Risotto alla Milanese, topped with bone marrow, by Matteo Clivati at his current pop-up at The Palace Restaurant. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Happy May Day (“it’s just a spring clean for the May Queen”). I’m trying not to freak out that it’s May already. The days, they keep flying. I know going out every night doesn’t help slow things down, that’s for sure, but how can I say no to a pop-up with the chef from Yardbird in Hong Kong, a pop-up from a Milanese chef, and a preview to the brand-new Trestle?
If I were staying home, I know what I’d be doing: cooking from April Bloomfield’s latest cookbook, A Girl and Her Greens, and binge watching all the episodes of the new documentary series Chef’s Table on Netflix, by the same director who did Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb). I have only watched the Massimo Bottura episode, and I’m hooked. Check it out.
Today we have my recap on what to eat at Cockscomb (I’ve had a bunch of people asking me about it), some 707 news from Heather Irwin, and an inaugural wino from Peter Granoff, who I enjoyed traveling with when I went on that wine trip to Portugal in November (speaking of, I’m just about to finish my first Lisbon post, stand by!).
Enjoy the glorious weather, catch you on Tuesday! Marcia Gagliardi
With so many places to eat at in this town, would you feel impelled to write a review of a place when the chef has blocked you on Twitter (I honestly don’t know why), and once bellowed in your ear when you called for a quick interview? (Come to think of it, the previous chef in this SoMa location hollered at me too.) Eh, it’s not that surprising when it comes from someone who has a salumi line and shop called Boccalone (“big mouth”). And we’re all Italian Americans—I know how we run hot. In the end, my rule of thumb for tablehopper reviews has always been “Would I send a friend there, and what would I tell them to order?” Since the answer, in this case, to the first part of that question is yes, here we are.
Actually, I’m happy for Chris Cosentino and his new restaurant (in partnership with Oliver Wharton, who he has worked with in the past at Nobhill in Vegas and Redwood Park). COCKSCOMB feels a lot more like who he is than the former mausoleum, Incanto. This SoMa location has always been a beauty—I loved the airy space when it was Cafe Monk, as well as the open kitchen of Zuppa—and now it feels like it has grown into the next iteration of what it needed to be.
It’s a handsome and lofty space, with wood tables (many are comfortable for groups), its industrial style softened with comfy banquette seating, shelves with personal effects (taxidermy abounds), and clever design details. You’ll notice a number of bike references, like the bike chains that suspend the pendant glass globes (Cosentino is an avid cyclist), and you gotta love the liver and alcohol print near the restroom. Good work, Celano Design Studio.
There’s a mellower upstairs (which has a second bar), but my favorite seat in the house has been at the kitchen counter, overlooking a line that hustles hard, all sporting Jacobsen Salt Co. hats. The vibe is energetic, with the Beastie Boys on rotation.
The menu is Cosentino’s salute to San Francisco, and includes a redux of some homegrown local dishes, like a quail (instead of turkey) tetrazzini ($35), a light Green Goddess-inspired salad of Little Gems ($11) amped up with ribbons of fried pig’s ears, and a clever version of celery Victor ($12), made with celery root and chicken skin gribenes.
The extensive menu can seem a bit daunting, and a number of the portions are well designed for groups who want to feast. But I have also enjoyed dining with just one other friend, sharing plates as we went along. Even my hairstylist who isn’t into offal did just fine, and the nightly bruschetta (MP) helped convince him that uni is really good (and it is, especially when it’s uni butter with crab, Aleppo chile, radish, and lardo draped on thick slices of toasty bread). Other bruschetta toppings can range from ricotta and morels to ‘nduja and pickled mussels.
There’s a variety of raw oysters and options (from a half-dozen that usually run $3 per oyster, to a mega plateau for $148, perfect to celebrate your IPO). One night I was really digging the baked half-dozen oysters ($16), plump beauties encased in a huge shell with a gratin-like top of ‘nduja and bread crumbs. I thought I’d be all over “Eggs, Eggs, Eggs” (a soft-boiled chicken egg, duck egg, and salmon roe), but twice the dish left me wanting it to have more punch than the tarragon aioli was delivering. And now it has rotated off the menu, so that’s that. Bwok.
You’ll pick up on a butcher’s bistro vibe with the beef heart tartare ($16), which sounds more hard-core than it actually is—the well-fried potatoes that come with it are a perfect hot and crisp and salty foil for the cool tartare. Another bistro salute is the oyster omelette and a glass of wine ($18), actually a nod to cookbook author Elizabeth David (and not the Hangtown fry). Your dream late-night dish is the grilled cheese ($16), a downright dirty combination of funky Taleggio cheese with buckwheat honey and shaved truffle. Yessss. (Now it’s duck egg, cheese, and honey for $10.)
People know Cosentino for his nose-to-tail use of offal, and if you don’t tread carefully, this meat-heavy menu can take you down faster than a pack of hyenas on a baby wildebeest. After three visits, I learned how to keep an eye on creating a (somewhat) balanced meal—just don’t get all crazy. Eat some vegetables.
There’s a meat pie ($35), whose filling changes, but one night ours was a delicious combination of pork fat, black escargot, and cipollini encased under a rustic pastry lid made with suet (it kept the thick and flavorful broth incredibly hot). I felt like I was having dinner in a village in France. I’d recommend at least a couple of hungry villagers for that one.
While Cosentino has mostly left his Italian dishes behind, hopefully your table enjoys tripe ($14), because the excellent version here uses his grandma Rosalie’s recipe, the thick and tender pieces spiked with chile, tomato, mint, and a heavy hit of orange zest. (I suspect someone in the kitchen got a little enthusiastic with the Microplane, because another friend who loves the dish didn’t notice much orange on his visit.) It’s an example of what can happen here: the seasoning can sometimes be uneven. I described the masculine food to a friend as a bit ham-fisted. Many dishes are primal, smelling of smoke, and meaty, and fatty, and exuberant, and rich. But it’s not the whole story: there’s also a fair amount of seafood, and vegetarians even have a dedicated dish. The quality sourcing is really apparent, from the freshness of the vegetables to the pedigree of the proteins.
Everyone talks about the wood oven-roasted pig’s head ($65)—it’s the carnal showpiece, its snout blinged out with gold foil. Most diners want to try this Lord of the Flies masterpiece and sure as hell want to Instagram that thing, although I’d recommend you have a table of truly hard-core fat lovers with you. After a few bites of the blistered skin and unctuous cheek, I was done, and no side salad could save me. But they sell 12-18 of these heads a night, so people are obviously into it.
Groups should go for the pin-bone steak ($110 for four), a generous and stunning platter that feels like a Viking banquet (Cosentino worked with Niman Ranch on customizing this special cut for more than six months). If you’re not a Viking, there’s a bavette ($33)—now culotte—that was juicy and so tender (thanks, buttermilk tenderization) and had a beautiful crust and kiss of live fire. The five slices disappeared quickly. Quality beef doesn’t come cheap, so dishes like that can tally up your bill quickly. Even though many of the supper dishes are meant to be shared, the cash bleed can happen fast if you don’t pay attention.
The menu is written very simply and somewhat cryptically, so be sure to ask your server for details, like what the nightly butcher’s choice is (the kitchen has fun with it). Otherwise you wouldn’t know the “ham” burger ($15) was actually a pork patty—made from brined shoulder and leg, like a city ham, and then ground—and it’s so good, stacked with melty Gruyère, grilled onions, aioli, and butter lettuce in a brioche bun. The menu changes often—and it’s not just the seasonal vegetables coming out of the wood oven. Shout-out to the friendly staff, who know the menu inside and out, and briskly work the room.
There’s a full bar, and you’ll find more gins than you know what to do with (start with the Chef’s Gin Jams [$11], a dollop of housemade seasonal jam, like citrus or even rhubarb, slipped into a Hendrick’s gin and tonic) or Negroni on tap ($9, hiding at the bottom of the “drafts” list). Consider a bottle of the full-bodied Offal Good cider, a house collaboration with Virtue in Michigan—it pairs well with the richer dishes.
I’d like to see a few more wines by the glass, especially considering how vast the menu is, but an $8 malbec (Diseño, Mendoza, 2013) and $12 pinot noir (Sanford Flor de Campo, Central Coast, 2012) is kind. This bubbles lover is sad that the only BTG choice is Mionetto prosecco. Desserts (all $7) have also left me feeling underwhelmed. At least they weren’t $12. And besides, aren’t you totally stuffed?
It’s the kind of place I recommend you go to with friends who have healthy appetites, love meat, and don’t have to watch their cholesterol too closely, because it’s fun food to get together over and share. It’s also a cool urban spot you’ll want to swing by later in the evening (like, say, for a grilled cheese sandwich), and look at that, there’s a late-night happy hour Monday through Thursday from 10pm to 11pm (as well as the more traditional time of 5pm to 6pm). $1 oysters, you gotta love this town. And based on his menu, you can tell Cosentino really does too.
This review was based on three visits.
Cockscomb - 564 4th St., San Francisco - 415-974-0700
Another Napa restaurant to put on your to-do list? HERITAGE EATS is opening Friday May 8th at the Bel Aire shopping center in the town of Napa. With the tagline “Slow Meats Fast,” the owners describe it as “a globally influenced, locally sourced, and California-born destination with an emphasis on heritage-breed meats, produce from local farms, and housemade sauces.”
Diners can mix and match things like jerk chicken, cider-braised pork, pita bread, rice, edamame, Asian pickles, and a variety of sauces for an upscale fast-casual experience. If you’re not so great at the whole DIY thing, predesigned pairings—like a Banh Mi Dutch Crunch with lemongrass pork, Asian pickles, cilantro, and “boom” sauce, or Jamaican jerk chicken with steamed bao buns, and pineapple-habanero sauce—get you noshing in style. Chef Jason Kupper, the opening chef de cuisine at The Thomas, pairs up with fellow AvroKO vet Ben Koenig on the project. BiteClub’s got a front-row seat at the preopening bash, so stay tuned.
St. Helena’s GOOSE & GANDER has tapped chef Howard Lee Ko as its new chef de cuisine. Most recently from the kitchens of Michelin darlings The Restaurant at Meadowood and The French Laundry (as well as Picholine and Daniel in NYC), he’s some serious firepower for the nearly four-year-old restaurant. Opening chef Kelly McCown left last winter for an offer in Sacramento.
“We are thrilled Howard Ko is leading our culinary team at Goose & Gander. He brings his incredible talent, vast experience, and a fresh, new perspective to our restaurant and is excited to add his take on the popular style enjoyed by our many happy regulars. The timing is perfect as we embark on our fourth year of business…We feel very fortunate to have him with us,” said proprietor Andrew Florsheim.
The restaurant, which was formerly the Martini House, received solid reviews under McCown and got a well-needed face-lift when the new owners took over. The two-level space features a large dining room and an intimate and well-loved bar downstairs. The menu, described as “public house” New American cuisine, includes hearty dishes like steak tartare, roasted bone marrow, burgers, duck confit, and pan-roasted chicken. The restaurant and bar are open Sun-Thu 12pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 12pm-12am. Starting July 1st, the bar will be open until 12am nightly. 1245 Spring Street, St. Helena, 707-967-8779.
Sonoma County journalist Naomi Starkman of the popular food politics blog CIVIL EATS has been named a 2015 James S. Knight Fellow. The prestigious award is given each year to just 20 individuals to study a particular issue facing the media. Starkman will spend her time looking at how to make food-policy news part of readers’ daily diet. “My goal is to explore ways in which Civil Eats—and all online publications—will survive in this rapidly changing media landscape while making sure that award-winning, independent journalism stays alive,” she said. Amen, sister.
In an editorial on her website on Thursday, she wrote: “Journalism and agriculture are two sides of the same coin: Both have been made artificially cheap. We have come to expect free media, just as many expect to be able to buy a dozen eggs for under $3. But lack of social investment in both of these public goods is leading us down the wrong path…Buying healthier, sustainably produced food helps keep the environment cleaner, ensures that farm animals and workers are treated better, and leads to better personal health outcomes.” She adds, “Investing in well-crafted reporting and thoughtful commentary is equally important in a world of listicles, sponsored content, sensational headlines, and dumbed-down aggregation.”
The fellowship is based at Stanford, where journalism and technology are being carefully studied. Stanford’s Palo Alto location gives easy access to both the Central Valley and Silicon Valley. “This ideal location foments solutions to this food journalism question and is the perfect place for me to incubate Civil Eats as I mine its myriad assets,” she said. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with.
Food and tech innovation is also the focus of BITE SILICON VALLEY, a three-day event featuring high-profile chefs Roy Choi, José Andrés, Michael Voltaggio, Tom Colicchio, Michael Mina, and local chef Louis Maldonado (of Healdsburg’s Spoonbar and Pizzando), as well as digital food movers Danielle Gould of Food + Tech Connect, Danielle Nierenberg of Food Tank, and Kerry Diamond of Yahoo! Food. The event runs from Friday June 5th until Sunday June 7th at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium and includes a Grand Tasting and cooking demos on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range from $149 for a one-day tasting to $499 for a three-day all-access pass. Details online at Bitesv.com.
People.com has chosen Bodega Bay’s THE DUCK CLUB as one of its 10 Most Beautiful Restaurant views in the United States. According to the magazine: “The stone fireplace is the centerpiece at this cozy, clubby eatery, but the panoramic views of Bodega Bay and the Pacific Ocean deserve equal billing. Nestled in a dreamy bay, the restaurant overlooks a wildlife sanctuary, adding to the serene, natural beauty.” Just another day in paradise.
Peter Granoff was born on the wrong side of the tracks, never grew up, and can’t taste his way out of a paper bag. Actually, Peter is the 13th American Master Sommelier (1991) and is an examiner for the Court of Master Sommeliers. After many years in hotels and restaurants, he co-founded Virtual Vineyards, the first business to sell wine on the internet (1994). Today he is co-proprietor of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco and Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant in Napa. For more information on Peter’s extensive industry activities, see Petergranoff.com.
For a few years now, very high-end, in-demand wines from Napa and beyond have sometimes been referred to as “cult” wines. And “cult” in this context is supposed to be a positive moniker. Really? Has anybody looked up this word lately? Here is a quick dictionary definition:
- a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object: the cult of St. Olaf.
- a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister: a network of Satan-worshiping cults.
- a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing: a cult of personality surrounding the leaders.
- [ usu. as modifier ] a person or thing that is popular or fashionable, especially among a particular section of society: a cult film.
If we go down that list, it is only the very last that could be applied to wine in any positive manner (much as I love wine, I don’t consider it an object of religious devotion), and the negative uses of the term historically so far outweigh the positive that I really question how appropriate it is at all. After all, Jim Jones led a cult, Charlie Manson led a cult, Heaven’s Gate was a cult, the Branch Davidians were a cult. Popular culture and history both are replete with exceedingly negative applications of the word.
Following a cult, in these varied contexts, implies a complete surrender of discretion and judgment. You would think that marketers would be running in the other direction. And yet, we now see wineries launching their very first release designated—by them—as a “cult” wine. Well guess what, folks? Even if we grant that the term can be used in a benign manner on occasion, you don’t get to anoint a “cult wine” before anyone has even tasted it. The marketplace will decide if your wine falls into that category, and simply saying your wine commands a “cult” following—when there is no evidence to support the claim—only makes you look foolish. We need a better word!
I feel much better now ;>). Peter G.
Experience California terroir through beautifully crafted chardonnays and pinot noirs from Patz & Hall. This one-of-a-kind tasting, co-hosted by tablehopper, will be held on Friday June 12th at Naked Kitchen, a restored Victorian home in the Mission District, where guests will be welcomed with a glass of Patz & Hall’s small production 2012 North Coast Brut Sparkling Wine, only available at the winery.
Guests will then be seated for a dynamic wine tasting led by Patz & Hall co-founders James Hall and Heather Patz, who will explore the intricacies of terroir and the diversity of chardonnay and pinot noir through a side-by-side comparison of five single-vineyard wines, paired with charcuterie made with Patz & Hall wines by noted local charcutier Peter Temkin (Show Dogs, Foreign Cinema), plus local Sonoma cheeses. Enjoy mingling with James and Heather (and the tablehopper!) before and after the tasting.
One tablehopper reader will win two tickets to the tasting. 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 Patz & Hall wines, your favorite Sonoma AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), or why you read tablehopper! Be sure to Cc: or Bcc: me at email@example.com so I know you sent it—I promise I won’t use anyone’s email address. The deadline to enter is Sunday May 3rd at 11:59pm. We’ll notify the winner soon thereafter. Good luck!
And if you don’t want to wait around to see if you won or not, you can purchase your ticket right now on Sosh! Tickets are $65, all inclusive. See you there!