This week's tablehopper: lucky seven.
My “by request” crab roll at Waterbar. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Hello, my fellow fans of Friday. Do you have your Oscars plans all lined up? The bubbles are chilling, and I’m still figuring out which recipes I want to make from Jerusalem (scroll down to read a bookworm blurb here) for my guest who’s coming over to watch them with me.
Yesterday was a fun one for yours truly: tablehopper turned seven! Yeah, that’s a lot of Tuesdays in your inbox, and some Fridays too. Big thanks to one of my superstar readers, who sent me this fab animation—totally made my day. I could watch it again and again. (Getting. Very. Thirsty.) Thanks for all of your support, people! You keep me inspired.
So, in honor of seven years, I thought I’d share seven cool things I learned this week:
- Chef Michele Belotti at Ristobar is making some seriously delicious stuffed pastas. (Have you ever had casoncelli? You should.)
- The raw bar manager at Waterbar, Greg Babinecz, is sourcing and shucking the most amazing (and rare) variety of oysters in the city. Pull up to the bar for some insightful education, beautiful oysters, and clever wine pairings by beverage director Steven Izzo. Oh yeah, and there’s that VIEW.
- If you have any time tonight or tomorrow, try to visit Oliveto for the last days of its Whole Hog Dinners. Stars on chef Jonah Rhodehamel’s full-tilt-boogie menu include 24-month Magruder prosciutto, pancetta-wrapped sardine, lobster boudin blanc, charcoal-grilled Calabrian sausage, and spit-roasted boar leg and loin. Hubba.
- If you’re looking for a charming date spot that’s off the beaten path, try Orexi in West Portal. I’d like to think its housemade taramosalata is the way to a (special) person’s heart.
- Italian winemakers Bruno De Conciliis and Alberto Graci are just finishing up their mega-tour of San Francisco, but you can still swing by Biondivino on Saturday to try their wonderful wines before they head home (6pm-8pm, $10 tasting)!
- Even if the majority of the content was reportedly ripped off from other people on the internet, the spoofed Guy Fieri menu still made me laugh my ass off.
- Starting the week with shakshuka for breakfast/brunch at home is awesome (check out a couple of recipes on my Pinterest board).
Ah yes, brunch. Before we head into the weekend, I thought you’d like a look at my piece for 7x7.com with five suggestions for how to shake up your brunch routine. Nope, no bacon and eggs here (although I do love them so).
Today we have a piece from Alan Goldfarb in “Checking Lists,” featuring Bellanico in Oakland (you can also listen to my “You Gotta Eat This” feature on KGO Radio about Bellanico here), and Heather Irwin styles us with some 707 news.
Thanks for seven years, and cheers!
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
A Stark Reality, Yountville's Block Party, Wine Country's Cheesiest, and Canneti Opening
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
With a recent nomination from the James Beard Awards for Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year, Mark and Terri Stark of Sonoma’s Stark Reality Restaurant Group have had a busy few weeks. In addition to managing their recently opened Healdsburg restaurant BRAVAS, the couple is also doing a bit of behind-the-scenes remodeling on their Santa Rosa restaurant, Willi’s Wine Bar, which reopens for dinner tomorrow after a brief closure. Starting March 5th, Willi’s will play host to some of Wine Country’s top winemakers for its uber-accessible Tasting Tuesdays from 4-5:30pm each week. For $16 you’ll get three pours of specially selected wines, a one-on-one with the winemaker, and three small bites to pair with each of the pours. The lineup includes Randall Watkins of Watkins Family Winery (March 5), Mat Gustafson of Paul Mathew Vineyards (March 12), Eric Demuth of Demuth Kemos Wines (March 19), Ulises Valdez of Valdez Family Winery (March 26), Adrian Manspeaker and Micah Wirth of Joseph Jewell Wines (April 2), Scot Covington of Trione Vineyards and Winery (April 9), Tim Hardin of Stryker Sonoma (April 16), Marcia Monahan of Matanzas Creek (April 23), and Adam and Dianna Lee of Siduri and Novy Family Wines (April 30). 4404 Old Redwood Highway, Santa Rosa, 707-526-3096.
A town block party, tours of the French Laundry gardens, cooking demos, and plenty of food and wine are on the menu for Yountville’s 20th Annual TASTE OF YOUNTVILLE celebration from Thursday March 14th to Saturday March 16th. Among the restaurants participating in the Saturday block party: Bistro Jeanty, Bouchon, Bottega, étoile at Domaine Chandon, and Redd along with local wineries Cliff Lede, Goosecross Cellars, Domaine Chandon, Jessup, and many others. Admission is free, and tasting tickets are $1 each. More details online.
Top artisan cheesemakers—and their fans—converge for the WINTER ARTISAN CHEESE FAIR this Sunday February 24th in Sonoma. The annual gathering centers around tastings of some of the best artisan and farmstead cheeses (with frequent undiscovered gems) from the Bay Area and beyond. There’s also a mac and cheese cook-off, along with craft brews, wine, and—dare we say it—the region’s only cheese wheel-rolling contest. MacArthur Place, 29 East MacArthur Place at Broadway, Sonoma. 1-4pm, $40 per person.
Just a quick mention that CANNETI ROADHOUSE in Forestville is slated to open next week. Chef Francesco Torre (formerly of Fish in Sausalito) has been transforming the cozy West County restaurant for nearly six months, rehabbing the kitchen, sandblasting walls, repainting, and adding tons of charm with rustic tables and chairs, rebar barstools, and a primo pasta-making machine from Italy. The menu’s still under wraps, but Torres promises some solid Tuscan-inspired eats. 6675 Front Street, Forestville.
Guest Wine & Spirits Writers (in vino veritas)
Checking Lists: A Critical Look at Restaurant Wine by Alan Goldfarb (Bellanico)
Alan Goldfarb was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, where it is said that assignment must be akin to covering Catholicism in Vatican City. He was also the senior editor for AppellationAmerica.com. His work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter. He’s the contributor of the chapter “Chewing on Chile” in the Travelers’ Tales book Adventures in Wine. He was also the technical editor for California Wine for Dummies.
He’s a restaurant wine consultant and advises wineries on public relations projects. (For his “Checking Lists” column, he will not promote his clients.) You can listen to his latest appearance on iWine Radio. Have a question or a comment? You can email Alan. He’d love to hear from you.
The Truth That Is Oakland’s Bellanico
Bellanico, in Oakland’s Glenview district, is a near-perfect restaurant. I don’t mean to imply that it is a great restaurant or a three- or four-star restaurant. But if one only looks for those attributes, one would be selling Bellanico short, because it’s one of those rare spots that has everything in place. That is, its ambiance is modern and pleasing (including a reasonable sound level); the food, predominantly in the style of Umbria, Rome, Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto, and Piemonte, is simple and delicious; the service is top notch and attentive; and the prices are reasonable. Oh, and the wine list, under the purview of co-owner Elizabeth Frumusa, is a joy.
The wine program is gratifying because of its breadth, staying mostly in the many regions (some obscure) of Italy, with a few knowing nods to France, Austria, Germany, Greece, Portugal, and California. The prices are excellent, starting at $28 and staying chiefly in the $40-$50 range. There is a very smart flights menu, with selections such as “Wines from the Islands” (Sardinia, Sicilia) and “The Hills of Northern Italy.” These are comprised of three wines, each with three-ounce pours, priced between $11.75 and $15.50. That’s more than a third-of-a-bottle at a very decent tariff, and you get to hopscotch the Italian countryside.
But mostly, and this is the takeaway apropos of Frumusa’s wine program: Her staff is conscientiously well trained. They know the 60 or so selections on the list as well as they know the food coming out of chef Jonathan Luce’s small open kitchen.
It’s a wonder—as Bellanico comes up on its fifth anniversary—how Frumusa has stuck to her old-world wine proclivities. When I was the wine director for a short-lived Italian trattoria, Caffé Centro, which was around for about a minute in the late ’90s-early oughts in Downtown Berkeley, I was charged with putting together an all-Italian list. By the time the place closed five years later, the list was more than 60 percent California wines. It’s what the clientele at the time demanded; and perhaps more telling, I couldn’t succeed in training the staff in the intricacies of Italian wines. Perhaps it was because of the myriad, sometimes difficult-to-pronounce and little-known names of the producers, regions, and varieties of some of those wines. But Frumusa somehow has mastered a way to bring them to life for her guests and her staff.
Frumusa, who is half Sicilian and half Spanish, is a certified wine specialist through the Society of Wine Educators. She tells me she trains her staff on the wine a few times a month—tasting the wines with the food and showing them maps of Italy’s regions—and even periodically quizzes them with written tests.
“I’ve had people who are green [to wine],” she explains, “who’ve turned out to be my little stars.” She, too, had the usual suspects on her list—the cabs, the pinots, the chards—when Bellanico opened in 2008 (she and her husband Chris Shepherd still own Aperto on Potrero Hill). But the list organically migrated to almost all Italian wines, and without apparent complaint from the clientele.
To give you some idea of Bellanico’s high-wire act, try on a 2011 Grillo Centonze from Marsala ($8.50 the glass/$34 the bottle) and match it with Luce’s warm farro antipasti salad ($9) with yellow beets and toasted hazelnuts. The Sicilian grillo (a grape, which is gaining, or should gain, a foothold in the States) is not a sweet Marsala aperitif; it’s dry, bright, and lovely. It comingles with the graininess of the farro and its fruit is elevated by the sweetness of the beets and nuttiness of the nuts.
Or take the organic 2011 Maggiorina ($42), a red wine with which I was not familiar, and pair it with another beet dish: the Casunzei ravioli (a recipe from northeastern Italy) that is stuffed with red beets and ricotta and topped with Grana Padano. This offering is an example of Bellanico’s alacrity. The ravioli, which are gossamer-thin, are offered in two portion sizes, as are many of the dishes. The wine—a blend of nebbiolo and the little-known croatina—is from the obscure Boca area of the Piemonte. Here, the dry nebbiolo marries with the beets, while the croatina’s bite and fruitiness enlivens the cheeses.
This match is emblematic of Bellanico’s cutting-edge wine program, coexisting with and augmenting its food, which at heart is warm, embracing, and satisfying. If one can imagine, situated in the Oakland “village” of Glenview, this is the definition of a neighborhood trattoria. There’s not a hint of blowsy or showy preening. It’s all straightforward, comforting, and true.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: 2009 Scacciadiavoli, Montefalco, Umbria ($11.50/$46 on the list at Bellanico); $20-$23 retail
This red blend of sangiovese (60 percent), sagrantino (15), and merlot (25) has floral aromas of herbs and licorice and is showing wonderful black cherry on the palate. It’s still a little young, but it will open in time to show what it’s made of. I wish there were more sagrantino, the grape variety of the little hill town of Montefalco, in the mix to show additional uniqueness of the area from which it comes.