The incredibly complex bacon-curry sweetbreads with pickled squash at State Bird Provisions. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Hello people. Are you already plotting your weekend shenanigans? Well, my recent post on 7x7.com with six new brunches can help you with your plans. Punch bowls, a Mexican Benedict, and a spot with a cute outdoor patio, it’s all there. Or maybe you’re heading to the 707 this weekend? Heather Irwin has you covered with all kinds of Wine Country options. We also have a ticket giveaway to Eat Drink SF for you, check it out in the sugar mama!
This week has blown my mind with quality eats, including a preview dinner at Monsieur Benjamin on Tuesday (it was such a cool scene—the restaurant was packed with some of our city’s best chefs later that night). I’ll have more for you next Tuesday about the restaurant (and why you can’t miss the escargots).
Last night I got to accompany my friend for his first feast at State Bird Provisions. We sat at the kitchen counter (best seats, trust) but it led to a really funny exchange when I got into a cab at the end of the night. My cabbie asked, “So, did you just come out of that restaurant? How was it?” I proceed to wax over our bonkers-good meal, and he says, “Yeah, I want to go there. Don’t take this the wrong way, but when you got into the cab, you smelled like really good food.” Gotta say, that was a first. Eau de SBP!
On Wednesday I enjoyed a pre-opera meal at Souvla, the subject of today’s review. (And…now I’m craving one of their salads for lunch. Oh, and you should know Souvla is now open on Mondays!) After our Souvla stop, my friend took me to see Madame Butterfly that night, what an incredible production. Soprano Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San brought down the house, and I couldn’t stop oohing and aahing over the costumes and sets—so artful and vibrant. Magic. The SF Opera is rocking me with this year’s season.
Have you looked at the aperitivo hour and dinner I am hosting at 54 Mint with Campari America on Wednesday July 23rd? It’s going to be a great event—we’re gonna stuff you with gnocchi and porchetta. Just so you know, tickets are moving quickly, so hop to it.
I’m always on the hunt for a good salad, and one of the last places I expected to find one is at a souvlaki place. Well, SOUVLA in Hayes Valley is not your average souvlaki joint (as rare as they are in these parts), and most souvlaki joint owners don’t have a background that includes working as a culinary assistant at The French Laundry, a manager of Bouchon, and working for the Michael Mina Group.
Owner Charles Bililies, a Greek American, was inspired to take the classic souvlaki and do a Bay Area ingredient-driven, contemporary spin on it. Instead of mystery meat (you know, the weird “meat” they warm up in gyros), iceberg lettuce, out-of-season tomatoes, and dry pita bread, Bililies fills a custom-made, pillowy pita with slow-roasted lamb leg from the rotisserie (souvla means “spit”), plus cucumber, thinly sliced radish, harissa-spiked yogurt, pickled red onions, and creamy crumbles of feta cheese. Opa 2.0.
It’s a really good sandwich, well, when you get some juicy pieces of lamb. I’ve also had some pieces that were pretty dry and fibrous, so I had to shake some of the hot sauce that’s on the tables to juice it up, or just get a side of the yogurt sauce ($1) to begin with (you have four kinds to choose from). I’m just going to be a pain and ask for hella juicy lamb the next time, because there’s a lot to love about the sandwich when it all comes together. Bring on the succulence.
The pork shoulder version ($10) is a winner (I have yet to encounter a dry bite), and comes with cherry tomatoes and a minty version of their Greek yogurt. You can also get it with the chicken ($11), although I have a personal thing against fresh fruit in savory things, so in the future I’ll order it without the supremes of navel orange. And the pea shoots are cumbersome to eat—you look like a rabbit with the stems sticking out of your mouth (I’d be happy if the kitchen would chop ‘em up more). The occasional dry bite aside, the meats are local and from quality purveyors, and come well seasoned with herbs and spices. There’s also a vegetarian version with roasted white sweet potato ($9).
My problem is this: I can’t get the juicy, dripping, overloaded lamb souvlaki I had in Melbourne made by a ham-fisted Greek one night out of my mind. I want Souvla to offer an off-menu dirty version of their souvlaki, with extra meat and drippings. But that’s where the juicy potatoes ($4) come in—as a side, you get a bowl of creamy potatoes (spiked with fresh oregano) that have taken a long soak in the rotisserie drippings, they’re so damn good. I also love the really crisp Greek fries ($4)—you should tuck them into your souvlaki, or even better, put them on top of your salad. Did I just say that? I sure did.
So, the salads! They totally rock (they use a combo of kale and green lettuce). They’re huge—I usually can’t finish one, and end up coming back to it later. And the salads are the same price as the souvlaki, and are really satisfying (they’re full of texture) and well dressed. Sometimes all you want is a big-ass salad, and these are top of my list. Bonus: they use Postmates for bicycle-powered delivery (use referral code “marciag” and we both get $10 off the delivery fee, score). So if your fridge is bare and all you want is a big-ass salad for dinner, they travel well and are a good value.
Dining at Souvla is an aesthetically pleasing experience: you won’t recognize it as the former home of Sebo. The clean space is now bright and full of light (there’s also a skylight), with gleaming copper high-top tables and a communal table (35 seats in all), Greek pots and other cooking ephemera (from Bililies’s family) on the shelves, and stylish stools in gray and white that match the Carrara marble penny tiles underneath the back white oak counter (if you sit there, be sure to peek at what is written above the red phone for a chuckle). Actually, sitting at the back is definitely a warmer spot with the rotisserie nearby—some folks may want to sit closer to the front (unless it’s a chilly night, and then that’s where you’ll want to be).
Better yet: try jockeying for one of the three coveted seats at the outside counter on a warm afternoon or evening next to the olive trees—there’s no better spot to sit and enjoy a glass (or bottle) of their sparkling Greek rosé. Speaking of the wines, Souvla has an off-sale license, so you can get a bottle of whatever Greek wine you want to go (or nab a Greek beer), priced at retail. And even though this is an order-at-the-counter kind of spot, when the crew has a moment, they will still come over to fill your glass, clear your cute blue-trimmed enamel tray or bowl, and bring your frozen Greek yogurt over when it’s time for dessert.
About that frozen Greek yogurt ($4-$5): you can get it topped with sticky bites of baklava (my favorite), vissino (Greek sour cherry syrup), Greek olive oil and flaky sea salt (ask them to go light on the salt), or Cretan wildflower honey. It comes in the classic Greek coffee cup you see all over the East Coast, a clever nod. Actually, there are so many clever details and nods here—you can see a lot of thought went into every single thing. I’m always happy to see when a project really resonates with a personal point of view and an obvious passion for their heritage. And if you want a quick bite before the symphony or opera, I think it’s clear, here’s your spot.
This review was based on one lunch and one dinner visit, one takeout dinner, and one delivered dinner.
Souvla - 517 Hayes St. San Francisco - 415-400-5458
There are a handful of “dude” moments in a Wine Country food writer’s annual list of must-attend events. As in, “Dude, you have to go to this.” WEST OF WEST WINE FESTIVAL, which takes place Friday August 1st through Sunday August 3rd, is one of them. It’s an all-star lineup of the Sonoma Coast’s top vintners (Charles Heintz, DuMOL, Failla, Flowers, Lioco, Littori, MacPhail, and many more) and there will be incredible food throughout the weekend, culminating with a grand banquet featuring chefs from SF’s State Bird Provisions, Rich Table, and Bar Tartine at The Barlow. Tickets to this whirlwind three days of hobnobbing with wine connoisseurs, chefs, sommeliers, and vintners range from $125 for the Grand Tasting to $475 for all-access weekend tickets. Details online.
CUCINA DI ROSA ITALIAN TRATTORIA opens Friday July 18th at St. Helena’s CHARLES KRUG winery, as part of the $9.5 million restoration of the winery’s Redwood Cellar Building. Inspired by the winery’s matriarch, Rosa Mondavi, the menu will feature rustic panini with pesto and tomatoes, a muffuletta, roasted tri-tip, and antipasti and salads that pair with Charles Krug wines. The menu was designed by Napa chef Richard Haake (Cakebread Cellars, Robert Mondavi Winery). Hours will be Fri-Sun 10:30am-4pm. 2800 Main St., St. Helena, 707-967-2200.
Another Napa heads-up: A Taste of Napa, part of the 10-day FESTIVAL DEL SOLE, takes place this Saturday July 12th, with nearly 70 restaurants, food artisans, breweries, and wineries participating. The event is 11am-2:30pm. Tickets are a steal at just $45 and available online. 500 First St., Napa.
A few weeks ago, Sonoma restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark (of Monti’s, Bravas, etc.) announced that they would be opening a new restaurant at the former Italian Affair in Santa Rosa. More details about the space are emerging, including the fact that (no big surprise) the menu will have a strong focus on poultry. “We’re bringing chicken back,” said Terri Stark. “We’re moving on from all pig, all the time,” she added, which is a departure from the pig-centric bent of many a Wine Country chef over the last five years. Not that a little pork and beef won’t show up on the all-American comfort food menu, but expect crispy chicken skin instead of pork rinds and fried pork ears (featured at Willi’s Wine Bar). The decor will be “modern tavern style,” according to Stark, with a more homey and less minimalist feel. The good news for alfresco diners: the restaurant will feature 48 seats on the front deck for warm-weather dining. The Starks are aiming to open the new restaurant by the end of the year.
So what’s the difference between Neapolitan, Sicilian, New York, and California pizzas? Like barbecue, you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask, but the forthcoming VIGNETTE (at The Barlow) will be serving Neapolitan pies, with their very thin crust and minimal toppings. Chef Mark Hopper’s menu will include pizzas like the Manhattan, with San Marzano tomatoes, chopped clams, buffalo mozzarella, and chile oil. Other dishes include ‘nduja flatbread with arugula, red onion, and Grana Padano cheese, and fire-roasted vegetables. GM Michael Zwicklbauer (formerly of The Restaurant at Meadowood and Farmshop Marin) will run a carefully curated beer, wine, and coffee list. The best news: Nothing on the menu will be more than $20. Look for a late July opening. 6750 McKinley St., Sebastopol.
If you’re getting a whiff of something smoky, meaty, and delicious in the general vicinity of Rohnert Park, follow your nose to the region’s biggest annual barbecue competition, the WINE COUNTRY BIG Q on Saturday July 12th. Pitmasters from 45 national teams compete this weekend for more than $8,300 in cash prizes. Want in on the grilling action (and maybe a few tips for your tri-tip)? Wine Country Big Q ticket holders feast on samples from the experts as well as contestants of the Winery Big Beef Challenge, The Bold Bean Challenge, the “Get Sauced” sauce competition, the amateurs “Tailgate” competition, and the “Bakin’ for Bacon” dessert competition. All in all, expect to stomach about a pound of meat, if you dare. The event will be from 1pm-5pm and tickets are $45. More info on the event here. Sonoma Mountain Village, 1300 Valley House Dr, Rohnert Park.
It isn’t summer without outdoor concert events featuring great acts, and more importantly great food and wine. We’re smitten with Glen Ellen’s BROADWAY UNDER THE STARS series, featuring favorite tunes from Broadway and beyond with actual Broadway actors. Get there early for noshes from Tips Tri-Tip, Ultra Crepes, Palooza Catering, Cookie Take a Bite (best chocolate chip cookies ever), Glen Ellen Star, and Fork Catering, as well as wine from dozens of local wineries. Tickets and details online. Meanwhile, the RODNEY STRONG SUMMER CONCERT SERIES hosts Chris Botti, Chris Isaak, and Mindi Abair at their outdoor green. Wine flows, picnics are welcome, and the winery serves up tasty bites before the show. Details online.
Get a sneak preview of OUTSIDE LANDS artists Woods and Sandy’s at LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY AND FARMSTEAD in St. Helena on Sunday July 13th. This first “Summer Pairings” series is an afternoon of farm-to-table food and wine experiences on its outdoor stage. Long Meadow Ranch will also be a presence at Outside Lands’ Wine Lands and Cheeselands, with assorted cheese and charcuterie. Doors open at 2pm, with the concert starting at 3:30pm. Tickets include a wine tasting; $35 in advance and $45 at the door. Details online.
Still hungry? Check out Heather’s food and dining blog at BiteClubEats.com.
Want to enter to win a pair of tickets to Meet My Mentor: An Homage on Saturday August 2nd (at 1:15pm) in the Lexus Grand Tasting Pavilion? Of course you do.
Whether it’s the family kitchen or on the sauté station in the kitchen of a culinary icon, all chefs have been inspired and mentored throughout their careers. On Saturday afternoon, each chef will pay homage to their roots with a signature dish inspired by their culinary mentor. While you nosh on 36-plus unique dishes, you will enjoy wine, beer, and spirits from more than 50 vendors and take in the panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay. Throughout the afternoon, we will cook, mix, and play on the main stage with emcee Thirsty Girl Leslie Sbrocco and demos from some of the city’s best chefs and beverage experts. A portion of the afternoon’s proceeds will go to Share Our Strength. #meetmymentor #ieatdrinksf
Guests will experience dishes from some of the Bay Area’s best restaurants, including 1300 on Fillmore, Dirty Habit, Pizzeria Delfina, Souvla, Twenty Five Lusk, and many others.
To enter to win a pair of tickets to this fabulous event (value: $250), 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 Eat Drink SF, a mentor you’ve had in the kitchen, or why you read tablehopper, or all of the above! 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. The deadline to enter is Friday July 18th at 11:59pm. We’ll notify the winner soon thereafter and get your tickets to you! Good luck!