This week's tablehopper: fan-foie-kingtastic.
Pork kimchi nabeyaki udon at Udon Mugizo. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Excuse me while I put down this lobe of foie gras, my new Chapstick. Ha! But yeah, with the almost-miraculous invalidation of the foie gras ban in California that seemed to come out of left field, we’re going to be seeing a lot of it on menus in coming weeks—just as soon as the chefs who weren’t serving it as a gift the past few years can get some flown out. Foie tsunami, coming in hot.
This weekend is all about big food wave surfing, in the form of the Good Food Awards winners marketplace at the Ferry Building on Saturday, and the Winter Fancy Food Show that runs Sunday through Tuesday (which means it will be tough to get into any hot spots this weekend with so many food folks in town).
Just in case you want even more in your food bag (remember, we’re not out of The Jabba Zone just yet), here’s my roundup of five new places to eat at now on 7x7.com, and I also contributed six dishes to this “Eat This Now: 12 must-try dishes in SF right now” piece on Blackboard Eats.
Today Heather Irwin has some 707 news for you, and I miraculously carved out some time to write a review for you too. #yay
Happy Friday. Marcia Gagliardi
This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)
(Sponsored): Make Your Reservations Today for SF Restaurant Week
SF Restaurant Week returns January 21st-30th, 2015, with 100-plus restaurants offering specially priced menus. Diners can enjoy meals offered in three menu formats:
$25 two-course lunch $40 three-course dinner
New this year: $85 “Discovery” tasting menu that includes food and beverage pairings available at select restaurants.
Check out this year’s lineup of participating restaurants, preview the menus, and make your reservations today.
Brand-new for the program this year is a charity partnership with the SF-Marin Food Bank. OpenTable will donate $0.25 from each cover sold through reservations to that fantastic organization.
Get social: RSVP to the Facebook event page and get trending with #SFRW.
It’s time to celebrate in the best city that loves a great meal!
New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
Some folks color outside the lines, and naming your restaurant something like PINK ZEBRA is your first clue things will be tweaked here. Like chef Jesse Koide’s previous kitchen HQ (Mission Chinese Food), Pink Zebra is a Mission restaurant within a restaurant (Tao Yin). His menu is a funky mash-up of mostly Italian and Japanese flavor profiles, reflecting his varied cooking background (Bar Tartine, Farina, Blowfish). The wiry, tattooed, and wild-eyed Koide—who looks like he doubles as a drummer for a metal band with his ever-present pink zebra headband—and his band of merry pranksters have zhooshed the space with groovy artwork, and I ended up getting turned on to an amazing album thanks to the choice selections they’re playing on the hi-fi. Selector alert!
And then there’s the sideshow: a petite five-seat omakase sushi counter in the back, with the exceedingly kind Ryo Sakai (Domo) preparing some of the better sushi you can hope to find in the city, and certainly one of the most engaging counters to sit at. I went with two friends for my birthday dinner, and we were talked and walked through the preparation and provenance of each course, from the white sea bass that has been curing in kombu for two days to my favorite experience: watching Ryo skillfully prepare the different parts of a live butter clam from Oregon, learning about the siphon, mantle, and sake-poached foot.
Sakai proudly features local ingredients (sardines, wakame, wasabi from Half Moon Bay) alongside incredible masaba he sources from Tsukiji, and you’ll see his creative flair in touches like micro shiso powder. And just wait for the tamago at the end, which he lovingly makes in his special tamago pan. It’s a scintillating journey (around 15 courses) for $85 or so, just make a reservation for the counter in advance.
Start with some quality beers (Echigo, Mikkeller), or sake, and you’ll note it’s not your usual wine list either, with Spanish sparkling (a brut nature at that), tempranillo, and more. Mull over Koide’s inventive main dining room menu with the hurricane popcorn ($6) on your table, a snack storm with fried pig ears, furikake, and lime (total chef food). If you’re leaning to the Japanese side, order some yakitori, like the al pastor-esque spice-rubbed chicken hearts ($5) and pickled pineapple, or pork and anchovy tsukune ($6).
Cold night? Get the umami-rich local Manila clams ($16) with lamb chorizo and a miso dashi, spiking the complexity meter with kombu butter and black garlic shoyu. Deep, complex flava in yo’ face! Stoned/hungover/hangry/a linebacker? The menchi katsu ($18) is for you: thin layers of pork katsu layered with Gruyère in between, all fried in panko and served with a smoky tonkatsu sauce. Boom. You’re not going to be able to move a lot afterward—you will feel like a contented seal.
And then there’s the kombu focaccino ($16), a total f*ckshow of warm nori-kissed bread topped with a scoop of burrata, Benton’s country ham that melts like lardo—it’s sliced so thinly—and vibrant eggplant caponata. Whut. This dish! It’s a hot mess of delicious.
Fortunately the dishes are built to share, so you can graze around—there are about nine of ‘em, ranging from $13-$18. No, things aren’t perfect (the veal in our kimchi gyudon was chewy, the pacing of dishes one night was crazy fast) and the eclectic menu can be hard to parse for some, but I dig the patchwork quilt craziness of it. It’s very San Francisco, the apparent breeziness of it all here, but underneath, the cooking is rooted, skillful, and cares about quality. And community. And flavor country. And fun.
This review was based on two visits.
Pink Zebra - 3515 20th St. San Francisco - 415-534-5844
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
Foie's Return to Wine Country, Fork Roadhouse, and 2014's Best Openings
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
Foie gras has returned to California restaurants after a surprise ruling on Wednesday that overturned the 2012 ban against its sale. At least in theory.
In the 48 hours since a federal judge nixed the state statute that banned the production and sale of the fatty duck liver, Bay Area chefs have been scrambling to put foie back on their menus, since it’s almost impossible to procure.
“I’m going to try to get it on my menu as soon as I can, but we probably won’t be able to get it until next week,” said Brian Anderson, owner of Santa Rosa’s BISTRO 29. Like others in the restaurant industry, he was taken by surprise when news of the ruling hit on Wednesday. “My wife texted me. I had no idea,” he said.
“No one knew this was coming down,” said Doug Keane, the former chef at Cyrus and a vocal foie gras proponent. While briefing other chefs who were trying to understand the impact of the ruling on Wednesday, Keane said he offered up the three lobes he had tucked away in his freezer.
For others, however, it’s still a mad rush to get foie gras. “I’ve called everywhere, and we’re having a really hard time getting it,” said Daniel Kedan of Forestville’s Backyard. He’s phoned a number of former Bay Area suppliers and even called down to Los Angeles to see if anything is available. “It will make an appearance on our menu—eventually,” he said.
Keane and Ken Frank, chef of Napa’s LA TOQUE, who hosted a 10-course foie gras luncheon last July, acknowledged that for hard-core fans, foie gras never really went away. It just went underground, with restaurants offering the dish without charge.
“We never took it off the menu,” said Jesse Mallgren, chef at Healdsburg’s Michelin-starred MADRONA MANOR, who recently served up the dish on a tasting menu, offering it as a “gift from the chef.” “I gave a lot of ‘gifts’ the last two years,” Mallgren said.
Chef Miriam Donaldson of WISHBONE in Petaluma also served the dish as a “special” from time to time, procuring it from sources that she, like most chefs, has kept under wraps.
There are only three American producers of foie gras. Sonoma Foie Gras, which has since relocated outside of California, was at the heart of the state’s debate about the practice of force-feeding ducks to create the enlarged livers so prized by diners. The other two producers are Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle Farm, both in New York state. Animal rights activists contend that the practice of force-feeding ducks is torture, while supporters and chefs who serve the delicacy argue the practice as carried out by Sonoma Foie Gras was not harmful to the animals. Activists and state attorneys are considering appeals.
In the meantime, other Sonoma County restaurants planning to put foie gras back on the menu include: — Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa, where owner Terri Stark hopes to have the once-popular foie gras “poppers” make a return to the menu next week. — Farmhouse Inn in Forestville. “Of course we’re putting it on the menu,” said Steve Litke, the executive chef. “A lot of our customers really miss it.” — Chalkboard in Healdsburg, where chef Shane McAnelly plans to have it on the menu next week. — Thistle Meats in Petaluma has incorporated duck livers into its pâté and terrine since opening last year, using livers (foie) from ducks that have not been force-fed rather than foie gras (fatty duck liver). Owner Molly Best said her staff of butchers is excited to bring foie gras to their terrines. But you probably won’t see duck livers in the meat case unless there is a retail demand for the lobes, Best said.
Fork Roadhouse Opens: It looks like 2015 will be a pretty tasty year, with FORK ROADHOUSE leading the charge. Chef Sarah Piccolo has rehabbed the roadhouse at 9890 Bodega Highway, turning it into a homey little noshery that’s open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. We’ve been a fan of Sarah’s food truck for years, and most recently at her interim kitchen/café on South Main Street in Sebastopol. With about a dozen tables and a wood bar running the length of the space, there’s more room to spread out.
The menu includes a polenta bowl filled with goat cheese, kale, and a poached egg; a pork belly taco; a grass-fed burger with tomato jam; and orange- and ginger-stewed prunes with Greek yogurt, honey, granola, and bee pollen. There are also a number of vegetarian options, and everything is made with local, seasonal ingredients—and a whole lot of love. BiteClub is especially excited to check out the back patio when the weather warms, with creekside dining and a toasty fire pit. Thu-Sun 9am-3pm. 9890 Bodega Hwy, Sebastopol.
Where to grabba cuppa: A few weeks ago, I did a construction report on BREW, the new coffee and beer joint on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. With a soft opening this week, BiteClub’s a little in love—okay, maybe a lot. The former Donut Hut has been transformed into a warm and charming hangout that the neighborhood has already taken to. There’s a cozy couch in the corner, a case full of incredible pastries, burritos, and quiche from Criminal Baking Co., along with items from Grateful Bagel and Village Bakery. To drink, there are Ritual Roasters pour-over and espresso drinks. The taps are coming in this week, so hold tight for beer. Meanwhile, enjoy a little morning sunshine at my new favorite spot. 555 Healdsburg Ave., Santa Rosa.
Best Sonoma County restaurant openings of 2014: Want to know my picks for the best restaurant openings of last year? Check them out here.