Friday, November 28, 2008

Hottest New Restaurants to Hit over the Holidays

Want the scoop on the hottest new restaurants of the year? I've just posted my year-end roundup at SF Station!

Hottest New Restaurants to Hit over the Holidays

Eat, Drink and be Merry

By Tracie Broom, SF Station Food Editor

San Francisco is a barrel full of fish -- fabulous, restaurant-shaped fish -- and there's no letting up on the spawning. It's holiday time!  
(Photo of Gitane: Jeff Dow)

View the list (and the dish) here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chef Notes: Vegan Stunner for Thanksgiving

Here's a gorgeous vegetarian -- no, scratch that -- VEGAN dish to pull out at Thanksgiving!

I asked Chef Alex Marsh, most recently of Brick and Solstice restaurants in San Francisco, to do a guest blog for The Yum Diary featuring a simple, delicious Thanksgiving recipe, and he delivered in spades!

He's also going into private chef territory, and he's got a great dinner event, "Winter Delights," coming up at Coffee Bar on Saturday, Dec. 13, with seatings at 5pm and 8pm. It's very underground restaurant style: check out details here.











I'm making his recipe for a fall vegetable tagine, below, for a Thanksgiving potluck where vegetarians will be the minority.

I'm hoping to casually wow them, which I think is something of a rarity in meat eater-vegetarian relationships, at least when it comes to potlucks. We'll see how it goes over!

I've already bought my cauliflower, taters, veggie stock and such, but the crummy Marina Safeway I hit out of necessity the other day didn't have baby turnips, nice green Castelvetrano olives, or red kiri squash (which can be substituted with pumpkin in a pinch, or so they say).

So I'm going to brave Rainbow Grocery tomorrow! Wish a girl some luck. I'll let you know how it turns out. If you make it too, let me know!

Now I'll turn it over to Chef Marsh.


Fall Vegetable Tagine
By: Chef Alex Marsh
Serves: 6
1 head cauliflower
1 red kiri squash (peeled)
2 oz olive oil
1 russet potato
2 qrts vegetable stock
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
1 bu parsley, chopped
Salt and white pepper to taste
Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Break the cauliflower into florets, toss with olive oil and salt, and roast them in the oven till they are tender.
  3. Peel and chop the red kiri squash into half inch chunks, toss with olive oil and salt, and roast in the oven on a baking sheet till tender.
  4. Clean and blanch the turnips in salted boiling water, cooking till tender.
  5. Bring the vegetable stock up to a boil and add the cumin, coriander, curry, and chopped potato. Cook till the potato is soft.
  6. Puree the stock with the spices and potato while still hot.
  7. Put the sauce back on the stove and add the roasted vegetable and the cleaned olives to it.
  8. Bring to a boil, check the salt, add chopped parsley and serve family style in a large cassoulet.


****

Monday, November 24, 2008

Weekend Fire at Nopa Restaurant

"Nopa is on fire?!"

Text messages started flying late Saturday afternoon (November 22, 2008) after Divisadero residents noticed multiple fire trucks assembled outside of the ultra-popular Western Addition restaurant and bar.

(Photo by Caffeina; more from her series here.)






A Nopa regular (who swears by the pork chop) tells me he heard the damage is minimal, although he noted, "The crazy thing is that apparently, they have a box of tissues placed precariously next to a candle by the sinks." He continued, "Friday on my way to the bathroom I saw a woman stomping out tissues that had caught fire while she was washing her hands." Obvi, that little mid-dinner incident Friday didn't cause Saturday's conflagration, but it's unnerving, I'm sure, for the management.

(Reminds me of the time I caught my hair on fire sitting too close to a mid-wall shelf of votives at my buddy CB's cocktail party. Could've been a big disaster, but...wasn't. Phew!)

Anyone have more news on the Nopa fire? Comment if you know anything, and I'll update if I find any new info. So far, all I've gathered is that the restaurant's voicemail and website note that they will be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday from November 23 to Friday, Nov. 28 at 5pm.

Love that place. Was just in there recently for a quick meal at the bar, and my favorite starter is still on the menu: a piping hot little ovoid dish filled with wood oven baked giant white beans, chunky tomato sauce and oregano with feta and breadcrumbs gratineed on top. Holy Lord is it good.

(photo by Diana M.)






(A starter of red wine braised calamari, olives and capers on grilled bread -- heaped with way too much aioli -- was, on the other hand, a total disaster, but the beans are so good I can forgive!)











Here's hoping that there wasn't significant damage at this neighborhood hotspot, and hopeful wishes that they're back on track soon!


****

Friday, November 21, 2008

Party Time at Miss Pearl's: Steel Drums + Jell-O Shots

One of the more buzzworthy restaurant openings of the last quarter is Miss Pearl's Jam House, housed in the JDV-operated Waterfront Hotel in Oakland's Jack London Square -- one of the most recent restos to be Touched By Joey Altman.

Will this swanky, Caribbean-themed spot pass muster among serious foodies?

By most accounts, no, but it is going to be a d*mn dependable spot for kitschy good times, fun cocktail occasions, some tasty bites, and sunny waterfront brunch.








I hopped on BART recently and met my East Bay dining fave Fresh Pink for some cocktails and dinner at Miss Pearl's. It's a short bike ride, long walk, or short cab ride from the downtown Oakland/12th St. BART station.

Personally, I am a huge fan of hopping on the ferry from SF's Embarcadero Ferry Building to Jack London Square. It is beautiful, and there is a bar on the ferry!!

Unless you are going for brunch or an early dinner, you can't really take the ferry back to San Francisco, but past jaunts to BBQ at Everett & Jones and drinks at the First and Last Chance Saloon have taught me that all you have to do is get in a taxi and swing over to the BART station before the last train.

Why oh WHY does BART not run late?





So here's the deal with Miss Pearl's. As noted elsewhere (Eater SF for example), it's a theme restaurant.

This makes for very entertaining interior design!










Thursday through Saturday nights, they bring in live steel drum musicians, and the atmosphere in the spacious, turquiose blue-walled bar area kicks up from "hotel bar" to "grown-up party zone" within moments. From our expensively upholstered booth in the oddly circuitous dining room (there's no there there), we could just barely see people dancing and having fun. Definitely wished we'd thought to sit in the bar for dinner, but by then it was too late. Still felt fun, though.

Indubitably, this fun feeling was enhanced by the $4 passion fruit Jell-O shots for which Miss Pearl's was famous in its former iteration at SF's rocker-friendly Phoenix Hotel.

The cocktails are a little heavy-handed and clumsy, however -- nothing like us spoiled brats are used to now that the Bourbon & Branch era of mixology has taken hold.

The service is friendly and attentive; our server, Adam, took excellent care of us and deserves props for being informative, honest, and easy-going. No, the staff does not have every single detail nailed (see Bauer's review in the Chron for a more brutal assessment), but it is absolutely above par for a hotel restaurant in a tourist zone.

The food? Ah, the food. For a foodie snoot, it's a total mixed bag. For your average diner, it's great!




The Fabulous: Miss Pearl's Jamaican Pepperpot Soup. Laced with savory braised oxtails, tomato and okra, this velvety, vegetable-packed soup is so good that I would go back just for another bowl of it. A cousin of gumbo, this soup is a winner.

The Good: a starter of grilled shrimp with avocado and grapefruit from the raw bar. Delicate, perfectly cooked shrimp, caramelized on one side and just-translucent on the other.

The Misguided: raw ahi tuna slathered -- no, pigpiled -- with cold coconut-lime-chile cream. Just a tablespoon of that stuff would be perfect; it's actually very tasty. But in such amounts, the dish, "Coco-Beche" ($9) became vulgar -- even slutty!

This is by no means a full review, just a few notes on a new spot. Check it out for yourself! Take with you low expectations, a love of waterfront kitsch, and a thirst for booze.
















I plan on going back sometime soon for brunch to try the chicken and andouille hash with poached eggs, red chile sauce, and roasted green chile hollandaise ($14).
















Will I sneak a few Jell-O shots while I'm at it? I'm not saying, but I'm not not saying either.

****
photos 1-3: TB; photos 4-6 Frankeny Images

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thanksgiving Secret Weapon? Fennel & Chili Risotto

I joined Twitter today, FINALLY, and found all sorts of fabulous things on the worldwide internet web. For starters, here's a recipe that could be a Thanksgiving coup!

Check out Feelgood Eats, a food blog written by Natural Chef Sue Bette, which today features a recipe for fennel & chili risotto. YUM.

Oh, and I'm still figuring out this Twitter thing, but if you'd like to be friends in a character-minimal fashion, I'm @TheYumDiary!








I'm going to try and keep the Twittering to food and leisure topics, but it's hard to resist posts like the live puppy cam I found thanks to a tweet by food doyenne Sam Breach of Becks and Posh! Her latest blog post, btw, is a lovely before/after photo of her and her mate's garden plot at Alemany Farm. Lush beanery!


Here's the link to that puppy cam. I spent all day with these six snuggly pups today, you know, just minimized over in the corner, all wriggling and nipping and snoozing and puppy sighing. Every once in a while I'd have a maxed screen covering the feed and I'd forget about them, and then I'd hear this faint rustling and light yipping. And I'd discover them ALL OVER AGAIN!!


ALL PUPPIES ALL THE TIME!!
http://cdn1.ustream.tv/swf/4/viewer.45.swf?cid=317016



Thanks, Twitter. Being a nerd just got a whole lot more complicated.


****
Photo reposted from FeelGood Eats

Monday, November 17, 2008

Warm Weather Update: Outdoor Burgers at Zeitgeist!

Are the burgers at Zeitgeist as fabulous as I remember?

I met up with some friends at the legendary San Francisco beer garden -- a summery daytime staple -- to suss out the situation.










Hadn't had one of their $5 Niman Ranch grillers in a couple of years, to be honest.


Nice weekend weather and an unusually mellow scene made for a perfect burger-eating scenario!











The Wisconsin-bred member of our party noted that in Madison, when you order a Bloody Mary, the bartender automatically pours you a pony beer -- something of a half pint.

Out here, you just have to order both and double-fist it.















The crew was all smiles, especially after we nabbed a spot in the very front of the burger-ordering line when the kitchen re-opened from its hiatus around 4pm.

Update, 11.19.08: You might recall my buddy Jason Berthold (pictured, right) from a July post about grilling local squid.

He's going to be running the kitchen at RN74, the  new Michael Mina/Rajat Parr restaurant and wine bar that's opening in SOMA's Millenium Towers around April-ish 2009.


Did you see that bit in the Chronicle food section's Inside Scoop today? I'm so excited for Jason -- he is one seriously talented, inspired, hard-working chef who happens to have cut his chops as one of two sous chefs at the Laundry. (Yes! The French one!)



We agreed that the burgs at Zeitgeist were still mighty tasty.

$5 for a fancy meat burger? A buck for cheese? Totally. Even a medium burger was juicy and delicious, and I can be a little pointed in my love for the mid-rare.

I like the standard American bun, the finger-width patty thickness, the complete meltation station on the cheese, and the key addition of pickle slices to the lettuce-tomato-onion accoutrements.

The girls got garden burgers, always great at the Z thanks to the super smoke-tastic grill.






The concomitant homefries, as always, were underwhelming. But I am not a homefry lover; I am a french fry and hashbrown enthusiast. One must take one's predelictions into account.


And then one must hit the beach for sunset.

Lest we forget, these quirky, warm mid-November days help remind us that we do, actually, live in a beach town. 










Here's to summer. So nice to see you.

****
photos: TB

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Flora is Fabulous: Get Thee to a BART Train!

What a fool I was to wait so long to hit fabulous Flora!

Something of an Oakland version of NOPA -- if it were crossed with a slice of Bourbon and Branch cocktail culture -- this stylish restaurant is housed in a former deco era flower shop in the up-and-coming Uptown district, right across from the soon-to-be-renovated Fox Theater and on the same block as the Uptown nightclub. (Good daylight photos here.)












It's awfully close to the Downtown Oakland BART stops, the drinks are SERIOUS, and the caramel pudding with sea salt whipped cream? Unbelievable. So good.  Actual crystals of salt hang suspended in the sweet whipped cream. I'm salivating just recalling it!


I hear that their burger is one of the best in the Bay Area, at least within the world of fancy restaurant burg purveyors.


Three stars from the Bauer! Solid.








Nice looking crowd, too. All young grown-ups. A little stylish, but not obnoxiously so. Big wooden bar, bartenders in casually old-timey dress. I like.













Check it out! I promise you it is worth the trip.

****
Photos: TB

Friday, November 14, 2008

Elephant Poo Paper and Noni Juice: Green Festival Gears Up!

O, the myriad powers of Facebook. Today I hit the Green Festival with my good friend Jesse Locks (pictured, left), one of the folks responsible for Arthur Magazine and an all-around rad events and publishing maven.

Thanks to the magic of the FB, we caught up with Green Festival organizer Vanessa Driscoll (pictured, right), a Carolinian buddy of mine from high school with whom I have not spoken, literally, in 16 years!

It was great to see her. Definitely had some flashbacks to the middle school days of jelly shoes and Hypercolor. O the wonders of the World Wide Internet Web!





Jesse and I tooled around while Vanessa hit some org meetings, and we found the fest to be very pleasant. The Concourse Exhibition Center was filled with nice green living products, from Seattle's Theo Chocolates and tons of booths of nice looking natural-fiber yoga pants to all-natural mattress makers and biodegradable coffin manufacturers.

(Counted two coffin companies, in fact! I was glad to see them; the funeral industry is so incredibly screwed up, and someone needs to be working on alternatives.)



 There was even a booth hawking a DIY bidet kit. (Seriously.)


We also found paper made from elephant poo...apparently they've been doing this in Sri Lanka, like, for-EV-er. That's what the dude said.
















Found this water bottle company that's a local alternative to the wildly popular Sigg metal bottles; Earthlust is made here in San Francisco in the Mission District!

And the babes working the booth were cuuuuuuute.

But more importantly, the designs are nice, like silhouetted birds in flight and that sort of thing, you know, the art that us alternative types like to wear on our casual T-shirts these days.












After visiting the Capay Organic farm booth for fresh orange slices more than once, we got snookered into trying something called Golden Noni Elixir by the guys at Bright Earth Foods from Talent, Oregon.

It's raw juice of the Tahitian Noni fruit, which apparently is about as packed with active enzymes as it gets.

"It's ALIVE!" they said.












We tried it.


















It tastes pretty horrible, but not too much worse than Fernet if you hate Fernet. I love Fernet but I still hated it. Does that make any sense?

They said it would make us feel good all over.

I admit to feeling a little strange in the ensuing half hour, but maybe it was from also sampling both the Rainbow Superfood Smoothie Mix (which tasted kindof like a blendered peanut granola bar), as well as the hilariously named Wizardz Paste, which is pure cacao pod ground into a wet, grainy mess with things like acai, blue-green algae, ginger, mesquite, cayenne, stevia, coconut oil and pomegranate.

It was alright. Nutty, dark, dense, and only 3% delicious.




The way I figure it is this: let's support these crazy hippie companies once in a while, right? You know you love a good gimmick, and so do I. That's why I have lavender salt in my pantry and flax seed oil in my fridge.

That said, I didn't buy any Wizardz Paste. Or Noni Juice.

But I do still feel a little weird, in a good way.

Green Festival San Francisco
November 14-16, 2008
Friday – 12pm – 7pm
Saturday – 10am – 7pm
Sunday – 11am – 6pm

San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center
635 8th St (at Brannan St)
San Francisco, CA 94103

Giftcenter Pavillion Theater
888 Brannan Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

****
photos: TB

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy Hour at Bar 821 on Divisadero: Super Chill!

Bar 821 happy hour is pleasant to the maximum!

A $3 "Luxury Mojito" served tall with fresh mint and stiff with lime, soju and nigori sake? Yes please.

The crowd is mellow and unpretentious. Business suits and ripped skinny jeans are equally at home. A neighborhood bar! Love it.

As my buddy Charles notes (he lives on the block and co-owns Still Life Boutique a few doors down),"There's just something about this spot."

Even though it's beer, wine, sake and soju only, Bar 821 feels a little bit like a miniature Club Deluxe. Without the live jazz, of course.






And a full bar can be had just steps away at the new Mini Bar down the block! (Which I hear gets packed after midnight when 821 closes up...)

Bar 821, Divisadero btw McAllister and Fulton, happy hour 5-7pm, M-F.

xoxo!

****
photo: TB

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Top Chef Jamie Lauren + Outdoor Breakfast!

Weather's supposed to warm up this weekend; time for outdoor eggs!

Arlequin has long been a favorite among my Hayes Valley friends for its inexpensive, high-quality breakfast (served daily), brunch, lunch and its huge outdoor patio, hidden within the block that houses Arlequin's sister properties, Arlequin Wine Merchant and Absinthe Brasserie.

And yes, therefore, San Francisco's sole Top Chef-testant Jamie Lauren of Absinthe also consults on the menus for Arlequin Cafe. Incidentally, the 1st episode of season 5 premieres on Bravo tonight!





Even during peak lunch hour on a recent Thursday, there was still a free table for chowing on perfectly crisp/moist roast chicken, a nice green salad with a light albacore tuna situation alongside, and well-executed fries, despite the healthy crowd.

(I wasn't in love with the lamb burger, got to say. Raw onion relish too raw, not NEARLY enough char to taste grilled, no lettuce. Blah.)






I always recommend Arlequin for Hayes Valley daytime dining, and I've always had good luck at the wine merchant next door, for that matter. (My Napa wine nerd friends agree on that tip.)


I especially appreciate Arlequin's weekday breakfast offerings, though, which are high-quality, decidedly not greasy, and rather gourmet. Grilled portobello on the side of my scrambled eggs? Yes please! (Although I hear they discontinued the mushroom option, sadly, replacing it with a fruit salad. You can still get bacon or sausage, though.)


The menu at Arlequin is a refreshing alternative to the overpriced schlock they serve at Stacks down the street. Are you kidding, Stacks? A Greek scramble with canned Pizza Hut-style black olives? You couldn't shell out for the kalamatas? Really?


Good thing someone is flying the flag for the local/sustainable thing when it comes to weekday breakfast in Hayes Valley! Notably, Modern Tea was a great spot for fresh, affordable, healthy food, too, but they've closed and might reopen for local cooking classes and such.

Domo Sushi is a reasonable place to pop in for a bite, though. Just the other night I scooted in for a quick fix of their hamachi jalapeno roll, spicy tuna roll with shiso, and a little bottle of $9 nigori sake, and it was easy as pie and tasty as can be -- even with prime time Saturday night crowds in effect! Can't live on pastries from La Boulange every day, can we.

Although we might like to.


****
photos: TB



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Good Hotel & Pizza: New, Hip, Cheap + Green in SOMA

I've got such good scoop today on a hip, CHEAP new hotel and pizza parlor in SOMA, and it's green to boot! Just in time for holiday visitor season.

Good Hotel, a new JDV property at 7th and Mission, threw an opening party last Thursday night, so I met up with my food writer friend Chrissy Loader to check it out and have a few slices.











The courtyard was full of well-dressed, business-y hipsters sipping Mas wines and chomping Good Pizza.

Looks like parking will be a breeze, but we couldn't help noting that a pool would be even better.









The pizza, I'm happy to report, is good, even delicious. Thin crust, nice chewy/flaky ratio, pleasing sauce flavor, and not too much cheese. Just my style.

















The interior of Good Pizza is truly forgettable, however, so I doubt that the restaurant is going to make it into the ranks of buzz nouveau pizza spots like Gialina, Pizzeria Delfina, A16, and Pizzetta 211.

Seriously, it looks like a dot-com era juice bar. All function, very little form. Going to be a solid lunch spot for the (also green) Federal Building a block away, though.







Rooms are very Ikea-chic, so there's nothing new there, but for the price -- $119 to $139/night -- you can't beat it with a stick.

Music venues like Rickshaw Stop are already hopping on to book touring bands like Shiny Toy Guns on NYE into Good Hotel, since its rates and hip factor compete directly with the infamous rocker destination, the Phoenix Hotel.

Hence the importance of employing a savvy crew of bed-jumping testers.





There are a few notable and nifty details in the rooms, however: I like the mini desk that folds out of the wall, paired with a tall stool for laptop users.














And this genius toilet-top sink by SinkPositive makes hand-washing fuss-free and sustainable. (There are regular sinks and vanities in the rooms proper.)

Chrissy and I started strategizing about how to get one; it'd be perfect for those little toilet-only rooms that litter San Francisco's Victorian railroad flats.














The hotel's lobby features a ReadyMade Magazine branded vending machine full of T-shirts and the like, as well as a digital photo booth that spits out a copy for you and a copy for the lobby's cork board wall. Love that.
















The computer terminals in the lobby should make it easy for travelers to keep their blogs properly refreshed while on the road.













All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the Good Hotel concept, execution, and -- especially -- its price. Welcome to the neighborhood!
















Now how to convince them to put in a (decidedly NOT sustainable) heated outdoor pool?

****
photos: TB

Monday, November 10, 2008

2 lb. Meatball Mondays: Zare at Fly Trap Beefs Up

Nothing could have prepared me for Meatball Mondays.

Bay Area restaurateur Hoss Zare recently bought the SF classic, Fly Trap Restaurant -- located down in SOMA at 2nd and Folsom -- reopening it recently under his own brand to brisk business (conventioneering gents seem to dominate the weekday landscape) and a fair amount of buzz.

After scooting SF classics like Celery Victor off the menu (a questionable move but Celery Victor is a questionable dish), Zare has retained the Fly Trap's three-martini charm while producing a menu of California standards (pedestrian beet salad, exceptional lamb shank) made much more interesting by authentic Persian preparations and ingredients.







It works! But nothing could have prepared me for Meatball Mondays.

  • It's a 2 lb. meatball.
  • It gets stuffed with anything from rack of lamb to roasted quail. 
  • It's the size of a freaking grapefruit. 
  • It invariably sells out, because meatballs are irresistible, even on Mondays. 
  • It is delicious.






Straight out of Zare's mom's kitchen in Tabrizi, the second largest city in Iran, the Kufteh Tabrizi is comprised of more Niman Ranch beef and veal than should be legal, stuffed each week with a different meaty treat. The flavor is unique, fueled by saffron, savory, and two handfuls' worth of herbs, spices, and dried fruits.

It's one crazy meatball. And more than enough for two.

That said, last Monday my friend Asha and I ordered a lamb shank, a side of (excellent, decadent) saffron risotto, and a (ridiculously tasty) side of pole beans with roasted tomatoes and boutique feta in addition to the meatball.

This was silly, silly behavior in hindsight (way too much food), but we couldn't have imagined the size of the meatball! It was inconceivable!

(And the lamb shank, in a light jus flavored with dried Persian lime, was actually exemplary, so it wasn't such a bad move, after all.)

Thankfully, bar director Reza Esmaili's truly inspired cocktails had put us in the mood for anything, and a couple of glasses of Lebanon's esteemed Chateau Musar, one of the most elegant and extra-special red wines of all time, didn't hurt.


Which cocktail made an impression? Oh, only the best cocktail I have had in recent times, The Minted Memory: Bombay Sapphire Gin, Pimm's No. 1 (two great tastes that go great together), cucumber, mint, and minted vinegar syrup over ice. It's like a Pimm's Cup on CRACK. We would have spent the whole evening drinking these things if it weren't for the sanctity of red meat and red wine.

Esmaili, who also hoots up the cocktails over at Conduit on Valencia, noted that the tangy, unique flavor and smell of minted red wine vinegar syrup is something instantly recognizable to any Iranian.

In Iran, apparently, it's not only a popular summer beverage flavoring but also a dressing/dip for early evening shredded lettuce crudites on hot summer days. The idea is that you're supposed to double dip your shredded lettuce snack in the cold, minted vinegar syrup; thus, it's a dish reserved for family and close friends only.

Intimate!

Who's in your double-dipping posse?

****

Friday, November 7, 2008

Buzz: Photos of the New Pizzeria Delfina in the Upper Fillmore!

Have you been a Curious George about the new Pizzeria Delfina in the Upper Fillmore?














 Me too.


















So I stepped in to check it out the other day.














Looks good! The interior is a touch larger, but the sidewalk seating doesn't seem to be quite as in effect as at the 18th St. location.













But the line at the door, while not unmanageable, is certainly a familiar sight!

















****
photos: TB