This week's tablehopper: love saves the day.
Feels about right: Massimo Bottura’s Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart at In Situ. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
[Sorry for the delay in today’s newsletter—my mailing list service went down and it took a few hours to get it fixed, argh!]
It would be the understatement of the century to say this last week was a rough one. I know we are all processing a lot, reading a lot, tweeting, protesting, making calls, posting, getting angry, furious, worried, frightened, crying, exhausted, and a whole gamut of other emotions, all at once. It’s a lot to sort through. I am so grateful I am home with my community, family, and dear friends right now—it would be so hard to process all this away from home.
A few things that have been helping me clear my mind this week: daily power walks (a few of them with sis, or calling people while on my walk), going to see the absolutely riveting Moonlight (there were moments when I had to remind myself to breathe—what an extraordinary and important film), listening to the new and oh so timely A Tribe Called Quest album (loud and on repeat), and special thanks to Saturday Night Live for hitting it out of the park with Dave Chappelle this past weekend—you gotta watch the sketches if you missed it.
We all feel a bit helpless right now, but we’re not. We gotta look out for each other, now more than ever. Smile. Be kind. Start thinking about your alliances, your causes, and what you want to show up for. I have been trying on my new motto: “Heels on, heels in, double down.”
For that reason, I am dedicating today’s column to women. All women. So every piece of news and my two reviews are about supporting the amazing women in our industry (well, except the event announcement about the Tibetan Taste & Tribute fundraiser—but we need their wisdom in this world, so I gave that piece a pass). This isn’t an anti-male statement, but it is pro-woman. Pro-humanity.
Now excuse me while I get back to playing David Mancuso mixes and treasured tracks all day—he was one of the world’s most pioneering figures in dance culture, club culture, disco, and sound engineering, famed for his Loft parties in New York. He made a huge impact, and his message was all about love. Sadly he went up to the big disco in the sky at 72. Terrible timing. It’s so NOT the news I wanted to start the week with. Gotta send him up properly.
Love to you all. So much. Marcia Gagliardi
Gossip & News (the word on the street)
Upscale Indian Restaurant August 1 Five Now Open on Van Ness
AUGUST 1 FIVE is now open, serving lunch and dinner. Meet your new pre-symphony or opera destination, and nearby workers should be happy with this option as well. As I’ve mentioned before, owner Hetal Shah is a partner in Red Hot Chilli Pepper in San Carlos. She has hired chef Manish Kumar Tyagi, previously at the acclaimed Rasika in Washington, DC, and locally at Amber India. The restaurant’s name refers to the date of India’s independence from British rule.
The upscale Indian menu is inspired by Northern Indian regional cuisines and features seasonal influences and modern techniques. Don’t come here expecting tikka masala and butter chicken—chef Tyagi has many more dishes to show you. The small plates portion of the menu is extensive, including a gol guppa flight ($8), which is his updated version of pani puri with rice added to the shell for extra crunch, and a series of five waters you pour in beyond the usual mint and tamarind.
Square arancini ($10) are a spin on his mother’s recipe of fried patties of rice and lentils, with the additional flair of goat cheese. Paneer kebab ($11) from the tandoor ovens in the kitchen is actually like a little sandwich with red chile paste inside, with a punch from mustard powder. Palak chaat ($8) features fried leaves of baby spinach, with layers of flavor and texture, like garbanzo, tamarind, and yogurt. A crock of bison keema ($16) is a substantial dish that’s loaded with flavor and spices—you treat it like a sloppy joe and spoon it inside the house-baked pao, which are like little Parker House rolls. The breads are housemade, including a trio of naan ($9) stuffed with a variety of fillings. There are 18 small plates, mind you.
Large plates range from tandoori sea bass ($29) to tender lamb chops ($32) slathered in a cashew paste and spiked with cardamom and mace. Chef Tyagi uses sustainable seafood, organic meats, and has a strong focus on local sourcing as well. Vegetarians will find a clever execution of rolls of paneer ($19) stuffed with pistachio, mint, and fenugreek inside, in a creamy tikka-like sauce, plus soy kofta ($17), and there are two kind of biryani, either vegetarian or chicken.
The plating is elegant and sophisticated, but not too fussy, and you’ll definitely feel fed without getting stuffed on saucy food, rice, and puffy naan—which means you’ll have room for the royal mousse ($8) for dessert, featuring crisp rounds of sweet dough and Bavarian cream.
The lunchtime menu includes some of the dinner menu’s small plates, plus wraps ($13), rice plates ($13), and sandwiches, including the bison keema with pao (trust me, you want this).
There is quite the creative cocktail list, like the Cricket Cup with Pimm’s and the unexpected addition of yogurt, and the turmeric lassi with dark rum—both pair well with food. If you’re coming by the bar for a cocktail, the Royal Bombay Yacht Club is a good place to kick off happy hour, with the smoky spice of Ancho Reyes. There are 10 in all, and all $12. The smart wine list includes many food-friendly California and French wines, with some affordable bottles in the mix.
The space has a variety of dining areas, from the dining room with eggplant leather chairs and peacock-blue velvet private booths that seat four (on both sides of the restaurant) to a larger table for groups and a high communal table flanking the bar. There are high-top tables near the bar as well, with a bronze tufted banquette and chic brass and leather chairs. It has a contemporary and colorful look, with an image of the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala on the wall (and his extraordinary bling—he was quite the lover of opulence and indulgence), overlooking it all. There are also fun touches like the colorful glass pendant lights and sconces, lattice on the sides of the booths, and plenty of punchy and shimmery colors. Craige Walters (Black Cat, Hecho) designed the 90-seat, 4,000-square-foot space.
Lunch Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm, happy hour nightly 3pm-6pm, dinner Sun-Thu 5pm-10pm and Fri-Sat 5pm-10:30pm. 524 Van Ness Ave. at McAllister, 415-771-5900.
Pastry Chef Cheryl Storms Consulting for Finn Town
While fans of Cheryl Storms and her sweet creations were sad to hear about the recent closure of both of her PINKIE’S BAKERY locations, it ends up she is now the consulting pastry chef for the soon-to-open FINN TOWN. She is collaborating with chef Ryan Scott on classic cakes, plus Parker House rolls, housemade brioche hamburger buns, and a daily bread at dinner. When brunch launches, there will be biscuits, doughnut holes with raspberry filling, and bear claws. Look for an opening after Thanksgiving—we’ll keep you posted. 2251 Market St. at Sanchez.
Upcoming Food Events: Fat Rice Team at Motze, Taste & Tribute for Tibet, Civil Eats
Chefs Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon of Chicago’s acclaimed Fat Rice are in town to celebrate the release of their cookbook, The Adventures of Fat Rice, which centers on their exploration of the unique food culture of Macau (a blend of Chinese, Portuguese, Malaysian, and Indian foodways). Nick Balla and Cortney Burns of MOTZE are hosting the duo and preparing a three-course dinner this Wednesday November 16th, $58 per person (tip included, excluding beverages), $35 per book (available for purchase throughout the evening). 5:30pm-10pm. 983 Valencia St. at 21st St., 415-484-1206.
This Friday November 18th is the 16th annual Taste & Tribute event, when 27 Bay Area chefs come together to support the preservation of the Tibetan culture through the Tibetan Aid Project. Chefs work in pairs to create a four-course experience for guests, with paired fine wines. A live and silent auction rounds out the evening. $350 per person. Four Seasons Hotel, 757 Market St. at O’Farrell.
Civil Eats, the fantastic nonprofit independent media site by founder Naomi Starkman, is hosting their first in-person event and fundraiser on Tuesday November 29th (they don’t take advertising so they rely on their subscription service, independent donations, and foundation grants to pay their writers and editors). Now more than ever, we need to help support independent coverage of food politics and policy.
It will be a walk-around tasting event, with top chefs from restaurants like Alta CA, Nopa, and Piccino, with the support of purveyors and partners like Bi-Rite Market, Llano Seco, Marin Sun Farms, and Mindful Meats, plus local wine, beer, and spirits. Civil Eats’ advisory board member Alice Waters and many other food movement movers and shakers will be in attendance.
Tickets are $125. If you aren’t able to attend in person, please consider making a donation via the Eventbrite link, and subscribe online. The Civil Eats team thanks you! 6:30pm-9:30pm. The Village, 969 Market St. at 5th St.
This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)
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New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
El Buen Comer
The family business, there’s nothing that feels like it. And EL BUEN COMER is definitely a family affair, with chef Isabel Caudillo cooking and her husband expediting, and their sons and daughters-in-law working alongside them. Caudillo is a La Cocina graduate, and this is her first brick-and-mortar location, a total neighborhood restaurant. It opened after years of planning and hooking people on her delicious food at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market (since 2008—and still going on Saturdays). Prior to that, she was cooking lunch for homesick customers out of her Tenderloin and then Mission home. She’s a Mexico City native, and her dishes are all about the city’s guisados (stews) and comida corrida (home-style cooking you get for lunch). Taqueria, this is not. There’s really no place like it in SF, unless your DF abuelita is cooking for you on the reg (call me?).
I recommend you get a posse together and splash out for the El Buen Comer—for $40/head, Isabel will cook for you, and a variety of dishes will hit the table, a total bounty. But if you want to come and just check out a few dishes, you can get tacos, or tostadas, or hearty sopes (1 for $4, 3 for $10, 6 for $18). If you’re wistful for Mexico City, get tacos of the spicy chicharrón en salsa verde (pork rinds in a bright tomatillo salsa), while the tinga (pulled chicken in a smoky tomato sauce with onion and chipotle) is best in class. And then if you’re really lucky, the crisp-edged carnitas are on special. Mexican chorizo and potato, perfect for Sunday brunch. I was particularly taken with her ensalada de nopal, a cool cactus salad that is the least slimy one you’ll ever encounter, truth. (How did she do that?)
The homey guisados—which come in rustic cazuelas—are supposed to be shared (no hoarding!) and include her trademark albóndigas de res/beef meatballs ($17 or $32), and the soulful dish that haunts me: mole verde de puerco ($16 or $30), a savory pork stew (cooked just so) in a thick and creamy sauce of pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, cilantro, and epazote. Damn. This dish!
Specials are always written on the menu—one night was the juiciest pollo en crema, with a chipotle-spiked sauce. It’s the kind of food that takes all day to make—you feel so lucky to have a bowl of it in front of you. Get a side of the creamy and complex black beans, the superfluffy rice, and the thick and moist handmade tortillas made from organic masa are good enough to gobble on their own.
Sunday brunch includes their chilaquiles ($12), which, obviously, feature their beauteous tortillas. I found the rojos, made with chile de arbol and tomato sauce, are the move; the verdes were too acidic for me. Or perhaps some pozole rojo ($12) is what you need to perk up—pray to the Lady of Guadalupe it’s on the menu. There are also plenty of beers, micheladas, wine, aguas frescas (mmmm, strawberry), and claro, Mexican sodas.
For lunch, the comida corrida ($20) special includes a soup of the day, guisado of the day, rice, beans, handmade tortillas, and an agua fresca. You can order the guisados as a single portion for dinner as well (a plato fuerte)—and there’s a bar where you can plunk down by yourself, no problem. See, she just wants to feed you.
Things aren’t perfect: some dishes can taste a bit underseasoned, which is a nice change from most food in this town, but sometimes I want things to be a bit punchier. Service can have slipups too, like my half-and-half/Christmas order of chilaquiles didn’t happen, and over-easy eggs were over-hard, but everyone is so well intentioned it’s kind of like your mom is cooking. You wouldn’t complain. You’d just say, “Muchisimas gracias, mama, para el buen comer.”
This review was based on two visits.
El Buen Comer - 3435 Mission St. San Francisco - 415-817-1542
Anyone who has a well-thumbed and stained copy of Plenty and Plenty More and Jerusalem, who knows their musaka from their maqluba and mujadara, will really enjoy poring over the extensive menu at TAWLA, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in the Mission. And even if you don’t know these dishes, you definitely will remember their names after you try them.
First-time restaurant owner Azhar Hashem is Jordanian and left her tech job at Google to properly represent the cooking of where she was raised. Lucky us. So she brought on chef Joseph Magidow (formerly of Delfina) to create an enticing menu that spans the Eastern Mediterranean (think Greece, Turkey, Iran, and the Levant—Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan), with some seasonal and Northern Californian influences, because that’s how we roll here. It’s pointedly a falafel- and hummus- and kebab-free zone, so plan on the next level of the Med playbook.
You can come here with your vegetarian friend and your gluten-free friend and your lamb-loving pal, and everyone will be happy at the table together. Start with the puffy and golden bread—which is like pita’s wild cousin, with za’atar in its hair—with its glistening sheen and wheat bran crust, and use it to scoop up three labnehs ($7) and the ful medames ($6), like creamy Egyptian refried beans, but made with favas.
I was lucky to dine here at the end of summer, with peak-of-ripeness figs and tomatoes from the Peach Farm in Winters making their way into such beautiful cold meze; it took me back to my past September vacations in Greece and Turkey. And then there was the unbearably delicious eggplant maqluba ($25), a type of rustic and homey mini casserole of rice and tomato, served with its deliciously dark and burnished crust exposed, and topped with zucchini chips. One of the best dishes I ate this year. Period.
Fortunately the charred cauliflower ($15) will remain a constant, which strikes that rare balance of being tender but not mushy, zhooshed with tahini, garlic, and lemon. Another mainstay is the allspice chicken ($26), a juicy leg quarter and breast, deeply painted with a flurry of allspice and kicking it on a bed of saucy sumac onions. The Persian fish stew ($30) was gorgeous (!), as my friend yelled out, with succulent black cod, plump clams and mussels, and a tremendous tamarind-spiked broth you wanted to sop up, but it disappeared a bit too quickly for the price.
Mom’s recipe for the muhallabia ($8) milk pudding was oh-so-carefully duplicated, so pretty with its enchanting perfume of orange blossom water and candied pistachio on top. I keep waiting for some beautiful teas to show up on the menu here, but not yet. Fortunately the wine list is en fuego with by-the-glass options, and check out their low-ABV creations too.
It’s definitely worth mentioning the bill will automatcially include 20 percent gratuity, so there’s no pesky math to figure out at the end. Like the menu says, it’s to “offer our entire staff better wages and full benefits.”
The space is a tricky one: it’s narrow, loud, and has uneven lighting. You’ll want to have the address if you’re coming the first time; it’s so dark from the outside that you can walk right by it. These elements are a bit off, but there are so many playful components that will catch your eye, like the display of Turkish çay/teacups, a robin’s-egg blue wall, the trellis of vines in the back room, the vibrant colors and patterns and tiles throughout, the fun and funky furnishings and lighting, and the charming back patio.
I will say this: Tawla has the nicest, friendliest, kindest servers I have encountered in ages. Beyond huggable. They build up such a sincere feeling of hospitality. It’s what we need more of right now. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an arm pat from the warm and lovely proprietress too. She wants you to feel like you’re in her home. You will feel graciously fed, and the menu will keep you coming back for the next game (the name is Arabic for “backgammon,” which you can play outside on the back patio while waiting for a table).
This review was based on two visits.
Tawla - 206 Valencia St. San Francisco - 415-814-2704
Bar News & Reviews (put it on my tab)
The Riddler, Our Dream Champagne Bar, Is Opening in Hayes Valley in December
Cheers to this: opening this December in Hayes Valley is THE RIDDLER, an all women-funded Champagne bar (with 30 investors!). It’s led by Jen Pelka, currently principal and founder of Magnum PR, and her background includes five years at Daniel Boulud’s Daniel in New York, as a kitchen stagier, chef Boulud’s research assistant, and the US competition director for the Bocuse d’Or under Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. Joining her is GM and beverage director Marissa Payne (Rose.Rabbit.Lie, Megu, Luce) and kitchen consultant Shannon Waters (Pilot Light Kitchen Consulting, previously Aatxe).
The Riddler will serve bar bites—including caviar, of course, a fun self-serve popcorn service, and products made by women, like INNA Jam—to go with the list of more than 100 Champagnes, with a strong bent toward grower-producers like Gaston Chiquet, Pierre Gimonnet, Egly-Ouriet, Pierre Péters, Marc Hébrart, Gonet-Médeville, and more. Special attention will be paid to female-made wines on the list. There will also be vintage wines from traditional houses like Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Salon, Ruinart, Dom Pérignon, and Krug, and hard-to-find Special Club Champagnes. Whether you’re in for a glass, split, half bottle, magnum, or feel like busting out a jeroboam, you can take your pick. Some still wines will also be available. And then there’s one beer: Miller High Life, the Champagne of Beers. Ha.
The space was previously Momi Toby’s Revolution Cafe & Art Bar, and it has been given quite the chic makeover, with handmade tables from France, leather banquettes, bar seating, and black, white, and gold as the palette. Look for many fun vintage touches, from the ice buckets to the dishes. There are seats outside as well.
The lady-powered design team includes Hannah Collins of Hannah Collins Designs, who drew up plans for the space; muralist Megan Stevens, who will hand paint a Champagne bottle on the wall facing Linden Alley; and custom floral arrangements from Eleanor Gerber-Siff of Wallflower Designs. Even the graphic design is by a woman, Danielle Moore.
The name is in homage to the practice of riddling, when a riddler rotates bottles of sparkling wine every day eventually into a vertical position to consolidate sediment into the neck of the bottle, a practice invented by the grande dame herself, Madame Clicquot, who didn’t like her sparkling wine to be so cloudy.
The Riddler will be open Tue-Thu and Sun 4pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 4pm-12am. Brunch and additional days of service will be added in the new year. 528 Laguna St. at Linden.