Shrimp chips and whipped salt cod with smoked roe at Mister Jiu’s pop-up at Mission Chinese Food this week. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Is it 5pm yet? Is it 6pm yet? Whatever time you get to punch the clock today, I hope it’s sooner rather than later. I think the majority of the city will be heading to Fort Mason for the reopening of the Friday night Off the Grid hootenanny, see you there? Tomorrow morning I have to be up bright and early to head down to Carmel for Gourmet Fest, it’s going to be an epic weekend. #therewillbeDomPérignon
Don’t forget, Sunday is International Women’s Day, and A16 and Piccino are celebrating Festa Della Donna in style! To all the ladies in the house, the ladies, the ladies…
I have been dealing with even more iMac woes (dear lord, please make it stop), but fortunately I was back up and running in time to get today’s column together for you. I have a quick jetsetter recap of my New Year’s trip to Los Angeles, plus an awesome sugar mama giveaway of two tickets to an invite-only tablehopper brunch in a couple of weeks. Thinking of heading to the 707? Heather Irwin has some ideas for you in 707 scout.
I also think you’ll enjoy this week’s piece I did for 7x7.com on four SF wine bars where the food is as destination-worthy as the wine!
Cheers and ciao! Marcia Gagliardi
I have a history of heading to Los Angeles for New Year’s Eve, and when the opportunity presented itself again this year, yay, I scooped up a fellow former Angeleno pal, and off in my little Fiat we went. I don’t think I could have asked for a better crash pad: my fab neighbor from my UCLA dorm days was out of town and let us stay in his (temporary) apartment that was, oh, in The Colonial House. You mean the historic place from the 1930s on Crescent Heights in West Hollywood where Cary Grant and Bette Davis and numerous other starlets lived? What a dream.
I was long overdue to check out some LA eats (and flea marketing and vintage shopping). Here are some highlights from our whirlwind visit:
Bestia Wow, is this place fun. It was our top meal and experience of the trip, by far. You head down a random street downtown (not too far from the warehouses where I used to rave more than 25 years ago) to discover a busy parking lot, with valets directing well-heeled patrons inside (instead of promoters shepherding kids in oversize overalls). Times have changed.
The restaurant is impressively huge, with a bar and lounge, and every seat is coveted. Kudos to the staff for running such a busy room while keeping track of the details—the hospitality here was notable. Ditto the wine list, you’ll get happily distracted by it. Your servers will make some excellent pairing suggestions too.
Chef Ori Menashe’s menu is going to crush you with desire. The veal tartare crostino ($15)—a supped-up vitello tonnato on their housemade bread—was one of the best things I have eaten in awhile; wait until you sink your teeth into the creamy tonnato sauce generously slathered on top. The salad of smoked sea urchin bottarga ($16) grated over chicories, sieved egg, pomegranate, and the punch of pickled chile came together so well, what a brilliant salad. We spaced on ordering the famed gizzards, damn. I’ll be back! But then the housemade ‘nduja pizza ($19) more than made up for it, loaded with tomato, creamy mozzarella, black cabbage, and fennel pollen. Exceptional crust. Complimenti!
There were nine housemade pastas to choose from, we went for the cavatelli alla norcina ($29), plump-chewy ricotta dumplings decadently coated in a heady sauce of pork sausage, black truffle, and Grana Padano. We were stuffed but made a little room for a dessert by Genevieve Gergis, a simple but pretty crème fraîche panna cotta ($9) with winter citrus. Don’t miss this place, and even if you don’t get a reservation, it’s worth trying to walk in and waiting a bit like we did.
Rustic Canyon While the Bay Area still bemoans the loss of chef Jeremy Fox’s singular cuisine, at least it gives us a reason to hunt him down in LA. The Westside location of this casual restaurant and wine bar reminded me how huge LA is to drive across, but Fox’s earthy and inspired menu made it worth the schlep.
The tables felt luxuriously big, and as soon as the Marcona almonds with lavender sugar and sea salt ($7) hit the table, you’ll be thankful for the extra space, because you’re about to take it all up with shareable dishes like tender Monterey squid ($16) spiked with Calabrian chile, with falafel quenelles and aioli nero—this one really hit the bass notes. The housemade ricotta ($16) with mushroom escabèche and cubes of crispy polenta went for a higher octave. The bright clam pozole verde ($16) is justifiably famed, featuring Rancho Gordo’s hominy with poblano, scallion, and thin slices of “honeydew” radish, with crisp pieces of tortilla in the electric green bowl. Your whole palate gets shaken awake.
A larger dish we tried was the roasted half chicken “mulligatawny” ($29), cue Seinfeld, a homey curry broth with coconut milk coating the pieces of succulent chicken, with slices of “tandoori” carrot and M’Hamsa couscous in the bowl. It was so comforting, the flavors familiar yet exotic at the same time. The menu is quite varied, and it would be a great place to take your vegetarian Westside-dwelling friend who likes big glasses of boutique wines.
The Sycamore Kitchen Before hitting the Sunday Fairfax flea market, we swung by for brunch at this casual café on La Brea (you order at the counter and your food is brought out to you), but the place has chops: it’s run by Quinn and Karen Hatfield, beloved chefs formerly of SF. This spot would be so mobbed in San Francisco, I couldn’t believe that at 11am on a Sunday we just breezed in, ordered, and sauntered to an outdoor table on the patio without being told there would be an hour wait. Miracles!
I had a weird craving for pancakes for more than a week, so was happy to indulge with the buttermilk-rye pancakes ($11, with salted butter and maple syrup), while my wingman went for the egg tartine ($11.50) with arugula pesto, tomato, and avocado hummus on their housemade bread. Grab some baked goodies for later—our blueberry financier muffin was the business. We were out of there in 45 minutes, one of the tastiest brunches in the shortest period of time I have experienced in years, if ever.
Sqirl Meanwhile, this Silver Lake joint had SF-style lines all over it. It’s the tiniest spot, quietly chic with a marble communal counter running down the middle, and people scootched up against narrow counters along the wall and windows, hovering over their brioche toast (anointed with owner Jessica Koslow’s notable jams) and cappuccinos. I know, toast. We had breakfast toast ($7.50), a thick slab of buttery and golden brioche, topped with a fried egg, kale (the jokes, they write themselves), tomatillo, and lacto-fermented hot sauce (I think it was the first time I saw a hot sauce listed as lacto-fermented on a menu). But they could easily be charging more than $10 for that action and people would pay for it.
I wasn’t quite sold on the whole mob scene until we got a couple of spoonfuls into their malva pudding cake, and then I was a devotee. It’s sticky and decadently textured, with the surprise of some apricot jam inside. A must. Ask them to warm it up. Okay, okay, you won me over, I’ll be back!
Bäco Mercat For some reason I thought maybe, just maybe, we’d be able to score an eggslut sandwich for brunch without too much of a line since it was the holidays and all, but no. It was DMV in the eighth circle of hell long. So, Bäco Mercat to the rescue. This casual downtown joint made its name with chef Josef Centeno’s trademark bäco sandwiches, a flatbread of sorts, filled with all kinds of pleasure-focused fillings that pull from a variety of cuisines.
We had the toron ($15), a burger-like patty of oxtail hash with cheddar melted on top, plus a hash brown-like layer of crisp potatoes, the richness cut by fresh greens, pickles, and horseradish yogurt. Pretty hefty and fabulous. We also took our server’s advice and went for THE SLAYER ($19), because, when something is on the menu in all caps, you gotta do it. It was a baked bäco, all bready and golden, topped with a punchy tomato salmorejo, pork belly, and a fried egg. The contrasting temperatures took a bit to get used to, but ultimately it came together and was quite delicious. There are a bunch of small plates at lunch, many of them vegetarian and with interesting spices and flavors—would be fun to come with a four-top and crush the menu. Well-selected wine list and friendly folks, too.
Connie and Ted’s We were peckish one afternoon (oh shopping, it’s so exhausting!) and needed a pit stop. Connie and Ted’s to the rescue. This California-ized seafood shack in WeHo from Michael Cimarusti is conveniently open all day Wed-Sat. We explored some unique oyster selections (they had Belons!) although sadly our shucker lost the liquor on a few, and then we moved to some fresh (as in cut open before your eyes) Santa Barbara urchin ($18).
The siren song of the lobster roll ($26) was hard to ignore, and I’m so glad we heeded it, because let me tell you, a glass of Champagne with their damn good fries and textbook-perfect lobster roll was in the pocket. This place is doing some good things with seafood, and the postmodern LA look adds a fun twist to an otherwise classic East Coast (with a whirl on the West Coast) seafood menu.
Pizzeria Mozza I can’t go to LA without paying a visit to one of my favorite crackly pizzas. And this was shockingly kind: they were open on New Year’s Day. Grazie, Nancy Silverton and crew! The room was full of red balloons from the night before, and now was packed with our fellow bleary-eyed and hungry diners. We perched at the spacious wood bar, shared the insalata rossa ($14, bitter and tender chicories with bacon, egg, and a fluffy mountain of Parm), and then it was pizza time: nettles and finocchiona with cacio di Roma ($18), and a bianca ($18), a perfectly sized sea of Fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere, and crisp sage leaves, so deliciously paired with their trademark golden and blistered crust. No one does pizzas like Pizzeria Mozza does.
We didn’t save room for the trademark butterscotch budino, and the menu even admonishes us to do so, but it’s good to know it’s always there.
Harris RanchOne more item to note: of all the years I have driven up and down the I-5 (I went to UCLA, so it was a frequent haul back and forth to San Mateo for the holidays and summer), I have never stopped at Harris Ranch. Big, big mistake! That place is classic! Was so charmed with the old-school rancho-meets-jockey club vibe, and the service could not be nicer—we melted for our server Lynn, who took such sweet care of us.
I ordered the classic ranch burger ($15.95), the well-seasoned patty cooked to a perfect medium rare and served on a house-baked bun. They were quick to whisk away my cold fries for fresh and hot ones, with a pile of apologies. (Note for the future: tablehopper readers reportedly love the tri-tip Caesar, steak and eggs, and desserts.) I found my new I-5 oasis, complete with the cleanest bathrooms too.
A few quick takes We had a blast catching up with friends over quality beers at the The Glendale Tap (which lives up to its name, with 52 taps—I enjoyed exploring the beers from Eagle Rock), decked out with vintage bar signs and other eclectic finds.
I will never, ever go to LA again without booking a massage at Sunset Foot Spa. This place worked us OUT for so cheap. Full body (including feet) in a cushy chair for $50 for an hour, whut?
And it’s not a visit to LA without a night at The Dresden for a show with Marty and Elayne. They perform every Tuesday through Saturday, I don’t know how. Everything about that place, from the roller chairs to the vintage pendant lights, it could only exist in LA. La la love you!
Sonoma County Restaurant Week Picks, Sneak Preview of Amy's Kitchen Drive-Thru Menu, Cinco Coming to Barlow
Been working your core lately? We sure hope so, because it’s about to get a serious workout this week. Sonoma County Restaurant Week starts Monday, with seven days of dining adventures awaiting you. Throughout the county, participating restaurants will feature two-course lunch menus for $10, $15, or $20; and three-course dinner menus for $19, $29, or $39. It’s one of my favorite ways to check out new restaurants and revisit old favorites.
Knowing what I know (and you know I know), here are my top 12 picks for getting the biggest bang for your buck:
BACKYARD: The $29 dinner features wild mushroom soup, skirt steak with polenta and lemon-braised cabbage, and chocolate budino or candy cap mushroom ice cream. 6566 Front St., Forestville.
BISTRO 29: This great French bistro, which is never a disappointment, will be doing a $29 dinner. 620 Fifth St., Santa Rosa.
CAFÉ LUCIA: If you haven’t had a chance to try this Portuguese café, the $29 dinner is a great opportunity to sample some of the best of the menu, including the pork tenderloin “recheado” that’s stuffed with olive, figs, and almonds, and served with cheese and potato croquettes and a port sauce. 235 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg.
CANNETI: The weekly emailed menu from this Forestville roadhouse never fails to make my mouth water. Their $39 dinner includes grilled calamari with purple potatoes, crispy skinned spring trout with yellow chickpeas and squash chips, beef cacciatore with olives over white corn polenta, and chocolate mousse with cherries. 6675 Front St., Forestville.
MATEO’S COCINA LATINA: Mateo’s does true farm-to-table dining, with the meat and produce sourced from nearby fields. The $39 dinner includes asparagus soup, red wine-braised beef with celery root and horseradish, black cod with braised napa cabbage in a Meyer lemon cream sauce, and a Downtown Bakery sticky bun and flan. 214 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg.
PULLMAN KITCHEN: The $29 dinner is your chance to check out the signature Pullman roast chicken with Parmesan pancakes, and the housemade ice cream. It’s a BiteClub fave. 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa.
STARK’S STEAKS & SEAFOOD: A $39 dinner that includes a Caesar salad, a 16-ounce rib eye with a baked potato, and a warm chocolate soufflé cake? Um, yes. 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa.
TWISTED 2: I still haven’t been here (I hear it’s a real gem), but maybe the $39 dinner for Restaurant Week is the impetus. The menu features Hawaiian sashimi with Asian slaw, Brazilian pork shoulder with black bean cassoulet, and strawberry shortcake. 29F Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma.
UNDERWOOD BAR AND BISTRO: Always a solid contender, Underwood’s $39 dinner includes flat-iron steak frites, Bellwether Farms ricotta ravioli, pan-roasted salmon with Calvados brown butter, and Meyer lemon cheesecake. 9113 Graton Road, Graton.
VILLAGE INN: This sleeper has a new chef, a new attitude and is looking to prove itself—which means they’re offering killer deal for $29. The menu includes parsnip-white bean soup with porcini beignets; clams casino with saffron poached clams and pork belly; lamb shank with carrots and potato puree; and apple-cherry crisp with Marshall Farm honey gastrique or carrot cake with maple icing and butterscotch mousse. Impressive. 20822 River Road Blvd, Monte Rio.
WISHBONE: I’m in love with this funky little café, which is worth the trip even if you don’t live nearby. The $39 dinner includes bacon jam bruschetta; duck and rabbit pasta with duck egg fettuccine, bacon carbonara, and rabbit-lemon sausage, or spring veggie risotto; and chocolate truffle with peanut butter and caramel and vanilla panna cotta with lavender salt. 841 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma.
ZAZU KITCHEN + FARM The $39 dinner includes grilled asparagus with preserved lemon aioli and duck egg, pork cheek pasta, and kaffir lime pie in a jar. 6770 McKinley #150 (The Barlow), Sebastopol.
Cinco coming to the Barlow: As if the Sebastopol’s Barlow didn’t have enough destination-worthy restaurants, BiteClub’s gotten word that yet another one is slated to open in the coming months. The casual Mexican eatery CINCO is being spearheaded by Bay Area restaurateur Jorge Saldana, who owns Tlaloc in San Francisco and Cancún in Berkeley.
What’s especially interesting is that Saldana runs a 130-acre farm and retreat near Guerneville that supplies much of the produce for his restaurants and line of salsas. The opening menu is still in development, but dishes at his other restaurants include prawn tostadas, fish burritos, ceviche, mole(!), fajitas, beef tortas, salads, and nachos. Simple, authentic, local. Word is that there will be a full bar as well. More info as opening gets closer. 180 Morris St., Sebastopol.
Amy’s Kitchen Drive-Thru Menu Preview: Natural foods giant Amy’s Kitchen is planning a meatless fast-food experience in Rohnert Park. Piled with sweet pickles, lettuce, tomato slices, cheese, and “special sauce,” the “Amy’s Burger” is a “beefy” mouth-stretcher (without the beef, of course) that can satisfy the most devout carnivore. And that’s a good thing, considering that In-N-Out and McDonald’s will be within spitting distance of their Redwood Drive location in Rohnert Park.
But getting that fast-food experience with the meat-free philosophy of Amy’s Kitchen hasn’t been, well, a picnic. “We’ve grilled enough burgers [in the R & D lab] to run the restaurant for a month and a half—multiple times,” said head food developer Fred Scarpulla. Trial and error can be delicious, though not necessarily easy. Not to mention that everything on the menu comes in vegan and gluten-free versions, which demands even more recipe testing. But as of late February, the opening menu will include burgers, meatless “chili” cheese fries, milk shakes, mac and cheese, pizzas, burritos, salads, and natural sodas made with GMO-free, organic ingredients, many of which are sourced locally.
“We make it all, and we make it from scratch,” said Scarpulla. That also includes the potatoes, which are specially grown for the company. “We’ve tasted every kind of potato to find the perfect potato,” said co-owner Rachel Berliner.
“I’m super-excited to pull up and just get this food to go,” said Rachel. “I’m that person.” If all goes well, much of Sonoma County will be those people, too. How many times have you asked yourself why someone can’t come up with a healthier version of fast food? Amy’s may have just cracked the code. Expect to pay less than $10 for a double cheeseburger, fries, and a shake, and less than $5 for a burrito. Redwood Drive at Golf Course, Rohnert Park.
San Francisco is a town that loves to brunch (it’s practically an obsession), and the folks at Food Should Taste Good have partnered up with tablehopper to host an invite-only brunch at The Cavalier on Saturday March 21st (12pm). We are saving two seats for one lucky tablehopper reader, who will be joining us for a feast of special off-the-menu dishes made with Food Should Taste Good chips (hello shakshuka chilaquiles!), plus some Cavalier classics too. And of course some adult beverages.
One tablehopper reader will win two spots at the brunch. To enter to win, all you need to do is forward today’s tablehopper newsletter to two friends (but even more would be so very fabulous), and add a note to your friends about your favorite brunch dish in SF! 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 Wednesday March 11th at 11:59pm. We’ll notify the winner soon thereafter. Good luck!
Do you know Food Should Taste Good? You have probably seen the bags with the illustrations before, full of delicious chips (like sweet potato) made with high-quality, non-GMO ingredients—and they’re gluten-free too!
This is sponsored content paid for by Food Should Taste Good.