This week's tablehopper: cold snapped.
My favorite dish this week: Arctic char tartare at Salt House (handily doing double duty as a wreath). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Bonjour, friends. I am fired up that today is Friday, which means I’m punching out early to head up to Napa for a wine class with Karen MacNeil at the CIA Wine Studies Annex (at the former Copia) this evening. So glad boss of me gave me the blessing to leave early, whew.
What’s on tap for your weekend? Well, a few options for you to consider include checking out the brand-new La Nebbia, which had its soft opening last night. Mmmm, lasagne. And just in case you had Great China in Berkeley on your hit list, they are officially opening in their new location on Monday December 16th. I know, just a few more days! Excited.
If you’d like a reminder of a few other new places, here’s my segment from KRON4 last Saturday on new hot spots that have opened up in San Francisco and the 510 (including Alta CA, Merigan, Iyasare, and Penrose!).
A bunch of folks will be taking part in Santacon tomorrow, others will be doing their best to avoid it (raises hand). But while you’re out and about this weekend, you’re gonna need some holiday fuel, which is why my list of where to get the best holiday baked goods should come in handy. I’m talking panettone, Linzer cookies, eggnog ice cream, and bûche de Noël, babies! (Many of these artisan items also make great host gifts in case you want to bring something special to a partay this weekend. Panettone, always welcomed.) If you want holiday boozy fuel, you need to head to my holiday spirits Mosey instead.
More on the gift front: today my tablehopper-curated gift set launched on the SixDoors app, which is full of fab goods from local shops and artisans. (Of course some tablehopper T-shirts are in there too.) Here’s the best part: anything you order on SixDoors can be delivered in the same day! Pretty sweet. Download the app and check out my set, Gifts for the Stylish Gourmand. And here’s how you can enter to win $100 to spend on my gift set or any of the other awesome curated goods on there (just take a look at the “Holiday Shop” tab in the app)! Read more about the 12 Days of Giveaways sweepstakes and in today’s sugar mama! Good luck!
Okay, it’s time for me to get packed and hop in the Fiat. Meep meep. Have a swell weekend. Marcia Gagliardi
Gossip & News (the word on the street)
Corporate Pastry Chef Matt Tinder Reportedly Leaving Daniel Patterson Group
I have heard through a couple of sources that Matt Tinder, the corporate pastry chef for the Daniel Patterson Group (Coi, Alta CA, Plum, Plum Bar, Haven), is leaving at the end of the month to head up the pastry program at Meadowood at the start of the new year. I should actually say returning to Meadowood, since that’s where he was working from 2009-2010, before he moved back to San Francisco in 2010 to work at Saison, and then Coi.
I spoke with Daniel Patterson, who has no comment except to say, “Matt is working with us and doing a great job.” So file this one as unconfirmed until I can get an official statement. The talented Tinder has been working with DPG since 2011, and I put his amazing preserved lemon 6:10 dessert at Coi on 7x7’s Big Eat list for 2013. He was also one of the StarChefs.com San Francisco Bay Area 2013 Rising Stars.
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
Best Restaurant in America Is a Winery, Knife Fight, OMG Italian Pastries
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
Best Restaurant in America is a…winery? Call us flabbergasted. THE BEST RESTAURANT IN AMERICA, as voted by OpenTable diners is ST. FRANCIS WINERY in the Sonoma Valley. Not that the luxe wine and food pairings that I once gushed “rival the kitchen of any Michelin-starred restaurant” aren’t deserving of the award. Most foodies know that wineries pay big bucks to have top-notch chefs doing super-creative work (and not have to be at the whims of the general public), pairing great wines with great food. But it’s surprising that the Best Restaurant in America is, well, first and foremost a winery—and beat out heavy hitters like The French Laundry, SF’s Acquerello, Daniel and Le Bernardin in New York, and 99 other major restaurants across the U.S. So with a hearty clap of the hands, we say congrats to winery chef David Bush, who picks the best produce from the winery’s two-acre garden, taking inspiration from whatever’s in season, and has won numerous accolades for his work. Want to see for yourself? St. Francis Winery has reservations for food and wine pairings Fri-Mon online.
OMG Italian Pastries: I’m just gonna say it. American pastries can be good, even great, but they rarely hold a candle to the delicate, old-world pastries of Europe. If you’ve been overseas, you know that smell, that swoonworthy feeling when you plunge headlong in a cream-filled puff of butter and flour. CA’MOMI ENOTECA at the Oxbow Market in Napa somehow embodies all of that, stateside. “Obsessively authentic Italian” only begins to describe the bignè, 100 percent organic cream puffs flavored with orange, vanilla bean, strawberry, hazelnut, coffee, and almonds, then drizzled with caramelized sugar or chocolate. You’ll want to buy them by the dozen, because they won’t last long once you’ve popped a few in your mouth. While you’re there, stop in for lunch or dinner, where they’re currently serving up gnocchi with butter, sage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, braised cuttlefish on polenta with fried sweetbreads, or lasagna with radicchio.
We also discovered a treasure trove of bitters, booze, and shrubs from NAPA VALLEY DISTILLERY at Oxbow. It’s a grown-up cocktail Candyland. The goods range from their own reserve vodka, Meyer lemon liqueur, and whiskey to Luxardo cherries, artisan bitters from around the world, flavored vinegars and specialty tonics. 644 1st St. at Soscol Ave., Napa.
The Pork Chop of Awe and Wonder: It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of the North Bay’s Miriam Donaldson and Josh Norwitt since they opened Humble Pie in Penngrove in 2008. With a collection of mismatched thrift store dishes, blues and jazz crackling on an old record player, and the scent of fresh pies baking in the oven, their restaurants have always felt like coming home to a favorite grandmother’s house. I mean, assuming granny could actually cook. The couple’s newest venture, WISHBONE, is no exception. Embracing the beloved history of their new location, the former Three Cooks Cafe in Petaluma, they’ve done little to change the interior (okay, aside from some serious cleaning and ripping out the old carpet). The kitchen is open, and a cozy bar flanks the front door. You feel instantly welcome.
The food, of course, is what you’re here for. A collection of old favorites, like the Pork Chop of Awe and Wonder—a hefty juniper-brined slab of pork with mashed potatoes, and their signature Blue Balls (Ed. Note: ha-ha), meatballs stuffed with Pt. Reyes blue cheese atop atop warm tomato sauce and crispy Brussels sprouts and pickled eggs. But, here, they’ve raised the bar significantly, adding seasonal appetizers like sardines with fennel salad, a sexy little loaf of milk and honey bread with orange butter, and the “I’m having a moment” dish, the ravioli. Steel yourself, because this giant toasted pasta stuffed with roasted squash, carrot, and herbed goat cheese (topped with fresh chanterelles, sage brown butter, and Tuscan kale) is almost obscene in its deliciousness. It goes without saying that all of the food is locally sourced from their own farm and other nearby producers. Dessert gets serious props for its selection of fresh baked pies (Miriam is a goddess of pies) and a yogurt-strawberry whip that we were convinced was crème fraîche with a slice of heaven mixed in. Gushing? Probably. But sometimes a meal just hits you in the soft spot. Maybe it’s the company, the wine (they have a small but tasty collection of local wines), or just the night. Or maybe it’s the love and care they put into every dish. Open for lunch and supper Wed-Sun. Brunch from 9am-2:30pm Sat-Sun. Closed Mon-Tue. 841 Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma. 707-763-2663.
Knife Fight, Sonoma Style: I’ve always been a little bored by the copycat chef competition shows whose most dangerous moments are the snarky comments of the judges. Frankly, I’d rather see some Roman blood sport between chefs—some cheating, sabotaging, and backstabbing. Maybe that’s taking it a bit far, but somewhere in between is the Blade Battle at WOODFOUR BREWING CO. on Monday December 16th. Beginning at 5:30pm., two of the restaurant’s cooks battle it out “Knife Fight” style (the down-and-dirty “underground” cooking competition on the Esquire network), so you can be the judge. Raffle tickets for the prime viewing go for $5 to get a seat with fellow judges Damon Wong and Eugene Birdsall. The one-hour competition benefits Worth Our Weight, and (bonus!) $3 Woodfour beers all day and a movie after the fight. Just one request: Can a pig’s head be the secret ingredient?
Give the gift of Sonoma: SIMI WINERY has one of the best holiday gifts for food and wine lovers at a really great price. The Simi Is Sonoma Taster by Out of the Box Collective includes either the 2010 Landslide Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon or 2011 Russian River Valley Reserve Chardonnay with a whole batch of artisan goodies from some of our very favorite Sonoma producers. Along with the wine, there’s a special-edition chardonnay-infused jam from Dry Creek Peach & Produce, two sweet and savory bacon Piggy Pops from Black Pig Meat Co., pickled beet relish from Preserve Sonoma, chardonnay flour artisan crackers from WholeVine, sea salt from Merchants & Millers, and fig and port vinaigrette from girl & the fig. Available for $65 to $75 from Simi Winery online.
Guest Wine & Spirits Writers (in vino veritas)
Checking Lists: A Critical Look at Restaurant Wine by Alan Goldfarb (Fog City)
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.
Diners Rolling Into Upscale Fog City
On the flip side of the wine list at FOG CITY is a reproduction lithograph of old San Francisco. The print does not depict the city post-Embarcadero Freeway demolition, when Fog City Diner became one of the hottest spots in the city and Cindy Pawlcyn’s original bill of fare emerged as the ubiquitous “small plates” menu. After an extensive remodel, which included dropping “Diner” from the neon marquee, the new Fog City is once again dishing out small plates. But its wine list is as up to date as the north waterfront on which it stands.
In addition to more than a dozen wines on tap—which is as modern as a watering hole can get—with few exceptions, Fog City’s wine list is almost exclusively California-centric. The interlopers are a prosecco and three Champagnes, one of which is the Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame. At $300, it is the most expensive wine on the list—by far—doubling the Billecart-Salmon brut rosé. (A quibble, though not to be dismissed, is that the two most expensive offerings do not list their vintages on the wine list. The Veuve is from 2004, while the “Billy” is an NV or nonvintage.)
Otherwise, I have no niggling thoughts about the reimagined FC save for the fact that it can get loud as hell and that there is no mention of the wines on Fog City’s website. Which is a pity, because it’s a nice one, put together by Gregory Altzman, late of Poggio in Sausalito.
There are about 60 selections, including the aforementioned keg wines and almost 20 by the glass. The offerings on the wine list range from $29-$300. Perhaps the most interesting white is the Atrea the Choir from Mendocino County. This 70 percent roussanne/30 percent viognier blend is from John Fetzer, who broke away from the family winery to start his own biodynamic project, Saracina. The 2009 wine is priced at $35 and is the oldest white on the list.
My friends and I opted for the 2011 Palmina Honea arneis from Santa Maria ($10 by the glass only). Paired very nicely with deviled eggs topped with fried quinoa and bacon, and spice-seared pole beans, this arneis—an Italian grape grown in central California—had aromas of pear backed with ample acidity with beautiful fruit. It’s one of the best domestic arneis I’ve had.
In the red wine section, try the 2008 Gregory Graham Crimson Hill Lake County syrah and the 2008 D-Cubed Korte Ranch zinfandel. Both wines are a splurge—$67 and $65, respectively—but they’re really good wines with a little bit of age on them.
But for real satisfaction, it’s the 2007 Palmina Santa Barbara County nebbiolo for me. It’s the oldest wine on the list. (I always look for aged wines on restaurant lists, a rarity if it’s affordable. Aged wines have a patina that young wines do not possess.) And at $41, it’s the best bargain at FC. The nebbiolo, with its exotic spice backbone, has an affinity with chef Bruce Hill’s Middle Eastern-spiced food, such as the oyster mushrooms with stewed pimentos with smoked paprika and dill yogurt; and the chicken with spiced Maldon salt.
A couple of other things: the staff seem fairly well trained on the list (not a trifling matter); the stemware is from Spiegelau, a subsidiary of Riedel, and one of the better wineglasses; and most important, the reds were served at a perfect cool temperature, about 60 degrees. Most likely stored in a temp-controlled environment, which is not a common condition in San Francisco, where “room temperature” can sometimes get into the high 70s.
In all, the new Fog City, what with its smart redesign and Middle Eastern-spiced food, is a welcome addition to the bustling Embarcadero. Dropping the “Diner” part of the name removes the casualness the place once boasted and gives it tacit permission, I suppose, to raise prices.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: 2007 Palmina Nebbiolo, Santa Barbara County ($41)
This is a unique wine because of its aromatics and spices, both of which resemble Middle Eastern smells and tastes. And the fruit: wonderfully fresh, deep-flavored black fruits such as prunes and plums. It’s well balanced and has several years of life ahead. Like its sister arneis on Fog City’s list, nebbiolo is also an Italian varietal—it’s the most important grape of Piemonte in the north—and it’s a good example of the variety, as well as a credit to California winegrowing. As with the arneis, this nebbiolo is grown in Santa Ynez Valley.
Please feel free to email Alan with your comments and your experiences with restaurant wine. He’d love to hear from you.
the sugar mama
(Sponsored): Win Up to $1,200 from SixDoors and Support SF Small Businesses
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One lucky tablehopper reader will win a $100 credit to spend at the SixDoors shop of their choice! Which shop, you ask? Download the app, and hop to the Holiday Shop tab, where you’ll find the tablehopper handpicked gift set, called Gifts for the Stylish Gourmand! (Yes, that’s you!) Cute ice cream scoopers, olive wood nesting bowls, a leather handle cutting board…all from fab local shops, which you can get delivered on the same day! There are some other fun gifts curated by local bloggers too. Good luck, and don’t forget to enter to win the $100 shopping credit here!