table of contents   This week's tablehopper: bourbon and bites.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
new restaurant reviews
the lush
put it on my tab
the socialite
the starlet
no photos please

the sponsor
this round is on me


JANUARY 23, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay gang—brace yourselves. Your faithful tablehopper is leaving for vacation next Tuesday, for three weeks. I'm off to launch my own personal "Operation Down Under," heading to Melbourne (where sis is living), Sydney (where best friend is living), and the outback. (And yes, it's summer there, it's all so utterly hateful of me.)

What this means is next Tuesday will be your last 'hopper for three weeks (until February 27th). Sorry to go dark on ya, but I am literally going OFF THE GRID, as in no computer, no emailing, no cellie, nada! I need a break from all the technology. So friends and colleagues, plllllllease don't email me and expect an answer until I get home in late Feb.—the last thing I need is 3,000 emails when I come home, which according to my calculations, is about what I'd rack up. And yes, I'll be doing a big write-up of my Aussie adventures (well, the ones I can print) once I return.

Here's how I am totally spoiled: a few days after I get home, I'll be hopping down to the Masters of Food & Wine in Carmel to check out a couple events which look pretty darned amazing. It should help with my assimilation back to "real" life. (Ha ha!) All I can say is if you are looking for something groovy to do for Valentine's Day, maybe save your pennies and wait to go to this lunch instead on the 23rd with with your sweetie. Yeah, Grant Achatz and Wylie Dufresne are in the line-up. (Or how about dinner with folks like Daniel Humm and Douglas Keane?) You can freak out on all the chef and wine events here. I did.

Enough from me, let's rock.

the chatterbox
JANUARY 23, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO First off, I just wanted to let you know last week's benefit for ~LANCE BELL~ raised a little over $10k for him, so that's great news—cheers to everyone who helped out.

So I spent all day Sunday checking out the ~NASFT FANCY FOOD SHOW~ at Moscone. I had to give myself a serious strategic talk before I went in there: I told myself only the obscure, the artisanal, and most definitely the European were fair game for tasting. It's all pretty mind-boggling: both the North and South halls are jammed with food products from all over the world, with everyone wanting you to try their wares. (I made sure to eat a good breakfast beforehand so I'd only taste what I really was intrigued with).

I swear, the market is just flooded with sauces, olive oil, and tea. (If you have an idea for any of those categories, I'd reconsider.) I'm glad I don't have a sweet tooth, because I was able to bypass a ton of stuff without a hint of remorse. It was almost kismet to run into Steffan Terje from Perbacco at the Fra Mani/Cheeseworks table—of course we were both reaching for the mortadella. (Cheers.) I met some Italians from Sardegna and Sicilia—it was great to chew the fat with them while chewing some fat, or cheese.

Some items that stood out:

• The Armenian products from Sylvia of Harvest Song blew me away, specifically the baby walnut (!!), apricot, and her tea rose petal preserves. Would love to sit back with a chunk of cheese and an array of her products.

• Thought my vegan pals would dig the vegan vegetable terrine from Trois Petits Cochons —I was also thrilled to discover their perfect cornichons that weren't overloaded in vinegar.

• Was cool to see so many of the canned seafood options from sustainable fisheries.

• The moist and washed curd extra-sharp "country store" cheese from Yancey's Fancy in New York was some juicy, tangy cheese.

• Got to do some side-by-side pimentón de la Vera sampling, with bright flavors that matched their incredible hues of brick red (I put this stuff on my eggs all the time)—found two of the brands online here—also tried some "mojoma" (salted and cured tuna that comes in a big hunk that you can slice).

• The coconut water and the brand-new açaí drink from O.N.E. totally invigorated me halfway through the event—I am so bringing these to Burning Man this year.

• Loved the calcium-rich and minerally water from Contrex, but was terrified by the tampon-esque packaging—no joke, the label has a heart and a pink cap. See for yourself on the site.

• The mysterious Yumberry juice was interesting—too bad the language barrier at the booth kept me from learning more.

• The wasabeans and means beans from rick's picks were feisty.

• Hanging out with some Spaniards, I enjoyed trying Avruga, a smoky caviar substitute that is made from the roe of herring off the coast of Spain, and tasting the whole Ortiz line of tuna and anchovies. Yum, fishies! Hello, cute Basque man feeding me anchovies! Meow.

• Of course I had to hang out with the Aussies—had a pleasant bite of summer with the semi-dried tomatoes from the Australian Antipasto Co.—the grilled pumpkin was kicky too.

• Yo, go Chile! The preserved carica from Tamaya Gourmet I tasted was begging to be on my Straus yogurt this morning. It was like an interesting cross between a firm canned peach, with some pear mildness and mango coloring, without being cloyingly sweet. Great texture.

• The folks from Mt. Vikos created this very unusual sweet olive jam that was swell with their feta, especially the basket feta. I also lost it over the Ines Rosales handmade sweet olive oil tortas from Spain—I've seen these before at Whole Foods, but now I know to buy these sweet/savory cracker-like rounds. Crispy, sweet, salty, with hints of anise and sesame. Hold me. My favorite edible of the show.

If Alka-Seltzer was smart, they would be out front handing out tablets at the end of event. (Although I prefer Brioschi for such matters—the Italians know a thing or two about indigestion.) It's downright wicked what you subject your palate and stomach to at this show; one minute you're eating cheese, then trying hot chocolate, then eating olives, then some genmaicha tea. Like, ick.

So, a few openings to report: Sharon Ardiana's homey pizzeria, ~GIALINA~, opened yesterday for dinner service out in Glen Park, just across from the BART station. On the menu are Neapolitan pies, antipasti, and special roasts and a fish of the day, plus ricotta cheesecake and her kooky hazelnut dessert pizza. Open nightly, Mon-Thu from 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat until 11pm, and Sun 4pm-10pm. (The restaurant will begin serving lunch in spring.) 2842 Diamond St. at Kern Alley, 415-239-8500.

~ESSENCIA~, the Nuevo/contemporary Peruvian restaurant from Anne Gingrass and partners in Hayes Valley is not opening until February 14, when they will open for lunch and dinner, Mon-Sat. Michael Bussinger is the opening chef. 401 Gough St. at Hayes St., 415-552-8485.

~BITE~ in the Tenderloin's Crash Nightclub has also been delayed until mid or late Feb. 34 Mason St. at Turk St., 415-EXC-ITED.

It seems ~LITTLE JOE'S~ on Van Ness has closed—the building was sold, condos are coming. We'll see if Franco manages to find yet another location to serve his carbonara. 2550 Van Ness Ave.

fresh meat

The Alembic

The Alembic
1725 Haight St.
Cross: Cole St.
San Francisco, CA 94117


Daily 4pm-2am
Kitchen closes at 12am
Lunch Sat-Sun 12pm-4pm

Apps $5-$9
Small plates $6-$15
Desserts $7

JANUARY 23, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO I stopped eating in the Upper Haight a long time ago—my twenties ended, and so that was it. Meeting up with friends at Cha Cha Cha, Kan Zaman, and El Balazo (man, can their staff be icy—I had to boycott them years ago) went the way of Bruno at Aub Zam Zam (rest in peace, old guy—SF's original martini Nazi). Yes, the food at Magnolia can offer a safe haven, and breakfast at the Pork Store can function like a SWAT team on your hangover, but otherwise, the only thing that could get me to saddle up and head on over to this neck of the panhandling trustafarian woods would be the promise of bourbon and some bites at ~THE ALEMBIC~.

The Alembic is a second project for Dave McLean, who is the kind owner behind Magnolia Pub and Brewery just down the street at Masonic—he also brought on Chef Eddie Blyden to oversee both kitchens (Blyden was formerly at 21st Amendment and Sneaky Tiki). Eddie is one friendly chef—he likes to say hi and hang out with his customers (this man needs an exhibition kitchen!), and since he's lived all over the world, he always has some good stories.

I also think Eddie is hell-bent on getting you fat since the menu is an unabashed paean to cheese and pork (bacon, pork belly, you get the picture). Or perhaps he just has your best interests at heart, because he knows you'll be in need of some fat molecules in your system to counterbalance the booze you are about to consume.

Not just any booze, mind you: small-batch, artisanal, crafted booze. Hello bourbon. Yes, whiskey, I am winking at you. Hey, it's time for a cocktail. Take your pick from classics like old-fashioneds and sazeracs and Manhattans, or "new school" numbers, like a redux of the daiquiri, the mint julep, and then there's "the bone," reportedly a turn-of-the-century gambler's drink. (All are $9.) Like Bourbon & Branch, this is not the place to order a cosmo.

Suds are well represented, including some of Magnolia's brews on tap, some independent Cali breweries, and bottled Belgians. Plus a pleasing selection of wines by the glass for those who prefer the grape. And there's also sake. Oh heck, if there's something you like to drink you'll probably find it here. (Unless it's Budweiser, then they simply can't help you.)

The joint is small: the bar has room for ten or so, and there's also a bar rail up against the wall where you can sit, plus some tables in the front and back of the space. It used to be Sweet Heat and then Maroc, so for those of you who remember, yes, the place is petite. Think boîte. Don't come here with a pile of friends because you'll just get frustrated, which is not the idea. This place is about hanging out. The bartenders are happy to educate, and however long your cash (or liver) can sustain you, you'll want to kick it at the bar and continue earning credits toward your alcohol higher education.

Some highlights on the Southern-gastropub small plates menu: the jerk-lacquered chicken wings ($9) come in a pile (like six or seven), and pack some kick, almost like they're a little mad at you. Which is where the cool yogurt dipping sauce comes in. The tender lamb sliders ($10) with harissa aioli and tapenade are quite tasty—my sole regret about them is you only get two. (Some guys might also say this about breasts.)

Meanwhile, the spaetzle ($13) comes loaded with braised rabbit, Hobbs' bacon, corn, and while a bit under-salted on two visits, it's a hearty serving that's good enough for three to share. (Unless you're a big starving drunk boy who is totally hangry.)

You ready to turn that richness dial to 11? Let's do it. How about barbecued pork belly and deviled duck eggs nestled in a bath of grits ($15)? The temp on this (rather messy) dish wasn't quite hot enough despite the presentation in the Staub cast iron dish, and I actually wanted the eggs to be runny instead of deviled, but it still has appeal in its own funky little way.

Lancaster County "Cheesesteak" ($15) shows Blyden at his most sinister: oxtails are slow-braised in porter and burgundy, and served up as a two-cheese Welsh rarebit (with cheddar and Gruyere), plus thick-cut toast to sop it all up. Mwah hah hah! Pure evil.

Eddie is committed to the local/sustainable/organic trinity, so yes, the price-points are a little more than some will want to spend on small plates, especially any post-millennial hippies. Vegetarians can take their pick from goat cheese fritters ($9) to start, plus a vegetable "stack" ($9/sporting more goat cheese), and a cassoulet ($13) made with vegetables instead of the classic meat-fest. Stewed mixed greens ($6) tasted a little thin and not gutsy enough—perhaps the Niman bacon is what they needed.

I haven't made it in for the lunch/brunch service on the weekend (12pm-4pm), but the list of "prosecco pick-me-ups" (try all four, I will!) and seeing a Ramos gin fizz on there make me happy. Also seeing Daniel/Danny/Dan Hyatt (whatever you personally call him) behind the bar makes me happy too—he was formerly at Winterland, where came up with the best drink names ever, like "I Lost My Necktie." Yes, he understands.

The space has an old school and almost East Coast vibe (pressed tin ceiling, wood floors made from reclaimed food from a barn in Pennsylvania, mustard walls, suspended Edison light bulbs over the bar) and there are also some thoughtful touches, like hooks under the bar (bless), super-padded barstools for your bum, and individual hand towels (yes, real towels) in the bathroom. I love the late-night hours—it's a cozy and cool spot to hang out at after 10pm, when you just might get lucky and score a couple seats at the bar.

A small point of trivia about the bar: it's actually made from bleachers from Kezar Stadium. Oh, and trivia point number two: if you are wondering what the hell an alembic is, it's the original distilling apparatus that dates back to Persia from 800 or so—some small-batch distillers use one to this day. Feel free to impress a date with these random factoids, you can thank me later.

At the end of the night, when it's no longer allowable to serve you anything, the bartender will lower the massive chalkboard that lists all the spirits (it's rigged up with wheels and a line)—it then obscures the beautiful glimmering shelves o' spirits, like the curtain dropping at the end of a performance. Clap clap!

the sponsor

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Attend our sinful Valentine's party at 111 Minna Gallery on Thursday, February 8 by RSVPing here. (And because we love you, it's free!)

the lush


85 Campton Place
Cross: Stockton St.
San Francisco, CA 94108


Tue-Sun 4pm-2am

JANUARY 23, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, I have known about this joint for so long it was getting ridiculous. And then they didn't want me to write about it. For months. But now that it's getting close to the opening date, the Iron Curtain has dropped. Since some of you are curious about ~VESSEL~, the word on the street is they are opening February 8. (This could change, like many opening dates do.)

This boutique lounge is tucked away in Union Square, just across from Campton Place, and occupies 4,500 square feet of subterranean space beneath Giorgio Armani and Niketown. As the press release touts, "Vessel has been grandly envisioned and meticulously planned to take its place as a catalyst of San Francisco's new luxury nightlife scene." The release also contains terms like "ultra-premium nightlife." The in-house team includes servers, a concierge, maître d', special event planners, and valets. (If they're not careful, that scene can quickly morph into one that's just bottle service and boobs.)

This is the first West Coast project for fab Frenchie designer Stephane Dupoux, behind New York's Buddha Bar and Cielo, and South Beach's Nikki Beach. The swank space is tricked out with warm tones of red and amber, with Italian leather banquettes, teak tables, an exposed brick wall with a provenance that dates back to pre-1906, and a canopy of a distinctive replica tree and 18-foot ceilings (so don't let the subterranean factor make you feel claustrophobic—it's definitely not a bunker).

Vessel has capacity (ha ha) for 299 guests, with communal-style seating in the banquette areas. It's not just cocktails; there is also a wine list and gourmet hors d'oeuvres made with organic ingredients. From 4pm-10pm, Vessel is designed to be a pre-dinner, post-work, post-shopping refuge, and then the nightlife and dancing scene kicks in from 10pm-2am.

And yes, there will be dancing, with a raised stage that will host international DJs and live musicians for an eclectic music program of acoustic, lounge, house, and underground hip-hop formats. Strike a pose.

Partners are Sunwoo Hwang, founder of NNOO Production LLC, a Bay Area boutique nightlife consulting and promotions firm, with clients like W San Francisco, Supperclub, and Bacardi USA; and Philippe Rieser, who is also owner of New York's Cielo.

the socialite

Wine and Wishes

Wine and Wishes 2007
Sat., Feb. 3, 2007

Treasure Island
Building 180
San Francisco, CA


buy tickets

$135 for tablehopper readers

JANUARY 23, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO ~WINE AND WISHES~, the annual food and wine event to benefit the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation is coming up, and tablehopper readers get a special discount. Tickets are normally $150 each, but enter the discount code "treasure" for a ticket at $135 per person. Good people, good cause, good food. And one of my favorite pastry chefs, William Werner, is in the line-up, lucky you. Plus something like 60 restaurants for nibbles before dinner.

Here are the dinner chefs:

Bart Hosmer, Parcel 104, Santa Clara–first course
Quentin Topping, Tanglewood, San Jose–second course
Roland Passot, La Folie, San Francisco–third course
Xavier Salomon and Pastry Chef William Werner, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay–dessert

More on the event: one of Treasure Island's massive hangers is transformed with magical lighting and special effects into an elegant venue to taste the best of the Bay Area. Over 60 restaurants and wineries will offer signature hors d'oeuvres and wine samplings. Guests will have the opportunity to bid on exciting auction lots, mingle, and listen to music by a local DJ.


Absinthe Brasserie & Bar Champagne and Oyster Event
Mon., February 12, 2007

398 Hayes St.
Cross: Gough St.
San Francisco, CA 94102



$70 per person

RSVP to Vanessa Harris at 415-551-1453, or email her at vharris [at] absinthe [dot] com

JANUARY 23, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, this event got cancelled (due to holiday mayhem) but now it's back. Whaddya know, I'll be gone. Drat! Anyway, here's the word: two of my faves, oysters and bubbly will be in full effect at ~ABSINTHE BRASSERIE AND BAR'S FIRST ANNUAL CHAMPAGNE AND OYSTER EVENT~. A selection of hors d'oeuvres will be passed and Hog Island Oyster Company will be on hand to shuck.

Over forty wines will be featured from the best producers in Champagne, including: A. Margaine ~ Besserat de Bellefon ~ Bollinger ~ Bruno Paillard ~ Charles Heidsieck ~ Chartogne-Taillet ~ Deutz ~ Dom Perignon ~ Gaston Chiquet ~ Gosset ~ Henriot ~ Krug ~ Laurent Perrier ~ Louis Roederer ~ Moet & Chandon ~ Nicolas Feuillatte ~ Palmes d'Or ~ Perrier Jouet ~ Pierre Peters ~ Piper Heidsieck ~ Pol Roger ~ Ruinart ~ Veuve Clicquot ~ Vilmart & Cie

10% of proceeds will be donated to San Francisco's Save the Bay.

the starlet

JANUARY 23, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO Over at Scala's Bistro, Charles Spencer, the brother of the late Princess Diana, was spotted having lunch.

DB Woodside, who plays President Wayne Palmer on 24, had dinner at Moki's in Bernal Heights on Sunday.