This week's tablehopper: a decadent end to the decade.
Weird, it really is the end of a decade… Can’t believe it’s been ten years since we were all freaking out over whether our computers were going to blow up on the Millennium. Meanwhile, the only thing blowing up right now is our collective post-holiday waistlines, mamma mia. Too. Many. Cookies. And will someone please get the goddamned eggnog out of my fridge? Oh wait, I am planning to use it for New Year’s Day waffles, don’t even think of touching it! And then there’s tonight’s tablehopper supper—fortunately pho doesn’t have cream in it. (Speaking of, we might have a couple spots that opened—just click here for your last-minute tickets and the password is bourbon.)
Oh man, did I have a lovely Christmas with the family. We feasted for three days straight, primarily on the ridiculous bounty of wild chanterelles my dad foraged for with his buddy in Santa Cruz (yes, they were remarkable). And of course a ton of baccala and calamari in too many incarnations to count, plus pasta three ways, stuffed clams, there was a pork crown roast in there, a pineapple upside down cake, my great-grandma’s cinnamon rolls, homemade sausage and fried eggs, jeez, all kinds of evil things (my dad’s birthday always kicks off the feeding frenzy on the 23rd).
Fortunately I am hopping on a plane this coming Monday and off to India before I put this gorgeous new Global cheese knife that my parents gave me to use. Right, like India is going to be a low-calorie excursion. Then again, I am hoping “Delhi Belly” does not strike—really not into losing weight through the parasite plan. My love of street food is going to push my luck, that’s for sure.
I’ll have a couple pre-loaded columns automatically go out for you the next two weeks, but am going dark on January 19th and 26th, back in action February 2nd. If you want to keep up with some of my shenanigans in India, I plan to Twitter some pics and 140-character impressions while I’m away.
However, I will be completely off the grid as far as email and voicemail are concerned—I need a break. So if you can please refrain from emailing me until I return, I’d really really appreciate it. I HATE coming home to an inbox with 2,000 unread messages. Glug. (Publicists, pretty please don’t send me any January event press releases since I won’t be able to mention anything until February, schwanks.)
Thanks for all of your kind and oh-so-appreciated support this past year. Hey, it takes a village. I am wishing all of you a healthy, happy, successful, and supremely kick-ass 2010. With whipped cream on top.
Gossip & News (the word on the street)
A Restaurant Opening in a Beautifully Preserved Building
With one look at the new PASSION CAFÉ, and you will agree: it takes a lot of passion to restore a place to this level of grandeur. What was formerly housing a pawn shop and liquor store on gritty Sixth Street has been transformed into a French café-bistro, due to open the second week of January. Owners/partners Steven Barton and Jacques Andre fortunately have as much of a background in general contracting as they do in cooking, because the restoration of this 100-year-old space has been painstaking indeed. The brick building is full of reclaimed materials, like the floors of long redwood planks that were taken from the old bakery’s walk-in fridge next door (yup, it had redwood walls, amazing). They tried to use as many of the building’s original materials that they could, and the woodwork on the doors is gorgeous. The original historical façade has also been restored. Even more marvelous, there is a rooftop area with vines and trellises designed for outdoor dining, and room for 20 (heat lamps will eventually be added). Barton says, “When you walk through the doors you feel as though you’ve been transported back through time.”
The menu will feature espresso and coffee in the morning (at 7am), with tarts, tartines, and items baked on-site available at 8am. Lunch and dinner will be served daily, featuring classics like boeuf bourguignon (chef Andre is from Paris, and also cooked in restaurants in Guadeloupe). Yeah, it’s a tough street, but they are hoping to entice the theater crowd for dinner (they will serve until 9pm, and possibly later, TBD), and I think any fan of historical architecture and preservation is going to want to check this gem out as well.
Passion Café - 28 6th St. San Francisco - 415-437-9730
New Additions to the Crew at Coi
The rumors are true: COI has brought on Bill Corbett (formerly at Michael Mina) as the executive pastry chef. Corbett will also consult on the pastry menu at IL CANE ROSSO, and he will serve as the executive pastry chef of Bracina, which will open in Oakland in spring 2010.
There is also a new chef de cuisine, Evan Rich, who was chef de cuisine at Quince, and when he was back east, he worked at The Stage House Inn and was the executive sous chef at Bouley; he also opened Sumile, a French-Japanese restaurant in Tokyo.
COI - 373 Broadway San Francisco - 415-393-9000
New Owners at Baker Street Bistro
Dave Sha and his partner Danel de Betelu recently took over BAKER STREET BISTRO in Cow Hollow. Danel (who is a Basque from Biarritz) started as the executive chef there last year. The space has been redecorated (it’s now a bit more homey) and the menu is largely the same, although chef Danel has made a few changes and additions, like oysters, tuna tartare, and steak tartare, plus daily specials. Favorites like steak frites, duck confit, and the $16.50 four-course prix-fixe menu still remain—and the same goes for the local fave French toast during weekend brunch!
Baker Street Bistro - 2953 Baker St. San Francisco - 415-931-1475
A Grand Place for Coffee
Coming in late January or early February will be a new coffee bar called GRAND COFFEE in the historic Grand Theater building in the Mission. The coffee bar will actually be in the old concession area of the theater (a 99¢ store is in the main theater part). The café is from Nabeel Silmi, a bartender at Foreign Cinema who has been there for almost three years. He’s going to be integrating a bartending approach to the barista craft, like shaking the iced coffees in a cocktail shaker. The coffee will be from Four Barrel, the machine is a La Marzocco paddle group, the tea is from Red Blossom Tea, and I also hear Silmi has an egg cream in the works, using seltzer from the Seltzer Sisters. It’s a tiny space, with a bar and counter inside, but there will also be a window on the street for quick and easy ordering. Silmi is excited to offer his spin (and shake) on coffee to the neighborhood. You can keep track of the café’s progress on their Twitter feed.
Grand Coffee - 2663 Mission St. San Francisco
Café La Taza Opens in the Castro
~CAFÉ LA TAZA~ has opened a third location in the city, this one in the Castro in the former Bullshead and Tallula space on 18th Street (dang, I miss Tallula—it was the best date place ever). The breakfast menu is full of options, from bagels to omelets to scrambles to a Monte Cristo or beef brisket Benedict, while lunch has soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and wraps. Dinner brings a few more main dishes, with nothing shockingly over $10 (so don’t expect to see the word “organic” on the menu). And of course there’s every kind of coffee you could imagine. Looks like it will be an affordable addition to the neighborhood, especially with free Wi-Fi.
Public Service Announcement
Just a little reminder that some restaurants like to close for a much-deserved winter break during the first week of January, so call before heading over. A few examples: SEBO (closed through January 4th, except for New Year’s Eve), CAV WINE BAR & KITCHEN (closed Sunday January 3rd through the 5th), INCANTO (January 5th through the 12th), and the DINING ROOM AT THE RITZ-CARLTON (from January 1st through the 14th).
New Vegetarian Option in Berkeley
A tablehopper reader tipped me off to a unique concept that opened in Berkeley: the restaurant is called GREEN PAPAYA and features Thai vegetarian cuisine. It’s reportedly friendly, tasty, and affordable. Open lunch and dinner daily. 2016 Shattuck Ave. at University, Berkeley, 510-845-1658.
I thought this would be an awesome get-together to celebrate the New Year with culinary cohorts (darn, I just wish my apartment was bigger, and my wallet was overflowing): Fork and Spoon Productions has organized an Asian feast that can be prepared in your home with Saveur contributing editor and cookbook author, Andrea Nguyen, who is celebrating her new cookbook, Asian Dumplings.
From January 15th-February 28th, 2010, you can have a full-tilt banquet, dumpling demonstration, and book signing in your home. With a minimum commitment of 10 guests, dinner will include: poached vegetable and pork wontons in spicy oil; baked curried chicken bao; shrimp and pork pot stickers; crispy vegetable spring roll with sweet and sour sauce; Peking duck with pancakes, spring onions and hoisin sauce; steamed Pacific bass with young ginger; fresh lo mein with seasonal greens and Asian mushrooms; yangchow fried rice; and tangerine pot de crème with sesame tuile. Andrea will be on hand to mix and mingle, discuss Lunar New Year traditions, and then teach your party the art of dumpling making. Signed cookbooks will be available at a special “friends of the family” price. (The hostess will receive hers free as a hostess gift.) $185 per person, not including tax and gratuity. For more information or to make reservations, call Fork and Spoon Productions at 415-552-7130.
This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)
(Sponsored): 20% Off Wine at Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market is having a 20% off sale on every bottle of wine in stock now. Buy 12 or more bottles of wine and save 20% off from December 26th-31st, 2009.
Mix or match any Champagnes, Chardonnays, Pinots, or Cabernets. Whole Foods Market has hundreds of choices and over 50 exclusive wines with prices ranging from $5 to over $100. Do you love to talk wine and food pairings?
Stock up for your New Year’s Eve celebration! Pick up a bottle of Presto Prosecco for just $7.99. Looking for a perfect pairing with local Dungeness crab? Try a bottle of Rombauer Chardonnay for just $25.99, a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay for $18.39, or a bottle of Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc for just $10.39.
Above prices reflect a 20% discount on a 12-bottle case of wine. Sale ends December 31st, 2009. Sale limited to wines in stock.
New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
This town is pizza pazzo. Pizza places in 2009 are like the wine bars and fro-yo shops of 2008—they’re taking over the city like a rampant cold. Sure, people complain about the pizza hype and omnipresence, but I say as long as each neighborhood has at least one good pizza place, it’s fine by me. And PIZZA NOSTRA is Potrero Hill’s. (Not to be confused with La Cosa Nostra, which belongs to Sicily.)
The location used to house Couleur Cafe, and owner Jocelyn Bulow decided to change up the format and offer his addition to the local pizza scene, bringing over the very skilled pizzaiolo Giovanni Adinolfi from the French Riviera. Adinolfi makes a delicious pie: the lip (cornicione) is just the right amount of chewy, and it has a crisp-enough base—a good thin-medium weight—but isn’t all charred to hell. I also think there’s the right amount of toppings, and not tooooo much cheese. And I loved the flavor of the crust—00 flour in the casa.
Of course I had to order the Calabrese ($14), topped with thin ribbons of onion and slices of salame peperoncino (sounds spicier than it is), but being half-Calabrese, I wanted the whole thing even spicier. That’s where the pili-pili sauce comes in, a Southern French spicy olive oil infused with chili peppers (it comes in a bottle to your table). I proceeded to shake it all over the pizza. Ahh, that’s it. Now we’re talking. Slap!
Another winner is the cannibal ($15), a rich number topped with a meaty Bolognese sauce, plus oregano, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and a runny egg in the middle. The flavors were amazing, but unfortunately I came on a night when Adinolfi was on vacation, and sure enough, the crust didn’t have the same magic: it was underdone, and the cheese wasn’t melted enough. But I’ll still go back—pizza crust is a finicky beast, and this is true at every place in town.
There are 11 pizzas to choose from, plus the rarely seen tronchetto, which is like a Neapolitan “Hot Pocket”—the Zaffiro ($14) is a crispy pizza pocket stuffed with ham, pesto, arugula, mozzarella, and slices of tomato (sadly these were far from best in class for tomatoes). It really sang with a few spritzes from the lemon on the plate (interesting touch), and of course more of the pili-pili oil. I think kids would totally dig the tronchetto (without the spicy oil, natch).
I also like that the restaurant serves a lightly chilled Bonarda by the glass ($9.50; Cant. Francesco, 2007) that pairs fabulously with the pizzas. (If you’re trying to keep things affordable, look for the carafina/500ml of house wine for only $14.)
This place isn’t just about pizza: there’s a long list of appetizers, from the tender eggplant involtini ($7), little cigar roll-ups filled with goat cheese and pesto that rest on a tomato concasse, to the beef carpaccio ($9) topped with tangy slices of marinated artichoke heart, capers, and a spicy aioli made with espelette. The deep-fried squash blossoms ($8) had a jaunty presentation, and their flavor popped with orange zest in the cheesy filling, with a pleasant light exterior. The grilled octopus salad ($9) was tender and a touch smoky, with a classic pairing of chickpeas and celery, and the zing of lemon.
All the apps are designed to be shareable, so go for it. Vegetarians will be pleased with the variety of vegetable dishes to choose from, so don’t let the mention of the cannibal pizza deter you.
A couple stumbles included a celery heart salad ($7) with shaved fennel that was missing its promised dates, and Mission figs ($9) were supposed to be stuffed with Robiola and walnuts, but the cheese was subbed for some Cambazola, and the walnuts were MIA—still a good salad, however.
An easy choice for lunchtime diners is the different bruschettas and salads, plus there’s a fully loaded burger ($12). There are also five kinds of pastas (many homemade) that come in two sizes ($9 or $16). We tried the house-made tagliatelle; it was like the Green Giant’s pasta, with favas, English peas, asparagus, and pesto, but it needed the salty tang of some Parmesan cheese on top to elevate it.
Highlights for dessert include a silky espresso panna cotta ($6), an affogato ($6), and wonderful gelati in some of my favorite flavors, like tiramisu, pistachio, and gianduja. Or you can get a stoner’s delight dessert pocket: a tronchetto with gooey Nutella and banana ($10).
The space is pared down and casual, with a small bar for single diners, and some Potrero kids and parents in the mix on the early side (including frazzled mommies who have been living in their sweats for three days). Speaking of sweats, lots of folks come over post-workout from the gym across the street as well. It’s one of those neighborhood spots you don’t have to think too much about—it’s very come as you are. Service can be friendly and hospitable, but a touch absentminded in that offhand Euro way.
One of the certain charms of this place for me is the easy parking—sometimes you just want a good pizza, and you don’t want to drive around for parking and then wait in line for an hour before you get it. There’s also plentiful outdoor seating for lunch or on a warm night… Sure, the view is of the parking lot, but yeah, there’s a parking lot.
Pizza Nostra - 300 De Haro St. San Francisco - 415-558-9493
Bar News & Reviews (put it on my tab)
The Lush (Lounge) Is Weaving Up the Street
I know some Lower Polk folks were not happy with the closure of ~LUSH LOUNGE~ (1092 Polk St. at Post). Well, despair not, because the same friendly bartenders will be pouring wicked-strong dranks in the bar’s new location. They are opening the doors at the new spot for the first time on New Year’s Eve at 3pm. Clink clink! 1221 Polk St. at Sutter, 415-771-2022)
Hangover Helper (Do Not Add Beef)
I am sure a lot of you will be hitting it hard this New Year’s Eve (what else is new?). And who knows better about hangover remedies than bartenders? Here’s a helpful round-up from GrubStreet with some hair-of-the-dog advice from local bartenders.
My personal favorites are coconut water (that stuff is a freaking miracle), and kombucha is another magic elixir. If things are dire, I’ll slowly sip a Coke Classic, and iced coffee with a lot of sugar also works for me. When you’re up and at it again, I highly recommend a Champagne cocktail—the sugar cube and bitters will totally even your keel.
And when it’s time to eat, hello, it’s time to call MOZZARELLA DI BUFALA. Or you can take a look at this piece I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian back in 2006 on foreign hangover cures. Take it easy out there, tiger.
Mozzarella di Bufala - 69 West Portal Ave. San Francisco - 415-661-8900
Amber Bar Will Just Be an Ember in 2010
One of the city’s smokiest bars, AMBER, is having its last night on New Year’s Eve, and a new cocktail spot will be opening to the public on Saturday January 16th. And look at that, Smoky Bear, it’s just in time for your New Year’s resolution to quit smoking (you can do it). 718 14th St. at Church, San Francisco.
Shindigs, Feasts, & Festivals (let's party)
It's About Time to Dine About Town
Friday Jan 15, 2010 – Sunday Jan 31, 2010 Info
It’s that time of the year, when local participating restaurants offer special pricing for the ~DINE ABOUT TOWN~ promotion from January 15th through the 31st. Reservations are now being accepted. You’ll be able to order a new two-course lunch menu for $17.95 and/or a three-course dinner menu for $34.95. Dates and times of participation vary by restaurant. The complete list of restaurants is posted on San Francisco’s official visitor website.
New restaurants to participate in the January 2010 promotion include 1300 Fillmore, 5A5 Steak Lounge, Amber India, Blowfish Sushi to Die For, cityhouse, DOSA on Valencia, Eclipse, Fifth Floor, Fresca, La Scene, Le Central, Luna Park, Midi, Nombe, Panam, Rose Pistola, Silks, Swell, The Plant Cafe Organic, Vicoletto, and Waterbar. (The promotion will return June 1st through the 15th).
There is also a “Dine About Town San Francisco” launch party on Wednesday January 13th at 6pm Under the Dome at Westfield San Francisco Centre. With a $20 donation to Meals On Wheels, guests may sample offerings from the following participating Dine About Town restaurants: Café Andrée, Chez Papa Resto, Chouchou, First Crush, Fish & Farm, LarkCreekSteak, Luce, Midi, and Urban Tavern, plus wines from Winery Collective and Landmark Winery. Specialty cocktails created by Blue Angel Vodka mixologists and music by DJ Jamón Ibérico (am cracking up) are also part of the evening’s festivities.
Tickets to the Dine About Town launch party may be purchased here. Guests must be 21 years or older, and must bring the printed confirmation to the event. Space is limited and tastes are only available while supplies last, so guests are encouraged to arrive promptly at 6pm. Each guest will also receive a keepsake “Only in San Francisco” wine glass.
Star Sightings in Restaurants (no photos please)
Cool Couple on the Town
Just last night, Ben Harper and wife Laura Dern popped into luella with some friends for a late Monday night supper. They were reportedly very nice and gracious, and walked back to their hotel through Russian Hill.
Well Hello, Dahling
Joan Collins was at A16 Sunday night, and looking good. She ordered the calamari, tuna/favas, and a small gnocchi. According to this Twitter post from curiousmikie, she was also rocking a leather-belted mink (meow).
I'll Have a Tall Drink of Water, Thanks
Hottie Peter Krause was spotted at Clock Bar.
Lost and Found
Michael Emerson, who plays Benjamin Linus on ABC’s Lost came in to DESTINO for dinner. He was a pleasant guest who allowed the server a photo with him, and signed a plantain leaf for the restaurant.
Metallica was dining at KOKKARI on Friday the 11th, the night before their show in San Jose. The whole band and their families/entourage (about 25 people) were seated in the main dining room (behind the wall of the bar). My spy says some lamb chops were spotted at their table, and “lots of wine tastings were flowing as well (most were pretty heated, as all rockstars should be!).”
Mötley Crüe came into ORSON for dinner.
Black Magic Cioppino
Carlos Santana and a friend chose Christmas night to dine at Piazza Pellegrini. The two (suited up in bibs) had the restaurant’s popular cioppino. At the end of his meal, he was gracious enough to pose with fans for a photo.
Green Day and Night
Ozumo Oakland reports that Tré Cool, the drummer for the band Green Day, dined at the bar on Monday night. He sipped martinis and ate items from the robata grill.
Bald Guys Have More Fun
Reader Rachel C. was dining at Osteria Stellina in Pt. Reyes Station on Christmas Eve and spotted Hector Elizondo with a female guest, assumed to be his wife. He was reportedly quite handsome.