The Carlos Club in (where else?) San Carlos. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Have you already left your desk and headed out in delightful anticipation of the three-day weekend? Good for you. If not, I’m here to help you procrastinate as you watch the clock.
I have been all over town this week, heading down to San Carlos to meet up with an old high school friend (the 650 has a strong pull)—we got our spice on at Red Hot Chilli Pepper, a unique spot that features Indo-Chinese cuisine (the place was packed with Indian families). Last night I was in Rockridge, getting my fried rice and ramen on at Ramen Shop, and had a chance to swing by the brand-new A16 Rockridge, which was hosting a pizza-testing night since they just fired up their Stefano Ferrara oven. So instead of having a review for you today, here’s an in-depth preview of this highly anticipated restaurant. Congrats team! (It’s due to open next Thursday May 30th.)
Big thanks to The Guardian U.K. for including tablehopper in this piece on the best blogs for travellers (ahem, travelers) to San Francisco. I also want to thank the Zagat blog for writing up this piece on next week’s tablehopper singles event. Bachelors (and ladies who can’t believe their dear straight male friend is dateless), we still have a few spots left for gents aged 35-49!
Today we have a wino piece from Alan Goldfarb on one of my favorite wine lists in the city, La Ciccia, and Heather Irwin wrote up some 707 scout news for us (plus some fun Wine Country options in case you want to head the hell away from our chilly weather this weekend).
Lastly, I have coffee on my brain (it’s because of the Commonwealth Club panel I’ll be moderating next Tuesday!), so here’s a 7x7.com post I wrote this week on five new cafés that have opened recently around the city. Get yer cawfee on!
Have a great Memorial Day weekend. (I’ll be taking a moment to thank all the soldiers who have died while serving our country.) And let’s have some fun out there (I have two nights of dancing on my docket). Ten hup!
Slated to open on College Avenue on Saturday June 1st is A16 ROCKRIDGE from owner-wine director Shelley Lindgren and owner Victoria Libin, with chef Rocky Maselli leading the kitchen. Instead of being a cookie-cutter duplicate of A16’s menu in San Francisco, the team has decided to travel further eastward along the A16 autostrada into Puglia (on the Adriatic side). Chef Maselli is a Bay Area native, but his family’s roots are in the Puglia region, so it’s a regional style that is near and dear to him. Last June, he got his pizzaiolo certification by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana in Naples, and did a lot of recipe and dish research traveling along the A16. (Previously he was in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, most recently the chef-owner of Osteria Sfizio in Eugene.)
While there will, of course, be a variety of Neapolitan-style pizzas coming out of the handmade Stefano Ferrara pizza oven (tiled in gray and white), true to A16’s style, there will also be some innovative pizzas, like the rachetta ($20), a racquet-shaped pie (originally made by Starita in Naples) topped with green olives, pecorino, fior di latte, and basil, with ricotta and artichoke tucked into the “handle” like a mini calzone—the ultimate two-cheese pizza. It’s served with a pair of scissors so you can cut it into pieces yourself.
I swung by for a pizza preview party yesterday, the first time they were serving pizzas from the oven. The dough is incredible—great flavor and elasticity and softness. I particularly enjoyed a special with porcini, ricotta, spring onion, and an egg on top (oh yeah), and the salsiccia e vongole ($20), with Manila clams in the shell, sausage, shallot, lemon zest, and parsley.
You will also want to try the montanara Rockridge ($17), a version of the montanara—a pizza that is lightly fried and then put in the oven—that Starita makes in Naples, but instead of using smoked mozzarella, A16 is using smoked tomato sauce, plus burrata and basil. Delicioso. As Rocky passionately blurted as I took my first bite, “I wanna be famous for my fried pizza!”
The antipasti will include some appealing salads, like shaved artichoke salad with fennel, mint, and pecorino canestrato ($12), and there’s a section of crudi, like oysters, sea urchin, and geoduck clam (the menu will definitely have more of a coastal feel). I’m looking forward to trying the pastas here, which are entirely different from A16 in the Marina, like cavatelli with Sacramento crawfish sugo and cannellini beans ($13/$21); bucatini with ramps, mussels, white wine, and chile ($13/$21); and of course some orecchiette with lamb sausage, friarielli, and fried senise pepper ($12/$20). Secondi include roasted rock cod with radish agrodolce and pine nuts ($26), and pork polpettone ($25) with egg, spring onion, and roasted baby carrots. You can take a peek at a preliminary opening menu here.
The restaurant will be baking its own bread and building up an extensive bread program. While the famed chocolate budino won’t be on the dessert menu, there will be a chocolate-rum baba with dark chocolate budino, cream, and cocoa nibs, and a wood oven gratinata of Hamada farm cherries (both $9).
The open-feeling space (formerly Hudson) features around 100 seats: there is a lengthy 20-foot bar made of Carrara marble with some customized elements by Greg Lindgren (who collaborated with Cass Calder Smith of CCS Architecture), plus some high-top tables in the bar area and an exposed brick wall painted white. The main dining room has rustic wood tables, leather banquettes, and a beamed ceiling overhead (plus skylights), giving it an airy sensibility. True to A16’s legacy, there are some beautiful newly commissioned pieces by Kelly Tunstall throughout the space, featuring an ocean theme and characters and stories from Italian folklore.
The blazing pizza oven is in the back, with a curving 13-seat marble bar for those who want to watch the action while they eat. Since the weather on College Avenue can be so beautiful, a roll-up door was installed along the front of the building, and can be rolled open on warm evenings (there are also plans for sidewalk seating). About a month from now, there will additionally be a private dining room with room for 20.
Owner-wine director Shelley Lindgren is going to be doing her magic with a 1,500-bottle wine cellar highlighting Southern Italian varietals and East Bay-produced wines. A key difference at this location is the full bar, which will feature a number of Italian-inspired cocktails. There will be aperitivi, amari, and digestivi, as well as local beers from Oakland’s Linden Street Brewery. Knowing Shelley Lindgren’s passion for amari (along with her husband Greg), I can’t wait to see what they have sourced.
Accompanying the full bar is a bar menu featuring some pizzas and light snacks, like fried baccalà polpettine with Calabrian chili aioli ($11), and later in the night, you’ll be able to order fried calzone and zeppole. Uh-huh. The full bar and late hours are going to be a bonus for night owls in the area, industry folks, and those in search of a well-made cocktail. Dinner will be served Mon-Sat 5:30pm-1pm, Sun 5pm-10pm. The bar serves pizza and light bar bites Sun-Wed 5pm-11pm, Thu-Sat 5pm-1am.
Food of the Gods ~ Fruit of the Vine is a unique Greek dining and California wine-tasting experience over Memorial Day weekend (May 24th-26th).
The Food: Unparalleled! Delectable, Old World family recipes passed down from generation to generation, prepared especially for this event. The most authentic food outside of Greece, like mouthwatering moussaka, braised lamb shank, marinated pork skewers grilled in the traditional Greek way, authentic gyros, fresh Greek salads and hearty Greek soups—all topped off with a Greek coffee and a fabulous array of homemade pastries. Don’t miss it! Find the complete menu here.
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), with the festival over the weekend.
The Price: $15 wine-tasting ticket. Food is à la carte, with suggested pairings. Enjoy wines by the glass or order by the bottle from the wineries at a one-night-only 20 percent discount.
The Place: Nativity of Christ Church (1110 Highland Dr., Novato). Parking and free shuttle service at College of Marin Indian Valley Campus.
The Extras: Live music, dancing, folk dance performances, all celebrated in the Old World ambience of our Greek village on the hill.
There’s plenty of action on the coast this weekend in case any of you San Franciscans want to escape your 61-degree weather, including ROCKER OYSTERFELLER’S Oysterpalooza, beginning at 11am Sunday. The Valley Ford fest includes six bands, barbecued oysters, po’boys, brisket, Lagunitas beer, and tons of fun. Tix are $15 for entry and can be purchased at the event or online.
If you’re looking for more coastal fun, check out Jenner’s CAFE AQUATICA (10439 Hwy 1, Jenner, 707-865-2251), a quirky coffeehouse and organic eatery perched at the estuary of the Russian River just north of Bodega Bay. The coffee is roasted on-site and the chowder (especially the vegan mushroom and coconut milk version) is exceptional. If you’re heading out with Fido, check out DON’S DOGS in Rio Nido. Attached to the Quonset hut that houses the town’s theater, they serve up quarter-pound grilled dogs with all the fixings and welcome well-mannered pups on the porch (and serve Dogs for Dogs—aka hot dogs—for $1). 20396 Bohemian Hwy., Monte Rio, 707-865-4190.
Headed for Healdsburg? On Saturday, the much loved DRY CREEK PEACH & PRODUCE brings its first-of-the-season goodies to the Healdsburg Farmers Market. Portuguese-inspired CAFÉ LUCIA has begun brunch service from 10am to 3pm with malassadinhas (mini donuts), eggs Benedict, arroz a la valenciana, and tasting plates of serrano ham, baby octopus, and sardine pâté. 235 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-431-1113.
In Napa, FREEMARK ABBEY WINERY (3022 St. Helena Hwy, St. Helena) hosts the Gourmet Food Truck Frenzy on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm, pairing up wine and on-the-go-eats from Awful Falafel, Marks the Spot, and Phat Salads and Wraps. Admission is free and a flight of five wines is available for $25. Must be 21 to attend.
The season opener for luxe North Bay wine events is always AUCTION NAPA VALLEY, which kicks off next Thursday night with vintner parties throughout the valley. Biteclub’s favorite event is always the Friday marketplace, where chefs like Thomas Keller, Christopher Kostow, and Cindy Pawlcyn hobnob with the high rollers. Watch for plenty of glam and glitz at #ANV13 on Instagram and Twitter.
Chefs have looked to liquid nitrogen as a culinary party trick for years. Its ability to freeze food almost instantly, not to mention the swirls of white gas, make for gasps of awe in the dining room. But this laboratory staple has found staying power with ice cream makers who use it for nifty à la minute desserts. In Santa Rosa, two former social workers are opening the NITROKARMA pop-up ice cream shop at Dave’s Market and Deli (320 W. Third St., Santa Rosa) this weekend, stirring up “happy scoops of delicious and delectably darn good delights.” Find NitroKarma from 3 to 9pm Friday through Sunday, and watch for their ice cream trailer to debut in June.
A friend and I were recently lamenting how much we missed some of the old menu items at the restaurant Syrah. The crab cakes for one. And the duck breast with cherry sauce. Be careful what you wish for, because chef Josh Silvers of THREE SQUARES CAFE is bringing back some of his Syrah classics with a new summer menu. Reenergized after three months of recovering from shoulder surgery, the longtime Railroad Square toque has put a hearty pan-roasted chicken with fava beans and goat cheese on the new menu along with sautéed king salmon, mashed Yukon Golds, and his signature crab cakes. Also on the dinner menu are grilled lamb sirloin with fried artichokes, rib-eye steak, pork chops, and portobello fries with truffle aioli. No word yet on the duck. 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-4300.
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.
At La Ciccia, It’s Like Being at Nonna’s.
The owners of LA CICCIA—the little Sardinian gem in the San Francisco nether reaches betwixt Noe Valley and Glen Park—will, in a few months, be opening an enoteca and “lasagnaria” across the street called La Nebbia. That means more wine that chef-owner and wine curator Massimiliano Conti will have to put in his cellar. But wife and manager Lorella Degan says, “Enough vino Massimo.” Not a chance.
While Conti lays in some Champagnes at the new location that he insists will pair perfectly with the lasagna and pizza, the seven-year-old La Ciccia at the top of 30th Street and Church, is ground central for the wines of his native island.
I’ve loved La Ciccia since it opened. Not just for the rustic food, which I can only guess is authentic since I’ve not been to Sardinia, but, just as important, for the always warm, embracing atmosphere created by the owners.
While the wines—about 170 of them—are priced with an average markup of about 2½ times wholesale, you can tell there’s a serious wine person at work because the corkage fee is a hefty $35; which tells me that Conti wants you to pay attention only to his list.
On that long-form document, in 8-point type that one has to squint to read, one will discover the most well-known wines of Sardinia. There are 18 Cannonaus, 14 carignanos (carignans), and three vermentinos. The red Cannonau (can-uh-NOW) di Sardegna is grenache.
The best vermentinos on the island are grown in the north around Gallura and at La Ciccia you’ll find a couple—the lemony Jankara from 2010 and the sparkling Ladas. Both are priced $11 by the glass and $40 by the bottle and are among 22 selections by the glass. There are also three natural, so-called orange whites from the iconoclastic Friuli producer Stanko Radikon and the idiosyncratic Slovenian vintner Josko Gravner. From Radikon, there’s a 2004 ribolla gialla in a 500ml format ($78) and a 2010 chardonnay Slatnik ($68). Both wines are from Venezia as is the ‘03 ribolla gialla from Gravner, which at $152 is the most expensive white on the list.
Additionally, there are wines here from all over Italy that range in price from $33 (2009 Sustantzia Bovale Sardegna Monica) to $560 (2000 Redigaffi Tua Rita Tuscany Merlot). But when in Sardinia, as you are at La Ciccia, I like to stick with the local wines.
The blend I had with a red-sauced baby octopus stew—the 2009 Surrau (see “What to Look For”)—was by itself delicious, but the sweetness was a little much for the dish. However, it went excellently with a pizza that featured radicchio, and most especially with a fresh-as-can-be grilled calamari.
Two high-profile Sardinian reds are listed. One comes from the producer Barrua, which is a joint venture between the iconic Tuscan Sassicaia and Santadi, one of Sardinia’s top properties. The ‘09 cariginano-cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend ($85) can be thought of as a “super-Sardinian.” The other is from Italian superstar and consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella, who weighs in with a ‘05 carignano del Sulcis riserva from Sardus Pater ($67).
While Massimo Conti mans the stoves and walks the floor during service, as any fully engaged restaurateur is wont to do, Lorella Degan greets each of her guests with European kisses and, most times, a hug; she makes it her business to visit each table. She, too, knows her wine and is available to offer consultation. She often extends her graciousness with an opening sparkler or, on this night with dessert she offered glasses of Sicilian Marsala—Intorica Superiore S.O.M. Ambra Semisecco—that was reminiscent of a 3 or 4 puttonyos (level of sugar) Hungarian Tokaji. It was sweet and raisin-like with vanilla undertones. But its high acidity offset the sugary goodness of a saffron ricotta cake and three flavors of housemade ice cream.
In the end, La Ciccia satisfies on so many levels. I suppose it’s the hospitality that gets me every time. It makes me walk out onto the streetcar-confluenced hub that is Church and 30th with a sense of well-being. The food is wonderful and unusual (see pasta with shaved tuna heart); and the wines are thought-provoking. Ciccia, loosely interpreted, means “to be on the plump side.” It’s not a bad place to be.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: 2009 Surrau Cannonau-Muristellu-Carignano ($38) The wine is from a modern producer who grows the grapes in granite soils and stores it in Slovenian oak for a few months. The muristellu is an ancient grape originally grown in northern Spain and is mostly used as a blender, as it is here. There are big berry and black cherry aromas, while on the palate it’s mouth-filling and spicy and finishes with what I can only describe as dusky/dusty notes that are found often in southern European wines. The fruit, however, is very ripe and delicious, but it belies its 13.5 percent listed alcohol, which seems higher.
Please feel free to email Alan with your comments and your experiences with restaurant wine. He’d love to hear from you.