This week's tablehopper: flavor country.
Gazpacho at Coqueta at the Flavor! Napa Valley preview luncheon. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Happy Friday, people. I am digging this muggy weather and the sun’s valiant attempts to come out and play. We’ll see what happens Saturday at the SF Street Food Fest. Since I was told I am not on the map, the tablehopper table is going to be positioned on 24th Street between Shotwell and Folsom, on the north side of 24th. So if you want to check out a tablehopper vintage t-shirt, buy my book, bring me beer, or just say howdy, that’s where you will find me! Come on by.
Tonight is the Night Market (Still debating about coming? Hopefully my $5 discount code [tablehopper2] will further entice you to buy a ticket.) and I am looking forward to it. Last year, one of my favorite bites was Preeti Mistry’s spin on a vada pav, which makes for a nice tie-in with today’s review of Juhu Beach Club. You like flavor? Well, buckle up, because we are going for a ride.
We also have a wino dispatch from the ever-charming Eugenio Jardim, who is currently gallivanting around Argentina for Malbec Camp. You’ll see more from him in coming weeks! And lastly, for those of you keeping up on 707 news, we have a 707 scout update from Heather Irwin for you (with a juicy rumor about Ken Tominaga of Hana Japanese coming to SF to partner with Michael Mina on a project).
Lastly, over on 7x7.com I have my monthly cheat sheet of five new places to check out this month, and get ready to suddenly crave a buttery, golden, cheese- and ham-stuffed pastry when you look at my weekly Tablehopping column for the Bay Guardian. So sorry to do this to you.
Enjoy the weekend, you may need to wear a kaftan. Marcia Gagliardi
New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
Juhu Beach Club
One of the best things I have ever eaten in my life is the vada pav I had on my trip to Mumbai a few years ago. It’s a vegetarian slider of sorts, with a crisp-and-creamy-and-crazy-seasoned potato patty tucked into a pillowy bun with a sticky-sweet top, with brick-red “gunpowder” on the side for you to add at your own risk. It was the perfect bite, all hot and buttery and spicy and starchy. That taste imprinted itself on my brain and is why there is vada pav on the menu at Dosa on Fillmore—I came home from India and asked co-owner Anjan Mitra, a native of Bombay (as he’d call it), why the hell wasn’t one of the best dishes in that beautiful city on his menu? Fortunately he agreed with me.
So it should come as no surprise that the first things I went for on chef-owner Preeti Mistry’s menu at JUHU BEACH CLUB in Temescal are her flavor-packed pavs (be-tee-dub, pav actually sounds like “pauu,” with the softest hint of a “v” at the end—it’s a tricky sound). You’ll want to go for a trio for $13 (or $5 each—there are five in all). I hope your dining partner likes to share—my pals and I cut them up for maximum menu exploration. Her pavs are top of the line: Starter Bakery makes these Parker House-esque rolls for her, and they hold up well.
The vada pav comes with ghost pepper chutney on the oh-so-creamy potato patty with a lightly crisp exterior—and those two lightning bolts next to its name on the menu should be your cue that this is a hot one, yo. ZAP. A hands-down favorite is the Holy Cow, which features Niman Ranch short ribs (I know, beef in an Indian establishment!) that are braised for five hours, so tender and juicy; the short ribs are funked up with the flavor of smoky black cardamom (the pods are smoked on coals) and a complex (and peppery) spice mix.
The Bollywood Baller lives up to its cheeky name, a chaat masala-spiked lamb meatball with some flash: a ginger-tomato sauce and mint raita. So good. Get it! And the Sloppy Lil’P is a take on pav bhaji, a famous (and messy) street dish you can get on Juhu Beach in Mumbai (imagine a buttery sloppy joe made with a medley of saucy vegetables, like cauliflower, potato, peas, carrot, and onion). The pavs all come with their own sauces and slaws for extra oomph. At lunch, you can get any of the pavs in a larger size as a deluxe baller for $9, plus there’s a pulled pork pav in a vindaloo-BBQ sauce, and egg salad. (I wanna come back for those.)
As you may have guessed by the names, Mistry is having some fun. A lot, actually. Juhu Beach Club is far from a classic Western Indian establishment. Heck, Mistry’s menu not only includes inspiration from a few family recipes (from Gujarat, the state that is just north of Maharashtra and Mumbai) but also from the seasons, and reflects her creative mind and her status as a NorCal card-carrying chef (she was a contestant on Top Chef, in case her name or face look familiar). She uses sustainable and many organic ingredients, and does all her own spice mixes and pickles and more. She is doing her own thang here, that’s for damn sure.
This is a place for people who like flavor. If spice, heat, cumin, curry, and turmeric are not in your playlist, you’re going to have a smaller sandbox to play in here.
While mulling over the menu, graze on the Desi Jacks ($4), a popcorn, peanut, and pistachio mix that is like Cracker Jacks that vacationed in India. A strong start is the sev puri ($6)—instead of little puri globes, you get a flat puri cracker (almost like a tostada) slathered with a guacamole-like swath of mashed, fresh green garbanzos, and loaded with crisp sev noodles, cilantro and tamarind chutneys, seasoned Straus yogurt, pickled onion, and Mistry’s fun twist, nectarine relish. Another seasonal dish you should order right now are the zucchini fritters ($7) with a golden semolina exterior, amped with ginger and green chile (watch for the double lightning on this one!), and accompanied with tomato and coconut chutneys.
Fried (and feisty) padrón peppers ($6) are dusted with ingenious whispers of curry leaves and chaat masala; saucy vindaloo chicken wings ($8) come with a tangy note of vinegar (paired with a Point Reyes blue cheese raita). If you’re going to go for the Bombay sandwich ($7)—a grilled cheese sandwich on fluffy pullman bread (also from Starter Bakery) stuffed with sweet slices of roasted golden beets, melty jack cheese, potato, pickled red onion, cilantro chutney, and chaat masala—you kind of have to order the tomato shorba ($5) too. This tomato soup is chunky, thick, and not shy on heat, with the deeper notes of clove, plus curry leaves, cumin, ginger, and black pepper all combining to give you a tomato soup with loads of personality. Again, ZAP.
Vegetarians will also be stoked to replace the usual dal order with Mom’s Guju Chili ($5), a creamy soup of mung beans, and I want the bhel puri salad ($7) on the next scorcher day, with its refreshing and textured mix of cherry tomatoes, two kinds of cucumber, fresh green garbanzos, the crunch of puffed rice, and the sour tang of tamarind chutney. There’s also a seasonal side right now of corn, romano beans, gypsy peppers, and lime-and-chili butter ($6) that is the picture of summer.
There are four different curry and lemon rice plates: I’d be hard-torn to choose between the chicken leg ($14) marinated for 24 hours in fresh turmeric (it’s so juicy, and I do love me some dark meat) and the coriander shrimp ($15), with a pop from fresh curry leaves in a light tomato sauce loaded with peas. I also enjoyed the texture of the toybox eggplant ($13), tossed with garam masala and then roasted and coated with a tasty sauce (onion, gingers, garlic, chile, coriander, and cumin)—Mistry says the flavorful sauce is very Gujarati-influenced. All the curries come with her awesome apple pickle (with a mustardy punch), raita, and kachumber relish, a crunchy seasonal medley of celery, fennel, radish, carrot, and more. Get them on your plate and in the mix.
When I was in India, I drank salty lassis every day. Most places here only serve sweet mango lassis, but let me tell you, salty is where it’s at, especially with spicy food. Mistry has a sweet and salty version (the Sassy Lassi), with the prized Alphonso mango, plus cumin and lime ($4). I also dug the nimbu pani ($4), a lemonade with cilantro, cumin, and black salt. The next time I am hungover, I am convinced this would fix it. You can also order some Indian bevvies (Thums Up cola, Taj Mahal beer) or local beers on tap—although they clock in at $6-$7 (about a buck more than I’d like to see). Wine on tap (four kinds) run $9-$11 for the glass—or go for the carafe (the food-friendly rosé from Cultivar Vineyards is $24).
Do you even have any room? Wow, impressive. There’s some soft-serve ice cream ($4) with toppings (75 cents each) like chai-spiced candied pecans, or the classic anise and fennel candy sprinkles, which exactly match the colors of the restaurant. Juhu is in a funky mini mall at Telegraph and 51st and 52nd streets, but as soon as you walk in, you get a major hit of Indian color, like hot pink, orange, and yellow, and the fun monkey wallpaper is fantastic. The music is always cranked, with Princess Superstar, Missy Elliott, and MGMT keeping the vibe youthful and lively. (I also spotted parents with kids—there’s a kids’ menu, with no lightning bolts.)
Mistry watches over the room from the open kitchen, and her servers are friendly and foxy ladies who want to make sure you’re enjoying your meal and clearing your plate. Speaking of, I love the plates here—they look like picnic plates (ditto the clear cups that look like classic Solos), but they’re actually reusable. So fun, and clever. Like Mistry’s food.
Juhu Beach Club - 5179 Telegraph Ave. Oakland - 510-652-7350
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
Hana SF, Sushi Burrito, Pho, Woodfour Brewery, and LuLu's Kitchen
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
Rohnert Park’s posh sushi spot, HANA JAPANESE, may soon be expanding into San Francisco. Owner Ken Tominaga says he’s scoping out a new spot in the city with top toque Michael Mina. The pair opened Pabu at the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore last year, and reaction to the modern izakaya has been gushing. No details yet on the location, but Tominaga is eager for the new project. [Ed. note: The rumor I heard is the project is going into 101 California. We shall see!]
Speaking of sushi, have you tried the new sushi burrito at the Santa Rosa Saturday Farmers’ Market? Takeshi Uchida (a former Hana chef) has launched what he claims is the first sushi burrito cart ever. The hefty Japanese-Mexican wrap includes fried chicken or baked cod, plus pickled veggies, wasabi mayo, sushi rice, and a nori (seaweed) wrapper. They’ll run you about $7-$8 each, but they’re more than enough to share with a friend. Find Uchida’s sushi burrito cart at the farmers’ market at Veteran’s Hall on Saturday mornings and various locations near the Santa Rosa Airport Sonic.net campus. Find updated info on locations on Twitter.
Sonoma County is finally getting more pho! The crave-worthy Vietnamese soup is almost as prevalent as Starbucks in San Francisco and the South Bay, but aside from Pho Vietnam (711 Stony Point, Santa Rosa), Simply Vietnam (966 N. Dutton, Santa Rosa), and Noodle Bowl (817 Russell Ave., Santa Rosa), it’s not as easy to find around these parts. Two new noodle spots have the goods. NOODLE MANIA (7233 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol) has a variety of meaty pho, along with excellent vermicelli noodle bowls, pork buns, pickled veggies with just the right amount of garlic, and other Asian fusion dishes. We were particularly impressed with the chow fun. On the horizon is PHO CRAZY, opening at the former Anh Linh (320 W. Third St., Santa Rosa).
Also slated to open in Sebastopol: A sign has gone up for MARIGOLD, an Indian restaurant in the former Village Bakery space. Stay tuned.
What’s up with WOODFOUR BREWING in the new Barlow Center? BiteClub tasted through the menu of this recently opened brewery and pub last week. A full report is on the way, but suffice it to say that it’s worth a stop for the funky Farmhouse Ale and perfectly paired seasonal small plates. 6780 Depot St., Sebastopol.
Lots of news this week in Napa. Wine tasting lounge 1313 Main has announced the opening of LULU’S KITCHEN, specializing in farm-to-fork small plates (where have we heard that before?). Located in the Northside district of downtown Napa, the kitchen is part of the 1313 Main tasting lounge and will serve late afternoon bites and dinner. On the menu: braised pork belly, abalone wontons, and Burgundian-inspired oeufs en meurette, or poached eggs in pinor noir. Open Sun, Tue-Thu 4pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 4pm-11pm. 1313 Main St., Napa; 707-258-1313.
Also, news broke this week that chef Sean O’Toole, formerly of Bardessono and Hopper Creek Kitchen, will take over the long-empty vegetarian restaurant and yoga studio, Ubuntu, at 1140 Main Street in downtown Napa. The restaurant will be called TORC.
Guest Wine & Spirits Writers (in vino veritas)
Eugenio Jardim on Wine Tasting in Argentina
Brazil native Eugenio Jardim is a Bay Area wine consultant and educator. Sunset Magazine named him Sommelier of the Year in 2010. He ran the wine program at Jardinière for 11 years and conducts very high-profile wine tasting groups in the U.S. and Brazil.
His approach to wine is fun but professional, educational and nonthreatening, creating an enjoyable experience rather than an intimidating one. Jardim’s philosophy is driven by his passion, and he has built a reputation for seeking out the new and exciting wines of the world.
Eugenio is currently visiting Argentina on an intensive educational trip nicknamed “Malbec Camp” and is sharing with us a few of his notes (and pictures) from the road!
Malbec Camp Day One: First Stop, Buenos Aires!
A few months ago when I received an invitation to participate in a malbec intensive immersion course in Mendoza, Argentina, it took me about a half second to say yes! I am not a fool. The invitation had come from Lady Malbec herself, Dr. Laura Catena, a San Francisco resident, a UCSF ER doctor, the mother of three beautiful kids, the head of research and development for Catena Zapata winery, the owner of Luca Wines; you get the picture, the woman is amazing!
The follow-up email came from another outstanding human being, the Colombian-born Jorge Liloy, Catena’s brand manager for the U.S., and that was enough to seal the deal!
They are bringing influential American wine buyers and other wine professionals to Argentina to experience firsthand not only how and why the malbec grape and the wines of Argentina have taken the world by storm, but also to see what they’ve done and learned in the relatively young history of the Catena Zapata brand. I am still pinching myself for being included in such a small and special group.
My first day was spent enjoying the street culture of Buenos Aires. It was a relatively chilly and quiet Sunday due to the national elections for Congress and Senate. A glass of Catena Zapata malbec from Adrianna Vineyard sounded like the perfect way to start my day of explorations. However, the Argentine people take their politics almost as seriously as their soccer and absolutely no alcoholic beverages were sold anywhere before 6pm.
I had to entertain myself with my other favorite pastimes: shopping and eating! I learned from a very savvy taxi driver named Juan that my favorite neighborhood, Palermo, has not just one but three different sections—Palermo Viejo, Palermo Soho, and Palermo Hollywood—and they’ve undergone an incredible transformation.
I chose to explore Palermo Viejo, where you will find all the fun and funky shops, supercool bars, and trendy restaurants, not to mention a lot of beautiful people walking around or just hanging out at the sidewalk cafés. I found a street market where local artisans sell beautiful handcrafted jewelry and leather goods at Plaza Serrano. Despite being a holiday, the plaza was packed with locals and tourists going up and down all the surrounding streets, especially Honduras Street.
After a few exhausting hours of making sure I’d seen, tasted, and purchased everything I could, it was time to get serious and to start thinking about dinner. I can easily remember all the good experiences from my first trip to Argentina a few years back, and a particular restaurant in BA (that’s Buenos Aires for those in the know) named Sucre came to mind.
This is a “modern gone classic” restaurant located on the street of the same name, not too far from Palermo. I have recommended Sucre to everyone who asked me for a place to eat in Argentina. It has since become their favorite place in BA to eat as well.
The building used to house an old bank, which was transformed into a chic restaurant that features the chef’s very contemporary take on the foods of Latin America and Spain. The old bank’s vault has been aptly converted into a gorgeous wine cellar, the 20-foot-high concrete wall is now covered with a colorful selection of spirits, and the main floor of the restaurant is filled with dark wood tables of different sizes and heights, marked with excellent-quality wineglasses.
Everything made us feel right at home, from the creative cocktails served to us by Adrian the superfriendly bartender to the sincere and passionate approach of the sommelier, Alma. We received a warm greeting from the drop-dead gorgeous hostess, and the amazingly energetic and friendly young female manager made sure we were well taken care of. Dinner was superb and we overindulged on Sucre’s all-Argentine wine list. After this visit I will continue to recommend this place and will look forward to returning for more of their delicious food.
Tomorrow I am off to Mendoza to settle in at the Vendimia, the Catenas’ gorgeous 100-year-old vacation home in the district of Rivadavia.