Ringing in 2023 with wishes for abundance, good health, and joy to all. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Happy New Year greetings, my fellow passengers on the Ark! I hope you’re faring well in this week of unprecedented, Biblical-level storms. Businesses have been dealing with leaks and power outages and flooding all over the Bay, and it was awful to see all the New Year’s Eve damage to businesses down in the old Mission Creek area around 14th and Folsom, a notorious area for flooding. The footage was unbelievable. Parklets just floating away, and rivers running down the streets and flowing into businesses. Poor Izakaya Rintaro, Pink Onion (reopening Friday), Stable Cafe, Standard Deviant (back open), The Wooden Nickel, The Rite Spot, and others—most are still closed. But it’s uplifting to see the community rallying to help Rintaro with their GoFundMe, which just exceeded their fundraising goal. You really should read the fundraiser note to see the extent of the damage they are dealing with, and what a scary situation it was.
We’re experiencing weather we have no frame of reference for, and we don’t quite know what it’s capable of, so please err on the side of caution right now (it’s not the time to drive in the park or go for a walk near trees), be prepared (it has been a good exercise for me to check my flashlights, lantern, and candle supply), and look out for others. I’ve been posting a bunch of storm-related updates in my Instagram Stories, if you want to follow along. Looks like the next wave of yuck is rolling in on Saturday, so now’s the time to go get some fresh crab and support your neighborhood restaurants and bars.
It’s a helluva way to start 2023, but here we go! My ending to 2022 was pretty lousy—I tested positive for Covid a few days before Christmas, which was some really special timing, that. Covid is the Grinch! At least I had my adorable cuddly cat, a freezer full of soup, and a tray of lasagna from Il Casaro to keep me company. Fortunately, it was a MUCH milder case this time, whew—shout-out to that booster I had in November (did you get yours?). Much love and empathy to everyone who is illing right now.
I managed to recuperate in time to have an epic New Year’s Eve celebration with friends—partying on the patio at Chambers, and staying overnight at the Phoenix Hotel was the move. Their staff was so hospitable and fun, and the updated rooms are cute. There’s nothing quite like an inaugural dip in their heated pool on New Year’s Day, and being able to stroll into Chambers for brunch was just so easy (bless). File this away for a future staycation idea when they’re hosting a party on the patio.
I want to thank all of you who bought a Hopper Holiday Gift Bag—it was such a pleasure to see your posts and get your notes about what you were enjoying! Huge thanks to everyone involved, from the local businesses who made such tasty treats to the amazing volunteers who helped me assemble them, and to La Cocina Municipal Marketplace for being our wonderful pick-up partner! Also, shout-out to my sis, who helped deliver bags on the second day when I was out of commission, ugh. Such a good elf.
It ends up I printed some extra tablehopper pizza totes for my fellow weird pizza box lovers. Enjoy your delicious moments! You can order a tablehopper tote here—they have long handles and a gusseted base and are built for schlepping! I look forward to seeing them out in the wild.
So, as any longtime tablehopper reader knows, the beginning of the year is when I release my annual “the bore” piece listing ten things I don’t want to see in the new year. Since 2007, I’ve been bitching about items like sawdusty macarons, bone broth, rectangular plates, and cold Tolix metal chairs, although I took the last two years off to write something positive during the pandemic. Things are still a struggle out there, and this week is particularly rough, so this year’s bore is more of a PSA than a rant.
As you may have noticed, I’m taking things a bit slow at this particular moment—I obviously wasn’t in a rush to send this on Tuesday. (Oh hey, it’s Thursday.) It’s such a weird week, we’re all trying to keep things dialed down. I’m also taking a break on doing any reporting this week—I’m working on a big-ass, exciting project this month and need to conserve all my time and energy. I was in the Covid bunker, and now I’m in the project bunker. More on all this sooooon!
I’m grateful for this new year—I’m optimistic about many things, and I hope you are, too. 2022 was a rough one, up to the very end. I was heading out to New Year’s Eve festivities when a friend shared the horrific news that our city’s beloved barman Ilya Romanov had died in a fall the night before. I was so shocked and struck with immediate, immense grief. Ilya was full of so much light and charisma and kindness, it seemed impossible…. It was too utterly awful. I had just seen him a couple weeks ago at his industry holiday party at Bar Iris, hosting everyone with his cheeky style and that impish grin.
My heart has been heavy—he was such a talent, and one of our city’s brightest stars. I loved his cocktails at Niku (and seeing him at The Beehive), and was so happy for him when he became the bar manager at Bar Iris and could run his own living room there. He was a consummate host and everything you want in a barman. He made such sophisticated and unique cocktails, so chic. He also photographed them beautifully. He was always kind, and warm, and funny. Vivacious. His spirit was so shiny. He took such good care of people, and always looked out for others.
The industry and his many customers and fans are devastated to be mourning this tremendous loss—look at all the comments on these Instagram posts and you see so much love. It just doesn’t make any sense to have him taken away like this. 33 years young. We all have made slightly risky choices and had close calls in our lives, so it’s difficult to comprehend and accept how he could accidentally slip off the roof to his death. I know we’re struggling to wrap our heads around it, the how and why of this brutal happening.
Our hearts are with his family, his friends, his colleagues, and the many people who adored him. There is a fundraiser for his three-year-old son, Ezra, and his former wife, Maya, to help show them support during this terrible time. We are all so fortunate that we knew Ilya and were inspired by him and how he moved through this world—may we try to embody and share his many good qualities in his honor. Even as we grieve, his sparkle lives on in our hearts. I raise my glass high.
Take good care, everyone. Be safe, be kind.
Due to the pandemic, I have taken the past two years off from writing snarky bores, my annual bitchfest about things I don’t want to see in restaurants in the new year. And to be completely honest, it still doesn’t feel quite right to complain about anything, knowing all the difficulties that continue to plague the industry, including inflation, staffing shortages, supply chain issues, break-ins, Covid (people are still getting sick), and the lack of downtown workers and business. Oh hey, let’s add flooding and water damage! Things are still a mess. Places keep closing. Yeah, everything is expensive and it sucks for (almost) everyone. But you know where my heart is, so hopefully you can take this year’s bore with a few grains of sea salt, because it’s a great privilege to be able to dine out and have food and drink brought to you with a smile. Just consider this a sort of PSA.
- Horrible QR menus. Come on, you knew this was first. I honestly don’t mind the technology when it works, especially when you think about the environmental impact, and after I heard how much a restaurant was saving in annual paper menu printing costs, it makes total sense. But if I can’t read your cocktail list easily, or the ingredients in your $48 entrée, or I can’t scan the damn plywood QR tile (those really are the worst), let’s just say it’s a frustrating first impression. (And if you’re taking your parents out to dinner, just ask for a paper menu, don’t even attempt it.) Bar and restaurant owners, have you looked at your menu on your phone? Just keep an eye on it.
- Outdated info. Since we’re talkin’ technology…. Restaurants and bars, have you looked at your hours listed on your website, Google listing (we know, it’s a pain), Yelp page, and Instagram bio? Do they all look the same? No? Please fix it. We have no idea which one is correct, and most places don’t have a phone number we can call to confirm. (I totally understand closing time may happen earlier if things are dead.) But for the love of goddess, please add your hours to your Instagram bio, it’s the most important thing we need to know. (An address is also nice.) And if you can get your custom location/geotag working, it will help us promote your business and location in our posts, for free! Magic! Not really. Here’s how.
- Tinned fish. Trust me, I have quite a collection at home of tinned sardines, spicy tuna, smoked mussels, octopus, and razor clams, just waiting for me to crack into them as a last-minute snack when I’m trying to rustle up something tasty to eat. But they’re not what I go out for. Thanks for opening the tin (Fancy Feast!) and I appreciate the toasts and condiments on the side, but really, it’s like eating nuclear bunker rations in a restaurant. We’re getting out of the bunker, it’s time to eat something fresh.
- Awkward sharing. OK, sooooo, it’s great that we’re back to dinner with friends and work colleagues and first dates, but we don’t necessarily want them serving us a portion of our shared salad with their used fork, or splitting the burrata appetizer with my dirty spoon. There are a LOT of germs swirling around us, please serve share plates (and dessert!) with clean silverware so we can each take and enjoy our own portion in a hygienic fashion.
- Oversized cutlery. Since we’re talking utensils, enough with the bulky, heavy, awkward silverware that slides to the middle or falls off the edge of the plate (or to the floor, the worst). Restaurant owners: have you tried eating with your silverware and plateware … and then clearing it? I don’t need to feel like King Henry VIII with an enormous knife as long as my forearm. Clankity clank clank! Fee-fi-fo-fum! Where is my chalice?
- NFTs and anything to do with restaurants. Haven’t tech bros ruined things enough?
- Robots. Please, no more robot servers—times are already so dystopian. Hard no. Beep. And do not expect a 20 percent tip for Twiki.
- Boring $13 desserts. I know, I know, you can’t afford a pastry chef right now, it sucks. But is panna cotta, olive oil cornmeal cake, bread pudding, or ice cream the only thing you can come up with? Give us a reason to order dessert!
- Dry ice presentations. I get it, it makes for a fun Instagram Reel, but enough already. I’m beginning to feel like I’m on an endless Pirates of the Caribbean ride or in a vampire movie. Save it for Halloween.
- Cocktails with huge ice cubes. I’m seeing way too much liquid displacement in my beverages lately. A tiny vintage glass with big ice sloshing in it means my $16 cocktail is done in three sips. Save the big chonk for an old fashioned.
I could call out caviar, alllll the pizza, espresso martinis, and Aperol spritzes, but I’m no hypocrite, I love them too much, heh. If you’re looking for birria everything, smash burgers, and hot chicken sandwiches, those items would have been in 2021’s bore, but thankfully, their local proliferation appears to have slowed down. We can keep and adore the places we already have, no need for more, okerrrr? (Sushi handrolls, take note! You’re on watch!)
If you want to see previous kvetches about truffle oil (will it ever go away?) and omakase, you can read past issues of the bore here.