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Sep 13, 2012 9 min read

September 14, 2012 - This week's tablehopper: raising a glass.

September 14, 2012 - This week's tablehopper: raising a glass.
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This week's tablehopper: raising my glass.                    

Chef Gerald Hirigoyen bringing us Piperade’s infamous beignets. Photo: ©

Howdy. I am so TGIF right now. It’s been a long week of deadlines, but fortunately I’ve had some quality playtime in there too. This week I was able to raise my glass to not one but two restaurants celebrating important anniversaries. First, on Wednesday, I attended a 10-year anniversary luncheon at Piperade in its new (and chic) Lauburu private dining room (hello, hot ticket for holiday parties!). Chef Gerald Hirigoyen positively killed us with a delicious menu (and wines)—here’s to another 10 years to this singular San Francisco restaurant!

Last night I swung by Jardinière for its 15th anniversary—it was a blast to hang out with Pat Kuleto (he always has great stories), see many of the talented chefs who have passed through Traci Des Jardins’s kitchen, and, of course, clink-clink with Eugenio Jardim, one of the city’s most talented (and charming) wine directors. Throughout the night, the Jardinière crew plied us with canapés that represented dishes from the past 15 years. I know, it sounds so arduous! And, yes, I came home properly buzzed. Cheers to you, Jardinière!

Speaking of tying one on, next week marks the kickoff of SF Cocktail Week! Am I going to see you on Wednesday at the Italian Happy Hour at Blackbird? Please do come by—there will be amari, salumi, and more.

I am also giving away a pair of tickets to the Legends Awards on Friday night. Since the contest is for new subscribers, you can forward this email to a friend and tell them to enter (and bring you if they win, of course).

On Wednesday, did you happen to see my piece for on Five Places to Meet for a First Online and Blind Date? Happy hunting out there.

With all the great restaurant anniversaries this week, I was inspired to write up an old-school favorite, Sam’s Grill. Since 1867—that is some notable history. We also have a 707 Scout update for you, check it out.

Have a fab weekend!

Marcia Gagliardi

the regular

Established Restaurant Reviews (it's about time we met...)

Sam's Grill and Seafood Restaurant


The beginning of our meal at Sam’s Grill. Photo: ©


Celery Victor. Photo: ©


Hangtown fry. Photo: ©


Sand dabs à la Sam. Photo: ©


Baked clams Elizabeth. Photo: ©


Coffee time. Photo: ©

I have a group of “lady friends” who gets together for each other’s birthdays, and we’ve been touring the city’s old-school establishments, like Tadich Grill and Le Central. Yeah, there is some drinking that goes on at these lunches, plus some shit talking and tales of dating highs and woes. It’s enough to make me want to celebrate half birthdays so we can get together more often. These lunches rock.

Our favorite thus far has been SAM’S GRILL AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT, at the entrance of Belden Lane on Bush, and it’s been there way before the French buskers took over the alley. Sam’s has been in this location since 1946, although its history extends to 1867, back when Michael Molan Moraghan (yes, he was Irish) was selling oysters in an open-air market on California Street. The Sam in the name is Samuel Zenovitch, a Croatian who purchased Moraghan’s oyster business and restaurant in 1922, and then Frank Seput (another Croatian) took over the business in 1937 when Zenovitch died. The restaurant remained with various generations of the Seput family until it was sold to Phil Lyons in 2005—now back in Irish hands. You can read all these details and more on your menu—and I’m sure many of the career waiters at Sam’s can tell you what it was like to work there during the Seput years—but I always like to know who a restaurant is named after.

There’s a full bar (natch) where you can get your lunch started with a martini, and you’ll want to snag one of the private and curtained wood booths. There are tables as well, but really, it’s all about the booths. Upon noticing that the service buzzer in our booth wasn’t working, our crusty server (almost crustier than the Boudin sourdough bread on our table) quipped: “Yeah, I had it disconnected. You ladies would be pushing that thing all day.” And … we were off to the races.

The menu is printed daily, and I was happy to see a small box on it with a mention of their focus on sustainability and quality—which wasn’t on there the last time I came in for my birthday a few years ago. The menu also has the old GArfield exchange phone number on it, love it.

Since I’m so into old-school places, my table pretty much told me to do it up: I ordered the crab Louie ($27), a pile of picked crab over chopped iceberg lettuce with a piece of claw meat like a crown on top; the classic San Francisco dish of celery Victor ($11.50), with anchovies draped over celery cooked in stock and then chilled; one of the best Hangtown fry ($18) executions I’ve ever had, full of plump oysters and topped with strips of extra-crisp bacon; sand dabs à la Sam ($24), a must-order dish—the plate was tiled with pieces of the delicate and oh-so-fresh fish (the sand dabs are dipped in flour, panfried, then skinned, deboned, filleted, and put on the plate with some drawn butter over the top and heated up for a quick flash); and we said mercury be damned and had some swordfish ($26) off the charcoal grill. All of it was excellent—a terrific feast.

The menu is loaded with seafood choices: other strong picks are the rex sole à la Sam or petrale meunière. (I crack up over the big chunk of boiled potato that comes as a side on all the fish dishes—so very much from another era.) If you want to get something meaty, you gotta do the sweetbreads (there are three kinds, including one version charcoal-broiled with bacon—hello).

The surprise favorite was the decadent baked clams Elizabeth ($19), a dish I had never heard of before (ends up it was named in honor of one of the matriarchs in the Seput clan). The clams are covered in bread crumbs and paprika, a ton of butter, Parmesan cheese, and red wine. Not the most photogenic item, but man, that sauce was pure evil—it’s like the dish was built to be mopped up with sourdough bread. We did damage. We also had some sides of french fries and fried zucchini—yeah, vegetables.

We didn’t make it to dessert—it was all about sobering up with some coffee (served in vintage diner cups). The all-California wine list proudly includes white zinfandel as one of its seven by-the-glass choices—we opted for bottles of the Mumm brut ($37) to carry us through lunch.

This place is a classic Financial District lunch spot—in fact, it isn’t even open on the weekends (just lunch and dinner Monday through Friday). You can make a reservation for six or more for lunch; otherwise, just come in a little bit on the later side if you don’t want to wait too long. They can’t guarantee a booth for you, but here’s a tip: if your party is nine or more, you’ll score a booth since they can’t seat you anywhere else. Dinner reservations can be made for 5pm onward, for any size party.

I know Tadich is our San Francisco classic, and I adore drinking and dining at that bar immensely. But the last Hangtown fry I had there was cooked beyond belief with rubbery oysters—and put me back $22.95. Maybe since Sam’s is a little less famous, it has to pull the Avis card and try harder. Whatever, this piece is not about comparing the two places. It’s about celebrating San Francisco—and simpler times. It’s about our city’s love affair with seafood. It’s about boozy lunches with good friends in curtained wood booths, sopping up delicious buttery sauces with sourdough bread. And it’s about getting sass from hardworking jacketed waiters who have been working there for 43 years. Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Sam's Grill and Seafood Restaurant            - 374 Bush St. San Francisco - 415-421-0594

707 scout

Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)

New Napa Brunch, Pawlcyn Reinvents Brassica, Batali in Sonoma, Fermentation Festivities


The BLAT (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado) at The Thomas brunch. Courtesy of The Thomas.


Andaz Napa. Courtesy of Hyatt Hotels.


Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation. Courtesy of Sandor Katz.


Mario Batali. Courtesy of

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

Brunch has been added at THE THOMAS in Napa. After a month of dialing in dinner and late-night service, the newly opened AvroKO restaurant has added that most relaxing of midmorning meals. On the menu: the BLAT with smoked paprika mayo and a fried egg (that’s a BLT with avocado, of course); tea-smoked salmon with yuzu hollandaise; the Thomas burger (dry-aged Angus and Kobe beef) on a brioche bun; grilled chorizo; warm monkey bread with espresso ice cream; and, of course, the essential Bloody Mary, Bellini, and Negroni. Hangover heaven. Brunch is served from 10am to 2:30pm Saturday and Sunday. 813 Main St. at 2nd St., Napa, 707-226-7821.

Cha-cha-changes all over Napa as Cindy Pawcyln reinvents St. Helena’s Brassica (again) as CINDY PAWLCYN’S WOOD GRILL AND WINE BAR, or CP’s for short. It’s back to family-friendly, wine-friendly American comfort food with favorites like sweet crispy pork belly, Brown Derby Cobb salad, braised short ribs, Niman Ranch burgers, and root beer floats. If it sounds a whole lot like her nearby MUSTARDS GRILL, bingo. What’s worked for 30 years can’t be wrong, right? Brassica debuted last year after Pawlcyn closed Go Fish, a seafood and sushi restaurant at the Main Street location. CP’s began service September 5th. 641 Main St. at Mills Ln., St. Helena, 707-963-0700.

Also, the former Avia hotel relaunches as ANDAZ NAPA. The upscale Hyatt brand has five other American properties in New York, San Diego, and Hollywood. The hotel’s restaurant, Andaz Napa Farmers Table will be headed by chef Sarah Linkenheil, who will also be overseeing the more loungy Mercantile Social.

Get fizzy, pickled, and bubbly at the Farm to Fermentation Festival, held at Petaluma’s Tara Firma Farms on Sunday September 16th. The event brings together fermentation enthusiasts from throughout the Bay Area, with speakers and nibbles from Farmhouse Culture (sauerkraut), Happy Girl Kitchen, Petaluma Hills Brewing Company, Frey Vineyards, and Backyard CSA. There’s also some probiotic inspiration from cheese guru Mary Karlin and the king of fermentables, Sandor Katz. $35 per person, 11am to 5pm. Tara Firma Farms, Petaluma, 707-765-1202.

All-star chefs converge for Chef Tables in the Vineyard today (Friday September 14th), cohosted by celebrity chefs Guy Fieri and Mario Batali. It’s a food-tastic fantasy league of talent that includes more than a dozen of Wine Country’s top talents cooking individual meals for each table. The event is part of a weekend-long celebration of tomatoes at KENDALL JACKSON WINE CENTER that includes the annual Tomatofest tomorrow, on Saturday September 15th.

On the roster are Cyrus’s Douglas Keane, culinary educator John Ash, Kendall-Jackson executive chef Justin Wangler, Dino Bugica of Diavola Pizzeria, Perry Hoffman of Napa’s Étoile, Adam Mali of Mandarin Oriental SF,Top Chef star Casey Thompson, and many others. Each chef cooks for a table; diners won’t find out which chef will be cooking for them until the night of the dinner. Tickets range from $350 per person to $3,000 for VIP tables with Fieri and Batali. Details and tickets online or by calling 866-287-9818.

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