At Californios, chef Val Cantu’s “Yerba Buena Fruit Cup.” Photo: © tablehopper.com.
And boom, it’s Friday. That was fast. You know what also was fast? How quickly the tickets went for the tablehopper Negroni crawl in North Beach. Wow. Look forward to seeing y’all next week.
If you missed your chance for a ticket, we can still hang out in a couple of weeks, on Friday June 12th, when we will be exploring the terroir of single vineyards in Sonoma through this special tasting of five chardonnays and pinots with Patz & Hall. There will also be Sonoma cheeses and custom-made charcuterie for the event, because those things rock.
More rock: tomorrow is my one-day party at BottleRock, I look forward to getting the eff out of this gray. June gloom, it sure came to the party early. If you need a little cheering up on Sunday, you should swing by Huxley for brunch and eat some damned toast and drink bubbles, the subject of today’s review. We also have some 707 scout updates for you, which should give you even more ideas about escaping the mist.
Wherever you end up, I hope you enjoy the weekend. Marcia Gagliardi
What is a neighborhood restaurant in this shifting city landscape of ours? HUXLEY straddles two worlds: on one hand, it’s tucked in the Tenderloin, a small space that feels very urban, with friendly, heavily tattooed servers and West Coast hip-hop dialed up. On the other hand, the urbane one, there’s a New York strip steak for $49, and the third item on the predominantly French wine list is a bottle of Selosse Initial Brut for $328. (Yes, my darling, I am pinching you—you really are at Geary and Larkin.) Huxley is part of a spectrum, let’s say from crack to Champagne, and you decide where you fall on it.
Owner Kris Esqueda has a rather dialed background (Saison and Sons & Daughters), and you see it in the quality glassware and service touches—this may be presented as a casual place, but once you become attuned to finer things, it’s hard to shake. Personally, I love the play between high and low (in life and not just here).
If you’re an oenophile, this list is your romper room. (Who pours Jamet by the glass? Huxley.) It’s also a great venue to discover new wines (not everything is $$$—again, there’s a spectrum here). Ask questions. Taste. Drink some sherry. You’ll espy some low-ABV cocktails, like a michelada at brunch or Aperol spritz, while you can go for their version of a Negroni at aperitivo time.
Chef Sara Hauman comes from Bar Agricole, and her New American menu traipses into the California comfort zone—ingredients are completely synced with the season and well sourced, and can lean to the hearty and homey and rustic. It’s food that has an apparent hand—you can sense that someone is preparing it for you, right there in the open kitchen. (It’s a pocket-sized kitchen, and to fully appreciate what she’s doing here, you should read this in-depth piece in Mise.)
She initially opened with consulting chef Brett Cooper, but is now running the show solo, and I feel like the place has hit a good stride. As if she wasn’t doing enough all on her own, she’s also curing her own meats, like chorizo and sweet-fatted coppa. You’ll also see house butter and smoked and whipped lard (one time I dug it but another time it was too smoky and overpowering) that you spread of Jane bread, a neighborhood bakery that custom-bakes for Huxley.
There’s an appealing selection of small plates and eclectic snacks, ranging from sweet potato croquettes ($6) to headcheese ($6) to a special of salmon in lettuce cups. The neighborhood vibe comes alive in the seats by the kitchen counter and tall bar seats at the window ledge (10 in all)—it feels like a party zone. You can swing by (and hope for an open spot) and order a few bites while the staff helps you decide what to pair with the corned beef tongue. Solo diners have a good perch here too.
Tables that line the other wall, a mix of two-tops and four-tops, have pretty and colorful patterned tops that feel a bit gypsy—Bon Vivants Design+Build is behind the bohemian look, which also has a lot of wood details that make the place feel even cozier than it already is.
Ideally you’re dining with someone who is down to share, because the bistro-style menu works best that way. One night my friend and I made a meal of small plates and appetizers, like charred asparagus ($13) with bottarga and little pieces of mandarin (at first I found the combination odd but soon I adored it), and roasted half-quail ($18) with a brothy base of creamy butter beans and kale.
Larger plates can read as expensive ($29 for king salmon), but when you’re sharing, it works out. Sometimes the seasoning can be a bit over or under, ditto the cooking of the proteins. It’s not perfect, but that’s part of what makes this place feel human and personal, to be honest. (If the food was tweezery, the whole experience would feel too bougie. The rusticity keeps it all grounded.) Dishes change often, but one steady is Hauman’s potpie, with its buttery and peppery crust—currently it’s a classic poussin with peas and carrots. I’m already waiting for winter to bring back the very memorable beef short rib version.
It would be very easy to make fun of the extensive toast menu at their charming Sunday brunch service, but we all like it too much, SF clichés be damned, so order up (the version with avocado topped with sesame seeds and a base of sea urchin aioli is a hit, $8, and another comes with cured salmon, $10).
Brunch is more on the savory side and not very “brunchy eggy”—dishes are more about creatively using up dinnertime vegetables and meats, like a rice and seasonal vegetable bowl ($15) that comes with a poached egg, or a roast pork leg and belly ($17) with wheat berries and fried eggs. And then there’s Hauman’s absolutely pitch-perfect Spanish omelet ($7), a custardy wedge that has her chorizo layered inside with the potatoes. Ay, dios mio.
There are only 25 seats, so tables are quite coveted—ideally you’ll want to make a reservation if you’re planning ahead (you also may wait a bit for your reservation if someone is lingering over their dessert—the small space makes it a challenging ballet for the staff). It’s also worth noting the vibe is upbeat and can get loud, so it’s good for a fun date, but not exactly the ideal location for that private tête-à-tête you’ve been wanting to have with your main squeeze. Well, maybe at the end of the night, when things quiet down, you’ll have a moment as you share the frozen chocolate custard with salted peanuts and olive oil.
This review was based on three visits.
Huxley - 846 Geary St., San Francisco - 415-800-8223
Excuse me while I put on my rock star jeans and shine up my spork, because it’s the opening day of Napa’s BottleRock, and time’s a wastin’! With more than 40 restaurants, food trucks, and chefs participating, food is every bit the attraction, though, of course, there will also be music from the likes of No Doubt and Imagine Dragons. Top toques Ken Frank from La Toque and Masaharu Morimoto serve up restaurant-quality food from pop-up tents and there will also be plenty of food trucks.
On the new Williams-Sonoma Culinary Stage, chefs such as Dominique Crenn, Michael Voltaggio, and Rick Moonen will pair up with musicians (Flavor Flav, Snoop Dog) and dancers for food-inspired performances (we can only hope it will be as entertaining as Big Freedia’s Beignet Bounce at Outside Lands last year). I’ll be reporting from the festival throughout the day at BiteClubEats.com.
The smell of spring swirls around the newly opened TERRACE AT RODNEY STRONG VINEYARDS—rows of grapevines, freshly mowed grass, and a bright pink rosé of pinot noir in the glass. Breathe deeply, then pinch yourself, because you’ve found your new happy place.
More than a tasting room, this intimate outdoor patio features the perfect lazy-afternoon sip-and-nibble experience with five luxe bites paired with five Rodney Strong wines. Kick back under the cheery orange umbrellas, survey the expansive vineyards before you, and let yourself be pampered with a plate of local cheeses or charcuterie with perfectly paired wines. Or go all in for the five-course pairing (think Dungeness crab and short rib bao) with reserve wines (we swooned over the 2012 reserve chardonnay). Chef Mat Petersen heads up the kitchen (and new outdoor pizza oven) with consultation from Tara Goodman (Adafina Culinary, Zazu), making the terrace worth going out of your way for. Well, that and the view. Five-course tasting, $55; cheese plate for two, $25; cheese and charcuterie, $35. Reservations recommended. Open Fri-Sun 11am-4pm. 11455 Old Redwood Hwy., Healdsburg, 707-431-1533.
Grab a partner and do-si-do to tomorrow’s BBQ, BREWS & BARN DANCE at Dutton Ranch in Sebastopol, which will be featuring a cheese and cider social, dinner by BACKYARD’S Daniel Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire, and plenty of heel-kicking tunes. The Farm Trails-sponsored event is from 5:30pm-10pm. Tickets and more details online.
Former Domaine Chandon chef Perry Hoffman has resurfaced after the closure of Étoile, taking over as executive chef for the popular Elaine Bell Catering in Napa. The Michelin-rated chef is an alum of Santé, Auberge du Soleil, and The Boonville Hotel. The Napa native’s grandparents were the original owners of Yountville’s The French Laundry.
Wondering which rosés to stock up on this summer? Taste through some of the top-rated rosés (as judged by a panel of professional sommeliers) at SIMI WINERY this Saturday May 30th from 2pm to 5pm. There will be more than 20 cherry-picked pinks from around the country, which were deemed the best of the 192 submissions at SIMI’s recent rosé competition. Exec chef Kolin Vazzoler will pair up some tasty noshes, and the band Full Chizel will get the party rocking. Tickets are $35, and the event is 2pm-5pm. More details online
One of the hottest trends in the restaurant scene right now: do-it-yourself entrees. Clever restaurateurs are offering a set list of ingredients that customers can customize to their gluten-free, meat-free, low-carb, Paleo-friendly, low-cal, and “I don’t like onions or olives” needs. Among some of the local newcomers: Pieology’s top-your-own pizzas, Chipotle’s DIY burritos and bowls, and Napa’s recently opened Heritage Eats, with their luxe meats and condiments for sandwiches.
ST@X SOCIAL EATERY, which recently opened in Cotati, takes it one step further, with thematic trays of ingredients you can stack up any way you want. Here’s how it works: select from eight different trays (or tasting menus) that include tiny bites of 10-12 items.
We fell hard for the Good Indian Stuff vegetarian tray, made up of Bombay spiced potatoes, cauliflower “tots,” roasted eggplant with peanut masala, flatbread, pea cakes, mango yogurt sauce, chutney, fig jam, lentils, coconut rice, and chickpeas. Using your fingers (the heck with forks), you can scoop, stack, dip, and nibble your way through the dishes. Go with a crowd and order multiple trays, such as the Louisiana (boudin balls, crispy pork skins, johnnycakes, rémoulade), Low Country (pork rillettes, country ham, catfish, crispy chicken skin, pickled peaches), Northern Italy (smoked sausage, risotto cakes, brown butter gnocchi, white bean purée), or Sliders (mini burgers, Spam and egg, pulled pork, pretzel rolls, onion jam, and mac and cheese).
We couldn’t help but wonder how the kitchen staff could possibly put together these complicated trays from more than 75 individual items. “That’s gotta be some mise en place,” said my co-eater. In fact, chef Paul Croshal has it down to a science, though it can get a little hectic during busy weekends, especially when more than 90 percent of the menu has to be made daily. Croshal’s menu even nods to of-the-moment eateries like Momofuku, with dishes like cereal milk and cookies (sugary cornflakes steeped in milk, then strained out, leaving only the deliciously sweet liquid). One customer described the milk and cookies experience like this: “the cereal milk must be made from rainbows and unicorn blood.” Also on the dessert menu, the Pie Party, which includes apple pie, lemon cream, and chocolate cream with cornflake milk ice cream.
Go with curiosity, a sense of adventure, and a few friends for the best experience. We’re pretty sure this is the most fun you can have at a restaurant—and still be legal. Hours are Tue-Sun 11am to, well, whenever o’clock. 8204 Old Redwood Hwy, Cotati, 707-664-1418.