table of contents   This week's tablehopper: bubbly and a bong load.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
new restaurant reviews
the wino
in vino veritas
the socialite
the starlet
no photos please


AUGUST 1, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Those of you who know me are well aware of the fact that I simply adore bubbly (I have my darling grandmother to thank for that prescient introduction many years ago). One of my favorite publicists, Roberta Klugman, says, "A day without Champagne is just stupid." (Amen.)

Friday, August 4 is National Champagne Day, and in honor of that dee-vine day (yes, I'll be bathing in it), I thought this was the perfect time to launch "the wino" section. This week we have a missive on champers from my first "wino" guest writer, Kim Beto. In coming months, "the wino" will feature guest writers from the industry, like local wine directors, somms, and bartenders, writing about their favorite booze, bubbles, and Barbarescos. Yes, your wine rack and liquor cabinet are about to get even fuller, and perhaps a bit more interessante.

Speaking of interesting, things got a little feisty in the blogosphere last week—you hardcore food media-consuming folks know exactly what I'm referring to. Moving on…

It's time to dig into this week's newsletter, got your fork? Last week I covered budget Vietnamese—this week we get a little more well-heeled and head to Bong Su in fresh meat.

In vino veritas, but in bubbles there is fun.

Ciao ciao!

the chatterbox

AUGUST 1, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Just after ~ROOSEVELT'S TAMALE PARLOR~ was lovingly restored and reopened, there are some changes to report. One of our local tamale queens, Karen Taylor, is no longer consulting with Roosevelt's—the commute from Sonoma was a long one, and she is going to keep her attention on her tamale business, Primavera. (So that accounts for the menu change that has happened over there the past couple weeks.) It also ends up the owner is selling the business due to a potential personal move to Los Angeles—so hello any up-and-coming chefs out there looking for a place to hang their tongs and call their own: this is a pretty sweet opportunity. The owner told me business is already going well, and it's a 15-year lease at a really good rate. Drop me a line if you're interested in learning more and I'll get you in touch with the owner.

Thanks to C.S. for the heads up: sadly, Kurt Abney of ~DOTTIE'S TRUE BLUE CAFÉ~ has abandoned his hopes of opening a second Dottie's in Hayes Valley (at 330 Fell St. near Gough) and is selling the location. We all have an extremely difficult neighbor to thank for making the permit process so difficult for this project that Abney realized it was always going to be an issue with this guy, so he decided to sell the space and move on. Here's hoping he finds another space soon, with some neighbors who have half a brain and would appreciate the wonderful baked goods and breakfasts and other edibles Abney is noted for. Abney promised he'd keep me posted—hopefully we'll hear about a new location soon. I'd like to vote for my neighborhood, please.

This is pretty quirky—but considering it's ~WINTERLAND~, I'd believe anything: despite the recent news of its closure, Winterland will remain open for private parties and for regular service one night per week, on Thursdays. The Thursday dinners are scheduled to begin on August 24. Kuh-razy, but just the kind of crazy I like. (Thanks L. for the great news!)

A tablehopper reader (thanks, another C.!) tipped me off to the news that ~NAAN N' CHUTNEY~ in the Haight is opening a second location: in the former Shan space in SoMa. The Baig family (two brothers and a sister) plan to open the first week of August, and will be offering casual lunch, but dinner will get a little more formal than their usual counter service—they'll actually be doing table service. Open nightly for dinner (subject to change—they have to see how it goes in SoMa), plus offering catering and delivery. No beer and wine, for now. 474 Third St. at Bryant St.

I got a call from Timothy Holt (the GM of Boogaloo's for ten-plus years) about ~WEIRD FISH~, the new place I mentioned last week and so I now have an opening date to report: they hope to open in mid to late September, yay. Oh, and about the name—it's not about fish tasting weird, because that would be, uh, weird. It's more about weird fish, like mermaids. Or perhaps Merman. Anyway, these guys are fired up to offer the best fish 'n' chips in town, and I look forward to holding them to it!

Some of you know I also write a monthly Tablehopper column for the Northside paper—in the May issue I mentioned a Japanese place opening in the old Market Place Cafe space on Lombard. I thought I should let you know that last week it opened as ~HIME RESTAURANT~, a word that means Japanese princess. The owner is Eiichi Mochizuki, who also owns SHABUWAY in San Mateo and in Mountain View. While there won't be shabu shabu, there will be a number of Japanese appetizers, both hot and cold, plus top-notch sushi, all prepared by his three Japanese chefs. The space is pretty sexy and slick, and is designed to look like a geisha's house—think traditional Japanese wood elements and bamboo, plus a large Buddha presiding over the full bar. Open Tue-Sun 5:30pm-10pm, until midnight Fri-Sat, closed Monday. 2353 Lombard St. at Scott St., 415-931-7900.

I was reading some food blogs this weekend and Becks & Posh drank some organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wine on the opening night of a new wine bar in the Dogpatch neighborhood called ~YIELD WINE BAR~, on Third Street. Sounds cool! Wine bars, everywhere, I swear!

I mentioned a couple months back that Straits Restaurant on Geary was turning into a Spanish tapas restaurant—looks like they decided on the name ~SPANISH FLY~, and it should be open by August 21 or so! 3300 Geary Blvd. at Parker St.

Here's a place that really pulled on my heartstrings, and it's not just because it's a deli. (I love me some cold cuts.) Opening VERY soon in the heart of the TL, and close to the Civic Center, will be ~MORTY'S DELICATESSEN~, a project from Tim Brown and Doug Sonn. Brown was formerly a Sous Chef at Andalu and the Executive Chef at The Last Supper Club, while Sonn has prior management experience at Hyatt and Four Seasons hotels. They both have met through working at St. Anthony's dining room—Sonn has been involved at the St. Anthony's Foundation for over four years, acting as the job training coordinator, and Brown has been in the kitchen. At Morty's, they plan on offering some employment opportunities to those who have completed the six-month work program at St. Anthony's, helping to build confidence and a positive attitude amongst some folks who haven't received a paycheck, or a chance, in some time. Sonn expressed this is different from the work at Delancey Street Foundation—opening Morty's is a chance to meld the work they have been doing at St. Anthony's, but they’re also doing it because these two former New Yorkers wanted to create a good spot for sandwiches in a neighborhood where there is literally a dearth of places to have lunch. The space was formerly Amy's Café, and will have 35 seats and an original mural from local artist Frieda Maletsky.

Now, to the menu! My personal favorite, the "Stu Gotz," (LOL!) comes with hand-sliced liverwurst, Muenster cheese, roasted onions, and whole-grain mustard, while the "Golden Gate Club" will come with roast turkey, prosciutto, provolone, avocado, and sun-dried tomatoes. There will also be salads and soups too—they are really passionate about using quality ingredients. I commend these guys for working with the community instead of just complaining about it—looking forward to supporting them in their venture. They will also have catering, and will potentially serve beer and wine down the road. Open Mon-Sat 8am-7pm. 280 Golden Gate Ave. at Hyde St., 415-567-3354.

the regular

Bong Su image

Bong Su
311 3rd St.
Cross: Folsom St.
San Francisco, CA 94107


Dinner nightly 5:30pm-10pm
Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm

Apps $7-$13
Soup/Salads $11-$16
Entrées $17-$26
Dessert $8-$10

AUGUST 1, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO San Francisco continues to generate restaurants featuring higher-end interpretations of otherwise inexpensive ethnic cuisines—Mamacita is a far cry from the Tamale Lady, Shanghai 1930 and Shanghai Restaurant are two very different animals, Prana is opening soon and DOSA is, well, we don't have any other South Indian joints in the city yet, so DOSA stands alone. When Slanted Door first opened many moons ago on Valencia Street, I don't think many folks would have believed it would morph into the iconic San Franciscan culinary destination/ever-growing empire it is now.

People (well, most) stopped complaining about the price difference between Slanted Door's spring rolls versus how much you would pay at your neighborhood Vietnamese joint (for the record, it's about a two-to-one ratio) because they eventually came to realize it's a completely different experience—and you don't get to order from a list of ten different Rieslings at your neighborhood haunt, either.

The latest higher-end Vietnamese restaurant in town, ~BONG SU~, has been generating some comparisons to Slanted Door, and while they both have some European whites on their wine list, I think they are very different restaurants. Some dishes at Bong Su strike me as more exotic or even decadent than what you would find on Slanted Door's menu, but they do share a number of classics, like shaking beef, clay pot dishes, and papaya salad. Bong Su has more of a loungey vibe, while Slanted Door is what I like to call "natural modern," with Heath ceramics and wood tables. There are other differences as well, like the regions of Vietnam they each represent on their menus (Bong Su denotes North, Central, or South for each dish). Slanted Door has an apparent focus on using organic and sustainable producers, which really comes across in how "clean" the food always tastes to me. And yes, Bong Su's wispy hostess ensembles have everyone talking. In the end, it's like comparing Tres Agaves to Mamacita—they are both serving upscale Mexican food and margaritas, but why compare them? They have different perspectives and offer different experiences. Did anyone compare Pearl Jam and Nirvana, even though they were both grunge? Anyway.

Bong Su is the second restaurant for Anne Le and Tammy Huynh (who is also the Executive Chef); they both own the popular Tamarine in Palo Alto. Along with Engstrom Design Group, they definitely have an eye for style and details, which you'll notice at every turn. The space underwent a massive facelift after its previous incarnation as a Max's Diner—Cher would approve. She would also approve of the extra-slinky backless ensembles the hostesses wear, and most guys will give the thumbs-up as well. Let's just say no one with any love handles will ever be hired as a hostess at Bong Su. (The men's bathrooms also conveniently have a primer on pick-up lines in Vietnamese playing in the background—give it your best shot, guys.)

The lounge is moody, with high tables for walk-ins, and a bar that has a lit-up lower section that feels somewhat Blade Runner, while the main bar is tiled in dark chocolate tiles—almost like a massive Hershey bar. The main dining room is a narrow shotgun space with banquette seating flanking the wall, and a long communal table with glowing lights of grass cloth and sheer fabric hanging from above. Since it's not one big square room, the volume never reaches a horrible din. There are also some large sandstone deities, draped panels of gauzy fabric hanging from the low ceiling of café au lait tiles, and pearlescent chairs. Overall, the room has a subdued and minimalist visual tone.

The menu arrives in a luxe burgundy and gold holder, hinting at some of the indulgences to come. Overall, the apps are well designed for sharing (unlike some other places in town that claim to be shared plates but really don't get it). Bundles of shredded five-spice duck ($9) are charmingly wrapped in mustard leaves with mango and cucumber tucked inside, accompanied by a hoisin/plum/sriracha dipping sauce—the flavors were familiar, but the presentation was delicate and refreshing. Our server steered us toward the goi kampachi ($13), sashimi-style slices of Kona Kampachi (sidebar: did you know this fish is trademarked?) topped with jalapeño, frizzled shallot, and a drizzle of a chili-lime-yuzu fish sauce—it was a fine presentation, but didn't quite get me fired up, despite the presence of chili and jalapeño.

Personally, the dish that totally mind-erased me and made me its love slave (I felt like Katie Holmes) was the shrimp cupcakes ($9)—little rice flour crisps filled with a heavenly concoction of coconut milk, scallion oil, prawns, and then topped with ground prawn flour the color of bright egg yolks. You pour a small amount of the blended fish sauce (fish sauce, vinegar, chili, sugar) into the cupcake and then take a bite—it's a total mess to eat in two bites, but a monster to pop into your mouth all at once. (Some of you futomaki munchers out there shouldn't have a problem.) Just pick it up, and have at it, however you can manage. The textures were so satisfying, from the crispy exterior to the custardy interior, and the bright flavors delivered a full flavor spectrum—loved the full shrimpy factor. Woo hoo, the portion brings six cupcakes. You will fully commit. You just might get pregnant.

I had to check out their execution of bun cha noodles ($14)—what arrives is a dark glossy ceramic bowl of grilled pork shoulder with excellent grilled flavor, and a tangle of vermicelli noodles that weren't pre-cut into the traditional little piles that make the subsequent placement into the tender lettuce leaves easier to manage. I guess this is where tradition gets off, and the "new interpretation" part kicks in. Interestingly, the fish sauce actually rests under the pork in case you were looking for your dipping sauce—you won't end up dipping your roll into a separate bowl. The accompanying purple perilla mint (similar to Japanese shiso) had a fab freshness, which I haven't had in many neighborhood Vietnamese joints around town, that's for sure.

The entrées ramp up in price, and in the dishes we tried, the portions weren't exactly built for sharing between more than two people. Most of the entrées hover around $24, which makes me wish I knew the provenance of the ingredients—very few of the meats are name-checked, which makes me wonder whether the chicken is organic or not. Exotic ingredients, like sautéed chive flowers, lily buds, and string yams make special appearances on the menu.

The caramelized black cod ($19) was silky and sweet, with flavors of garlic and molasses all coming together into potent and peppery bites of the tender fish. But the portion was barely enough for two to share—if there was one more person at the table, there would have been a fight; I'm talking Jets and Sharks.

The shaking beef ($23) had some of the most tender cubes of beef tenderloin I've had in some time, marinated in soy sauce, garlic, sugar, black pepper, and soybean oil. They were exquisite and juicy, and it was enough to forgive their lukewarm "I've been resting" temp, but sadly, the hunks of sharp onion were so horsey they overwhelmed the dish if you took a bite of both. I'm curious to see if this dish will evolve a little.

One feature vegetarians will like is the menu highlights numerous dishes that can be morphed into vegetarian options—even the shrimp cakes! It becomes an extremely vegetarian-friendly menu—there are 18 different potential vegetarian dishes total. Interestingly, there are also six different rice options, from a coconut and vanilla option ($2) to the empress rice ($7), three mounds of garlic, ginger, and leek-seasoned rice with a runny quail egg perched on top of each.

Before sliding into dessert, we were served a palate-cleanser of hot lotus root tea and a candied lotus seed that you pop into your mouth before you drink the tea. Thoughtful detail. Desserts from Clara Yun include a number of refreshing ingredients, like the coconut tapioca ($8) with roasted pineapple, mango sorbet, and basil syrup (not just for pesto anymore). But I am sure the hit will be the black sesame banana beignets ($10), piping hot fritters with two dipping sauces of Valhrona chocolate and crème anglaise, plus a side of uncommon black sesame ice cream that I really liked. Kind of a dusky flavor. A kid would probably dump both the sauces over the beignets, and the ice cream too, and then tuck into beignet island. Don't think it didn't cross my mind.

The bill arrives in a lacquer box, with plumeria flowers for any ladies at the table. Why plumeria? Because that's what bong su means, darlings. (You thought it was because we were in pot-friendly San Francisco, but no.) Will that bill be a little more than you were expecting? Maybe, if you're comparing it to an ethnic night out somewhere—but if you think of it as a night out at any other hip restaurant in the City, it should feel familiar.

NOTE: SoMa workers should know that Bong Su is open for lunch, and has a killer lunch special: for $17, there's the "Power Lunch," a two-course meal that is designed to get you out of there in under an hour, and includes the shrimp cupcakes, huzzah. There's also a happy hour from 4pm-6:30pm, with half-off starters in the lounge. Again, think of those shrimp cupcakes. The cocktails are pretty delish (and boozy)—check out the Earl Grey Boxcar or the Cool-Cumber. Oh, and did I mention the shrimp cupcakes?

the lush
Kim Beto
Photo from Vintrust

AUGUST 1, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Kim Beto is known by numerous industry folk for his dynamic and inspired work with Southern Wine & Spirits, but prior to working with Southern, he was the Director of Beverage for the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Many also know him from his days as the Wine Director and GM at Postrio, and prior to that, he was at his restaurant, 231 Ellsworth.

Whenever I suggest a glass of Champagne to my friends or guests, the first thing I usually hear is, "What are we celebrating?" But my feeling is that one does not necessarily need a reason to drink bubbles. Who said is has to be a birthday or an anniversary?

I drink Champagne because of the millions of bubbles, the beautiful texture, the amazing aromas and aaaaaah, that long vibrating finish. Nothing quite like it. Champagne tends to change the look on people's faces and maybe even their attitude at times.

Americans only drink a half a glass per person, per year! Even the small country I come from, Sweden, out-drinks the U.S. So we need to change this attitude that Champagne is only an occasion-oriented drink.

All restaurants have multiple choices by the glass now, maybe including a rose (which is not sweet, by the way), and sometimes even a "Tête de Cuvée," such as Dom Perignon, if you care to splurge. Another great way to start a meal is by sharing a half bottle. Today you can even drink a Pommery "Pop" with a straw or a sweeter dessert wine style like Moët & Chandon's "Nectar Imperial." There are all kinds of styles, sizes and flavors—and you only get to know them by trying them!

Champagne is also a perfect "food wine" because of its high acidity, and is a perfect pairing for Chinese, Thai, Indian or Japanese. Next time you have Chicken Tikka, try a sip of Gosset Brut Excellence, NV, which is bright and fresh with brioche and apple notes. Gosset is the oldest Champagne house, since 1584! (You can also get it for $26.99 at K&L.)

Rose Champagne is very trendy, and who can blame that super trendy pink drinker? Not only does it look cool, but Rose Champagne is generally more complex and has a bit more body. Real Champagne purists have it with their meat course. While visiting the Champagne region, when I asked for red wine with my "Filet au Poivre," I was served Dom Perignon Rose, like it was an everyday occurrence. Since I am not very hip, I acted like it was not a very big deal, but my brain was saying RIGHT ON! Laurent Perrier makes a stellar and hard-to-get rose in my opinion. Excellent combination of super crisp acidity, deep mouth-feel with full body and ripe raspberry (around $55 retail).

Ever since the first time I ever drank Krug Champagne, it has been my absolute favorite. I admit it: I am totally enamored by this Champagne house and their passion for excellence. 1979 Krug in Magnum! Forget about it! If you can still find it, '90 Krug was one of the best wines I have tasted in recent years. What I call a "sick wine!" A wine that brings you an immediate smile and the flavors hit you from all angles and mostly hits your soul. Very high-end and blows "Cristal" away big time!

I can't believe I am telling all of you, since I want this to be my secret—the last thing I want is this gem to go up in price. "No Krug, no thanks" is their slogan, and I agree. You can find Krug Grande Cuvee, MV for about $120 and '95 Krug at $160 (98 points) in the market at your finest retail shops. Try the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

I don't feel we need a reason to drink Champagne; I say, "be fabulous" and enjoy some today!

~Kim Beto
VP at Southern Wine and Spirits
Host of Wine TV

the socialite

Caren Alpert photo
photo by Caren Alpert

Food photography seminar
August 4
Apple Store
1 Stockton St.
Cross: Market St.


AUGUST 1, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Fellow food snap-shooters (or ahem, photographers): you might dig this free seminar at the Apple Store this Friday. San Francisco photographer ~Caren Alpert~ is hosting an in-store demo on food photography, how helpful. Working with Basil Friedman, one of her favorite food stylists, she shows how cookbooks, magazine recipes, and food advertisements are executed. This could turn into a food blogger melee.

the starlet

AUGUST 1, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, things were just on fire in the starlet department, like, yo, like real stars?!

Nelly Furtado was seen at Asia de Cuba, and Lauryn Hill was at the Redwood Room. Then we have Lionel Richie who played a private party at the Clift Hotel for a birthday, and Nicole Richie was there, but left to go to a private party at the W hotel. Gillian Anderson was also seen at the Clift a couple weeks ago. But this one made me laugh the hardest: Hulk Hogan and his daughter were totally mobbed by paparazzi and fans in front of the Clift Hotel last week. I know, really.

LL Cool J was also seen being mobbed by paparazzi near Union Square a couple of weeks back near the Cheesecake Factory.

Some Todd chefs have been bopping around town, including Todd Humphries at A16, and Todd English was seen at the Grand Cafe having drinks.

I know this isn't a restaurant, but what the hell: Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were at the Red Devil Lounge last week to see Animotion, and Jurassic 5 showed up after their show at the Fillmore Saturday night at Temple's GenArt event.

Since I'm on a roll with breaking my own starlet rules, I thought I'd include this one too. I told myself I would never include Gavin sightings in this column, but this one was too good to pass up: Gavin Newsom reportedly got a wee bit tipsy at Liverpool Lil's (he wouldn't be the first) and was playing the accordion, and then went around to different tables jokingly asking for donations for his musical abilities. (That is pretty damned funny.)