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This week's tablehopper: blame it on the rain.

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Stellar glamping bites at SuperStella Van! Succulent pieces of grilled Maine lobster that you dunk into a fermented chile broth, fondue-style. Yes, it was incredible. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Hello, dear readers. I hope you’re keeping toasty during this cold and wet and windy AF weather. (My apartment is fuh-reeezing right now.) Yup, my column is a day late, partially due to an inability to focus and write—honestly, I have been so lethargic the past couple days. Mental malaise. Distracted. I have also been quite busy working on something exciting for you (more on that at the end of this intro!). Too much input, and it’s messing with my output. I decided I would just send this once it was done, I don’t care what day it is. And so, here we are. Hi!

I know most of us have whiplash from the abrupt announcement on Monday that the stay-at-home order has been lifted, and we have returned to the purple tier here in SF. I see my hairstylist friends praising the heavens (my roots do as well, ha), while many restaurateurs in San Francisco are scrambling to open outdoor dining once again this Thursday (or soon—the weather is pretty brutal for the next week), while East Bay and North Bay places are already reopening.

We have mostly returned to the former outdoor dining regulations (up to six per table, two households only—please respect it), but we still have a 10pm curfew in effect, so businesses will not be seating and serving as late as before. Then again, we’re all eating at grandma hours these dark winter days, am I right? Another change is that barriers between tables can no longer serve as an alternative to distancing tables six feet or more (I’m sure that messes up a number of Shared Spaces that have already been built).

After limping through the past two months with lackluster takeout numbers and no crucial holiday bump, outdoor dining offers a bit more of a glimmer of hope for survival (and it allows restaurants to hire some staff back) since our federal government continues to withhold any substantial relief or bailout for the industry, and state aid isn’t enough. If only we were further along in our vaccinations, and able to protect and fully prioritize our restaurant/foodservice workers. Did you see the news about the recent UCSF study that shares this chilling insight: “Cooks hold the most hazardous occupation among essential workers in the state, with 828 deaths?” You can read the top ten hazardous jobs in California, which the study recommends are prioritized for vaccines. We must protect our essential workers, who don’t have the luxury to work from home, they have immense fear of losing work if they get exposed or sick, and many can’t collect unemployment.

I checked in with a number of restaurant owners, and some are going to take their time reopening—and with the rainy weather over the next week, Bruce Hill of Zero Zero wants to see how things go (Bruce mentioned they may try having flexible days for their Shared Space—depending upon the weather conditions, they’d announce whether they are open or closed for outdoor dining on Instagram each day—and they will also try offering special dishes you can only get on-premise). The Tenderloin Community Benefit District (TLCBD) announced Larkin Street will be open for outdoor dining and personal services starting this Thursday January 28th, SF’s first official day. El Buen Comer and Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack in Bernal/La Lengua will also open outdoor dining on Thursday, same goes for Palette Tea House (time to enjoy some dim sum!), while A16 will reopen this Friday. These are just a smattering of places I have seen announcements for. (Over in the East Bay, Daughter Thai Kitchen in Montclair is already open.) And then there’s The Vault Garden in SF, which had already planned celebration dinners for the first weekend in February before the stay-at-home order was lifted—partner Ryan Cole is always looking ahead. (They’re also launching Tits Up—A Drag Brunch with Bobby Friday & Friends Sat-Sun.) Others are waiting to get to February and will see how things are going, like Yuka Ioroi at Cassava. It’s such a rollercoaster. I’ll be posting updates on my @tablehopper Instagram Highlights when I can (but I can’t post every reopening, I will lose what’s left of my mind).

I know many of us are questioning the safety of returning to outdoor dining and gathering when we are just barely out of the ICU capacity woods, along with this pernicious California variant in our midst. My mind has been spinning over all the ramifications, positive and negative, of what reopening entails. I was grateful to be part of an impromptu forum on Clubhouse Monday night (thanks for having me, Maggie of 86Fund!) to talk through some of our shared thoughts and concerns.

While it’s important to want to support restaurants and show up for them, we need to do it in the right way, and that’s by heeding the guidelines and keeping each other safe (namely, keeping our mask on when we aren’t actively taking a bite or drink, and limiting the mix of households to two or less)—otherwise, we’re going to return to another rollback and lockdown, and further compromise the future of our restaurants. They can’t keep closing and reopening—they lose so much money with each fluctuation, and their poor staffs are greatly affected by each change. Yet again, it’s up to us.

I already noted comments on Instagram by people excited to get together for bottomless mimosa brunches with the gang, and that’s exactly the behavior that will turn Grant Avenue in North Beach back into Covid Alley, the Valencia Street party into Virus HQ, and the Marina into the Pandemic Playhouse. Please don’t. I certainly agree it’s better to sit outside with a pod-mate over a glass of wine or meal than inside someone’s apartment, but don’t make it a posse. I know, we all miss each other so much—I have barely seen anyone the past two months. Please keep each other and our beleaguered service industry as safe as possible. Sigh. (And I wonder why I’m tired?)

In sunnier news, this past weekend, I was beyond thrilled to have an epic sunshine Saturday up at William Tell House in Tomales for their seventh annual crab feed, which they turned into a socially distant tailgate! Genius. And for those of you who were jealous of my pictures, you’ll be happy to know they’re hosting another crab tailgate on Saturday February 13th, which is also a fundraiser for the Golden Gate Salmon Association! Get your ticket here!

I also had such a special private dining experience last week (on Inauguration night!) at chef Anthony Strong’s new SuperStella catering van! You gotta check out my pics of what is one of the coolest tables (and glamping dining experiences) in town. He’s such an incredible chef, and certainly one of our most innovative. Don’t miss it.

So, I’m happy to announce I’ve been busy putting together another tablehopper restaurant gift bag, this time to celebrate tablehopper’s 15th anniversary next month! That’s right, yours truly is having her quinceañera! (WHERE DOES THE TIME GO?) It’s also the Lunar New Year, and Valentine’s Day, and Black History Month, so this bag is going to be full of many celebratory treasures, from Lunar New Year chocolates from Socola, to truffle XO sauce from Lily, to blue and red tortilla chips from La Palma (hopper colors!). I’m so fired up to share the entire lineup ready for you, stand by for an email hopefully tomorrow. The bag will be ready for pickup from China Live (or delivery) February 12th-14th, so you’ll have it in time for all the celebrations that weekend. It will be much better than a dozen red roses, let me tell you. Thanks again for all your support!

Now, since we’re stuck inside for the next couple days with this rain, order some takeout and here are some movies I’ve been enthralled with: “Small Axe” on Amazon (this anthology has the best films I saw last year, simply incredible), “White Tiger” on Netflix is really well done, and if you want a good laugh at the end of the night, “History of Swear Words” with Nicolas Cage on Netflix has had me guffawing, it’s light and fun! Just what we need.

More soon! Mwah!
Marcia Gagliardi

the chatterbox

Gossip & News (the word on the street)
Jan 27, 2021

Exciting Updates at the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, Where You'll Now Find Jay Foster, Marketplace Manager!

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The new La Cocina neon sign at the Municipal Marketplace is lit! Photo courtesy of Jay Foster.

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Jay Foster doing his magic (while at Isla Vida). Photo: Melissa de Mata.

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A selfie from Jay Foster with the new sign. Photo courtesy of Jay Foster.

Some uplifting news over here (my favorite): I know many of you listened to Jay Foster’s episode of On the Fly (our second-most-listened-to episode!), and it was a particular kind of heartbreak to hear about the discrimination he was subjected to in the workplace as a Black man and skilled restaurateur seeking work at an executive level. It was a rough episode, and one that has stayed with me, which is why I am particularly thrilled to learn about his new position as Marketplace manager for the upcoming La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in the Tenderloin. It’s the perfect position for him, in many ways. (Shout-out to La Cocina executive director Caleb Zigas on this hire!)

Right now, Jay is working closely with the six La Cocina entrepreneurs who will be opening kiosks in the Marketplace, and as of this week, they will start moving into the building. The Marketplace will be the country’s first women-led food hall, and the lineup includes BOUG Cali (a West Coast Creole shack from Bayview’s Tiffany Carter, known for her gumbo and po’boys), Estrellita’s Snacks (Salvadoran pupusas, tamales, and tostadas from chef Maria del Carmen Flores and her daughter Estrella), KAYMA (Algerian dishes—from soups to flatbreads to couscous, and baked goods and coffee—from chef Wafa and Mounir Bahloul), Los Cilantros (Mexican homestyle dishes from Dilsa Lugo, including her pozole and tamales, all gluten-free and featuring many vegan dishes, too), Mi Morena (chef Guadalupe Moreno brings her Mexico City guisados, handmade tortillas, and chilaquiles to the heart of SF), and Teranga (you may know chef Nafy Ba Flatley’s baobab drinks and energy bars, but she will be cooking her healthy Senegalese dishes here). In time, chef Bini Pradhan will be bringing Bini’s Kitchen Nepalese momos and stews and more. You can read about each business on this profile page. There will also be a bar—Jay is talking to some consultants right now.

Jay is so “blessed and honored and joyful” to be working with the entrepreneurs as they make these next steps into formalizing their businesses. He is honored to learn their stories and their family histories that are so entwined in these recipes and dishes—each entrepreneur has their own heritage and unique story, and they are all so committed to the upcoming work. You can look at my previous post from a couple years ago for a backgrounder on the project.

The plan is to start cooking in mid-February, and they’re look at early spring for an opening. It has been a long and arduous journey to get this project funded and built out—we all owe many thanks to Linda Tay Esposito, who tirelessly worked on the project for the past two-and-a-half years, managing the entire build-out, fundraising, and financing, all the way to permitting. Whew. What a superwoman. She has passed the torch to Jay, who is in awe of everything she got done and how deftly she navigated city bureaucracy. (She is currently consulting, if you’re looking for a powerhouse project lead and more.)

I was teasing Jay about being back in the Tenderloin—after 15 years of running farmerbrown at Turk and Mason, now he’s just a few blocks away, at 101 Hyde Street at Golden Gate Ave. As he says, “The Tenderloin won’t let me go!” He also has a long-view perspective on the neighborhood. When he opened farmerbrown, he mentions, “how everyone always thought the neighborhood would get better.” And instead, things are actually much worse, especially due to the pandemic, from the blatant drug dealing to the extreme suffering on the streets. Jay tells me more people have died from drug overdoses than Covid-19 the past year in the neighborhood. One of the city’s most notorious open-air drug markets is right around the corner from the Municipal Marketplace.

Jay knows it’s going to be a journey, but they are so committed to being a vibrant part of the neighborhood, to serve the community, and offer employment opportunities as well as provide affordable, nutritious, and delicious meals, especially for the many residents living in nearby SROs. In fact, Jay hired back his former doorman, Damian, who knows many folks in the neighborhood, and was a big reason farmerbrown didn’t get vandalized and tagged for the 10 years he ran the door.

I look forward to updating you as the project takes shape, but for now, I am so thrilled to see this next phase happening of this visionary project, with Jay leading the helm.

New Openings: DamnFine Pizza in the Outer Sunset, Jaranita

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The Margherita from DamnFine. Photo courtesy of DamnFine.

Now open in the Outer Sunset is a wood-fired pizza place, ~DAMNFINE~ serving some classics like a Margherita, to a pesto and purple potato pizza (with pancetta and Parmesan, alllll the Ps), to a clam pizza with garlic butter, mozzarella, and herbed ricotta, eight pizzas in all. You can read more about owner and (newly minted) pizzaiola Laura Seymour and partner Colin O’Malley (John Colins), who’s running the bar program (just a spritz and Negroni for now). Yup, there’s liquor. Coffee service coming soon, too. Keep track of updates at @damnfineco. Open Wed-Sun 4:30pm-9pm. 3410 Judah St. at 39th Ave. [Via Eater]

I mentioned ~JARANITA~ in my previous column, and this is just a quick note to let you know this Peruvian wood-fired spot is opening in the Marina this Friday January 29th, with takeout (the hours are now to 11am-8:30pm; last pickup at 9pm) and delivery to come soon, as well as an outdoor dining Shared Space. 3340 Steiner St. at Chestnut.

Tasty Menus, from Lunar New Year to Family Meal from Jason Fox

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The opulent Chinese New Year menu from Palette Tea House includes baked Maine lobster over ‘longevity” noodle. Photo courtesy of Palette Tea House.

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The new SF Proper weekly family meal. This week’s includes seaweed-rubbed brisket with sprouting broccoli and Japanese potato salad. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

In my previous column, I mentioned how supervisors Aaron Peskin and Sandra Lee Fewer—along with Chinatown neighborhood groups and SF New Deal—were trying to help keep ~FAR EAST CAFE~ supported through this challenging time after they announced they were closing (during their 100th birthday year, too tragic). One additional way you can help show them your support is by ordering one of their special Lunar New Year menus, ranging from $88 for four to $228 for eight. They’re featuring a special poon choi meal: a traditional Cantonese festival meal with layers of ingredients, served in large basins called poon (perfect to share with your pod). You can read more and view the menus here. (There’s also stuffed chicken with sticky rice, always a treat.) You need to order by 2/5 (5pm) for pickup from 2/10-2/12. Call Wing at 415-269-3960 to place your order. 631 Grant Ave. at Sacramento, 415-982-3245.

There are many more Lunar New Year menus and treats I am and will continue to be posting in my @tablehopper Instagram Highlights, from a fantastic Chinese New Year menu for 4 or 6, (and a set crab menu, featuring live Dungeness cooked in garlic butter sauce) from Palette Tea House (which is also opening their outdoor seating Thursday!), to a sure-to-be-elegant option from Eight Tables, to a treasure box from the awesome Koi Palace in Daly City, to a special Tết menu from Lily. Happy year of the ox!

Over at San Francisco Proper Hotel, chef Jason Fox has started offering a weekly menu based off their team family meals, which are often inspired by past trips and cuisines from abroad. Dishes have included pork belly rice bowl with soft-cooked egg, kimchee, and sesame; smoked paprika and yogurt-marinated chicken, roasted fingerling potatoes, and Brussels sprouts slaw; and last night, I tried seaweed-rubbed brisket with sprouting broccoli and Japanese potato salad (which came with an awesome yuzu kosho sauce I want the recipe for!)—it’s available through Jan. 31; and Feb 1st-7th is shrimp and chicken paella with chorizo, peppers, and aioli. All cost $23 for one serving. Instructions for easy reheating are included. Order through the SF Proper website, Tock, or with a free delivery special on Postmates. 

Oakland Dispatch: Miss Ollie's to Sanctuary, Huangcheng Noodle House Reopens, Ghost Town Brewing, Popoca

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Chef-owner Sarah Kirnon seated at her altar honoring her ancestors and community at Miss Ollie’s. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Jerk crab awaits at Miss Ollie’s. Instagram photo via @missolliesoakland.

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The 4505 Burgers & BBQ sign in Oakland. Photo courtesy of 4505 Burgers & BBQ.

I got a chance to catch up with chef-owner Sarah Kirnon of ~MISS OLLIE’S~ in Old Oakland, and she tells me things are in process for the next iteration, Sanctuary, with co-founder Miles Dotson. A recent mission statement states: “Sanctuary was birthed from chef Sarah Kirnon’s passion to provide a homestead to nurture, empower, and sustain the dreams of Black art and food creators in her Bay Area community. As a non-profit organization, Sanctuary will activate the talent of these creators to serve and feed the community in a series of active initiatives hosted in and around Oakland.”

This reconcepting of Miss Ollie’s from a restaurant to a community nonprofit was brought about because “they have been forced to rethink their purpose and impact on residents of the East Bay, and what it will look like to continue business into the future now, chasing meager revenue due to reduction of traffic by patrons and visitors to the city. In parallel, there is an increasing number of Bay Area families who now are unable to put food on the table and an unhoused population of people on their last limb as cold temperatures make survival that much harder.”

Sarah shares some difficulties that have come with the new year, beyond the usual endless pandemic challenges. It ends up their contract with World Central Kitchen—which had Miss Ollie’s preparing 1,500 meals a month for their unhoused neighbors (at $10/meal)—wrapped up at the end of December (as it did for other East Bay partners in the initiative). So, a significant part of steady income they were depending upon to weather this stage of the pandemic has dried up, and they’re looking for a way to continue to feed the community, which is an important part of their ethos at Miss Ollie’s (Sarah has always offered patrons who could not afford a meal the opportunity to receive a community plate).

Let’s support Sarah in her passion to do much more impactful work. Kindred will be the first initiative of Sanctuary, working to mobilize food distribution and CSA boxes for community members in need, starting next month (February). If there are any donors/companies interested and able made a tax-deductible contribution of $5K-$50K in order to help fund Kindred’s food program operations (and maintain their staff), please get in touch with Miles Dotson, who can send you a deck. Thank you for thinking about how to assist Sanctuary/Miss Ollie’s, and the community!

In the meantime, she is still operating Miss Ollie’s with her dedicated team Wed-Sat 12pm-7pm, and you should know she has a jerk crab that has been popping up on the menu lately! (She said it’s spicy, mmmhmmm.) She was selling the two-and-a-half pound crab for $40, serving it with yucca, sweet potato fries, chicory salad, homemade ketchup, sour cream, and grilled lemons. All the things! Keep your eyes peeled on their online menu and you can hope to crack some jerk crab soon. (I also see Dungeness crab and grits!) 901 Washington St. at 9th St., Oakland, 510-285-6188.

Some great news for Sarah’s new neighbors at Swan’s Market in Old Oakland: after suffering a tragic fire last year, ~HUANGCHENG NOODLE HOUSE~ has opened their new location in the the former Rosamunde Sausage Grill space (thanks in part to Good Good Eatz, Save Our Chinatowns, and so many generous community members for making this happen so quickly). Come by for chef-owner Jimmy Huang’s Shanxi knife-cut noodles, body-and-soul-warming soups, and more. Perfect for these wet and chilly days. Stand by for new dishes to be added in time. Open daily 10am-9pm. There are also some outdoor seats (coming soon). 911 Washington St. at 10th St. in Old Oakland. [Via Eater]

Something to track for later this winter: ~GHOST TOWN BREWING~ is opening a second location in the former 4505 Burgers & BBQ in Oakland’s Laurel District. They will be opening a taphouse and beer garden soon—the restaurant part of the concept is forthcoming. You can read further details in this Nosh piece. 3506 MacArthur Blvd. at 35th Ave, Oakland.

Another upcoming project will be the permanent brick-and-mortar location of the Salvadoran (and wood-fire-based) ~POPOCA~ from chef-owner Anthony Salguero at Classic Cars West in Uptown Oakland (read more in this Eater piece here). He launched a Kickstarter to get this exciting project off the ground (the plans include a restaurant, bar, retail hub, and micro-business incubator), please take a look and support if you can—$50 will get you a bomb Salvadoran breakfast for two! 411 26th St. at Telegraph, Oakland.

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This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)
Jan 27, 2021

(Sponsored): Check Out My Club Feast Pick of the Month

Well, look at that, it’s time for my second Club Feast Pick of the Month! Hop on over to Instagram to see my pic of the chicken katsu curry plate from Japanese House, the perfect dish to warm you up during the chilly wintertime (especially this week!). (Pro tip: warm up the cutlet in your toaster oven before you eat it for maximum crunchy enjoyment.) It came with housemade curry, rice, miso soup, and salad. Since I pre-ordered it on Club Feast, the whole thing was delivered for less than $10, and was truly a feast!

Try Club Feast for your first time and get $20 off with code HOPPER20. For the next month, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite dishes here and on Instagram (@tablehopper) to inspire you to check it out (be sure to peek at my Club Feast Highlight). Tag me (and @clubfeast) in any of your discoveries!

You just need to order a day in advance, it’s not on-demand. And some places are closed on Mondays and/or Tuesdays, so be sure to change up your delivery days to see what’s available. And don’t forget to set a nice tip for your delivery person. Have fun exploring this new and affordable delivery option in SF.

All content © 2021 tablehopper, LLC. 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.