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Mar 11, 2020 6 min read

This week's tablehopper: quesa-beeria.

This week's tablehopper: quesa-beeria.
The amazing Szechuan poached fish (flounder) in flaming chili oil at Chili House. Photo: ©
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Hi. Sorry this is a couple days late, but to be honest, someone has been a little distracted lately. I also had to unexpectedly spend my Tuesday at the Fiat dealership waiting for my little brat of a car to get fixed (Fix It Again Tony, it’s the truth). Let’s just say it was not the most conducive environment for writing and editing and making calls with some pretty horrid music blaring in the showroom all day. I’m glad I was able to fix my mood with some quesabeeria—that would be my neologism for the three quesabirria tacos and a couple beers I tucked into at Harmonic Brewing on my way home (by the way, the La Santa Torta truck will be parked there again on Sunday 2pm-7pm).

So, how y’all doing? My gawdess, what crazy times. I know we’re all consuming the news voraciously, watching numerous coronavirus-related event cancellations and postponements flood into our inboxes (my B2B weed event in Palm Springs went up in smoke, and I’m currently saying a sad “arrivederci” to my trip to Italy in May for now—povera Italia, we’re thinking of you!). Off the Grid has canceled their Fort Mason and Lake Merritt gatherings for the next two weeks. I’m sorry to report one of our fab sponsors has decided to cancel their event at the end of the month: the California Artisan Cheese Festival. Thank you to everyone making the hard decisions right now and looking out for our health.

We’re mulling over a million questions, wondering what’s safe (“Should I go to my friend’s house for dinner this Saturday?” “Should I cook tonight, or just order delivery?” “Should I skip going to the movies?” “Do I hug my children?”). (For that last question, to be clear, the answer is “yes.”) We all have our own levels of risk assessment of potential exposure—some of my friends have become complete shut-ins, while I’m still dining out and (mostly) doing the things I normally do, from grabbing an espresso to grocery shopping. Just no parties and clubs for me right now, and I am so sorry about it—I’m thinking of all the promoters and entertainers and venues who are hurting right now, damn. Keep up on the latest recommendations from the SF Department of Health here.

But one thing is becoming absolutely clear: practically every business is being impacted by coronavirus, from your yoga studio to your tech job to your favorite bar, and our beloved restaurants are especially taking a hit right now. (They have already been struggling under so much adversity and a harsh business environment lately.)

All the canceled reservations, office catering gigs, events, and empty seats—it’s dire. I’m seeing restaurant friends report earnings are down 40 percent, 50 percent—some more (ugh), others less. Tacolicious shares their events are 80 percent down, delivery is 35 percent down, with dining room sales dropping. Many are already in a state of survival mode. Fortunately, there’s some help arising: according to the SF Business Times, “San Francisco will defer business taxes and licensing fees and launch a relief fund,” offering $10,000 grants to “up to 100 businesses who can show a loss of revenue due to the virus’ outbreak or compliance with the city’s emergency guidelines.” If you’re a small business, read this article.

My inbox is churning with newsletters from restaurants, bars, cafés, grocery stores, and cannabis dispensaries sharing their cleanliness standards, explaining what their ServSafe certification means, their new and added sanitation practices, their dedication to your health and wellness. I haven’t had someone point an instant-read thermometer at my forehead yet, but I’m ready.

Other changes are happening, like more restaurants offering delivery, and Lord Stanley is now offering take-out (they’re also doing Cassoulet Mondays, jus’ sayin’). Ideale in North Beach is even offering to deliver your order for free if you live within a half-mile of the restaurant. The Plumed Horse in Saratoga has eliminated half of their dining tables to allow for a minimum distance of 6 feet per table (36 tables down to 15) and all interactions with guests will be conducted by staff in gloves. (Most importantly, all sick staff will receive full shift pay—it’s such an important policy to make sure anyone who feels sick can stay home. Kudos to all the service industry businesses who already have this policy, or are adding it right now.)

And then you read someone tested positive for Covid-19 who was an employee of Brex’s South Park Café but didn’t exhibit signs of illness (or prepare food, to be clear); the owners decided to close the café for now, and all employees are being tested. I’m sorry for the infection and the scare; it’s the last thing we want to see happening—to anyone, anywhere—but I’ll just say it’s worth noting that of all the possible restaurants where this could have happened, this it where it went down. Yup, a café owned by a credit card startup (valued at $2.6 billion) in the heart of SF’s original media and tech and now VC neighborhood. And in New York, Danny Meyer shut down his restaurant The Modern for a deep clean after a diner tested positive for Covid-19: the executive director of the Port Authority. Eep. It can happen anywhere.

Which leads me to my next point: the amount of coronavirus-inspired xenophobia and/or racism afflicting our city’s (country’s!) Chinese neighborhoods and restaurants right now is  distressing, which is coupled with a precipitous drop in tourism. So many Chinatown restaurants are empty. I’m happy to see local tour company Avital Tours rise to the occasion to provide a three-hour, self-guided, San Francisco Chinatown food tour to highlight Chinese cuisine and culture—take a look.

Yesterday, I changed my lunch meeting destination so we could go eat in a Chinese restaurant instead (Chili House on Clement for the win, forever and ever). It’s important to show up in any way you can. I’ve been thinking about hosting a tablehopper night in Chinatown, and getting a small group together to go dine in a few places, a true tablehopping night. I’m mulling over here. For now, I will stand by for updates from the SFDPH and give it a few weeks, since we really need to hold on any gatherings and events for now.

It’s so hard to determine what is actually safe, and of course we want to diminish our exposure to this virus, and inadvertently spreading it. There are so many unknowns. But I do know we need to keep an eye out for our local businesses and individuals who are suffering extreme and sudden hardships right now. Do you know anyone who works in the service industry? Check in on them. Do what you can do, tip as much as you can, ask your favorite businesses how you can help. Don’t want to go out right now? Here’s my idea: buy a gift card to use later!

Order some take-out. Even the much-maligned delivery—at this point, anything helps. (Here’s my Caviar code for $10 off your first two deliveries; here’s Postmates). If you are all about cooking right now, here’s a discount on grocery delivery from the awesome Good Eggs and Imperfect Foods.

I’m just so grateful I was able to host our raucous and over-the-top preview dinner at Lily for tablehopper’s 14th birthday with Champagne Henriot and Tsar Nicoulai caviar a couple weeks ago before it was recommended that events be postponed. We had such an amazing feast together. Chef Rob Lam absolutely crushed us with delicious, check out some pics here. Tsar Nicoulai Reserve caviar on crispy chicken skin, I’m just sayin’. And the cuvées we tasted? Faboosh. (The Henriot Brut Millésime 2008, so gorgeous.) But guess what? Lily has decided to postpone their March opening since it’s really not an ideal time to open a restaurant right now. I’ll keep you posted.

I was also happy to see so many of you at Oregon Wine Trail last Wednesday, what a quality event! So many discoveries, and they absolutely stuffed us with snacks. You can still show your OWT ticket at Local Kitchen in SoMa for a free glass of Oregon wine with the purchase of any main or pizza for the month of March! Stay healthy with chef Nora’s soto ayam (chicken noodle soup).

I’ve been on a bit of a taco tear (again), check out my Insta for some inspiration on where to go next (unless you feel sick—in that case, please stay the eff home). Stay strong and sanitize on! And listen to nonna. Always.

Best wishes, thinking of all of you. To your health. Marcia Gagliardi

(This post has been updated for clarity.)

The amazing Szechuan poached fish (flounder) in flaming chili oil at Chili House. Photo: © tablehopper Newsletter from Thursday, Mar 12 2020

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