Greetings from Hopper HQ, on this windy-ass Pi Day. Someone did not sleep very well last night (and I’m not talking about Fortuna, all she does is sleep). My apartment is kind of a nightmare during storms—it gets really buffeted by the wind and shakes like someone put a quarter in it. I didn’t ask for a room at the Love Motel! At least it isn’t an icebox like it has been for the past couple weeks—Nanook of the North has been my fashion inspo over here. That little sun blast yesterday felt so good. 62 degrees, I love you, come back soon.
Can you believe this week is the hellish anniversary of when our lives drastically changed forever and we went into lockdown three years ago (on March 17th)? Man. Three years. It sounds so long ago, but it’s all such a blur. Our sense of time got seriously warped of late. This year, I’m excited to focus on St. Patrick’s Day instead—I have some ways to celebrate in today’s newsletter. Go dine out and support our local restaurants and appreciate the privilege to do so!
This week, I’m excited to run two in-depth pieces featuring some of our city’s best chefs: Dominique Crenn and Brandon Jew. I spoke with each of them about their post-pandemic vision and recent adaptations and changes to their restaurants and menus. A couple weeks ago, I visited Bar Crenn for a preview of the renovated space, all-new cocktails, and a peek at what’s going on at Atelier Crenn next door. I also have an update on all the big changes happening at Mister Jiu’s, which is reopening this week with a new menu format and dining experience. Stand by for more firsthand details after my preview visit this week.
Lastly, thanks to all of you who entered the Oakland Restaurant Week sponsored giveaway last week—we chose our winner, so it’s time to plan your upcoming culinary adventures (from March 16th–26th). Eat drink repeat!
I hope your umbrella doesn’t blow inside-out today, stay cozy.
Mister Jiu’s Is Reopening This Week with an All-New Menu Format, Updated Dining Room, and Experience
After closing for renovations in January, Mister Jiu’s is reopening this Thursday March 16th (yes, reservations are open!) with some big changes. Chef-owner Brandon Jew is guiding the restaurant to its next level and expression with a new tasting menu ($125), instead of the previous à la carte format. The five-course menu will feature an exploration of meaningful ingredients that are considered delicacies in Chinese cuisine, from abalone to bamboo fungus to dried scallop, along with the best, peak-season, local ingredients. Jew wanted to keep the pricing as reasonable as possible, so it’s somewhat reachable without totally falling into the special occasion category (they won’t be dropping “caviar bombs” all over the menu). It’s important to him to be able to maintain his kitchen’s dedication to using top-quality ingredients and keeping their pantry of housemade items on a fine-dining level—hallmarks of the Mister Jiu’s experience—while grappling with rising costs, and wanting to keep pricing manageable for guests. The SF struggle is real.
Jew didn’t want to just rehash Mister Jiu’s classics with this new menu—he decided to challenge himself (and diners a little, too) about what contemporary Chinese-American food is. He says, “This new menu is where I wanted to push the cuisine, which respects the old but progresses new ideas—it’s a balance of preserving the legacy of some dishes but pushing the envelope, too. When I was looking at this dining room, and thinking of what came before [the Four Seas and Hang Far Low], I was inspired to push.” A peek at the new menu includes a course of buckwheat honey walnut prawns, a perfect dish for exploring the balance between past and present. (I can’t wait to see what he came up with.)
But before you start wondering if you can still have the iconic Liberty Farms roast duck, the answer is yes: guests will be able to order banquet-style supplements, like the duck or whole fish, so think about coming as a four-top or small group since the communal aspect of eating and sharing is so integral to a full Chinese dining experience. And, it ends up the 15-seat bar will offer an à la carte menu, so you can get the duck and fried rice for dinner with a cocktail. In time, there will also be some options available upstairs in Moongate Lounge.
With this new format is a big change to the dining room and experience—they reduced the seating from 85 to 45, so guests are going to feel quite comfortable and taken care of. By slowing down the pace a little, there will be more rapport at the table and with the staff—Jew wants all guests to feel like they’re having a curated, VIP experience. But this isn’t about having a serious or stuffy vibe in the room—Jew wants it to feel lively and energetic. The three round group tables will remain and seat four–six guests, while the booths that line the walls can seat two–four. They refinished the floors, got some new kitchen equipment, put in some new lighting and soundproofing, and are debuting a soundsystem from Meyer Sound (so cool).
Like many chef-owners in this post-pandemic state, Jew is reflecting upon the pace of his life (he became a father during the pandemic), his cooking, and his team: “I think about what is my purpose here, for the people working for me, and my impact on Chinese cuisine during this time. I’m thinking about longevity instead of burning so hard. It feels good. Owning a business in SF is already so tough.” I’m thrilled for this next chapter of his vision for the restaurant (he says this is the last iteration, but I won’t hold him to that), and have so much respect for how carefully he shepherds the history and legacy of this legendary Chinatown establishment. Open for dinner Tue–Sat. 28 Waverly Pl. at Sacramento.
Catching Up with Dominique Crenn About Her Reimagined Menus and Spaces at Atelier Crenn and Bar Crenn
A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a preview of the newly revamped Bar Crenn, with chef-owner Dominique Crenn as my apéro date (which turned into my first dinner of the night, ha-ha). It was good to catch up in person and talk about the post-pandemic state of SF—we have both lived here since the ’90s, and she echoed my feelings about doubling down right now when she said, “I am not leaving SF—we have to reinvest in the city for its future, we have to give back with a purpose.”
Her love affair with California has only deepened lately, from doing a deep dive on learning about Calafia, the mythical pagan warrior Black queen our state is likely named after, to paying homage to native foods on the newly redesigned Atelier Crenn tasting menu, including a delightful trompe-l’œil acorn made from mushroom gel nestled under a socca oak leaf. (Chef pâtissier Juan Contreras always adds such charming notes of whimsy, nature, and magical realism to the menu.)
Crenn had me try a few more dishes off the Atelier menu, which will take you on a beach walk along the California coast with a “recreated oyster” (just wait until you pick it up), plus a jaunt to her Bleu Belle Farm in Sonoma, with the tiniest taco made of smoked carrot and parsnips from the farm (it gave me such a homey flavor flash, reminding me of the oven-roasted vegetables that used to come with my grandma’s pot roast). Ingredients on the menu also reflect the global cultures of California, like Japanese shiso and Yucatecan recado negro (burnt chile) coming together in a jet black tempura.
Back in 2019, Crenn made headlines for taking meat off her tasting menu, and for her next trick, she has eliminated dairy. Oui, the French chef is no longer using butter—she stopped using it when cooking at home, and now she has removed it from the restaurant kitchen. The bread service (a prehistoric-looking orb of sourdough Dutch crunch, an homage to classic SF breads) comes with a luscious walnut-miso spread with fermented buckwheat, while dashi-cured trout roe is served in a disc of non-dairy Dungeness crab “ice cream,” embossed with the outline of a crab.
Atelier Crenn’s natural-futuristic dining room (with a touch of glam ’70s) recently reopened after a month-long renovation by production designer Ethan Tobman (they met while working together on The Menu), and he’s also behind Bar Crenn’s new, exotic-chic look. There’s a black mirrored marble bar with plush, tufted chairs, and five tables, each with their own style and vibe, from the loungey seating by the front window to a table for six that almost makes you want to play cards. The room is anchored by a floor-to-ceiling yellow cabinet full of records, with speakers nestled in it, and a turntable. Inspired by Japanese Hi-Fi listening bars, the elegant room has an intimate vibe that feels like a private party at someone’s stylish home in Marrakesh. (I’ll be posting my own pictures on @tablehopper if you want to see more.)
There are two experiences you can reserve: the Bar Crenn Snack Menu ($120), with five playful small bites (both savory and sweet), and available at the bar is Le Comptoir Crenn ($300 including service, additional beverage pairing required), a six-course menu inspired by daily produce and seafood cooked live in front of only six guests.
Bar Crenn recently acquired a full liquor license, so there’s now a menu of hand-crafted cocktails that highlight ingredients from Bleu Belle Farm, as well as women-owned and operated spirits brands. The concise and food-friendly cocktail list was developed by Christopher Longoria (West Bev Consulting) and Virginia Miller. There’s the low-ABV Green Lift (C. Comoz blanc vermouth de Chambéry, fino sherry, pineapple, cucumber, smoked sea salt, micro shiso) and the Bleu Belle Farm Sage Dry Negroni, featuring sage-infused London dry gin (it’s my new favorite Negroni—and it ends up that it’s something Longoria has been fine-tuning for at least 10 years). Cocktails are $28–$30.
The housemade non-alcoholic options are just as complex, with elixirs of seasonal and housemade juices, distillations, teas, and fermentations—my palate was immediately energized by a concoction of olive oil, celtuce distillate, herbal tea, tangerine, thyme, and lemon (the n/a pairing is $70). You should also check out Crenn’s non-alcoholic riesling collaboration with Proxies. And, of course, you can order off the extensive wine list; the wine pairing is $145.
Anthony Strong’s Pasta Supply Co Is Opening Very Soon, Funky Elephant Coming to SF, and More
A fun update for you: Anthony Strong has chosen a name for his upcoming pasta shop in the Inner Richmond that I first told you about last December. It’s called Pasta Supply Co, and opening for retail sales very soon—like, next weekend (March 25th–26th, 10am–3pm), but knowing Anthony...
He’s planning to offer 30 different housemade pastas and 12 sauces (when he said he was opening a pasta playground, he meant it!); dinner service will come later.
He also just launched a Kickstarter to help get him through this initial push, it just went live. For any Joy Division fans, check out the limited-run T-shirt featuring a spaghetti riff on their Unknown Pleasures album art—available only via Kickstarter. There’s also a private pasta class, and the pasta-for-a-year reward is a good deal. Go Anthony go! 236 Clement St. at 3rd Ave.
I spotted some beer-and-wine license activity for a location of Berkeley’s tiny Funky Elephant coming to the Mission, how great. I love chef/co-owner Supasit Puttikaew’s kicky Thai dishes that feature so many housemade touches, and am happy that Valencia Street will have some tasty Thai once again—and they’ll be able to stretch their wings a bit more in this location (the former Barzotto). WhatNowSF reports they’re gunning for a summer opening. 1270 Valencia St. at 24th St.
Hoodline reports the Salvadoran Los Amigos on Castro just opened in the former Castro Republic space, fondly remembered by some of us as the home of Bagdad Café back in the day. The lunch and dinner menus offer an eclectic lineup of pupusas, roast chicken, and grilled salmon, with chilaquiles and omelets for brunch. Open late (until 2am) Fri–Sat, woot. 2295 Market St. at 16th St.
There’s a proposal to transform part of the massive The Armory (previously known as the Kink Castle) into a jazz club with a VIP lounge, dining, and a bar (in addition to being a concert and event venue). SFist also found renderings of a roof deck for office tenants on the current website, and more. 1800 Mission St. at 14th St. [Via SF YIMBY]
Kingston 11 in Oakland and The Bewildered Pig in Philo Announce Their Upcoming Closures
Last week, I was sorry to see chef-owner Nigel Jones of Kingston 11’s post about closing and transforming his 10-year-old Jamaican restaurant to catering and events only. Read more in this post on Eater about how extremely challenging staffing issues are driving this unfortunate adaptation—at least you can still get some of his cooking from his newly opened and nearby restaurant, Calabash. Kingston 11 will stay open until the end of March, until the closing night party on March 25th. Jones is hopeful to be able to reopen the restaurant if and when things change. In the meantime, now you know who to place your next catering order with. 2270 Telegraph Ave. at 23rd St., Oakland.
If you read my jetsetter piece about Anderson Valley, then you know what a huge fan I am of the singular experience at The Bewildered Pig in Philo. Sadly, chef-owner Janelle Weaver and co-owner Daniel Townsend have made the difficult decision to close the restaurant permanently after May 2023. Thud. You can read more in this extremely frank, heartfelt, and heartbreaking post about all the challenges that led to this decision (including lease, location, weather, the pandemic, and more). They will be closed for March and April (although there may be some pop-ups), and reopening in May so friends can plan one last visit. Keep posted on all these happenings by joining their email list. I am so sorry to hear this truly magical and bohemian NorCal experience will only be a treasured memory. Thank you, Janelle and Daniel, for everything you created and gave, it was so beautiful and special and deeply personal. Hope to see you in May. And whatever comes next, we’re here for it. 1810 Highway 128, Philo.
Bring on the Corned Beef and Shamrock Everything
If you’re looking for some corned beef and more for St. Patrick’s Day this Friday March 17th, here are a variety of options around town.
Per annual tradition (for 86 years!), the North Beach and Westlake locations of Original Joe’s will be serving their corned beef and cabbage special, with shamrock cream–topped Irish coffees and chocolate Guinness cake. Lunch begins at 11:30am at 601 Union St. at Stockton, while Original Joe’s Westlake (11 Glenwood Ave., Daly City) opens at 11am.
Hayes Street Grill is celebrating St. Paddy’s AND their 44th anniversary (!) on Friday, with lunch service (11:30am–2pm) and dinner (5pm–9pm), serving corned beef and cabbage with spring vegetables from the farmers’ market and housemade horseradish cream, plus a shot of Irish whiskey with each order. Sláinte! You’ll also find oysters on the half shell, maybe the first Delta asparagus, and Irish coffee sundaes. 320 Hayes St. at Franklin.
Do You Have Your Tickets Yet for the California Artisan Cheese Festival?
The California Artisan Cheese Festival is coming up soon: March 24th–26th in Sonoma Wine Country! Get your tickets to spend the weekend tasting or just a day exploring California’s finest artisan cheeses, wine, beer, and spirits from local makers, along with complementary accoutrements. The weekend includes Farm and Producer Tours, Seminars and Tastings, a Cheese Crawl, and the popular Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace (this is one event not to miss)!