Tuna crudo at Commonwealth with lardo and melon. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Hola amigos. Big thanks to everyone who wrote in with headache remedies for me—after four days, that damn thing finally took a hike. It made me step back and take a look at my stress level, which has not been ideal lately. I hate this feeling of always being behind: behind in my emails, my Twitter feed, my reviews, my deadlines, my research, my phone calls. (I know I am not alone in this.)
So in an effort to streamline things, I have decided—for real this time—that I am not allowing myself to write reviews that are more than 450 words, which is less than half of what they usually clock in at. There is always so much I want to write about in my reviews: the chef’s story, the ingredients, the design, the details. It’s the stuff I love. But every week, the task is proving too daunting with all the other writing I am doing, so I’m only writing one or two a month. I’m not a fan of staying up until 1am every night at my computer, it’s getting tedious. Besides, I imagine you just want to know where to go and what’s good in a shorter review anyway—no one really has much time these days. So this week is the debut of my first shorter review, I hope you enjoy it.
This weekend I am off to the 707 for a little jaunt and some sun—going to stay with my dear friends in Yountville, and I will be hitting up The Thomas and Goose & Gander. Looking forward to it. Speaking of the 707, we also have a 707 scout update for you.
Before signing off, here’s my weekly post for 7x7.com on four places to go for fabulous biscuits around town. Mmmm, biscuits!
Have a fab weekend,
I admit that as a San Franciscan I can get a bit landlocked with my restaurant choices—Bay Bridge traffic can suck up a couple of hours I don’t have to spare. Fortunately COMAL in Berkeley is literally a block from the Berkeley BART station, which also means I can enjoy the kick-ass cocktails and tequila selections by the Bon Vivants a little bit more—come to mama.
Chef Matt Gandin was previously at Delfina for almost nine years and has some serious cooking chops. The menu is primarily focused on interpretations of dishes from Oaxaca, so you’ll see some unique dishes, like the de ese, a rustic dish with a tortilla that has an hoja santa leaf wrapped inside, a new flavor for me (read more about it here).
The menu is seasonally driven and changes daily, but gracias to Dios the out-of-hand delicious tripe guisado ($9) with garbanzo beans in a tomato and morita chile sauce is permanently on the menu; ditto the springy beef and pork albóndigas (meatballs) en adobo ($12)—both of these dishes have such notable sauces. (I’m pretty nuts for the mole that comes with the pork enchiladas [$14] as well.) Fans of chile relleno ($9) will dig the one here, it has a perfect exterior that isn’t oily. I also like the vintage Buffalo china plates everything is served on.
The ingredient sourcing is very focused, from the fantastically fresh seafood to the appearance of chepil in the housemade tamales. (The masa here is really good—the first thing you’ll smell when you walk in is the fresh corn tortillas.) Even simple dishes like jicama and cucumber pop with flavor—the spice level of everything is just right. I want to come back with a larger group to try the platos fuertes, large dishes meant to be shared, like a whole rock cod from the wood grill. However, the cod in the fish tacos ($12) made for too much of a soggy taco for my liking.
The earthy-yet-modern space is sprawling: 140 seats, with a bar area, plenty of seating for groups, and the enormous back patio with its own bar, heaters, and fire pit. The sound system is state of the art, and totally something to geek out on (owner John Paluska was formerly the manager for Phish, and worked with Meyer Sound and his architects, Abueg Morris—read all about this custom and very cool system here). Like the music, the crowd is eclectic (and very come as you are). The friendly servers handle the large room well—it can get really busy.
For dessert, the flan ($7) is a creamy dream; do it. The sophisticated and finely tuned cocktail program is worth the BART trip alone (wait until you try the sangritas). The Palomaesque ($9) is a recommended way to start, and be sure to have a meeting with the feisty Jack Satan ($9)—just don’t let him make you miss your train.
Comal - 2020 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley - 510-926-6300
“Mommy, I picked lettuce!” is the kind of gleeful exclamation you’ll hear over and over in the fields of BLOOMFIELD FARMS. Each Sunday through October, the family-operated organic farm will open its barn doors and set folks loose on several acres of salad greens, kale, squash, lettuce, potatoes, zucchinis, and other veggies. Staff will be on hand to point you to the right rows, give tips on how to most effectively dig for potatoes, and guide you to what’s at the peak of the season. Plan to get your boots dusty and your hands dirty, because this is farmwork after all. Each box is $25 to fill. Open 10am to 3pm, 12550 Valley Ford Rd., Petaluma.
Top Chef Masters competitor and James Beard Award-winner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson of Frasca is the featured chef this Sunday September 30th at COPAIN WINES. The Supper Club Series at the acclaimed Russian River winery will feature a one-of-a-kind rustic feast showcasing the Friulian-inspired cuisine and salumi Mackinnon-Patterson is known for at his Boulder, Colorado restaurant. Tickets for the Frasca Supper Club are $175 for mailing list members; $225 for non-members. On December 14th, the winery welcomes James Beard Award-winner and Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef honoree David Chang of Momofuku for the final 2012 Supper Club. More details and tickets by calling 707-836-8822 x105.
It’s a spooky trip to Howell Mountain’s LADERA VINEYARDS for its annual Twilight Ghost Tours this October. The program includes a lantern-led tour of the former “ghost” winery and a tour of the gravity-flow winery. The tour ends with a tasting of Ladera’s limited-production wines paired with an assortment of cheese and chocolates. The tours are by appointment only, lasting approximately 90 minutes. Tickets are $75 per person for groups of up to four people. For reservations contact Ladera Vineyards at 707-965-2445.
On the first morning of breakfast service for THREE SQUARES CAFÉ in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, chef-owner Josh Silvers wandered from table to table greeting other chefs. Like much of the local dining community, the anticipation among other restaurateurs was palpable: What would become of the iconic space? It turns out to be exactly what many of us hoped it would be—a return to the comfortable, warm, homey cooking that is Silvers’s hallmark.
“It’s food that comes from here,” says Silvers, pointing to his heart, “not here,” he adds, pointing to his head. “You don’t have to sit and think about it,” he says of Petite Syrah, a short-lived version of the restaurant that featured small plates of haute cuisine. “It just wasn’t me.” Instead, the new three-meals-a-day menu (hence the name) features dishes including a breakfast sticky bun; Hangtown fry with fried oysters and bacon; corned beef hash with poached eggs; and matzo brei with potato pancakes, sour cream, and housemade applesauce. Those with a sweet tooth will love the deep-fried French toast with real maple syrup and the pumpkin griddle cakes with homemade sausage.
Dinner includes a daily “square meal,” such as spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesday, fried chicken on Thursday, and prime rib on Sunday ($19.95-$27.95 for the prime rib). The price includes soup, salad, and housemade ice cream. But you may want to check out the dessert menu anyway, because Josh’s butterscotch pudding is something special. And there’s almost nothing better than getting a slice of birthday cake (with a candle) when it’s not your birthday. The cake is made in-house with Josh’s one requirement of the baker: “Bake whatever makes you smile.”
Shoulder to shoulder with his kitchen staff (including breakfast cook Pam Wilson, his first sous at Syrah), Silvers seems happier than ever cooking more approachable food. It’s the kind of Wednesday-morning, Friday-night, Sunday-afternoon food that just makes you go, “Mmmmm, that’s just what I wanted.” Open Tuesday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Closed Monday. 205 Fifth St. at Davis, Santa Rosa, 707-545-4300.