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Nov 16, 2023 15 min read

This week’s tablehopper: starry-eyed. (free)

This week’s tablehopper: starry-eyed. (free)
Table of Contents

what’s cookin’

The menu for Jeremiah Tower/Stars x Foreign Cinema, November 9th, 2023.
A menu and night to remember: Jeremiah Tower/Stars x Foreign Cinema, November 9th, 2023. Photo: ©
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Hello, hopper friends. (I know, it’s Wednesday, I’m on the late train.) It looks like some rain is here, and APEC is definitely here (hang in there, SoMa businesses—but I don’t understand why people are canceling dinner reservations outside of the security zones, the rest of the City is fine and easy to access!). I enjoyed looking out my window Monday night and admiring the beams of blue light coming down Market Street and shooting up to Twin Peaks and into the sky from Illuminate. Pew pew!

Don’t forget, today is the last day of SF Restaurant Week (through November 16th), and our local restaurants would really benefit from a visit from you! You have 212 spots to choose from! Go get a tasty lunch or dinner—there are plenty of places in the City that aren’t affected by APEC.

Thanks to all of you who turned up for Show & Tell last week with Tony Bravo and The Mushroom at Four One Nine, it was so great to see you! What a good-lookin’ and stylish crowd (I wouldn’t expect anything less). Tony wrote a fun piece about holiday entertaining, with tips from our talk! It’s an engaging read. No candles on the back of the toilet, I implore you!

Marcia Gagliardi and chef Jeremiah Tower on the patio at Foreign Cinema.
A very happy hopper with chef Jeremiah Tower on the patio at Foreign Cinema. Photo: Eli DePalmer.

Last Thursday, it was quite the epic evening at Foreign Cinema, with chef Jeremiah Tower in the house for a celebration of San Francisco’s culinary history—it was THE hot spot in the City! There was a line about 15 people deep when we were checking in for our table at 8pm, and everywhere you turned, there were so many friends and food folks I adore, old friends I haven’t seen in ages, and fab readers who said hello! There was a bubbly, social, and celebratory feeling all night—it was such a gathering of longtime SF residents and friends and Stars devotees, but there was also a young, lone diner who came because he admired Tower and wanted to experience his food, even though he had never dined at Stars.

Every time Tower would leave his post at the pass and walk onto the patio, guests would descend upon him. He was signing menus and cookbooks people brought in (damn, why didn’t I do that?) at the end of the night like an author with a best seller, and was the last to leave. Such vitality.

Jeremiah Tower watching the tickets at the pass at Foreign Cinema
Jeremiah Tower watching the tickets at the pass. Photo: Daniel Boot.

The bubbles and mezcal were flowing, and oysters were being shucked all night—of course, we had to have the Dukes of Topsail oyster tartare, a fantasy dish JT dreamt up for the dinner, and the St. Simon oysters with Ibérico chicharrones. Our table of six managed to make a pretty good dent on the lengthy collaborative menu (it wasn’t our table’s first rodeo—this is why you dine with professionals).

Dukes of Topsail oyster tartare on the half-shell
Dukes of Topsail oyster tartare. Photo: Daniel Boot.

10 years ago, Foreign Cinema hosted a similar night with JT for his seventieth birthday, and there was just one dish that came over from that menu to this one: an homage to the great Judy Rodgers (Zuni) and her trademark ricotta gnocchi, such silky, diaphanous puffs of creamy clouds punctuated with little lightning bolts of nasturtium leaves, cress, arugula, and slivered snap peas (our six-top ordered three!). 

Foreign Cinema chefs and co-owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark were young cooks working for Judy at Zuni, and would dine at Stars whenever they could, even if it was for a Stars hot dog and a beer after service. Gayle notes, “There was a great democracy at that bar. You could come in and sit with Nureyev, and see Pavarotti in the room. It was the birthplace of the American brasserie.”

Likewise, Gayle told me Jeremiah would come into Zuni three or four times a week, often for lunch, and loved Judy (and her cooking). For the Stars commemorative dinner 10 years ago, Judy wanted to contribute to the menu, but was sadly so sick that she couldn’t attend (tragically, she was in her final weeks of suffering from cancer of the appendix). The Zuni team ended up making the ricotta gnocchi and bringing them over to Foreign Cinema for the dinner. Judy died at 57 years old, just one month later, in December 2013. There were some misty eyes at our table over this dish.

Judy Rodgers' ricotta gnocchi with cress and nasturtium leaves
Judy Rodgers' ricotta gnocchi. Photo: Daniel Boot.

Interestingly, the menu didn’t contain any past dishes from Stars—JT didn’t want to prance out any of his former recipes. Instead, it was more about his elevated touch and ethos on dishes made in collaboration with the Foreign Cinema team, with some new creations. They planned and tweaked the menu for three months, and Gayle said JT made such a huge and rare impression on the staff: “We’re out of masters. There are great restaurateurs, sure, but no one with his level of knowledge and history and taste, really.” He was gracious and respectful of the cooks, and Gayle said the kitchen was on such a high at the end of the night—chef Bruce Hill even came over to help prep before service.

It makes me want to rewatch the Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent documentary, which you can find on Prime. Back when it was being released in 2017, I threw an after-hours screening party for chefs so they could see the film and hang out with JT. His adored friend Denise Hale came as a surprise guest. What a blast.

It was a late night of excess (complete with twice-baked soufflé with Gruyère and glorious, golden chanterelles and persillade; duck x 3; and crackly-edged porchetta), just the way it should be. I was so fortunate to be dining with Howard and Kris Case (Casa de Case), who were Stars regulars, so I got to hear some fantastic stories throughout our meal. It ends up dining at Stars often and becoming friends with JT (and taking a trip to Italy at the same time) changed the course of the Cases’ lives, eventually inspiring them to quit their jobs in tech and banking and take the leap in becoming Italian product importers and distributors. Lucky us that they were so enraptured with olio nuovo that they wanted to figure out how to import it.

Supporting subscribers get to read all the details about this epic evening since they’re helping me pay the bill (what can I say, over-the-top dinners in SF don’t come cheap). Did you know: you can just buy a monthly subscription and read the rest?! Enjoy!

It was a feast and a feeling to remember. Thank you to and from everyone in the house that night!

That late dinner was also the perfect distraction, because early the next morning, I had to bring my dear Fortuna kitty to the vet for a dental procedure I’ve been postponing until we had some distance on her recent health issues (waaaay too many visits to the vet lately). It was supposed to be a tooth cleaning and the likely removal of a few bad teeth, but the poor thing ended up getting seven teeth extracted. Ugh, nooooo. Suffice to say, it was a bigger procedure than expected, so I’ve been home taking care of my sweet girl the past five days. Thankfully, she’s been doing SO much better as of yesterday, and is getting her spunky sass back. I’m optimistic she will be feeling even better than before the surgery after her mouth heals in a couple weeks. Baby gurl! What a trooper.

So, yeah, I’m pretty emotionally exhausted, and have been fighting yet another cold, so that’s why you’re getting today’s column a day late. I needed to pump the brakes and rest and stomp this cold, BYE, because I have NO TIME for it. I made a big pot of slow-cooked cannellini beans on Sunday, and am loving my comforting beans and greens five different ways this week. Everything is gonna be all right.

Stay cozy,

the chatterbox

New Menus in North Beach and Nob Hill

A selection of new French bistro brunch dishes at Cassava with eggs on bread, steak, and in shakshuka
A selection of new French bistro brunch dishes at Cassava. Instagram photo via @cassavasf.

by Savannah Leone Bundy

North Beach French-Californian bistro, Cassava, recently rolled out new brunch and dinner menus, and a sumptuous prime rib special (reservations for the Thursday night prix-fixe can be made here). Weekend brunch now offers a French bistro spin, offered Friday–Sunday, including griddled pain perdu (custard, house pan de mie, white peach marmalade, spearmint crema; $17), duck leg confit salad (chicory greens, shallot confit, pine nuts, plum-tarragon vinaigrette, fried egg; $29), baked egg skillet (house lamb merguez sausage, Jimmy Nardello peppers, hash browns, Early Girl tomato sauce, baguette toast; $30) and a croque madame (house pain de mie, Devil’s Gulch black pepper bacon, Comté cheese, sunny-side eggs, truffle cheese fries; $25).

New additions to the dinner menu include moules frites (one pound of PEI mussels, classic butter and white wine; $28), the Cassava cheeseburger (house-ground chuck, house-baked bun, Comté cheese, chimichurri mayo, truffle cheese fries; $25), and ribeye pappardelle (housemade, fresh pappardelle, Early Girl tomato ragù; $32). Mon–Thu 5pm–9pm, Fri 11:30am–2:30pm and 5pm–9pm, Sat–Sun 10am–2:30pm and 5pm–9pm. 401 Columbus Ave. at Vallejo.

oysters on the half shell with gelee at Ciccino
Oysters at lunch are always a good idea. Instagram photo via @ciccinosf

the sponsor

sliced cheeses and walnuts for an event at Donato Enoteca
Cheese, please. Wine, too! Photo: Nadia Andreini | DILUNA Photography.

Taste 100 Italian Wines and the Appetizers of Your Dreams on Dec. 2nd

Start the holiday season off right by attending the 12th annual ENOTECA100 food and wine celebration at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City on Saturday December 2nd. Taste and buy from a huge selection of Italian wines served by knowledgeable wine purveyors. Sample fresh and imported cheeses, charcuterie, passed appetizers, a whole roast pig, and much more.

Hosted by chefs Donato Scotti and Gianluca Guglielmi, this tasting extravaganza is always a fun and memorable experience full of delicious surprises. Panettone and holiday gift baskets will also be available for purchase. Get your tickets early, as the event sells out.

Saturday Dec. 2nd, 12:30pm–4pm | Donato Enoteca, 1041 Middlefield Rd., Redwood City

the lush

The classic mahogany bar at Elixir with their massive whiskey bottle collection
The classic mahogany bar at Elixir. Photo: Darren Edwards.

Raise a Glass (or Two) to Elixir, The Bar at 312 Harriet Opens in SoMa, and an Amaro Class with Camper English

Big congrats to H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of Elixir, on the Mission saloon’s 165th anniversary (since at least 1858), and H.’s 20th anniversary as owner (he’s the 13th proprietor)! The saloon has survived multiple 19th century fires, the 1906 earthquake and fire (it was rebuilt in 1907 by the same owner), two World Wars, the Spanish Flu, the Depression, Prohibition, the recent Covid-19 pandemic, and the current economic downturn in San Francisco. Keep on chuggin’.

A couple years after H. took it over in 2003, he really turned the bar around and became an early player in what evolved into the modern day cocktail revival. He recalls: “After working in 18 different bars and restaurants around the country, I just wanted a simple neighborhood bar, but that wasn’t making me money, so I took a chance on cocktails.”

In 2005, just before nearly dying from a pulmonary embolism, H. started to change everything. With unpaid MBA debt, a bunch of investors and medical bills, he came home from the hospital with focus and determination: “I leaned on my culinary beginnings, threw out all of the packaged syrups and juices, and started making everything fresh. I ordered cocktail books by Dale DeGroff, Gary Regan, Paul Harrington, and others, and wrote my first cocktail menu in the hospital. I started sitting at the bars of Absinthe, Slanted Door, Enrico’s, and others, and made friends with those bartenders, joining the early days of the local chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. It was like the beatniks all over again. Me, David Nepove, Jacques Bezuidenhout, Marco Dionysos, Jon Gasparini, Greg Lindgren, and more, geeking out on cocktail specs, digging into spirits, throwing competitions, and trying to recruit more bartenders to join us before heading into our bars at night.” It was such an exciting time for SF’s trailblazing cocktail scene.

As one of the first bars to create what became known as “the California style” of cocktails—utilizing farmers’ market ingredients, culinary techniques, and obscure ingredients—Elixir was named to the “Best Bars in America” lists in GQ, Esquire, Food & Wine, and more.

H. says the next year is all about evolution and celebration. Plans are in the works for a national bar and festival tour, a new menu format, an expanded “no-low” alcohol drinks program, and even a food operation. Personally, I love visiting the saloon during the holidays—Elixir serves hot Tom & Jerrys, delicious house eggnogs, Irish coffee, and hot buttered rum, ho ho ho! Stand by for more on this year’s lineup of holiday drinks. And in this week’s “the archivist" section, you can read some of the deep history of the bar. Here’s to many more years of quality cocktails on the corner of 16th and Guerrero.

The Bar at 312 Harriet and booths with a blue wall and Art Deco bar
The Bar at 312 Harriet. Photo: Jacob Parrott.

The Bar at 312 Harriet in SoMa, from “San Francisco’s Favorite Moron, Jeremy Paz,” (that’s what the press release said!) just had a grand opening on November 11th. The space is across the street from the Hall of Justice, once Ted’s Sports Bar & Grill, as well as Aladdin Bail Bonds. The bar doesn’t have a name (it’s on social media as @ThatFuckinBar) or a sign, because you can rent it for private events and name the place for the day/night whatever you want on the 55-inch digital signage outside. There’s also a back room with its own bar and Day-Glo murals from Nabiel Musleh and artist Adela H. The next time you have jury duty, here’s your spot, because the bar is serving breakfast and lunch Monday–Friday from chef Eduardo Garcia (formerly of the famed Carnelian Room). 312 Harriet St. near Bryant and 6th St.

Local author and America’s Ice Nerd Camper English has partnered with the Beverage Academy at Bourbon & Branch to teach classes before the holidays and for private events. His “Ice Bling” class just sold out (look for more soon!) but on Wednesday November 29th, he’s teaching a class on Amaro and identifying the various bitter botanicals in eight different selections. Digestifabulous! Ticket: $100. 7pm–9pm. Beverage Academy, 501 Jones St. at O’Farrell.

the sponsor

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Check out these new products on Feed’s virtual shelves:

Aura Bora/Graza: Yep, there’s olive oil in this mocktail, a nice way to dip your toes into the martini world, without the alcohol.

La Palma: This family-run restaurant is famous for their burritos (which you can now have in your freezer).

Seeti: Perfect at-home Indian meals—cozy up with lamb curry, chana masala, dal, and other ready-made dishes. 

Chilli Bomba: For fans of all things chewy, sweet, and sour, these handmade candies pack the perfect balance of sweetness and spice.

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Agrumato: “I’m a huge fan of Agrumato’s citrus olive oils from Abruzzo, and am so happy Feed onboarded them from my recommendation! The citrusy and herbal bergamot is in heavy rotation over here, getting drizzled over fruit and ricotta cheese on toast, and cheese ravioli!”

the socialite

men in the sun grilling and serving ribs
San Francisco Wine Society faces off with SFFD to see who’ll take home the Best Ribs trophy. Photo courtesy of SFWS.

This Weekend: Two Parties for a Cause

by Savannah Leone Bundy

Natural wine blog-turned-social justice vehicle, The Vinguard (from wine industry veteran Pamela Busch) is turning 10 years old and celebrating with a Harvest Party and fundraiser this Friday night. The party, thrown in collaboration with femme-focused collective, The Ruby, will boast a sizable natural wine selection (including Birdhorse Wines, Camins 2 Dreams, Cary Q Wines, Catch and Release Wines, Culture Wine Co., Emme Wines, Legend Australian Wine Imports, Lula Wine, Margins Wines, Matthiasson Wines, Sans Wine Co., and Stagiare), snacks, a bake sale, silent auction (happening now!), and performance from singer-songwriter Meredith Edgar

Tickets are $50 in advance and $60 at the door, $45 for guests in the F&B industry, members, essential workers, seniors, students, and educators. Address in the Mission shared after RSVP. Friday November 17th, 5pm–9pm.

On Saturday, the San Francisco Wine Society is hosting a Toy Drive and Rib Cook-Off in partnership with SFFD Station 13 on Merchant Alley. The now-indoors fête will feature wine from eight local wineries, live music, an auction and raffle (at 5pm), and the chance to decide whether the Wine Society or the Fire Department makes the best ribs on the block. 

Entry is $55 and 100 percent of the proceeds go to kids and families in need—bring an unwrapped toy to receive a raffle ticket ($20 value). Saturday November 18th, 2pm–6pm. 408 Merchant St. at Battery.

the archivist

Reconstruction of Old Streetcar Track Crossing at 16th Street and Guerrero Street; July 21, 1908. (You can see the rebuilt saloon, the future home of Elixir, on the corner.)
Reconstruction of Old Streetcar Track Crossing at 16th Street and Guerrero Street; July 21, 1908. (You can see the rebuilt saloon, the future home of Elixir, on the corner.) Photo: John Henry Mentz via SFMTA Photo Archive. 

In honor of Elixir's 165th anniversary (and owner H. Joseph Ehrmann’s 20th year of owning the saloon at 16th Street and Guerrero), I wanted to share the history he has dug up on what is the second oldest continually operating saloon location in San Francisco—after The Old Ship Saloon (1851) and just before The Saloon (1863), both in North Beach—making it one of the most historic bars in the country. He shares: “When I bought the bar in 2003, it was a run-down dump that the owners weren’t paying attention to. I saw that beautiful mahogany bar and stepped across the street to look at the building and realized that this was a real deal Old West saloon, and nobody knew it. Over the last 20 years, I’ve dug up tons of history and developed the theme of the bar around its own history, turning it into a bit of a museum.” 

Here’s more on Elixir’s history from their website: “Just one block from where the Mission Dolores was founded in 1776, we have documented evidence of saloon service on this corner since at least 1858, and it is possible that it goes back as much as another 10 years (before that is highly unlikely). The original Mission Plank Road that connected the outpost of the Mission Dolores with the bustling commerce of Yerba Buena ended at our doorway. 

“Over the years the bar changed hands and audiences. Where many historic saloons were held by one family and retained one name, this bar went through change after change, yet always remained a bar (including being a ‘soft drink parlor’ during Prohibition). The original saloon burned down in 1906, and became one of the only bars to be rebuilt in the same place by the same owner after that catastrophe. Today, you can see the original 1907 architect’s plans framed and on the walls, depicting the bar (expanded in 1933), the stock room (converted to a women’s bathroom in 1933), the Cigar Lobby (now the dart board area), and the Boot Black Stand, complete with 4 seats.

You can see the sign for the Hunt-In Club on the left behind the streetcar which a woman is walking in front of
You can see the sign for the Hunt-In Club on the left behind the streetcar. Photo provided by Elixir via

“She was called The Hunt-In Club in the 1940s, complete with a neon sign; Swede’s—a merchant marine bar in the 60s and 70s; La Bandita—a gay bar in the late 80s; and Jack’s Elixir Bar—a draft beer mecca in the 90s, before falling into disrepair and neglect. That’s when I found her.

“I was the first proprietor in 100 years to strip things down, fix them, reinforce them and bring back the beautiful mahogany, redwood and Victorian glory of her bones. I uncovered her story and continue to do so. We were a significant bar in the early days of the recent cocktail revival, and we currently hold tight on the ‘best whisky bars’ lists.”

In 2005, Elixir became the first bar in America to achieve any kind of government-backed green business certification when it was named one of the first 50 “Certified Green Businesses” by the San Francisco Department of the Environment. It is still certified today and will soon be one of the first bars in the country to employ a new technology called ecoSPIRITS to reduce glass bottle usage. In 2013, it was named a Legacy Bar by San Francisco Heritage, and in 2018, the bar was “plaqued” by historical drinking society E Clampus Vitus. In December of this year, Ehrmann anticipates achieving Legacy Business status through the City of San Francisco. 🍻

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