table of contents This week's tablehopper: dining with the green fairy.

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

the wino
in vino veritas
the socialite
the starlet
no photos please

the sponsor
this round is on me


MARCH 18, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Thanks to all of you who got current on your tip please feedback. Meow. I get a lot of requests for suggestions on where to eat each week, a few from friends, most from total strangers, some quite confounding, but there’s nothing quite like when you need to come up with your own perfect evening. I want to share what I put together to celebrate my darling mother’s retirement from nursing this past Friday; I wanted it to be quite the epic evening to honor her 40-plus years of nursing. We started at Bix for cocktails (love the Sazeracs there) and appetizers, like their famed potato pillows with caviar and crème fraîche, a refreshing ceviche with cilantro oil and toasted corn nuts (!), the incomparable steak tartare, and crisp fried oysters. Nothing beats the white-jacketed service here, especially if you’re lucky enough to get Stu, the master of tableside flair. My family can’t wait to go back for a full jazzy dinner.

Next, we strolled over to Kokkari for our mains, which turned into a rustic family-style feast of all my favorites: the lamb’s tongues, the taramosalata and pita, grilled octopus, the pikti (a terrine of trotter and head), and of course a whole fish and the famed lamb chops. It was hard to pull ourselves away from ordering the galatboureko for dessert, but fortunately we had quite the finale awaiting us. We ambled to Rubicon, where we finished the evening sharing Nicole Krasinski’s unique and gorgeous desserts, like a palate-cleaning rhubarb sorbet with pine nuts and an elderflower meringue, and the decadent milk chocolate toffee pudding with candied Buddha’s hand and long pepper cream, plus some wonderful dessert wines. Yup, the evening was total tablehopper style, and I recommend trying the itinerary highly if you’re looking for an unconventional and special night of dining, with some much-needed walks in between.

I know St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday (how’s your head?), but in honor of the fab color green, I thought a review of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar was in order. Shall we begin? Let's.

~Marcia subscribe
the chatterbox
FoodbuzzMARCH 18, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO ~MYTH CAFÉ~ closed last week, which means we just need to continue watching Top Chef 4 on Wednesdays for Ryan Scott sightings. And ~MYTH~ the restaurant will sadly be winding to a close on Saturday, March 29th. Nathan Foot, who assumed the executive chef duties after chef Sean O’Brien’s departure, is going to head home to Boston for a while—no telling if he’s going to start something new out there, or return to SF to add to his 13-plus years here. Also heard pastry chef Nick Flores left Myth on the 15th—at press time I still hadn’t received word on where he’s at now, so stand by.

Last Thursday, ~FRISSON’S~ executive chef, Sarah Schafer, resigned and is now at Anchor and Hope, the upcoming project from the Town Hall/Salt House crew. Frisson actually closed this Saturday, a bit earlier than expected. Since the permits for the remodel are ready, Joe Hargrave and Andrew McCormack are moving ahead on the renovation. The clubby vibe will be no more (say goodbye to the DJ booth), and it will be more walk-in diner friendly. And my supposition was correct: it’s official that Sean O’Brien, the former executive chef of Myth, will be the executive chef of this new project. Too soon to tell about timing, but for now, it’s looking like late spring or summer. As for the concept, it’s also early on that too—but of course O’Brien’s style will be highlighted, and perhaps a few of his signature dishes will come with. There will also be a big wine program, with many available by the glass. Look for more info in coming weeks. 244 Jackson St. at Front.

So, back to ~ANCHOR AND HOPE~. This third project from the Rosenthals and Doug Washington is moving right along, in fact, it might even be open in three or four weeks. Perhaps some fish and chips are what we’ll need on April 15 to feel better. Anyway. Sarah Schafer (a Boston native) will be running the kitchen at this upscale East Coast seafood shack/fish house, serving some classics like oysters and other shellfish, and of course a lobster roll (Mitchell Rosenthal was in Maine for a month tasting around, so you know this lobster roll is gonna rock); there will be some non-traditional dishes too, perhaps some eel, or uni. The space is like a big barn, but in a cool alley, with wood floors, and rustic tables from Jeffrey Ruiz, a talented artisan furniture maker and craftsman from Berkeley. There will be seats for 60–80, a communal table, and counter seating as well. Lunch and dinner will be served daily. 83 Minna St. at First.

My paisano pal, Francesco D’Ippolito, just opened his new restaurant in the Castro, ~POESIA~. This upstairs little nook has rustic and affordable Italian dishes, with many that are Calabresi in origin (lots of family recipes are featured). Items on the menu range from the ever-popular arancini (fried balls of arborio rice and smoked mozzarella, $6) to burrata ($9.50), and pastas like pasta al forno with meatballs and soppressata (a Gagliardi family classic—I’ll have to see how this compares!), and fusilli al ragu di maiale (pork rib ragu), both $12. Mains (which will rotate often) include chicken, a New York steak with a wine reduction made from Ciro, a hearty Calabrese red, and baccalà with pancetta and potato, all $17–$22. Don’t forget there’s a full bar too. Dinner will be served nightly from 5:30pm–11pm, and even later on Fri–Sat, with weekend brunch starting in a couple weeks. 4072 18th St. at Castro, 415-252-9325.

While the Castro gets some Southern Italian amore, a couple Northern Italian projects are percolating in the Mission. First, Last Supper Club is transforming into ~BERETTA~, a late-night pizzeria (13 kinds!) and restaurant with a menu of over 22 antipasti, like a variety of bruschette, salumi, salads, and vegetable dishes, plus four risottos, made with local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients when possible. Owner Ruggero Gadaldi (Pesce, Antica Trattoria) is bringing on Thad Vogler to do the bar program, Jeff Meisel to do the wine list, Craig Berold is the GM (formerly of bacar), and Deborah Blum is overseeing operations—she is also a partner in the project, along with Adriano Paganini (of Pasta Pomodoro, now just Pomodoro). The downstairs will have multiple communal tables, with seating for 35, and 70 upstairs. The rustic look will feature chandeliers, concrete floors, and hand-painted murals—sounds different. The pizza oven is a gas wood stone pizza oven—it can get to a high temperature, but is ultimately cleaner for the air. Beretta is slated to open next Friday, March 28th. Open daily 5:30pm–12am. 1199 Valencia St. at 22nd, 415-695-1199.

Next up, ~SPECCHIO~ will be opening in May in the former Blue Room Gallery space, just next to Cha Cha Cha. The owner, Gino Assaf, is also behind North Beach’s Ristorante Gondola—he was born in Jordan, but grew up in Venice. He plans to open the 150-seat restaurant (which includes a mezzanine), for lunch and dinner daily, with later hours on the weekend. Look for modern Italian dishes hailing from the north. We were reminiscing over some Venetian favorites (I lived there for a year, 16 long years ago) so let’s see what ends up on the menu. He was considering pappardelle with wild boar ragu, plus homemade ravioli, risotto al nero di seppia (a delicious seafood risotto with squid ink), roasted rabbit and polenta, and I put a vote in for risi e bisi. 2331 Mission St. at 20th.

Here’s more on the project I mentioned a couple weeks ago: ~JACKIE'S VINOTECA & CAFÉ~, a 22-seat cafe in the former Zen City Records space, opened on Sunday. It is providing North Mission neighbors a place for smoothies, organic coffee and foods, like a variety of sandwiches and salads. The vinoteca part of the name will kick in when they get their beer and wine license next week—they’ll be serving Italian, Argentinean, Chilean, and California wines. In case you’re looking for Jackie, there isn’t one—the name is a loose amalgam of the two owners, Jasmine and Patrick. Open 7am–8pm daily. 105 Valencia St. at McCoppin, 415-864-5225.

More openings around town: the moving target that is ~CHEZ PAPA RESTO’S~ opening has now been set for Tuesday, March 25, when it will open for dinner. According to the site, it will open for lunch April 1. No joke. 414 Jessie St. at 5th, 415-546-4134.

~DOMO~ in Hayes Valley is also slated to open on the 25th, one week later than recently planned. 511 Laguna St. at Hayes, 415-861-8887.

Oh, and ~CANDYBAR~ hit some snags, and is now planning its opening for this coming weekend—stand by. 1335 Fulton St. Ste 101 at Divisadero, 415-673-7078.

~MOOSE’S~ in North Beach recently underwent a big remodel, but now it’s becoming something else entirely. Joseph Manzare (Globe, Tres Agaves, Pescheria, Zuppa) and his biz partner Eddie Maiello have bought the North Beach landmark, and are transforming it into their dream East Coast-style Italian restaurant, ~JOEY & EDDIE’S~. They’ve had the concept brewing for a while—it was originally going to open in Dogpatch, then it didn’t work out so there was another potential location, but now it looks like they are finally going to call North Beach home. Seems native New Yorkers Joseph and Eddie got tired of pining for their favorites at Carmine’s and Dominick’s back east, so look for old school classics like pastas with red or white sauce, stuffed artichokes, shrimp scampi, spaghetti and meatballs, and veal saltimbocca. In fact, a group of folks in the project are heading to Dominick’s and Carmine’s in April on a research trip—I’m imagining a culinary Rat Pack. Since Manzare recently won the Boss of the Sauce competition, you can bet the pastas will be a hit. The goal is low prices, but more food—and to create a place where you can eat with your family but not go broke doing it. While the actual launch of the new name and concept won’t happen until the end of April or beginning of May, Manzare is ramping up and will be executing the menu; Travis Flood, the executive chef of Moose’s, is having his last night of service tonight—he’s then heading to Chicago to work with Laurent Gras for a while on his new project, L.20. There will definitely be a big party to honor the Mooses and salute the closing of the restaurant in a proper fashion. Look for dinner and brunch to start; no mention of lunch at the moment. 1652 Stockton St. at Union, 415-989-7800.

Some chef shuffling in the Haight: ~THE ALEMBIC~ has a new pair of co-executive chefs, Jordan Grosser (currently chef de cuisine of Postrio) and Ted Fleury (of the former Winterland). Grosser is scaling back from his time at Postrio, and should be fully engaged with the Alembic kitchen at some point in April. Look for some small plates with clear flavors and an experimental and playful approach—new tryouts are rotating on the blackboard, but a few that have made it to the menu include a seasonal salad of Dungeness crab with blood orange, and a miso-glazed black cod with breakfast radish and chili oil (both $10). Owner Dave McLean says the food is rockin’, even though it’s still in development. Jenna Hodges, another former Winterland alum who has been working with Boris Portnoy at Campton Place, will be doing pastry and savory at both Alembic and Magnolia. 1725 Haight St. at Cole, 415-666-0822.

~MAGNOLIA~ also has a new chef, Brandon Jew, who was most recently at Pizzetta 211 for the last six months. Known as Pizzetta 211's Monday night special and sausage guy, his background also includes Zuni and Quince. He will be integrating more charcuterie and offal on the menu, and is beginning at Magnolia in the next week or so. 1398 Haight St. at Masonic, 415-864-PINT.

I know this time of year is tough (a few lucky ducks get tax returns, but many suffer the woes of paying Uncle Sam, “no uncle of mine,” as someone I know used to say). But ya gotta eat! So I say save yourself some dough when dining out with ~COZMOCARDS~! (With a CozmoCard, spend $50, and you get $15 off your bill.) I’ve been using my 2008 deck, with restaurants like Café Claude, Foreign Cinema, and Metro Kathmandu in there—52 restaurants in all. The tablehopper discount continues: readers get 10% off the $30 price—just type "tablehopper" into the order form for the discount! Presto!

I got a tip from a reader that ~CAFÉ AKELARRE~, the corner cafe that recently took over Café Acoustic along Octavia Boulevard, serves awesome arepas, Colombian coffee, and has fun live music nights. The free Wi-Fi also continues. 210 Octavia St. at Page, 415-861-4599.

In case you’re wondering where to find ~SCOTT HOWARD~, he has been hired as Chef Exécutif at Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, working with chef/owner Roland Passot and Directeur des Cuisines, Chef Joel Guillon.
And in the “closed but not closed closed” department, ~JEANNE D'ARC~ in the Cornell Hotel will be closed from now until April 8 for their annual three-week vacation. 715 Bush St. at Powell, 415-421-3154.

And ~THAILAND RESTAURANT~ on Castro is closed until March 22, it seems for some vacation as well. 438A Castro St. at 18th, 415-863-6868.

Chocoholics, you now have one more destination to add to your list: ~SCHOGGI–IMPORTED SWISS CHOCOLATES~ officially opens its doors on Yerba Buena Lane on Thursday, March 27th. Think luxury. And Swiss chocolates, handmade by a small producer in Bern from 100-year-old recipes, made with Swiss milk. Here’s more from the press release: “It will be the first true Swiss confiserie in San Francisco, with more than 60 varieties of chocolate pralines and truffles, as well as typical Swiss petite pastries, Luxemburgerli (French macarons), pate de fruits, and European-style coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. Schoggi’s collection includes traditional milk and dark chocolates, as well as chocolates sporting more exotic flavors such as green tea, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some highlights are the popular Signature Caramel, liquid caramel in a chocolate cup; the Mandarin, a praline containing a pearl of crystallized sugar and mandarin liqueur; and the Classic Swiss Truffles, which are more buttery and rich than contemporary truffles.” It takes its name from the Swiss-German nickname for chocolate. It will be open daily 10am–6pm. 87 Yerba Buena Lane at Mission, 415-243-4444.

I was in the Mission this weekend and saw the cute colorful benches and tables of ~LOLO~ out on the sidewalk—they have started serving brunch! And they’re handily on the sunny side of the street. Some brunchy menu items include pulled oxtail with Cuaresmeño chile, scrambled eggs, and scallions in a tortilla ($6); two eggs baked with chive cream, sautéed chard and kale, with roasted fennel and Maui onions ($7); two eggs baked with Spanish chorizo, sliced potatoes, Maui onions and cheddar ($8), plus some other dishes, like salads, all around $9. Oh yes, and the famed shrimp tacos in jicama. An easy place to rise and shine. Brunch Sat–Sun 11am–3pm. 3234 22nd St. at Bartlett, 415-643-5656.

Another change in brunch headquarters: ~ROSE’S CAFÉ~ in Cow Hollow has hired a new chef de cuisine, Steven Lucas, who will start on March 28th. Most recently he was at Chef's Best Inc. in San Francisco and Whole Foods in Berkeley. Looks like he also held positions at Enoteca Mastro Restaurant in Albany, Ristorante Ecco in SF, Cafe Karina and K2 Cafe in Santa Cruz, and Phoenix Pastificio in Berkeley. 2298 Union St. at Steiner, 415-775-2200.

Since we’re on brunch, I have some last-minute additions to the ~EASTER BRUNCH~ scene, on Sunday March 23rd, and beyond:

~BARAKA~ is hosting Sunday Easter brunch from 10am–2pm, with a la carte brunch items, like house-cured salmon gravlax, wild mushroom omelet, beef cheek hash with poached eggs, French toast, lobster and scrambled eggs, and lamb. 288 Connecticut St. at 18th, 415-255-0370.

~1300 ON FILLMORE~ is starting Sunday brunch service on Easter, 10:30am–2:30pm every Sunday. Dishes reflect chef David Lawrence’s southern-influenced palate, and include Marty’s Hang Town Fry, an omelet with fried oysters and bacon; eggs any style, served with ham-hock hash or with creamy grits; and a cinnamon brioche French toast, among other items. 1300 Fillmore St. at Eddy, 415-771-7100.

~LUCE~ at the InterContinental is offering a prix-fixe lunch (11am–2:30pm) and dinner (starts at 5pm) with traditional dishes like baby spring lamb with flageolet and spicy jus and white asparagus bisque. Lunch is $45/person and dinner is $65. 888 Howard St. at 5th, 415-616-6566.

For those of you curious about what’s cookin’ at ~CAV WINE BAR & KITCHEN~ since reading my review last week, I wanted to let you know they are hosting a tasting menu to benefit the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund. Since the beginning of the month, a flight of wines made by female winemakers has been available with ten percent of the proceeds going to the BCEF. On Wednesday, March 19th, executive chef Michael Lamina is creating a ‘Spring is Almost Here’ five-course tasting menu that will also benefit the BCEF. 1666 Market St. at Gough, 415-437-1770.

For those who like to mix lit with libations, ~CAFE ZOETROPE~ is celebrating the special spring edition of All-Story (Francis Coppola's award-winning art and literary magazine) with complimentary wine tasting and appetizers on Tuesday, March 25th, from 6pm–8pm. No reservations are required and admission is free. 916 Kearny St. at Columbus, 415-291-1700.

Couldn’t make it to Pigs and Pinot in Healdsburg last week? The molto carino ristorante ~LA CICCIA~ is hosting a piggy dinner party of their own on Monday, March 24th. The menu includes La Ciccia's salumi served with homemade pickled vegetables, Sardinian semolina gnochetti served with pork meat ragout, roasted suckling pig served with Sardinian-style raw vegetables, and ricotta cake served with Sardinian honey. Plus wonderful wines, natch. $70 per person, plus tax and tip. Please call early for reservation. Dinner starts at 7pm. 291 30th St. at Church, 415-550-8114.

If sweets are more your thing, ~MASA’S~ is hosting an event next Monday, March 24th as well: 25 Years of Desserts, benefiting Project Open Hand. Former executive pastry chef Keith Jeanminette, who was a part of the Masa's history for nearly 20 of those years, will be returning to share some of his famous recipes and stories from his time at Masa's. The event will feature desserts and mignardise selections, as well as wine pairings selected by Master Sommelier Alan Murray. 5:30pm–8pm. Suggested donation of $25. RSVP and information: 415-989-7154. 648 Bush St. at Stockton.

Mark your calendar for the launch party to celebrate issue three of ~MEATPAPER~ on Sunday, March 30th! The event will be at Serpentine in Dogpatch, and there will be bevvies from Gosling’s Rum, International Vineyards, and Trumer Brauerei, plus meaty and non-meaty snacks from Serpentine, Perbacco, Leif Hedendal vegetarian cuisine, and Prather Ranch, among others. The cost is $10–$15 (sliding scale). 6pm–9pm. Serpentine, 2495 Third St. at 22nd, 415-252-2000.

And in the East Bay, ~MONO RESTAURANT~ opened for lunch last week (its soft opening) in the Jack London Square area of Oakland, and will be opening for dinner on Wednesday, April 2nd. This industrial but stylish space has a horseshoe-shaped bar, cement pillars, and a custom fabricated wall treatment composed of honeycomb shapes, backlit with LED lighting; there is also a patio area. The lunch menu includes house-made soups, sandwiches, salads, and box-lunch specials available for eat-in or take away via a sidewalk take-out window. Dinner service will feature a globally inspired and seasonally changing small plates menu sourced from local purveyors. There will be charcuterie, a raw oyster bar, cheeses, crudos, plus dishes like mussels and clams with chorizo, Meyer lemon risotto, and pan-seared Kurobuta pork loin. The wine list will focus on boutique producers and sparkling wines, with a hefty number of half bottles. In case you were wondering about the name, Mono means monkey in Spanish, and is executive chef/co-owner (and husband) Todd Wilson’s nickname for his wife, general manager/co-owner, Eloisa Castillo. Wilson was the former chef de cuisine at Asia SF and The Public, and Eloisa Castillo worked at Myth and Cortez. Lunch Mon–Fri 11:30am–2:30pm; dinner (soon) on Wed, Thurs, Sun from 5:30pm– 9:30pm, Fri–Sat 5:30pm–10:30pm. Brunch and breakfast to come. 247 4th St. at Alice, Oakland, 510-834-0260.

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the regular


Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
398 Hayes St.
Cross: Gough St.
San Francisco, CA 94102


Tue–Fri 11:30am–2pm

Tue–Sat 5pm–10pm
Sun 5pm–10pm

Sat–Sun 11am–3pm

Cafe Menu
Tue–Sat until 12am, Sun until 10pm

Apps $8–18
Entrées $24–$32
Desserts $8

MARCH 18, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Like a second dining room (or home bar) to many folks around town, ~ABSINTHE BRASSERIE & BAR~ has been holding down the corner of Gough and Hayes for quite some time. Like its neighbor, Jardinière, it’s been a staple for the opera-symphony-ballet crowd, a destination for before or after a performance for years. It’s cocktail HQ, mixing some of the finest drinks in the city before people even had a glimmer of understanding that there’s much much more to life than cosmos or mojitos. And man, as of January of 2008, the joint has ten years under its belt.

I’ve come by over the years for bites here and there, like brunch (j’adore the corned beef hash and poached eggs), oysters and fries on a variety of dates, the onion soup has helped fix a bad day, a late-night burger has saved my tipsy ass, and I’ve loved some meals outside on the spacious sidewalk. But to be totally frank, based on the last few lunches I had a year or so ago, I didn’t quite feel like gearing up for the expense of dinner—the food didn’t feel cohesive, a little sloppy. Until the moment I heard they hired Jamie Lauren as executive chef. Then I wanted some dinner. Kind of like being sponge-worthy, I’d definitely say she’s splurge-worthy.

I first encountered Lauren’s exotically charged-but-straightforward cooking at Levende, and was excited for her foray into Indian-inspired fare for the Prana (at Temple) project, which was later put on hold. She’s an innovative chef, and when she landed at Absinthe, I wondered how her style would jive with the menu, loaded with classics people will throw a fit over if they’re fussed with. Well, she’s done it, integrating her inspired touch, creating modern brasserie fare with farmers’ market savoir-faire. Let’s just say if you haven’t been by for dinner for a while, then welcome back Kotter!

While you’re mulling over the menu or parked at the bar, order the spicy fried chickpeas ($3.75), crunchy little demons with a hit of spices and herbs. Brilliant bar snack. The scallop crudo ($14) was one of my fave dishes, three lovely coins of fresh scallop, sprinkled with rosemary sea salt, and the tang of lemon agrumato (an olive oil that is crushed and made with whole lemon), caviar, and micro herbs. Refreshing, yet decadent. Of course you can also do the famed oysters—there are usually five to choose from, at $3 a pop.

Naturalment, there’s the French onion soup, but if you’re up for some change, Lauren has a way with soups—you can tell she’s really into them. One night it was a smooth and satisfying celery root with ham hock, Pink Lady apple, fried sage, and a tickle from some Buddha’s Hand citron oil.

There are some larger plates you can share, like a classic frisee salad ($14), with chunks of smoky Benton’s bacon, and a wicked fried duck egg draped on top, promising extra yolky indulgence. There’s also the warm duck confit salad ($16). I know, whoa, those prices veer on the spendy; to be clear, a meal here is more on the higher end of moderate. But in this dish you get a fully meaty leg and thigh, and wait until you taste the ingredients, the duck with its dreamy fat and skin combo that is good in the way Peking duck is good, so good, but oh so bad, plus gorgeous fresh chicories and a tangy Dijon vinaigrette. Like a L’Oreal girl, it’s worth it.

My dining partner tried the shellfish stew ($28), with chunks of house-made chorizo, and a satisfying buttery broth with Chimay Blanc (watch it, you’ll empty the bread basket), plus Lacinato kale, an inspired addition, and garbanzo beans. The seafood included meaty Manila clams, white gulf prawns with the head on, and green-lipped New Zealand mussels, all fantastically fresh and cooked just right.

The hand’s-down crowd pleaser is the pork confit ($24), the equivalent of French carnitas, a shoulder cooked in duck fat for four hours and then crisped up in the pan, served with braised cabbage, Serrano ham, and crispy pan-fried spätzle. Yeah, it reads like an exercise in cholesterol cruelty. And even though it’s $24, the portion is enormous, totally Manwich size. In fact, I made some wicked tacos for lunch the next day with the leftovers. Heh. Viva French carnitas!

The menu isn’t a total meat-fest—vegetarians could do the melted leek flatbread ($15), or a seasonal risotto with wild mushrooms and rainbow chard ($25), and there are all kinds of vegetable sides and salads—Lauren is a big one on what’s fresh and in season.

The cheese course here is almost a must, or you can merge cheese and dessert and do the apple and Epoisses tart ($8), with calvados ice cream and cider caramel. Yeah, dude. The hazelnut cake ($8) with Blue Bottle Coffee ice cream was also good, but an Epoisses tart, come on, how could it even try to compete?

Service here is almost always on point—even while briefly waiting near the host stand for my friend, I was approached three times by different people, asked if there was anything I needed. The masterful cocktails here, heck, they need no introduction. And good for them for keeping many of them at $9. (Well, for now.) I will say what’s happening in the kitchen under Lauren’s vision and the magic that continues at the bar definitely jive—there’s a compelling play of elements and ingredients going on.

I recommend this place for a date that’s romantic but not too-too, a late-night bite or even a late afternoon meal, and it’s a charming choice for out-of-towners who want to take in a little city vibe—there’s always a nicely eclectic crowd here, and the people-watching from the big windows or along the sidewalk is some of the city’s best.

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MARCH 18, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Tony Poer on Vacqueyras

Tony Poer has been in and around the wine business since college. He got his start working as a garçon at Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris, France in the early 90s. He then moved to San Francisco to pursue a retail and restaurant wine career. He has held wine-buying positions at such establishments as Silks at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hayes & Vine Wine Bar, and the fondly remembered (by some, anyway) Flying Saucer. Tony and his family live in downtown Napa. He is the National Sales Manager for Meyer Family Cellars in Mendocino County.

Vacqueyras, the Cure for Complacency

Last fall, a friend of mine, a sommelier in the Midwest, asked me to name my favorite wine. What a question! It depends which way the breeze is blowing. At that moment, near Lake Michigan, it was probably blowing south, though not yet from the arctic. “Vacqueyras,” I replied.

Opaque and spicy, Vacqueyras is usually mentioned alongside the more famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. If pressed, I’d say this trio of neighboring appellations in the southern Rhône Valley constitutes my “favorite” category of wines. I find Vacqueyras particularly delicious. Two standouts are Château de Montmirail and Domaine le Sang des Cailloux, both distributed around the Bay Area. They’re extremely fine examples of what can be done with the grenache variety in the right environment.

Beaune Imports in Berkeley has imported Montmirail since the early 90s. The ’05 Cuvée de l’Ermite, tasted for this article, is an atypical blend of 50% each grenache and syrah (the varieties mourvèdre and cinsaut are also allowed and frequently used in Vacqueyras). 2005 was an exceptional vintage in the Rhône, and l’Ermite seems to have it all: a great balance of fruit, tannin, alcohol, and acidity. Like most fine Vacqueyras, it starts out fruity, though not at all jammy, and then turns smoky-gamey with air. It is in the end a fantastic food wine.

Dan Dawson, owner of Back Room Wines in Napa and my local Vacqueyras purveyor, is a chef at heart. He likes it with a couple of birds readily available and skillfully roasted in restaurants all over northern California: chicken and squab, both with thyme and wild mushrooms.

Another guy who might be cooking more if he were working less, Nopa’s sommelier Chris Deegan told me, “L’Ermite’s stone and herb flavors remind me of a dish I would want to cook.” He suffers through it instead with one of his favorites from the Nopa menu: flatbread with spicy sausage, caramelized onions, and Gruyère cheese. “Montmirail,” he added, “does a great job of highlighting the multiple flavors in food.”

Christie DuFault, the sommelier at Quince Restaurant whose abilities to pair and communicate food and wine leave my head spinning, is a huge Vacqueyras fan. She’s carried both Montmirail and le Sang des Cailloux on Quince’s wine list. While she finds Montmirail’s versions “dense and dark with amazing depth of flavor,” Christie confessed to me that “le Sang is especially wild or sauvage – it reminds me of fun times in Provençal fields.” Hmm.

Compared to l’Ermite, the ’05 le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras is, indeed, a wild wine. It’s about 70% grenache, with the balance syrah, mourvèdre, and cinsaut. Where l’Ermite is tamer and smokier, le Sang is heady, rich, and a bit stinky, with complex aromas of black and green olives, barnyard, and blackberries. Tasting it over two days, I noticed the “animal” aromas dissipated with aeration, but the ripe stone fruit flavors seemed to gather strength. Although it’s fairly potent stuff, at 14% alcohol (the same as the Montmirail), le Sang registers about 2.5% less booze than many Napa Valley cabernets. Er, I mean zinfandels.

“The wines of Vacqueyras fit effortlessly on our wine list and with our menu," my old friend Sean Diggins, wine-buyer for Café Claude, recently told me. “They make a perfect fit with the cuisine we usually think of as classic bistro fare.” He added that, though the prices for Vacqueyras have crept up in recent years, they can still be found at “bistro prices.”

It’s an opinion shared by Graham Blackmore, general manager of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley, who imports le Sang des Cailloux. It cost twelve bucks in the mid-90s, but it only hovers around $30 today, and with a free-falling dollar at that. It has, in my opinion, little competition in its price-quality category. Graham calls le Sang des Cailloux “an antidote to complacency.”

So, here’s to a rebound in our currency against the mighty euro, and to the ongoing availability of Vacqueyras, one of France’s least complacent wines and one of my favorites, whichever way the breeze is blowing.

the socialite


Southern Style
Wed., Mar. 26, 2008

La Cocina
2948 Folsom St.
Cross: 25th St.
SF, CA 94110




(a portion is tax-deductible)


MARCH 18, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Check out this event announcement from the fab folks at La Cocina. I took a tamale-making class with them a few months ago, loved it, and can only imagine how good this one will be! This class is ~SOUTHERN STYLE: GUMBO, PECAN PIE AND A HEALTHY LOOK AT OLD HABITS~. Here’s more:

“We’re looking at Southern classics in a new light, focusing on preparing dishes with a light touch and a focus on local, organic ingredients. Hear about the history of southern cuisine while you learn how to make gumbo from the bottom up and finish your meal with a sweet ending.

“La Cocina is proud to present our first cooking class of 2008, Gumbo, Pecan Pie and a Healthy Look at Old Habits with Chef Dionne Knox. Have you ever wanted to make the food that you've dreamed about, and not feel guilty afterwards? Dionne, owner of Zella's Soulful Kitchen, has mastered her grandmother's recipes, modernized them from her own healthy perspective, and now she's bringing them to you.

“Join La Cocina, and 20 other classmates, as we go through the basics of making a healthy, and incredibly delicious, gumbo from scratch. Participants will build their gumbo from the bottom up, make their own pecan pies and then join the chef and La Cocina staff for a beautiful dinner to enjoy the fruits (and gumbo) of their labor.”

The Chef
Dionne Knox, Zella's Soulful Kitchen: Dionne began at La Cocina with a dream to cook the food her grandmother had cooked with a modern twist. Last year, she took over at Corner's Cafe in Youth Uprising in East Oakland. A year later and she's learned the industry inside and out, turned the cafe around, and now she's ready to share that knowledge with the world.

The Drinks
La Cocina family members Duggan McDonnell from Cantina and Courtney Cochran from Hip Tastes provide their recommendations for the pairings to fly us through this lovely meal. Think Southern Comfort (before it was a brand! when it actually meant comfort, in a Southern way) like mint juleps with a San Francisco twist, and modern wines to pair with the deep flavors of gumbo.

The Dinner
Nothing tastes as good as the food your hands have touched. We will sit down to a meal of fresh-baked cornbread, your gumbo, several Southern sides, and a dessert of pecan pie.


Taste of the Nation
Sun., April 6, 2008

Acme Chophouse
24 Willie Mays Plaza
at AT&T Park
San Francisco, CA


6:30pm hors d'oeuvres
7:30pm dinner

$250 general admission

$300 VIP (includes exclusive chefs meet & greet reception and early entrance)

MARCH 18, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO ~SHARE OUR STRENGTH'S TASTE OF THE NATION SAN FRANCISCO~ is returning to Acme Chophouse this April. It’s the 20th anniversary of Share Our Strength, one of the nation's premiere anti-hunger charities.

It’s quite the line-up, goodness. I went last year and couldn’t believe how many chefs were there. The chefs for this year’s sit-down multi-course dinner include SF’s own Traci Des Jardins (Acme Chophouse, Jardinière, Mijita), Michael Symon (Cleveland's Lola, Lolita), Chris Cosentino (Incanto), and Gavin Kaysen (NYC's Café Boulud)—yup, Traci des Jardins has gathered her former competitors from The Next Iron Chef!

Preparing the dessert course again this year is Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake and Orson. Host chef Thom Fox has graciously opened the doors to his Acme Chophouse kitchen again, and Tyler Florence returns as Master of Ceremonies.

Kicking off the event will be a hors d'oeuvres reception featuring an array of the Bay Area's best chefs & restaurants:
- Nate Appleman, A16/SPQR
- Stuart Brioza, Rubicon
- Paul Arenstam, Americano at the Hotel Vitale
- Jamie Lauren, Absinthe
- Michael Miller, Trevese
- Mark Sullivan, Spruce
- Jason Tallent, Globe
- Scott Youkilis, Maverick

Also, just added to this event is a wine program led by some of the country's most illustrious sommeliers:
- Eugenio Jardim (Jardiniere)
- Christie Dufault (Quince)
- Paul Einbund (Coi)
- Shelley Lindgren (A16/SPQR),
- John Mark (Citizen Cake)
- Larry Stone (Rubicon Estate)

Emcees: Tyler Florence and Scott Feldman

Bid on unmatched food wine experiences in exciting silent and live auctions.

Best of all, fight hunger in San Francisco and throughout the US with your generous contribution. 100% of your ticket purchase goes directly to Share Our Strength. Space is limited, so buy your ticket today! Share Our Strength is one of the nation's leading organizations working to end childhood hunger in America.

the starlet

MARCH 18, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Gus Van Sant was at Nob Hill Café on Friday while being interviewed by Out Magazine.

Baron Davis was spotted at Burger Meister on Columbus, and according to the tipster, “Based on the illegally parked S600 Mercedes, looked like takeout was in order.”

And my new favorite man-about-town, MC Hammer pulled up to eat at Boulevard in his H2 last week.


All content © 2008 Marcia Gagliardi. I am more than happy if you want to link to my reviews and content elsewhere (thanks, glad you dig it), but republishing any part of them in any way, shape or form is strictly prohibited until we talk first. Please take a look at my Creative Commons license for more detail.

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