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May 16, 2013 14 min read

May 17, 2013 - This week's tablehopper: you gotta tip on the tightrope.

May 17, 2013 - This week's tablehopper: you gotta tip on the tightrope.
Table of Contents

This week's tablehopper: you gotta tip on the tightrope.                    

Oyster, pork belly, kimchi at Benu. Photo: ©

Ah yes, hello weekend. I can see you. So close. Although truth be told, I played a bit of hooky yesterday so I could attend the New Zealand wine tasting and pinot noir seminar with Bob Campbell, MW, which I followed up with a matinee of The Great Gatsby (talk about a visual extravaganza), a quick ramen pit stop at Suzu, and then a faaaaabulous night at the SF Symphony spring gala, watching Janelle Monáe bring the house down (and to their feet). I love this pic of her dancing with the crowd. Yesterday felt so damn abundant.

Tonight, the entertainment continues at ArtPadSF, and tomorrow morning I’ll be up bright and early to head to Sonoma with my dad (and friends) to watch the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Sonoma Raceway (my dad and I have a standing date each year—and he packs a mean picnic). I’m also going to see if I have time to get one last Negroni in at Tosca since Jeannette Etheredge has said Sunday is officially its last night as we know it. Sigh.

Yo, industry folks, if you are out and about on Monday (May 20th), be sure to check out the Culinary Agents launch party at Rye from 5pm-9pm, with hosted cocktails, wine, and small bites by 1760 (Acquerello’s new project). Details and how to RSVP here.

And hey there wonderful gentlemen aged 35-49 looking to meet some fab ladies, have you looked at the tablehopper singles event coming up on May 30th? Wine, women, and delish food, check it out. (Ladies, if you know any swell guys who should attend, please let them know, thanks!)

Oh, and this week on is my monthly roundup of five new restaurants to try this month. No big openings this month, but still plenty of tasty fun to hunt down.

Bon weekend! Marcia Gagliardi

(Oh, and since I got hit with “Marsha” last night—it’s actually Marcia rhymes with Garcia, mwah!)

the sponsor

This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)

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The Wineries: V. Sattui Winery, Thomas George Estates, Mahoney Vineyards, Suacci Carciere, Fotinos Vineyard, Kendric Vineyards and fine Greek wines from Mani Imports.

The Time: Friday May 24th, 5pm-10pm (wine tasting: 5:30pm-8:30pm).

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This one-of-a-kind event is truly a rare opportunity to savor amazing Greek cuisine with beautiful wines! More details online and on Facebook.

fresh meat

New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)

Hi Lo


Brisket. Photo by Nader Khouri.


The pork belly. Photo: ©


The St. Louis-cut spare ribs. Photo: ©


The BBQ sampler for two. Photo: ©


Smoked meatloaf sandwich. Photo: ©


Patpong buck. Photo: ©


The communal tables in the dining room. Photo: ©


The main dining room (from the mezzanine). Photo by Nader Khouri.

There are some surefire ways to get people talking about food in this town. Pick the best burrito and you have an onslaught of heated commentary on your hands (or is that salsa?). Right up there is barbecue: is it authentic, how the meat compares to your favorite place in South Carolina, does the sauce have too much vinegar … and it goes on. Open since the end of January 2013 in the Mission is HI LO from Scott Youkilis (Maverick, Hog & Rocks), Eric Rubin (Tres Agaves Products), and Dave Esler (Hog & Rocks), and of course it has garnered plenty of discussion.

I have been a fan of chef Ryan Ostler’s barbecue since I first had his vittles at Broken Record in the Excelsior—he’s manning Big Red in the basement, a massive, 7,000-pound, cherry-red smoker that was built from scratch by J&R Manufacturing in Mesquite, Texas. As you can imagine, it takes some time to fine-tune smoking on that beast of a machine. He’s a talented chef, and obsessed with barbecue like the good Texan he is.

The team is calling their offering Northern California barbecue, which you can see in the sourcing of the ingredients, and some of the dishes have international flair, from Jamaican jerk chicken to the Japanese flavor notes in the pork belly. This is not about duplicating a pit in Lubbock, Texas—it’s its own thang.

I’m kind of obsessed with the St. Louis-cut spare ribs ($13), with their peppery bark (they have Four Barrel coffee in their rub), and they spend around 2 1/2-3 1/2 hours in the smoker. Ostler uses heritage Hampshire pork from Coleman in Iowa, and the flavor of the smoked-just-right meat is so delicious. This is not about mushy, fall-off-the-bone ribs that have been wrapped in plastic and reheated later—Ostler likes to ensure they are never more than an hour or so off the smoker (they come out throughout the evening). While the meat pulls clean off the bone, they have a satisfying texture with a bit of chew (but not stringy or dry); you can dip them in the housemade Texas red sauce, but I don’t think they need it.

Ostler uses hormone-free Creekstone chef’s choice for the brisket ($15), and smokes them overnight for about 11 hours. You get two portions: 4 ounces each of lean and moist. It’s some of the best brisket I’ve had in the city—the fat is creamy and well rendered on the moist pieces, with some good pockets of salt in the crust. The lean is where I like to use some of the sweet-hot-tangy red sauce, tucking it all into the pull-apart roll. If you prefer moist, you can make it your whole order, or vice versa with the lean.

There are some really peppery beef hot links ($11), full of fire and snap (Ostler plans to be making them in-house soon). If it’s your first visit, go for the BBQ sampler: for $45, two people (the sampler is scalable up to six people) get a platter of the ribs, links, and brisket, plus a choice of two sides, rolls, and cookies (Kat Zacher consulted on the sweets). It’s a good deal.

Then on your next visit, you should check out the pork belly ($12), which is cured overnight and simultaneously braised and smoked in tare (mirin, rice wine vinegar, sake, soy, brown sugar, and aromatics). Two thick, juicy slices are seared in a skillet on the pickup, the sugars getting all caramelized. Tasty.

A friend of mine had a challenging day, and I recommended she pick up the smoked meatloaf sandwich ($12) to fix things. It worked. A mix of American kobe beef and diced brisket smoked for four hours in pullman loaf pans makes one hell of a meatloaf, let me tell you. And tucked inside Texas toast with sharp cheddar and green tomato chowchow? Meow meow.

Ostler tells me his pulled pork sandwich ($12) is a bit of a mash-up between Hawaiian and South Carolina-style barbecue. The shoulder has a mustard rub plus 24 seasonings, and is smoked overnight. I love the big, meaty pieces in this sandwich—it’s not a saucy, shredded mess, and there’s a bit of acid from the pineapple juice he uses in the sauce. Suddenly the reasoning of having taro chips on the side makes sense, but they weren’t my favorite—I’d be cool with some potato chips. (I also think the pickles overall really need some work.)

There are a bunch of sides (all $7): highlights include the big, creamy baked beans with burnt ends and the collard greens. If you’re a fan of fried Brussels sprouts, go for ‘em here.

Since Hi Lo opened for lunch, and their catering and delivery are booming, they had to simplify their menu to keep up with quality control. I’m hoping Ostler will be able to add back dishes like his crazy-good duck wings, and I never got a chance to try the pho ‘cue with brisket. (There’s only so much barbecue I can eat every month.)

There are some ‘cue-friendly cocktails from Scott Beattie and Michael Lazar—my personal fave is the lemongrass-loaded Patpong Buck ($10), and the spicy hot michelada ($7) packs a wallop. On one visit, a Paloma ($10) was watered down and unbalanced, but it was a one-off. Wine on tap, good beer on draught—they got that too.

The airy space by Abueg Morris Architects (Comal, Nopalito) is a looker—I particularly dig the charred cedar plank siding on the walls and exterior. The downstairs has white oak communal tables (which you can reserve) and a few smaller tables, while the mezzanine has more two- and four-top tables above.

People have complained about the order-at-the-counter service. Here’s my advice: leave your tab open in case you want another drink or side, and let the expediters on the floor help you out with what you need, from finding a table to getting more cheezy grits. And hey, don’t miss those St. Louis-cut spare ribs.

Hi Lo            - 3416 19th St. San Francisco - 415-874-9211

707 scout

Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)

Chalkboard Reviewed, The Bun Slinger, Beer-Thirty North Bay Style, BottleRock Noms


Pork belly and fried egg taco at BottleRock Napa. Photo Heather Irwin/


Chilled English pea soup with Dungeness crab at Chalkboard. Photo Heather Irwin/


The Candy Bar, with a roasted milk chocolate tower at Chalkboard. Photo Heather Irwin/


Fish and chips at Heritage Public House in Santa Rosa. Photo Heather Irwin/


Kanpachi with grapefruit and jalapeño at Chalkboard. Photo Heather Irwin/


Deconstructed breakfast radishes with butter and rye crumbs, and pickled carrots and artichokes with saffron at Chalkboard. Photo Heather Irwin/


The Bun Slinger Truck in Sonoma County serving up steam buns and kimchee fries. Photo Heather Irwin/

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

Over the next few months, the inevitable comparisons between Cyrus and the space’s new iteration, CHALKBOARD, will appear in endless food blogs, Yelp reviews, and “critical reviews” of the new Les Mars/Bill Foley restaurant. As devotees of the much-lamented Michelin-starred restaurant, we can’t help ourselves.

Ignore the blather and simply head north. Change is good, and here it’s also visually and culinarily stunning.

Sure, the ghost of Cyrus hangs heavy, as do the devotions of its diners. Chef Doug Keane’s kitchen sanctuary has been thrown open in a striking visual leveling of kitchen and dining room. A wide communal table commands the center of the space. White tablecloths have been banished. The caviar cart was literally kicked to the curb (snatched up by a former employee, we hear).

But this ain’t Chalkboard chef Shane McAnelly’s first rodeo. The small plates menu is exceptional. A mix of high- and lowbrow dishes, it includes a “snack” of warm, housemade soft pretzels with Mornay sauce, stone-ground mustard, and tomato chutney ($6). Buttermilk biscuits with maple-glazed pork belly, pickled onions, and chipotle mayo ($8) are finally given the proper execution I’ve sought for so long. Kampachi crudo with grapefruit, avocado purée, and slices of jalapeño ($12) are small summer jewels. A tiny shot of chilled English pea soup with Dungeness crab ($3) is like sipping spring. I nearly got misty over a deconstructed dish of fresh radishes with butter and rye crumbs and pickled carrots.

Dishes get more substantial as you move down the menu. Roasted baby carrots with caraway yogurt and sesame seed brittle ($6); a hearty pasta with duck confit and mascarpone ($12); and seared scallops with risotto cake, uni sauce, and grapefruit was so good we ordered it twice ($16)—and then fought over the second order.

Meatier fare includes a delicate buttermilk fried quail with fava beans, nasturtium, and fennel salad ($15), and the entrée of the evening, crispy pork belly with triangles of fried grits, a poached egg, melted leeks, and sweet pepper purée ($12). Baskets of produce procured from restaurant owner Bill Foley’s Chalk Hill Farms makes each dish all the better.

Pastry chef Bill Woodward showers each of his desserts with sweet surprises: a donut semifreddo (frozen creaminess) with white coffee foam and mocha-glazed donut holes ($8); a towering multilayer brownie with caramel and ganache flanked by milk chocolate that’s been cooked sous vide ($8). Hold out for the warm vanilla bean cake with strawberries and crème fraîche sherbet baked to order ($8).

The bar still serves up creative libations along with regional beers. The wine list features (not surprisingly) many of Foley’s bottles along with other local superstars as well as some well-crafted white and red flights (all less than $20).

Le roi est morte, vive le roi. 29 North St. at Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-473-8030.

If you’ve got a hankering to pinch some soft, pillowy buns, BiteClub’s got the hookup. Mobile foodist Jeff Tyler (from the North Bay’s Chicago-Style Hot Dogs and Palooza Catering) has launched The Bun Slinger, a bright yellow truck serving up pork belly, steak, chicken, and tofu wrapped in Chinese steamed buns. Taking a cue from popular SF trucks like Chairman Bao, Tyler does a tasty fusion of grilled meats, spicy aioli, and veggies on the handheld sammies along with kimchi or togarishi (a sort of sweet, salty, spicy rub) fries. For $12, you get three buns and a side of fries. Look for the Bun Slinger at O’Reilly Media in Sebastopol on Thursdays and at the headquarters in Roseland on Wednesdays. You can find his exact schedule and routes online.

Raise a glass to the final days of American Craft Beer Week by heading to one of Sonoma County’s newest gastropubs: BELLY LEFT COAST KITCHEN & TAPROOM (523 Fourth St. at Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa) or HERITAGE PUBLIC HOUSE (1901 Mendocino Ave. at Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-540-0395). The food’s been getting better and better with each visit to Belly (one of the original chefs has been replaced) with happy-belly dishes like pulled pork sliders, crispy pork belly, Two Hog Mac and cheese (with twice the chorizo) along with crab cakes and a killer buffalo chicken pizza with Humboldt Fog blue cheese. The kitchen’s open until 1:30am and oh, did we mention the beers? My craft brew loving friends gave big props to the craft brew list.

We’re also loving the brotastic rumpus room vibe of Heritage Public House, which recently opened in the former Video Droid (1901 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa). The renovated space (with a pool table and plenty of big screens) features a California microbrew lineup of 24 taps (rotating weekly) and more than 30 bottled selections. Chef Andrew Oldfield is ramping up the menu to include lots of gastropub faves including burgers, fish and chips, lettuce wraps, and fried chicken sandwiches. Oldfield is promising some fun additions from the smoker soon.

Finally, the insanely popular BEERCRAFT now offers public beer tastings each Thursday from 6 to 8pm. Recently featured: 101 North Brewing’s Stigmata Red Rye Ale and Heroine IPA, and Auburn Alehouse. 5704 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park.

Missed BottleRock last week? Check out the pics of what you didn’t eat here.

the bookworm

Book Reviews (another place for your nose)

Pete Mulvihill on Spring Vegetables

Don’t forget: the books mentioned below are available at 20 percent off for tablehopper readers for two weeks following this mention at Green Apple Books—simply use the code “tablehopper” at checkout (either at the store or online) for your discount.

With spring produce in full swing and summer approaching, it seems an appropriate time to examine a few new books that can help turn NorCal’s seasonal bounty into delicious meals. Both focus on vegetables, and both will make your mouth water.

Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Garden

Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Garden                        Matt Wilkinson

Let’s start with Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Garden by Matt Wilkinson (Black Dog & Leventhal, $27.95). The British-born, Melbourne-based Wilkinson has a cult following for his fresh, seasonal food. Of note is his franchise of 11 Spudbar slow-food, fast-food shops (an interesting concept covered recently in the New York Times by Mark Bittman).

Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables contains about 80 recipes, arranged A to Z by the main vegetable, from asparagus to zucchini. Each featured veggie includes two pages of introduction—notes on growing, preparing, and using. The recipes are not strictly vegetarian, but they do present a nice range of dishes: some inventive (salad of cauliflower, smoked salmon, and strawberry); some meat-centric (smoked and baked garlic with a simple good old roast chicken); and some just straight-up mouthwatering (horseradish wafers!).

The book is nicely illustrated with a picture of each dish, and it’s handsomely bound—it’ll look good on the coffee table for sure. And for just $27.95, it’s a pretty reasonable gift for yourself or the vegetable lover in your life.

Vegetable Literacy

Vegetable Literacy                        Deborah Madison

In a more educational and comprehensive vein is Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, fresh off the press from local cookbook publisher extraordinaire Ten Speed Press. This might end up being required reading for culinary students, as it arranges vegetables (and other edible plants) by family.

Each section introduces a family, including a bit about where and how it grows, using the whole plant, and suggested companions. Then come the specific plants and recipes (all vegetarian, some vegan).

Take, for example, the goosefoot and amaranth families. There’s a scientific clarification of the relation between the families, a personal observation about how the leaves are shaped like goose tracks, then a feature on spinach, perhaps the most notorious member of the family. It includes a short guide on selected varieties, notes on how to use the whole plant, kitchen wisdom (like “expect ¾ to 1 cup of cooked leaves from a pound of good-quality fresh spinach”); and suggested companions for spinach (basil, polenta, lemon, eggs, sesame seeds, etc.). Recipes tend to be pretty straightforward: open-faced sandwich of spinach, caramelized onions, and roasted peppers; or rice with spinach, lemon, feta, and pistachios. Other members of the family include quinoa, quelites, beets, and more. And this is just one of 12 families!

Vegetable Literacy is a hefty tome with more than 300 recipes, mostly classic and simple. It’s the kind of book that makes you seek out new ingredients at the farmers’ market. And, of course, it’s well illustrated with full-color photographs throughout. Reasonably priced for such a comprehensive guide at $40, it’s an essential addition to any cookbook collection.

Thanks for reading, and bon appétit!

the sugar mama

Giveaways (get some)

(Sponsored): UBERx Now in the East Bay (Get $20 Off Your First Ride!)


Catching a ride in the 510 just got a lot easier. Uber is offering tablehopper readers $20 off your first ride (promo valid anywhere in the Bay Area). All you need to do is go to or download the app and enter promo code tablehopper.  Be sure to sign up by June 1st in order to get the discount, but you can ride anytime after.

To request a ride, select the UBERx option using the vehicle slider at the bottom of your app. These hybrids and midsize sedans will pick you up in most parts of the East Bay, including your favorite spots in Rockridge, Berkeley, Temescal, and Emeryville. Whether you’re hitting up a tablehopper-recommended restaurant or a local bar, you’ll never have to call a cab again.

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