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Jun 11, 2015 12 min read

June 12, 2015 - This week's tablehopper: game recognize game.

June 12, 2015 - This week's tablehopper: game recognize game.
Table of Contents

This week's tablehopper: game recognize game.                    

Compressed melon salad at Precita Park Café, one of the courses I enjoyed during a burrata-making class there. For the next one, click here. Photo: ©

TGIF, right? I’m already counting down the hours to having a glass of Patz & Hall’s North Coast sparkling wine in my hands this evening, followed by a gougère from Peter Temkin, at the sold-out (yay!) tablehopper wine tasting tonight. Look forward to seeing you there!

What’s on your docket for the weekend? There’s the new Soul Delicious brunch on Saturday, and you should know that Lord Stanley has opened for dinner (read our preview piece here). Sunday is the CUESA Summer Celebration (tablehopper readers get 15 percent off tickets, and it’s quite the extravaganza of food from 40 restaurants, plus wine and cocktails).

I’m also looking forward to the opening of the Stern Grove season on Sunday afternoon—me and my amigos have a date with a picnic blanket and the Doobie Brothers. Oh yeahhhh.

Speaking of picnics, I had such a stellar picnic for one at the Bar Tartine counter on Tuesday night (and just down the bar, Hugh Acheson, in town for his new book tour for The Broad Fork, was enjoying a similar smashing meal). I felt so good after my dinner, I wish I ate like that all the time.

Well, not alllll the time, because then I wouldn’t get to eat at exciting places like Californios, the subject of today’s review. Heather Irwin also writes in with some 707 scout updates for you.

Have a smashing weekend (my current soundtrack: Eli Escobar, Up All Night). Good luck to the Warriors on Sunday. And I can’t wait to watch Orange Is the New Black at some point, so glad it’s back!


Marcia Gagliardi

fresh meat

New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)



First course of the botanas: an oyster. All photos: ©


Nixtamal puff.


Taquito with trout roe.


Yerba Buena fruit cup.


“Menudo” with smoked buri.


“Three potatoes” (with chipotle adobo).


Strawberry sorbet and horchata ice cream.




The banquette in the dining room. Photo by Dana Eastland. ©


The bar seating and open kitchen. Photo by Dana Eastland. ©

You know what? Sometimes first impressions are really wrong. And a lot can happen in six months, as the now fantastic experience at CALIFORNIOS can mightily attest. I was invited to visit the restaurant during its soft opening around the beginning of the year, and while I loved the room, I left puzzled about a number of things, including some odd dishes, the aggressive hip-hop, even the bizarre artwork on the menu. It all felt too edgy and eager to prove something. But my pleasant memories from chef Val Cantu’s earlier pop-ups made me want to give it some time.

So six months later, I returned to Californios and was completely blown away by the entire evening. God I love that. It’s now one of those places that makes you feel lucky to live in San Francisco, or at least in the know (I’m here for you), lifting aside its veil of mystery. You stroll into a dark building with frosted windows and an inscrutable sign off 22nd Street to discover such a chic oasis, with blooming peonies, a long tobacco-colored tufted banquette, black-paneled walls adorned with eclectic and punchy, colorful art, shimmering modern chandeliers, and I’m happy to report, white tablecloths—they work here. Maître d’ and wife Carolyn Cantu designed the stylish and handsome space—she was formerly with Ken Fulk’s design firm. There’s an open kitchen, with a bar and chef’s counter, which is where the culinarily curious will want to perch (you can request these seats when you reserve).

The rowdy hip-hop has been softened to Hall and Oates, reggae, and ska, and the multicourse menu ($75), meanwhile, has been dialed to 11 (actually, 15, if I count each and every dish). Control freaks, put your need to know everything aside (YOU CAN DO IT), because you actually don’t get a menu until after the meal is complete, like a little souvenir from a journey. (But, of course, tell them of any dietary issues when you make your reservation and they will accommodate you.)

Sit back and let the plates tell their tale, which offer a tip of the sombrero to our local history, taking some inspiration from the Californios who were born in Alta California from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s. You’ll see some nods to Mexican ingredients, dishes, and techniques, and will note Cantu’s training in his sophisticated handling and elegant presentations of our pristine NorCal ingredients (he cooked at Uchi in Austin and was a sous at Sons & Daughters).

There is a battery of botanas to start, from the palate setting of a Shigoku oyster with jicama and basil water, followed by blistered grilled breakfast radishes that you dip into a smooth pepper yogurt the color of pumpkin pie. The nixtamal puff is topped with a dollop of Royal Sterling caviar and borage flower, but after you pop it into your mouth, within you discover a piquant and molten marriage of black bean, Spring Hill smoked cheddar cheese, and a swat from the fermented peppers (both Hatch and Thai chiles). I could house a dozen of those without even blinking—they would be the most evil fancy bar snack, a Mexican pinkie-up version of Totino’s pizza rolls.

Which moves us right into another snack classic, the taquito, which gets a high-end upgrade with a filling of Andante goat cheese mousse and ramps, topped with a crown of lightly smoked trout roe. The entire thing shatters in one bite, a beguiling swirl of cream and salinity (and vaguely reminiscent of the perfect flavors of lox with herbed cream cheese).

The first wave is completed with a celery-shiso granita, grounded with a layer of a plum and rosé wine pudding underneath; our server tells us it’s an homage to the first written recipe of sangria, which translated to “bloody ice.” Plus there are some “pop rocks” in there to continue the fireworks you just had in your mouth. Pop!

The Yerba Buena fruit cup has been a constant on Cantu’s menus since his pop-up days—his monogrammed version of David Kinch’s Into the Vegetable Garden (you’ll see a big “C” on the plate)—with a colorful riot of seasonal vegetables and greens and herbs. The tarragon coulis and goat cheese mousse bring it all together, almost a whisper from the Green Goddess.

No, chef is not lacking for creativity: his raw spin on menudo is a vintage-looking glass bowl holding thin slices of lightly smoked buri (mature yellowtail), with a broth spiked with guajillo and serrano (and dashi), and the tree fungus underneath is meant to mimic the look of tripe. Chipotle adobo makes an appearance in his clever three-potatoes dish, and any abuelita would approve of the five days that go into reducing his concentrated caldo de pollo, counterbalanced with pickled turnip, carrots, cabbage (and blueberries!). The smell was so entrancing I dove in and completely forgot to take a picture.

Also hypnotizing: their take on an English muffin made with their sour-fermented tortillas (they make a tortilla-like dough with sourdough starter) and then puff them up on the flat-top. Just wait until you layer the warm muffin with the rich house-cultured butter. At this point you should be feeling rather content (and close to full).

There are other dishes as well, sure to change with Cantu’s whims and ideas. Flavors range from deep to bright and are always focused; the ingredients are notably fresh. The only misstep we had was the “molcajete” dry-aged lamb, which got hit with too much salt. It happens. Misstep aside, it’s apparent that every detail is so important and carefully considered here. (I particularly enjoyed the attention that went into the beautiful place settings and dishes—oh, and having an awesome and artful restroom, points for that too.)

You should really consider opting for the pairings ($45) from the talented Charlotte Randolph, previously at The French Laundry, who will take you around the globe with her in-tune choices. Since you don’t know the dishes coming next, it makes sense to just be in her hands. (And there’s also the opportunity to learn a lot from her about each wine if you’re curious.)

Desserts made a strong impression, with a duo of horchata ice cream and strawberry sorbet (a Mexican version of strawberries and cream), and the showstopper, a cold disc of pineapple “glass” that you tap and break, hiding barbecued pineapple, a popcorn semifreddo, and caramelized white chocolate mousse underneath. Plus, there’s a fun trio of mignardises. When you are presented the menu at the end, you see a list of words in Spanish (“botanas,” “menudo,” “piña”), a cheat sheet for all the Mexican culinary references your meal just walked you through.

This is a perfect destination for a second or third date, or for a small group of friends who like to eat and linger together. Cantu tells me he’d like to eventually move to just one seating a night. A tasting menu is obviously his dream format, and he was destined to be his own boss, and do things his way (game recognize game). Get your ticket to ride on this one soon (or again)—you can say you knew him when.

Californios            - 3115 22nd St. San Francisco - 415-757-0994

707 scout

Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)

Hazel Opening, Red Bird Bakery, Chocolate Dinner, RKTO


Restaurant Hazel will open in Occidental this summer. The chefs are most recently from Berkeley’s Zut! on Fourth. Courtesy of Hazel.


Red Bird Bakery has opened in Santa Rosa, featuring sweets and stellar breads by two former Della Fattoria bakers. Photo: Heather Irwin.


Suite D, a pop-up restaurant in Sonoma, will host an all-chocolate dinner on Saturday. Photo by Megan Clouse, courtesy of Suite D.


RKTO opens in the Trek bicycle store in Santa Rosa. Photo courtesy of Trek.

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

Berkeley chefs Jim and Michele Wimborough of Zut! on Fourth are moving north to open HAZEL, a wood oven-focused restaurant in Occidental. The couple are taking over the longtime Bistro des Copains space, which was for years a destination for French cuisine. The new “rustic California-Mediterranean” restaurant will make heavy use of the dual live-fire ovens, and the opening menu will include thin-crust pizzas, local fish from Bodega Bay, burgers, and small plates. As an alum of Boulevard, Kokkari, and Evvia, Jim is no stranger to wood-fired ovens. Michele will head up the desserts, including Friday Pie Day, as well as sundaes, cookies, and cakes. The couple are looking to open in mid-July; more details online. 3782 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental.

Best. Sticky buns. Ever. Though veteran baker Linda Cermak says her buttery, caramel-topped buns are a bit sweet for her taste, we’re a whole lot in love with Cermak’s spanking-new patisserie, RED BIRD BAKERY. Hidden away in a Santa Rosa industrial park, the small bread, pastry, and cake shop Linda operates with husband Isaac is a dream that the former Della Fattoria bakers have leveraged their savings, their house, and their lives (baking starts at 2 am) to open.

Having tasted through literally everything in their shop—from the aforementioned sticky buns to yeasty cinnamon rolls, crackling croissants (some of the best in Sonoma County), coconut shortbread cookies, and freshly baked baguettes and round boules—there’s no doubt that there’s something special happening in their kitchens, which an extra pound or two around my waist reflects.

Literally part of the Della Fattoria family (Linda was married to the owner’s son), the couple have honed their craft to a science, questing for the perfect crumb and crust. One of their secrets? French butter. Made with a higher butterfat content and slightly fermented (or cultured), it makes all the difference in the flavor of their pastries. Another secret? Isaac won’t sell any loaves of bread he isn’t happy with, which by most standards would still be excellent. That’s how serious they are.

It’s well worth searching out the Cermaks at their Santa Rosa bakery, or at the Saturday morning farmers’ market at the Veteran’s Building, the Petaluma evening market, or the Tuesday Novato market—all of which are at least 5,500 miles closer than Paris. Hours are 6:30am-2:30pm weekdays. Call ahead to make sure they’re not at a market! 3279 Dutton Ave, Santa Rosa, 707-521-9838.

Nope, you’re not dreaming. Step into a Willy Wonka world of chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate for dinner at THE GIRL & THE FIG chef Sondra Bernstein’s SUITE D on Saturday June 13th (that’s tomorrow!). The sure-to-sell-out Chocolate for Dinner event features a 10-dish cocoa extravaganza with top-notch chocolate from Valrhona, Vosges, Poco Dolce, and CocoaPlanet, including cocoa-rubbed baby back riblets, chocolate chile-dipped bacon, caramel-toffee potato chips, chocolate eggplant caponata, chicken with dark chocolate mole, and Italian zeppole with Belgian chocolate. During dinner, watch chocolate-themed movies, meet the owners of locally owned CocoaPlanet, and if you still haven’t had enough chocolate, a pop-up chocolate shop will also be there. Tickets $75 per person, all-inclusive with free corkage. For more info, go online or call 707-933-3668. 21800 Schellville Road, Suite D, Sonoma.

You can tell that Malorie, a popular barista in Santa Rosa, is tired of explaining what RKTO means. Standing behind the counter of the RKTO coffee/kombucha/tea bar that’s popped up inside the downtown Santa Rosa Trek store, she graciously gives it a shot, then turns it over to shop president Bret Gave. Apparently it means “great Northern bear,” as in the Bear Republic. As in California, he explains.

Gave has hit on a trend that’s popular in Europe and is making its way into hip retailers across the States: putting a food and drink spot inside a retail store. In this case, RKTO is located within a high-end bicycle shop. “We’re creating a community space,” said Gave, who hopes to expand the coffee bar to include beer, an outdoor space, and eventually some sandwiches. He also hopes it will serve as a meet-up spot for bicyclists heading out on rides.

Frankly, we’re more than happy with the current lineup of BiteClub faves, like Bella Rosa coffee, Straus milk, Republic of Tea, Red Bird Bakery goodies (see, they’re getting big!), Revive Kombucha (on tap), and Guayaki yerba mate. Well, that and Malorie. Ten percent of the proceeds from the coffee bar will benefit local cycling advocacy groups. And as for the name? How about Really Killer Trek Osteria? Add your suggestion online at We’ll pass ‘em along to the baristas. Hours are 7am-2pm weekdays. 512 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa (inside the Trek Store).

the sugar mama

Giveaways (get some)

(Sponsored): Win a One-Month Local, Sustainable Seafood Subscription


That’s right, you can win a month’s suppy of local, sustainable seafood from Community Supported Fishery: Real Good Fish.

Life is too short for canned tuna, farmed salmon, and frozen, imported shrimp. We love fresh Monterey Bay anchovies, rich Carmel Canyon black cod, flaky, sweet Big Sur sand dabs, oysters with the briny tang of Tomales Bay, and California Chinook salmon straight from the boat. These are just some of the local seafood that Real Good Fish members enjoy.

One tablehopper reader will win a one-month membership to Real Good Fish, with 37 pickup sites from Carmel to Marin County.

To enter to win, all you need to do is forward today’s tablehopper newsletter to one friend (but even more would be so very fabulous), and add a note to your friends about Real Good Fish, your favorite sustainable seafood, or why you read tablehopper! Be sure to Cc: or Bcc: me at so I know you sent it—I promise I won’t use anyone’s email address. The deadline to enter is Sunday June 14th at 11:59pm. We’ll notify the winner soon thereafter. Good luck!

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