The papaya salad at Chubby Noodle Marina. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Ugh. Why did we have to lose Joan Rivers? That woman was fearless! No one was too sacred for her to turn her ferocious laser of comedy on. A truly hilarious being whose comedy has had me in stitches for decades. She was inspiring, wildly inappropriate, and unfortunately, so irreplaceable.
Well, one thing that has me in a GREAT mood is this is my last tablehopper transmission until I get back from France. Get me away from this gross inbox that is like a fire hose, please, and à bientôt, desk! We’ll be back in your inboxes on Tuesday September 30th! Again, publicists and industry people, please don’t send any pitches on events happening over the next few weeks, we are going dark dark dark! (Can you tell I’m happy about this? You have no idea.)
Today’s issue has a few pieces of breaking news, my review of Chubby Noodle Marina, and a 707 scout from Heather Irwin for you. Speaking of the 707, I wrote this piece this week for 7x7.com on ways you can help support Napa right now. Primarily, that means going up there for a visit! They need some visitors, folks. So hopefully my piece on new and hot places and insider tips will inspire you to head on up!
The short workweek, always a thing a beauty. Since the weekend is here, you may want to check out my piece for the Bay Guardian on all the latest brunch options, because brunch and options are two great things together. Yup.
All right everyone, I am signing off—someone is trying to cram three weeks of writing deadlines into this weekend, and it’s not pretty.
See you at the end of the month! Bisous! Marcia Gagliardi
For years, I have wondered who and what would take over the lusterless BLUE JAY CAFE on Divisadero. The place has such great bones (love that horseshoe counter SO MUCH) and there’s even a patio out back. All it was missing was some real soul, which it’s going to be getting in spades, because the fabulous Brenda Buenviaje and her partner Libby Truesdell of BRENDA’S FRENCH SOUL FOOD (and Libby Jane Café) will be opening BRENDA’S MEAT & THREE at the end of this year. They haven’t bought the business from the current owners, André and Jennifer Larzul, but they are now majority/part-owners of the business, and the concept is theirs.
So, let’s discuss. First, the place is going to be a classic Southern diner concept, but not limited to New Orleans—Brenda has visions beyond beignets and gumbo. Breakfast will be served, with some standard and new items, ranging from johnnycakes to a one-eyed jack (i.e., toad in the hole) inside of one of Brenda’s famed cream biscuits, with creamed gravy and “city ham steak.” She’s also working on a version of callas, a fritter you don’t see much anymore, even in New Orleans: it’s a creamy but crisp rice pudding fritter, which will be served with brown sugar and a buttermilk glaze. Whoa.
Lunchtime means blue plate specials, from red beans and fried chicken on Wednesday to an amped-up fried baloney sandwich. Bring it on.
Dinner is when the diner’s name will make the most sense: you’ll be able to choose from five or six proteins, like fried chicken (yes, Brenda’s delicious fried chicken will be in the 94117!), oxtail, fried catfish, and country ribs. And then it’s time for three sides, with up to 15 in all, like bacon fat fries, smothered green beans, mac and cheese, creamed biscuits, and some seasonal sides too. The meat and three combos will range from $18-$22. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, or just trying to eat more vegetables, there will be plenty of sides for you to make a good meal. There will also be appetizers and salads. Oh, and beer and wine too.
It will be open daily, except for Tuesdays. The remodel starts Monday, with lots of cleaning, painting, and more. The hoped-for reopening will be mid-November. I’ll be (happily) giving you progress reports. As for Brenda’s Fillmore project, Brenda’s Original Po’Boys, that continues to move at a “snail’s pace,” as she put it—that’s definitely looking like 2015. 919 Divisadero St. at McAllister.
A report by Dana Eastland. The former Purple Onion space in North Beach has officially reopened as DOC RICKETTS, as of Wednesday September 3rd. As previously reported on tablehopper, the owner is Christopher Burnett of Darwin Café, and he’s done quite a number on the historic location. The three-level space has been divided into two areas: Doc Ricketts, the restaurant, and Doc’s Lab in the lower level. The basement is where Purple Onion used to be, and it is still a performance space, with a full lineup of acts including comedy, music, and other acts.
As for the restaurant, it’s on the main floor and seats 32, with room for 8 at the bar. There is booth seating along the wall, with raw slab tables and glass light fixtures. The restaurant is named after Doc Ricketts, a marine biologist who inspired a character in John Steinbeck’s novels, and there is a touch of the maritime in the decor. One wall has a large vintage educational marine biology poster, and a painting of an octopus appears in another corner. Ricketts’ photo even appears over the bar. In the coming weeks, they will also be adding sidewalk seating.
In the kitchen, which is on the second floor, is chef Justin Deering (previously of 15 Romolo). His menu is focused on straightforward ingredients, carefully prepared with layers of flavor and texture to create something exciting and complex. The small plates selection is focused on vegetable and seafood dishes, including a cauliflower dish ($11) that sounds simple but includes three kinds of cauliflower, all prepared differently, and served with housemade vadouvan yogurt and vinaigrette made with sultana raisins. There is also a selection of housemade charcuterie ($7.50 each or $24 for a plate)—there’s a curing room on-site.
As for the main dishes, they are heartier, with choices like a pork chop with mustard, maple, and spaetzle ($26). There is also a burger made with short ribs and served with fries ($14), and a roasted chicken with liver toast, fingerling potatoes, and broccoli rabe ($22). Since a version of the menu will also be served in Doc’s Lab, there is a section of the menu devoted to snacks (all $6), which will also be nice at the bar. Take a look at the current menu here.
Speaking of the bar, it’s a small one, but they have a full liquor license and are serving classic cocktails (nope, not “with a twist”) like a Martinez (gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino, orange bitters) and a Vieux Carré (rye, Cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, bitters). The drinks are all pleasantly priced, at $9-$11. The wine list is small with five whites, one rosé, and six reds, all intended to pair well with the food. There are four beers on tap, as well: North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner, Big Daddy IPA, Anchor Liberty Ale, and Eel River Porter, plus a few more choices by the bottle. Here’s the beverage list. Charlie Brown, who was the restaurant manager at Prospect since it opened, is in charge of operations.
Doc’s Lab will offer a limited version of the menu when it opens on Friday September 12th, and also has its own bar. The calendar is booked for the next month already, including some literary events in partnership with nearby City Lights Bookstore, along with music, comedy, and even a magic show.
Restaurant hours are Sun-Wed 5:30pm-10pm, Thu-Sat 5:30pm-12am. Doc’s Lab will be open for events. 124 Columbus Ave. at Montgomery, 415-649-6191.
You ready to chow down and rock out to some ’90s hip-hop? Because that’s what you’re going to be doing at CHUBBY NOODLE MARINA. This 49-seat spot is a brick-and-mortar version of the permanent Chubby Noodle pop-up inside Amante in North Beach (although the menu at the Marina location is an expanded offering with different dishes). Chef-owner Pete Mrabe has built quite a name for himself in North Beach: he opened Don Pisto’s first, a love letter to the food of Baja, and recently opened Pisto’s, which is primarily focused on street-style tacos. He’s known for bringing the party, and with co-owner Nick Floulis, he’s doing just that in this corner in the Marina.
Pete’s menu and flavor profiles span a lot of cuisines: Mandarin, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and hey, you’ll find some tortillas on there too. It’s not fusion, it’s more a study in freestyle deliciousness. It’s food that’s fun to eat, with Big Flava and the rest of his gang: fat, salt, spice, and sugar. Pete is a total tinkerer—he’s constantly fine-tuning, changing, and tweaking dishes, which means you’ll always find something getting rotated in or off the menu, so don’t get toooo attached to anything.
A great place to start is the chilled handmade ramen noodles ($10): he slicks the noodles in a thicker version of a Korean salad dressing, surrounding them with housemade kimchi, bean sprouts, chopped scallions, and pickles, and tops them with a fried egg—mix it all up and you’ve got a stone-cold winner. Pete is also known for his spicy garlic noodles ($9), which feature plump housemade egg noodles coated with a garlicky (and spicy) sauce that has a little kiss from the wok. I have watched him make the garlic sauce before and it’s well engineered. He’s just really good at sauces, period.
Since we’re talking noodles, you’ll also want the chile prawn noodles ($13), slippery chow fun noodles topped with exquisite prawns that are seared just so, with a coconut milk sauce with lemongrass, fresh and dry chiles, kaffir lime, plus a hit of Thai basil and a flurry of fried shallots. Finish it a squirt of lime and the dish sings.
Pete sources excellent seafood: his salt and pepper prawns ($14) come from Jimmy Galle of Gulfish, and the gulf flounder ($17) is a can’t-miss if it’s on the menu, the tender fillets presented in a clay pot with a zippy dressing of black bean and ginger that ferments in fish sauce and lime, plus scallion, fresh chiles, and shiitakes. He has perfected his crowd-pleasing tuna poke ($13) over the years, which you’ll scoop up in colorful shrimp chips.
It’s kind of impossible to pass up pork and shrimp wontons ($9), and the ones made here are really meaty, with a buzz from the spicy soy (and rice vinegar). Whatever you do, you have to get the barbecue pork fried rice ($8)—it’s loaded with some of the best caramelized chashu pork I’ve had (Pete sources it from Hing Lung in Chinatown).
The juicy kung pow wings ($8) live up to their name, with perfect heat and smokiness from the arbol chile and sambal, and a touch of acidity from the vinegars he uses. It’s like you took the sauce from the best Chinese kung pao ever—full of golden onion and garlic—and tossed some wings around in the takeout box. Voilà!
One of my favorite mash-ups, such a Pete original, would be the Korean pork tacos ($9 for two), served in a blistered housemade flour tortilla, topped with yogurt-chile sauce. The light char on the marinated meat makes you think you’re at a Korean barbecue place. I could easily house three of them, they’re insanely good tacos. It reminds me of when you get to the bottom of a really good shawarma, with the meat, spicy oils, yogurt, and lavash all coming together in the best damn bite. (The inspiration was actually from a Korean pork and roti roll-up he would concoct at family meal while he was working at Betelnut.)
Larger meaty options include the Cambodian beef ($24), a prime Angus rib-eye that is exquisitely tender, with a shaking beef flavor profile, full of mint and fresh herbs, plus hints of fish sauce, soy, and lemongrass. The Mongolian lamb ($18) hits it out of the park because you almost never find lamb this tender and good—it’s like lamb cheek, it’s that delicate.
There’s no dessert on the menu, which I think is a missed opportunity, but you can walk a couple of blocks over for an ice cream at Over the Moon (2144 Chestnut St.).
When you walk in, there’s a small bar at the front, which is where more and more people will be hanging out as the night goes on (the seats are in ideal proximity to all the taps of wine, sake, and “cold tea”). The cold tea is an invention by Nick, who created a blend of nigori sake, Jardesca (a new wine-based California aperitif), ginger and serrano, honey, and jasmine and mint tea, with a sprig of mint. It’ll get ya. They serve it in a teapot ($42), or individually ($8) in some of the most fun teacups I have seen in a while. The wine list is mostly made up of California wines, and the Iron Horse rosé is a good one to pair with a lot of the dishes.
There are high-top communal tables near the open kitchen, though I prefer the booths that run along the windows. The food and cozy layout are ideal for groups and sharing. The servers are incredibly friendly—it feels like family here (which is why you won’t mind if they forget your knife, or other small things like that; their kindness makes up for any inexperience). The vibe is definitely youthful and energetic, so don’t say I didn’t warn you about the decibels. I love that it’s open until 12:30am nightly, especially since it’s exactly the food you want after you’ve had a few cocktails. But hey, partier, pay attention to this: it can be a little tricky to find since there isn’t really a sign. Just look for the sign of a Gumby-looking noodle kickin’ it in a bowl.
This review was based on two visits.
Chubby Noodle Marina - 2205 Lombard St. San Francisco - 415-655-3335
Cyrus 2.0: BiteClub broke the news last Tuesday about chef Douglas Keane’s plans to build Cyrus 2.0 somewhere in Alexander Valley with the support of Jackson Family Wines (hint: the deep-pocketed Barbara Banke). According to an email sent to members of the Alexander Valley Winegrowers Association, locals and potential neighbors of the new project have been contacted by Keane and his business partner, Nick Peyton, to discuss the top-secret plan. Some are supportive, while others haven’t yet embraced the project.
Previously, Keane operated the Michelin-starred Cyrus at Healdsburg’s Les Mars Hotel until 2012, when a dispute with the hotel’s owners resulted in the closure of the restaurant—and a huge loss to Sonoma County’s dining scene.
There are still plenty of questions and zoning issues to be resolved, but for those of us who’ve lamented the disappearance of Sonoma County’s top dining spot, it’s very good news.
Heirloom Expo: Harvest celebrations kick into full swing this week with the arrival of the National Heirloom Exposition, one of the largest gatherings of sustainable food, farmers, and pure food activists in the world. The internationally acclaimed event, founded by the legendary Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, can be a head-scratcher to locals, but attendees know there’s a mind-boggling lineup of food vendors, nationally recognized speakers (such as locals Bob Cannard and Albert Straus), and family fun. If you eat food (and we’re pretty sure you do), it’s well worth the modest $10 entry fee to see the giant pumpkin and gourd tower, visit lush garden displays, view hundreds of heirloom vegetables, listen to great music, and get educated on why eating well is about more than just tasty food. Tue Sept. 9th-Thu Sept. 11th at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Tickets online or at the fairgrounds box office. 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa.
Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner at Rodney Strong: Hold onto your forks, folks, this is a biggie. On Saturday September 20th, Healdsburg’s RODNEY STRONG VINEYARDS hosts a four-city, 20-chef dinner to celebrate 25 years of Klein family ownership. Simulcast throughout the evening via social media (#noms!) and streaming video at RSV25.com, it’s a five-course dinner, and each dish is paired with a recent Rodney Strong release. In Healdsburg, Duskie Estes and John Stewart of Zazu Kitchen + Farm will be joined by chefs from Seattle’s legendary RN74, Massachusetts’ Harvest, and New York’s Blue Ribbon Restaurants. There will also be dinners the same evening in New York, Miami, and Austin. The Healdsburg event is from 5pm-9pm, and tickets are $225 per person; details online or by calling 866-779-4637. 11455 Old Redwood Hwy., Healdsburg.
CIA Chef Pop-Ups: Culinary superstars return to their alma mater, the CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA AT GREYSTONE, for a pop-up dinner series debuting Thursday September 11th. Up first is Matthew Dolan of Twenty Five Lusk in San Francisco. He’ll be serving a stellar lineup of dishes (cauliflower crème brûlée, schnitzel of sturgeon with tarragon spaetzle, Maine lobster risotto, chicken-fried quail, and peach tarte Tatin with cocoa “pop rocks”) at the CIA’s Wine Spectator Restaurant in St. Helena. The prices on the à la carte menu range from $16-$42. The dinner will be from 5:30pm-9pm, and future dinners will be held throughout the year. For details and reservations, call 707-967-1010. 2555 Main St., St. Helena.
Get Ready to Mangia: Calistoga’s SOLAGE RESORT AND SPA will host its first harvest season celebration on Friday October 10th from 5:30pm-8:30pm. Mangia! Mangia! will be a family-friendly event featuring chef Brandon Sharp’s Cal-Italian dishes. The menu will include locally grown heirloom tomatoes with burrata, grilled artichokes with aioli, bruschetta with pumpkin and guanciale, salumi, housemade grissini and focaccia, panzanella, rigatoni al sugo, pollo alla spiedo, and, for dessert, apple crostata with vanilla bean gelato. Guests will also toast the harvest with grappa and locally produced Italian-style wines, such as Shypoke charbono, Jelly Jar barbera, and Heitz Cellar grignolino; Nil Zacherle’s Mad Fritz seasonal ale will also be poured. General admission is $85 (Club Solage members receive a 10 percent discount), and tables of 10 are available for $750; children 12 and under are $35. Tickets include dinner, beverages, and games and entertainment. Reservations are required and seating is limited, email email@example.com or call 707-226-0806.