ryan Cole and Jason Kirmse (also of Fat Angel). The project is listed as Trestle on the license (name TBD, obviously) and is going into the Great Hunan space in the FiDi. The team isn’t ready to talk about anything at the moment, so we’ll let you know when some details emerge. 531 Jackson St. at Columbus.

Closures: Luna Park, La Cucina, Brandy Ho's Castro, and Off the Grid Fort Mason Taking Its Winter Break

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Luna Park on Valencia. Yelp photo by Andrew K.

~LUNA PARK~ is closing by the end of the year and turning into a bar, according to Uptown Almanac. The new buyer is none other than Gaslight Café Partners, the LLC that owns PlumpJack Wines and was founded by Gavin Newsom. There isn’t yet any word on what might be moving in, exactly, but Luna Park’s owner AJ Gilbert says it will be bar and that the current staff will be invited to remain.

We checked in with PlumpJack’s PR team and got this quality piece of spin: “While it is premature to discuss the future of Luna Park in detail, PlumpJack Group is always looking for opportunities to maximize their investments and add to their dynamic collection of hospitality and lifestyle businesses in Northern California. Luna Park is one of the properties they have looked at; however, it would be premature to discuss plans at this point. We look forward to discussing further as appropriate.” So, that’s one big stand by for now. 694 Valencia St. at 18th St., 415-553-8584.

On Union Street, ~LA CUCINA~ has closed after 46 years. Owner Bebe Stavrinides is retiring after opening the café in 1968 (we’d say she’s earned some time off) and has sold the restaurant to Mick Suverkrubbe (Circa, Cosmopolitan), John Jasso (Gary Danko, Fifth Floor), and chef Claudio Marchesan (E’Angelo). The new team plans to open a pizzeria in the space, along with salumi and a wine bar. 2136 Union St. at Webster.

Hoodline reports that the Castro location of ~BRANDY HO’S~ is closing. Today, Tuesday October 28th, is their last day in business. Reportedly, the building sold, but there isn’t any word yet on what’s moving in. The location in North Beach is still open. 4068 18th St. at Hartford.

This isn’t quite a closure, but is worth noting: Off the Grid Fort Mason will be closing for the winter after their market on Friday October 31st. Don’t worry, they’ll be back in March and will be throwing an end-of-season and Halloween party this Friday, with a costume contest, special decorations, and a special menu. Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd. at Laguna.

In Memory of Lina Toracca, a North Beach Restaurant Icon

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Lina Toracca juggling platters at the Original U.S. Restaurant. Photo courtesy Peter Mrabe.

By Dana Eastland. North Beach lost an icon last week, when Lina Toracca passed away on Wednesday October 22nd. Toracca was an iconic waitress at the Original U.S. Restaurant for more than 35 years. She was born in 1926 in Genoa, Italy, and began working at the Original U.S. in the early 1960s, where she had a reputation for being tough and stern with her customers, but loving too. If you couldn’t decide what to order, she’d go ahead and choose for you. Or maybe you were fooling around—she’d grab you by the ear and put you in your place. She worked the morning shift, from 5am until 1pm, and served many of the neighborhood residents their very first restaurant breakfast.

Because of her tough but loving demeanor and no-nonsense attitude, Lina was a maternal figure for many in the neighborhood. Her son, Giovanni Toracca (a name many will recognize), says that people would sometimes tell him that she reminded them of a different era; she “reminded them of the way the world used to be.” As for her own breakfast order, she enjoyed artichoke frittata or a bowl of oatmeal with lots of chocolate.

Lina Toracca passed away surrounded by family. Our thoughts are with them, and the many North Beach locals who knew and loved her.

Special Dishes for Dia de los Muertos at Copita, Treats at Rulli

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Sugar skulls at Copita for Dia de los Muertos. Photo from Facebook.

Dia de los Muertos is here, and ~COPITA~ in Sausalito has a special menu to celebrate. Dia de los Muertos is all about remembering the dead, but it’s also about celebrating life—part of why it’s such a poignant festival at this time of year. From Friday October 31st until Sunday November 2nd, Copita will have a special menu of orange dishes symbolizing life and black dishes symbolizing death. Orange dishes include a pan-roasted lamb with mole amarillito, fire-roasted root vegetables, smoked onion, and fried chochoyotes; or cochinita pibil with sour orange and achiote adobo with pickled onion and habanero xnipek. Black dishes include a ceviche negro with calamari, scallops, lingcod, lime, prickly pear, and cilantro; or chile relleno with mole prieto, huitlacoche and shredded beef, pickled onion, fried plantains, and queso añejo. You can also try the Smoking Gun cocktail, with mezcal, lime juice, agave, grapefruit juice, and St. Germain. The restaurant will be specially decorated, as well, and a chalk artist will be drawing on the sidewalk. 739 Bridgeway at Anchor, 415-331-7400.

I also have a personal affinity for the holiday because I was born on November 1st, “Il Giorno di Tutti i Santi” (or Ognissanti), and I learned there were even special treats on my birthday when I was living in Venezia. Cool! Gary Rulli at ~EMPORIO RULLI~ is keeping the tradition alive by offering “pan dei morti,” a special spice bread with raisins, almonds, orange peel, and pine nuts. You can pick them up for $3, and enjoy them on November 1st and 2nd, All Souls’ Day (Il Giorno dei Morti). Various locations.

510 Brunch News: Juhu Beach Club, Townie, Hog's Apothecary

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The colorful interior at Juhu Beach Club. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

~JUHU BEACH CLUB~ will be serving brunch on Sundays from 11am-3pm, starting November 9th. The menu includes a version of croque-madame called croque memsahib with two eggs, chai-spiced bacon, spicy jack cheese, and tamarind ketchup, along with a new special item called the “Doswaffle.” It’s a cross between a Belgian waffle and Indian dosa (and it’s gluten-free), and will be served in several varieties. There’s a sweet version with Nutella, sautéed bananas, and cardamom cream, or a classic version with sambar, coconut chutney, and masala potatoes. It can also be ordered in a chicken and waffles version with green chile chicken. Um, hello, get in my belly right now. There will also be mango mimosas and other brunch beverages, plus we heard rumors that they won the liquor license lottery and will have cocktails coming in 2015, sweeeeeet.

Berkeley’s ~TOWNIE~ is now serving brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2:30pm. Menu options include eggs with polenta and bacon and brioche French toast. You can also partake of their full bar’s cocktail list or try one of the 16 beers on tap. 1779 University Ave. at Grant, Berkeley, 510-356-4903.

Beginning Saturday November 15th, ~HOG’S APOTHECARY~ will be open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-3pm. They’ll be serving chicken and waffles, a beef and pork burger, and lots of housemade bacon, along with their choice selection of beer. Oh, and starting Tuesday November 18th, they’ll be open for dinner seven nights a week. 375 40th St. at Opal, 510-338-3847.

the sponsor

This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)
Oct 28, 2014

(Sponsored): Flavor! Napa Valley® Celebration of Food, Wine, and Fun

A message from Flavor! Napa Valley: For the fourth year, we are proud to offer unparalleled access to some of the culinary and wine world’s most esteemed visionaries at the Bay Area’s most locally driven, immersive wine and food festival. Presented in the beautiful Napa Valley—with more Michelin-star restaurants than any other wine region per capita and 500 world-class wineries—it is quite literally the only place on earth where you will encounter such a collection of superlative experiences. Joining our homegrown talent once again are celebrated chefs from across the U.S.

Flavor! Napa Valley is running from November 19th-23rd, and tablehopper has scored an exclusive just for you! Take 20 percent off the following events:

  • Culinary Demonstration with Dean Fearing
  • Culinary Demonstration with Todd English
  • Fried & True
  • Grapes & Grills
  • Any of the five Wine Tasting Seminars, including Top Taster
  • Any available dinner with Napa Valley winemakers

Tickets are purchased through Eventbrite. To receive the discount, the guest must enter “Tablehopper” BEFORE clicking the green “Order Now” button at checkout.

The event is hosted by founding sponsors Silverado Resort and Spa and Dolce Hotels in partnership with Visit Napa Valley, The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, and Napa Valley Vintners, and is produced by Karlitz & Company.

the lush

Bar News & Reviews (put it on my tab)
Oct 28, 2014

Another Nail in Funky SF's Coffin: The Lexington Club Closing in 2015

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The Lexington Club’s iconic sign. Photo from Facebook.

It can seem surprising that SF only has one lesbian bar, and what’s even more surprising is that the only one we do have is going to be closing. I KNOW. After 18 years in business in the Mission, the ~LEXINGTON CLUB~ is going to be closing in early 2015. Owner Lila Thirkield decided to sell The Lex—citing financial difficulties—to an “undisclosed buyer.” Since the bar’s lesbian legacy is not going to be upheld, she is taking the name and website with her (you may see some some future “Lex” events, time will tell). She is going to be focusing her energy on Virgil’s Sea Room in Bernal, where she is a business partner.

You can read Thirkield’s note on Facebook here, and there’s much more in this thoughtful interview with 48 Hills. And that’s pretty much it for gay bars in the Mission. SF, you are getting harder to recognize. 3464 19th St. at Mission, 415-863-2052.

Get Elemental at Chemistry of the Cocktail

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A seriously icy punch at CUESA’s Cocktails of the Farmers Market last spring. Photo by Tory Putnam via Facebook.

CUESA and The Exploratorium have paired up for the last Cocktails of the Farmers Market event of 2014. It’s on Wednesday November 12th and is all about the science of cocktail making, called The Chemistry of the Cocktail. Thirteen bartenders and eight chefs from around the bay will utilize farmers’ market produce to create drinks and bites, all with a scientific bent. The chain reactions will be popping from 5:30pm-8pm at the Ferry Building. Tickets are $45 per person and include 2 full-size drinks, 11 sample-size drinks, and all the bites you can manage.

Ferry Building - One Ferry Building San Francisco - 415-983-8000

the matchmaker

Classifieds (let's get it on)
Oct 28, 2014

(Matchmaker): Town Hall Restaurant Seeks General Manager

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Town Hall is a very successful, high-volume New Orleans-inspired casual fine-dining restaurant that has made its mark in San Francisco’s SoMa district for more than a decade. We are currently seeking a general manager. Leading this house is an intense, demanding, multifaceted experience and, for the right candidate, also a highly gratifying and rewarding one.

Apply today.

(Matchmaker): Pizzaiolo Looking for an Assistant Manager

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We at Pizzaiolo believe that the simple act of feeding people is at the core of what it is to be human. We are currently looking for a new assistant manager/floor manager to work evenings. The assistant manager is responsible for the overall quality and effectiveness of service at Pizzaiolo.

Apply here.

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