table of contents   This week's tablehopper: her name was laïola, she was a showgirl.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
new restaurant reviews
the socialite
the starlet
no photos please

the sponsor
this round is on me

Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival


AUGUST 21, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO Okay, confession time. Guess who is leaving town yet again? Don’t hate me. Yes, yours truly is trucking off to Burning Man this weekend (like most San Franciscans age 28-40 over the coming week), and will be WAY off the grid until September 4. I might as well be voyaging to outer space, or just a very hot, dusty planet. It’s right around this time when I really start savoring my last days with my bed, my refrigerator, and my shower. Oh, and that San Francisco chill I like to gripe about.

Question: do any of you fellow burners, or friends of burners, know any folks/camps who put on some of the marvy culinary wonders out there? Anything from the fabled sushi guy to big spaghetti feeds to disco brunches (oh wait, that was me and my posse a couple years ago)... Or if there are folks from the SF restaurant and bar community who are doing any food-oriented camps out there, I’d love to know! (Yes, I plan to put something together about it all…) Grazie!

One favor to ask of friends and colleagues (and readers!): since I’ll be MIA until early September, pllllllleeeeease take it easy on emailing me anything that needs a reply! Silence is golden, really. There’s nothing quite like returning home to 1,300 messages (that was post-Australia, yikes). Don’t make me cry. Please and thanks.

You’ll still get some mail from me (oh, the wonders of scheduling mailings in advance) but just consider the two upcoming columns as “tablehopper lite.”

In dust veritas,

~Marcia AKA Peach (one of my “playa names,” now you know) subscribe

the chatterbox
Ghirardelli Chocolate FestivalAUGUST 21, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO I am starting this week’s missive on a serious note: I know the world is horrified with what poor Peru is suffering through right now. James Schenk, the chef and owner of ~DESTINO~ is contributing a portion of his restaurant sales to assist earthquake victims in Peru. Schenk mentioned the Consulate General of Peru in San Francisco has initiated an urgent campaign within the Bay Area to support the Peruvian citizens affected by this tragedy. If you wish to contribute directly to this campaign, you can make donations by contacting the Consulate General of Peru in San Francisco: 1-877-490-7378. Donations may consist of: nonperishable canned or bottled foods, tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and air mattresses, plus financial contributions. James has also been accepting donations at Destino—in fact, he just carted a huge truckload of items to the consulate yesterday. Destino, 1815 Market St., 415-552-4451.

How do you suddenly transition to frivolous news about what’s open and where to eat around town? Well, here goes:

Burger lovers: Joie de Vivre’s ~CUSTOM BURGER/LOUNGE~ opened in SoMa last night. Custom is serving lunch and dinner (late into the night), and breakfast should kick in by mid-September, say by the 15th or so. What you do is select your burger (1/3 lb. Angus from Golden Gate Meat Company? American Kobe? Curry vegetable?), then choose from some premium toppings like avocado, apple wood-smoked bacon, and what is sure to be my personal favorite, a Petaluma fried egg! You also get three toppings at no charge, with your choice of items like balsamic marinated onions, salsa, piquillo peppers, and sautéed mushrooms or sweet yellow onions. Lastly, get saucy with some “ketchipotle” or perhaps some romesco, or chana masala sour cream! Oh yeah, and there are four kinds of buns to choose from too. Sounds like the ultimate build your own burger to me. You’ll also be able to build your drinks in the adjoining lounge, with custom martini, drop, and mojito options, plus some classic concoctions, like a manhattan or side car. 121 Seventh St. at Howard, 415-252-2633.

More SoMa news: the ~BAZ~ gastro bistro project from Sean and Isabel Manchester of Mighty and Wish, and chef David Bazirgan, won’t be happening. The original location out near Nihon and Chez Spencer didn’t pan out, and it seems a new location isn’t on the horizon. Bazirgan just finished putting together the menu for Bossa Nova, and is now busy with the new Chez Papa opening in Mint Plaza.

One place with a bit of a gastro-something focus will be ~THE MONK’S KETTLE~, opening in the short-lived Rasha space (formerly Kelly’s Burgers) in the Mission. One word for you: beer. Or as Homer Simpson would say, “Mmmmm, beeeeeer.” (NOTE: it’s a WAV file!) This soon-to-open craft beer tavern will feature a large number of most beer styles hailing from regions from around the world. There will be 24 taps (many will be local beers) plus 100 or so available by the bottle. There will be at least two–five of each style, say, brown ales and stouts and Belgians, which will make for some nice side-by-side comparisons. There will also be a menu of gourmet pub fare, with burgers, sandwiches, soups, and salads, all designed to pair as much as possible with the beers. A tight but good wine list will insure there is a little something for everyone. The space is getting freshened up, and once the work is complete it should have about 40–45 seats, with room for eight at the bar. The look is going to be historic American tavern meets European alehouse—think dark woods, earthy colors, and soft lighting. The owners also hope to offer outdoor seating under some heat lamps by next spring. The project is from Nat Cutler, who has more of a finance, marketing, and economics background, and Christian Albertson, who has 20 years of restaurant and bar experience under his belt. The staff will be very educated about the beers, and will help build a welcoming neighborhood vibe. Look for an early November opening, with hours from 11:30am–2am, and serving food until late. Yay, burgers will be back! 3141 16th St. at Albion.

~GRAND CAFÉ~ has kicked off the new menu from chef Mauro Pando featuring many brasserie classics, some with a twist (the coq au vin is made with duck)—you can read the menu here. Most entrées hover in the mid-20s, like the cassoulet ($23) with duck confit, boudin blanc, duck sausage, smoked bacon, butter beans, and garlic breadcrumbs, and a bouillabaisse ($24) made with rockfish, shrimp, mussels, calamari, crab, and potatoes in a tomato-fennel broth, with rouille toasts. 501 Geary at Taylor, 415-292-0101.

So since we’re in Kimpton Land, it was finally revealed whom the buyer of the ~PALOMAR HOTEL~ is: Griffin Capital out of LA. Kimpton will continue to operate the hotel. Here’s more from the San Francisco Business Times on the sale. And no, still nothing is confirmed about who is taking over the restaurant. Just rumors. And plans for big renovations of the space.

I know many of you miss seeing the lovely ~MARIQUITA FARM~ folks (and their equally lovely produce) at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, but now here’s your chance to say hi! Have you heard about the San Francisco “Mysterious Thursdays/guerrilla produce pick-ups” rotating at restaurants around town? The next one will be Thursday, August 30, when Mariquita will be at Piccino in Dogpatch from 5pm–7pm, where you can pick up your custom order of summer produce, and if you are so inclined, you can hang out with some fun folks over a glass of wine and perhaps dinner too! For the produce, all you have to do is contact Mariquita's Julia Wiley, place a $25-minimum pre-order for your own selection of seasonal heirloom tomatoes, basil, peppers, summer squash, carrots, etc. (or you can have Mariquita assemble a "mystery box" for you), and drop by during the designated hours for your order. Cool, no? Click here for details and to order up your box! Future dates include: 9/6 at Zuppa, 9/13 at Incanto, and 9/20 at Pizzetta 211.

More box-oriented news: Bernal residents and curious readers, you’ll be happy to know ~TINDERBOX RESTAURANT~ is slated to open to the public and serve its first meal on Friday, August 31. You’ll be able to check out some cool art from Sam Flores, and of course what sounds like some tasty eats from Blair Warsham. For a recap on the concept, check out this past tablehopper issue here. 803 Cortland Ave. at Ellsworth, 415-285-TBOX (8269).

Need your beignet fix taken care of? ~BRENDA’S~, Brenda Buenviaje’s cute New Orleans-influenced café, should be opening for lunch this Thursday, and is starting breakfast on Friday. Just call and check before heading over, you know how openings can go! You can read more about Brenda’s here. 32 Polk St. at Eddy, 415-345-8100.

~PETE’S TAVERN~ opened last week in the former (and hulking) Kingfish space, just across from AT&T Park. This American tavern comes from Peter Osborne, the owner of Momo’s. The casual menu has starters like mini corn dogs, chicken and chorizo nachos, and classics like garlic curly fries and onion rings, while mains like the PLT (pancetta, lettuce, tomato), a New York steak sandwich, burgers, a selection of salads, and a variety of “Big Dogs” are sure to keep the ballpark crowd—and the neighbors—satisfied. The most expensive item is the $16 BBQ platter—most mains hover around $10. There is a full bar, and 12 beers on tap. Open 11am–midnight, bar until 2am. 128 King St. between Second and Third, 415-817-5040.

Greg Bronstein has sold ~LUNA~ in the Castro to new owners: Ruben Marty, who has a background in hospitality, and Victor Garcia. They plan to upgrade the entrance and add more light and seating, plus fix the spacious back deck and spruce up the garden. There’s also a BIG cleaning in the works. Marty and Garcia are keeping the same chef, but will be making changes to the menu, adding a Southern Mediterranean influence, spanning Greece, Spain, France, Italy, and Morocco, with some dishes like couscous and paella making their way onto the menu. There will be a focus on using quality ingredients; service is getting tightened up, and the wine list will be expanded too. 558 Castro St. at 19th, 415-621-2566.

I was tablehopping around town on Thursday, and swung by ~SCOTT HOWARD~ for a cuppa. Cup of his carrot soup, that is. Okay, so homeboy has done it again: he’s totally revamped the menu, and let me tell you people, this joint is one of the best deals in town. (It’s no mistake that I saw four folks from the industry dining at the bar.) Howard has structured the menu in a way that you can make up your own tasting menu, grab a casual bite, or do it small-plates style and share with your pals. Nothing was more than $16 on the menu when I looked at it: skate wing for $15, his wicked veal sweetbreads are $14, and how about some roasted quail stuffed with chorizo for $14? Nice raw selection too, including scallop sashimi with uni, yuzu, almond oil, and fennel pollen ($14). You can also pick any three items off the menu for $31.98 (available 5:30pm–6:30pm, and then again from 9:30pm–10pm!). 500 Jackson St. at Montgomery, 415-956-7040.

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the sponsor

Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival

Ghirardelli Square hosts their 12th Annual Chocolate Festival in conjunction with Presenting Sponsor Safeway, benefiting Project Open Hand, on September 8 and 9, from noon to 5:00 p.m. each day. The weekend-long chocolate extravaganza celebration provides festivalgoers an opportunity to indulge in countless chocolate delicacies and decadent desserts from renowned San Francisco Bay Area establishments.

Activities include tastings from over 30 vendors, a Wine & Chocolate Bar, Chef Demonstrations, a Children’s Activity Area, live musical entertainment, and the famous Earthquake Ice Cream Sundae Eating Contest!

The event is free and open to the public; however tickets must be purchased to participate in chocolate tastings. Tickets are $10 for 6 tickets and $20 for 15 tickets. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to  


fresh meat


2031 Chestnut St.
Cross: Fillmore St.
San Francisco, CA 94123


Daily 5:30pm–10:30pm
Bar until 11pm

Small plates $7–$12
Larger plates $19–$22
Desserts $7

AUGUST 21, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO After going on a total Spanish tapas tear in New York, you can trust I was fired up about the arrival of ~LAÏOLA~ on our local dining scene, the latest project from Joe Hargrave and Andrew McCormack of Frisson. Even more exciting (and I am not alone in this) was the prospect of having chef Mark Denham back in an SF kitchen doing his Mediterranean voodoo, putting a California seasonal spin on Spanish/Catalan dishes made with painstakingly sourced and crafted ingredients, many of them local.

Denham is a man obsessed. Have you read his “menu notes” on the restaurant’s website? You should check it out. (Part of his “manifesto” is also printed on the back of the menu.)

His menu made me hungry. Denham’s selection of house-cured meats offer different flavors than all the Italian meats we’re getting used to around town, spiked with pimentón and cayenne and paprika. I was partial to the verraco ($8/$24 for all four), a wild boar chorizo made with boar leg meat and Niman Ranch pork back fat, plus red wine and spices. The cochino y jamón confitado, a rustic terrine, was also a satisfying combo of porky, meaty, fatty, and salty—Denham uses the scraps, confits them, and voila! (He’s a “nose-to-tail” kind of chef.)

Hey, don’t fill up on the Acme epi bread and olive oil—you have a big menu ahead of you! So, in the brilliant category, I nominate the chickpea croquetas ($7), stacked like a Lincoln Log cabin. They have a smooth inside with a firm exterior, with just a touch of cornmeal, and totally sing with the accompanying black olive aïoli. The batons are interestingly fried in olive oil, lending a pleasing additional flavor.

Also brill: the grilled octopus ($12). Three plump, juicy, tender polyps were served, sporting a perfect char, and with the heads still on. (Denham’s time at Kokkari, AKA octopus central, is apparent with this dish.) I really dug the accompanying three-bean medley of shelling beans, cranberry beans, and Romanos, mixed with capers and a nice tang of vinegar—the ideal summer salad.

All kinds of fresh seafood beckoned on the menu, from the tender “we just got these in” spot prawns a la plancha ($12) with hazelnuts and romesco, to the more delicate esquiexada ($13) (sounds like “es-kee-shada”) of Pacific halibut, a sashimi/crudo-esque dish with slivers of the halibut topped with celery, radish, and sieved egg. The sole thing missing from the esquiexada for me was a crumbling of an interesting salt. I had the same thought with the slabs of heirloom tomato on grilled bread ($10).

What is continuing to haunt me (some people have real ghosts, others like me suffer from food phantoms) is the dish of Willapa Bay clams ($11). I say damn the clams! They were juicy and springy, and the bath of tomato, garlic, and muy muy spicy salchichon rocked my boat, and my house. The hints of deep saline flavor plus the good garlicky bread all conspired to making me really, really happy. I just wanted the cazuela that the clams were served in to be hot.

After the sabor-explosion of the clams, the slow-roasted piglet ($19) left my palate wanting more depth, but I did enjoy the crunchy pieces of meat candy on top. I also thought the chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon ($12), while juicy, were a little one-dimensional—the drizzle of balsamic vinegar wasn’t enough acid for me. For the most part, the food here is like a hot date: it feels new, it has a good personality, it was brought up right, and makes me want to hang out again. Call me, ‘kay?

Truth be told, I’ve been mostly bored with the limited Spanish scene in SF.  I am so tired of sub-par paella and patatas bravas and too much garlic and tortilla Española. Sure, these solid mainstays almost have to be on most menus, and both a tortilla and patatas are on the Laïola menu, but the kitchen’s little touches like a pimento and orange marmalada alongside the tortilla help aerate the all-too-familiar with some fresh air. It’s like seeing a dish after a totally new haircut. (“Wow, your faux-hawk is quite a change from that tired mullet you’ve been sporting for ten years!”)

So, dessert. Funnily enough, to me, the options didn’t read “I gotta get that!,” but I ended up being pleasantly wooed. The pan con chocolate (all desserts $7) was actually a scoop of chocolate that had a texture that felt part pudding and part mousse, with the density of ganache. It comes with a drizzle of Arbequina olive oil (call me weird, but I would have liked more) and a sprinkle of salt, and you spread it on thin slices of toasted bread. I was way into the bright strawberry sangria, layered in a glass with a scoop of toasted almond sherbet—it was exactly how I like to finish a meal, especially like the one I had here. Even the crema catalana, a dish approximating the now-ubiquitous crème brûlée (which has become like Kryptonite to me) was a total refresh, with holiday-like spices and citrus and pink peppercorn.

The hard liquor license will hopefully be kicking in by mid-September, when bar manager Camber Lay will be able to do her mixology magic. But in the meantime, the lengthy list of Spanish wines, lovingly curated by co-owner Joe Hargrave, will make you hardly miss the booze. And bless the affordability of a lot of Spanish wines—you can drink a bottle of something really good off the 100-bottle list for around $30. Informative descriptions of the extensive number of wines by the glass are helpful, and there’s also a lusty house blend, Borracho y Loco, that is served on tap. (I wrote a blurb about SF restaurants pouring house wines on tap for the August issue of San Francisco magazine if you still have a copy lying around.)

Servers are friendly and smart and zippy, keeping up with the brigade of small plates flowing out of the open kitchen. (Fun fashion-meets-function detail: servers sport a construction belt!) The prime seats are at the gleaming copper bar, with a view of the open kitchen and the bar, but the accompanying high tables are used mostly for groups. I’d prefer to come here with a pal and just sit at the bar and watch the kitchen do their thing, but there were plenty of groups waiting their turn for the larger tables. The handsome room also has a nice glow from the pressed copper ceiling above. The space has buzz, so don’t come here expecting a dark, moody Spanish cave where you can canoodle quietly with your “amor,” with Pedro the guitarist strumming the corner.

No reservations are accepted, but you can hang out with a glass of vino and not be totally in the way. If it’s really busy and too crammed for you, you can wait it out until your table is up at the nearby Nectar Wine Lounge, the California Wine Merchant, or even next door at Circa if you are craving a cocktail. Speaking of craving, I want another date with the hot clams. (Good thing I’m not a guy, otherwise that last statement would be totally wrong.)

the socialite


Hip Tastes: All-White Tasting
Fri., Aug. 24, 2007

Fluid Ultra Lounge
662 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94105



$30 online
$35 door
order tickets

AUGUST 21, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO Courtney Cochran of Hip Tastes has finished her soon-to-be-released book, Hip Tastes: The Fresh Guide to Wine, (it comes out in October), and now her local tasting parties are back. Here’s more on one this Friday’s event, the ~ALL-WHITE TASTING~:

With Labor Day just around the corner there's no better time for an all-white tasting—including all-white eats and all-white decor, natch. Come out on and sip whites in the brand spanking new all-white lounge at Fluid in SoMa. Call it a final shout-out to summer, if you want. We call it an excuse to sample lots of ridiculously good white wines—from summer-appropriate Sauvignon Blanc to super-luscious Viognier, and everything in between. 

Hip Tasters wearing all white get a free gift at the door, and we'll be playing great music for our fabulous crowd, as usual. 

Pic taken at Bacco restaurant

Annual Heirloom Tomato Dinner
Wed., Aug. 29, 2007

Millennium Restaurant
580 Geary St.
Cross: Jones St.
San Francisco, CA 94102


Reservations available from 5:30pm–9pm

$60 person
$22 wine pairing
$12 bloody Mary flight

AUGUST 21, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO How much are you lovin’ all the tomatoes right now? My kitchen table is like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Redux. Coming up is ~MILLENNIUM’S ANNUAL HEIRLOOM TOMATO DINNER~, a five-course dinner featuring tomatoes from Eatwell Farms, all hand-picked by the Millennium staff, with optional (organic) wine pairings, or a bloody Mary flight!

There is also an heirloom tomato cooking class on Sunday, August 26, with chef Eric Tucker, and an optional field trip the day before to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. 10am–3pm, $135 per person. Space is very limited! Call Erica at 415-345-3900 x11 for more details and to reserve your spot.

the starlet

AUGUST 21, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO JT Leroy/Laura Albert was spotted at Foreign Cinema, getting interviewed by a New York Times journalist about the current lawsuit she is involved in surrounding the contract for the film Sarah.