The Chatterbox

Gossip & News (the word on the street)
June 22, 2021
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The new Empress by Boon. Photo via Empress by Boon’s Facebook page.

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You can’t miss the colorful exterior of Chao Pescao at Civic Center. Photo: Barbara Ve.

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The tables inside the newly opened interior of Palm City, where you can eat and drink wine. Yay. Instagram photo via @palmcitywines.

On Friday evening, I was able to take the elevator once again to the top floor to admire the unique views from ~EMPRESS BY BOON~ in Chinatown, previously The Empress of China, a banquet hall that also had an awesome lounge where I’d take out-of-town guests for an “only in SF” kind of experience (and view). I’m so thankful that historic space wasn’t converted into tech offices—instead, it’s a massive, 7,500-square-foot project from Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon (of Hakkasan fame, although this is a solo project) and Asianova Hospitality Group, Inc.

The design by UK-based design studio Atelier LLYS kept some original details (like the carved panels and wooden pergola) but it actually reminds me quite a bit of a Hakkasan 2.0, with dramatic cutouts and moon gates, bold colors, and a sleek and chic aesthetic. There’s a lounge, and two dining areas (the front room definitely has the better view of Coit Tower).

Chef Boon’s menu of modern Cantonese cuisine features organic produce grown on the restaurant’s farm in Gilroy. They are launching with a $68 prix-fixe menu (take a peek here). Dinner is served Mon-Sat 5pm-10pm. 838 Grant St. at Clay.

More bold color for us can be found at the newly opened ~CHAO PESCAO~ in Civic Center, formerly Soluna. Owner Rene Denis returned to the Colombian and Cuban dishes of his childhood, and you may have seen my post/pics about the wonderful takeout they were offering during the pandemic: eight-hour lechon Cubano (with chicharrón gremolata that you sprinkle on top!), a superb ropa vieja, crusty Tajin fried chicken, tostones with avocado-pistachio salsa verde, three kinds of empanadas (Colombian-style—made with masa dough and fried), plus some new cocktails, including a daiquiri and a variation on Colombia’s signature Coco Loco. There are also sandwiches, arepas, and salads, perfect for lunch. It’s hearty, affordable, flavorful Latin-Caribbean food that makes you happy. Now that indoor dining has returned, you can visit in person, and admire the color-saturated dining room Denis redesigned himself, full of fun details. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-8pm for now. 1272 McAllister St. at Larkin.

After opening not more than a year ago, and serving the city the best goddamn hoagies throughout the pandemic, ~PALM CITY~ is finally opening their doors as their original concept: to serve you tasty things while you drink delicious wine and beer. There are five tables outside and four inside (ideally your party is four or less); bar seating is coming soon. No reservations, so it’s first come, first served.

The menu includes olives, giardiniera, spicy garlic cheese spread, white bean salad, anchovies, speck and stone fruit, Little Gem salad with garlic croutons, chopped salad, and a chocolate chip cookie and a strawberry-rhubarb hand pie. Hoagies are thankfully still available (Italian American, roast pork, hoag au poivre, and roasted cauliflower), but they’re making them a bit smaller (and less expensive). Open Wed-Sun: food from 12:30pm-8pm, beer and wine until 9pm. 4055 Irving St. at 42nd Ave.

~LUNA~ is opening this Thursday June 24th, and you can look at the newly posted American brasserie menu here, featuring a wedge salad, broccolini stromboli, oysters Hellafeller (Brentwood corn, pickled beech mushrooms, creamed kale, herbed cornbread), and a heritage pork chop with creamy yellow polenta, forest mushrooms, sweet & sour figs, and marsala jus, plus there’s a full bar. Open Tue-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-9pm. 694 Valencia St. at 18th St.

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The counter at 20th Century Cafe. Photo: Dana Massey-Todd. © tablehopper.com.

Well, the moment has arrived: owner Michelle Polzine of ~20TH CENTURY CAFE~ has announced the last day of business at the café: Saturday July 10th. (Just in case you missed the how and why, you can read her original note about her decision to close here.) You can still try to pre-order some bagels or a honey cake or strudel for pickup the next two Saturdays (a new ordering page goes up each week), or try your luck at walking up for a slice or cookie 11:30am-2pm (also on Saturdays). I know we will miss having this special little corner space where we could slip out of time and enjoy a conversation over a slow lunch, with Nick Rossi strumming by the entrance if you were lucky. Best wishes and many thanks to you, Michelle and faithful team, for everything you did to bring us joy and happiness the past eight years, one bite at a time.

There is a new tenant taking over the last year of her lease, and according to the ABC license transfer, it’s none other than Four Barrel Coffee. Tal Mor and Jodi Geren, owners of The Mill and Four Barrel Coffee, will be opening a new daytime bakery and evening wine bar serving small plates in the fall of 2021, ~LOQUAT~. 198 Gough St. at Oak.

Meanwhile, over in the former The Riddler location is an upcoming business called ~LINDEN & LAGUNA~. A tablehopper reader gave me a heads up that a wine bar was moving in, and according to some online sleuthing, Chris Nickolopoulos, who is listed on the license, “has over 20 years of wine industry experience with expertise in sales and marketing senior management and entrepreneurial leadership. Chris is the Chief Executive Officer of Maritime Wine Trading Collective, a leading boutique wine import, production, and distribution company based in San Francisco, which he founded with Elijah Pfister in 2006.” I reached out and am waiting for more info on plans for the space. Hayes Valley is going to be chock-full of wine bars, that’s for sure. 528 Laguna St. at Linden.

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The colorful new exterior of Namu Stonepot on Dolores. Photo courtesy of Namu.

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The mapo tofu pizza from Sunset Squares Pizza. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

The pandemic sure continues to wreak some havoc on our restaurant scene, and it definitely caused some big changes in the Namu restaurant group. The team has been making some updates on their Instagram account, including announcing the closure of Namu Stonepot on Divisadero (ugh, I will miss their stonepot rice being just blocks away), but at least it lives in on the former Namu Gaji space on Dolores Park, which they converted to Namu Stonepot for good. (Operating a full-service restaurant like Namu Gaj was already challenging and sadly is no longer feasible for them.)

But, some good news. Their plans for a food and beer hall (~SSP BEER HALL & NFT GALLERY~) are starting to come into focus at the former Perennial space in SoMa—chef Dennis Lee brought his stealth pandemic pop-up, Sunset Squares Pizza, over to the space, serving their fluffy sourdough focaccia pizza with sick toppings (like mapo tofu), along with some new New England/New Haven-inspired round pizzas the Lee brothers grew up with (think Greek and Armenian pizzerias), plus the Namu Stonepot menu, and some Filipino-American comfort food from Uncle Tito’s, who have been serving in the space for a couple weeks. I’m heading over for a look-see tomorrow (this Wednesday), the official opening day, so will be posting some updates on @tablehopper. There will also be some NFT art on display (SF’s first NFT art gallery), local beers from Cellarmaker (and others), and more surprises, I am sure. 59 9th St. at Mission.

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Dee Derisse outside their new café, Hey Neighbor, in the Portola Garden District. Photo courtesy of Dee Derisse.

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This Sunday, try a latte with a yuzu-chocolate truffle at Hey Neighbor. Photo: Hey Neighbor.

Do you smell the coffee brewing in the Portola Garden District? After being closed for months, the former Four Barrel location is reopening under new ownership as ~HEY NEIGHBOR~. The owners are Dee Derisse—who was such a regular at Four Barrel that they ended up working there for a couple years—who teamed up with fellow neighbor Natasha Podogova (they both live within a few blocks of the café, and are both filmmakers/artists).

Hey Neighbor is a fourth-wave café, focused on reclaiming coffee’s BIPOC roots and culture (highlighted through thoughtful sourcing and education), as well as featuring female roasters, and folks who build and contribute to coffee culture. Their first featured roaster is Captain + Stoker out of Monterey.

They will be offering a truffle and espresso pairing (with truffles from Feve Chocolatier), highlighting citrusy or nutty notes, for example, and they will be doing a fun take on a London Fog tea latte (we’re the right city for it). They are also partnering with Rize Up Sourdough on an activated charcoal loaf for the café. There are eventual plans for after-hours events, dinner service, and becoming a community event hub in the space. Be sure to say hi to Boots, the famous café cat who comes in every morning and hangs out until they close—the whole neighborhood loves and adores her. Hours will be 8am-3pm. 1 Burrows St. at San Bruno.

For now, you can get a first look at their soft opening on Sunday June 27th at the Portola Brunch Hop and try a latte with a yuzu-chocolate truffle. Start your Pride festivities by picking up brunch in the Portola—check out this handy guide to Portola brunch spots and dishes. You can enjoy some outdoor seating at the café and at Burrows Pocket Park Extension, the new gardens located behind Bank of the West.

A few other quick notes about new cafés: read about ~ABANICO COFFEE ROASTERS~ in Eater and the queer ~MILK~ [Chronicle], both in the Mission. It also looks like ~SPRO COFFEE LAB~ in the Castro is soft opening July 10th, RSVP here; 500 Church St. at 17th St.

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The new location of Olivier’s Butchery in Dogpatch. Instagram photo via @oliviersbutchery.

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The long table at an Outstanding in the Field event. Photo courtesy OITF.

I was so impressed with the pic of the new ~OLIVIER’S BUTCHERY~ location, which opened a block away from their previous spot. Come by and admire the gorg new cases and layout. Chop chop! Open Wed 10am-6pm, Thu-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 10am-6pm. 1192 Illinois St. at Humboldt.

After suffering a fire back in 2020, believed to be caused by illegal fireworks, ~OLD JERUSALEM~ has finally reopened in the Mission. If you recall, they had recently moved into a new location, so let’s welcome them back with double orders of their stuffed falafel. Open Mon-Sat 11am-9:45pm, Sun 11am-8:45pm. 2966 Mission St. at 26th St. [Via Mission Local]

A tablehopper reader was very excited to see ~THE JELLY DONUT~ (since 1987!) is back open, with a nice new cobalt blue exterior. According to their Instagram account, they are selling out quickly, so the early bird gets the apple fritter. Bring your cash, baby. 3198 24th St. at S. Van Ness.

I was happy to see Outstanding in the Field return with an incredible lineup of event locations around the world. We’ll have some opportunities to gather at their long table close to home, like Pescadero, Tresch Family Dairy ranch in Petaluma with Cowgirl Creamery, and the Secret Sea Cove in Santa Cruz. Take a look since events are booking up quickly.

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Something important is sprouting at the former CALA: Refettorio San Francisco. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Italian Consul General Lorenzo Ortona chatting with Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

A couple weeks ago, I couldn’t believe I was walking a block in Hayes Valley, chatting with Alice Waters, both of us on our way to an event at the former CALA restaurant, celebrating the launch of Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore’s Refettorio San Francisco. It was also a bittersweet send-off and salute to Italian Consul General Lorenzo Ortona, whose time in SF has sadly ended and is returning to Italy with his lovely family after bringing such a community-building spirit here in SF. Grazie di tutto, Lorenzo! It’s a wonderful legacy, however, to have played such a big part in facilitating the launch of the first Refettorio in the U.S., in conjunction with Farming Hope and Bottura and Gilmore’s nonprofit, Food For Soul.

Part of an international network of ten Refettorios, or community food hubs, this location will work with local community organization Farming Hope (founded in 2016) to offer paid, empowering, transitional employment to formerly incarcerated or unhoused neighbors; have daily dining for unhoused families and food-insecure neighbors; reduce food waste; and offer food education initiatives, cultural programming, events, and volunteer opportunities that promote social cohesion through a just food system.

Bottura and Gilmore joined us on a video call during the event, and Bottura could not contain his enthusiasm for launching in San Francisco—he visited here around 1980, and it had a huge effect on his thinking and perspective. He felt strongly about having a Refettorio in SF, the first in the U.S. (Have you ever watched the documentary about the Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan, Theater of Life?) I also am happy to see the work former GM Emma Rosenbush started at CALA—to help hire and train formerly incarcerated individuals—continue in this beautiful space (for now).

It takes $38K/month to cook daily for the community and run the program (they have provided 20,000 meals to our food insecure neighbors and recovered 𝟱,𝟱𝟬𝟬 𝗽𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗱𝘀 of produce from landfill since the start of 2021), so your donations, volunteering, support, and awareness all help the project move forward. They will also welcome guest chefs, and need help placing cooks in food businesses and restaurants after they complete the program. Read more here about the project and how you can help. Follow @refettoriosanfrancisco on Instagram here. With our spaces reopening, it will be wonderful for them to start hosting meals on-site in the fall.

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A quarter chicken with rice and ancho cole slaw, plus “salsa verde” from The Roost. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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A sampling of delicious dishes from Just Fare. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

I wanted to fill you in on a couple tasty takeout/delivery options you’ll want to weave into your at-home meals, starting with ~THE ROOST~. A former catering operation from Merchant Roots, owner Ryan Shelton and executive chef Ashley Keeler have rebooted the business to be a public-facing eatery, running out of a brick-and-mortar shop in the new The Aviary in the Tenderloin.

The menu is centered around a baked chicken dinner (get a juicy half-chicken with sides for $17; the chicken from Bassian Farms is rubbed with ancho chile mustard), with a killer adobo-buttermilk slaw (I think it’s my favorite in the city), “salsa verde,” and jasmine rice. There’s also sweet potato croquettes, roasted cauliflower with garlic confit (also amazing cold the next day), a vegan quinoa and chickpea salad with apricots, and shishitos. There’s a BBQ chicken sandwich that features that tasty adobo slaw and is like a Fourth of July party in a brioche bun. Don’t forget a cookie for dessert. Available Thu-Sat 12pm-7pm for pickup or delivery. 479 Ellis St. at Leavenworth.

East Bay folks, you won’t want to miss the Mediterranean delivery from Just Fare, based out of Emeryville. I was lucky to try out some dishes on a warm evening, the perfect meal for that kind of night. I had housemade labneh with crispy garlic, white bean and charred scallion dip, roasted tahini chicken, and rather awesome flatbread—don’t forget the spicy zhug-like cilantro sauce on the side. Take a look at my Instagram post here for more.

The pricing is so fair, portions were generous, ingredients were fresh, and the flavors pop! Everything was plated beautifully in the takeout containers, and I loved all the texture in the dishes as well. Enjoy. And 1 percent of their revenue goes toward donated meals for their charitable arm, Fare Community Kitchen (they prepare and distribute donated meals every week through a network of 15 partner organizations in the East Bay, like Queer Healing Arts Center, Oakland Unified School District, and Tiny Village Housing). Delivery: Wed-Sun 5pm-9pm.

June 2, 2021
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The soppressata, broccoli rabe, pickled pepper pizza at Itria. Instagram photo via @itriasf.

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Bi Feng Tang Har Gow (fried har gow) at Bao. Yelp photo by Maria S.

In a previous issue of tablehopper, I mentioned the new ~ITRIA~ opening in the former Obispo space in the Mission, and hey now, it’s open. They’ve starting with pan pizzas, which have been selling out, so don’t get mad like you didn’t know. There are also salads, meatballs, and much more will be coming when indoor dining begins later this summer. (Their tiramisù looks awesome by the way, made with Vietnamese coffee and mascarpone mousse.) Hours are Wed-Sun 5pm-8:30pm for takeout/delivery for now. 3266 24th St. at Capp.

There’s a new dim sum joint in the former Piri Picante space on Valencia called ~BAO~, something that should do well in the Mission. The menu has Cantonese classics like har gow and shumai (and the baked-to-order charsiu bao and dan tat/egg custard tarts look great), plus a couple kinds of xiao long bao soup dumplings (including crab), along with some new-style dumplings, like kimchee-beef potstickers, and Instagram-ready swan puffs and sweet lava bao (and “mango corn” for dessert). You can view the menu here. The interior has a contemporary and updated look, with basket-lantern lights, a dumpling room with a window, and there are indoor and outdoor tables. Open daily 11:30am-2:30pm and 5:30pm-9:30pm (until 10pm Fri-Sat). 590 Valencia St. at 17th St.

~TORRAKU RAMEN~ at the base of Potrero Hill (which was originally a ramen truck) has opened a second location in the Marina, serving ramen, yaki soba, katsu sandos, and donburi. Open Tue-Sun 11am-3pm and 5pm-8pm, until 9pm Fri-Sat. 1449 Lombard St. at Van Ness.

Over in the former Beit Rima in Westlake Center Daly City is a new location of ~NICK THE GREEK~, a fast-casual Greek spot with other locations around the Bay Area. You’ll find gyros, souvlaki, pita sandwiches, bowls, salads, and a burger. Open daily 11am-10pm. 507 Westlake Ctr., Daly City.

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The Epicurean Trader’s location in Cow Hollow. Photo via Instagram.

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Duck shoyu night at Noodle in a Haystack. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Some quick updates of projects that are coming soon…

A hopper reader let me know the folks at ~THE EPICUREAN TRADER~ have taken over the lease from La Boulangerie next door to their location on Union Street, and will be opening the walls between the two spaces to expand their grocery offerings, as well as have a full café and wine bar. But first, they plan to open their Ferry Building wine bar in just a few weeks (which was delayed by the pandemic), then an alfresco Ferry Building wine bar in the former Viva La Tarte space, with expanded outdoor seating around July 1st; Union Street is likely mid-July.

At all locations: in the mornings, they will focus on espresso drinks, health-driven smoothies, pastries (Tartine and Craftsman & Wolves, including The Rebel Within), breakfast sandwiches, bagel sandwiches, açai bowls, parfaits, and more, while lunch will bring European-style baguette sandwiches, toasted panini, empanadas, and salads. Evenings will bring a selection of four different styles of cheese and charcuterie platters: French, Italian, Spanish, and local-themed; crostini and gourmet conservas, tapenades, and more that they sell in their retail market, all designed to pair with DIY spritz flights (sparkling wine served with a selection of seasonal shrubs, syrups, and garnishes for you to play around with and make your own creations), local and natural wines (including a local wine flight with esoteric varietals), local craft beers, sake, and low (and no-ABV) cocktails with wine-based aperitifs, vermouth, and sherry as the base. These wine bars will be a great place to meet a friend for a glass and some small bites before eating at a local restaurant in the Ferry Building, Hayes Valley, or Cow Hollow, or a great place for to enjoy wine and cheese. Stand by for opening updates.

I have been a huge fan of Clint and Yoko of pop-up Noodle in a Haystack’s incredible ramen they have been cooking out of their Daly City home for years, and couldn’t be happier with the news that they have found a brick-and-mortar location in SF! They’ll be opening in the recently closed Konomama location on Geary. Look for an opening this fall; they will continue with their coursed menu format (I miss those deviled eggs!) and offer two seatings a night. This couple needs our support to get this project off the ground, so please check out their Kickstarter, which will get you priority seating perks and more. Read more on their Kickstarter page and in this piece in the Chronicle. 4601 Geary Blvd. at 10th Ave.

[UPDATE: Due to an incorrect ABC listing, it ends up The Brixton will not be opening a location in Hayes Valley, but it will be a new pub/tavern concept from Hat Trick Hospitality in the fall, name TBA.] According to ABC license activity, ~THE BRIXTON~ will be opening a third location in the Stacks location in Hayes Valley. They’re transferring a Type 47 license—from Brick & Mortar Music Hall, which is supposedly reopening soon, huh—which means The Brixton will have full liquor to accompany their bar food-driven menu and brunch. 501 Hayes St. at Octavia.

Berkeley’s ~DARYOUSH PERSIAN CUISINE~ is bringing their koobideh to San Francisco’s Chinatown/Union Square at 580 Bush St. at Stockton.

A tablehopper reader sent me a photo of a “specialty Italian pasta shop” coming to Divisadero called ~PASTA BROS.~, offering fresh pasta, sauces, pizza, ready-to-eat meals, and dessert. I couldn’t find many details online, but we know they aren’t Italian since they mention “raviolis” on their sign (ravioli is already plural), so we’ll just have to see what happens over there, LOL. 1734 Divisadero St. at Bush.

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I wanted to make sure you saw these announcements from some of our favorite SF organizations. First, SF New Deal just launched an exciting grant opportunity for SF-based small businesses that have been financially hit by the pandemic (not just restaurants—any small business in the city can apply, like bookstores, retail stores, nail salons, or any type of impacted small business is encouraged to apply).

SF New Deal is distributing 400 $2,500 grants, totaling $1,000,000 going back into the SF economy and helping to alleviate some of the debt businesses are suffering from. A March 2021 SF New Deal survey of San Francisco restaurants found that the number of restaurants facing debt, as well as the amount of debt, has increased significantly. 60 percent of restaurants are currently in debt, compared to 34 percent in March 2020, the start of the first shelter-in-place order. On average, debt nearly doubled, increasing from $62,000 to $114,000.

Individuals can apply for their own business to receive a grant or can nominate a small business for the grant. The application submission period ends June 30th, 2021. Grant award announcements will be made by July 31, 2021.

Since we’re talking grants, I also wanted to be sure you saw that Templeton Rye launched the Templeton Distillery Strong Spirited Entrepreneur’s Grant program, awarding three small businesses $10K each! You have until July 11th to apply. Have a nip of their new 10 Year Single Barrel Rye Whiskey for inspiration.

Do you have a tough time making it out to the CUESA Ferry Plaza Farmers Market? Well, you can now order from their new online marketplace: Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Delivered, in partnership with The FruitGuys, who deliver throughout the Bay Area. You’ll be able to choose from a variety of fresh, peak-season produce from local farms (we’re talking dream produce here), learn about their growing practices, and, in turn, help farmers sell more of their produce. This past year has been particularly hard on many small farms who endured restaurant closures and reduced farmers market foot traffic. Place your order now for a Saturday delivery!

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Out the Door on Bush. (Photo source unknown. Could be mine. LOL.)

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Fred and Elizabeth Sassen of Homestead; photo via Facebook.

A tablehopper reached out to me a month ago, letting me know he heard ~OUT THE DOOR~ on Bush Street in Pacific Heights wouldn’t be reopening. I reached out but wasn’t able to get any confirmation from the team until a month later, when they announced it publicly on their Instagram feed. Such a bummer, OTD was one of my favorite breakfast or lunch meeting spots, and their sriracha fried chicken was such a fave. We’ve had 11 years of many wonderful meals there. The only sister restaurant that remains open is The Slanted Door at Bishop Ranch in San Ramon, and we’ll have to wait for The Slanted Door to reopen at the Ferry Building after its remodel is complete. 2232 Bush St. at Fillmore.

In Fisherman’s Wharf, it appears both ~CASTAGNOLA’S~ (the oldest restaurant on the Wharf, since 1916) and ~TARANTINO’S~ are permanently closed. [Via Broke-Ass Stuart]

Over in Oakland, the chef-owners of the nine-year-old ~HOMESTEAD~, Liz and Fred Sassen, have decided to throw in the kitchen towel on the sit-down part of the restaurant (they will have their last dinner service mid-June), but will continue to offer The Humble Sandwich, their sandwich and salad pandemic pivot, until they decide their next move and lifestyle change. 4029 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. [Via Nosh]

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The new patio furniture at Backyard at Broc. Photo: Starr Gazers.

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The Hi Neighbor and Mama Oakland teams have partnered up. Photo courtesy of Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group.

I kept running out of time and didn’t include any East Bay updates the past couple columns, ugh, but let’s dive in! It’s June gloom time, so head on over to Backyard at Broc at Broc Cellars to escape the fog and wind. You can enjoy wine tastings and snacks provided by the nearby Standard Fare, and restaurants will be popping up, like A16 and their pizza truck (June 18th and July 16th). Take a seat at custom, handmade patio furniture from The Long Confidence, who also made Broc’s new hand-blown glasses, and enjoy your alfresco evening with pals. Open Fri-Sun, reservations available via Tock. Friday is open to the public for walk-in availability. 1300 5th St. at Gilman, Berkeley.

I was so happy to see chef Mona Leena Michael (previously Dyafa), otherwise known as The Mana’eesh Lady, maker of incredible Palestinian baked goods and more, has the keys to her first brick-and-mortar location! She has been popping up during the pandemic and slinging her magical pillowy manousheh, but is on hiatus while she prepares her Berkeley location at 10th and Camelia—she hopes to open by this summer. She will be calling the restaurant ~LULU~. Stand by for more!

A few months ago, I mentioned Dominica Rice-Cisneros was about to open her latest restaurant, ~BOMBERA~ in Oakland’s Dimond, and she has soft-opened with takeout service Fri 4pm-8:30pm and Sat 11am-8:30pm. You can take a sneak peek at the menu here (all subject to change) and hours will be expanding in time. It seems their Facebook page has the most recent service updates. I’ll have more updates soon as things take shape over there! 3459 Champion St. at Lincoln, Oakland.

The Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group (Trestle, The Vault) announced they’re partnering with Stevie Stacionis and Josiah Baldivino of ~MAMA OAKLAND~ to restructure and reopen the neighborhood restaurant (it ends up they all worked together for Michael Mina up until 2013, so the gang is getting back together). Hi Neighbor’s newsletter states: “Chef Jason Halverson will be leading the charge in developing an updated version of MAMA’s original concept. Still keeping the prix-fixe notes, and building upon our expertise from Trestle, we will add in options for family style entree proteins such as whole-roasted branzino, chicken Parmesan, and more. Don’t worry, the signature sugo & meatballs will be available daily as part of the prix-fixe.” And you know the wine list will continue to rock, since Stevie and Josiah are behind Bay Grape wine shop. Look for a reopening in mid-June or so. 388 Grand Ave. at Staten, Oakland.

You can catch up on a bunch more openings (and closures) in this recent Nosh post.

May 18, 2021
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Welcome back, Tosca. (You’ll see the entrance has a new mosaic.) Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The bar is all polished up and will be ready to host you soon. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The dining room has been slightly expanded and refreshed. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The famed PDR in the back, full of memorabilia from previous owner Jeannette Etheredge. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Tosca’s jaunty and inviting Shared Space. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

At the end of 2019, and just before the beginning of the pandemic, chef Nancy Oakes (Boulevard), restaurateur Anna Weinberg, and designer Ken Fulk took over our treasured North Beach bohemian hangout, ~TOSCA CAFE~, from April Bloomfield, after the horrendous Ken Friedman harassment debacle. Byyyyyyyye.

The new ownership group tried to reopen the restaurant while grappling with the vicissitudes of the pandemic, offering a takeout family meal, popping up as a food truck, and launching outdoor dining (until the second shutdown happened).

It has truly been a rough road for Tosca the past few years, but it has seen a lot in its 102 years. The charming outdoor Shared Space—outfitted with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and plants (plus heaters and blankets)—was able to reopen in March, and as Eater recently noted, Tosca quietly opened its doors to indoor dining last week, giving diners a first look at Ken Fulk’s updated interior.

I know a number of folks wondered how far Fulk’s renovation would go, and if there would be any taxidermy, but after swinging by on Saturday to see it for myself, I was thrilled to see the renovation was delightfully, lovingly restrained, with just the right level of luxurious care the space needed.

After you walk over the new mosaic at the threshold, you’ll see the beautifully polished Deco bar, and even though the imposing espresso machine is no longer there (which they only used to steam drinks in the past, hilariously, but the owners are reportedly on the hunt for another one). You’ll find the classic House Cappuccino on the cocktail menu of seven Italian-influenced drinks, including a Negroni (of course), a couple spritzes, and an Italian Nightcap.

You can also enjoy a glass of wine off of Shelley Lindgren’s (mostly) Italian list, with some Champagne and Napa Valley wines on there, too. Bar seating will be returning soon, but for now, there are two-top tables across from the bar along the wall, just below where a new mural is going to be installed—the artwork that was hanging there was moved to the dining room.

Everything looks freshened up (but not too too), from the buffed black-and-red checkered vinyl floor to the reupholstered red banquettes in leather and updated light fixtures. The dining room is a touch larger since they took out the wine wall to the right of the dining room (which also led to a second entrance to the private dining room in the back).

About that amazing PDR: Fulk added some damask wallpaper, but all the incredible memorabilia from the illustrious former owner Jeannette Etheredge was all painstakingly put back exactly as it was, from the Nureyev poster to the one of Paris, Texas to all the personal photos. (And the infamous bullet hole in the wall from Sean Penn remains, which he denies to this day.) You can rent out the room for dinner for 18, or a standing reception up to 30.

There’s also the chef’s lounge, which is tucked away above the kitchen, and while it’s still being updated, I got a sneak peek of the red curtains, walls, ceiling, and new light fixtures—it’s all very bordello chic. There will be room for 8-10.

As for the dinner menu, executive chef Nancy Oakes and chef de cuisine Bam Liu are offering a decadent raw bar, with oysters with Sambuca mignonette and anchovy cocktail sauce (wow), and caviar with potato skins and burrata. There’s a fried green tomato caprese, grilled marinated artichokes with ‘nduja and breadcrumbs, asparagus risotto, and gnudi cacio e pepe, plus some Tosca meatballs, Tuscan fried chicken, lamb ragù, and a Flannery Beef bone-in ribeye for two. There is an optional and prepaid $75 prix-fixe menu as well. It reads like the perfect, seasonal San Francisco-meets-updated-North Beach menu. For now, dinner is served Thu-Sat 5pm-10pm.

A fun new addition is Sunday brunch, something unique and special for the neighborhood. While the outdoor Shared Space is an ideal brunch location, the restaurant is actually filled with a fair amount of light during the day. The brunch menu includes baked eggs and their housemade focaccia, polenta pancake, and a Tosca smash burger (there’s an optional $45 prix-fixe menu), plus a Sicilian Bloody Mary with pepperoncini, benissimo. Served Sun 11am-4pm. 242 Columbus Ave. at Broadway.

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Tony Gemignani outside his new North Beach bakery, Toscano Brothers. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Dago Bagel at Toscano Brothers bakery. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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A selection of breads at Toscano Brothers. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The classic interior of Toscano Brothers. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Our local obsessive of all things pizza and dough, Tony Gemignani, has branched out his field of floury expertise to include bagels, baguettes, and Italian breads at his recently opened North Beach bakery, ~TOSCANO BROTHERS BAKERY~. I’ve been watching him on Facebook get his mixers and stone mill and oven moved in during the pandemic, and the upbeat mint exterior gives me vintage Vesuvio Bakery in New York vibes.

In this new space, he’s now making all the dough for his SF pizza places (Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Slice House, and Capo’s), and has expanded his repertoire by bringing bagels and breads to the neighborhood. During a recent visit to check out the space, he said it was a shame there was no longer bread being made in North Beach, and he wanted to change that. He was originally going to do something in the former Italian-French bakery space, but when that didn’t pan out, he ended up converting this unique spot instead (it has a mezzanine level).

He has a close and ongoing relationship with Keith and Nicky Giusto of Central Milling in Petaluma (who provided him with their 40-year-old starter for this venture), and he also collaborates with his attorney, Adam Sachs, who is a fellow pizza dough whiz and has been working with Tony on the bagel R&D. Tony has been wanting to make bagels for a long while, and it was definitely something North Beach was lacking. What he didn’t know was a verbal altercation with a problematic neighbor would inspire the name of the bagel part of his business: Dago Bagel. It’s a derogatory term for Italians you thankfully don’t hear so much anymore, but after it was fired his way as an insult from a neighborhood crank, Tony decided to turn it around and own the slur. It’s certainly one way to deal with name-calling.

As for the bagels, they’re New York-style (they’re rolled and twisted by hand, and boiled in liquid malt in a kettle) and baked on custom-made, burlap-wrapped pine boards in his special Cuppone panettone deck oven imported from Italy (the first in the U.S.), which they are still fine-tuning—there are some issues with the steam injectors, but he’s still managing to bake some magic with it. The bagels are tight, with a chewy and crusty texture, and a deep golden bake. The Bay Area difference is the fantastic and freshly milled flour he’s using, giving these bagels that extra, quality touch—they are naturally leavened, with a little bit of rye.

They come in plain, Maldon salt, poppyseed, sesame, everything, and he even made blueberry for a minute (they’re $2.50-$2.75). You can order in-house schmears (including a delicious honey butter) and smoked salmon to go from the counter, plus toppings for customers to build their own bagel sandwiches. They sell out around lunchtime, so don’t lag (they’re currently doing 400 bagels a day).

As for the bread bakery, that falls under the Toscano Brothers name, offering chewy baguettes (instead of total roof-of-the-mouth scratchers), pagnotta (with cured black olives and rosemary Tony grows on the back patio), and the surprise creation: a sour cherry and chocolate sourdough batard that has a hint of Maldon salt—it’s the perfect afternoon snack, and you’ll want to warm this up for breakfast with some butter. (Tony is experimenting with some other ingredients, too.) All the breads are naturally leavened sourdough, and he’s using freshly milled flours from Central Milling Co. for his own sourdough mix, as well as doing some milling in-house, including a spelt flour he’s adding to the pagnotta.

You’ll also notice some pre-made panini stacked on the counter, simply made with salami, prosciutto, or mortadella, with provolone, and a drizzle of olive oil inside. This is the perfect panino: a few ingredients on fresh bread, what more do you need? It’s marvelous.

The next phase to the bakery will be Antonio’s Pastries—he’s working on what that lineup will be, so that’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, you can join the folks standing in line for their bread and bagels, and you can grab an espresso (featuring coffee from Caffe Trieste—he likes to keep things extremely local), and have your moment for a little banter or a hello with Tony, who really is a fixture in the neighborhood. It’s wonderful to see so many people who say hello, and he has a little backstory on everyone, whether they’re a well-known photographer or work at a neighborhood restaurant. I commend Tony for his appreciation and upholding of old-school values and what makes a good neighborhood, and that’s taking care of your community. Open Thu-Sun 8am-3pm (or until sold out). 728 Vallejo St. at Powell.

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The new Empress by Boon. Photo via Empress by Boon’s Facebook page.

A big, glam opening is the upcoming ~EMPRESS BY BOON~, in the iconic Empress of China space on Grant Avenue in Chinatown, a project announced back in the fall of 2019. Chef Ho Chee Boon (Hakkasan) will be offering an upscale and modern Cantonese experience, and doors open June 18th. It has fantastic views, and is such a unique location—we’re lucky to have a restaurant and bar return to the space.

I’ve been following this project through pics and hints on Instagram, but hope to have more details on the opening $68 prix-fixe menu (featuring organic ingredients from their farm in Gilroy) and dramatic interior by UK-based design studio Atelier LLYS soon. A post on Food & Beverage Magazine mentions, “Chef Ho has assembled a core executive team of experienced professionals, including general manager James Minch; pastry chef Rory MacDonald, formerly of Dessert Bar, Gordon Ramsey and Hakkasan; Haley Moore, CEO and founder of Acquire, who will oversee the wine program; Emily Parian as bar manager and crafter par excellence of unique, alluring cocktails; and private events manager Elissa Ma. Macdonald will offer a curated dessert menu that will complement and enhance Chef Ho’s modern Cantonese menu.”

Reservations are open. Dinner will be served Mon-Sat 5pm-10pm. 838 Grant Ave. at Clay.

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The cheerful front dining room and bar at Otra in the Lower Haight. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The bar is ready to pour you a Smoky Paloma or Mezcaroni. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The tropical mural by Rachel Sager in the mezzanine dining area. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

I’m beyond excited to have a new bar and casual Mexican restaurant in the Lower Haight, a mere 15-minute walk from my place for quality cocktails and tacos and tostadas, hubba. Meet ~OTRA~, from Nick and Anna Sager Cobarruvias of the Mission’s Son’s Addition. They live in the neighborhood and are excited to (finally) open something there after some pandemic delays—they softly opened in the beginning of May (first reported by Eater).

The former SushiRaw space been transformed into a cheerful hangout, with 49 seats available at the window counter, at tables in the front dining room or up on the mezzanine, and at the gleaming bar with bottles of mezcal and tequila—there’s also a heated and protected Shared Space out front. Designer Dan Vickery commissioned Rachel Sager to create a tropical 50-foot mural on the mezzanine (which will be a great space for private events), and a tiled floor is coming soon. There are ornate mirrors, some lovely family photos, walnut tables, and various shades of punchy blue, from the Mid-Century inspired bar chairs to the ceiling covered in papel picado (tissue paper banners).

Nick is digging into his family playbook of flavors and recipes (his grandfather came to the U.S. in 1918 from Jalisco), folding in some inspiration from a couple trips to Oaxaca, while nixtamalizing and grinding his own masa for the tortillas (using heirloom corn sourced from Masienda), and weaving in that seasonal Bay Area thang, offering a number of vegetable-driven dishes, including roasted sweet potato or hen of the woods tacos, and roasted carrot or grilled asparagus tostadas ($11-$12). (There are also slow-cooked beef tacos in guajillo chile, and cod tostadas.) There’s kampachi aguachile (with charred habanero-miso-lime), beer-steamed mussels with house chorizo, and charred cabbage with smoked bone marrow and toasted pecan dukkah (sign me up—I’m seeing some pent-up creativity getting unleashed here). There are some larger plates as well, including a pork tenderloin, and Nick’s pozole is coming soon—and you’ll note a number of housemade salsas, including their peanut salsa macha. Menu here.

There are seven well-made but uncomplicated cocktails designed to please ($12), plenty of quality mezcal and tequila pours to try, and all wines are Old World and $13, with five beers to choose from (including local Barebottle and Standard Deviant). Hours are Sun-Thu 5pm-10pm, and until midnight Fri-Sat. Brunch will be coming, a welcome addition to the neighborhood. 628 Haight St. at Pierce.

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A selection of dishes from the new Shokudou. Yelp photo by Jewel S.

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The Bay view at the new Harmonic Brewery taproom at Thrive City. Photo: Ruben O’Malley.

Just after my last newsletter went out, tablehopper reader Karen Z. let me know about a new opening in Bernal, ~SHOKUDOU~, serving izakaya-style skewers and dishes, chirashi, nigiri, and more, in a former hair salon! You can read some background in this piece on Eater—the owner (chef Stewart Chen) is behind Umi in Potrero. Indoor dining or takeout only. Open Sun-Thu 5pm-9:30pm, Fri-Sat until 10pm. 1000 Cortland Ave. at Folsom.

Superstar Karen also let me know that Francisca’s in the Mission has been replaced by ~EL HONDURAS~ (previously El Rinconcito), serving traditional Honduran dishes, like baleadas (a thick tortilla filled with refried beans, avocado, crema, cheese, and eggs), pollo con tajadas (plantains), and mondongo soup on Sundays. 3047 Mission St. at Cesar Chavez.

There’s a new, plant-based/vegan Mexican restaurant that opened on downtown’s Belden Place from chef Evette Mercado called ~VIDA CANTINA SF~. Take a look at the menu here, and there are cocktails and a happy hour from 5pm-6:30pm. Open Wed-Sat 5pm-9pm. 56 Belden Pl. at Pine.

The former Baker Street Bistro space in the Marina is now ~CÔTE OUEST BISTRO~, from owners Laurent Monchicourt and chef Martin Sarrailh (Le Garage). Hoodline reports they’re serving lunch, dinner, and brunch Wed-Sun. The menu includes some French bistro classics and Basquaise specialties. They updated the space, and there’s an outdoor terrace with bistro chairs as well. 2953 Baker St. at Lombard.

Fans of the former (and affordable) ~DIM SUM CLUB~ on Van Ness should know a new location has opened in Parkside. Open daily 11am-3pm and 5pm-9pm. 2237 Taraval St. at 32nd Ave.

Cruising across town, ~HARMONIC BREWERY~ opened their new Mission Bay taproom at Thrive City/Chase Center, just a mile from the brewery. You’ll find fresh and hand-crafted brews, bar food from nearby Neighbor Bakehouse (including San Francisco-inspired Sicilian pizzas), wine, and a great view (there is a spacious patio, and plenty of room inside as well). Check @harmonic_thrivecity for soft opening dates and times (open on all Chase Center event days). 1 Warriors Way.

Over in the Metreon, the first SF location of ~BONCHON~, known for their made-to-order Korean fried chicken around the world, is now open for dine-in, takeout, and delivery. Open daily 11:30am-8pm. 135 4th St. at Mission.

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SF Chicken Box bounty. Instagram photo via @sfchickenbox.

Here are some updates on projects that are coming soon, starting with the move of Christian Ciscle’s ~SF CHICKENBOX~, a favorite of fried chicken lovers (real ones know). SFC has been operating alongside The Brew Coop on Valencia in the Mission, but now that’s all finished as he prepares to have his very own digs in North Beach in a former pizza place on Broadway. SFC is conveniently going to be close to 15 Romolo and Specs and Vesuvio, so you know where to grab a fried chicken box or fried chicken sandwich after a night of drinking (soon). Will keep you posted on timing. 464 Broadway at Kearny.

Chef Eric Ehler has been running his verrrrry popular ~OUTTA SIGHT~ New York-style pizza slice pop-up out of Fig & Thistle in Hayes Valley (previously at Pizzahacker), and has announced a location for his slice shop has been secured. I wasn’t able to get any details from him yet, except it’s in Hayes Valley, so yay and stand by.

A tablehopper reader let me know some remodeling was happening at the former Mauerpark location in the Castro, and an ABC license notification reveals it’s a brick-and-mortar location of ~SPRO COFFEE LAB~, an espresso truck located in Mission Bay’s Spark Social. Hoodline has details, sharing the news that husband-and-wife team Rich Lee and Liza Otanes plan to open the café in June or July. They’ll be serving specialty coffee drinks with a focus on quality and flavor, from simpler to barista-competition-level drinks. There will also be café fare (salads, sandwiches, toasts) and housemade pastries, plus beer and wine, whenever that happens. 500 Church St. at 17th St.

Hoodline also mentions a pastrami sandwich shop, ~HOT JOHNNIE’S~, will be opening this summer in the former Nizario’s Pizza from Jonathan Young, who will be smoking his own pastrami. 4077 18th St. at Castro.

I have been noticing some updates at the former ~BISTRO CENTRAL PARC~ location on my neighborhood walks, and SF Biz Journal confirms the new owner is Bayram Evsen, who will be reopening with a French menu, plus some Italian dishes (he worked at his father’s Italian restaurant in San Carlos). 590 Central Ave. at Grove.

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It has been beyond distressing and deeply heartbreaking to witness the Covid crisis that keeps unfolding in India, and some local restaurants are rallying to help raise money to support relief efforts by The American India Foundation. Even when our beleaguered restaurants are suffering from the pandemic’s toll this past year, they are still coming together to donate 50 percent of their sales on Tuesday May 25th.

Restaurants participating in Dining for India include Amber India (San Francisco, Los Altos, San Jose), Aurum (Los Altos), Besharam (San Francisco), Bhoga (San Francisco), Broadway Masala (Redwood City), New Delhi (San Francisco), Rooh (San Francisco) and Rooh (Palo Alto). Whether you dine in, order takeout, or delivery, 50 percent of food sales will be donated. Thanks in advance for your support of this fundraising night.

I also want to call attention to this fundraiser for a local bartender, Paul Wakefield, who was tragically hit by a car on his bike after finishing a shift at Driftwood in SoMa on Sunday evening (May 9th). His condition is reportedly “stable and non-life threatening, but his head injury is very serious,” and his path to recovery will require help from the community. Best wishes to Paul and his friends and family.

We owe a lot to everything CUESA has done to support our farmers, restaurant industry, and community during the pandemic, and a great way to show your gratitude will be reserving a picnic basket for CUESA’s Summer Picnic on Sunday June 13th. 30 restaurants, bars, breweries, and wineries will be contributing locally grown and made goodies to the basket, available for home delivery or pickup at the Ferry Building (If you opt to pick up, they’ll have some outdoor seating and a DJ, making it a picnic party).

Each picnic basket includes everything you need for an extravagant summer lunch for one, with seven sweet and savory bites and five seasonal beverages. Choose from three different summer produce themes (Berries, Stone Fruit, or Cucurbits) representing the best of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Unlock discounted pricing per picnic basket when you purchase multiple baskets and host a picnic party with your pod; tickets and pricing here!

Here are a couple cocktail events: 18 Reasons is hosting their first cocktail (and hopefully last virtual) spring fundraiser, Libations for Liberation, on Thursday May 20th. All proceeds will benefit 18 Reasons’ free Cooking Matters program for low-income families, which offers grocery donations paired with live, hands-on cooking and nutrition classes to more than 3,500 households each year.

Alta Journal is hosting a happy hour event, Alta Live @ 5, on Wednesday May 26th at 5pm on Zoom. It’s free, but the optional cocktail delivery from Rye on the Road is $50. Michael Bauer and Alta contributor Nicholas Mancall-Bitel will talk locally sourced cocktails with Greg Lindgren of Rye on the Road.