table of contents This week's tablehopper: I can haz cheezburger.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
new restaurant reviews
the lush
put it on my tab
the socialite
the wino
in vino veritas
the hardhat
watch your step
the starlet
no photos please

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MARCH 10, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO Thanks to everyone who came out for the Festa del Pesto at Farina last Thursday—in case you missed it, the special pricing continues this week through Thursday. I am also giving away three bottles of their perfetto pesto, which Farina is selling at the special price of $9 during the festa. The first three readers to email with “pesto” in the subject line are the lucky winners. (So if you’re reading this Tuesday night, it’ll be too late—sorry Charlie.) I’ll let you know if you’re a winner as soon as I get your email! The catch: you have to go to Farina and pick it up yourself.

It was the week of festas, because Sunday night was also the Festa della Donna at A16. Chef Liza Shaw’s menu rocked the house, most especially the ricotta and mint caramelle with braised rabbit and English peas, the quintessence of spring. It’s not a pasta you see very often (very labor intensive), but you’ll be happy to know A16 made so many caramelle that the dish will be around for the next few days. So scoot on over if you can!

Now, I’m not a big one on “the best” this, and “the best” that (it’s like being asked my favorite restaurant—ugh), but sometimes you just gotta call it. So I’ve got something for ya: the last six weeks, I have inadvertently been punishing myself by trying to find the best burger at SF restaurants with cloth napkins. Yup, 15 burgers later, I have an answer. Check out the results of my burger tour in this week’s the regular. And vegetarians, you might want to skip ahead to another section.

And what the hell, it’s a new month, time for a new book giveaway from Ten Speed Press! This month I am giving away Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. The three winners will be stoked because the book doesn’t come out until April, so you’re getting advance copies! All you need to do is send an email to, telling me your favorite Mexican dish in the Bay Area, whether it’s a taco, torta, or tlacoyo! Looking forward to seeing your faves. Deadline to enter is midnight on Sunday March 15th, and I’ll alert the three winners after the drawing next week!

That reminds me, I’ll be emceeing the second episode of Edible Pursuit this Sunday at Acme Chophouse—see you there? It’s a blast. Read all about it in the socialite.

Yours in beef,

~Marcia subscribe
the chatterbox

International Culinary School at the Art Institute of CaliforniaMARCH 10, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO I was sorry to receive word yesterday that ~BONG SU RESTAURANT & LOUNGE~ served its final dinner on Saturday evening, March 7th, after three years in business. According to the notice, the two driving factors were proprietors Anne Le Ziblatt and Tammy Huynh’s “belief that the current economic conditions are only going to deteriorate further over the next year, and an on-going dispute with their landlord.” They are going to be focusing on their restaurant Tamarine in Palo Alto. Farewell, shrimp cupcakes. 311 Third St. at Folsom.

Due to open next Monday March 16th is ~PIZZANOSTRA~ from Jocelyn Bulow (of the Chez Papa and Maman family). It’s opening in the former Cafe Couleur space in Potrero Hill, next to Sally’s. The chef is Giovanni Aginolfi, who has been a pizza chef in France for the past four-plus years. I got a peek at the menu, and it includes a variety of nine Neapolitan pizzas ranging from $12–$17, like a capricciosa (tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms, artichokes, and egg—and I hope some ham makes its way on there) and the pied-noir (tomato, mozzarella, Merguez lamb sausage, egg). There will also be some focaccia (more like pizza bianca, really), including a focaccia di Recco, and one with dolce gorgonzola, fingerling potatoes, radicchio, and rosemary. Also slated to appear on the menu: tronchetto (like a calzone) and three dessert pizzas. The pizzeria will be open for lunch and dinner from 11:30am–10pm daily.

Also part of the project is the Osteria, run by chef de cuisine Chad Huck, currently the lead lunch cook at Chez Papa Resto. The pan-Italian menu includes a variety of antipasti for $7–$12 (arancini, burrata, grilled octopus, meatballs, bone marrow), salumi, panini, bruschetta, and pasta dishes for either $9 or $16 (gnocchi, linguine with clams). Hours will be 11:30am–2:30pm and 5:30pm–10pm, with weekend brunch from 10:30am–4pm. There are 35–40 seats outside, sure to be popular as it gets warmer out. 300 De Haro St. at 16th St., 415-558-9493.

I got a few more details on ~OTORO~, the restaurant opening in the former Laurel’s Cuban Restaurant space in Hayes Valley. The menu will offer a combination of izakaya-inspired small plates, noodles (udon, soba, and three kinds of ramen), and sushi. The owners want to appeal to a younger crowd, and are going to try to keep later hours and stay open until 11pm. The chef worked for 15 years in Japanese kitchens, and has most recently been working in Philadelphia. The spot is small, with about 30 seats and an eight-seat bar, where they will serve sake, soju, and, of course, soju cocktails. The opening is targeted toward the end of March—I’ll keep you posted. 205 Oak St. at Gough.

Chowhounds are discussing the new ~KING OF NOODLES~, offering hand-pulled Chinese noodles. According to reports, “the owner is the brother of the owner of Kingdom of Dumplings.” It also seems they serve lunch Fri–Tue, and dinner daily. I gotta check this one out. 1639 Irving St. at 17th Ave., 415-566-8318.

After months of being closed, according to a pending liquor license transfer, ~DEEP SUSHI~ has sold. 1740 Church St. at 29th St.

Tomorrow night, Wednesday March 11th, ~COFFEE BAR~ is hosting another film night, and will be screening one of my all-time faves: Saturday Night Fever! (The soundtrack was my very first cassette tape.) Coffee Bar is bringing in pizza from Arinell Pizza on Valencia, plus offering New York-style cheesecake, popcorn, and $3 beers and bubbles. The screening starts at 7pm, so come early and get your seat, your snacks, and say ayyyyyyyy, Tony! 1890 Bryant St. at Mariposa, 415-551-8100.

I get some pretty dangerous mail sometimes—no, nothing with anthrax (thank heavens), but more like carb- and butter-loaded mail. Fortunately, after I take a taste, I have some hungry men in my life who I can call up to take edibles off my hands. Like a few weeks ago, when I got a big box o’ treats from ~EMPORIO RULLI~. There was a colomba pasquale (Easter dove) that had a nice hint of orange, and was totally loaded with butter—I also learned it’s a 72-hour process to make it. (And probably double that to burn it off.) For those of you who celebrate the Festa di San Giuseppe on March 19th, Rulli makes zeppole for one day only: a cream, custard, and amarena cherry-stuffed vanilla sponge cake. Oh dear. If you want some, the zeppole need to be ordered by March 16th ($4.75 each). (Sorry, I already foisted all my leftovers on my fellas.)

More St. Joseph’s-related news: on Saturday March 21st, ~PALIO D’ASTI~ is hosting their 19th annual St. Joseph’s Day Celebration, from 5pm–9pm. It’s a family-style dinner It’s a family-style dinner with a Sicilian dessert buffet for $49 per adult (children only pay their age). Executive chef/owner Dan Scherotter will also be offering 50% off all bottles of Barbera and Brunello. 640 Sacramento St. at Montgomery, 415-362-6003.

When you’re done with my burger tour (below), you can check out a Balboa Burger at the PlumpJack Group’s annual ~BURGER FOR A PINT~ community blood drive, which rewards blood donors with a Balboa Burger, compliments of Balboa Cafe. Those who donate blood at the mobile donation center outside the restaurant receive a certificate for a complimentary burger, which can be redeemed within the next year. To make an appointment, interested donors must visit, click on the “Donate Blood” tab and enter sponsor code “Balboa-SF” or “Balboa-MV,” depending on the location at which they’d like to make the donation. San Francisco’s drive is Tuesday March 24th from 2pm–7pm; PlumpJack Balboa Cafe, 3199 Fillmore St., 415-921-3944. Mill Valley’s is Tuesday March 31st from 2pm–7pm; Balboa Cafe Mill Valley, 38 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, 415-381-7321.

Here is your weekly meal deal update:

~JACK FALSTAFF~ has started offered La Cena de Familia, a new four-course prix-fixe family-style menu every night of the week. The menu changes seasonally and includes dishes that are homey and hearty, such as the current menu of Duroc pork tenderloin and smoked ribs. Each course is served in an abundant portion in the center of the table so you can all dig in together. $40 per person, exclusive of tax, tip, and beverages. Parties of three or more must agree to order the menu together. 598 Second St. at Brannan, 415-836-9239.

~JARDINIÈRE~ is also offering some new Monday night prix-fixe dinners for $45, and the price includes wine pairings. Next Monday March 16th is the Devil’s Gulch Ranch dinner, with a selection of Jardinière charcuterie from Devil's Gulch pork; salad of Devil's Gulch rabbit, local asparagus, wild mushrooms, and whole grain-mustard vinaigrette, with Feudi Della Medusa, Vermentino di Sardegna "Albithia" Italy 2006; Devil's Gulch lamb, white bean, kale ragoût, and salsa verde, with Fontodi Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy 2004; and for dessert, rhubarb crostada, vanilla gastrique, and crème fraîche ice cream with D'Ancona Passito de Pantelleria, Pantelleria, Italy 2004. Check the website for weekly menu updates. 300 Grove St. at Franklin, 415-861-5555.

Lost Art SalonAnd now, let’s see what’s free:

Sunday March 15th from 2pm–6pm is the opening reception of ~DELICIOUS~, with food- and drink-related works by 85 artists. There will be cheese provided by Cheese Plus. STUDIO Gallery, 1815 Polk St. at Washington, 415-931-3130.

The San Francisco Public Library and the International Museum of Women are partnering to present Women’s History Month programs featuring local women who are making history and waves in the Bay Area. On Wednesday March 18th is ~CREATING A BUSINESS WITH A MISSION: A DELICIOUS TALK FROM COWGIRL CREAMERY’S SUE CONLEY~. The event starts at 6:30pm. Mission Bay Branch, 960 4th St. at Berry, 415-355-2838.

Next Thursday March 19th, ~JOANNE WEIR~ is doing a book signing of her recent book, Wine Country Cooking, with tastes from Weir’s recipes and wine pairings at McEvoy Ranch Ferry Building shop. Now, this part isn’t free, but if you buy a cookbook, you can take a home a complimentary 375ml bottle of the Traditional Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Space is limited, so please respond to rsvp [at] by March 17th. 6pm-8pm. Ferry Building Marketplace, 415-291-7224.

Due to open this Wednesday is ~BARLATA~, the Oakland project I mentioned a while ago from Daniel Olivella of B44 in Belden Place. This addition to the Temescal neighborhood sports 60 seats (it’s the former Biggum’s Silver Lion space), and one of the longest list of tapas I have seen in some time. There are also assorted pinchos at the bar for $2.50 a pop—they will tally up the toothpicks when you’re done (so no trying to sneak one out in your teeth). It’s an all-Spanish wine list, with a few Sherries, four beers on tap (including Chupacabras pale ale and Affligem blond), and seven bottled beers. Open daily 5pm–11pm. 4901 Telegraph Ave. at 49th St., Oakland, 510-450-0678.

I got word of a home-style Italian place that just opened Friday March 6th, ~TRATTORIA LAURELLINO~, from chef/owner Terrell Santiago. On the menu: antipasti, salads, pastas, seafood, and panini during the day. The beer and wine license is still pending, FYI. They sound like nice folks, and according to the note I received, eager for feedback since they opened relatively quickly. Open Tue–Thu 11:30am–9pm, Fri–Sat 11:30am–10pm, Sun 11:30am–8pm. 4171 MacArthur Blvd. at 39th Ave., Oakland, 510-530-3600.

Top Chef fans, I heard Jamie Lauren and Stefan Richter will be working a station together in the Lexus Grand Tasting ($165/person) on Saturday April 18th, and doing a Cooking Demo together, “Top Chefs Behind the Scenes” ($100/person) on Sunday April 19th at ~PEBBLE BEACH FOOD & WINE~. Let’s see how much Stefan continues to hilariously flirt with her.

Got a hot tip? You know I'd love it (and you). Just reply to this email!

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the regular


The Quest for the Best Cloth Napkin Burger

There’s nothing like a good juicy hamburger, and in the middle of “damn, my wallet is empty” times, burgers are (usually) an inexpensive beacon on restaurant menus everywhere. And leave it to San Francisco chefs to up the burger ante, with everything from homemade buns to pickled onions to one-of-a-kind condiments.

Since people still want to go out, but not shell out the usual dough needed to do so, I was inspired to do a roundup of the best beef burgers in San Francisco. But here’s the catch: they had to be at places with cloth napkins. You know, fancy-ass burgers.

The City is full of them, as I painfully came to realize. Really now, what on earth was I thinking? In the end, I hit 15 places. In a little over a month’s time, mind you. I tried ‘em plain, with cheese, with truffles, with mustard, without, but always asked for a true medium rare. I didn’t get to make it to every place in the City, because I had to wave the flag at some point. Like, ow, enough already. It’s a miracle I don’t have gout.

Next up: the best salad! Kidding. But let’s just say I am off burgers for a while.

Below is the winner, plus the rest of the burgers I tried (in no particular order). If you'd like to see bigger pics of the burgers (some are much better than others), click here to go to the regular archive.

The Best Cloth Napkin Burger

Let’s cut to the chase: the winning burger is at ~BIX~. In fact, this burger is what inspired Fancy-Ass Burger Quest 2009. After two bites into that puppy during a Friday lunch, I asked to speak with chef Bruce Hill about the burger—stat. There was something different about it. It was special. I knew it.

Sure enough, there is even some technology behind it. It ends up Hill has invented his very own Plancha Press™ (yup, he trademarked the thing), a 410g stainless steel little number that helps weigh food down and makes it cook evenly, whether it’s a beef patty or some fish. It has a variety of groovy features and uses; restaurants around town like Coi, Quince, and COCO500 use Hill’s Plancha Press for all kinds of things, even pickling and sous vide (it helps keep items like pickles from floating up). Feel free talk to Hill if you’re interested.

So, the burger. It’s made with ground Creekstone Angus, and Hill and chef de cuisine Colin Dewey worked really hard on perfecting it over the past couple years. As Hill said to me, “A good burger is the hardest thing to cook.” At Bix, they sear it on one side, flip it, and then Plancha Press it and, here’s the crucial part: they time it! Let’s hear it for consistency. It was such a gorgeous medium rare that I wanted to hug the chef. The grind is supple and the patty is so juicy, with a satisfying beefy flavor that makes you look forward to the next bite until that thing is completely and utterly demolished. All you have left to show for it is your dirty cloth napkin.

Also at the party: delicious melted cheese, hot and crisp homemade fries (again, major thought went into mastering these fries—and they’re not too thin, not too thick, not mushy, not oily, and not over-fried), a side of aioli and ketchup (you gotta request Dijon—I found out I am a minority in requesting mustard for my burger), a Panorama poppy seed bun that held up like a champ, crisp lettuce, classic sliced red onion, and while I passed over the out-of-season tomato, I can appreciate why it’s there: make the customer happy. I sure was.

The Bix Burger is $13.95 during Friday lunch service and is $16 on the dinner menu.

Side note: oh yeah, and if you really want to beef out, start with the steak tartare, also my favorite execution in the City. And it’s prepared tableside. When you graduate to the next burger level, there’s also a truffled pecorino cheeseburger on buttered rye for $27.50.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of Bix here.

The Samurai

I had heard good things about chef Nicolaus Balla’s burger at ~O IZAKAYA LOUNGE~, and I am here to report: they are all true. It’s a hefty half-pound Meyer beef burger ($13), with delicious shichimi-spiced French fries and house-made garlic aioli. I could only eat half—it’s that hefty. I loved the unusual add-ons ($2 each) like savory maitake mushrooms (yay, not watery!) and charred negi onion, while my friend swears by the combo of maitake mushrooms and can’t-believe-it addition of Point Reyes Blue for only $2. You can also throw on shishito peppers, crisp bacon, or a fried egg.

Side note: you can print off a deal on the site and save even more dough. The appetizer of braised pork dumplings was also delicious, but bummer, everything came out all at once. Hate that.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of O Izakaya Lounge here.

Upward Dog

The burger at ~ABSINTHE BRASSERIE AND BAR~ is such a hooker. More of an escort, really, because it’s an Estancia grass-fed beef patty on an Acme brioche bun. And even though she is one of the cheapest (only $11.50), man does she dress up nice in Gruyère, spicy caramelized onions, and a fried egg ($1.50 each). Seriously, call the cops. (A tablehopper reader told me about that evil combo, so don’t blame it on me.)

The house-made pickles had good snap, the baby lettuces were super tender, and the aioli only made it all the more decadent. The cone of fries ($6) needs no introduction: j’adore them, with their trio of dipping options, including Dijon, thyme-infused malt vinegar, and rouille. Oh yeah, and a bottle of the Paul Janin et Fils, Clos du Tremblay, Moulin-A-Vent, Beaujolais ’05 ($39) made it all quite magic.

Side note: while the burger was a hooker with a heart of gold, it was actually the house-made hot dog that stole the show. Executive chef Jamie Lauren is obsessed with hot dogs (she even has a few hot dog necklace charms), so if she’s gonna put a hot dog on the menu, it’s gotta represent. It took some digging by our server, but we found out the dog is a combo of pork shoulder, American Kobe beef, house-made bacon, and some fatback, which adds the juicy factor. Mother of G-o-d, this d-o-g is a benchmark. Great hot doggy emulsified texture and de rigueur grill marks. Wait until you try the feisty Guinness mustard that soaks delightfully into the Acme bun, plus the chili ketchup, tangy sauerkraut, and yogurt-dill potato chips. A lot of work went into this thing, which is why it rings in at $12, .50¢ more than the burger. Hot dawg!

Both the burger and the dog are on the bar menu starting at 8pm, and Sat–Sun from 3pm–5pm.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of Absinthe here.

The Burger with a Million-Dollar View

Sitting upstairs for lunch in the Quiver Bar at ~EPIC ROASTHOUSE~ feels like a secret: table 301 in the corner afforded me and my burger compatriot one hell of a view of the water and the Bay Bridge. And I dug the loungey vibe, too. The Quiver Bar is where you can order the 3 Bs: a burger, beer, and a brownie for $20 (Monday through Friday from 11:30am–5pm). You get a half-pound burger, a daily grind made from top-notch trimmings, ranging from porterhouse to rib-eye to tenderloin to short ribs. The burger is a juicy beast, nestled in a grilled Panorama buttery roll that was made to executive chef Jan Birnbaum’s specifications.

The pickles were good, but why the super-thick slices of them? Ditto on the thick rounds of grilled onion—they were a bit challenging to eat in the already towering burger. I also didn’t fully groove on the waffle chips—I prefer fries with my burger. Waffle chips are for sandwiches, because then I can tuck them inside, crunch crunch. Sadly gotta dock points for the brownie: it was a brick, and just crazy sweet. I like mine chewy and chocolatey. But after that burger, I was in no shape to eat a honking brownie—well, for five hours or so.

Side note: kudos on the accompanying “salad bar” of condiments, which included corn relish, whole-grain mustard, bacon bits, aioli, and mushrooms—no need to order a “special” burger, because it’s all there for ya! Bonus points for the savory house-made ketchup—they could sell bottles of it.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of EPIC here.

The Old-Timer

Let’s hear it for Patty Unterman’s ~HAYES STREET GRILL~. 30 years old, and rocking one heck of a burger. It’s made with Estancia grass-fed beef, which added a gamey flavor (in a good way—not too minerally). For a grass-fed burger, it was surprisingly juicy. It was cooked to a boo-ti-ful medium rare, and the Acme bun held up. The Grafton cheddar was my favorite cheese option that I encountered on the tour, nicely melted, and whoa, the legendary hand-cut fries were wickedly tasty, crispy, and irresistible. High marks for this one, all the way around. $14.50 at lunch, and $15.50 with the cheddah, don’t pass it up.

The “Slow” Burger

I have been enjoying the burger at ~SLOW CLUB~ for years. For the price, it totally over-delivers: for $12.50, you get quality meat (Prather Ranch dry-aged ground beef), a slew of condiments (including aioli and tasty balsamic onions), your choice of cheese (although gorgonzola is an extra $1.50), and French fries. It was cooked a true medium rare, the cheese was nicely melted, and the greens were fresh. However, the Acme bun came out kind of spongy, and the fries were just okay—not very hot and too salty. Still, solid marks for this workhorse.

Side note: again, if you feel like a beef-tastic night, start with the grilled flatbread ($12.50) topped with sliced New York strip, Montasio cheese (yum, I want that on the burger!), gold chard, and caramelized onions. Meowza.

THAT Burger

This one is gonna hurt. Chef Jonnatan Leiva’s burger at ~JACK FALSTAFF~ is so demented that they have to keep it hidden away from the regular menu. I mentioned this big daddy (try over two pounds) in a piece I wrote for San Francisco magazine about secret menu items—you have to ask for “that burger.” It’s a beef behemoth ($20) made up of Strawberry Hills Farm beef from Oregon, plus beef brisket tucked inside (that part can change—it depends what was braised that day), topped with a runny egg, Zoe’s bacon, and blue cheese.

Oh. My. God.

Kids, don’t eat this alone. Suffice to say, I split the tower of power three ways with a fireman and a friend of mine with stupidly good metabolism. While it was cooked unevenly here and there (I mean, really, how can this thing be cooked just right?), there was definitely something scarily satisfying about eating it. Purely animal. Reportedly there’s this tiny Asian chick who comes in and wolfs the whole thing—go sister.

Side note: the Caesar salad that came with the beast was crisp and delish, and desserts have really taken a step up here—they’re inventive, elegant, and wait until you taste the Marshall Farms honey-milk ice cream.

The “Throw in the Tea Towel” Burger

Let’s hear it for the City’s unofficial late-night burger. And check this out: ~NOPA~ sold 15,000 of ’em in 2008. That is, quite frankly, major. What I love about this burger ($13) is that it’s not too big: like the three bears, it’s just right. Yay, it was cooked that way too: a gorg medium rare, which can be tricky with grass-fed beef. Speaking of, it’s from Marin Sun Farms, and comes inside a house-made brioche-style bun (which is why it has such a lovely buttery texture), plus crisp and fresh little gem lettuce, and your choice of cheese for $1.50.

I appreciate the additional homemade touches of the aioli, house-cured bacon, pickled onions, and hand-cut fries. And about those Kennebec fries: Nopa goes through 1,200 pounds a week. Bonus: the rice bran oil that the fries are fried is converted into biofuel. And you gotta love the fact you can order a burger up until 12:59am here, each and every night. Much respect.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of Nopa here.

The $50 Burger

If you don’t watch it, that’s what can happen to your burger tab at ~SPRUCE~. The burger is $14, but then there’s the optional foie gras supplement of $13 (not this time, I am barely hanging on, but thanks), and if you’re at the bar ordering off the Burgundy and Burger menu, you have the choice of a $12, $25, or $50 glass of something something. My partner in crime and I were lucky to come during the very end of Perigord truffle season, which would have been an additional $20, but the kind server said we really only needed a half order of truffles for the burger. Very kind, thank you for that info.

Unfortunately, the kitchen misunderstood our order and ended up splitting the burger. It was disappointing to get half a burger when you wanted a whole one, ya know? I’ll chalk it up to fate intervening on my behalf. It was also medium well, and not my requested medium rare.

The first time I had the burger here, it was stellar: the juicy and perfectly-formed patty, the house-baked and buttery English-muffin-meets-focaccia bun (it’s one of my favorites—nice buns!), with pickled onions, thinly sliced zucchini, and remoulade, all conspiring to make a swoon-worthy burger. Even the fries were better (on my recent visit, they were rather sodden). So I’m gonna chalk it up to an off night. It happens to everyone. I considered a re-match for this piece, but couldn’t afford to return and do so. It was a $50 burger, ya know.

Side note: one of the best dishes in the City is here: the boudin blanc ($14). It’s on the bar menu, and is downright transcendent. The boudin is dreamily tender, which contrasts with the slight snap from the nice searing—this winter it was paired with three-month-old sauerkraut and Muscat-glazed apple.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of Spruce here.

The San Francisco Burger

I can’t believe in all my years in San Francisco, I’d never had a ~BALBOA CAFÉ~ burger. Well, actually I do believe it, because I know to stay away from the Triangle. Anyway, this place was great for lunch, and full of dudes doing business. And are you ready for this? The Balboa Café sells 50,000 burgers a year. Whoa.

So, the burger ($9.50 at lunch). Round bun from Acme, got it. Beefy, check. Organic beef from Preferred Meats, checkity check. House-made pickles, nice. Flavorful but weirdly light house-cut French fries, noted. Caramelized onions, bon. Bun not grilled, darn. Overall, I can understand the hype—but it wasn’t the perfect medium rare I asked for.

A friend who knows the place well told me the Balboa burger on the baguette ($10.50 at lunch) is the way to go, not the bun. Oh.

Side note: let’s hear it for the Balboa chopped salad ($10.50 at lunch), a combo of applewood-smoked bacon, sliced red onions, Roquefort cheese, red beets, sliced red onion, and a roasted tomato-sherry vinaigrette. Freaking delicious.

The Other Balboa Burger

It shocks me that there are still people who haven’t eaten at ~NAMU~. So I’m going to give you yet another reason to visit this gem on Balboa in the Inner Richmond: their burger ($12). It’s a thick Niman Ranch hand-formed beef patty, with kicky kaiware, sliced pickled daikon (inspired by traditional ssäm fillings), soy-glazed onions, and the additional options of Dijon mustard and aioli. I also asked for a side of their extra-spicy sriracha—hawt! Since it’s an Asian burger, I wanted to go all the way and add some kimchee too—they promised it’s coming soon. While the burger was more medium than medium rare, and I like the interior of my bun a little grilled, this thing still hit high marks, and the thin and crispy hand-cut fries were excellent.

Side note: the bloody mari ($7), made with their house Thai chile-infused soju, was not only fabulously spicy, but it was also a great deal. Same goes for the $5 mimosa, and $6 mango mimosa. For you homesick Hawaiians, there is also a loco moco dish for brunch made with the same beef as the burger ($11). Namu is also close to the DeYoung and Academy of Sciences, so keep it in mind the next time you’re looking for a meal before or after visiting Golden Gate Park.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of Namu here.

The Steak Burger

There’s something to be said for a really good grilled flavor, and ~LARKCREEKSTEAK’S~ burgers definitely have it (they’re grilled over fruitwood chips). They grind their meat daily in-house, using scraps of prime, choice, rib-eye, the works. While the full line-up of burgers is on the lunch menu, you can order them at dinner, too.

Wanna know when being a food writer is embarrassing? Example: when you and a friend have four enormous burgers in front of you while sitting at a counter. Even a sassy waiter was inspired to toss off, “If you finish four, the fifth is free!” (I’m gonna get you, sassy waiter.) Here’s what we had in front of us: the classic 8 oz. steakburger ($12.95); the mushroom steakburger with Swiss cheese and roasted button mushrooms ($14.95); the cowboy steakburger with bacon, cheddar, barbeque sauce, and crispy onions ($15.95); and the Perigord black truffle steakburger, with truffled brie cheese, frisee, truffle vinaigrette, and caramelized onion marmalade ($24.95), all served with hand-cut fries. Talk about four-play. Heh.

The mushroom version was the surprise hit—I normally don’t like how messy (and soggy) mushrooms can be on a burger, but this execution was on point. As for texture, the crispy onions in the cowboy version were like the childhood crunch of chips in a sandwich, loved it. Frankly, we thought the truffle flavor in the truffle burger was so subtle, almost nonexistent, and I found the onion marmalade too sweet. Yay, for once the most expensive thing isn’t my favorite.

None of the burgers came medium rare, but they were so juicy that I didn’t really mind. The thinly sliced half-sour pickles were exemplary, and the Bay Bread pan de mie brioche bun is what you’ll find here. Plus really good fries—steak fries that tasted clean, crisp, and hot.

Side note: you cannot eat here without ordering the buttermilk biscuits with tomato jam and the andouille sausage, maple, and pecan butter. Sick. I also fell in love with the little gem wedge salad ($11.95), with bacon, chopped egg, and buttermilk-blue cheese dressing, served on a thoughtfully chilled plate. Check out the fab lunch special: you can get the steakburger, fries, and a root beer float for $17.50.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of LarkCreekSteak here.

The Hemp Burger

No, not really. ~MAGNOLIA PUB AND BREWERY~ has been moving away from that image since their remodel, but I still feel the Jerry Bear vibe. So, the burger ($13). It’s pretty well known and loved in these parts: Prather Ranch beef, served on a bun from Cake Box in Lafayette, with butter lettuce, house-cut fries, oven-roasted balsamic onions, a rowdy house-made beer mustard, and a pickle wedge. I appreciate the quality ingredients, and it was cooked just right, but the burger patty was way too dense for my liking—the grind was so smooth that it made it a bit rubbery, instead of the kind you really like to sink your teeth into.

Side note: I thoroughly enjoyed my Prescription Pale with my burger, but my friend’s house-made root beer is what really blew my mind. I wanna come back for a float the next time I’m hung over, sad, or both.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of Magnolia here.

The Work-In-Progress

Unfortunately the last two times I ate the burger ($15) at ~ORSON~, it just hasn’t been quite there yet. As Bruce Hill said, it’s the hardest thing to make. I know Elizabeth Falkner and team have been working on perfecting it, so I’m gonna believe the third time will be a charm. The burger is made with quality beef: house-ground Hereford chuck from Vande Rose Farms in Iowa. Orson definitely puts in a strong showing for creative toppings: foie gras mayonnaise (you should try dipping the duck fat fries [$7] in it, mamma mia), house-made steak sauce, and the bacon-blue cheese Cobb relish.

Full tablehopper restaurant review of Orson here.

Honorary Mention: A Paper Napkin Burger

Now, I know the primary criterion for this burger tour was restaurants with cloth napkins. For some reason, I thought ~CHEZ MAMAN~ on Potrero Hill had cloth napkins. They don’t. But to their credit, I ordered the damned burger ($10.50) anyway because it really is that good. Frenchie waiter of course strongly recommended the Brie ($1.50) on top (whoa—incroyable with the caramelized onions). And the soft roll from Crepe and Brioche is just the bomb—it’s a love-worthy bun that is almost like a squishy ciabatta loaf. Inside is a thin patty with juicy meat from Golden Gate Meats, and it’s cooked just right, bordering on a little rare. Sloppy and scrumptious, with either crisp fries or a fresh salad on the side.

Places I Am Not Writing Up, and Why:


The last two times I ate there I had the most atrocious service—like, I wanted to stick my fork in the server’s neck. It’s a shame, because I used to like the burger there.


Yay on the shoestring fries, but that focaccia bun is a wreck—falls apart all over the place. I don’t want to have to fork and knife my burger.

There’s also Serpentine, Bar Jules, Nettie's, Café Majestic, Fog City Diner, Acme Chophouse, One Market, Foreign Cinema, and many more on my list, let alone all the lamb burgers out there. And venison burgers. And yes, vegetarian burgers. I just couldn’t bear to do the burger tour to my body anymore.

And... scene!

the sponsor

Lost Art Salon

Gary Lee Shaffer (1936-2001)
Abstract Expressionist Stone Lithographs by A New York/San Francisco Printmaker - 1959 to 1967

Lost Art Salon Show Opens Thursday, March 26th

WHEN: Show runs March 26th–June 30th, 2009

OPENING RECEPTION: Thursday, March 26th from 5:30–8:30pm (free and open to the public)

WHO: Gary Lee Shaffer (1936–2001) was a printmaker and painter who studied under Hans Hoffman in New York and moved to San Francisco in the early 1980s. Originally from Lansing Michigan, he set out to New York in 1957, joining many other artists who converged on a new and exciting urban art scene. He was searching for an identity, a medium, and an aesthetic means to convey subjective states through Abstract Expressionism. Gary started drawing directly on lithographic limestone in 1958 in the spirit of New York abstract expressionists and continued doing so through 1967. His early prints show influences of Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Jean Miro, Wassily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko, and Richard Diebenkorn.

the lush

International Culinary School at the Art Institute of CaliforniaMARCH 10, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO Thanks to a tablehopper reader who forwarded the ~SAVE THE TONGA ROOM PETITION~ to me. Please consider signing it. You can also keep track of things in this forum on

Congratulations to ~VICTORIA D'AMATO-MORAN~ who won the Mix it Up cocktail competition in Las Vegas, taking home the $5k prize, uh huh! Camper at has all the fab details. Auguri, bella!

~SOUTH~ is hosting a Currency Converter Happy Hour from 4pm–6pm Monday through Friday—you pay the exchange rate of the day! Since the Australian dollar has tanked, that $10 glass of wine just might be $6.50! There’s also a bar bites menu with $5 eats. 330 Townsend St. at 4th St., 415-974-5599.

~GREENS RESTAURANT~ has launched Monk’s Madness Mondays, with all wines by the bottle on their award-winning list going for half price. For those who prefer to sample by the glass, they will be able to buy one, receive one free. Monk’s Madness Mondays starts on Monday March 16th, and will continue through April. Ft. Mason Center, Building A, 415-721-6222.

Saturday March 14th, ~ARLEQUIN WINE MERCHANT~ is hosting a portfolio tasting from Martine’s Wines, one of the Bay Area's most important French importers. This special afternoon tasting features six top French grower-producers from the Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Alsace regions of France, pouring approximately 20 different wines. Featured winemakers include: Rémy Gresser of Domaine Rémy Gresser; Jean-Marc Brocard of Domaine Brocard; Xavier Gonet and Julie Gonet-Médeville of Gonet-Médeville and Respide-Médeville; Sebastian Gay of Domaine Michel Gay et Fils; and Arnaud Mortet of Domaine Denis Mortet. You can find additional info about producers here. 2pm–5pm. $25 at the door; reservations not required. 384 Hayes St. at Gough, 415-863-1104.

Wednesday March 18th is the next ~THREE ON FIVE BEVERAGE BATTLE AT FIFTH FLOOR~: Vegetarian Showdown. Emily Wines will pair wines against beer selections from Craig & Beth Wathen of City Beer Store, and cocktails from celebrated mixologist Marco Dionysos of Clock Bar, with the added pairing challenge of the Gascony-inspired vegetarian menu. 7:30pm. $125 per person, excluding tax and gratuity. Please specify “Beverage Battle” when making your reservation. 12 Fourth St. at Mission, 415-348-1555.

the socialite

Edible Pursuit #2
Sun., Mar. 15th, 2009

Acme Chophouse
24 Willie Mays Plaza
Cross: King St.
San Francisco, CA



buy tickets

MARCH 10, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO ~EDIBLE PURSUIT~ is back, the hottest food event this side of the Bay Bridge. This time it’s going to be held at Acme Chophouse, and yours truly is the emcee. The first Edible Pursuit was a blast, and this one is shaping up to be even more intense, with over $5000 in prizes for winning teams. The Bi-Rite Market "Clerks" team is back to defend their title, and supposedly they've been memorizing the Oxford Companion to Food and Wine for training purposes (kidding).

Edible Pursuit features challenging questions about San Francisco’s local food scene, kitchen know-how, food politics, and more. Players form teams consisting of two to five people and compete for delicious prizes, including artisanal treats, restaurant gift certificates, cookbooks, and more more more!

Here's a sampling of some of the prizes up for grabs:

~ Overnight stay in a 2 bedroom residence at Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square ($525 value)

~ 4 tickets to Teatro Zinzanni ($500 value)

~ All Clad 12 qt. multi cooker/pasta serving set from Chef's Warehouse ($200 value)

~ 1 Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Collection Sampler: small, limited production heirloom beans from indigenous farmers. Muy rare and muy cool! ($100 value)

~ Gift certificate for dining at Coi restaurant ($100 value)

~ Gift certificate for dining at Poleng Lounge ($100 value)

~ Gift certificate for dining at Aziza ($100 value)

For a complete list of prizes, click here.

Tickets are going fast! Hope to see you there, smarty pants.

Toast of the Town
Thu., Mar. 26th, 2009

War Memorial Opera House
401 Van Ness Ave.
Cross: Grove St.
San Francisco, CA 94102



VIP tasting

Grand Tasting

VIP $175
tablehopper price: $145

Grand Tasting $95
tablehopper price: $75

buy tickets

MARCH 10, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO Wine Enthusiast Magazine will host its third annual ~TOAST OF THE TOWN~, a spiffy food, wine, and music event at the War Memorial Opera House. The event will have over 70 international wine producers, and dishes from over 30 top Bay Area restaurants (including EPIC, Jeanty at Jack’s, and Postrio), accompanied by live jazz.  
There is also a charity auction featuring donations from participating wineries and restaurants to benefit the San Francisco Food Bank, especially important during these leaner times.

tablehopper readers get a $30 discount off tickets to the VIP Tasting (originally $175), and $20 off tickets to the Grand Tasting (originally $95). Enter code: AFTOT09.

the starlet

MARCH 10, 2009 | SAN FRANCISCO A tablehopper reader spotted Sean Penn and his lovely wife, Robin Wright Penn, at Tosca Café on Friday night. The reader says, “My friends and I had the chance for a quick conversation with them both. They were extremely charming. Sean Penn and I discussed the upcoming CASC decision on Prop 8 and what future steps will most likely be needed in the battle for marriage equality.”


All content © 2009 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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