August 12, 2008

August 12, 2008

This weekend was definitely an emotional one, because a favorite San Francisco restaurant, a food and wine institution, really, closed its doors this Saturday. ~RUBICON~, after 14 years of entertaining us, wining and dining us, educating us, and enchanting us, is no more. There are a number of reasons why it closed. It’s not unlike the end of a relationship: there are usually all kinds of things that add up to create the ultimate subtraction, many of them personal. But after sitting with executive chef Stuart Brioza and his fiancée, the talented pastry chef Nicole Krasinski, I learned that the primary cause was a shrinking profit margin, plus some other basics, like lease issues, the current cost of doing business in San Francisco, and others. For now, there are a few parties interested in the space, but nothing is final. The Chihuly sculptures are being packed up this week, and as for the remarkable wine cellar, well, many can dream that it will be sold at auction, but that decision isn’t final yet either.

Stuart and Nicole wanted to express a few things to their many loyal customers, friends, and the local dining community: they really valued the opportunity to make Rubicon their own, and after being there for 4 1/2 years, they don’t see any failure in that. They were creating new dishes every day until the very end, inspired by the remarkable ingredients from local purveyors and farmers. They said the evolution of their craft, and their dishes, was very much inspired by their access to top-notch ingredients; they feel like both their food and the restaurant were made better because of these relationships with the people supplying them. They were also so grateful for their solid and talented staff behind them, many working there for years. And lastly, they were proud of their relationship with Larry Stone and owner Drew Nieporent, who were so very supportive of their food. In fact, Drew would tour the farmers’ market with Stuart and would dine in the restaurant continuously whenever he was in town from New York.

The timing of the closure actually synched up with a big change in Nicole and Stuart’s lives: they are off to Hawaii on September 4th to be married (Larry Stone is actually marrying them and acting as the master of ceremonies); so, really, they were ready for both this personal change, and a professional one. They plan to “go subterranean” for a while, and will pop back up in October, doing private dinner parties and events. Stuart plans to visit and work on a few farms (in fact, today he was in a tree picking peaches at the Masumoto farm with Nicole), plus will be visiting Peay during harvest, while Nicole will be consulting on various pastry-related projects. As for next steps, they intend to stay local; they really value being a part of the San Francisco restaurant community, and the new guard of chefs who are pushing things forward here. Both said how grateful they are for all the support over the years, and especially the outpouring this last week… They said it was a wonderful way to celebrate a great run.

The closing party on Saturday after service was touching, and of course was totally fun, too, with a great turnout of friends of the house. You know there was some good stuff being poured, and all I can say is from now on, I want a couple sommeliers to always be nearby when I’m eating at the Tonayense taco truck (they had one parked next to the restaurant all night). Care for some Côte Rôtie with that carnitas taco? Uh huh. Here’s wishing Stuart and Nicole all the best in these new chapters in their lives, and may the notable staff of Rubicon land some quality gigs at places around town. Thanks for all the memorable meals, and good times—may they be continued soon!

So, more shifts around town. This weekend I had a chance to catch up with Christie Dufault, the former wine director of ~QUINCE~. After two years with the widely adored restaurant, she has decided to embark on a new chapter in her life while the restaurant transitions to the new (and much larger) Myth space. She has greatly valued her time working with the Tusks at Quince, and has been instrumental in developing the award-winning wine program there (the restaurant just received a Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator in 2008). While her last day on the floor was this Saturday, Dufault is still going to be involved with Quince, just in more of an advisory capacity. Lindsay Tusk of Quince said, “Yes, we miss her already—she built a very dynamic wine program for Quince and we are all sad to see her go. She was and is an integral part of the restaurant and really created something that didn't exist—we are very proud of her contribution. Personally, I learned a lot from her.”

Christie is off to France this fall, working as a guide in Burgundy and developing more trips plus some yoga and wine-tasting retreats throughout France. After that, she intends to continue to teach regularly at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Greystone in St. Helena, and to continue to act as a sommelier with Vintrust. While she has no plans to be working at any restaurants in the near future, she did allude to another project that might be coming down the pike: but she told me any details are a ways off on that one. I’ll keep you posted on this, and of course on any news of upcoming hires at Quince. (I should have more details about the new project next week, stand by!)

A few blocks away, there is yet another restaurant project coming to Fillmore Street! Moving into the former Toraya spot will be a second location of ~WOODHOUSE FISH COMPANY~, an East Coast-Meets-West Coast old school-meets-new school fish shack from Dylan MacNiven of Woodhouse Fish Company on Market Street. He said the menu will focus more on West Coast seafood, like Dungeness crab, local oysters, and more, which is kind of already happening at Woodhouse number one. He said the space is going to entail quite the build-out, so expect at least six months or so until the opening. It will be a bit more up-market than the casual Market Street location, with about 50–75 seats. Lunch and dinner will be served daily, and MacNiven is mulling over possibly launching brunch as well. Ironically, before the space was transformed into a restaurant 40 years ago, it was actually a Japanese fish market. Good juju, I’d say. 1914 Fillmore St. at Bush.

Hopping over into the Mission… I had a chance to swing by ~FOUR BARREL COFFEE~ last week and get a peek at the space; it’s looking so good, with much more room dedicated to lingering than I thought there would be. As my friend charmingly noted, all the little chairs and desks look like coffee school. Sign me up! There is also a cupping table, where anyone can stand, taste, and learn at the daily cuppings. Really nicely fabricated tables and fixtures, and wait until you see the hunting-inspired bathroom floor. And yay, the opening is SO CLOSE. In fact, they are hoping to open next Tuesday August 19th. (I’ll be able to confirm this in next week’s column!) Hours will be 7am–8pm daily. 375 Valencia St. at 15th Street.

More Mission happenings: well, the new ~LIMÓN ROTISSERIE~ that moved into the Pollo Rico space wasn’t supposed to open until later this month, but according to a poster on Yelp, it’s up and running. Think Peruvian-style rotisserie, small plates, a ceviche bar, and beer, wine, and sangria are coming soon. 1001 South Van Ness Ave. at 21st St., 415-821-2134.

Mas Mish: I was reading the new Yum Diary blog from Tracie Broom over at SF Station, and she noted the somewhat recent opening of the ~ALHAMBRA HALAL MEAT COMPANY~ on 24th Street from owner Mohamed Hebar. Not only is it a halal butcher shop, but also all the meat (beef, chicken, lamb, bison, and the now-trendy goat) is all raised on vegetarian feed, without hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. Some Chowhounders also commented on the house-made sausages and more in this post. Hours are daily, Mon–Sat 10am–8pm, and Sundays 10am–7pm. 3111 24th St. at Folsom, 415-525-4499.

~URBAN TAVERN~ is looking like it will open this Thursday August 14th for dinner, and lunch will start next week. To recap, the executive chef is Patrick Kehler, most recently at Circolo, but he also served as chef de cuisine at Aqua, so this is a bit of a reunion for him and Laurent Manrique. Some initial dishes I heard about include appetizers like clams and chorizo with fingerling potatoes and piquillo peppers, and duck prosciutto with butter lettuce, melon, and endive. A few entrée choices are chicken “bouillabaisse” style with saffron and fennel broth, tomato confit, fingerling potatoes, and fresh dill, and beef daube "Catalane" braised in red wine, garlic, and rosemary with caramelized onions, olives, cherry tomatoes, and red bell peppers. There will be a charcuterie selection, omelettes served all day, and roasted meats carved tableside. For dessert, there is a classic peach Melba, and crème Catalane infused with star anise and saffron. 333 O'Farrell St. at Mason, 415-923-4400.

Eater noted ~BASIL CANTEEN~ has officially opened in the former Public space in SoMa. As I originally reported, it’s a casual Thai izakaya of sorts, serving a style of food called gap klaem, which are dishes designed to pair with a night of drinking. There will be about ten small plates/affordable bar snacks and a variety of noodles. It’s open daily for lunch 11:30am–2:30pm and dinner nightly from 5pm–10pm. 1489 Folsom St. at 11th St., 415-552-3963.

Down in Palo Alto, things are getting close for ~JOYA RESTAURANT~, the project from the Giovannotto family (they are also behind the neighboring La Strada Ristorante Italiano). The focus is on Latin American cuisine, with an emphasis on Spanish cuisine, with dishes like ceviche, paella, plus a tapas menu. Here’s one specific example of a dish that will be on the menu: pan-roasted Cuban-spiced pork tenderloin, with sweet potato puree and red onion compote. The chef is Fabrice Roux, who some will remember from Grand Café—he also was at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris in Las Vegas. Spain is very near and dear to chef Roux, who has some family who lives there. There will be 135 seats, and the restaurant will have a very open feeling, with skylights, high ceilings, sliding doors, and outdoor seating (ahhh, the balmy weather of the 650). The sleek space will also have a spacious lounge that is in a defined space, with plenty of comfy seating. The sophisticated but casual design by Shopworks will include lots of teak and metal—this design firm also did some W Hotels in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego. There will also be live entertainment. Lunch and dinner daily. The restaurant is on track for an opening during the week of August 18th. 339 University Ave. at Florence, Palo Alto.

~MACY'S UNION SQUARE~ has a couple Cellar events coming up: this Wednesday August 13th at 6pm, GraceAnn Walden is covering “The Fillmore District Old and New” with chef David Lawrence of 1300 on Fillmore. Enjoy a taste of the featured recipe, a glass of wine (compliments of the Jug Shop), and neighborhood history from GraceAnn.

Then on Tuesday August 26th at 6:30pm is “Home Run with Slow Food Nation and Acme Chophouse.” This will be almost like a sneak preview of Slow Food Nation: you can meet the creators of Slow Food Nation's book Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living, and buy a copy already signed by Alice Waters. (The book profiles a dozen small farmers in California dedicated to growing food that's healthy for people and the planet.) Dan Bagley and Liz Cunninghame will be present, the husband-and-wife team who own and operate Clark Summit Farm, a sustainable beef, pork, and poultry producer in Marin County (I love their eggs!). Executive chef Thom Fox of Acme Chophouse will prepare choice cuts of meat from Clark Summit Farm. 170 O'Farrell St. at Stockton.

I wish I could be in town for this one: On Thursday August 14th is the opening of ~TASTY~, a new exhibition and sale of works dedicated to and inspired by food at San Francisco’s Creativity Explored. There will be original drawings, paintings, and sculptures that include anything from dancing radishes to Jell-O to odes to pies. (Some meat also makes an appearance.) The show opens with a reception featuring live music from 7pm–9pm, and continues through October 1st. All artwork may be purchased at the Creativity Explored Gallery, open Mon–Fri 10am–3pm, Thu until 7pm, and Sat 1pm–6pm. For further information about the exhibition, call 415-863-2108. 3245 16th St. at Guerrero.

Next Tuesday August 19th, ~SOUTH FOOD + WINE BAR~ is hosting “Around the world with Luke Mangan.” (In case you need a memory refresher, Luke is the Aussie chef and South’s owner.) The four-course dinner will include tastes from Luke’s three restaurants: Glass in Sydney, Salt in Tokyo, and naturally South in San Francisco. Each course will be matched with wines from Australia and New Zealand. Click here to see the menu and wines for the evening. $95 per person, plus tax and gratuity. RSVP to info [at]southfwb [dot] com or call 415-974-5599; please include a contact number. 330 Townsend St. at 4th St., 415-974-5599.