This week's tablehopper: going gray.
A hefty plate of barbecue (chicken, St. Louis pork ribs, Texas caviar, and potato salad) at Perdition Smokehouse. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
It’s Friday, do you already have your weekend plans dialed? A few reminders for you in case you don’t: this weekend is the Pop Gourmet Food Festival in Japantown (complete with lots of ramen and sake), Sunday evening is Blackbird’s fifth anniversary party, and if you live in the 510, Sunday is Fentons big 120th anniversary party. Have at it.
The gray, humid weather makes me want to leave town again, but at least we can still taste summer on our plates—here’s my most recent 7x7.com post with all kinds of summer dishes you can hunt down.
Oh, and tune in tomorrow (Saturday) to KRON 4 at 9:15am—I’ll be talking about three new barbecue places I’m really digging. There will be meat.
Lastly, did you see Tuesday’s sugar mama giveaway to win two tickets to see Fabio Viviani at Eat Drink SF on Saturday August 2nd? Yours truly will be moderating his demo. You will probably hear some Italian jokes. There are still a few more days to enter to win!
All righty, have a fab weekend, even though the weather is so lame! Oh, SF.
New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
I’m the first to admit it (and I was pretty clear from the beginning) that I hated the name of DIRTY HABIT, the new incarnation of the former Fifth Floor space at the Hotel Palomar. And you know what? I still don’t like the name. I have zero problem with eating lamb belly bao with impunity and putting away spiritous cocktails on a weekly basis—there’s nothing dirty about those habits to me, it’s good living. But just because I don’t like the name (or the cheesy image of the woman on the website), well, those things do not diminish the enthusiasm I have for the restaurant’s kickass chicken wings, cocktails, and new outdoor patio. So here we are.
Kudos to the Kimpton Group, because it has proven to be a wildly successful turnaround and concept change. Like, whoa. The place is going off every Friday like a house on fire (the 10-foot fire feature on the patio seems to fit right in). We don’t have a lot of patios in the city, and this one is shielded from the wind, heated, and nicely tricked out with all kinds of low-slung seating options, so it’s crazy popular. Things can get nutty, and on a warm night, prepare for A Scene. They actually had to get some bouncers to help keep things under control on the busy weekend nights. (Are we in da club? I’m just trying to enjoy my drink and smoky fondue.) But earlier in the week, you can expect a calmer scene, although the upbeat music is still all about “let’s party!” You can also run into a long wait (one to two hours for a table), but you can grab a drink at the bar or they’ll call your cell.
Executive chef David Bazirgan has made the shift from tasting menus to rather sophisticated “bites” (as the menu states), and you can see his visits to the farmers’ market and ingredient sourcing shine in them (I couldn’t believe how exquisitely ripe the figs were in a dish he made with bleu d’Auvergne spuma, vadouvan and almond toffee, and housemade jamón). Oysters are plump, served at the perfect temp, and shucked properly (the other night they were creamy Shigokus from Washington). Octopus ($16) is cooked just right, paired with a smoky and spiced eggplant purée (deepened with squid ink), seared Japanese eggplant, dried and fresh cherries, and quality Italian pine nuts that are translucent from some time in a vinaigrette—a creative and fascinating dish.
Mezcal-cured salmon ($14) was like a lightly boozy gravlax, with dill, mint, and a precise dice of pickled nopal, but some bites of the serrano chile can be a bit too feisty for the fish; hamachi tartare ($17) struck me as too expensive (and not served chilled enough). I also had issues with a couple of the salads, I think they could be more exciting when compared to the layered flavors in the other dishes (especially considering vegetarians don’t have a bunch of options on this menu).
Some of the heartier bar-style dishes really, truly rock, starting with the irresistible chicken wings ($12)—I had to have them on both of my visits. They are quite engineered: they are cooked sous vide with ginger and then fried in potato starch. They remind of a really dry Korean-style fry, but they’re tossed with a sticky sauce with soy, chile, and Korean rice vinegar, and topped with pickled jalapeños, cilantro, and togarashi threads, plus a final flourish of lime and fish sauce. Yeah. Hold me. They also don’t get mushy as they sit—they remain crisp until you clear your plate.
You also have to try the steamed buns with lamb belly ($6 each)—the way the pillowy housemade bao soak up the juicy and fatty (but not toooo fatty) lamb with exotic spices like star anise and cardamom is pure pleasure. (It’s the most-ordered dish.) The crumbled and slow-fried Szechuan pepper-spiked peanuts inside remind me of the Huang Fei Hong peanuts I love that a reader turned me on to (my own dirty habit, ha-ha!), a clever addition.
The pork croquettes ($12) were awesome, paired with pickled mustard seeds with urfa chile, diced nectarine, and a raita sorbet to counter the richness (we’ve got some pig’s head going on here). I don’t have the room to write it all here, but there is so much technique behind all these dishes, people have no idea.
There are a couple of larger, beefy dishes, like the dry-aged rib-eye ($35) with béarnaise and the rather decadent DH burger ($18). Both came out medium rare as requested, but both needed a bit more seasoning to really pop. Fortunately they also come with the really delicious thick-cut fries—you may remember these from Baraka? Russet potatoes are baked, cooled, and then wedged and fried the next day, and come with a crumbly smoked paprika exterior, even tastier dunked in the harissa aioli (which is also the spread on the burger). Oh, and don’t let that burger sit for long: its many fillings (including wonderful bourbon-y onions) make it a wet one, which would be mitigated if the kitchen would toast both sides of the Firebrand challah bun that wants to disintegrate quickly.
Pastry chef Francis Ang is doing some inventive desserts, including the can’t-miss and beautifully textured jackfruit panna cotta ($8), with lime granita, rum gelée, and mint foam. I think the cremeux ($8) has evolved nicely—now it’s made with corn (cooked with Korean barley tea), pickled blueberries, and Parmesan ice cream (Ang was inspired by a Filipino dessert he had as a kid: corn and cheese ice cream!). Both times the macaron ice cream sandwich ($8) has been too challenging to eat, a shame because the flavors of almond and cherry are so good—Ang is still dialing that one in.
You’ll want to explore bar manager Brian Means’s extensive cocktail list. I am way into the flavor of sherry in my cocktails, so I was all over the earthy Dirt Nap ($10, Noilly Prat dry vermouth, porcini mushroom, Lustau “Don Nuno” oloroso, King’s Ginger liqueur) and the aptly named Leather & Lace ($12, James Pepper rye, Lustau “Peninsula” palo cortado, Licor 43, tobacco bitters). The Marigold (Cuttysark Prohibition Edition, Luxardo apricot, Laird’s applejack, apricot bitters) was beautifully balanced, but my Coffee Break ($11, Appleton Rum, cold brew coffee, Mandarine Napoleon, housemade molé bitters) was a watery finish to the meal. You’ll find barrel-aged cocktails and some big punch bowls to share. The wine list also has plenty of choices in case you need a break from the booze.
Service can be a bit harried depending on how slammed they are and the bar can get pretty backed up. Timing of the dishes can be a little off as well (from the Chinese restaurant pileup all at once, to why am I getting the hamachi with my burger?) but they’re working on it. I can only imagine the “fire in the hole!” pace in the busy kitchen. The small share plate you eat off of can also be too small for some courses—ask for a larger plate if you need one.
Since reservations are only accepted for parties of six or more, that would be the ideal way to go since you can encounter a long wait. There are also communal or large group seating options, from a high-top table at the entrance to on the patio. The loungey inside dining area is a bit too trendy/Blade Runner for my taste, complete with mesh metal panels along the walls and ceiling, swiveling chairs, clubby lighting, Persian-style rugs, and tufted banquettes, oddly mixed with barn doors as room dividers. It’s eye-catching and dramatic, and if I had a hip younger cousin visiting from LA, I’d know exactly where to take her. It’s definitely a scene, and not one I personally want to immerse myself in too often (yeah, I’m getting old!), but I can see the appeal for many. Then again, those wings, a table outside, and a Dirt Nap may prove to be hard for me to resist for long.
This review was based on two visits.
Dirty Habit - 12 4th St. San Francisco - 415-348-1555
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
Earth's Bounty Opens, Heritage Fire, New Chef at The Thomas
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
Earth’s Bounty Kitchen Opens: There’s a reason you’re not going to see America’s Top Caterer anytime soon on the Food Network. Not because catering chefs aren’t as talented as the blustery toques waving chef’s knives and pork tattoos for the cameras. It’s because hardworking caterers—the amazing culinary wizards who can somehow make dinner for 400 inside a pop-up tent—aren’t in it for the glory. They’re in it to prepare the food that can make an event.
And that’s why I have a special place in my heart for folks like chef Christopher Ludwick, a longtime caterer (Grapevine Catering) who recently opened EARTH’S BOUNTY KITCHEN & WINE BAR in the former Fresh by Lisa Hemenway. Yeah, the name’s a bit of a mouthful, but so’s the food. Meaning there’s plenty to stuff your face with—and then some.
First off, the massive interior has been radically transformed. Where Hemenway’s combined restaurant/market/coffee shop felt a bit, well, confusing, Ludwick has created distinct spaces: a deli and retail shop in front, the cozy wine bar and restaurant to the right, and an enviable catering kitchen taking up much of the back.
We fell to pieces over nearly everything on the compact and well-curated menu. A charcuterie board ($13) with a changing lineup of salumi, fight-over-the-last-bite pâté, pickled vegetables, and cabernet mustard (ours also featured duck rillettes and headcheese); a tiny iron skillet with pork cheeks, charred tomatoes, and Vella Dry Jack ($10) cooked in the wood oven; a burger with violet mustard, cabernet onion jam, and Vella cheddar on a Village Bakery English muffin ($13); “mac and cheese” ($12), which is less like Kraft and more like a creamy, dreamy dish of orecchiette, mushrooms, shallots, melty cheese, and buttered crumbs; fried chicken and rosemary-bacon waffles ($18) with country gravy and collard greens; and most especially the ever-changing desserts, which include a homemade Ding-Dong (devil’s food cake, ganache, marshmallow cream, and other wickedness) and a warm fruit crumble with mascarpone.
The wood-fired oven has been moved into the restaurant and turns out Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizzas and roasted meat and vegetables. The pizzaiolo tosses dough into everyday nibblers like the margherita, mushroom (with chèvre and olive oil), and pepperoni, as well as specials like maitake mushroom, truffle oil, prosciutto, and Toma cheese ($13-$16).
Don’t call Ludwick’s restaurant farm to table, though, he says with an eye roll. “We’re Sonoma farm country cuisine,” says Ludwick; it turns out that 53 local farms and producers bring of-the-moment ingredients to his doorstep—and your mouth. Dinner Tue-Sat 5pm-9pm, Sun 11am-4pm. 5755 Mountain Hawk Way, Santa Rosa, 707-827-9700.
Heritage Fire by Cochon 555, Napa’s flaming festival of meat, returns to Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena from 3pm-7pm on Sunday August 3rd. Heritage Fire features chefs and farmers working together to spotlight traditional outdoor cooking techniques paired with amazing wines, ice-cold brews, and crisp ciders. While Cochon’s flagship event, Cochon 555, brings chefs together in a friendly competition, Heritage Fire is a collection of culinary champions cooking together for a crowd of meat- and wine-loving gourmands. The list of heritage and heirloom foods to be featured include dry-aged beef, spit-roasted sturgeon, whole pigs, lambs, goat, lobster, squab, rabbit, duck, chicken, artisan cheese, oysters, and heirloom vegetables.
Local chefs participating include Matthew Accarrino (SPQR), Mark Liberman (TBD and AQ), Katie Hagan-Whelchel (Ad Hoc), Kelly McCown (Goose & Gander), and Joey Elenterio (Wayfare Tavern), among others. A portion of the ticket proceeds will benefit the St. Helena Farmers’ Market and The American Institute of Wine & Food. A group of celebrated butchers will host a pop-up butcher shop where 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit the students of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. To purchase tickets or learn more about the event, go online. General admission is $100, VIP admission is $200 (tickets are expected to sell out quickly). 2800 Main St., St. Helena.
THE THOMAS in downtown Napa is doing a chef shuffle, with Jonnatan Leiva replacing the restaurant’s opening chef de cuisine, Jason Kupper. Leiva is part of the AvroKo family (the design and hospitality company that owns The Thomas and several other restaurants), having been chef at Saxon + Parole in NYC. 813 Main St., Napa.
Book Reviews (another place for your nose)
Some Brassy, Healthy Brassicas by Pete Mulvihill
Don’t forget: the book mentioned below is available at 20 percent off for tablehopper readers for two weeks following this mention at Green Apple Books—simply use the code “tablehopper” at checkout (either at the store or online) for your discount.
Brassicas: Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables Laura B. Russell
Sometimes it seems like cookbook editors may have run out of celebrity chefs, fresh angles on cocktails, and trends like food trucks. When I got my first look at Brassicas by Laura Russell (Ten Speed Press, $23), I rolled my eyes and pictured Fonzie and the shark.
Then I realized that the kale in my little veggie bed was about to go to seed because I didn’t want to sauté it yet again. So I tried the Smoky Kale Salad with Toasted Almonds and Egg on page 22, and my wife confirmed, “It’s a keeper.” And once I got the kids to sleep, I lolled on the couch—vitamins, minerals, and sulfur-rich phytonutrients coursing through my veins—and I read through Brassicas more closely.
It turns out that anyone remotely concerned with their health but challenged to cut through the sometimes bitter cruciferous vegetable family would be well advised to buy this affordable and handsome tome. Eighty recipes will inspire you to mellow the pungent mustard greens, spice up the kohlrabi, and, well, do anything with that rutabaga in your produce box. Laura Russell also runs you through techniques for selecting, storing, and prepping your brassicas. There are even tips on how to store leftovers without getting that stank when you later open the Tupperware.
Other recipes to tempt you include Watercress Salad with Ginger Carrot Dressing; Broccoli and Pepper Jack Frittata; the Five-Spice Red Cabbage Salad; and even a Citrusy Green Smoothie to start the day off right. All tasty, none smelly, and, to top it off, good for you!
Thanks for reading, and buon appetito!