Some of the delightfully over-stuffed brioche donuts by Mr. Holmes. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Sunny day! Has me plotting what to do tomorrow, which is gearing up to be even warmer. Hell to the yes. I have a couple of options for you, depending on whether you’re a savory person (check out four of my favorite sandwiches right now) or maybe you want to hunt down some doughnuts! Here’s a roundup I just did for 7x7.com on the city’s best doughnuts, including some newbies, like the bacon brittle number by A Spoonful of Sugar and the soigné ones by Bespoke Doughnuts, both available this weekend.
Today’s issue has some 707 scout news, and our wino by Alan Goldfarb on Tosca Cafe’s wine list inspired me to burn some extra midnight oil this week and get a review written up to accompany it (and it also inspired today’s title).
I know, I am so far behind on writing up some of our city’s newest places—hopefully some of you are following along on the tablehopper Instagram feed for highlights of my favorite dishes lately. To be honest, there’s only so much time I have for writing tablehopper each week—the rest is dedicated to running the business, and all the other outlets I write for. Oh yeah, and my firehose email inbox. Anyway. Pant pant.
TGIF! Marcia Gagliardi
April Bloomfield has taken over the restaurant ownership. Her former business partner, Ken Friedman, accused of multiple incidents of sexual harrassment and predatory, abusive behavior, is no longer involved.
Isn’t it nice when things turn out right, nay, better than you hoped? The takeover and saving of TOSCA CAFE by Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield (known best for New York’s The Spotted Pig) has turned into a rather happy ending. Sure, I miss the quieter nights, but I have never had a Negroni taste so good there, either (the bar now makes the Casino Bar Negroni 1919). To be honest, it’s bar director Isaac Shumway’s Trouble in Paradise (all drinks, $12) that has the lion’s share of my affection: bourbon, Campari, basil, lemon, grapefruit, and black pepper tincture, so frothy and easy to drink, far too quickly.
If it’s late and you’re at the now usually very busy bar, try to ignore the new Tosca patrons talking about their killer app (I actually had to move my seat one evening, I thought I was going to throttle the self-important bro spouting off to his poor date next to me) and order the bar sandwich ($10), which one time was a cheesy dream of truffle cheese, mozzarella, and prosciutto with a zip of lemon oil. Get the crispy pig tails ($9) if there’s more than one of you. The kitchen is open late! 1am, people!
The place can be a madhouse (read: no reservations, upwards of 90-minute waits): put your name down, grab a drink, and depending on the wait, why not go browse at City Lights across the street? April Bloomfield and chef Josh Even are doing a hell of a job with the kitchen: the “Point Reyes Blue” salad ($15) comes out on a chilled plate, with spicy croutons and browned halves of Dutch shallots on a mix of beautiful heirloom radicchio. The guanciale-spiked meatballs ($15, not on the menu) are brilliant, especially when paired with the grilled polenta ($17)—do it.
The housemade bucatini ($17) is one of the best pasta all’amatriciana executions in the city: so porky and rich with guanciale (but not salty), perfect spice, and damn, it comes out piping, steaming, thrillingly hot.
Roasted chicken for two ($42) has a great old-school taste profile with its Marsala and drippings-rich sauce that you’ll dunk the grilled bread slathered in herbaceous ricotta into. (The feet left on the juicy Hoffman Farms bird made me laugh.) But it’s spendy for half a bird, you decide. (A lot of things are here, so don’t come here when you’re potentially short on making your rent.)
The music is definitely a miss for me: I feel like it’s some random Pandora station playing songs that are stylistically all over the place, when I’d really like a specially curated and tight playlist. Cut the upbeat, modern stuff. I keep waiting for people to play opera on the long-standing jukebox to interrupt it.
Dessert: this is one case when you don’t want to leave the gun and take the cannoli; the grapefruit-Lillet granita ($6) is my pick. And then there’s the updated and boozy House Cappuccino ($12), which has always been cleverly espresso-free.
You’ll probably see Tosca’s famed former owner Jeannette Etheredge milling about. If you’re lucky, she’ll take you to the back room and tell you bawdy stories. I keep hoping for the hype to simmer down a notch on this place, but fortunately its rich, classic atmosphere does a lot to cover up the annoyance caused by the new-to-Tosca, blustery crowd.
For details on the fantastico mostly Italian (and Chianti-laden) wine list by Ceri Smith (who collaborated with Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm), I’ll leave it to Alan Goldfarb’s wino piece here.
Tosca Cafe - 242 Columbus Ave. San Francisco - 415-986-9651
Sonoma County Restaurant Week (Monday March 10th through Sunday March 16th): I always feel like I need to announce Restaurant Week with the same voice Oprah used to announce that her audience was flying to Australia in 2010. “And you get a three-course dinner for $19! And you get a three-course dinner for $29!” I’d shout over the screaming audience. Talk show dreams aside, it’s hard to believe this is the fifth year that Sonoma County celebrates its hardworking restaurateurs with a five-day celebration of all things delicious. With well over 100 restaurants spanning Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Healdsburg, Petaluma, the coast, and everything in between, this is your chance to hit up some of those restaurants you’ve been dying to try, but just haven’t been to yet.
New this year: two-course lunch menus for $10, $15, or $20. Three-course dinner menus remain at $19, $29, and $39. I’ll have a full list online, as well as some of my favorite menus, but some of the newcomers you may want to check out include: - Palooza Gastropub (8910 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood) is featuring their wedge salad; beef cheeks or chef Chris Hanson’s luxe vegetarian risotto made with Speakeasy lager, mushrooms, and seasonal veggies; and s’mores on a stick, $39. - 38 Degrees North Lounge (100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma): Sonoma Mission Inn’s hot new restaurant serves up roasted beet salad, beef sliders, and crème brûlée, $39. - Belly Left Coast Kitchen (523 Fourth St., Santa Rosa): Love this downtown SR restaurant that’s got a killer pork belly with hoisin and Campfire Stout chocolate mousse, $29. - Red’s Apple Roadhouse (4550 Gravenstein Hwy., Sebastopol): One of my favorite off-the-beaten-path newcomers is doing both lunch ($15, pulled pork sammie or portobello mushroom burger with hand-cut fries and pie) and dinner ($19) featuring their famous fried chicken supper or beer-braised pork belly. - Best Value, Partake by K-J (241 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg): BiteClub is pretty floored by the $29 and $39 dinner menus that include four-plus courses of chef Justin Wangler’s life-altering food with multiple wine pairings. Think oysters with white verjus, smoked loin of lamb, white chocolate panna cotta, beet tartare, and Meyer lemon pudding. Now, keep in mind, each course is just a few luxurious bites rather than a craggy mound of food. But we’d far rather eat well than prodigiously.
Now please excuse me while sop the drool off my keyboard.
Good news from our neighbors to the north: The Baked Alaska is back. Granted, we’ve cherry-picked this Mad Men-era dessert (ice cream and sponge cake covered with meringue, baked, and often set alight) from the forthcoming TRILLIUM CAFE’S menu. But after perusing this new Mendocino restaurant’s menu, it’s indicative of the kind of classic-meets-modern dishes that are emblematic of chef Jeremy Baumgartner’s sensibility.
To wit: This Baked Alaska is an olive oil cake with kumquat meringue and mint ice cream ($9). And as long as we’re thinking dessert first, how about bourbon cream beignets with maple glaze and candied bacon, or a butterscotch pie with caramel and Chantilly cream. At least you’ve been warned to save room.
“We know this is an often overlooked area…We feel strongly that diners who are paying for a Wine Country-caliber meal…in a stunning location deserve not only outstanding food and drink, but…caring service as well,” said restaurant owner Sandra McElroy. Other tempting menu items: spring pea arancini ($12), Dungeness crab strudel with capers and nasturtium ($15), rabbit meatballs and tortelloni with sunchokes ($22), and pork loin and belly with heirloom beans ($26). Also available are several vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items. The restaurant opens officially on Saturday March 15th for lunch and dinner. And of course, dessert. 10390 Kasten St., Mendocino.
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.
In Tosca’s Next Act, Wines Take a Bow
For years, I kvetched (half-seriously) to Jeannette Etheredge about putting some good wine into her TOSCA CAFE. Taking pulls on her ubiquitous cigarettes, she would wave the blue smoke from my eyes, but I knew it was really meant to dismiss my requests. Jeannette can still occasionally be seen at the end of what, until recently, used to be her North Beach bar, ciggies still in hand. She’s told me she loves the joint maybe more so now than she has in a long while, because of what April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman did to restore and keep the integrity of what is one of the iconic dives in the city. Jeannette, bless her heart, likely doesn’t know much about the wines they’ve laid in.
But I do.
More specifically, the ones that Ceri Smith and Randall Grahm have selected for the wine list. Smith is the owner of the all-Italian Biondivino wine shop off Polk, and Grahm, the owner of Bonny Doon Vineyard, is the possessor of one of the most iconoclastic and smart minds in the wine biz. Both are not big fans of new-world wines, meaning high-alcohol, overly extracted, oaky wines that are unbalanced and don’t match well with food.
Their charge at Tosca—a San Francisco landmark that Bloomfield and Friedman succeeded in memorializing and catapulting into the new century—was to do much the same with the wines. The list is predominated by Italian selections that are in line with the food. There are but a few California wines, categorized into “old-school” and “new-school” rubrics, which comprise about 15 percent of the list. Among those are two of Grahm’s wines (he also has a cider), including his Le Cigare Volant Red from 2009 (priced at an egalitarian $50). Notable in the Cali litany are a chardonnay from Stony Hill (‘09), an “orange” vermentino from Ryme Cellars called “His,” and two cabernets from the unfairly maligned ‘98 vintage produced by two of Napa Valley’s progenitors of old-world sensibility, Randy Dunn and Bob Travers (Mayacamas).
Another thought-provoking selection is the ‘12 Bisson “Abissi” from Liguria, which is marked with an asterisked “aged in sea,” but is not explained. So I will: The owner of this sparkler ran out of room in his cellar to store and ferment the wine, so he had the most unique idea to sink it (abissi) to the bottom of the sea (enclosed in what became a barnacle-encrusted cage), where it could age in cold temperatures and dangle in the roiling water as though it were being riddled (turned), as is the usual protocol for such wines.
There’s also an ‘09 pinot grigio from Radikon ($89/500 ml), which is a “natural” wine, meaning no inoculated yeast or added sulfur.
The list is heavy with Barbarescos, Barolos, Brunellos, Chianti Classicos, and Sicilians. You’ll even find one Chianti Classico in a fiasco, a 2011 Monteraponi. It’s an old world, straw-wrapped bottle we all grew up with, albeit at a new world $75.
There is a surfeit of wines priced in the $40s, and then the list climbs precipitously to $569 (2000 Krug Brut Champagne) and $659 (‘03 Quintarelli Amarone). The ‘99 Scarpa Tetti Neive Barbaresco ($135) is pricey but still a very good deal, as is the ‘08 Brezza Barolo ($87).
In the end, however, this is really Ceri Smith’s baby. Randall Grahm told me that aside from the opening list, he’s been so busy that his participation at Tosca has been very limited. “It’s all Ceri all the time. She’s a genius; so smart and so scholarly about Italian wines. We occasionally send notes about ampelography (the study of grapevines) at three in the morning. That’s hard-core…. I will try and get more involved but there’s a finite amount of chi in this organism. I can kibitz about it, but it’s her list.”
TO LOOK FOR: BioVio Marené Pigato, Liguria ($14 by the glass/$7.50 for a 3-ounce taste)
This is what is referred to as a “natural” wine, in that only wild yeasts were used and no sulfur was added. It comes from one hectare (2 1/2 acres) on the Italian Riviera near Genoa. Pigato, rarely found here, is the white grape of the region. It is reminiscent of viognier in that there’s a peach-like component, but with more herbal qualities. We had it with roasted Treviso (radicchio), a pork sausage, and a fantastic bowl of clams loaded with bacon.
Please feel free to email Alan with your comments and your experiences with restaurant wine. He’d love to hear from you.