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Dec 27, 2010 11 min read

December 28, 2010 - This week's tablehopper: it's only wafer thin.

December 28, 2010 - This week's tablehopper: it's only wafer thin.
Table of Contents

This week's tablehopper: it's only wafer thin.                    

Baccalà: it’s not Christmas Eve without it.

I decided to take it a little easier this week and only try to stay up until 11pm writing this thing instead of my usual 2am or 3am on Monday night. Besides, I am still recovering from our family’s three-day holiday marathon (read: feeling very lethargic). (“Look, I couldn’t eat another thing. I’m absolutely stuffed. Bugger off.”)

Our Christmas Eve dinner was one of the best yet—although leave it to us to have the Feast of the Seven Fishes balloon to 13 dishes. I now feel equipped to write my second book, 101 Ways to Prepare Baccalà (that is a JOKE, people). And is there anything better than prime rib and horseradish cream on Christmas? If there is, I haven’t found it.

Quick reminder about my book: just in case Santa didn’t hook you up with a copy this holiday, you can buy one for yourself (plus two more for pals) and be entered in a drawing to win dinner with me in January! The deadline to make your purchase of three books and be entered in the drawing is this Friday December 31st. Let’s hit the town!

Yup, New Year’s Eve is almost here. For those of you trying to decide what to do with your damned self, I’ve added even more dinners to my round-up of New Year’s Eve dining options, and of course there’s the big SOS/Standing on Stardust party at the Burritt Room for those looking for drinks and disco dancing. Oh yes, and I’ve also added more to the list of (hangover) dining options on New Year’s Day because, yes, I really care.

I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday with a short missive before we all launch into 2011.


Marcia Gagliardi

the chatterbox

Gossip & News (the word on the street)

Brenda's French Soul Food Expansion Almost Complete!


Photo by Blair Sneddon Photography.


Photo by Blair Sneddon Photography.

After months of remodeling, Brenda Buenviaje is ready to unveil the expansion of her restaurant, BRENDA’S FRENCH SOUL FOOD on Polk. When? It might be tomorrow (Wednesday), or possibly this Thursday. The ex-laundromat next door was transformed into a new dining room (which brings the count from 28 seats to 38) and brand-new kitchen that is about four times larger. The menu will be expanding a bit over the next few weeks, with some new beignet flavors and new lunch items. Look for a secret recipe fried chicken (it’s time for BFC to compete with the KFC next door!), accompanied by their unparalleled cream biscuit, fries, and coleslaw. The popular shrimp and grits (a big bowl of cheddar grits topped with sautéed shrimp in a spicy tomato bacon gravy) will also be added to their permanent menu.

Since the new side is all done, guests will be served in it while they completely overhaul the “old” side, which will be complete in about a month, bringing it to 72 seats total. And as soon as the entire expansion is complete, Brenda’s should also have their beer/wine license, and will begin offering later hours and a dinner menu! A preliminary peek at the dinner menu reveals a variety of grilled or broiled oysters, Big Easy spicy wings, roasted quail, and smothered pork with beans and greens. Yup, lots of good stuff, Maynard.

And good news: they will open New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day! In keeping with Southern tradition, Brenda’s will be serving black-eyed peas and collard greens (for money and luck!).

Brenda's French Soul Food            - 652 Polk St. San Francisco - 415-345-8100

Exciting Changes to Cafe Divis: Say Hello to Vinyl


The Broadway sign communal table at Vinyl.


The back wall; photo from Yelp’s Sarah R.

The Divisadero corridor is about to get even better: Mark Bright and Kris Esqueda (Saison, Markris Wine) are partnering with Nabiel Musleh (yes, that Nabiel) to open VINYL in the CAFE DIVIS space. They are working with the building owners (who operate Cafe Divis) on Vinyl, which will be a casual and comfortable wine bar that will get going around 5pm in the evening (although you’ll be able to order a glass of wine any time of day). Bright is deeply engaged with Saison, so it will mostly be Esqueda you’ll encounter on premise and behind the bar. They are going to be keeping a local focus, featuring domestic, urban wines (they have been touring the Bay Area lately for gems). The list will be compact to start, and will expand in time; wines by the glass will range from $8-$15, and will be served in Riedel glassware. There is discussion of a happy hour, and the plan is to serve until 11pm or so.

They are also going to be offering a dinner menu, with comfort food dishes like lasagna and some roasts, and some snacky items as well—this will grow since they’re just starting with a consultant, but are actively seeking a chef to lead the kitchen program. Some changes will also be made to the breakfast and lunch items in time.

As for the name, Nabiel is going to be bringing in a big part of his record collection, allowing both guests and staff to play music on a record player (kind of like a human-powered jukebox). There will also be a wall of circles, wrapped in vinyl. The communal table (made from an old exit sign for Broadway) is also gaining its own fan club. Look for an official launch the first week of January, perhaps midweek. 359 Divisadero St. at Oak, 415-621-4132.

News Tidbits Around Town, from Bar Agricole to Nombe


Nightcap: a glass of Glühwein at Bar Agricole.

Rather than do a series of four different posts, here’s a little grab bag for ya:

Well, my fellow night owls, I am sorry to report the kitchen at BAR AGRICOLE is now closing at 11pm instead of 1am—it was just proving to be too costly to keep the staff working that late into the evening. Wah. (While it’s still holiday time, I highly recommend swinging by there for a glass of their wonderful Glühwein, a German mulled wine.)

I was happy to try some new items on the MISSION CHINESE FOOD menu Sunday night, like the amazing Westlake rice porridge ($9), a spin on Westlake beef soup, which is going to be the only thing I’ll want the next time I’m sick, hungover, cold, and/or all three. It’s a zingy, clean, and thinner-style porridge, with oxtail, Dungeness crab, and a soft-cooked egg—so wonderful for breakfast the next day. I also went nuts over the simply perfect Hainan chicken rice ($6)—such flavorful rice, mixed with chicken fat, roasted peanuts, cilantro, and the zing of Shaoxing wine (and you better like ginger). There’s also a decadent-sounding tea-smoked eel dish ($9) with ham hock and Chinese celery in rice noodle (could it be a cousin to the long-gone chinito?).

And for those of you who want to have a last taste of chef Nick Balla’s cooking at NOMBE before he moves on, he will be in the kitchen this week, through December 31st. Mission motzu, here I come.

And in the “d’oh” department, it looks like PLACE PIGALLE has had their liquor license suspended indefinitely. According to some folks in the neighborhood, this little movie shoot they hosted may have had something to do with it. 520 Hayes St. at Octavia, 415-552-2671. An update on this from GrubStreet: “A rep from contacted us to clarify that Place Pigalle owner Greg Noto hasn’t actually lost his liquor license (it appears good through May), but in fact lost the lease on the place, something that was apparently in the cards for months — and long before the July Kink shoot. Noto himself hasn’t been reachable for clarification, but the rep says that the shoot was closed to the public, done entirely with Noto’s permission, and did not lead to any disciplinary action. Look for Place Pigalle, then, to stay closed for the duration and for the space to turn over.”

Amber India Expands to Valencia Street


Lounge at Amber India SF (photo from Amber India).

I was happy to read the news on Eater that Vijay Bist of (the very delicious) AMBER INDIA is going to be opening another location into the large, vacant space on Valencia Street next to Luna Park. The name will be Amber Dara (the word dara reportedly means “earth” in Sanskrit), and is targeting an opening in summer 2011. Highlights: an “ethnic Indian menu sourced locally as much as possible,” an affordable price point, a mezzanine level and a lounge, full liquor license, and supposedly the chef, N. Rao, is “something of a prodigy in India” (I’m guessing it’s this guy, the director of the Culinary Academy of India). Bring it on. 680 Valencia St. at 18th St.

Amber India            - 25 Yerba Buena Ln. San Francisco - 415-777-0500

New Chef at Luna Park: Ronnie New


Photo from Luna Park.

LUNA PARK has a new chef at the helm, Ronnie New, who was previously at The Republic, and prior to that, Magnolia (he has also worked at Bar Crudo, Le Petit Robert, and Range). He will start making his mark on Luna Park’s menu by early February. 694 Valencia St. at 18th St., 415-553-8584.

2G Japanese Brasserie Opening in Late January


Shima Sushi interior (photo from website).

Over in Opera Plaza, a new sushi restaurant and brasserie, 2G JAPANESE BRASSERIE is going to be taking the place of Shima Sushi, slated to close at the end of the month. 2G’s owner, Jason Tsuji, is bringing on a chef (and family friend) from Japan who has been cooking for 50 years (he started when he was 13). The menu is still in development, but look for some French-inspired dishes like tartare alongside more traditional sushi options. It didn’t sound like major interior changes are going to happen since the restaurant is due to open in February. The 13-seat sushi bar will remain, with two large dining areas and two private dining rooms, with 209 seats in all. 601 Van Ness Ave. at Golden Gate (Suite F in Opera Plaza), 415-292-9997.

Café Kati Closing; Tango Gelato on Fillmore Serves Its Last Scoop


Photo from Yelp.

A tablehopper reader writes in: “I passed by CAFÉ KATI on Tuesday and I believe there’s a ‘change of ownership’ sign on the storefront window.” Sure enough, an ABC permit mentions a new business, Roostertail Rotisserie from Gerardo Castillo. I didn’t hear back from Café Kati’s chef-owner, Kirk Webber, in time for today’s issue with details about the closure. But here’s wishing him all the best—he has been in the location since 1990. 1963 Sutter St. at Fillmore, 415-775-7313.

Another reader writes in: “Bouncing through the [Fillmore] neighborhood a few days ago, this is the last week for TANGO GELATO.” I have memories of getting gelato there over the past decade, sorry to hear it has closed. 2015 Fillmore St. at Pine.

Another Lagniappe Dinner at Boxing Room in January


Absinthe. Image: ©

Ready for another preview taste of chef Justin Simoneaux’s upcoming cuisine for BOXING ROOM? The restaurant isn’t opening until spring 2011, so the meal will be held in Absinthe Brasserie & Bar’s main dining room on January 10th, with reservations starting at 5:30pm. Celebrating his Louisiana heritage, Simoneaux’s three-course prix-fixe menu will pull inspiration from the traditional Cajun and Creole dishes of New Orleans and coastal Louisiana. Dishes include selections like seafood gumbo with housemade tasso; roasted golden trout with Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, and cipollini onions; Southern fried chicken with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and smoked ham hock; and for dessert, bananas Foster bread pudding or lemon ice box pie.

$35 (excludes beverages, tax, and gratuity). A portion of the proceeds will benefit For the Bayou, a non-profit organization fostering restoration, protection, and aid to the Louisiana coastal wetlands. For reservations, call Absinthe at 415-551-1590.

               Monday Jan 10, 2011 more info

Boxing Room            - 399 Grove St. San Francisco - 415-430-6590

the lush

Bar News & Reviews (put it on my tab)

Special Tablehopper Event: Learn the Secrets of the Sommeliers with Jordan Mackay!


Fellow Ten Speed author Jordan Mackay recently came out with his book, Secrets of the Sommeliers (in conjunction with co-author Raj Parr), and I thought it would be fun to host a special tablehopper evening event with Jordan at the SAN FRANCISCO WINE CENTER. I recently took a Champagne class with Jordan there, and learned a bunch of insider tips. So I figured, heck, I wanna learn more—let’s tap into the knowledge base! (All while drinking excellent wine, of course.)

Jordan is going to lead this special class that’s tailored for diners. He will discuss how to approach a restaurant wine list, from how to spot deals to how to work with the sommelier to figure out what you’re looking for (and what you’ll like!). We’ll also talk about trickier issues, like corkage—and corked wines! And I’m sure we’ll learn all kinds of other handy tricks when it comes to ordering wine in restaurants. Be prepared to get finessed.

The class includes small nibbles as well as a tasting of eight incredible wines. Tickets are $75 with an autographed copy of Secrets of the Sommeliers, or $50 without. You will also be able to purchase a signed copy of my book, The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco, separately for $17.50 during the event.

Here’s where to buy a ticket WITH Jordan’s book. And here’s where to buy a ticket WITHOUT Jordan’s book. Space is limited! 6:30pm-8pm. We look forward to seeing you there.

               Wednesday Jan 19, 2011 6:30pm–8pm $75 with book; $50 without book more info

the starlet

Star Sightings in Restaurants (no photos please)

Tearing It Up with John Mayer the Day After Christmas

Over in SoMa, John Mayer was spotted at Twenty Five Lusk on Sunday night. Mayer and four guy pals descended on the restaurant/lounge for dinner and drinks—including a bottle of Cristal. They were ready for a big night and were in really good spirits with a lot of playful back and forth amongst the group. An onlooker said they had a “tear up the town” vibe.

Curry's Post-Christmas Carbo Loading

For you basketball fans, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (he was the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year) was in Buca di Beppo the day after Christmas for a quiet family dinner. Stephen dined on dishes like baked rigatoni and stuffed mushrooms with his family, including his father, Dell Curry, who was also an NBA star, and his mother, Sonya.

The Omnivore's Dinner

A tablehopper reader writes: “My friend tells me he just saw Michael Pollan with his family at Saul’s Deli in Berkeley (where I used to work!) eating a beef brisket, French dip-style sandwich and a latke. Such a mensch.”

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