table of contents   This week's tablehopper:
Buzz, Bix, and Booze (hic!)
the chatterbox
the word on the street
the regular
it's about time we met
the lush
put it on my tab
the socialite

MARCH 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Hi there, friends. So did you spend your Sunday evening at home, watching the Sopranos? It should be easier to get a table on Sunday nights for the next ten weeks, that's for sure. Or maybe TiVo will change all that. Anyway, I had a swanky Sunday evening at Bix a few weeks back, read all about it in the regular. Tony would definitely approve of the events listed in this week's the socialite. No one will get whacked—you'll just eat well or learn about salumi or drink some whiskey.

Attention Hotmail account holders: none of you received last week's tablehopper because Hotmail is notoriously difficult to send larger mailings to. I hope you get this week's issue! Have you ever considered a Gmail account? <wink> You can read last week's tablehopper here.

Ciao for now,


MARCH 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Hopefully this Thursday, Nick Fasanella's latest venture, ~NICKY'S PIZZERIA RUSTICA~, will be firing up its brick-lined ovens and opening its doors (call and make sure they are open if you plan on heading over). Nick is well known for his last venture next door in the Rouge space, Nick's Crispy Tacos, which he is no longer involved in. (He is currently the plaintiff in a lawsuit with his former partner over some partnership accounting.) This new venture is in the old That's Amore space. The pizzeria will have a clean and modern look, with elements of mahogany, brushed aluminum, and a counter that will seat ten, in addition to having some stand-up dining space. There will also be some tables and chairs, and even a few outside seats. So anyone who has indulged in Nick's tacos knows his commitment to fresh and quality ingredients. For his pizza, he'll be using organic ingredients (the flour is organic) and supporting local and sustainable farmers when possible. The pizza is a rustica style, which means a lighter foccaccia-style crust that is square and baked in a pan. (It's how his grandma used to make it.) He'll be offering pizza by the slice, along with a choice of salads, and beer and wine. He hopes to stay open until 2am on Fri-Sat—let's hope the drunks don't prove to be too annoying. Open daily, 11am-10pm, until 2am Fri-Sat. 2109 Polk St. at Broadway, 415-771-4222.

Heard some word that someone will be moving into the ~JULIE'S SUPPER CLUB~ space on Folsom that closed a little under a year ago. The corporation's name is believed to be Toxic Lounge (huh?) and the last word was that it's going to be Julie's Club 2 (double huh, since Julie Ring sold the club in 1998). Had a hard time tracking down someone in time for this week's column, but will let you know if I hear anything interesting.

Okay, this is what I call some seriously useful news: fellow night owls can now get their late night grub on at a 24-hour ~NAAN 'N' CURRY~ that just opened across from the Hilton Hotel on O'Farrell St. Yes, you heard right, 24-7. Tikka masala at 3am, it can be yours. 336 O'Farrell St. at Taylor St. 415-346-1443.

This was previously mentioned in the Chron, but some folks didn't catch it: the Fourth Street area in SoMa is going to bloom into an official Cal-Med gourmet HQ this fall when ~ORSON~ moves into the former Red Dot warehouse space; nearby neighbors include Fringale, Coco 500, Zuppa, and Bacar. Orson is a new project from Elizabeth Falkner, Executive Chef/Owner of Citizen Cake and partner Sabrina Riddle, Chief Sales/Marketing Officer of Olivia Companies (since Olivia's office is right around the corner on Brannan, maybe Sabrina wanted a new place to eat?). It's named after Orson Welles, of Citizen Kane fame (get the connection now?). Zack/deVito Architecture (Gordon's House of Fine Eats, Bacar, Globe, Manresa) are crafting a main dining room with a warehouse-meets-loungey vibe, a DJ booth, modern Italian style, and an eye-catching bar area staffed by "Bar Alchemists." There will be some other funky touches, like interactive dessert menus and a chocolate sommelier. I'll have the 2004 Gianduia, thanks. 508 4th St. at Bryant St.

~SCOTT HOWARD~ just started serving lunch on March 6, so now you can go in and experience the wicked carrot soup (it really is that divine) and some of Howard's innovative combinations, like lamb tenderloin with orange caramel, olives, and fennel or green garlic salmon with tapioca and horseradish jus. The contemporary space is just right for a midday lunch meeting, and don't miss dessert from their latest addition, Andrea Terrenzio, who is leading the pastry team. Monday-Friday, 11:30am-2pm, 500 Jackson St. between Montgomery and Columbus, 415-956-7040.

For those who abandoned reading ~CHOWHOUND.COM~ long ago because of their archaic software and frustrating lack of usability (and lack of dollars to do anything about it), it looks like CNET is now on board, which means a serious redesign of the site and new software is happening in the very near future. Rejoice.


56 Gold St.
Off Montgomery St.
Between Jackson and Pacific


Hors $5-$14
Apps $9.25-$15.50
Entrées $19-$32
Dessert $5-$8

MARCH 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO So where exactly do you go when you need to take your cool attorney out for a nice thank you dinner, or you want to spoil your birthday boy without going to some stuffy restaurant with chintz, or maybe you just want to reminisce and get into a spendy IPO circa 1998 frame of mind? ~BIX~ will fit like a chanteuse's elbow-length satin glove.

Even approaching the restaurant is an experience rich in atmosphere: you walk down a narrow alley, which in Hollywood would have that just rained-upon look and some guy in a fedora pulling on a cigarette out front. Are you about to enter a club, a restaurant, a speakeasy? It feels like all three. The space manages to strike an impressive posture, even years after its 1988 opening. It's like a cross between a cruise ship, a 30's-era jazz supperclub, and a set from some smoky noir flick. The upstairs mezzanine with spacious booths is what usually beckons, but for the full experience, you gotta go a little early so you can park yourself at the long stately bar first.

I remember ending up at Bix one night in the mid-90s. I managed to score one of the plush stools at the packed bar, and in my multi-martini haze I recall admiring the long, glistening top shelf, the silver urns filled with expectantly chilling martini glasses atop a mound of ice, and Armani-suited guys busy choosing cigars from a rather large wooden box. I'll never forget my late-night indulgence in an order of bananas Foster while nestled in at the bar. I was there by myself, so it was my lone guilty drunken pleasure. We all have those perfect (and sometimes boozy) "by myself moments," and my dessert that night remains to be a titleholder in my book.

Flash forward to a recent rainy Sunday night, 2006, sans IPO-hootenanny. I was happy to see at least one gleaming ice-filled urn still sitting proudly on the bar, and how the sharp service remains on point: as soon as you sit down, an eagle-eye barkeep will speedily approach, asking you for your poison of choice. Choose a complicated one, or at least a classic; this place will do it justice, if not totally elevate it. Bring on the Sazerac, succumb to a Manhattan, hop into a Sidecar. Only once you've had a chance to let Bix's clubby atmosphere sink in a little are you truly ready for your table.

So I gotta hand it to the place, they are the masters of the up-sell. First off, Bruce Hill's approachable menu makes it difficult to pass up at least one of the hors d'oeuvres, which should not be confused with a first course. Yup, you're about to dive into and pay for at least a four-course dinner. Tonight, you spend, remember? Our white-jacketed waiter was swiftly out of the up-sell gates, asking if we wanted another cocktail (I was still enmeshed with my first one), followed by everyone's favorite question, the still or sparkling question. Hetch Hetchy Reserve wasn't even offered. Cheeky, that waiter.

Then he firmly suggested the most popular yet expensive hors d'oeuvre on the menu, the potato pillows ($14). It went on. Blatant up-sell on the high-priced entrées, and then the kicker, the vegetable side dishes. Anyway, sure, bring on the potato pillows. Four of the little demons show up, topped with crème fraîche and American sturgeon caviar. A touch greasy, but in a good "go with your cocktail" kind of way.

Next, first course time. You simply can't turn down the steak tartare ($12.50). Even if you're a vegetarian, be brave. (I'm not kidding here.) A little cart is wheeled up, and you get some full on tableside sideshow action. Hand-cut Creekstone Angus beef, mixed up with the classic accouterments like Dijon mustard, capers, shallots, and the untraditional interloper, some sriracha. Kicky. Nice. But here's where the theater kicks in: while assembling the tartare, the waiter mists it with a little cognac. Yes, with a little mister. Like a little hair spray mister. And once it's served it gets misted again. It's hilarious. I asked for some behind my ears. Waiter was not amused. I mean, hell, he's trying to uphold some semblance of aplomb here, and he's momentarily reduced to busting out a little mister. Anyway, it's a nice portion, good mustardy tang, silky beef—you'll pile it on to your six crostini, poof, all gone.

Another note on our server: he was pulling some serious crisp attitude. Which is fine, it works with the whole white-jacketed slightly-salty waiter vibe of the place. But if you're going to be getting all proper and precise with me, then you better back that 'tude up with some serious service chops. Having to ask for silverware, twice, not so slick. Forgetting our order of the up-sold creamed spinach ($7.50) and then providing me with a lame cover-up excuse after I asked about its whereabouts ("The kitchen wasn't happy with the first preparation, so they decided to redo it."), uh, so not slick. If he'd just been a little lighter in his tableside manner, the missteps wouldn't have felt so glaring.

Back to the first courses. The trout salad with watercress ($10.50) had a great balance of flavor: the whole grain mustard vinaigrette played nicely against the (slightly too soft) beets, walnuts, and hunks of house-smoked trout. Paired like a champ with a glass of the 2004 Lagar de Cervera Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain ($9). My only complaint about das salad is the watercress could benefit from being served at a smaller size. It's too ungainly to eat at the big leafy size it's served at. You'll feel like a cow if you don't cut it all up. Chomp chomp.

And now, the mains. Our attorney pal went for the beef-beef double play and ordered the beef special that night. Here's where the waiter was wicked: he never quoted us the price. But the receipt sure did. (Try $42.) My pal's seared albacore tuna with chanterelles, leeks, and a smattering of sunchoke chips on top ($24) was quite tasty for those who want a lighter dish. That wouldn't be me. I wanted to be in love with my short ribs ($26), but they just didn't quite have the depth of flavor I expected. Really needed some salt, for starters. I have a friend who swears by their "bavette" steak, another loves the chicken hash a la Bix, and hey, doncha wanna try the truffled cheeseburger, just to experience a $26 burger? Beef rules.

Oh, dessert. You didn't think I was going to pass up the bananas Foster ($7.95), did you? Hell no. Nice little hunks of banana that are topped off in a boozy dark rum bath. Sorry, no tableside flambé. It sports a perfect bite of sugar you almost feel in your teeth, which is enough to make most dentists cry. The warm chocolate brioche bread pudding ($7.75) was a little too ooey-gooey with its dousing of cloying chocolate sauce that couldn't quite hide the slightly dry corners. It just felt too reheated to be sensuous.

So, despite the service bumps, the up-sellings, a few weird late '80s-meets-Deco reproduction design elements, and a couple menu lowlights, the place still holds it down for a classic and glamorous experience. Nothing quite like it in town, really. Owner Doug "Bix" Biederbeck was visionary with this timeless place. You'll see guys out on the town happily drinking martinis and eating mini lamb burgers and steaks, couples in corner booths sharing oysters and bubbles, and older folks enjoying a swanky Brat Pack night on the town. Live piano, jazz, and vocals warm it all up. Or is that the bourbon? Cheers, baby.


Kelley's Tavern
3231 Fillmore St.
at Lombard St.


Mon-Fri: 12pm-2am
Sat: 10am-2am
Sun: 10am-12am

MARCH 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO A new Irish pub, ~KELLEY'S TAVERN~, will be opening in the old Blue Triangle space in the Marina on Friday, March 17, just in time for that day of bad behavior, St. Patrick's Day. The owners are John Kelley and Scott Loose (co-owners of U Street Lounge on Union St.), Darren Matte, and John Christiansen. The look will be old-world tavern doing a time warp with a modern-day lounge, so think fireplace and stained glass lampshades meet a number of flat screen TVs (just in time World Cup). I'll have another Guinness, mate.

Coit Liquors
585 Columbus Ave.
at Union St.


MARCH 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO The owners of ~COIT LIQUORS~ in North Beach, Linda and Jeff Branco, now have a wine tasting bar set up in the front. So if you want to find a good Italian or French or Cali wine to go with your neighborhood takeout, this is a fun place to check out some of the 14 rotating wines they have open—you can either get a taste or a glass, or the whole bottle, if you really dig it. 585 Columbus Ave. at Union St., 415-986-4036.


Photo from Fra'Mani

Commonwealth Club at The Ferry Building Marketplace
Ferry Building, 2nd floor
Port Commission Hearing Room


Tuesday March 21
5:30pm, Check-in
6pm-7:15pm, Program

$12 for Members
$18 for Non-members

MARCH 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, oink oink on this one! On March 21, the Commonwealth Club will be hosting a panel discussing one of my greatest loves, salumi. And not just any old panelists, try Paul Bertolli, (Founder, Fra'Mani Handcrafted Salumi, Berkeley), Chris Cosentino (Executive Chef, Incanto Restaurant, San Francisco), John Piccetti (Owner, Columbus Salame, So. San Francisco), and Harold McGee (Author, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen – Moderator). The evening panel discussion is ~PIG HEAVEN: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF CURED MEAT~, and here's the write up: "With a shared passion for tradition and authenticity, our distinguished panelists will discuss the recent resurgence of interest in cured meat–a tradition that dates back more than 1,000 years. Whether you call it salumi or charcuterie, join us as we sample a variety of these handmade foods and learn about the meticulous work required to craft great salumi and how slicing equipment affects the resulting flavor and texture." Uh, yeah, I'll be in the one in front scarfing the soppressata.

Whiskies of the World

Friday, March 24
Hotel Monaco

$135 (includes extravaganza)

Saturday, March 25
Pier 3, The Embarcadero


MARCH 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Hey, here's something that's NOT Italian. But it sure is boozy. March 24-25 is the ~WHISKIES OF THE WORLD EXPO~ at the Hotel Monaco and aboard a boat, the San Francisco Belle. Not sure who thought hosting a whiskey tasting/expo on a boat is great idea. But that thing is actually docked, so hopefully it'll be steady. (Unlike me.) Expect a whiskey-a-rama, along with some cognacs, brandies, bourbons, and other things to get you slurry.

Purcell Murray
185 Park Lane


Saturday, March 25

MARCH 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO I went to one of the cooking classes at Purcell Murray in Brisbane (not Benicia) a couple weeks back, and I gotta tell ya, it's a nice little setup. Friendly people, social vibe, good food, and man, what a gorgeous showroom. It's like Euro stove porn over there, and it takes only 15 minutes tops coming from the City.

On Saturday, March 25th, is a Southern Italian cooking class with the popular Bay Area cooking teacher, ~ROSETTA COSENTINO~. She's Calabrese, so she also gets a high-five from me. This will be a hands-on class, where you learn the Pugliese classic pasta dish, Orecchiette con Cime di Rape/"little ears" tossed with broccoli rabe, in addition to roasting a whole sea bass under a crust of salt (Pesce sotto Sale), creating a dish of baked fennel (Tortiera di Finocchio), and preparing decadent cream puffs filled with fresh ricotta cream (Sfinge di San Giuseppe). When it's time to sit down and feast on the treats you've prepared, you'll be additionally spoiled with a selection of Italian wines to accompany the meal. Buon appetito, for sure.