Hollandaise and ham and cheese soldiers at The Cavalier. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Howdy. Friday is here, and our city got a nice bath this week, and an air dry too (what was up with that wind last night?). I’m pretty dang tired, to be honest. Yes, I get tired.
Last night I got to throw a relaunch/welcome back party for my client (and friend!) tuttifoodie.com, who really didn’t want to call it a relaunch party, she said “I just want you to throw a fun party.” It doesn’t get better than that. Oh wait, it does, when Campari America sponsors your event and you get to have the Rye on the Road crew mixing up three insanely delicious (and fall-appropriate) cocktails, plus we had a fun make-your-own bitters station. Three kinds of bao from the new Pan Grill kept the guests upright.
And I need to make sure I always have an eggplant parm from Merigan waiting for me at the end of any future event. What was supposed to be my late lunch turned into the best 11pm dinner ever. Thanks to everyone who came (and a special thanks to my publisher Ten Speed Press for the generous donation of fall titles, which fueled our very successful fundraising raffle for La Cocina!). Hubba.
Tomorrow morning at 9:15am, I’ll be back on KRON4 with my tablehopper hot list, covering where to get some of the best local Dungeness crab dishes in the city. Tune in!
Today we have a preview of Penrose (opening tonight!), plus my review of 20th Century Cafe, and some good 707 news too.
Cheers! Marcia Gagliardi
A report by Dana Eastland. There is much excitement this week on Grand Avenue, with Charlie Hallowell’s PENROSE opening just across the street from his other baby, Boot & Shoe Service. It’s amazing to think this was the former home of the Lounge Nail Spa and Boutique, now filled with seating for 60 diners, plus 20 more at the bar.
The interior, from Eric Pankonin, is dramatic, with an illuminated, fan-shaped awning framing the wood grill and tall front windows made out of old framing wood discovered within the building during the remodel. The tables, made by Paul Discoe, have a butcher-block heftiness, and the mix of brightly colored metal bistro chairs and cushy leather armchairs gives the space an eclectic feel. Delicate glass lighting from Lee Miltier has an organic shape and is joined in the air by floral arrangements from Flora Grubb. The overall effect is like that of a luxurious but eccentric garden party or exotic conservatory.
The large, dark gray concrete bar, poured by Concreteworks, grounds all this airiness with a timeless sturdiness. At the front end of the bar, be sure to check out the mobile from Ruth Kneass, who carved the piece in “oak for Oakland” (it comes from salvaged white oak beams via Arborica, Evan Shively’s artisanal wood mill). Kneass says, “This is a Northern California story I have been longing to share in the town where I live. It’s a particular honor to be in the mix with Charlie and his merry band of creators.” Just in case you fall in love with it, the piece is for sale, although the artist hopes it will remain at Penrose over the next six months.
On the food side of things, Hallowell talks a lot about how this third project is a move toward a stronger narrative in his cooking. He is looking at the menu as a way to explore more adventurous flavors and farther corners of the globe than at the distinctly Cal-Med Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service. He’s looking more to North Africa and California in the context of cultural and geographical crossroads, where disparate culinary traditions have come together to create something he finds exciting. Even the name invokes against-the-grain exploration: his great-great-great-grandfather was Penrose Hallowell, a Pennsylvania Quaker of Southern Irish heritage who led the first all-black regiment in the Civil War. All that said, though, Hallowell says that basically “I wanted to build a giant fireplace where I could make food that turned me on.”
The head chef is Miles Schaefer, who has previously worked at Rich Table and WD-50, and brings a more analytical expertise to the table. As Hallowell says, “I cook like someone’s grandmother” but Schaefer has a strong background in technique, and the menu reflects this balance. The wood-fired grill drives most of the action, with a menu that is almost entirely either raw or grilled, with raw items like a lamb tartare with olive, horseradish yogurt, and grilled bread; of course oysters,; and a hamachi crudo with za’taar and radish.
As for grilled items, there’s a 16 ounce rib-eye with chimichurri, or a whole grilled fish with chermoula, celery, and golden raisins. You’ll also find grilled flatbreads (not to be confused with pizza, mind you), couscous, and a fried potato cake stuffed with sausage. For a peek at the whole opening menu, head here.
The full bar comes from Cate Whalen, from Pizzaiolo, and the cocktails are decidedly not overthought. Whalen says, “We aren’t reinventing the wheel here. We’re just taking classic yummy things and putting them together.” There is also a wine list and a small selection of beers, though no information was available about those at the time of my visit. The plan is to open this evening for dinner service, and hours are Thu-Mon 5pm-12am. 3311 Grand Ave. at Elwood, Oakland, 510-444-1649.
As someone who loves dressing in vintage clothes, sitting on vintage furnishings, and eating off of vintage plates, the time capsule that is 20TH CENTURY CAFE speaks to me on many levels. Chef-owner Michelle Polzine gained many fans while making gorgeous desserts at Range, but now this beguiling corner café in Hayes Valley is all hers. Polzine is in her proper habitat, bustling around behind the counter in her vintage apron, with the gorg brass and amber lights overhead.
You can come by for your morning Blue Bottle coffee off the copper espresso machine, lunch with a friend (get the Reuben!), or an afternoon tea and cake moment (or maybe it’s a beer and knish moment?), and there’s a weekend brunch that will pose some hard questions (you will overeat, mark my words). The hours have expanded to 8pm, so an early dinner can now be in the mix as well—the menu switches over at 5pm. You’ll be able to have a glass of grüner veltliner and other Austrian (and Hungarian) wines with your meal too.
The menu takes a lot of inspiration from the Danube, with dishes like apple strudel and Sacher torte (both $6), and a homey tomato and Bulgarian pepper soup ($8.50) with a tender greens dumpling and a dollop of sour cream. Yes, there are as many savory dishes as there are sweet.
Go farther east with a divine Russian honey cake ($6)—you absolutely have to get this beautiful multilayered cake. Nine fluffy layers. It’s a wonder. Polzine said when they make it, the bees come and fly into the shop, how amazing is that? The bees know.
I have already written about how much I adore her potato knish ($8)—just try to find a better one in the city, so flaky and savory. And yes, buttery.
I am also so taken with the chewy house-baked poppy seed bagel with its dark golden exterior (you have to get it with the oh-so-thin slices of smoked salmon—order it open-faced for $11, closed for $8). Pssst, bring a few extra bagels home—allow yourself to pay the $2.50 charge, it’s worth it.
One snag: The service component is a little creaky. On our visit, the food was brought out all at once and too many dishes covered our table, and no one was really looking for when we were finished to take some away. Just let them know if you want to pace things slowly.
You can’t find a prettier place to enjoy your Sunday paper or a book, with the light streaming in the windows, with big band and bluegrass playing in the background (and maybe a little klezmer and Bollywood and ragtime with some fun food references too—her hubby curates all the music). It’s the European café we have been missing, with marble-topped tables, classic Thonet chairs, a mohair banquette, and all the mismatched vintage plates, teacups, and flatware that feel good to eat with. It’s a place to slow down.
Since the crew is always adding new dishes and seasonal items (um, hot butterscotch that you can drink, are you kidding?), follow along on Twitter for further temptation. As if the countertop loaded with cookies and cakes wasn’t tempting/torturous enough.
20th Century Cafe - 198 Gough St. San Francisco - 415-621-2380
Popular Napa chef Sean O’Toole opens the doors to TORC on Monday November 25, ending more than a year of speculation as to who would go into the former vegetarian restaurant and yoga studio Ubuntu. BiteClub is a big fan of O’Toole, who has roots in Sonoma County and has cooked at a number of high-profile Bay Area restaurants, including SF’s Cotogna and Quince and Napa Valley’s Bardessono and Hopper Creek Kitchen.
We’re especially excited to hear about his plans to showcase finds from superstar forager Connie Green (a Good Food Award nominee and author of The Wild Table) on his menu. His opening lineup includes Bengali sweet potato pakora with yogurt-truffle dip ($5), violet artichoke soup with chanterelle mushrooms, mint, and lemon ($10), jamón ibérico with grilled garlic crouton ($15), Dungeness crab salad with Buddha’s hand, satsuma mandarin, avocado, and herb ($14), housemade strozzapreti with pecorino romano, Tellicherry pepper, and dino kale ($13), Hudson Ranch heritage pork with cheddar grits, collard greens, and mustard sauce ($25), and roasted chicken for two with black spice, coconut rice, and spicy bok choy ($41). Dessert includes items like Mt. Tam cheese with piment d’Espelette marmalade and pickled chanterelles ($6), and Napa Meyer lemon tart with smoked hazelnut ganache and sable Breton ($9).
Insiders say not much has been done to the chic space since its Ubuntu days, including the open kitchen and soaring 30-foot ceilings. The former yoga studio has been converted to a private dining area.
The curious name, Torc, pays homage to O’Toole’s Celtic roots; it means “boar” in Gaelic. But to the chef, it’s an emblem of convivial feasting and hospitality. The restaurant will be open for dinner from 5:30pm-9pm nightly, with brunch service starting in January. 1140 Main St. at Pearl, Napa, 707-252-3292.
Rumors have been flying for months about Napa chef Darren McRonald taking over the now-shuttered Three Squares (formerly the much-lauded Syrah) in Santa Rosa. Until yesterday, owner Josh Silvers has been tight-lipped about the changeover, but an ABC “change of ownership” sign went up this week under the business name THE PULLMAN KITCHEN. Silvers now confirms the potential owner is McRonald but says nothing has been finalized. McRonald has been a fixture in several of Napa chef Cindy Pawlcyn’s restaurants, including St. Helena’s Wood Grill and Wine Bar (formerly Brassica) and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, along with the now-shuttered West County Grill in Sebastopol and Chez Panisse in Berkeley.
There’s no moss growing under Silvers’ feet however. In addition to his other Railroad Square restaurant, Jackson’s Bar and Oven, he’ll be guest chef for a special Hanukkah dinner at Backyard Restaurant (6566 Front St., Forestville, 707-820-8445) on Wednesday December 4th. The four-course meal includes latkes, halibut quenelles (way better than gefilte fish!), matzo ball soup, brisket, farro-stuffed pumpkins, and a few more surprises. Reservations recommended. 6566 Front St., Forestville, 707-820-8445.
Pescatarians rejoice! Healdsburg’s SPOONBAR will once again celebrate the sea with the Feast of the Seven Fishes from Wednesday December 18th through Christmas Eve. This traditional Italian-American holiday, usually observed on the 24th, features seafood dishes on the Catholic holy night (when meat is verboten). Chef Louis Maldonado is taking this often-humble celebration to the next level by flying in fresh fish from Japan’s famed Tsukiji market.
Among the, ahem, fintastic dishes being served: oyster panna cotta with trout roe, sea urchin tartlets, abalone roasted in seaweed butter, cold-smoked yellowfin tuna, big-fin squid salad, roasted crab bouillon, hamachi collar, clam fritters, and, of course, plenty of clams.
Each of the dinners (which can include special wine pairings) is $75 and reservations are required. 219 Healdsburg Ave. at Mill, Healdsburg, 707-433-7222.
On Saturday November 30th and Friday December 13th, head up to the CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA’S WINE ANNEX in Napa for an afternoon or evening of wine education with Karen MacNeil. The first class is called What Makes Great Wine Great and covers characteristics that all great wines possess, regardless of their provenance. The class runs from 3:30pm-5pm and costs $50 per person. Then, in December, catch Eight Critical Tasting Experiences That Will Make You a Better Taster, where you’ll learn techniques to help you improve your ability to taste. The class is from 5:30pm-7pm and costs $50 per person. 500 1st St. at Juarez, Napa.