table of contents This week's tablehopper: wine and some whine for ’09.

the bore
no more in 2009
the lush
put it on my tab

the wino
in vino veritas

the starlet
no photos please

the sponsor
this round is on me


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DECEMBER 30, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Greetings from sunny LA. Every time I descend to the 213, I am reminded of how much I j’adore 71 degrees in December. I am so gonna be one of those Palm Beach ladies when I am 80, I know it. At least I’ll match my leather bag. I also managed to catch a stupid cold yesterday, argh, but at least I have my pick of pho houses and nose-clearing spicy salsas down here.

Hey, do you have your New Year’s Eve all lined up? Will it be a super burrito from El Farolito, or perhaps you kept all your money in your mattress this year so you’re up for something spiffier? If it’s the latter, here’s a mini recap I did a few weeks ago on some New Year’s Eve dinners in case you need idears.

Since I am all about shopping for vintage clothes and scouting ethnic eats in the City of Angels this week, I am making this one a special seasonal short issue. We all know what a boozy week this is, yup, champers galore, so I have not one but two wino pieces for you: the first wino is from Jerry Cooper, with an overview of some spirits to look for at your liquor store or hooch parlor, and the second is a highlight of what local wine directors and sommeliers are anticipating we’ll be seeing more of in 2009.

And yes, as is the tablehopper’s annual New Year’s tradition, the bore returns, full of ten items I don’t want to see much of anymore in this coming year—yeah, it’s a bit snarky.

I’ll be back next week, guns blazing with all kinds of news, events, and reviews.

Happy New Year, people! I am wishing you all health, happiness, low cholesterol, high times (feel free to interpret that in any way you like), and may we all look and feel mighty fine in ’09.

Cheers my dears!

~Marcia subscribe
the bore

DECEMBER 30, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Every year I do a roundup of ten things I don’t want to see on restaurant menus or in bars anymore. Yeah, it’s time for the tablehopper to cop some ‘tude, arch an eyebrow, and be a little fussy. Hey, you try eating out and drinking five nights a week, and you’d have some things to say, too. Let’s dive in.

No Thanks, I’m Fine: No More in 09

1. I am so blowing the whistle on cupcakes. Yes, it’s great to have a few shops in each city, but we don’t need more than a few. And really, what is up with the LINES of people (mostly ladies) waiting at some of these places? Ri-donkedonk. Now, I would queue up for a true Parisian croissant… but unless those sprinkles on said cupcakes start coming from happy pills, the frosting on my cupcake is of an unhappy face.

2. Since we’re on dessert, what is up with all the salt ending up in my sweets? Salted caramels, lovely. Salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite, bring it. But when I start crunching on large flakes of salt in my chocolate dessert and suddenly need to order more water, I gotta draw the line. Please keep the monster flakes o’ Maldon away from my Madagascar chocolate.

3. You didn’t think I was going to skip fro-yo, did you? Hells no. See, it’s the exact same cycle that happened back in the 80s: too many yogurt shops open at once, the city gets flooded with fro-yo, and then suddenly every place closes shop and we end up with none. It’s a runaway train of fruit-named knockoffs breeding like rabbits. And hilariously, the City doesn't even have a Pinkberry, the mother ship of them all.

4. Ahem on mixology mayhem. Now, I love my cocktails as much as the next boozehound. And we’re blessed to have so many pros in San Francisco who can make a spectacular cocktail—I dig the “kitchen notes” in a lot of drinks that make them pair well with food, or help my cocktail do double duty as an appetizer, heh. But more and more I find myself glazing over when my drink starts to sound like something I should be eating in a haute French restaurant, with a detailed description of each and every ingredient and the techniques used to make the darned thing. Can we dial this back to five, or six? (The hype, and the minutes it takes to make it.) Let’s get back to having the folks behind the stick be bartenders first, mixologists second. Which is why I am finding myself back on Manhattans. They’re quick, because yo, I’m thirsty. And it better not cost $14.

5. I know I’m gonna get some heat on this one, but the cocktail consulting thing at local restos also needs some reining in. A good cocktail list does not a good restaurant make. Yeah, the cocktail program reads great on the restaurant’s press release, and it’s all dandy during the opening when the startenders are there, but what is going on with those drinks a month or two later? That quality control thing is tricky. I’d prefer simpler drinks (see above), less fanfare.

6. This one is a cautionary tale: bacon. I totally dug the pigwich at Orson, and the bacon with apple and maple donut from Dynamo was an item whose time had come. But folks experimenting with bacon better stop acting all OCG (Original Culinary Gangster) because look around, everyone is doing it. Bacon is totally jumping the shark.

7. Ditto on poached eggs. Breakfast, it’s what’s for dinner! Not. I eat far too many eggs every week; they’re definitely going with me to the desert island. But man, can we take it (over) easy? Eggs are making appearances on dinner menus everywhere. Unless the chef is doing something really unique, like Seis Kamimura at Postrio, who is soft-cooking an egg inside a Wolfe Ranch quail, wrapping that puppy in San Daniele prosciutto, then deep frying it, and glazing the quail with a maple Banyuls vinegar gastrique—otherwise, can we just leave the poached eggs to the brunch places, truffle season, pizzas, and bistros serving salade Lyonnaise?

8. Large plates, but small tables, and even smaller portions. ‘Nuff said.

9. Communal tables, especially the big ones that are so wide you can’t hear your friend sitting across from you, especially with all the other people around talkin’ loudly. So much for communal. Yes, they are a clever way to seat single diners or a random group of folks who don’t have reservations, but find me anyone out there who brightens up when the reservationist says, “No, we don’t have any tables available that night, but we do have first-come, first-served spots at our communal table!”

10. Did I just hear that woman at the table next to me ask if the salad was local? Yeah lady, the menu says it’s from County Line Harvest, relax. The intense local / sustainable / organic policing that is happening at restaurant tables is making my head hurt. It’s like the Inquisition! These are fine questions to ask of your salmon, your beef, and your tomatoes during that pesky scare, but what’s coming under the microscope next, the garnish in your drink, and the chocolate shavings on your dessert? Why even eat out?

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the lush

SagatibaDECEMBER 30, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Since a lot of industry folks are working hard to make this important event a successful one, I wanted to repeat last week’s details, plus mention some additional ones about the ~BENEFIT FOR TONY DEVENCENZI~ that is happening on Monday January 5th. I know the organizers will so appreciate anything you can do to support this event, as will Tony.

Here are the most important details: the event runs from 6:30pm–11:30pm at Enrico’s on Monday January 5th.

And now for some new deets: there will be $10 raffle tickets, a silent auction, and Joey Altman’s Back Burner Blues Band plays from 8:30pm–10pm. Prizes include bottles of wine and spirits, and gift certificates to local restaurants. There will also be a poker clinic from 8pm–11pm. And here’s what I wrote last week:

I was very sorry to learn local bartender ~TONY DEVENCENZI~ (he works at the Clock Bar) was in a terrible accident last Sunday night when out walking, and has had to undergo some major surgery. He is in stable condition and doing well, but unfortunately does not have health insurance, and will be missing a lot of time from work as he heals. The bar and restaurant industry, and the San Francisco chapter of the United States Bartender Guild have rallied to set up a fundraising benefit for Tony at Enrico’s on Monday January 5th.

Enrico’s has volunteered exclusive access to the entire restaurant, and is donating passed apps (sliders and pizzas) from 6:30pm–9:30pm. While the official hours of the event are 6:30pm–11:30pm, people are encouraged to come later when they get off work, too. The entire bar staff will be USBG volunteers who are donating 100% of their tips to Tony’s fund. (The majority of bar revenue will also benefit the fund.) Reza Esmaili of Conduit and Zare at Fly Trap is managing the event and happy to take inquiries/volunteers. Event organizers are taking donations at the door, and will be selling raffle tickets for restaurant gift certificates, wine, and silent auction items and other prizes, including chef Joey Altman cooking at your home, spirit gift baskets, and collector cocktail books from Gary Regan and Dale Degroff. There will also be music (to be confirmed next week) and a great crowd of folks. I’ll have additional details next week. 504 Broadway at Kearny.

How you can help:
~Attend the event, donate, buy raffle tickets, tip big.
~Donate auction/raffle items (they are looking for spirit, wine, and beer sponsors for the event; monetary donations; raffle and silent auction items). If you or your company has something to donate, please contact Debbie Rizzo of Drink PR: darizzo[at]
~Write a check to the USBG. All proceeds will go to Tony through the USBG Relief Fund, a 501c3 Charity. Checks can be made out to the USBG and are tax-deductible. To make a donation, contact Debbie Rizzo (see above). Here’s wishing Tony a speedy recovery.

the wino









DECEMBER 30, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Jerry Cooper owns Swirl on Castro, a wine/spirits retail store and wine bar in the Castro district, and is an active participant in the wine and spirits world. He judges for the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Panel, The SF International Wine Competition, and the SF World Spirits Competition.

My Cheers to a Splendid and Spirited 2009!

 “…and a toast to all my friends!” Ok, if the truth be known, I just might join Tara Reid in rehab by the end of the month. As they say, “’tis the season,” and for those of us who pride ourselves on being urban cocktailians, this is definitely the season to raise our glasses for a celebratory toast, over and over again.

As we are gunning up for the big New Year’s parties, with glasses in hand, let’s look at some off-the-beaten-path adult beverages. I am growing weary of the word “artisan,” but we will take a peek at some handcrafted spirits that have recently landed in town that I am forecasting will soon be ingredients for the new 2009 cocktails (and stocked at your home bar).

Dark, rich, and divine
Nocino (no-CHEE-no) della Cristiana Walnut Liqueur (200ml, $24) is produced by a really sweet husband-and-wife couple in Napa Valley, Giorgio and Manbin Monteverdi. This labor of love is based on a traditional Swiss recipe using green (unripe) walnuts, grape brandy, and is infused with spices from around the world (with no artificial ingredients). It’s super concentrated and nearly indescribable—closer to a digestivo than liqueur. Sip after dinner with cookies, and try adding Nocino (1 tbs. per cup) to sweetened whipped cream and serve over pecan or pumpkin pie.

Ring my belle.
Second on my shopping list is Belle de Brillet Liqueur (375ml, $30), a heavenly pear elixir from France. This Poire Williams au Cognac is sweet but not too too—and what’s truly amazing is that it tastes exactly like freshly cut pears dosed with just a hint of Cognac. Ten pounds of pears are used to produce one 375ml bottle, no lie. I am not a sweet liqueur consumer (too many Grand Marnier hangovers in my youth), but I could take a bath is this stuff—and since it’s only 30 percent alcohol, I can sip this to my heart’s content on school nights. Serve neat (my preference, why mess with perfection?) or mix with cava or prosecco (don’t mess with my Champagne) for celebratory bubbles. Someday I have got to try the ultimate (I imagine) pairing: Belle de Brillet and crêpes flambées. Find a bottle of this stuff, you can thank me later.

Pass the bong
My recommendation on the “green” list; the artisanal (I know, I know…) vodka called Crop Harvest Earth (750ml, $32.50). Okay, now, let’s put on our Birkenstocks and talk about this. This is a true USDA-certified organic product, distilled “with great care” from certified-organic grain grown on America’s plains, and distilled in Princeton, Minnesota. We took this vodka on a taste test, and it passed with flying colors. Crop is very clean and pure, with good depth and character, great viscosity, and some real twang on the finish—comparable in style to Ketel One.

Also interesting is the fact that Crop is distilled “so efficiently” that no carbon treatment or charcoal filtering is required. I think we are safe to assume that this is good for the planet; less charcoal must be better, right? They also make a cucumber vodka and a tomato vodka. With so many vodkas on the market, and even with our ringing endorsement, we are not sure this will be a big hit outside Berkeley and Madison… But I say go for it. Ask for it by name: CROP.

the wino

DECEMBER 30, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Local Wine Directors and Sommeliers on 2009 Predictions

Local wine directors and sommeliers are looking into their crystal decanters and share what they think we’ll be swirling in our glasses in 2009.

Melanie Alioto, beverage manager/sommelier of One Market Restaurant, predicts that Washington State syrahs are going to be one of the next big things in 2009 because people don’t normally think of Washington as a red-growing state in general—they’re more known for their rieslings and other whites. Per Alioto, “Syrahs are one of the few reds that grow well in colder regions and the ones coming out of Washington are amazing right now. The rosé trend is also going to continue to grow. The wines from more unknown regions of France, such as Languedoc, and others in the Southwest are going to be more popular as the economy continues to slow because they’re value wines.”
Nicole Burke, the wine director for EPIC Roasthouse, thinks, “There will be a lot of value to be found as price readjustments trickle through the market. Domestically, wineries that still need to move wine will have to do so with price reductions. So if you're willing to pay a little bit more, you can potentially have a whole lot of wine in your glass. Australia is making a big push to correct its marketing mistakes and promote high-quality, balanced wine (i.e. no more furry-critter wines, we all know the culprits). Look for snappy, mouthwatering riesling as a fantastic alternative to a sea of sauvignon blanc. Don’t forget about the Kiwis either! They are producing world-class pinot noirs that are complex, layered with fruit and spice, but toned down on ripeness; you don't find any syrah masquerading as pinot noir here!

“Argentina has been hitting home runs with luscious malbecs. I saw many people turn to malbec this year for its affordability and high quality. The press has given many accolades to the 2008 vintage, which will be hitting the market in the early months of 2009, which will make malbec a continuing trend.”

Mauro Cirilli, the sommelier at Perbacco, has seen a growing trend in guests looking to support small producers, and he thinks this will be very big in 2009. Also, he anticipates more consumers and restaurant guests will be interested in buying and drinking wine that is organic and/or biodynamic, both farming styles that fall in line with small producers and in turn, Perbacco will feature more such producers on their wine list.

Alex Fox, formerly a sommelier at Gary Danko and the wine director at Myth, says, “The key words for the SF wine and beverage world in 2009 are affordable luxuries, shrinkage (not the Seinfeld kind) as opportunity, and Chateau du Corkage. While the potbelly may not come into vogue in '09, handcrafted beers (and the chubby folks who love them) will continue to grow in popularity as an affordable luxury. Ditto for ‘froufy’ cocktails. 

“On the wine side, 2009 will be the year of indigenous grape varieties from less-heralded appellations made by smaller producers in the $20-and-under retail and $60-and-under restaurant price ranges. The ‘it’ wines of 2009 will be prosecco, grenache, and anything from Southern Italy.

“Shrinkage will occur as fancy restaurant wine lists will lower their inventories by not taking some of their allocations of pricey California cult wines creating an ‘opportunity’ for consumers with cash to buy direct from the wineries and high-end retailers. It remains to be seen whether they will lower their margins as well. They would be well advised to do so as corkage, corkage, and more corkage will be seen, especially at restaurants with the worst reputations for high mark-ups. This is understandable in the current economy, but please exercise restraint and help out those restaurants with passionate staff members, creative lists, reasonable mark-ups, and an array of selections in all price points by leaving that bottle at home. Happy holidays, and drink up!”

Andrew Green, the wine director for Bacchus Management Group (The Village Pub, Spruce, and the forthcoming Café Des Amis) anticipates the big value regions for 2009 to be the wines from Southern Italy, Central Spain, and the focus on great values from Argentina and Australia to continue. 2007 wasn’t the best vintage in the classic regions of France, so he doesn’t think there will be a lot of hoopla over releases from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
O. Timothy Jones, sommelier at Bong Su Restaurant & Lounge says, “People are more willing to explore unknown areas and are savvier than they were five years ago. They are more educated about the world of wine. In 2009, value is going to be at the forefront—this doesn’t mean cheap, but that the quality of what is in the bottle has to be a good value for the price. Food-friendly wines will gain more interest; there are great examples coming from regions like Portugal, Spain, and Italy—wines like falanghina, greco di tufo, and vermentino; they have great acidity and are lighter. The trend is going to be away from big alcohol, big oak, and big fruit bombs. Additionally, there will be a continued discussion of the carbon footprint of the wine industry as wineries look at packaging, sustainable growing and harvesting, and shipping. We might be just starting to see a move away from heavy glass bottles.”
Shelley Lindgren, wine director of A16 and SPQR, has this to say, “There’s good news for Italian wine lovers for 2009. The slightly strengthening dollar is starting to make a positive price difference with the new shipments of small-production, fabulous wines reaching our shores. Italians know a thing or two about surviving through down times without having to forgo the pleasure of making sure there is wine in a glass and great food to eat. I am really looking forward to new gems from Sicily, Campania, and Marche.

“We just brought in a wonderful vernaccia nera from around the Serrapetrona area of Marche and some magliocco from the west coast of Calabria near Lamezia Terme. The venerable Casa d’Ambra winery from Ischia, Campania, has arrived at long last, and the biancolella they produce from the highest peak on the island, ‘Frassitelli’ will be paired with our octopus terrina with fennel, radish, preserved lemon, and olio nuovo on New Year’s Eve at A16. Salute!”

Emily Wines, wine director at Fifth Floor Restaurant, shares her predictions: “As Champagne prices continue to go into the stratosphere, bubbly drinkers will revolt and start drinking more offbeat sparkling wines. Cremant, sekt, cava, and Franciacorta will grow in popularity as Champagne becomes too pricy to sell in grocery stores.

“The wines of Greece, Southern Italy, and Portugal will continue to surprise people. The funky juice is a thing of the past. The wines are really good and mostly really cheap!

“Wine drinkers will revolt against high-alcohol wines. 16-percent-alcohol cabs will be relegated to the status of the super ‘oaky/buttery’ chardonnays that were popular in the late 90s. Those wines will still have their fans, but conscientious consumers will demand wines with more finesse.”

the starlet

DECEMBER 30, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO On the celebrity front, Sharon Gless from Cagney and Lacey and Queer as Folk was in the other night at Orson for dinner.

And here’s one to rock out to: Sammy Hagar (who owns Cabo Wabo Tequila) dined at The Lark Creek Inn on December 23rd with his wife and family. Coincidentally, Mr. Burillo (the owner of Don Julio Tequila) was also dining the same night in the sunroom, so there were a lot of Tequila fans in the casa!


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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