This week's tablehopper: pregaming.
What I was doing last Sunday: eating fried chicken and waffles at Victory Hall and Parlor! Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Kung Hei Fat Choi! Chuc Mung Nam Moi! And…that’s about the extent of my Asian language skills. Happy Lunar New Year to all who celebrate. I’m looking forward to a couple weeks of special menus to honor the new year, and will be talking about where to go tomorrow morning in my tablehopper hot list on KRON4! See you at 9:15am?
Today’s issue got a little chunkier than I expected (kind of like me over the years, but that’s another story). I wanted to get a couple of Rockridge mini reviews up since I keep finding myself wanting to head across the Bay to College Avenue (and since Ramen Shop has house-cured ikura on the menu right now, plus Magnolia Brewery’s killer Proving Ground on tap, I am already plotting yet another BART trip). Sfogliatella at A16 Rockridge, I’ll be seeing you soon.
We also have a wino piece from Collin-Peter Casey, 707 news from Heather Irwin, and your final chance at a pretty awesome sugar mama giveaway! Plenty for you to snack on here.
And just because more is more, here’s my piece on 7x7.com about five fab chocolate boxes you should think about for Valentine’s Day. You just don’t need to have a sweetie—I say buy ‘em for a friend, your mom, or your own damn self.
Have fun eating too many wings on Sunday—here’s my piece on Super Bowl eats in case you need a reminder on what you can enjoy eating from the comfort of your couch.
Cheers! Marcia Gagliardi
New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
As A16 approaches its 10th birthday in San Francisco (on February 14th), I think about the numerous meals (and stellar Southern Italian wines!) I’ve had there over the years. But one thing I’ve never been able to enjoy there is a cocktail (or an amaro), and that’s definitely a must at their newer location, A16 ROCKRIDGE. Just when I’m lamenting the departure of the Seventh Circle cocktail (rye, Campari, Calabrese chile, lemon, and honey), the menu suddenly has the Expatriate Negroni made with sherry to hold your attention, and now, there are five kinds of Manhattans I want to work my way through.
The bar is a focal point of this location, always full of diners and drinkers packed in at its 20 feet of Cararra marble and high-top tables. Even if you’re not dining here, it’s a worthy destination for a cocktail before dinner (with bar snacks), or a nightcap.
The space has a loftier feel than the original, with high-beamed ceilings, but you can still admire custom pieces of whimsical artwork by Kelly Tunstall, and grab a seat at the counter by the blazing wood-fired pizza oven (always one of my favorite spots). Chef Rocky Maselli’s rotating menu is not about creating a facsimile of the Chestnut Street concept—quite the opposite (although you’ll still be able to get some burrata, purr).
I have found anything in the crudo section to be pretty dang delicious, especially the Mendocino sea urchin ($12; once the set included sunflower petals and fried leaves). Nota bene: seafood really shines here. Ditto the hyperseasonal salads.
While the slow-cooked egg bruschetta ($13) sounds mighty appealing, I say save your stomach’s precious real estate (and money) for the well-executed pastas. The shapes change, from chewy paccheri (truly a pasta for pasta lovers) to petite handmade cavatelli (served with mussels one night) to troccoli, a thicker kind of spaghetti that hails from Puglia (chef Maselli has Pugliese roots, so you’ll see dishes on the menu that are more from the eastern side of the A16 autostrada). Small pasta portions run $11-$13, while full-size portions are $19-$21. I am also happy to see potato gnocchi here instead of the omnipresent ricotta version, which I think are harder to get right, and here they do.
You’ll want to make your way through the pizzas, starting with the montanara Rockridge ($17), a pizza you’ll smell before it hits the table due to its smoked tomato sauce (it’s lightly fried as well, so the crust is golden and shiny). The rachetta (“racquet”) ($20) is shaped like a tennis racquet (originally made by Starita in Naples), with a twisted handle that has ricotta and other seasonal ingredients tucked into the “handle” like a mini calzone—it’s the ultimate two-cheese pizza (the rest has fior di latte mozzarella). Leave it to the A16 team to do their intensive research trips, study other kinds of pizzas in Naples, and then riff on them here.
I also tend to order any pie with clams or the fennel-y sausage here, or both, score. All the pizzas are served with a pair of scissors so you can cut it into pieces yourself. (Not a good place to break up with someone since your date could cuuuuut you.)
While wine director and owner Shelley Lindgren has to cover three locations (both A16s and SPQR), it stands testament to their awesome training and staffing that you’ll get the on-point pairings you do here—and education (if you want it). I always leave with at least three new wines written down that I want in my life regularly.
I also have to mention the amazing leg of lamb roast ($28) I had one night—the thick, pink slices were downright succulent, with a salsa verde and baby radishes adding bright acidity to the dish. If you see lambie on the menu, get it. Dessert: you want the ricotta fritters ($11), oh yes you do.
They are also running some specials each night, like lasagna cooked in the wood oven on Tuesdays, you’re welcome. Just added: a three-course Monday night dinner for $29, featuring dishes from other Southern Italian regions. And then there’s Sunday brunch, where I’ve heard you can score housemade sfogliatella (or sfogliatelle, if you plan to eat more than one, like I do). And yet again, I find myself plotting a reason to hop on BART and head over.
A16 Rockridge - 5356 College Ave. Oakland - 510-768-8003
I find myself thinking a lot about the fried rice ($11) at RAMEN SHOP in Rockridge. There’s fried rice, and then there’s this one. One night, the bowl of dark, dusky, just-crisp-enough rice came packed with plump oysters, squid, and little bites of chashu pork, plus wild nettles and cilantro, while another night was all about pork and padrón peppers and wild nettles. The one constant is the special, secret sauce: Siew’s spicy tobanjan chile paste (which deepens the flavor profile, amps the heat, and keeps you scooping it up). I always end up considering taking an order to go. Fried rice for breakfast, it’s a good thing.
The tricky part is to not fill up on the stuff, because you aren’t even close to the main event yet. The Chez Panisse pedigree of partners Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman, and Sam White mean the salads are also a thing of beauty here, like curly endive with the thinnest pieces of Sierra Beauty apples, pink daikon, candied pecans, and buttermilk miso dressing (it’s like Japanese ranch!). This salad would be right at home in a French bistro, but when you think of placing everything through the frame of delicious (and seasonal), it makes sense that it’s here.
Almost everyone at the long wood counter that flanks the open kitchen is hunched over a bowl of ramen at some point. I’ve had moments where I am blown away: the tantanmen ramen ($16) with miso-braised tripe (!) and ground pork belly and a thick, juicy slice of chashu, for sure. Another night, the shio ramen ($17) with a marrow bone was too oily and didn’t quite become better than the sum of its parts, although it had such a gorgeous shoyu egg, and slices of my favorite, their housemade kamaboko (fish cake), which is the best I’ve had (they make their tender, flavorful version with squid ink, scallop, and shrimp). If you see a crab ramen on the menu, you gotta get it.
You’ll find three kinds of ramen each night, always with top ingredients (the seasonal vegetables are particularly gorgeous) and their ever-improving housemade noodles that stay springy in your bowl (which you will barely make it to the bottom of). The ceramic bowls are all so beautiful. The team goes to Japan as much as they can, always bringing back new ideas, although the farmers’ market seems to provide equal inspiration. You should probably find a little room for an ice cream sandwich ($6) or their brill white chocolate-dipped miso ice cream bar (on a stick) with puffed rice ($6).
The 50-seat space has a great look, full of wood and cool design details. It’s so busy, consistently. But there’s a full bar, and the team will make sure you have something balanced and refreshing and delicious in your hand while you wait. There are also well-chosen beers on tap, Japanese whiskies, French wines, take your pick. The staff will take good care of you—the place feels like it’s run by a family, and it is.
A couple of things to note: Ramen Shop is closed Tuesdays, FYI, and the kitchen is open until midnight Fri-Sat. Best of all, it’s only a couple of blocks from the Rockridge BART, so SF diners, make the trip!
Ramen Shop - 5812 College Ave, Oakland - 510-788-6370
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
Pawlcyn Shutters Wood Grill, BurgerFi Progress, Stillwater, Topsy's
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
Seems even an iconic chef like Napa’s Cindy Pawlcyn sometimes stumbles. As of this week, she has officially shuttered CINDY PAWLCYN’S WOOD GRILL AND WINE BAR. Revered for her other Napa restaurants, Mustard’s Grill and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, the seemingly doomed Main Street restaurant opened in 2011 as Go Fish, a Pawlcyn seafood concept that never quite hooked an audience. She transformed it in 2012 to Brassica Mediterranean Kitchen, then in 2013 to the more American-focused Wood Grill and Wine Bar. “We’ve closed our doors,” says the website. “Thank you for your support.”
BURGERFI in downtown Napa seems to be moving forward after some delays. Construction is under way for the hipster burger joint, with a menu that will include a crispy quinoa burger, chili cheese dogs, Parmesan fries, a brisket burger, and the Breakfast All Day Burger (patty, American cheese, bacon, maple syrup, fried egg, hash browns, and ketchup). Best of all, they’ll also be offering frozen custards and concretes, the thicker, creamier cousins of milk shakes.
BiteClubbers say that the shuttered CLAUDIO’S (9890 Bodega Hwy, Sebastopol) may have a new owner. Word is that it will reopen as STILLWATER, a farm-to-table eatery. The spot, which has always been a bit of a Bermuda Triangle for restaurateurs (Mojo Cafe, Two Crows, Cafe St. Rose, P/30) will likely be up and running in early spring—we hope.
Another tip came in this week about Petaluma’s TOPSY’S. The restaurant opened in late 2013, replacing Avatar’s Punjabi Burrito at 131 Kentucky Street. Open for breakfast and lunch only, early reviews are raving about the Southern charm of chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, pie, beignets, and biscuits. Expect a wait on busy weekends, as locals have already discovered the restaurant, which features RAMEKINS chef Annie Simmons.
Still hungry? Check out even more food news at BiteClubEats.com.
Guest Wine & Spirits Writers (in vino veritas)
Sommelier Says: Collin-Peter Casey on John Lockwood
Collin-Peter Casey has worked in the wine business for 16 years. The last 10 years, he has worked as a sommelier. He has worked for many of the Bay Area’s best restaurants and currently resides at Namu Gaji in the Mission. This column is CPC’s opportunity to say nice things about winemakers, sommeliers, wine directors, and importers who get the admiration of the (jaded) professional wine community.
Full disclosure: Collin helps sell the Valley View import/wholesale book part time. In any instance that the subjects of this column are clients of Collin’s, he will specify it.
Who: John Lockwood.
What he does: Winemaker at Enfield Wine Co.
Where he learned his craft: Like many of the best winemakers, John has no formal wine education, but rather he learned from the bottom up, working under talented folks. In 2004, John was living in Oakland and building guitars (!) when he met winemaker David Mahaffey. David is a small grower you’ve not likely heard of who has been quietly making wine in Napa since the early ’80s. In John’s words: “He’s the one who really taught me the basics of winemaking—he literally does everything himself. But perhaps more importantly, he taught me how to have fun doing it. And he introduced me to Heron Lake vineyard, which just blew my mind. It was such a staggeringly beautiful place, but yet it was tucked away in this weird AVA and no one had ever heard of it.” If you’ve had the chance to taste John’s Heron Lake wines, you know just how lucky he was to fall in with David. They are magic.
After time at David’s winery, he worked a harvest under the great Ted Lemon at Littorai before flying out to Argentina to work for Bodegas Melipal, a small, family-owned winery in Mendoza. When he started poking around for job opportunities, the name that kept popping up was Ehren Jordan, of Failla. He got that job while still in Argentina and spent the next six years with Ehren, honing his chops. It worked. He began making Enfield wines while still at Failla and is now all Enfield, all the time.
Why I like him: These are, hands down, my favorite new wines I’ve tasted in a good long while. With the very recent emergence of the “New California” style, it’s easier and easier to find balanced, brighter, lower-alcohol wines, with less influence of oak. Wines from houses like Dashe, Arnot-Roberts, Wind Gap, Corison, and Littorai have become sort of the standard-bearers of this style, and all of John’s wines belong on the same table as these greats. He makes edgy, pure, and serious wines, using lots of whole-cluster fermentation and not a lot of oak. Tasting his 2013 Sonoma Coast cabernet sauvignon from the barrel was a powerful reminder of just how great domestic cabernet could be. He also makes some of the best syrah, chardonnay, and tempranillo in the state. (Granted, the bar is super-low on tempranillo.)
A few details: All John’s vineyards are farmed sustainably, and he is even making a move toward Fukuoka farming (the ironically laborious, “do nothing” method from Japan) in his chardonnay vineyard. He owns no vineyards (who does, these days?) but farms his parcels mostly by himself. The wines are fermented spontaneously (no commercial yeasts added) and tend to see a maximum of about 20 percent new oak, depending on the vintage and how many new barrels he bought that year. All his barrels are committed to specific grapes. For the entire life of a barrel designated for syrah, for example, the barrel will contain only syrah. Pretty cool.
Where to buy: Upon release, you will undoubtedly see these wines on the best lists in the city and at all the hipper retailers. At the moment, the best way to buy the wines is directly from John at Enfield Wine Co.
the sugar mama
(Sponsored): Enter to Win a 10-Course Chinese New Year Dinner at Graton Resort & Casino
Chinese New Year is fast approaching and to celebrate, Graton Resort & Casino and M.Y. China are hosting a 10-course Chinese Banquet Dinner, traditional but with a modern, M.Y. China twist on Thursday February 6th, 2014.
One lucky tablehopper reader will win entry with one guest to the elaborate 10-course VIP Chinese banquet dinner. The winners will feast on dishes—some that take six to eight hours to prepare—such as braised pork shank, stir-fried lobster, and abalone in oyster essence, experience a “noodle dance” from M.Y. China’s very own executive chef Tony Wu, chat with celebrity chef Martin Yan himself and members of the M.Y. China team about the special dishes being served, and Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse. Beverages and gratuity are included in the prize package.
The $800 million Graton Resort & Casino is the Bay Area’s largest gaming and entertainment destination. Only 43 minutes from San Francisco, Graton Resort & Casino features an array of restaurants, award-winning chefs, and Las Vegas-style gaming in a setting that exudes casual California elegance.
All you need to do is forward today’s tablehopper newsletter to one friend (but even more would be so very fabulous), and add a note to your friend(s) about Graton Resort & Casino and M.Y. China! Be sure to Cc: or Bcc: me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I know you sent it—I promise I won’t use anyone’s email address. Act quickly! The deadline to enter is Friday January 31st at 11:59pm.