This week's tablehopper: open sesame.
The insanely good uni yi-fu noodles at Palette Tea House (weekends only!), with crab meat, kabocha squash, lobster broth, and crispy dry scallop. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Hello, friends. I can’t believe I have to write this intro all over again, my damn computer crashed (I blame you, Spotify!) just as I was almost finished. Where the hell did the auto-saved content go? It’s the last gasp of Mercury Retrograde, I know. Ha. Anyway. Here I go again.
It has been a whirlwind the past couple weeks—it’s so good to see the bottom half of your cute faces, to hug, to have people swing by my place spontaneously, and I can’t believe I went to two bar and restaurant opening parties, with shared food, inside, with strangers! The big one for me, however, is this Friday, when I go dancing! I’m buffing my dancing shoes and doing some warm-up stretches, because there will be some high kicks at Body & Soul at The Midway, pretty much my dream kickoff to Pride weekend and my #hotvaxxsummer. Here we goooooooo! (P.S. Have you signed up for your digital vaccination record yet?)
I know this sudden acceleration can be a lot for some folks, so we just need to read the signs and ask about mask policies before going into any businesses (some request masks indoors or if you’re going to use their bathroom), and we also need to check in with each other about our individual boundaries and comfort levels. Respect and consent will get us through this awkward time. This past weekend, I watched a Noe Valley café customer grill a barista about why he wasn’t wearing a mask (um, sir, he is vaccinated and OSHA said it’s okay!). Serenity now!
A bunch of us are excited to be dining out and people are booking group dinners to make up for those missed birthdays and other occasions, but keep in mind our F&B industry is trying to get their sea legs yet again, and suffering all kinds of staffing and supply issues. The bar and restaurant recovery is going to take time. Be patient. Be kind. Tip big.
I go into this a bit in an article I just wrote for the recently rebooted Local Getaways, How San Francisco Restaurants Weathered the Pandemic (and Where to Dine Now)—thanks for taking a look. I’m excited to say I have more articles coming!
Tremendous thanks to all of you who turned up for my garage sale a couple weekends ago—it was so successful that I did it again this past weekend! You guys seriously rock! Meowza! Let’s just say my upcoming trip to Croatia is looking a lot more enjoyable with these funds in my pocket (and I needed more room in my storage unit, so yay). It was great to see you and kiki and catch up, and I love seeing my clothes and bags have a new life with people I know and adore!
Some of you continue to buy the end of my stash of tablehopper vintage restaurant and bar t-shirts, thank you! And look at what’s new in the shop: the tablehopper 15th anniversary tote bag! I have a box of these sturdy and spacious totes to sell, and each purchase is the equivalent of buying me a glass of wine for my trip, so thanks for showing your support! Cheers!
I also want to say my virtual tip jar is open, so if you feel like throwing in something to help cover this month’s operational expenses, that would be amazing since I didn’t have any sponsors this month, and I don’t charge a subscription fee. Thank you for your generosity.
I leave for Croatia in two weeks (!) and as you can imagine, I have a LOT to do, including preparing my apartment for my awesome cat sitters. (Nothing but the best for my dear Fortuna!) The next tablehopper issue won’t be until August 3rd, if I come back! Ha! (I don’t have a return ticket yet.) But stand by for an exciting announcement about a new something-something I’m launching while I’m away…let’s just say you’ll be seeing me sooner than August. How’s that for a teaser?
Okay, lovely folks, enjoy all the good news I have put together for you this week, follow me at @tablehopper on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for updates and vacation pics, and have a wonderful, joyous Pride. See you soon. When I return from Croatia, plan on a tablehopper reunion event, oh you know it.
Gossip & News (the word on the street)
Openings: Empress by Boon in Chinatown, Chao Pescao, Palm City, Luna
On Friday evening, I was able to take the elevator once again to the top floor to admire the unique views from EMPRESS BY BOON in Chinatown, previously The Empress of China, a banquet hall that also had an awesome lounge where I’d take out-of-town guests for an “only in SF” kind of experience (and view). I’m so thankful that historic space wasn’t converted into tech offices—instead, it’s a massive, 7,500-square-foot project from Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon (of Hakkasan fame, although this is a solo project) and Asianova Hospitality Group, Inc.
The design by UK-based design studio Atelier LLYS kept some original details (like the carved panels and wooden pergola) but it actually reminds me quite a bit of a Hakkasan 2.0, with dramatic cutouts and moon gates, bold colors, and a sleek and chic aesthetic. There’s a lounge, and two dining areas (the front room definitely has the better view of Coit Tower).
Chef Boon’s menu of modern Cantonese cuisine features organic produce grown on the restaurant’s farm in Gilroy. They are launching with a $68 prix-fixe menu (take a peek here). Dinner is served Mon-Sat 5pm-10pm. 838 Grant St. at Clay.
More bold color for us can be found at the newly opened CHAO PESCAO in Civic Center, formerly Soluna. Owner Rene Denis returned to the Colombian and Cuban dishes of his childhood, and you may have seen my post/pics about the wonderful takeout they were offering during the pandemic: eight-hour lechon Cubano (with chicharrón gremolata that you sprinkle on top!), a superb ropa vieja, crusty Tajin fried chicken, tostones with avocado-pistachio salsa verde, three kinds of empanadas (Colombian-style—made with masa dough and fried), plus some new cocktails, including a daiquiri and a variation on Colombia’s signature Coco Loco. There are also sandwiches, arepas, and salads, perfect for lunch. It’s hearty, affordable, flavorful Latin-Caribbean food that makes you happy. Now that indoor dining has returned, you can visit in person, and admire the color-saturated dining room Denis redesigned himself, full of fun details. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-8pm for now. 1272 McAllister St. at Larkin.
After opening not more than a year ago, and serving the city the best goddamn hoagies throughout the pandemic, PALM CITY is finally opening their doors as their original concept: to serve you tasty things while you drink delicious wine and beer. There are five tables outside and four inside (ideally your party is four or less); bar seating is coming soon. No reservations, so it’s first come, first served.
The menu includes olives, giardiniera, spicy garlic cheese spread, white bean salad, anchovies, speck and stone fruit, Little Gem salad with garlic croutons, chopped salad, and a chocolate chip cookie and a strawberry-rhubarb hand pie. Hoagies are thankfully still available (Italian American, roast pork, hoag au poivre, and roasted cauliflower), but they’re making them a bit smaller (and less expensive). Open Wed-Sun: food from 12:30pm-8pm, beer and wine until 9pm. 4055 Irving St. at 42nd Ave.
LUNA is opening this Thursday June 24th, and you can look at the newly posted American brasserie menu here, featuring a wedge salad, broccolini stromboli, oysters Hellafeller (Brentwood corn, pickled beech mushrooms, creamed kale, herbed cornbread), and a heritage pork chop with creamy yellow polenta, forest mushrooms, sweet & sour figs, and marsala jus, plus there’s a full bar. Open Tue-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-9pm. 694 Valencia St. at 18th St.
Hayes Valley Updates: 20th Century Cafe Sets Closing Date (and Four Barrel Is Moving In With Loquat), New Taker for The Riddler Space
Well, the moment has arrived: owner Michelle Polzine of 20TH CENTURY CAFE has announced the last day of business at the café: Saturday July 10th. (Just in case you missed the how and why, you can read her original note about her decision to close here.) You can still try to pre-order some bagels or a honey cake or strudel for pickup the next two Saturdays (a new ordering page goes up each week), or try your luck at walking up for a slice or cookie 11:30am-2pm (also on Saturdays). I know we will miss having this special little corner space where we could slip out of time and enjoy a conversation over a slow lunch, with Nick Rossi strumming by the entrance if you were lucky. Best wishes and many thanks to you, Michelle and faithful team, for everything you did to bring us joy and happiness the past eight years, one bite at a time.
There is a new tenant taking over the last year of her lease, and according to the ABC license transfer, it’s none other than Four Barrel Coffee. Tal Mor and Jodi Geren, owners of The Mill and Four Barrel Coffee, will be opening a new daytime bakery and evening wine bar serving small plates in the fall of 2021, LOQUAT. 198 Gough St. at Oak.
Meanwhile, over in the former The Riddler location is an upcoming business called LINDEN & LAGUNA. A tablehopper reader gave me a heads up that a wine bar was moving in, and according to some online sleuthing, Chris Nickolopoulos, who is listed on the license, “has over 20 years of wine industry experience with expertise in sales and marketing senior management and entrepreneurial leadership. Chris is the Chief Executive Officer of Maritime Wine Trading Collective, a leading boutique wine import, production, and distribution company based in San Francisco, which he founded with Elijah Pfister in 2006.” I reached out and am waiting for more info on plans for the space. Hayes Valley is going to be chock-full of wine bars, that’s for sure. 528 Laguna St. at Linden.
Changes and Openings and Closures in the Namu World
The pandemic sure continues to wreak some havoc on our restaurant scene, and it definitely caused some big changes in the Namu restaurant group. The team has been making some updates on their Instagram account, including announcing the closure of Namu Stonepot on Divisadero (ugh, I will miss their stonepot rice being just blocks away), but at least it lives in on the former Namu Gaji space on Dolores Park, which they converted to Namu Stonepot for good. (Operating a full-service restaurant like Namu Gaj was already challenging and sadly is no longer feasible for them.)
But, some good news. Their plans for a food and beer hall (SSP BEER HALL & NFT GALLERY) are starting to come into focus at the former Perennial space in SoMa—chef Dennis Lee brought his stealth pandemic pop-up, Sunset Squares Pizza, over to the space, serving their fluffy sourdough focaccia pizza with sick toppings (like mapo tofu), along with some new New England/New Haven-inspired round pizzas the Lee brothers grew up with (think Greek and Armenian pizzerias), plus the Namu Stonepot menu, and some Filipino-American comfort food from Uncle Tito’s, who have been serving in the space for a couple weeks. I’m heading over for a look-see tomorrow (this Wednesday), the official opening day, so will be posting some updates on @tablehopper. There will also be some NFT art on display (SF’s first NFT art gallery), local beers from Cellarmaker (and others), and more surprises, I am sure. 59 9th St. at Mission.
Hey Neighbor, a New Café Opening in the Former Four Barrel Portola
Do you smell the coffee brewing in the Portola Garden District? After being closed for months, the former Four Barrel location is reopening under new ownership as HEY NEIGHBOR. The owners are Dee Derisse—who was such a regular at Four Barrel that they ended up working there for a couple years—who teamed up with fellow neighbor Natasha Podogova (they both live within a few blocks of the café, and are both filmmakers/artists).
Hey Neighbor is a fourth-wave café, focused on reclaiming coffee’s BIPOC roots and culture (highlighted through thoughtful sourcing and education), as well as featuring female roasters, and folks who build and contribute to coffee culture. Their first featured roaster is Captain + Stoker out of Monterey.
They will be offering a truffle and espresso pairing (with truffles from Feve Chocolatier), highlighting citrusy or nutty notes, for example, and they will be doing a fun take on a London Fog tea latte (we’re the right city for it). They are also partnering with Rize Up Sourdough on an activated charcoal loaf for the café. There are eventual plans for after-hours events, dinner service, and becoming a community event hub in the space. Be sure to say hi to Boots, the famous café cat who comes in every morning and hangs out until they close—the whole neighborhood loves and adores her. Hours will be 8am-3pm. 1 Burrows St. at San Bruno.
For now, you can get a first look at their soft opening on Sunday June 27th at the Portola Brunch Hop and try a latte with a yuzu-chocolate truffle. Start your Pride festivities by picking up brunch in the Portola—check out this handy guide to Portola brunch spots and dishes. You can enjoy some outdoor seating at the café and at Burrows Pocket Park Extension, the new gardens located behind Bank of the West.
A few other quick notes about new cafés: read about ABANICO COFFEE ROASTERS in Eater and the queer MILK [Chronicle], both in the Mission. It also looks like SPRO COFFEE LAB in the Castro is soft opening July 10th, RSVP here; 500 Church St. at 17th St.
Updates: Olivier's Butchery Has a New Location, Old Jerusalem Reopens, Outstanding in the Field Returns
I was so impressed with the pic of the new OLIVIER’S BUTCHERY location, which opened a block away from their previous spot. Come by and admire the gorg new cases and layout. Chop chop! Open Wed 10am-6pm, Thu-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 10am-6pm. 1192 Illinois St. at Humboldt.
After suffering a fire back in 2020, believed to be caused by illegal fireworks, OLD JERUSALEM has finally reopened in the Mission. If you recall, they had recently moved into a new location, so let’s welcome them back with double orders of their stuffed falafel. Open Mon-Sat 11am-9:45pm, Sun 11am-8:45pm. 2966 Mission St. at 26th St. [Via Mission Local]
A tablehopper reader was very excited to see THE JELLY DONUT (since 1987!) is back open, with a nice new cobalt blue exterior. According to their Instagram account, they are selling out quickly, so the early bird gets the apple fritter. Bring your cash, baby. 3198 24th St. at S. Van Ness.
I was happy to see Outstanding in the Field return with an incredible lineup of event locations around the world. We’ll have some opportunities to gather at their long table close to home, like Pescadero, Tresch Family Dairy ranch in Petaluma with Cowgirl Creamery, and the Secret Sea Cove in Santa Cruz. Take a look since events are booking up quickly.
An Event to Commemorate Refettorio San Francisco
A couple weeks ago, I couldn’t believe I was walking a block in Hayes Valley, chatting with Alice Waters, both of us on our way to an event at the former CALA restaurant, celebrating the launch of Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore’s Refettorio San Francisco. It was also a bittersweet send-off and salute to Italian Consul General Lorenzo Ortona, whose time in SF has sadly ended and is returning to Italy with his lovely family after bringing such a community-building spirit here in SF. Grazie di tutto, Lorenzo! It’s a wonderful legacy, however, to have played such a big part in facilitating the launch of the first Refettorio in the U.S., in conjunction with Farming Hope and Bottura and Gilmore’s nonprofit, Food For Soul.
Part of an international network of ten Refettorios, or community food hubs, this location will work with local community organization Farming Hope (founded in 2016) to offer paid, empowering, transitional employment to formerly incarcerated or unhoused neighbors; have daily dining for unhoused families and food-insecure neighbors; reduce food waste; and offer food education initiatives, cultural programming, events, and volunteer opportunities that promote social cohesion through a just food system.
Bottura and Gilmore joined us on a video call during the event, and Bottura could not contain his enthusiasm for launching in San Francisco—he visited here around 1980, and it had a huge effect on his thinking and perspective. He felt strongly about having a Refettorio in SF, the first in the U.S. (Have you ever watched the documentary about the Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan, Theater of Life?) I also am happy to see the work former GM Emma Rosenbush started at CALA—to help hire and train formerly incarcerated individuals—continue in this beautiful space (for now).
It takes $38K/month to cook daily for the community and run the program (they have provided 20,000 meals to our food insecure neighbors and recovered 𝟱,𝟱𝟬𝟬 𝗽𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗱𝘀 of produce from landfill since the start of 2021), so your donations, volunteering, support, and awareness all help the project move forward. They will also welcome guest chefs, and need help placing cooks in food businesses and restaurants after they complete the program. Read more here about the project and how you can help. Follow @refettoriosanfrancisco on Instagram here. With our spaces reopening, it will be wonderful for them to start hosting meals on-site in the fall.
Some New Takeout Options: The Roost and Just Fare
I wanted to fill you in on a couple tasty takeout/delivery options you’ll want to weave into your at-home meals, starting with THE ROOST. A former catering operation from Merchant Roots, owner Ryan Shelton and executive chef Ashley Keeler have rebooted the business to be a public-facing eatery, running out of a brick-and-mortar shop in the new The Aviary in the Tenderloin.
The menu is centered around a baked chicken dinner (get a juicy half-chicken with sides for $17; the chicken from Bassian Farms is rubbed with ancho chile mustard), with a killer adobo-buttermilk slaw (I think it’s my favorite in the city), “salsa verde,” and jasmine rice. There’s also sweet potato croquettes, roasted cauliflower with garlic confit (also amazing cold the next day), a vegan quinoa and chickpea salad with apricots, and shishitos. There’s a BBQ chicken sandwich that features that tasty adobo slaw and is like a Fourth of July party in a brioche bun. Don’t forget a cookie for dessert. Available Thu-Sat 12pm-7pm for pickup or delivery. 479 Ellis St. at Leavenworth.
East Bay folks, you won’t want to miss the Mediterranean delivery from Just Fare, based out of Emeryville. I was lucky to try out some dishes on a warm evening, the perfect meal for that kind of night. I had housemade labneh with crispy garlic, white bean and charred scallion dip, roasted tahini chicken, and rather awesome flatbread—don’t forget the spicy zhug-like cilantro sauce on the side. Take a look at my Instagram post here for more.
The pricing is so fair, portions were generous, ingredients were fresh, and the flavors pop! Everything was plated beautifully in the takeout containers, and I loved all the texture in the dishes as well. Enjoy. And 1 percent of their revenue goes toward donated meals for their charitable arm, Fare Community Kitchen (they prepare and distribute donated meals every week through a network of 15 partner organizations in the East Bay, like Queer Healing Arts Center, Oakland Unified School District, and Tiny Village Housing). Delivery: Wed-Sun 5pm-9pm.
This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)
Show Your Support With a tablehopper 15th Anniversary Oversized Tote Bag!
Thanks to all of you who have purchased tablehopper vintage SF restaurant and bar tees, and now you can show you’re a tablehopper star reader with my 15-year anniversary tote bag! Carry allllll your goodies in this oversized, sturdy, natural cotton canvas 15th anniversary tote (this isn’t one of those flimsy cotton totes—and the gusseted bottom means it won’t tip over, even after a couple drinks, ha-ha!).
In honor of the occasion, and all the takeout and doggie bags I have brought home over the years, I asked studio1500 to design a custom tablehopper version of the classic THANK YOU takeout bag graphic. THANK YOU! Thank you to all of you who got me to 15! Have a nice day.
Bar News & Reviews (put it on my tab)
Opening This Week in the Former The Cellar: Persona
With the reopening of San Francisco comes the opening of some new bars! Opening this week in the former The Cellar is PERSONA, a space designed for happy hour, quality cocktails, events, and good times, with sound set up in four different areas (DJs and entertainment will be coming in time).
The subterranean space has been completely redone by C Walters Design, who always adds a touch of swank and shimmer to his projects. The space is designed to be movable and convertible into different seating areas and sections, and one area will even have its own special entrance on Hobart Alley. There are custom tables and barstools, with low-slung seating in a variety of fabrics, from teal vinyl to dove grey to gold to leopard. The space is tricked out with dramatic and theatrical lighting, TV screen panels behind the bar that disappear until you turn them on, shimmery gold mesh columns, and a mural will be coming to one of the walls. It’s all just the right level of party-chic.
There are draft cocktails and six wells (!) that will be ready and waiting for the thirsty, after-work, downtown crowd. Oscar Sinisterra (Hello Stranger) is behind the creative list of craft cocktails, featuring touches like palo santo-infused gin, carbonation, and kombucha. The Welcome Cocktail with Cappelletti, wine, tangerine, and oleo-saccharum is a great place to start, while a nitro vodka and cold brew coffee number will keep the party going (you can peek at the preview menu here, names are TBD, FYI). The owners are friends with the chef at Rasa in Burlingame, who will be working on a small menu of bites, which they will prepare out of the Matador kitchen upstairs.
The partners asked me to keep their identities secret until they throw their surprise launch party for friends and employees (from their other locations) this week, so in the spirit of the bar’s name, I’m going to keep their personas on the DL. Open Thu-Sat 7pm-2am (for now). 685 Sutter St. at Taylor.
New Owners and Openings: The Bus Stop and Mothership (Formerly Virgil's Sea Room)
A couple quick updates for you about bars around town: first, the historic THE BUS STOP, one of the oldest bars in the city (since 1900!) and certainly one of the oldest sports bars, is back open! The new owners are Joe Wallace (from a financial advisory firm) and Robert Lemons (director of basketball operations for the Sacramento Kings), who bought the building and the business. They’re keeping the sports bar vibe alive and well, and will just be doing a little TLC to the space (like ADA and bathroom updates)—they said previous owner Gabe Ferroni and family kept the place pretty immaculate (it was in the family for four generations). They have been loving hearing all the stories from regulars coming back into the bar, and look forward to making more memories. Open Mon-Fri 10am-2am, Sat-Sun 9am-2am. 1901 Union St. at Laguna.
Eater has news about the the new tenants of the former Virgil’s Sea Room: three local bartenders (Joanna Ricco, El Rio; Alicia Griffiths, Brass Tacks and Junior; and Sean Mabry, the Knockout) will be opening MOTHERSHIP. Look for some sci-fi and funkadelic space vibes, with lots of plants on the patio. You can read their thoughtful opening announcement note here. They’re aiming for a mid-fall opening. 3152 Mission St. at Valencia.