table of contents   This week's tablehopper: dinner in SF is a four-letter word.
the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
it's about time we met
the socialite
the starlet
no photos please


JUNE 13, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, confession time, and it's not just because I'm a Madonna fan and am known to frequent dancefloors and heart the disco. Your faithful tablehopper tablehopped quite a bit on Sunday (it all started at 2pm at the "Sunday's a Drag" brunch at Harry Denton's Starlight Room, and unraveled like a snag in some fishnets from there), and I am definitely feeling it, if you know what I mean. (Of course you do.) So I'm not quite writing the mini novella you're used to receiving from me. More Cliff's Notes today, less Dostoevsky. I'm also busy as hell.

But because I can't help but be a giver, you are gonna LOVE this: a company that was referred to me is doing a promo of their restaurant card decks, and you can have it for free. It's basically a deck of 49 cards, each with a $15 discount when you spend $40 at a pile of groovy restaurants in the city, from A16 to bacar to Fresca to Levende. (And you thought I was going to say Chevy's? For shame.) All you have to do is send an email to with your name and mailing address, and they'll send you a deck. Who loves you? Yes, me.

So, I am off to Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic to lead a forum on what's hot in San Francisco. KIDDING. I'm stuck here in the 415, babies.

Meow for now,

the chatterbox

JUNE 13, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO The Western Addition, oh, excuse me, NoPa neighborhood continues to show some life with the opening of ~POLENG LOUNGE~, which from initial reports is a pretty spiffy space, especially when you consider what was there prior. Way to go on the remodel of the 1751 Social Club, seriously. Word is that they'll start serving food on Friday the 23rd. 1751 Fulton St. at Masonic St., 415-441-1751.

Big project coming up: I was talking to my pal, Roby (Robert to his clients) Polacek, the talented creative director at The Puccini Group and he filled me in on a local restaurant project he's currently working on at the ~ARGENT HOTEL~ on Third St., which is being converted into a Westin/Starwood property (it will be known as the Westin San Francisco once the remodel is complete). The terrifyingly named restaurant, Jester's, will be going through a major redesign, and yes, will earn a new name. (Whew.) The 180-seat restaurant will soon have a Venetian/Italian focus, with the goal of becoming a city destination that is not just for tourists, where locals can (and will want to) dine a couple nights a week (prices will fall at the mid-range), instead of the special occasion-type dining style you'd find at many hotel restaurants, like Scala's or Ame, for example. They haven't decided upon a chef—they're currently seeking a local and/or up-and-coming chef with a following—but no mega chefs. So Mario, back off.

The lunch crowd will definitely dig the outdoor courtyard that's being developed, and if everything goes according to plan, evening diners will be able to enjoy an outdoor fire pit on the terrace as well. The patio will feature a communal table for alfresco diners, plus living room-style outdoor furnishings that will feel comfortable and loungey. The interior of the dining room will feature two large glass dividers that are twelve feet tall, with paintings from old world masters printed on the glass and then lit on the edges (I've never seen that before), plus a huge reinterpretation of a classic Venetian chandelier. The room will be furnished in rich textures and colors, like mohair, leathers, and Venetian red. The lounge will be comprised of an enclosed round room (opposite the bar) with a domed ceiling, ottomans, and banquettes flanking walls that will be upholstered with a quilted pattern, potentially a silkscreen of a Venetian landscape.

As if this gorg lounge isn't enough, Puccini Group will also be adding a ~SECOND BAR~ in the hotel, under the porte-cochère on Third St. The bar is street-level, but will have a tunnel-like entrance. This second bar's look will be an evocative update of the San Franciscan Barbary Coast-era (think Big Four at the Huntington, but very now), with some Asian/opium den touches. Instead of going the antique-y route, everything will have more of a modern nod. The vibe will be on par with the Redwood Room and the bar at the St. Regis. There will be a private upper-level VIP room, with a "smell sculpture" of flowering vines that will appear to grow from the center of the room and into the ceiling. Hot. It's all slated to open in fall of this year. I'll let you know once some names and opening dates are decided upon.

The Puccini Group is also busy rolling out their ~NEW WINE BAR CONCEPT~, which launched in Chicago and will be opening at the St. Francis hotel in an existing space in the hotel lobby. It will be a space both for tasting and retail sales, with wine, chocolate, and cheese offered to accompany a variety of both Old and New World wines. The opening is slated for 2007. The Puccini Group designed Scala's Bistro, Grand Café, Ponzu, and Harry Denton's Starlight Room. They are currently doing a number of cool international projects, like a beach club in Cancún, and two restaurants in Prague at the InterContinental Prague hotel that overlooks the Vltava River.

I was wondering what was going into the soon-to-be-vacant ~STRAITS CAFÉ~ space on Geary since it's closing in a month or so, and surprise, it'll still be the same owners! They're actually developing a Spanish tapas and wine bar restaurant/lounge concept. The culinary director of Straits and SINO, Barney Brown, (who was the opening chef of Betelnut) has extensive knowledge and experience with Spanish food, so it's sure to be a nice addition to the neighborhood. No names or dates just yet. 3300 Geary Blvd. at Parker St.

Starting June 24, ~YABBIE'S COASTAL KITCHEN~ will be serving lunch on the weekends, from 11am-3:30pm. Lunch offerings will include seafood cocktails (like ceviche and shrimp cocktail), crab cakes, steamed mussels, salads, and some hearty sandwiches with Kennebec fries. Of course their signature seafood platters will be available—how lovely would some oysters on the half shell, ceviche of the day, chilled prawns and mussels, crab, and some littleneck clams taste on a Sunday? Yes, rather delicious. 2237 Polk St., 415-474-4088.

Poor ~INDIAN OVEN~. They had a fire in the middle of May, and have been closed cleaning the joint up and renovating it, giving it a fresh paint job and new floors. It should be open again this Friday, June 16. 237 Fillmore St., 415-626-1628.

fresh meat

NOPA burger

560 Divisadero St.
Cross: Hayes St.
San Francisco, CA 94117


Dinner nightly 6pm-1am

Apps $5-$9
Entrées $12-$19
Dessert $7

JUNE 13, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Shall we talk about all the three- and four-letter word places opening of late? (None of them profane, mind you.) There's SEBO, and BOCA, and CAV, and Coi, and DOSA. And lest we forget, ~NOPA~. I eagerly anticipated the opening of this joint from the moment I heard about it. From the lines and the hype, I'd say the rest of the city did too. The Western Addition/Lower Haight/NoPa area needed a chic place to get a DRANK that doesn't stink of beer and isn't full of USF students drinking said beer. We (yes, we—this is my 'hood) needed a hotspot to get a meal with friends beyond the few semi-hip eateries here: Tsunami sushi and Little Star Pizza. Uh, Popeye's, no. No comment on Blue Jay Café. And late night? Forget it. Try a candy bar at the corner store, or delivery. NOPA is open until 1am, how outstanding is that?

The response has been huge. They told me they did 400 covers on Saturday night. That's busy. Folks in the industry are flocking to it. Even hilariously so—I saw the twin brothers from Bar Crudo on Sunday, at different times on the same night. Oh, twins.

The cocktails are inspired, with ingredients like elderflower syrup and chartreuse making appearances, all hovering around $6-$7. Quality booze, as well. A bar you're proud to display, which they are.

So what's the draw? Well, first up, it has an engaging urban style. It's like a new generation of Zuni, an industrial Cali-brasserie vibe, with vaulted ceilings, exposed dark wood beams, stained concrete floors, towering windows interspersed with large mirrors behind a lengthy poured-concrete bar (which feels really good to the touch, btw) with a row of stools with mustard-yellow ultra-suede seats, a communal table in front for walk-ins, and an open kitchen in back showcasing a brick oven, a rotisserie working overtime, and a white-jacketed staff hustling, double-time. On the main dining floor is a row of small booths and comfortable seating at wood tables, and a mezzanine above with more seating plus an energetic and simply fantastic mural of Divisadero Street businesses by Brian Barneclo, with funkalicious browns and rust and aqua and celadon… so groovy. There are some personal touches, like tea towels instead of napkins, and your own pepper mill on the table, and a quirky non sequitur as well: the "amuse" of a split radish sent out with a pat of butter and salt. (Talk amongst yourselves. Discuss.) Overall, the space feels modern but warm, chic but unique. Personable yet spacious. Alive. Great tone.

Speaking of tone, some have complained about the deafening din at peak hours. I've been on a Sunday and a Monday, so I can't really testify. I'd imagine the upstairs mezzanine would be better if you're going to go at primetime and try to hear your dinner partner. Otherwise, consider going with loud friends whom you have no trouble hearing at bars and firing ranges.

Another big point: it's really a pleasure to walk into a place and have everyone be so damned nice. Warm staff, from the hostess to the bar to servers, outfitted in brown shirts. No shady hostess sneers, no "too cool to shake your drink" bartender 'tude, no stoner servers. So over all that—leave it to some of the brats working in boutiques! (Wait, I'm way over that as well.) The crowd is casual and easygoing, from hipsters to homos to German sandal-wearers to neighborhoodies to jeans-bar beeyotches. Hello, SF.

So, shall I stop pussyfooting around and get to the food already? Okay, let's do it. The menu is primarily Cal-Southern Med, and they have a commitment to using organic/sustainable ingredients (just so you know, because they don't name-check on the menu). My first visit was all about the burger ($12), which comes with a nice pile of fries, harissa aioli, and pickled onions. And watercress, hi! What an on-point peppery addition to a burger. But darn, the patty just wasn't very moist. Flavor was definitely good, but it wasn't that juicy dribbly beef deliciousness you want from a burger, which is why you ordered it in the first place. I found out they use grass-fed beef, which accounts for the leanness. But the beef being grass-fed isn't going to make me order it again, until they figure out how to juice-ify that thing. Maybe when tomatoes really come into season it will help as a garnish, but that still doesn't make it work in March.

My neighbors were kind enough to let me sample their "little fried fish" ($8), which were perfectly breaded, just crispy enough, and came with a romesco sauce. On my second visit, the anchovies (Yes, the little fried fish are chovies—fries with eyes! You eat them heads and all, scrumptious!) were noticeably bigger. Slightly flaccid. Not as fabulous. Chef said it's about what's available right now—when the little buggers are smaller, they fry better. We still cleared our plate.

The rather hefty portion of flatbread ($9) with sausage, broccoli di ciccio, and red onion didn't really come together for me. The flatbread itself had a nice crispness, but the broccoli was a little heavy in the olive oil and garlic department (and don't get me wrong, I'm half-Calabrese, so I tend to hang out in that department), and the pieces of pickled red onion scattered on top were cut a bit horsy, and were therefore too assertive. There were primarily the tastes of bitter and sour and the flatbread needed some salty/creamy to bring it together—there wasn't enough of the tasty sausage to lend a helping hand. Since the kitchen rotates the flatbread ingredients, I'm curious what the next one will be.

The fluffy baked goat cheese ($9) is built for sharing, with a pile of very crisp (and just a touch oily) crostini, plus a side of frisee and pickled beets. The kitchen definitely has a thing for pickling, which is cool. It's a nice old school touch. Loved the beets.

I won't go into the sturgeon ($19) since it's coming off the menu. Let's talk instead about the rotisserie chicken ($17). My friend spoiled me and served me the dark meat, but poor guy, he didn't realize how dry the white meat was going to be. Shoot. Chicken is such a pain that way. We all know this. I am confident the kitchen is gonna figure it out, because the flavor was outstanding, and the crispy skin from the twirl in the rotisserie was just killer. The accompanying spring greens had a lip-smacking dressing, made with sherry and muscatel vinegars, and some saucy dollops (with whole grain mustard) were dabbed on the plate. I've also heard nice things about the pork chop ($18), and the spicy lamb riblets app ($8). The prices are nice, huh? Seriously, not a single entrée is above $20. How refreshing.

The wines by the glass are also priced kindly and expertly chosen (thank you Mister Hanak), primarily focused on Old World wines, including a Carignan-Grenache Faugères 2003/Leon Barral ($8) which was delightfully ripe, with some nice tannins. I'll be back for more of that. Exciting list to navigate by the bottle, and priced so you can actually explore. Also a selection of ales, which will go well with the rustic food. Sidebar: loved the elegant flute my Cava came in. Sexy stemware.

Had an uplifting finale of strawberries (they are SO spectacularly in season right now) topped with a decadent Matter horn-sized dollop of zabaglione ($7), which wasn't totally impregnated with Marsala, yay. It really let the berries stand front and center, delicious. Chocolate ice cream with brandied cherries and almonds was also some quality product. My friends are raving about the doughnut holes with orange honey, but I was too full to go there.

So where does this leave us? Overall, the food features quality ingredients—it's quite apparent. And for that price point, they're really being generous. But the execution hasn't taken that step from good to really good. This is the kind of place that is gonna work it all out, though. There is too much love, sweat, care, and devotion to this restaurant for them to not only work it out, but to make it sing. The partners are Laurence Jossel, Jeff Hanak, and Allyson Woodman, all alums of Chow. And some may remember Jossel from Chez Nous. The sous chef is Marcella Lew, formerly from Andalu. It's a good team. They have turned this former Laundromat into a space that's really special, and it just needs a little finessing here and there. Before the Laundromat, it used to be a bank, and you know? I am willing to put my money there.

The phone lines are open at 2pm for same-day reservations (a la Chez Panisse). And yes, they are really truly open until 1am. Support them on that!

the socialite

Ferry Building
Photo courtesy of Ferry Building Marketplace

Lunch & Learn
July 11, August 15, September 19

Ferry Building Marketplace
San Francisco



JUNE 13, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Can't get up early enough for the "Meet the Farmer" and cooking demos at the Ferry Building Marketplace on Saturday morning? You are not alone. Those of you work near the FB will be pleased with the new ~LUNCH & LEARN~ program they are starting, to coincide with the seasonal Tuesday farmer's market. Here's the scoop:

CUESA, the nonprofit organization that sponsors the acclaimed Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, is partnering with the Dacor Showroom & Culinary Center to present a new series of tasty educational programs during three summer Tuesday farmers markets. Called Lunch & Learn, these lunch-hour classes will feature a demonstration of a different cooking technique by Dacor Chef Pamela Keith along with a delicious three-course lunch. Participants will also receive cooking tips and take-home recipes that celebrate the seasonal bounty of the farmers market. The registration fee is $25 per class or $65 for all three. Pre-registration is required, and class size will be limited to 20. Registration is available online at Programs will be in the Dacor Demonstration Kitchen located under the North Arcade outside along the front of the historic Ferry Building.

Tuesday, July 11, 12-12:55 pm. $25

Learn the techniques for successful pan-roasting and savor a delicious lunch. The menu includes: Camembert, Apricot, Basil and Candied Almond Phyllo Tartlettes; Prawn and Chicken Entrée Salad Mediterranean on Organic Greens, with Green Beans, Kalamata Olives, and a Lemon and Feta Cheese Vinaigrette; and Cherry and Nectarine Galette.

Tuesday, August 15, 12-12:55 pm, $25

Discover the secrets of sauté and enjoy a tasty lunch you'll be able to duplicate easily at home. The menu includes: Crispy Toast "Caprese" Croustades Filled with Sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Basil Pesto and Fresh Mozzarella; Balsamic-Glazed Chicken Breasts, with a Warm Spinach, Heirloom Tomato, and Olive Salad on Parmesan Pappardelle Pasta; Double Chocolate Kisses.

Tuesday, September 19, 12-12:55 pm, $25

Everything you need to know for great grilling along with a flavorful lunch. The menu includes: Sweet and Hot Spiced Rosemary Cashews; Cedar Planked Pink Peppercorn Salmon with Herbed Sugar Crust, Grilled Corn on the Cob and Salt-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes; Chocolate Truffle-Filled Almond Sandwich Cookies

the socialite

MAY 30, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO So here we go: a REAL star. Like real real. Like did she really uncross her legs and flash some real beaver real? Yes, la Sharon, as in la Stone, was seen at the Clift.

And since chefs are now considered stars, while I was dining at Coi last week (yes, review forthcoming) I espied Michael Mina and Charlie Palmer coming in for din din. I don't know what would make me more nervous, them, or a Michelin reviewer. Duh, the latter, but still. Jeez.