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Feb 7, 2024 15 min read

This week’s tablehopper: starry. (free)

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

what’s cookin’

Baghdad by the Bay at the new Starlite.
Feel rosy with a Baghdad by the Bay at the new Starlite. Photo: ©

Hello chickadees. I hope your power is restored and you’re not dealing with fallen trees or water damage. This past weekend was kuh-razy! It ends up I didn’t have power all day Saturday while PG&E replaced two poles and power lines on my block (I had to go out for my morning cappuccino, and was sorely disappointed—why do people insist on serving lukewarm and flat milk?). And when the power came back on, my external monitor for my computer got fried. Damn it! Guess who discovered her outlet isn’t grounded? Ay yi yi. I’ve been watching YouTube videos on how to ground it since my landlord obviously doesn’t know how. Huge thanks to star subscriber and bread baker Bob R. for rescuing me with an Apple monitor he wasn’t using. Back in business over here at Hopper HQ!

Last week, I had the pleasure of returning to The Century Club of California (for my third time) as a presenter for their lunchtime programming. It’s a private women’s club (founded in 1888) in a grand building that dates back to 1905, with rooms designed by early member Julia Morgan. It was a treat to be able to have my mother join me for the luncheon (yay, wedge salad and turkey meatloaf!) and be my guest for my talk about the SF dining scene. Such a lovely group of women, thanks for having us!

I was out almost every single night last week, so look for some reports from the field in this week’s column. Sunday was definitely the cherry on top, with a late afternoon visit to the newly updated Starlite, formerly The Starlight Room. What a glamorous redux—it’s such a stunning addition to our cocktail and nightlife world. 

After taking in the view (and too many cocktails, oops), my wingman and I headed over to The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America event at the Four Seasons. It was lovely to catch up with so many chefs and industry friends and tablehopper subscribers in one fell swoop. But man, was I feeling it yesterday. Someone got her swerve on a little too much for a Sunday. I imagine a bunch of you are going to be in the same boat next week after Super Bowl Sunday—just make sure you have a Mexican Coke and leftover pizza in the fridge, ready to go. (I also saw Gumbo Social is making gumbo queso dip, which sounds crazy delicious.)

This weekend is the Lunar New Year, bring on the Year of the Dragon! My friend and I are going to run around Chinatown on Friday night, and I’m so glad the weather is cooperating with that plan. Just a reminder: I keep posting about special Lunar New Year dishes and treats in my Instagram highlights, ditto for Valentine’s Day. 

In last week’s column, I wrote about the new Chile Lindo Kitchen Culture, and now owner Paula Tejeda just penned one of the most thoughtful pieces in return about my work and column. I am deeply touched. (Is someone cutting onions?)

Since you’re reading the free version of the tablehopper newsletter, I’ll let Paula share why she’s a subscriber: “Marcia has recently changed to a subscription-based newsletter, and I urge you to consider supporting this invaluable contributor who enhances the very fabric of the Golden City. Despite the current circumstances, the essence of San Francisco is something we hold dear, and it’s up to us to keep it alive.”

By subscribing, you will not only receive the latest updates on the culinary scene in all its dimensions, including lots of fun events, but you will also connect to the ever-changing history of the city. The hospitality industry is so intertwined with The City’s economy and cultural scene. Your subscription will contribute to supporting a writer. Don’t forget, San Francisco is renowned for its poets and writers.” Thank you so much, Paula, my fellow lover of SF!

This week’s column is dedicated to the memory of Jack McNeal, a longtime subscriber who sent me comments and tips over the years about his favorite finds, from a pastrami sandwich to a new Italian bakery. His daughter just wrote in to tell me he has passed away, such sad news. She says, “He taught me to love and find joy in cooking, eating, and dining and we have always taken your word for new recs. Carry on and thank you.” Sending much love to the McNeal family as they mourn the departure of their bon vivant. I took the time to make myself a fantastic breakfast this morning in his honor.

Wishing you a delicious week.


the chatterbox

The new look of the swanky Starlite. Photo: ©
The new look of the swanky Starlite. Photo: ©

A Shining Star Returns to Union Square: Behold, the Glam Starlite

On Sunday afternoon, while the City was being pummeled with high winds and a ridiculous amount of rain, my friend and I pretended we were a mermaid and merman and headed out into the storm for cocktails at the newly opened Starlite at The Beacon Grand (previously Harry Denton’s Starlight Lounge at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel). I wrote about the project back in December, but honestly, I was not expecting the level of Deco glam fabooshness that we encountered on Sunday. It’s the makeover the iconic space deserved, and then some. (Be sure to check out my Reel for a bunch of pics and video clips of the swanky space.)

A luxe lounge area. Photo: ©
A luxe lounge area. Photo: ©

Of course, the wraparound views are the first thing to take your breath away when you traipse out of the elevator on the 21st floor. Then you start noticing the many lush details from designer Alice Crumeyrolle (Maison A), formerly of Ken Fulk Inc. You’ll see all kinds of patterns and rich upholstery and fringe, with velvets and walls the colors of peacock feathers, curving banquettes, tasseled poufs, eclectic artwork, and club chairs that pivot so you can take in the view. They did a fantastic job making sure there isn’t a bad seat in the house. It’s all very Deco fabulous, with dramatic Venini glass chandeliers and pops of gold.

The Starlight Room dates back to 1928, and I remember going there in the 1990s, when it was Harry Denton’s Starlight Room (until 2011). It’s where former bar manager Tony Abou-Ganim created the Cable Car cocktail, and I remember when Denton launched Sunday’s A Drag drag brunch with Donna Sachet in 2006. The space suffered a hideous transformation into Lizzie’s Starlight just before the pandemic, so I’m glad we didn’t have to live with that cheesy incarnation for long.

The bar is almost a century old, and fortunately the bar program is in the right hands with Scott Baird, a Bay Area native and early pioneer of our craft cocktail scene. I remember falling for his creative, culinary-driven cocktails when he was at COCO500 in SoMa, and after numerous projects as part of The Bon Vivants, he went on to open the groundbreaking Trick Dog in 2013.

The Pisco Punch and Swedish Gimlet. Photo: ©
The Pisco Punch and Swedish Gimlet. Photo: ©

The Starlite offers a proper (but playful!) SF cocktail list. Baird knows how to pay homage to Abou-Ganim’s Cable Car with his redux, and salute Herb Caen with the Baghdad by the Bay, and tip his cap to Harry Denton with the Dirty 90’s Martini. He also shouts out 15 Romolo’s Pimm’s Cup, gives some shine to SF’s original Pisco Punch with a frothy Beerenauslese topper, and pays his respects to barman Daniel Hyatt with A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday.

When you want a sessionable cocktail...

Open Thu–Sat 4pm–1am, Sun 2pm–11pm. The Beacon Grand, 450 Powell St., 21st Floor, at Sutter.

West Portal Says ¡Hola! to Elena’s Mexican Restaurant

The spacious and elegant hacienda style of Elena’s. Photo courtesy of Elena’s.
The spacious and welcoming hacienda style of Elena’s. Photo courtesy of Elena’s.

I’ve had a longtime tablehopper subscriber sending me photo updates for months of Elena’s, a new Mexican American restaurant in West Portal, and the doors to this big project just opened. Elena is Elena Duggan, the third-generation co-owner of Original Joe’s and Little Original Joe’s with her brother and business partner, John Duggan. While San Franciscans know the Duggans for their classic Italian American restaurants and cuisine, this project was inspired by her two oldest daughters, Catherine and Julia, and celebrates her daughters’ Mexican heritage from their father’s side (every summer, they visit his family in San Bartolo Morelos, outside of Mexico City). 

Braised pork pozole. Photo courtesy of Elena’s.
Braised pork pozole. Photo courtesy of Elena’s.

Offering lunch and dinner, chef Sergio Santiago’s menu highlights authentic and handmade Mexican dishes with some California touches, like housemade tamales (choice of pork or rajas), sopes, chicken tinga empanadas, pozole, chile relleno, a variety of tacos, four kinds of enchiladas (including Dungeness crab enchiladas with a creamy tomatillo sauce), pollo asado, and wood-fired whole branzino. Mexican American favorites like combination platters and a taco salad at lunch are also available. For dessert, you’ll find an extensive list of housemade churros, chocoflan, Mexican icebox cake with lime cream, tres leches, and a special café de olla cheesecake (Zanze’s Mexican spiced coffee cheesecake).

The bar offers a curated selection of tequilas and mezcals, a variety of Margaritas (like a frozen Aperol Margarita), and classic cocktails with a Mexican-inspired twist. All tequila-based drinks will be served in beautiful hand-etched glassware made in San Miguel de Allende.

The space is meant to feel both sophisticated but residential and welcoming, with an open kitchen, spacious booths, beautiful tiles, and pendant lighting, with 15-foot ficuses, high ceilings with original wooden beams, and lots of natural woods. Open Mon–Thu 11:30am–10pm, and Fri–Sat until 11pm; brunch Sat–Sun begins at 10:30am. 255 West Portal Ave. at 14th Ave.

Sister Mother Crone, a Unique Pop-Up Experience Launches at The Midway

The dining room features immersive mapping projections on the walls. Photo: Hardy Wilson.
The dining room features immersive mapping projections on the walls. Photo: Hardy Wilson.

On Friday evening, I grabbed a good friend to go check out the new pop-up concept at The Midway, Sister Mother Crone. Executive chef Ollie Walleck recently joined The Midway Culinary team and has revamped the culinary experience over there (did you know they have a café open Mon–Fri 10am–3pm?). An out and proud transman, Walleck is originally from Northeastern Ohio—he was executive chef for CEDARst Hospitality, Freehand Hotel, and The Kitchen Bistro in Chicago, and has also cooked at Radio Room and Circa 33 in Portland. And now, he’s getting to know San Francisco.

Chef Ollie Walleck. Photo: Hardy Wilson.
Chef Ollie Walleck. Photo: Hardy Wilson.

After getting up to speed with The Midway Culinary’s café and catering, the team just launched this fun and immersive pop-up dining experience for the month of February (and for future events, too). The name Sister Mother Crone pays homage to the strong women in Ollie’s life: his sister, mother, grandmother, and his New Midwestern menu spans a variety of dishes that have a homey style with some creative ingredient touches.

The cornbread sweety drop salad ($15) is made with arugula dressed in a licorice vinaigrette and dollops of Shropshire blue (Ollie is determined to turn people on to this special blue cheese). Pulled pork gets a Yucateco spin as cochinita rillettes ($14) on crostini with pickled mustard seeds, burnt onion, and avocado.

The Seduction Chicken will flirt with you. Photo: Hardy Wilson.
The Seduction Chicken will flirt with you. Photo: Hardy Wilson.

Hearty appetites will be taken care of with the lamb bolognese raviolone ($24), which is one big, fat raviolo with a runny egg and mascarpone tucked inside tender pasta. Midwestern hospitality shows up in the Seduction Chicken—you practically get a half-chicken for just $24, with pan gravy mingling with a nest of Israeli couscous and haricots verts. Sliced steak ($34) is topped with flavorful soppressata conserva, but the golden and crispy-edged thousand-layer potatoes steal the show (gratin has this effect on people, i.e. me). 

The menu was more extensive than I expected for a pop-up, with dishes like French onion soup, duck liver clams and frites, seared salmon with miso-fennel soubise, and Brussels sprouts with honey-curry butter. Vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks have options. A few dishes featured cute garnish, like edible flowers, which helped enliven the basic white plateware.

The three desserts are amply portioned and include a milk and cookies semifreddo (our favorite), a big brutti ma buoni meringue cookie with blood orange marmalade, and rich chocolate-cardamom halva ($11–$12).

The pop-up is hosted in what is sometimes a VIP room at The Midway, which now has mapping projections on all the walls of castles, Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, Gothic architecture, and other mystic images. (Walleck is really into horoscopes and witchy vibes.) The Midway is committed to supporting and showing artists in many ways, and you’ll see some original art pieces in the room (as well as a centerpiece tree along with plants and tabletop displays). The upbeat nu-disco soundtrack from DJ Trevor Eaton that night was completely my jam, and now I have a new DJ to follow (here’s a version of the mix he played that night). DJs will rotate at dinner service.

The mystic environment is a bit of a disconnect with the approachable fare, so I’d say this pop-up is more about the overall experience instead of being a culinary-driven destination. (It’s like being over at your friend’s house for dinner who’s a good cook—it’s tasty food, but isn’t necessarily groundbreaking.) But I appreciate how the team is trying something unique and unexpected—you can see how fired up they are to share it with guests. It reminded me of some of my funky nights out in SF in the 90s, with artsy friends getting creative with supper clubs on a shoestring budget. Total SF DNA. I think the group tables were having the most fun since the space has a nightlife-meets-dinner party vibe.

Bar manager Kimberly Morini has created a few cocktails for the pop-up, including Mother ($15), a whiskey sour with blood orange marmalade and ginger, and a non-alcoholic cocktail made with my new obsession: Martini & Rossi Floreale (thanks, Camper!). The wine list is being expanded, but there are nine by-the-glass selections that range from $9–$13 (like I said, the pricing here is kind!). You can swing by for a drink and a bite (there are cured duck eggs or a cheese plate) before a show, or stay for dinner.

Make sure you enter on the Michigan Street side so you can check out the massive mural of an electric forest by Haddad Drugan, fire pits, and peek at the art gallery. Follow updates at @sistermothercrone. Dinner service is Thu–Sat 6pm–10pm. Reserve on Resy (walk-ins accepted, but reservations strongly recommended). 900 Marin St. (entrance at Marin/Michigan Streets).

Uva Enoteca Has a New Owner, Bringing Pugliese Notes to the Menu

New at Uva Enoteca: La Deliziosa puccia pugliese. Photo courtesy of Antonio Tiritiello.
New at Uva Enoteca: La Deliziosa puccia pugliese. Photo courtesy of Antonio Tiritiello.

After owning Uva Enoteca in Lower Haight for 16 years, Boris Nemchenok (Fiorella) has sold the business, and a former employee has bought it! Antonio Tiritiello worked at Uva Enoteca 10 years ago, when he came to San Francisco from Italy (he’s from Puglia). He has worked at 54 Mint and Doppio Zero as well, and now he has his own spot. Cin cin!

He’s leaving the interior and name as is for now, but has been making some small updates to the menu and recipe tweaks. The pizza dough now features two Italian flours (one is a durum wheat from Puglia), yielding a crunchier crust that is also more digestible (Italians are big on digestion, LOL). There’s also a puccia pugliese, which is like an Italian pizza pita pocket, the perfect home for sandwiches. There are four kinds...

The orecchiette con le cime di rapa (broccoli rabe) is such a classic Pugliese pasta dish, so it’s now following a more authentic recipe with the taste of home; there are five pasta dishes in all ($19–$22). Tiritiello is busy ramping things up and just getting going (the doors opened under his ownership on January 22nd), so look for more menu and wine list evolution in time. Open nightly 5pm–9pm, although Uva will be closed on Super Bowl Sunday. 568 Haight St. at Steiner.

A Palestinian Falafel Shop Opens on Divisadero

Zhuzh Up Your Palate and Celebrate Seasonal Produce with Weekly Nosh Boxes

There are many things I love about our City’s culinary scene, and its DIY spirit is definitely one of them. After months of drooling over Instagram friend Stephen S.’s pictures of cookies and cakes and treats and farmers’ market seasonal hauls, I learned he’s launching a weekly treat box called Zhuzh San Francisco with his partner, Edwin S. They have both been in hospitality for the past 10 years, working back of house and front of house, as well as at agricultural organizations. 

They decided to go out on their own, and while they’re waiting to finalize lease negotiations on a space in SoMa, they’re launching weekly Nosh Boxes. Zhuzh is meant to bring a sense of wonder and delight, and there will be different themes every week, highlighting two treats and a fruit—I can’t wait for the 4/20 box of pot de crèmes (ha-ha!). This week is Things That Go Well with Coffee: tonka bean sables, quince and huckleberry financiers, and gorgeous D’ancy tangerines from Lagier Ranches.

Orders are open Mon 9am–Wed 6pm and pickup will be Fri 5pm–7pm in SoMa. $25, order here. I’ll keep you posted on their upcoming location and more.

The roulade of Mt. Lassen trout at Aphotic. Photo: John Troxwell.
A roulade of Mt. Lassen trout on the winter menu at Aphotic. Photo: John Troxwell.

The chic Aphotic in SoMa has returned from a short winter break with a few updates to the kitchen and a completely new winter tasting menu from chef Peter Hemsley and team. I went for a preview dinner last week, and loved the housemade oyster garum with the scallop sashimi, beef carpaccio, and egg yolk, what a dish (I was getting Korean tartare vibes). The Tsar Nicoulai caviar course with spot prawn, kumquat, and radish was spectacular. The crab head and scallion steamed bun with a soy-peanut sauce is a worthy successor to the Dungeness crab hollandaise bun, and the nori-marbled roulade of Mt. Lassen trout is a work of tasty art. Did someone say uni cruller? Yup. Go have fun. 11 courses, $195. Bar director Trevin Hutchins has launched a new non-alcoholic cocktail pairing as well. I’ll be posting pics from the dinner on @tablehopper soon. 816 Folsom St. at 4th St.

Fans of 7 Adams, you have another reason to return soon: chefs David Fisher and Serena Chow Fisher are launching the six-seat chef’s counter on Friday February 9th, offering a more experimental, multi-course menu ($157), plus optional wine pairings ($105). Right in the heart of the restaurant, the chef’s counter will have one seating at 6:30pm every night (except Wednesday). Reserve on Resy. 1963 Sutter St. at Fillmore.

Closures Include the Inimitable AsiaSF

The clubby design at AsiaSF. Image via @officialasiasf on Instagram.
The clubby design at AsiaSF. Image via @officialasiasf on Instagram.

What a run: AsiaSF will be closing on on Sunday March 31st, the International Day of Trans Visibility, after providing a safe space for transgender performers since 1998 (and serving as bachelorette party HQ for years). The Chronicle reports the owners are ready to retire and business has been challenging, but they’re going to keep AsiaSF’s intellectual property for future pop-ups and more. It’s time to head in for one last dinner show with a side of hair whips! 201 9th St. at Howard.

I saw on Instagram that New Belgium San Francisco was closing their Mission Bay taproom and restaurant on February 1st. An announcement from their PR states, “The San Francisco taproom and restaurant has suffered financially in recent years, and, after careful consideration, we have decided to focus and invest in our other hospitality operations.” New Belgium has offered all San Francisco coworkers a severance package or, in some cases, a role to remain with New Belgium in another capacity should they choose to do so. 1000a 3rd St.

Another beer-related update: I’ve been following the Anchor SF Cooperative Team as they’ve been trying to purchase the brewery, and they recently shared this update with their potential future investors, stating they decided to not put in a bid because of the competing bid amounts. They add: “We have been working diligently to create relationships with other bidders to discuss how our experience running the brewery, combined with all of the business planning and relationship building we have done over the past 6 months can be valuable to them if they are the successful bidder. We have created a variety of plans where we can work collaboratively with whoever purchases Anchor Brewing Company as a Brewery, or portions of the assets to be used for some other purpose. […] At this point, our preferred option would include operating as a cooperative in some capacity to keep some key decisions in the hands of workers.” Fingers crossed.

the archivist

Since I’m featuring the new Starlite at The Beacon Grand in this week’s column...

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