table of contents   This week's tablehopper: family dinner.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
the regular
it's about time we met
the socialite

the starlet
no photos please


NOVEMBER 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Oh joy, the rain is here. (Not.) Although I did enjoy having a big bowl of hot soup for lunch yesterday. Friday night a friend and I hit up the Wild Game Dinner at the Big Four at the Huntington—can you say crocodile tacos? Actually, the caribou is what really wowed me—amazing texture and flavor. Saturday was spent up at McEvoy Ranch (one of my favorite olive oils) for their annual harvest party—thrilled to have some olio nuovo to drizzle on my soft-boiled eggs in the coming weeks. Get it while you can—it's seriously liquid gold.

Small tech note: sorry to say, many of you folks on Comcast didn't get last week's newsletter due to hyper-vigilant spam blocking—you can catch up here.

Now excuse me if I'm a little foggy today—I was a judge at the monthly Monday Mixing Competition at Rye, and let's just say the sponsorship by Maker's Mark proved to be slightly dangerous, Monday night be damned.


the chatterbox

NOVEMBER 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO First it was Enrico's, and now another San Francisco landmark has closed its doors: ~THE MANDARIN RESTAURANT~ at Ghirardelli Square, founded by Cecilia Chang in 1968, served its last meal on Sunday night. The restaurant is being converted into the Fairmont Heritage Place at Ghirardelli Square, a private residence club. I spoke with Max Scheutz, the owner since 2002 who was really turning things around over there. He mentioned the landlord offered moving the restaurant to another floor, but they would have lost the inimitable style of the Mandarin's current location with the cathedral ceilings. He said it just wouldn't be the same, so Scheutz opted to close. It's another sad ending to a place that played an important part in San Francisco's restaurant landscape for almost 40 years.

SIDEBAR: For you jazz fans out there who were bummed by how quickly ~ENRICO'S~ closed, I thought you'd like to know about this Enrico's Reunion Night at Jazz at Pearl's, and it's free. It's this Wednesday, the 15th, and will feature two sets of music, starting at 8pm and 10pm, with doors opening at 7:30pm.

I was trucking around the city this Sunday on my bike (gotta work off all my meals, yo), and I went to check out a couple spots on 24th Street a tablehopper reader tipped me off about. The first is probably the cutest coffee shop, excuse me, coffee lounge, I have ever seen in the City. Just last week ~SUGARLUMP COFFEE LOUNGE~ opened in the former annex to the Keller paint store. It's like a cool-yet-cozy post-modern furnishing store you'd find in Silverlake in L.A. that happens to serve good coffee—it's full of groupings of eclectic and well-curated chairs and loveseats and retro lighting, plus a groovy freestanding fireplace, wood floors, chocolate brown walls, and plenty of folks tapping away on their iBooks on the vintage tables due to the free Wi-Fi. Oh, and good art. (Art shows will rotate every three months or so, and will feature local artists.) The friendly barista set me up with a shot of espresso—sugarlump has their very own house blend from a local roaster (and it's organic). The munchies menu is a little slim at the moment: bagels, sweet and savory pastries from Artisan, but YAY, there are meat or vegetarian pies from Mystipied that I seriously j'adore. (You gotta try one—you can thank me later.) The owners behind this darling project are Martin Rapalski from the Make-Out Room and the Latin American Club, and his long-standing friend and colleague, Jill Rosenthal. Nice work, you two. Open 6:30am-10pm Mon-Fri, and 7am-10pm Sat-Sun. 2862 24th St. between Bryant and Florida, 415-826-5867.

Just across the street and a couple doors down from Roosevelt's Tamale Parlor will be ~CHURROS Y CHOCOLATE~, a family-style space that will be serving up the namesake treat, plus perfect tortas, like the Cubano and Milanesa versions. Why perfect? Because the torta-maker is actually quite well known on 24th Street (I just can't say who it is yet). When is it opening? For now we have to wait for the health department and zoning permits to go through, hopefully before Christmas. The classic and retro/Euro-styled space features a long diner-style counter, with the original chairs from the historic Vanessi's that used to be on Broadway. There are also dramatic bronze and marble lamps from the old Harry Denton's on Steuart Street that date back to 1918, and even the dishes are authentic Buffalo China. There will also be a patio open in the back where you can sit and enjoy your churros that will be made fresh and on-premise. Open 5:30am-10pm (closing earlier on Sunday). 2817 24th St. between Bryant and York St.

Commercial Dungeness crab season officially kicks off tomorrow, November 15th, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The recently opened ~WOODHOUSE FISH COMPANY~ is celebrating by holding the first annual Dungeness Madness Crab Feed from Thursday November 16th through Saturday November 18th—expect some incredible deals on fresh local Dungeness crabs, cooked to eat in, or live to take out. 2073 Market at 14th St., 415-437-CRAB (2722).

Happy birthday ~SLOW CLUB~! It's turning 15, and to honor its quinceañera, they will be offering a complimentary glass of bubbly this week, on Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th.

It's official: ~SELLER'S MARKETS~ is opening its second location tomorrow (Wednesday the 15th), and will feature the largest outside dining patio in San Francisco. BLD will be served (that's breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with treats from the wood-burning pizza oven and rotisserie grill, plus there is an 'eco hip' wine list for you eco-hipster winos out there.

Looks like Joanna Karlinsky is no longer involved with ~THE ELITE CAFÉ~ in any capacity—her consulting role is no more… So now it's all about her biscuits.

Since the majority of you are as food obsessed as I am, here are a few tidbits about some other local publications with some good food coverage. Some of you know I write for the Northside paper, and this month is the annual Best of Food and Wine issue. Be sure to pick one up if you're over in that area—it's chock-full of good food features. And since 7x7 Magazine showed me some major love this year, I thought I'd point you to their first annual restaurant readers poll for their 2007 Eat + Drink Awards—nominate your favorite restaurants and get them some press!

the regular

Lichee Garden image

Lichee Garden
1416 Powell St.
Cross: Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133


Daily 7am-9:30pm

Apps $2.75-$11.50
Entrées $6.40-$24.50
Desserts $2.50-$5.95

NOVEMBER 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO I started a tradition with my friends a year or so ago called 'family dinner'—we get a group of 20 or so pals together and go hit some unusual restaurants around town (some highlights: an intriguing Shanghaiese dinner at Jai Yun, and a dumpling-fest at Taiwan on Clement). I was recently seeking a location for an affordable and authentic Chinese banquet dinner, and man did pal Patty Unterman hook me up with this one: ~LICHEE GARDEN~.

Lichee Garden is a long-respected Cantonese restaurant that has been in Chinatown for more than 20 years. The talented chef/owner Chak Siu is in the kitchen, and his wife Annie deals with the front of the house. I had once brought a hunky Italian here for his first experience with Chinese food (with all the noodles you'd think Italians would be more open-minded, but no) and another time for dinner with grandma, but I have never done the whole banquet thing. Release the squab!

I came into the restaurant to plan the menu a couple days in advance of the dinner, and noticed the restaurant was totally packed at lunch with folks chowing down on dim sum—note to self to return. The restaurant is spacious and clean—it has wood wainscoting, some Asian lithos and art on the walls, plus some plants here and there. The most compelling detail, however, is that everyone was really nice. Like, really nice. I told the manager, Danny, that I wanted the menu to clock in at $25-$30 per person, and did we ever plan a feast, jeez. I ordered a bunch of items that aren't on the menu, so be sure to ask questions about off-the-menu items if you're planning a dinner here. (Thanks for all the tips, Danny!)

The night of the dinner, we had two large round tables reserved with the requisite lazy Susan in the middle. And who was Susan? I'd like to thank her for inspiring such a brilliant invention, lazy or not. For you detail-oriented types: each of the larger group tables can seat 11, so plan accordingly. We also worked out a deal with the restaurant on corkage since it was an opportunity to bring some good wines, like some rieslings and gewürztraminers, plus some reds to boot (here are some of Eric Asimov's thoughts on pairing wine with Chinese food on his New York Times wine blog, The Pour). Rule #1 of family dinner: don't bring crappy wine.

One logistical thing: it was a little hard to keep the wines matched with the cavalcade of food that comes out. One minute you have a good pairing, and the next course, not so much. I say go for beer if you can't deal with it all.

Now, a caveat—this was more of an 'eat, drink, and be tipsy dinner' (each person brought a bottle of wine, you do the math) and less of a 'report the details later dinner' (my notebook stayed home that evening), so I'm just going to share some highlights. We commenced the feast (uh, yeah, 13 courses, coming up!) with the spicy salted squid dish, which was basically Chinese calamari. Fantastic crispy crust. Good heat. Munch munch. We then moved on to one of the house specialties, the minced squab in lettuce cups. Totally delish—the tender bits of squab are mixed in with water chestnuts and pine nuts too, which added texture and flavor. Oh, and for the record, our servers were totally plating each course for us—such fab service.

While rather impressive to look at, I don't think I'd order the whole winter melon soup again—it just didn't strike me as savory as the other dishes. It was one of the biggest melons I've ever seen, I have to give it that. (Some other folks at the table totally slurped the soup down, however.) If you want to try the soup, it does take at least 24 hours notice to order it.

Another dish that requires advance ordering is the stuffed chicken: this is a can't-miss specialty. Seriously—just get your act together and plan ahead so you can order it. The chicken arrived with a perfectly deep-fried and crispy crust, and was stuffed with sticky and moist fried rice studded with ham and scallion—it was quite sublime. The R&G Lounge does a stuffed chicken as well, but the flavor on this one impressed me more.

Another R&G classic we wanted to try here was the deep-fried spicy salted Dungeness crab. I couldn't believe the freshness of the crab—Lichee Garden seriously does it right. But you gotta dig in with gusto on this dish. Yes, your fingers become a greasy and smelly mess, and it's worth every bite. Don't forget about the 'butter' on the crab under its shell—deep-frying does mysterious, magical things to it. I'm coming back just to order crab for dinner one night. Along with a bottle of wine. Will it be weird if I show up with a baguette of some sourdough bread too? Hmmmm.

The house special pork chop was a big hit—chopped up pieces of pork (still on the bone) were shown some deep-fried love, and it came with a tangy vinegar sauce. Thumbs up, way up—even after most of us were waving the white flag, we were still nibbling on this one. We also ordered some classics like honey walnut prawns and Peking duck—total decadence.

My favorite, and a total surprise to me that it was, was the shrimp egg foo yung: a tender and rich medley of omelette and bean sprouts, with fresh shrimp inside. I wish I could have this for brunch—it was silky, and so very scrumptious. Purr.

We also munched our veggies, including some snappy asparagus in oyster sauce, and mustard greens with black mushrooms (I love the funkiness of those meaty mushrooms, other folks, not so much). By the time we made it to the Yang Chow fried rice (with egg, chicken, ham, shrimp, and other goodies) at the end, we were so done. It was like a food marathon, and we were hitting the wall.

We finished up with tapioca made with taro root—I fully had my hazards on by then. Everyone just took random bags of leftovers home—we had a lot. Too much. Next time I will definitely cut some courses out—it was an insane amount of food, but I'm happy to see we champed it as best we could. The servers were impressed. Yeah, if it's one thing you can say about my friends, it's that we don't mess around.

I know I already mentioned the service, but I'll say it again: it's some of the nicest service I have experienced in some time, and hello, this was in a Chinese restaurant. They totally made our group feel welcome and special, and were so very attentive and kind. Those of you freaking out about where to host your company holiday party, and want to try something a little different, this place is for you. Great for birthdays, or why not start your own 'family dinner' tradition with your friends? This will be a perfect place to kick it off, and be sure to tell them I sent ya—they'll take good care of you.

the starlet

Dine Around image

Dine Around
Wed., November 15, 2006

Various locations
San Francisco, CA

NOVEMBER 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO On Wednesday, November 15, it's your chance to dine out at some tasty local establishments in the Castro, Noe Valley, SOMA, and Mission, and whaddya know, it's for a good cause. For one day only, restaurants participating in ~DINE AROUND~ will donate 25% of their food and beverage receipts to help raise funds for two great charities: AIDS Emergency Fund and Breast Cancer Emergency Fund. Simply go out to lunch or dinner at any of the 25 neighborhood restaurants! Some examples of participating restaurants: La Ciccia, Destino, Chez Spencer, and Foreign Cinema.

William Cross image

Wines for Thanksgiving
Wed., November 15, 2006

William Cross Wine Merchants
2253 Polk St.
Cross: Green St.
San Francisco, CA 94109



flight $15

NOVEMBER 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Now this is a wine tasting that makes beautiful sense: Steven Sherman over at William Cross Wine Merchants is hosting the sixth annual ~WINES FOR THANKSGIVING~ tasting. Instead of just tasting some wines, there will actually be a 25-pound turkey on hand for munching while tasting the wines listed below. I love wine tastings here, turkey on hand or not—definitely worth checking out.

Here's more from Steven Sherman:

People often forget that a turkey is a game bird, therefore needing wines that have a bit more flavor and intensity, not to mention the accoutrements that surround the bird.

2005 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castello de Jesi di Jesi
2005 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Federspeil Steinterrassen Austria
2005 Grosjean Gamay Valle d'Aoste
2004 Chehalem 3 Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
2004 Casanova di Neri Rosso di Montalcino
2004 Yangarra GSM Cadenzia McLaren Vale

the starlet

NOVEMBER 14, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Tracy Chapman was spotted at CAV on Sunday celebrating at co-owner Pamela Busch's big birthday bash (what year it was, I won't tell).