Smitten coffee ice cream (let’s pretend it’s hot out).
Well, my SF Chefs media badge arrived in the mail, which is basically my passport to trouble for the next 48 hours. A quick reminder: just in case you have a last-minute desire to buy some SF Chefs event tickets and go have some fun this weekend, the best deal is for VISA Signature cardholders, who receive 20% off tickets, but if you don’t have that variety of plastic, use Tablehopper11 for 10% off all SF Chefs tickets!
I have a lot to do today (including finish getting my questions together for the panel I’m moderating on Saturday afternoon, The Real Restaurant Wives of San Francisco), so let’s hop to it.
Today’s review is of my favorite recent addition to the Lower Haight these days, Wing Wings. For those of you who were at the San Francisco Bay Guardian Best of the Bay party last night (thanks again to everyone who voted for tablehopper!), you got to enjoy the chicken salad and biscuit little number from Wing Wings. Well, today’s writeup is here to tell you a lot more about the menu. Warning: you’ll need plenty of napkins.
Oh, and this Saturday is the Lower Haight Art Walk (from 12pm-6pm), in case you’re inspired to swing by and check them out since they’ll be running some specials—along with a bunch of other businesses—including the reopening of the ever-mysterious and newly renovated Peacock Lounge!
Okay, time for me to flap flap. Have a grand weekend!
The art of the fryer. Some people have it. And one of those people is Christian Ciscle, who gained legions of fans for his fried chicken while he was doing damage to our arteries at Little Skillet in SoMa. Now he’s returned to the Lower Haight (back in the day, Ciscle was part of Big Sherm’s—working with partner David Sherman—for you Lower Haight old-timers), opening WING WINGS, his homage to the joy that is the ability to hold onto little bony things and gnaw the meat off of them.
It’s a tiny spot, with a counter on the left and right with about 10 barstools each, and in the back is Mooney, aka the mothership of this place, who is going to take your order and dispense some Jedi ordering wisdom (so listen up). The guy is pure personality, and is a big reason why this place is the wings equivalent of a barber shop: people wanna hang out (I even saw someone go on a beer run). There’s a big ass boom box busting out some hip-hop and soul jams (with a few more vintage ones functioning as décor)—and since Mooney used to work at Open Mind Music on Divisadero, the tracks are choice. Baltimore folks will totally clock the boxes of Old Bay seasoning and the Baltimore Orioles cap kicking it on a shelf (Ciscle is a Baltimore boy).
The city needed a good wings place, and while I know some folks would be happy to just have a chain like Wingstop in town, sorry, I could do without an establishment that has served over a billion wings. Everything here is made from scratch, from the Buffalo sauce to the ranch dressing to the potato salad to the biscuits. The wings are from free range, naturally fed California chickens (from Mary’s). So while they’re not big, honking, over-meaty wings from birds that have never left a cage, they have that other thing going for them: flavor. And they’re not pumped full of antibiotics and Lord knows what else. And yes, you will have to pay a little more.
You can order 5 for $6, 10 for $10, or a jumbo of 25 for $23 (which enables you to pick two kinds of wings if you go the jumbo route). Anyone who reads tablehopper regularly knows I am a big fan of spice, so the hot Buffalo wings here totally rocked my world. Spicy-ass mofos. You can order regular as well, but if you like it hot, well, you know what to do. My second choice was the Angry Korean, made with a bangin’ sauce of gochujang (Korean chile paste), ginger, garlic, sesame, Korean chile powder, soy, and rice vinegar, sporting a flurry of sesame seeds and scallions. What’s funny is Ciscle told me the sauce is actually a Korean sauce that is traditionally meant to accompany octopus. Ciscle’s business parter, Lisa Shin, is Korean, and her parents were horrified that they’re using the sauce on chicken, but hey, I think we can all agree it tastes frickin’ good!
There’s a bright “herb” sauce, which is Ciscle’s variation of a jerk sauce, but too many people were commenting on what jerk sauce means to them (oh, people), so he renamed it. It comes out like a tomatillo salsa verde on the wings (it’s made with habañero, jalapeño, green onion, garlic, herbs, honey, vinegar, allspice, vinegar, and black pepper), and is a little less integrated as a sauce with the wings, but still rocks really good flavor and tanginess.
The eponymous Wing Wing sauce leans on the sweeter side, made with a thick soy sauce (Indonesian kecap manis), ginger, garlic, chile, molasses, and vinegar. And this is where things can get crazy, because that’s when Mooney will start recommending add-ons like smoky bacon ($0.50)—which was a very good recommendation. You can also get chopped garlic, fresh chiles, and chicharrones. Go crazy, you blunted stoner, you. Yes, you.
The ones that fell a little short for me were the dry rub (just call me a saucy girl) and the BBQ, which had lots of spices in it, but didn’t really pop and lock for me. There’s also a sweet mustard sauce, and orange miso. Yup, you have hella options. The wings aren’t battered with flour (heavy batter lovers will need to go elsewhere) and aren’t oily at all—the skin is nice and crisp, and they come out super fast, so don’t drop it like it’s hot.
Some folks are complaining that you have to pay extra for sauce ($0.50), and I think for something like the jumbo, it would be cool to include a sauce gratis. But, they are housemade, and both the ranch and bleu cheese taste fresh and good. And not every wing type needs a side sauce, so choose well.
You’ll see some complimentary hot sauces on the counter—jalapeño ginger, and hella hot habañero—but I didn’t need them for anything since I found all the wings to be very flavorful (and spicy). But if you order the fried plantains ($2.50/$6), I could see them coming in handy.
The menu has a bunch of other items, like fries with Old Bay ($2/$4), and then there’s the gravy fries ($3.50), which are, like, whoa. (I know what I want for my next late-night binge—and the price is right.) It’s a very creamy sauce that is based on chicken stock, with herbs and mushrooms—it’s like a homemade cream of mushroom soup. The fries get a bit soggy halfway through, so I’d almost want the kitchen to crisp ‘em up a bit more if they’re destined for the gravy treatment. And of course that Mooney is quick to suggest bacon on your gravy fries. Whether you listen to him or not totally depends upon your relationship with cholesterol.
Portions of the sides are serious: a large of potato salad ($5.50) will feed you and your friends for days, while a small ($2) is just right. There’s a coleslaw that is very finely chopped—and more fresh than saucy—and the potato salad is German in style, made with Yukons, fresh dill, and plenty of whole grain mustard and Dijon. Loved it.
And now for one of the best deals in town: the biscuit with chicken salad. It’s only $3, and features a delicious, peppery chicken salad (with notes of pimentón and Old Bay) tucked into a mighty fine biscuit. Another night there was a pulled pork with ginger slaw on a biscuit for $3.50, also a steal, but the pork itself was a touch dry.
There’s no beer or wine, so you’ll just need to figure that out yourself. Lots of folks do take-out to the neighboring bars—or just bring it all home. There aren’t a lot of seats, so be prepared to find other seating options elsewhere if it’s really busy.
And now for the bonus round: they deliver! Granted, it’s a limited area, but they deliver to my apartment, so color me badd and stoked. And it was via TCB Courier (on bike), so it was not only quick but environmentally kind. $20 minimum order for delivery. Just imagine getting these things delivered to your next lunch or party—your people will love you even more than they already do. Oh, and it’s a $10 minimum for credit cards, FYI. The late-night hours come in handy: until 12am Sun-Mon and Wed-Thu, and until 2am Fri-Sat. Clap your hands and say wing wings!
Wing Wings - 422 Haight St. - 415-834-5001
By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.
Last month Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc opened a super casual backyard operation for the restaurant’s beloved fried chicken and barbecue. Last Tuesday, the Yountville BOUCHON BAKERY started pumping out pizzas on Tuesday nights. Will a TK taco truck be next?
French Laundry employees have been happily scarfing down Bouchon Bakery’s pizzas as their Saturday night staff meal for a while now, and apparently the experience was too good not to share with the public. The new pizza venture is not a large scale operation, though. Only 30 pies are available for pickup each Tuesday night, only by advance reservation, and all of them must be collected at the Bouchon Bakery window at 6pm on the appointed day. Fortunately, you can order ahead by phone or in person as early as the Wednesday morning preceding the pickup date. If you don’t reserve before 6pm on Tuesday (or before all 30 are spoken for), no pizza for you. (You got all that?)
Ordering is easy, though. One size (18-inch diameter), one price ($25 plus tax), and a shortlist of classic comfort toppings keep it simple. So far we have pepperoni, pepperoni and jalapeño, cheese (mascarpone, goat cheese, and mozzarella), and “French Laundry Garden,” a changing special of whatever’s fresh that day.
For the next few Tuesdays, tablehopper readers can also order an off-the-menu pie, specially crafted by chef Matt McDonald just for you! The ‘hopper toppers for Tuesday August 9th will be sausage, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and pepperoni—a perfect blend of haute and homey. If you can’t place your order in time for this Tuesday, a new tablehopper flavah will be available for the following Tuesday (the 16th). Just tell them the ‘hopper sent ya!
Call or stop in to Bouchon Bakery for menu details and availability each week, and keep an eye on their Facebook and Twitter pages for future developments. 6528 Washington St. at Yount, Yountville, 707-944-2253.
By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.
Cindy Pawlcyn announced recently in the Weekly Calistogan that she is transitioning her sushi and seafood restaurant GO FISH into BRASSICA, a Mediterranean concept featuring the wine-friendly flavors and dishes of that delectable region. The word Brassica is the Latin name for the mustard family of plants, and a slick reference to Cindy’s wine country flagship Mustards Grill. Brassica’s menus will include inspirations from all the continents touched by the Mediterranean, with items like spiced lamb and eggplant kabobs, summer ribollita, “winemaker” pork and orzo, seasonal flatbreads, and stonefruit galettes.
Cindy and her managing partner Sean Knight are also ambitiously planning to pour over 70 wines by the glass, with 10 local champs on tap, and a slew of original cocktails. Brassica’s new wine bar space will serve the full restaurant menu as well as a selection of smaller plates, plus all the tasty drinks. The restaurant is being redesigned and updated by architect Howard Backen this summer, but remains open for business during the transition, serving the Go Fish menu (sans sushi) until Brassica opens officially in early September. 641 Main St. at Mills, St. Helena, 707-963-0700.
Big news in Carneros, as well. THE CARNEROS INN just upped their game with the addition of pastry chef Anna Springer (ex-executive pastry sous for Robuchon’s Las Vegas restaurants), FARM chef de cuisine Andrew Budnyj, Boon Fly Café chef Cody Williams, and culinary gardener Peter Stonebraker. Stonebraker designed the new half-acre culinary garden on the property, which will start supplying much of the produce for the Inn’s three restaurants. Since Budnyj formerly worked with Jeremy Fox at Ubuntu, he knows his vegetables and will help oversee the development of this new garden. On the Sonoma side of Carneros, the CARNEROS BISTRO & WINE BAR welcomes new chef de cuisine Andrew Wilson to the kitchen. Wilson replaces Janine Falvo, who left in April to open a new Renaissance Hotel restaurant in Atlanta. Wilson’s menus at Carneros Bistro should go live this fall.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Summer is still in full swing, and there are tons of feasts and bacchanals going on. Saturday August 13th, VINTNER’S COLLECTIVE in downtown Napa hosts their annual Slurps ‘n’ Sips party from 3pm-5pm. This year wines from Vinoce Vineyards will be the beverage of choice to wash down luscious raw and barbecued oysters from Hog Island, and/or the grilled chicken skewers provided for the bivalve-averse. Tickets to the oysterfest are $40 for wine club members, $50 for everyone else, and are limited to the first 40 reservations. Call 707-259-1980 or email to RSVP. 1245 Main St. at Clinton, Napa.
MA(I)SONRY in Yountville hosts Juslyn Vineyards for an Artist’s Palette dinner on Saturday August 20th. Juslyn principals Perry and Carolyn Butler will be on hand that night to discuss the wines and join in the alfresco revelry. The evening begins at 6:30pm with wine, passed hors d’oeuvres, and a curated tour of Ma(i)sonry’s art gallery with the artists and winemakers du soir. At 7:15pm, everybody sits down together in the gorgeous garden for a multi-course plated dinner designed by chef Cindy Pawlcyn. Tickets are $155 per person, and space is limited, so call 707-944-0889 or buy online to reserve a spot. If you miss the Juslyn dinner on August 20th, look for Lail, Renteria, and Tor dinners coming up later this fall. 6711 Washington St. at Burgundy, Yountville.
Moving north to Healdsburg, SIMI WINERY is hosting food truck roundups the second Wednesday of every month this summer, and continuing through mid-October. The party features tasty nibbles from Sonoma-based trucks like Karma Bistro, Foxy Cupcakes, Matchbox Diner, and La Texanita (which was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives). On weekends Simi is also cranking out seasonal salads and pizzas itself from the new Landslide Terrazzo Pizzeria, serving Fridays from 12pm-6pm and Saturdays from 11am-4pm, also through mid-October. The current menu includes a gorgeous panzanella with local heirloom tomatoes, and an assortment of pizzas like the droolworthy “Parma,” topped with roasted garlic, prosciutto, smoked mozzarella, baby arugula, and roasted peppers. During the pizzeria’s opening hours, the winery is also offering $1.35 wine tastings right now in honor of their 135th anniversary this year. That’s practically Old World, yo. Who says California has no history?
By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.
Marin County isn’t technically in the 707, but its location makes it the logical stopping off ground for folks coming from the city up north (or vice versa)—particularly when 101 is backed up and hunger and/or road rage strikes. I recently had the excellent fortune of being invited to check out two of Marin’s cutting edge eateries, and honestly can’t wait to return to either one.
THE SOUTHERN PACIFIC SMOKEHOUSE opened in Novato in May, courtesy of Rick Riess (former CEO of the PlumpJack Group) and Nashville recording artist/barbecue aficionado Philip Claypool. Think Southern-style comfort cooking meets Pacific coast ingredients and live music in a high style atmosphere. This place is seriously SWANK—the restaurant describes the décor as “industrial machine age meets Roadhouse fun,” rather incongruously perched at the edge Novato’s Vintage Oaks shopping center … but the location right off 101 makes for easy driving and even easier parking.
Notwithstanding the stylin’ décor and sophisticated bar menu, the food is built to please, prices are attainable, and service couldn’t be sweeter. Nifty handheld controllers let servers send drink orders while they’re still standing at the table, and sometimes the drinks arrive from the bar before the server has even left. Some of the highlights of my visit were the (seemingly) filler-free crab and shrimp cakes with cayenne-lemon emulsion, and the sick spice-rubbed shrimp and grits in a pan sauce made with Worcester-glazed shallots and crème fraîche. Man. I still dream about that dish. Fortunately the restaurant will be selling the spice blend, as well as the house sauce for you to take home once their retail operation gets going.
And then there is the artisanal cocktail menu by Alex Bachman—a good 15 minutes’ read. Manhattan drinkers, take note: there is an entire submenu dedicated to you. Barman Bachman clearly has a taste for bourbon, so the restaurant also has its own label of Evan Williams, and is working on scoring a couple of barrels of whisky from Even Kulsveen next. There’s also a really interesting selection of old-school adult punches by the glass and pitcher, made on the not-so-sweet side so they actually work with food. I particularly dug the Garrick Club Punch (Bombay London Dry gin, Luxardo Maraschino, lemon, club soda) with the crab cakes. Non-drinkers can also enjoy some sophisticated flavors thanks to the nonalcoholic cocktail menu also offered.
The restaurant has an adjoining live music venue—“the Smokehouse”—with performers Wednesday through Sunday nights. 100% of the cover charges for shows ($5-$20) goes to the talent and production expenses, so quit yer griping that it’s not free. Now that the outdoor patio is open for business too, this place is a no-brainer for a pit stop mid-way between Napa and SF. 224 Vintage Way (in the Vintage Oaks shopping center), Novato, 415-899-9600.
For those wanting a stop closer to the city, VIN ANTICO in San Rafael has some surprisingly delicious things going on these days thanks to chef Ed Vigil. The tiny little storefront is right downtown on Fourth Street, just steps from the edge of the San Rafael farmers’ market. The place is adorable, the kind of neighborhood joint everyone wishes was in their ‘hood. The wine list has an eclectic selection from all over the world, with plenty of interesting items from more unusual areas—all of which are food-friendly, because that’s the main attraction after all.
I was invited to check out the Sunday night “Spaghettata” that Vin Antico launched this summer, a special $25 prix-fixe offering inspired by the Italian tradition of impromptu spaghetti dinners. Unlike a classic spaghettata, however, Vin Antico’s version is a multi-course miracle of fresh, hand-rolled pastas of all sizes and shapes, sauced with whatever seasonal produce finds its way to the local farmers’ markets.
When I was there, the menu kicked off with a modern grilled octopus dish with Star Route Farms pickled radishes and rouille, then jumped into the first of the three pasta courses. Delectable corzetti (coins) with a meaty medley of fresh morels, fava beans, and purée of ramps were followed by toothsome spaghettini with braised pork and an earthy caper, wheatberry, and artichoke compote … and then the irresistible Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with English peas, beach mushrooms, and pine nuts in brown butter arrived, requiring a quick transition to the second stomach because there was no option of leaving anything on the plate. Incredibly, the $25 deal also included dessert, which on my night was white chocolate mousse with a saffron, apricot, and plum compote.
It’s hard to fathom a better value for this kind of labor-intensive, seasonally driven cooking. This is a run-don’t-walk kind of deal, perfectly situated to cheer up the sad Sunday night drive home from wine country. 881 Fourth St. at Lootens, San Rafael, 415-454-4492.