table of contents   This week's tablehopper: vegans and cheapskates get served.
the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
new restaurant reviews
the regular
it's about time we met
the socialite


APRIL 25, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO 'Tis the season when people are notoriously lamenting their lack of funds since Uncle Sam has a nasty habit of snatching away our money right about now. (As my ex used to say, "Uncle Sam? He's no uncle of mine.") So I thought I'd offer up some tasty cheap eats to help you stretch your dollar this month in the regular. And then I have some vegans who I wanted to give a shout-out to—check out the review in this week's fresh meat (sorry about the title, oh well).

Ciao and meow,

the chatterbox

APRIL 25, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO After what seems like an interminable amount of waiting and construction delays, at last, the ~FALLETTI'S FOODS~ project at Broderick Place (Broderick and Oak Streets) is looking close. How close? If all goes well, they're looking at a September launch. The Fallettis lost their lease in 1999 from their original location at the old Petrini Plaza on Fulton and Masonic, and the neighborhood wanted them to stay. Falletti's Foods will pick up where they left off, offering a quality grocery store highlighting top-end produce and a 40-foot long counter at their butcher shop. Tick Falletti and his two sons, Dominic and Jamie, will run the family business. (In case you're wondering about the name Tick, like I was, he liked clocks when he was a kid so he became Tick Tock—as time went on, he eventually lost the "tock." Is that the cutest thing or what?) The size will be similar to Mollie Stone's on California, a size that is best-situated for more of a European and old-fashioned concept of buying what you need for today and tomorrow, and not the entire week. There will also be a Peet's Coffee with seats in the courtyard, and a café for casual dining for lunch and dinner (and possibly breakfast? TBD!) that will hopefully be able to offer outdoor sidewalk seating. They are currently seeking an operator for the café—Pascal Rigo had originally considered moving in, but it was going to have too much crossover with the other star tenant, which will be the delicious DeLessio!

This second location of ~DELESSIO MARKET AND BAKERY~ will be offering an array of over 70 take-home items, which will include a deli with roasted meats and cheeses; a self-service bakery with cupcakes, cookies, and cakes; grilled panini; a steam table for hot dishes and food-by-the-pound, like their popular tofu dish, soups, meatloaf, rotisserie chicken, and mac 'n' cheese; and composed salads. Unlike the Market Street location, there will not be any seating for on-premise dining. I can't wait to have a place to pick up last-minute birthday cupcakes and delicious sandwiches before heading to the beach.

The long-vacant Habana space on Van Ness has reopened as ~LA JOYA~ as of April 11. The new owners are David Carava, and his fiancée, Adriana Ponce, who is cooking in the kitchen with her mother, Lucy Ponce. While the Ponces hail from Tampico, which is north of Veracruz on the eastern coast of Mexico, they are tailoring the menu to focus on the best Mexico's various regions have to offer. For example, you'll find a chicken mole from Pueblo, and corn soup typical of Mexico City. The tortillas are handmade, and most vegetables are organic. The chicken is free-range, and they also feature hormone-free beef and pork. You can't miss the bright persimmon exterior, and the interior was also repainted, with resurfaced wood floors, a new tile ceramic floor near the bar, and Mexican barstools. While mojitos remain on the menu, a vestige of Habana, you'll now find pomegranate margaritas and the "La Joya" margarita made with Don Julio tequila, Cointreau, and a floater of Grand Marnier. Uno más, por favor. Open Tue-Sun, 5pm-10pm, and until 11pm on Fri and Sat, 2080 Van Ness Ave., 415-441-2822.

There is some serious talk floating around town of some restaurants closing on Monday, ~MAY 1~ in support of their immigrant kitchen staff. Some immigrant activists are calling for a nationwide one-day boycott of work, school, and business in retaliation to the recent House of Representatives anti-immigrant bill that is in front of Congress. So far, I've heard that Bistro Aix, the Elite Café and Elizabeth Falkner are talking about supporting the boycott by closing their establishments—their point being that without their immigrant staff (both legal and illegal), how can the restaurant function? Other restaurants, like Papalote, are staying open, but will not penalize employees who choose to not come into work that day. I guess we'll see what happens next Monday…

Just in time for this May's challenge of eating locally, on April 29 the ~FILLMORE FARMER'S MARKET~ kicks in. It'll be running for it's fourth year at O'Farrell and Fillmore and the Fillmore Center Plaza, every Saturday from 9am-1pm. They will even have jazz playing each week until it wraps up the week before Thanksgiving. You can read more here.

And on Thursday, May 5, the ~NIGHT MARKET~ returns to the Ferry Building Marketplace. The evening farmer's market runs from 4pm-8pm each Thursday until October, and is a great way to pick up come fresh lettuce from Happy Boy and peaches from Frog Hollow (once they start showing up...) on your way home from work.

Starting May 3, ~CAMPTON PLACE~ will have a new sommelier in place: Shana Dilworth, the dynamic assistant GM and sommelier at Jardinière. Dilworth, 38, already passed her advanced sommelier exam, and is currently studying for the Master Sommelier, which she will take in either November or December. Cheers, Shana.

Speaking of beverages, the city is seriously becoming a tea zone: recent openings include Modern Tea, Leland Tea, and now ~SAMOVAR TEA LOUNGE~ has opened a second location in the upper terrace at the Yerba Buena Gardens. The view of the gardens is spectacular—it's a veritable urban oasis. They are open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, high tea, and dinner. To celebrate the opening, they are hosting a tea dinner on Friday April 28 (7pm-9pm), a gala reception on Saturday (6pm-10pm), and a tea brunch on Sunday (10am-2pm). Open daily, 9am-10pm. Upper Terrace, 730 Howard St., 415-227-9400.

Vietnamese food lovers are thrilled with the reopening of ~LOTUS GARDEN~ in a new location, on the west side of Mission at Valencia (next door to Blue Plate). It always struck a winning balance of hominess, quality, and good prices. Bring on the crepes. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 3216 Mission St., 415-282-9088.

Mission locals have been happy to see the sign announcing Bi-Rite Market's new venture, the ~BI-RITE CREAMERY~ launching this summer, just across the street from the market. The ice cream will be made with Straus Family Creamery organic dairy products (yum). 3692 18th St.

One opens, another closes. A tablehopper reader has reported the windows of ~ISABELLA'S ICE CREAM AND DESSERT CAFÉ~ in Noe Valley are covered in brown paper and a small sign says closed (as in for good).

Most folks have already heard the big news about ~A16~: the former pizzaiolo and partner, Christophe Hille, has left to return to his family in the East Coast. Moving up in the ranks to take his place is Nate Appleman, who has been at A16 since it opened. Appleman is also a certified pizzaiolo, so don't fret—everything will still be quite delizioso. He is also a whiz at making salumi, and is Mister Enthusiasm, so take a seat at the counter the next time you're there and wish him congratulations.

Tenderloin residents will soon have a cool dining destination in the 'hood, ~BRICK~, which has moved into the former Tappe's Bar and Grill space, AKA the Sutter Gutter. The partners are Matt Sturm, Chris Cronk, and Leslie Shirah, of Solstice Restaurant and Fly Bar. Executive chef Noah Tucker has worked at Michael Mina, in addition to Town (NY), Oceana (NY), and Aqua-Grill (NY). He's crafted a menu of modern American cuisine with international influences, including signatures like confit buffalo wings with gorgonzola and root slaw, hello. Most items on the 25-plate menu ($8-$22) are designed to be shared, so go with people you like, har. The modern-rustic space has hardwood floor and yes, there are original brick walls. The space will seat 80, and is designed to be a casual and easy spot to meet up with friends for cocktails or a full meal. There will be a communal table, a full-service 20-seat copper bar, ringside seats at the exhibition kitchen, a separate cocktail lounge called The Gallery, and a private room that seats 10. Dinner nightly 5pm-12am; the bar is open until 2am. 1085 Sutter St. at Larkin St., 415-441-4232.

Michael Schley, formerly of U Street Lounge, has recently landed at ~SOLUNA CAFÉ & LOUNGE~, the restaurant next to the Asian Art Museum.

fresh meat

Cha-Ya image

762 Valencia St.
Cross: 18th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110


Apps $3-$6.50
Entrées $7-$8.50
Combo sets $15.25-$18
Noodles $7.75-$9.50
Dessert $4.25

Open Tue-Sun, 5pm-10pm

APRIL 25, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO A couple weeks ago I reported a new vegetarian Japanese place was opening on Valencia Street, ~CHA-YA~. Well, it's open. And it's so brightly lit you literally can't miss it. I think there must some lab rooms at Genentech studying the effects of overhead fluorescent light on houseplants that are dimmer than this joint. Anyway. After a week of eating like a beast (try three big nights in a row at Oliveto, Terzo, and then Campton Place, I know, poor me, waaah!) I needed something simple. No cream. No meat. No butter. And God, please, no sweetbreads.

Cha-Ya is not only vegetarian, this joint is fully vegan. The room is muy Mission, full of hipsters and hemos (emo homos) and Technicolor-dressed vegan-kidz (they're that funky hybrid of candy raver-meets-militant vegan), all being attended to by engaging Japanese waitresses sporting patterned kerchiefs on their head and groovy aprons. There should be music, but there isn't. (Yet.) You shouldn't be able to inspect your dining partner's pores from across the table, but you can. (Hopefully that will change too.)

Okay, the menu: it's full of things that are good for you. Vegetables abound (what did you expect, pork?). It's also a little confusing when you get to the combo dinner sets, but you'll figure it out. Prices for some dishes seem a little steep ($5.75 for gomaae/blanched spinach) and I had a hard time wrapping my head around the deal in the combo dinner sets. They must be somewhat substantial since they average $17 each.

My pal and I decided to go a la carte, starting with some agedashi tofu ($5.75) for an appetizer. It came piping hot, (ow, hot hot, fan the mouth, where's my water, ow, hot) and was a generous portion of four large pieces of deep-fried tofu, topped with shredded nori, grated daikon, ginger, kaiware, and scallions. Wait, hold up, scallion? This is where Cha-Ya's claim to be "shojin cuisine" drops off. Shojin cuisine, otherwise known as Buddhist monk eats, never uses anything from the lily family (garlic, onion, etc.). So this is where Medicine, the downtown shojin cuisine destination, is the real deal, while Cha-Ya is a loose translation of that style of food.

Okay, so now that we're done wrestling with semantics and tradition, on to my favorite dish of the evening, the "Moon Garden" ($8.25), a steamed tofu custard that comes with broccoli, carrot, shimeji mushrooms (love those guys), squash, and like six other vegetables. Some were a little overdone compared to the others, but overall it was totally spoon-lickingly good. Creamy, rich, and one big hot tub of veggie custard love.

The Cha-Ya nabe (vegan sukiyaki) ($8.50) was a little flat for me—it barely had any of the promised silver noodles, but plenty of nappa cabbage and a total pile of vegetables, mostly the same ones in the tofu custard. It felt like one of those soups that would be good for you if you could only have bland food after being hit with an evil stomach flu for something like eight days. Meh.

The tonchi nasu (stuffed eggplant) ($7) was funky fried fun: green eggplant was stuffed with Satsuma potato (sweet potato), corn, hijiki, carrot, and soybeans, then battered and deep-fried like tempura. It came with a soupy ginger sauce, and was hacked into four very oddly sized pieces. I found it almost impossible to eat with chopsticks—the stuffing would fall out, and I had to employ my soupspoon from the custard to help handle it. But the texture was interesting and kind of good, even if it was unmanageable. I don't think I'd order it again. Maybe I could be coaxed if I had my Swiss Army knife and a fork.

We didn't make it to the sushi—I have to admit, I'm not really into broccolini nigiri. I want toro on my nigiri! But the presentations we saw on the table next to us looked nice enough. There are also udon or soba dishes, tempura, and four kinds of soup to start. We decided to be adventurous for dessert: we had the oshiruko ($4.25), a warm bowl of sweetened azuki beans and little chunks of mochi rice cakes. Funky. Not for everyone, but I liked it.

Servers are kind, and we had a fleet of them who kept us hydrated with tea and water. The bill was cheap for a Saturday night out. (It's cash only for now, so good thing.) I felt healthy and sated, although I went out two hours later for a carnitas taco (kidding!). I'd say most vegetarians and vegans in town will enjoy exploring the menu, and as for the carnivores, I'd say the adventurous ones who like to try different things will find things they'll like, but I wouldn't send picky people here. My wishes for Cha-Ya: get some art, some good music (maybe go talk to Judy over at Minako?), and ditch those overhead lights!

the regular

Balompié image

3349 18th St.
Cross: Capp St.
San Francisco, CA 94110


Apps $7.50-$9.50
Entrées $6.75-$12.95
Pupusas $1.60-$2.50

Open daily 8am-9:30pm


APRIL 25, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO When your wallet is hurting (post-tax time, post-Christmas, post-bookie, post-divorce) and your stomach is being a demanding brat, follow the bouncing ball to ~BALOMPIÉ~. The soccer ball, that is. (You'll see it as the "o" in the restaurant's name.) Wander past the guys in the front bar busy watching soccer games on TV (and girls coming in) and throwing back some beers (some, a few too many), sit yourself down at the cheerful blue-and-white-checked-tablecloth tables in the dining room, and enjoy perusing a menu where everything hovers around $9. How refreshing.

But we're on a boojay, baby, so it's time to get seriously cheap. Balompié is El Salvadorian, so as your peruse the "platos tipicos" you'll see an array of pupusas offered, from corn to rice flour, and from ayote con queso (zucchini and cheese) to chicharrón (pork rind) to loroco, a little bud that is native to El Salvador and a traditional pupusa filling. Get this: the pupusas are $1.60 each, with a minimum of two (I think you can handle it). Take that, tacos! If you upgrade to chicken or shrimp and cheese, they're still only $2.50 apiece. Loco!

The pupusas here are fantastic, and I've had a couple El Salvadorian pals tell me they're the best in town: they're not greasy, they're perfectly grilled, and lip-smacking good when topped with some oregano-laden curtido (a marinated cabbage salad) and my own personal additions, some sour cream and Tapatio. Oh, and don't miss one of their imported Pilsener lager beers ($3)—they really hit the spot.

They also offer pastels ($4.75), a little half-moon corn pie of sorts, that come stuffed with chicken, beef, or shrimp. But here's the super-duper fabulous broke-ass deal: it's time to meet the #1 combo plate. For $7.50, you get your choice of a pupusa, a pastel, and yuca/yucca (steamed or fried), with a topping of chicharrón (uh, sold), beef, chicken, or fried fish. Squeeze a little lemon over the chicharrón, and you're in total porky-heaven. Yes, that is a place—bacon lovers know what I'm talking about. Life goes better with pork. Viva the other white meat.

I honestly can't say how the rest of the menu is. It certainly looks good: shredded beef with egg, garlic chicken, fried fish… there's even killer special: #2: two pupusas, rice, and beans for $6.75. They also serve some honking breakfast dishes, all $6.75, which include coffee, and a side of beans or casamiento (rice and beans).

The space is full of couples having dinner together, single guys digging into some home cooking, and even some gringas like me. Say hola to the guys at the bar, and go while you can, because you can only imagine how this place is going to blow up during World Cup in June. Gooooooooolllllllllllllll!

the socialite

Rosetta image

A Taste of Sicily
May 5
At Paulding and Co.
1410-B 62nd St.
Emeryville, CA


APRIL 25, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO I took a cooking class a month ago with Rosetta Costantino, and I gotta tell ya, she is one heck of a Calabrese pasta-making powerhouse. She has some great classes coming up, like "A Taste of Sicily," where you'll learn how to make her sublime cannoli on May 5. There are classes all the way through June. Classes average $85, and are totally hands-on. They sell out, so if you're interested, book it now. If you're lucky, her mamma will be there to school you on some techniques.