Oh, hello Friday afternoon. I never thought you’d get here. Damn, what took you so long? What’s on your docket this weekend? Here’s something to consider: the newly launched brunches at Maven, Old Skool Cafe, Pera, Parallel 37, or Hopscotch in Oakland, if you’re looking for something new.
Last night I was fortunate to attend the preview party for the SF Street Food Festival at Fort Mason. The room was packed with food vendors who will be serving their specialties at the festival and at the exciting new addition this year, the night market. I think my favorite part of the night was having the time to talk to the vendors face to face, to learn about their dishes, and to hear their stories and where they come from. Sure, the SF Street Food Festival is exciting and full of crazy-delicious food, but it’s important to remember each person’s dish has such a personal story to tell. Many come from so far away, like Ethiopia or Japan or Colombia—or they’re longtime SF locals—but all have such pride and care for their dishes, their spices, their mother’s recipes, their ancestors’ traditions.
Every person in that room last night is working so hard to create a successful food business, many of them starting with very little. As a member of the media, you become acutely aware of how much a story about them (and their product) could make a difference in their business. And as consumers, how much our support matters, whether we hire them for catering or buy their tasty hummus at Whole Foods Market (who works closely with La Cocina to carry products from their incubator businesses).
The other thing that really touched me is just how excited everyone was to feed you. To tell you about their dish. To ask if you liked it. I was just overwhelmed with how much heart goes into it all. So next month, when I’m waiting in line at the festival or night market for the “Malaysian chilaquiles” from Azalina’s or the panucho from Chaac-Mool or the moi-moi from Chiefo’s Kitchen, I’m going to remember the pride and excitement each of these vendors has to be participating in the event, and most important, I’m going to think about their dreams, which is basically to feed people their wonderful food. It’s profound. Deep soul. I know, I’m a total sap, but I was really moved last night.
I want to do a shout-out to Caleb Zigas and his amazing team (and volunteers!) at La Cocina who all work so hard at this, and each year keep making this festival bigger, better, and even more bodacious. We’re being exposed to so many unique things through this event, we are so damn lucky. All while helping so many women-owned businesses get the exposure and support they need. Thank you.
And I also owe a thank-you to the readers of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, for voting tablehopper the best food website. Like, wow. Thanks, yo!
Have a marvy weekend, all.
SF Chefs 2012, San Francisco’s food, wine, and spirits festival, returns to Union Square and beyond July 30th-August 5th! Mingle with the Bay Area’s finest chefs, bar stars, and wine experts in the epicenter of culinary inspiration—our very own San Francisco. Join fellow foodies on the legendary Union Square as it transforms into a culinary paradise under the Grand Tasting Tent. There are classes, the Industry Series, live demos, top chef challenges, hot after-parties, and a whole lot more—engage with some of the most respected chefs, winemakers, mixologists, and industry experts.
An impressive selection of wines and spirits showcase dishes from San Francisco’s most sought-after chefs including Thomas McNaughton, Gary Danko, Traci Des Jardins, Tyler Florence, Hubert Keller, Chris Cosentino, and countless more (plus visiting chefs like Marcus Samuelsson)! Check out all the participating chefs here.
Hungry? Thirsty? Want to experience it all? Then get your tickets to SF Chefs 2012!
And because you read tablehopper, you get 10 percent off of all events. Just use this code at checkout: tablehopper 12.
Corner businesses are an American tradition: corner stores, corner restaurants, corner cafés. A bit off the beaten path in the Mission is LOCAL’S CORNER, which looks like it’s been there for years, but it was actually a corner deli before. Owners Yaron Milgrom and chef-owner Jake Des Voignes (also of the nearby Local Mission Eatery on 24th Street) created a pleasing turn-of-the-century look, complete with a pressed-tin ceiling, hand-painted wallpaper from Benicia, two levels of paned windows, maroon wainscoting, bent cane chairs and marble-topped tables, and original Douglas fir floors. The dining room is petite, but the outdoor tables boost seating options. And coming in for dinner at dusk, well, let’s just say you can’t ask for better dinner date ambience.
Des Voignes is a wicked talented chef, and he has assembled a strong team in the minuscule kitchen here, which doesn’t happen to have a stove. Yeah, that’s not the easiest situation, but it’s always interesting how some restaurants work around that limitation. The menu here is seafood-based, but that doesn’t mean it’s all raw. Some of the seafood is cooked sous vide, and curing is another trademark of the kitchen, and you’ll see smoked fish as well. Des Voignes is an obsessive about sourcing, using only the best local and sustainable seafood he can find. The seafood is extraordinarily fresh and really shines in the kitchen’s clean presentations.
While most seafood restaurants in San Francisco are all about the classics, this place is more about an inventive California perspective—and beautiful plating, with the prettiest little radishes or citrus suprêmes or perfectly diced potatoes (you will definitely pick up on Des Voignes’s fine dining background and skills). There are a variety of oysters to start with (most are $2.50 each, unless you come for happy hour, with two-for-one oysters every Tue-Sat from 2pm-6pm).
There are many small plates to work through in the “Sea” section, like the refreshing crab ($13) with snap peas and Cara Cara orange, or the rich smoked herring ($9) with new potatoes and crème fraîche. The seasoning varied a bit on one visit (the salmon tartare [$12] was underseasoned, while the cured halibut [$13] was a bit salty), but once we started eating all the components on the plate, it ultimately balanced out. One of the few larger dishes to try is the king salmon ($24)—exquisitely tender, almost custardy, and pleasantly topped with a few pieces of crisp skin. Do note that the menu is more tailored for sharing than ordering individual dishes.
The “Land” section of the menu holds the oh-so-silky chicken liver mousse ($6), a hefty scoop with red onion jam on the side. Humina. There are a number of fantastic vegetable dishes (back in May there was roasted asparagus [$6] with almonds and shallot vinaigrette, a brilliant pairing of flavors) and some snacky plates like pork rillettes ($11) or beef tartare ($15). And you definitely want the bread and butter ($3), with lightly toasted bread generously studded with sunflower seeds.
The staff can help you choose (and taste) wines off the all-California list, with most by-the-glass selections hovering around $10. The vin gris by Santa Cruz’s Birichino ($7) is a steal and an easy wine to pair with the lighter seafood dishes.
A friend and I came for the weekend brunch, a prix-fixe affair for $18. We had a blast at our outside table on a warm Mission day, drinking our bottomless cup of Sightglass coffee (okay, there was some sparkling wine at our table too), unanimously crowning the open-faced brioche and egg sandwich the winner, with a sparky arugula pesto and cloud of Microplaned goat gouda on top. You also get toast, butter, and preserves, and we had a choice of granola or chilled carrot soup or a cheese plate. And you have the option of ordering Knead Patisserie’s pomme d’amour ($3.50), one of the city’s finest treats. You really should say yes to that option, trust.
My brunch partner in crime was looking at me over our meal, saying, “Damn, this place is so perfect right now. Why do you have to write about how great this brunch is? Why can’t this stay a secret?” I sometimes have those moments, asking myself the same thing. But then it would take all the fun out of my job.
Local's Corner - 2500 Bryant St. San Francisco - 415-800-7945
Fagiani's (Now Known as The Thomas) Nears Completion in Napa; Basque Boulangerie Sold, Petite Syrah Closing
For nearly a generation, the building at 813 Main Street in downtown Napa stood as silent witness to a sad chapter in the town’s history. Owned since 1945 by the Fagiani family, the building was a bustling bar and popular hangout until a fateful July night in 1974, when a young woman was murdered inside. Soon after, Fagiani’s Cocktail Lounge & Liquor Store was locked tight—some say with drinks still sitting on the bar—as the decades rolled by and her killer eluded police.
Now it’s facing a brighter future as New York-based design and hospitality group AvroKO readies the rehabbed 100-year-old property to open this August as a three-story restaurant and cocktail lounge called THE THOMAS.
“We wanted to bring back the original character and keep with the history of the building,” says chef Brad Farmerie, walking through the construction site earlier this month. Farmerie is executive chef of the critically acclaimed PUBLIC and Saxon + Parole in New York City. He, along with the The Thomas’s sommelier and other executive staff, moved to Napa several months ago to open the restaurant and plan opening menus. Farmerie will stick around after the opening, but expect announcement of a chef de cuisine shortly.
“We’d be mistaken to think that we could impose our will on this historic venue,” he said. So during the last several months, they’ve consulted with locals, area chefs, ranchers, winemakers, and Facebook fans for input on the name and feel of the restaurant as well as learning about the best way to use and feature local ingredients. Which, we’ll just say, is a refreshing change from other out-of-towners.
The three-level restaurant will include a large retro-inspired bar, slated to be called Fagiani’s Bar at The Thomas (there has been some wrangling over the name with the family), and the original neon Fagiani’s sign will hang out front. The Thomas, which is what they’ll call the upstairs dining room, a reference to the building’s time as a boardinghouse called The Thomas, features an open-kitchen dining room and a floating wine rack with about 1,300 bottles. On the third floor, more dining space and an open-walled deck area overlooks the Napa riverfront.
The menu is still in development, but Farmerie is especially excited about two things: an aged beef burger and lots of local produce. ”The more I eat here I realize the less I want to do with the food—the food and vegetables are insane here. The purveyors want you to try things while they are standing there. It was an epiphany just to eat an heirloom tomato,” Farmerie said. His staff have planted two small garden plots outside the former Copia and are using the Julia’s Kitchen space to test their dishes.
The crew plans to introduce a hopping mixology program as well, with cocktails served until the wee hours. Media preview dinners start in early August, followed by an anticipated opening soon after.
In Sonoma County, chef Josh Silvers will close PETITE SYRAH (formerly known as Syrah) for good this fall. And at least part of the decision is based on Silvers’ own recent 40-pound weight loss.
“I decided Petite Syrah had run its course and it was time for a complete change. I used to love cooking and eating foie gras and pork belly and very rich foods, but I put on a lot of weight and I got high blood pressure,” said Silvers. He’s among a number of local chefs who’ve lost a significant amount of weight recently (Mark Stark of Stark’s Steakhouse and Sondra Bernstein of the girl & the fig among them) in order to improve their health.
“Last year, I started working out and eating healthier food; granted I still indulge in rich food but with a lot more moderation. My whole lifestyle changed and is more balanced. I am very happy and much healthier. High-end food takes a lot of time and is expensive. I eat much healthier now, and I want to share with the public how much better we all can feel by eating better and spending less,” said Silvers.
In 1999, Silvers opened Syrah in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, becoming the go-to restaurant for Wine Country classics like foie gras, Liberty duck, and Dungeness crab cakes. Two years ago, after opening nearby Jackson’s (a more casual eatery focused on pizzas, burgers, and cocktails), Silvers reinvented the restaurant as Petite Syrah. The tweezer-perfect small plates that included 63 degree eggs, pork belly, and speck ravioli garnered critical approval, but failed to gain a widespread audience.
After several changes, Silvers has decided to close the Syrah chapter, but he isn’t done with the location. “At this time and in this country, I think our health and our budgets are extremely important to us. I want to open a place where I can take my family and have everyday delicious comfort food. My lifestyle has changed radically this last year, and I want to reflect that in my restaurant. I have a family and I think Santa Rosa could use a restaurant where you can take your family and have everyday delicious comfort food with some options for special occasions (what I call my ‘cheat days’),” said Silvers.
He’s mum on exactly what the new concept will entail or when it will open, but knowing Silvers, something is definitely in the works. Until the closure, he’ll be featuring a number of “best of” menus. 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-568-4002.
Big news on the Sonoma Square: Longtime owners of Sonoma’s BASQUE BOULANGERIE have confirmed plans to sell their 20-year-old bakery later this summer. Familiar to many in the Bay Area, the small café has become the town’s gathering spot—where locals meet for coffee and fresh pastries or a sandwich, and tourists make pilgrimages for their bread. A number of area restaurants and groceries also stock their baguettes.
Though the sale is still pending, Ron and Francoise Hodges along with co-owner and baker Jack Montaldo hope to transfer ownership to Harman “Sunny” Bajwa of San Ramon in August. Tired of long hours and needing to care for family, 20 years seemed like the right time to pass the baguette to a new generation. Several months ago, they started entertaining offers to buy the business. “We turned down several people who wanted to change everything,” she said. Bajwa, a district manager for Noah’s Bagels, told owners he wanted to keep the bakery, the staff, and the product exactly the same. “He wants to make it a family tradition, like it’s been a family tradition for us,” Francoise said. 460 First St. East at E. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-935-7687.