The Chatterbox

Gossip & News (the word on the street)
October 16, 2018

Brenda’s famed crawfish beignets. Photo: Libby Truesdell.


Brenda’s famed fried chicken. Photo: Libby Truesdell.


A po’boy from Brenda’s Meat & Three. Photo via Facebook.

You know what makes me happy? When one of the first chefs I ever interviewed, oh, like 14 years ago (back in 2004!) gets in touch to let me know about her new project. That would be Brenda Buenviaje of local Brenda’s fame—I met her when she was working at Café Claude, way back when! It has been so rewarding to watch her business grow with her wife and business partner, Libby Truesdell, which includes our city’s beloved Brenda’s French Soul Food, Brenda’s Meat & Three, and Libby Jane Cafe.

But now, the ladies are heading across the Bay and will be opening ~BRENDA’S~ in Temescal! Brenda tells me they have been looking for a location in Oakland for a couple years, and are thrilled to be opening in a new building (which will include apartments above), the Maya, at Broadway and 41st. It’s about six months out, so we’re looking at late spring 2019.

Brenda’s will be fast-casual, and will feature the best of their signature items, like beignets, brunch items, fried chicken, and po’boys (with some new ones coming too). Since the area is more residential, they will have some kid-friendly additions like milkshakes, and some family meals (with chicken!) to bring home. It’s important to them to have Brenda’s be accessible to all.

The corner space is a new buildout, but will feature the Brenda’s southern diner style, with hardwood floors, ceiling tiles, murals, and there will be big windows, including exhibition windows from the street onto the kitchen so you can watch them make beignets! There will be some counter seats, and outdoor seating as well.

Hours will be Wed-Mon 8am-10pm (closed Tue), serving breakfast and brunch and then transitioning to lunch/supper/dinner service. Stand by for more details as the project takes shape. Oakland, get excited—the beignets are coming. 4045 Broadway at 41st St., Oakland.


The dining room at Prairie. Photo courtesy of Prairie.


Guanciale-wrapped mochi in a radicchio leaf. Photo: ©


Pane distrutto—get it while you can. Photo: ©


Berkshire spare ribs with a Calabrian XO rub. Photo: ©


The delightfully fizzy Suntory Toki highball with grapefruit. Photo: ©

I’ve been keeping you posted about the opening of chef Anthony Strong’s ~PRAIRIE~ in the former Hog & Rocks location in the Mission, and now I have a firsthand update for you since I was invited for an opening night meal last week!

He’s done an impressive remodel of the space, sporting a crisp look with white ash tables and natural modern chairs, and the walls feature wood panels dyed a deep indigo. Add in the modern light fixtures, groovy scene at the eight-seat bar, retro artwork, and eclectic, upbeat soundtrack, and you’ve got a fun scene happening here. Oh yeah, and a madonna at the door to greet you (nothing like sourcing some South San Francisco statuary to add some Neapolitan vibes). You’ll also notice that the infamous din that was at Hog & Rocks has disappeared—they added some sound-dampening panels, and even more should be coming soon.

Your server will check in with you, but it’s pretty much up to you to grab a red pencil on the table and start selecting what you want to eat off the menu. While Strong is known for his years of making Italian food, at Prairie, he’s showing his love of Japanese cuisine and ingredients, along with Chinese influences, and some other items he’s pulling from his food lover’s pantry. It’s freestyle, creative, and meant to be shared.

Start with the guanciale-wrapped mochi ($4 each), nestled inside radicchio, with some nori and a few dollops of syrupy aged balsamic. Another bite you’ll need to indulge in while you can is the pane distrutto ($4), a craggy piece of olive oil-toasted bread soaked with early girl tomato juices—it’s basically a total mouthful of end-of-summer bliss. I also stepped a foot into fall with the chicories salad ($11), with a dressing that nods toward a Caesar, but of course we added some hot guanciale on top ($4). The menu has plenty of vegetarian and vegetable-focused dishes, and there is even a keto designation on dishes.

Pastas include plump Gulf shrimp and burrata tortelli ($19), and buttered tagliatelle with a rich sugo of chicken bits and Parmigiano ($18), almost like a satisfying Italian stroganoff that you mix into the noodles, but with chicken.

The kitchen’s two charcoal grills (a Josper from Spain and a J&R Woodshow Broiler from Texas) are the masters behind half of the menu, giving a smoky kiss to dishes like meaty Berkshire spare ribs ($25) with a Calabrian XO rub (it’s almost like you’re eating in an awesome Chinese restaurant in Italy), and the platter of lamb blade chops ($27) with arugula and lemon at the table next to us looked like something I’d have at a dream grigliata for Ferragosto in Italy. I’ll be coming back for the marrow bones ($22) with a sherry luge, which are right where they should be: in the “fun” section on the menu.

The cocktail list features some fabulously carbonated highballs, thanks to the Suntory Toki highball machine (I was way into my Suntory Toki with grapefruit, so refreshing alongside the smoky ribs). Becky with the Good Hair ($13) is a beaut, a golden-orange gin cocktail with lime and a turmeric-sea buckthorn shrub that almost tasted healthy (I fell in love with sea buckthorn while traveling in Russia).

The Italian-leaning wine list has all kinds of food-friendly selections available by the glass or bottle (Anthony worked with LA-based Lucid Selections on it), and there are five beers on draft, with some Japanese beers by the bottle. Be sure to check out the “Not-A-Flamethrower” on a back bar shelf (it’s locked!), released in limited numbers by Elon Musk’s Boring Company. (Don’t worry, they won’t be using it on any drinks or customers.) There’s also some outdoor seating, and brunch is coming soon. Dinner served Tue-Sun beginning at 5:30pm.

Note that an 18 percent service charge will be added to each bill in lieu of tips (this allows them to provide better wages and benefits to every member of the team), plus a 4 percent surcharge for SF employer mandates (“Healthy SF”). 3431 19th St. (between Valencia and Mission), 415-483-1112.


Jay Foster doing his magic at Isla Vida. Photo: Melissa de Mata.


Get ready to tuck into quite the Afro-Caribbean spread at Isla Vida. Photo: Melissa de Mata.

Congrats to Jay Foster, Matthew Washington, and Erin Traylor for getting ~ISLA VIDA AFRO-CARIBBEAN GRILL~ open in the Fillmore District—they just did a trial run over the weekend! Boom.

Isla Vida will be open again this Wednesday, serving up wood-fired meats like jerk rotisserie chicken, tostones, Cubanos, and made-to-order churros. Chef Jay Foster says, “”With Isla Vida, we explore the next chapter of soul food, through the African diaspora in the Caribbean. We even custom-made a wood-fire grill for the kitchen. Cooking on an open fire lets us prepare the food the way our ancestors did.”

To recap, this black-owned business took over the former Black Bark BBQ space, and they’re interested in hiring people from the Fillmore neighborhood (as they say in a press fact sheet: “Training and mentoring is an integral part to the Isla Vida mission and vision of bringing Black-owned businesses back to the Fillmore neighborhood.”).

They are offering a fast-casual experience, and intend to run their own delivery service. Hours will be Wed-Sun 11am-8pm, with plans to open at 10am on the weekends for brunch soon (there’s outdoor seating too!). Welcome to the neighborhood! 1325 Fillmore St. at Ellis.


The trio of half-rolls and seasoned fries at Luke’s Lobster. Photo: ©


A shrimp roll and slaw. Photo: ©


The back wall at Luke’s Lobster, complete with buoys and the historic building’s exposed lathe. Photo: Isabel Baer.

Last week, I attended a preview of ~LUKE’S LOBSTER~, an import from the East Coast (the founders are third-generation lobsterman Luke Holden and partner Ben Conniff). It’s a fast-casual spot, focused on lobster, crab, and shrimp rolls in buttered, split-top rolls, plus clam chowder, lobster-corn chowder, Patagonia Provisions’ smoked mussels, and more.

Luke’s Lobster is a vertically integrated seafood company, which means they oversee every step of the supply chain (“from dock to table”), and are committed to serving high-quality and responsibly sourced seafood. The chalkboard in the shop lists the harbors where the seafood is from, and is updated daily. One interesting thing they do is after lobster is purchased from their fishermen partners in Maine and Canada, it’s brought immediately to Luke’s Lobster Seafood Company in Saco, Maine, where it’s separated, size-graded, steamed, picked, and packed, and then distributed to Luke’s Lobster’s shacks nationwide. Luke’s Lobster Seafood Company is the only seafood company in North America to be both Marine Stewardship Council [MSC] certified for sustainability and Safe Quality Food [SQF] Level 3-certified for quality and safety.

I recommend trying their trio of half-rolls to start ($19), but if you know you want to hit the lobster, go for it—you get a 1/4 lb. of chilled, wild-caught lobster in a buttery split-top bun with lemon melted butter, mayo, and their secret seasoning (it’s $16). I like how lightly dressed it was, and because of the way they sort and prepare the lobster meat separately, none of the pieces were over-cooked. You can also trade out the bun for salad ($1 extra). A side of their poppyseed slaw ($2) and seasoned fries ($3) complete the picture. Here’s the current menu, which also includes calories (it’s not as bad as you may think) and their full happy hour offering (check out the Jonah crab claw platter!).

There are craft beers and wines as well, and there’s a unique beer they’re pouring in collaboration with Black Hammer Brewing—the limited-run beer was brewed with lobster shells and kelp!

The corner location in SoMa has a lot of historic touches, from the vintage terrazzo floor to the brick and exposed lathe walls, with large windows and outdoor seating. It’s in the Bourdette Building, which was the only commercial downtown building to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire (she’s tough like that). And you don’t want to miss the lobster boat soundtrack in the bathroom, complete with seagull squawks.

According to Yelp posts, the opening has been a little hectic, so think about giving them a little time, and then pre-ordering via their app would be the move. Open Mon-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat-Sun 12pm-7pm. There’s also a happy hour every day from 4pm-7pm, with $2 off all beer and wine, plus mini lobster rolls, and a special on a lobster roll and a beer for $19. 92 2nd St. at Mission, 415-483-1580.


The Twitter Building. Photo via The Market’s Facebook page.


The Old Skool Cafe during a Behind the Cart event. Photo: ©


The Ferry Building. Photo courtesy of Ferry Building Marketplace.

Another week, another new food hall project (you read about La Cocina’s big Municipal Marketplace project, right?)! This one is going to be an extension of The Market in the Twitter building: The Market Square Food Hall, a 14,000-square-foot project from Chris Foley, a local real estate investor and developer.

They are looking for up-and-coming chefs, breweries, and entrepreneurs who want to grow their business—there will be space for multiple food artisans, curated retail, a brewery, plus dining areas and an open kitchen. Partners will receive technical assistance with permits, constructing, and opening their space, as well as back office support like cleaning, security, marketing, and events. The team is particularly interested in speaking with entrepreneurs who are Bay Area-based, have an engaged online following, and want to be part of building community. Underrepresented chefs or retailers are strongly encouraged to apply. Deadline is October 18th!

The Chase Center has announced their restaurant and beverage partners, which includes La Cocina and Old Skool Café (the youth-run, jazz-themed supper club in Bayview-Hunters Point) as part of the Taste Makers program, along with local restaurants and specialty vendors Sarap Shop (Filipino flavors for vegans and omnivores); Omakase Restaurant Group’s Live Sushi and Dumpling Time; Chef BOUG (crab cake po’boys and other soulful fare from Bayview chef Tiffany Carter); CC Made (artisanal caramel popcorn from Cassandra Chen, a member of Working Solutions Group and Chase Entrepreneurs of Color Program); Earl’s Brittle (the “world’s tastiest peanut brittle,” made by Bayview resident and advocate Earl Shaddix); Yvonne’s Southern Sweets (from Bayview resident Yvonne Hines); Sugar & Spun (an unconventional spin on cotton candy, a member of Working Solutions Group and Chase Entrepreneurs of Color Program); and Five Dot Ranch beef.

They will be joining Tony G’s Pizza (from Tony Gemignani), Bakesale Betty’s, Tacolicious, Sam’s Chowder House of Half Moon Bay, plus the exclusive Hot Dog Bill’s Burger Dog (previously available only to members at San Francisco’s Olympic Club Golf Course), and they will be reviving Big Nate’s BBQ in homage to the Warriors’ history and late NBA Hall-of-Famer Nate Thurmond. (This is all in partnership with Bon Appétit Management Company and Levy Restaurants.) The arena is set to open in the fall of 2019 in Mission Bay.

Some big news rippled through the Bay Area that the Ferry Building and Marketplace has been sold to Hudson Pacific Properties and Germany’s Allianz for $291 million. Whoa. The farmers’ market is reportedly going to be expanded, and the tower will be opened to the public. The article in the Chronicle also alludes to the new owners raising rents for some tenants in 2019. Fortunately, CUESA and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market have their lease locked in for the next 10 years and will not be affected.


Croissant perfection at Arsicault Bakery. Yelp photo by Stephanie L.


The colorful bar at the new SOMA Eats. Photo: Craig Hackey.

Fans of ~ARSICAULT BAKERY~ (famous for their croissants, and other amazing baked goods) will be happy to hear owner-baker Armando Lacayo is opening a new location in Civic Center next year, “where he’ll eventually serve more of his signature croissants and kouign amanns, plus new offerings like sourdough bread and classic French desserts.” This location will also have later hours, sandwiches, espresso service, and more seating. 83 McAllister at Leavenworth. [Via Eater.]

Shirley Azzghayer and Oussama Mannaa have opened a second location of ~SOMA EATS~ on the Embarcadero in the Rincon Tower on Spear Street. The fine-casual menu is Middle Eastern-inspired Californian cuisine, and includes breakfast items and a variety of salads and sandwiches for lunch. The new location will additionally serve a lamb tagine bowl, lentil protein bowl, and pomegranate chicken bowl. There’s also a staggering number of beers (over 300!) and wine, with 9 beers and 6 wines on tap, and they added espresso service.

The space includes a U-shaped bar, bright turquoise tiles, and a large TV to watch games. Hours to start are Mon-Fri 7am-2pm (breakfast and lunch), with happy hour, a full-service night menu, and craft low-ABV cocktails to follow. 121 Spear St. at Howard.

A tablehopper reader tipped me off that the owner of PPQ Crab Dungeness Island (Sam Chang) is opening a business in the Sunset called ~GOLDEN CRAB HOUSE~. It’s going into the Nami Ramen location, and is reportedly opening soon. 1830 Irving St. at 20th Ave.

The team behind Finn Town and Papi Rico are planning to open ~LITTLE FINN EMPORIUM~ in the Castro in spring 2019, offering sandwiches, soups, salads, charcuterie, and cheeses, as well as “Daddycakes” original baked goods (from Lori Baker) and Coletta organic gelato, plus catering platters designed for easy delivery. Stand by for more. 2215 Market St. at Noe.


A killer spread at Prubechu. Instagram photo via @restaurantprubechu.

Was sorry to read that ~LA VICTORIA BAKERY~ has closed after 67 years in the Mission. You can read more about the family dispute that brought it down in this Chronicle article. 2937 24th St. at Alabama.

~BOTELLÓN~ in the Castro has closed less than one year in business. Neighbor Brewcade is reportedly looking into possibly expanding into the space to have access to a restaurant kitchen. 2200 Market St. at Sanchez. [Via Hoodline.]

I received a note from the ~PRUBECHU~ team that their landlord has granted them an extension on their space until November 1st (they initially closed on September 29th), so you can come by for dinner and show support for chef Shawn Naputi and general manager Shawn Camacho until October 31st. Book your reservation now! Here’s hoping they find a new space soon. 2847 Mission St. at 24th St.


The Saucy Awards totally deserved a Saucy cocktail (thanks to Campari America). Photo via Facebook.

I have some local food news updates for you, starting with the announcement of the nominations for the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s third annual Saucy Awards! Take a look to see who is up for Chef of the Year, Beverage Professional of the Year, and many more categories, 21 in all. (I was honored to be a part of the steering committee again this year—the committee was in charge of narrowing down the nominations to four finalists per category.) I’m also so happy to see Nancy Oakes is receiving the GGRA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. And Mayor London Breed will give a keynote speech recognizing the Bay Area hospitality community and all of the honorees.

Winners will be announced at a gala on Monday November 12th, at the historic Herbst Theater. Get your tickets here, $149 each, which include the awards ceremony and a post-reception catered by Meadowood Catering. The Saucys benefit the non-profit Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship & Education Foundation (GGRASF). See you there! 7pm. 401 Van Ness Ave. at McAllister.

I haven’t had a free moment to tune in yet, but big congrats to Samin Nosrat for her new documentary series that just launched on Netflix, Salt Fat Acid Heat, based on her New York Times best-selling cookbook! You get to armchair travel to Italy, Japan, the Yucatán, and back home to Chez Panisse. Check it out (and you’ll improve your cooking skills).


Camino in the evening. Photo via Facebook.


Bardo’s upstairs dining room. Photo: Anna Wick.


The fun, midcentury style at Bardo Lounge & Supper Club. Photo: Anna Wick.


A dish from the duo behind Abstract Table. Photo via Abstract Table’s Facebook page.

It was already unexpected news when ~CAMINO~’s owners Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain announced they’re closing their 10-year-old Oakland restaurant at the end of December (operating costs and staffing are a challenge, a problem throughout the Bay Area, and they’re also ready for a break). Their other project, The Kebabery, will remain open.

But the surprises continue with the news of Camino’s replacement: a location of ~ZACHARY’S CHICAGO PIZZA~ will be opening there in 2019. The menu will be similar to other Zachary’s locations, and the pizzeria is also hoping to have full liquor, which would be a first for them—but no word about the fate of the hearth. Stand by for more. 3917 Grand Ave. at Sunnyslope, Oakland. [Via Chronicle.]

Another pizza takeover: a second location of ~BENCHMARK PIZZERIA~ has opened in the former Desco in Old Oakland. Owners Peter and Melissa Swanson (both Oliveto alums) are offering “Neo-Neapolitan” pizza with some California touches (think sourdough starter for the dough, and some creative toppings), plus housemade pastas, and some entrées too. There’s also a cocktail list, designed by Tamir Ben-Shalom of Bull Valley Roadhouse. Hours are Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm and dinner Sun-Wed 5pm-9pm and Thu-Sat 5pm-10pm. 499 9th St. at Washington, Oakland, 510-488-6677. [Via East Bay Express.]

Seth and Jenni Bregman have opened their first project in the former Michel Bistro in the Lakeshore neighborhood, ~BARDO LOUNGE & SUPPER CLUB~, and it’s a swanky and fun-looking spot. It’s designed to feel like a midcentury modern dinner party, with a retro living room atmosphere, complete with vintage furnishings and glassware. The food (from Anthony Salguero and Brian Starkey) and cocktails from Jason Huffman also have a throwback feel, with some modern touches. Come by for happy hour, dinner (served upstairs, for $59), or late-night bites—weekend brunch will be coming later. Open Wed-Mon 5pm-2pm (dinner from 5:30pm-9pm, Fri-Sat until 10pm; snacks until 12am, and 1am Fri-Sat). 3343 Lakeshore Ave. at Trestle Glen, Oakland, 510-836-8737.

Chefs (and conceptual artists) Andrew Greene and Duncan Kwitkor have made their Abstract Table pop-up dinner series a permanent fixture at The Gastropig in Uptown Oakland. They serve a five-course ($50 per person) and seven-course ($70 per person) tasting menu that rotates every three months, and is treated like a dining “exhibition,” but unlike most art galleries, is meant to be unpretentious and relaxed. Their next one will be “Blizzards,” beginning December 7th, and will take diners on a culinary journey through the winters of Japan and Scandinavia. Sake, beer, and wine are also available. Reservations for this series will be available on starting November 7th. 2123 Franklin St. at 21st St., Oakland.

He’s baaaaaack, just in time for Halloween nightmares. Chef Charlie Hallowell, accused of sexual harassment by more than 30 employees, has released a 12-point plan that is supposed to be a roadmap for his return to work after stepping away the past 10 months.

The fact that he thought the inclusion of a monthly dunk tank in the plan was a good idea (are you frigging kidding me?), and that (now) co-owner and managing partner Donna Insalaco signed off on it, shows a pretty twisted sense of reality (and of restaurant culture, and how to make amends). Yup, a dunk tank is really going to lighten things up. Way to diminish the weight of all the pain, damage, abuse, and suffering he has inflicted on far too many employees. Its inclusion nullifies every other point in his “plan.” And to think they are also gunning to open a new restaurant in Berkeley, Western Pacific. His hubris is as infuriating as it is staggering. It’s time for Harvey Weinstein to buy some remote property and create Shame Island—we have plenty of men to send there to keep him company, starting with this guy. One-way ticket only.

Let’s end this piece on a positive note by focusing on news from a female- and black-owned business: ~CUPCAKIN’ BAKE SHOP~ has relocated to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Owner and Oakland native Lila Owens has moved her five-year-old bake shop to a larger, brighter, and contemporary space, offering her scratch-made cupcakes in more than a dozen rotating and seasonal flavors, as well as gluten-free and vegan options. Owens will open two additional Cupcakin’ locations later this fall: the first in early November at Swan’s Market in Old Oakland, and the second in early December in the space formerly occupied by Virginia Bakery at 1690 Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley. The Shattuck location will serve as the commissary kitchen for all three bake shops and the catering business. Open Mon-Sat 11am-9pm and Sun 11am-6pm. 2391 Telegraph Ave. at Channing, Berkeley.

October 2, 2018

The bar at Angler. Photo courtesy of Angler.


The open kitchen and hearth at Angler. Photo courtesy of Angler.


Purple sea urchin. Photo courtesy of Angler.


California king crab like you have never had it. Photo courtesy of Angler.

A couple weeks ago, I was able to take a peek inside the brand-new ~ANGLER~ at a preview party for World’s 50 Best Talks, and the former Chaya has been converted in quite the spiffy waterfront restaurant. Owners Joshua Skenes and Mark Bright of the three-Michelin-starred Saison have already proven their dedication to excellence of flavor, ingredients, sourcing, service, and wine and spirits, and at Angler, it’s all going to be a little bit more accessible than Saison’s $298 menu (appetizers are $12-$28, while mains are $20-$48).

Working with executive chef Nicolas Ferreira, Skenes has brought over his dedication to cooking over live fire: here, it’s a 32-foot wood burning hearth. With his finely tuned techniques, and micro-sourcing from local fishermen, hunters, gatherers, ranchers, and farmers, you can expect dishes that are designed to showcase quality ingredients at their best, while slowly and carefully nurturing natural flavors at peak taste.

You can take a look at the menu here, although it’s a cryptic one, and will be updated daily. While it’s a sea life-focused restaurant—with spot prawns, scorpion fish, and Monterey abalone, and there are massive fish tanks to keep them in—you’ll also find meats like hot grilled rabbit, vegetables, and a raw bar and selection of salads. Naturally, there is caviar service with their own private batch.

Mark Bright has assembled a wine cellar that is of course heavy on the Burgundy (he has access to some of the best), but other classic regions are represented as well, plus some aged selections. There is also a full bar, featuring small-batch distillers and well-known spirits too.

The front dining room has 46 seats, with 12 at the counter, and 28 in the bar and salon. The room has brick walls adorned with fish taxidermy and is anchored by the open kitchen in the back, with bouquets of drying herbs hanging, flowers, books, and ephemera that make it feel cozy and welcoming like a French countryside kitchen.

The back room, The Game Room, has a hunting lodge feel, with wood paneling at the back bar and the walls, tobacco upholstered banquettes, and an enormous taxidermied bear that is mid-pounce, along with other animals that would have made my Uncle Gino proud (he was such a hunter). There is room for 30, and it’s designed to also be used for private dining.

Initial hours are Sun-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm. You’ll want to book your table before it completely blows up, the word on the street is hot. Valet parking available for $20. 132 The Embarcadero at Mission, 415-613-4447.


At Pizzeria Delfina. Photo: ©

Well, this is exciting: Craig and Annie Stoll are expanding their ~PIZZERIA DELFINA~ mini-empire with a new downtown location, coming to the former A.G. Ferrari at 688 Mission Street at 3rd Street. Craig tells me they have been looking for a location in the area for about ten years—they love the bustle and energy. This will be their fifth location (the pizzeria is also in the Mission, Pacific Heights, Palo Alto, and Burlingame).

There will be 80 seats, with a wine bar inside, and sidewalk seating coming too. They will continue with their theme of featuring a mural of San Francisco Bay (mimicking the Neapolitan pizzeria tradition of always having a mural or picture of the Bay of Naples)—this one will be by artist Shawn Bullen (he is behind the bee in Hayes Valley).

The menu will be like the other locations, serving the same repertoire of dishes with seasonal changes, but they will also be adding soft-serve featuring Double 8 Dairy, and a deeper wine list. Look for a new Delfina chardonnay from their collaboration with Scribe Winery, poured en mag, plus 12 beers on tap. Lunch and dinner will be served daily.

If the pizza gods cooperate, they should be open at the end of November or early December. Stand by for news on when you can get a Purgatorio pizza! 688 Mission St. at 3rd St.


Tacos are coming to the former post office: get ready for the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace. Photo: ©


The old post office, and future home of the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace. Photo: ©


La Cocina businesses like Mi Morena were at the bread-breaking (and fed us, lucky us). Photo: ©

Last week was an important one for business incubator La Cocina: they celebrated a “bread breaking” at their future ~LA COCINA MUNICIPAL MARKETPLACE~ in the Tenderloin, with Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Jane Kim, La Cocina executive director Caleb ZIgas, and members of the community (La Voz Latina, Central City SRO Collaborative) speaking about the importance of supporting this project, not only for La Cocina, but for the neighborhood, the city, and beyond.

This all-women-led, 7,000-square-foot marketplace is taking over the former post office at 101 Hyde Street at Golden Gate, a particularly challenging corner in the city, especially since the post office closed. The city-owned location is eventually going to be developed and converted into affordable housing, but that’s going to take some time—so for at least the next seven years, La Cocina has a lease with extremely low rent, an absolute rarity in this city that is so challenging for small businesses, let alone ones owned by women, immigrants, and people of color.

It’s going to be the first women-led food hall in the country, with seven La Cocina graduates (primarily immigrants and women of color) who will have their own kiosks. There will also be a pop-up kiosk, a dining area, a marketplace bar, a community kitchen (offering below-market-rate kitchen space to entrepreneurs and community groups for food production), classes, and more. They want to feed the neighborhood, offering quality and affordable and delicious food, while also creating 30 jobs for low-income individuals.

Not only will the marketplace provide an equitable opportunity for La Cocina entrepreneurs to gain experience in building their businesses, but the food hall format will also allow them to diminish the burden of high commercial rent, as well as share labor, maintenance, and other operating costs. It’s also going to do a lot to activate that corner, and help support the neighborhood. This is such an innovative and inspiring project—which has been three years in the making—offering a replicable model for economic development for cities across the nation. It’s a win-win-win-win-win (there are a lot of wins).

La Cocina is still fundraising for the project: they have raised 65% of their $5MM goal, but still need some financial support to bring it home. If you would like to make a donation in support of the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, or know someone who would support the project, please send Development and Communications Manager Jessica Mataka an email or call at 415-824-2729, ext. 307.

Construction is now underway, and they are targeting a spring opening. Congratulations and much respect to Caleb and the entire La Cocina team on this big next step. 101 Hyde St. at Golden Gate.


The wonderful Tamale Lady (Virginia Ramos). Photo via Twitter, source unknown.

What kind of a San Francisco is one without The Tamale Lady? Last Friday, the city was distraught over the terrible news that our dear lady of the tamal, Virginia Ramos, has left us at the far-too-young age of 65. She was a magical and mythical figure, who would appear like an angel at the bar or beer bust where you were most likely drinking far too much, and probably hungry. You’d turn, and suddenly there she was, usually with her beanie and always with her little cart and coolers in tow. You’d see a flurry of happy activity around her, with a “How you doin’, honey?” as she’d dip into her cooler and produce a warm tamal—you’d order two if you were smart—pour some salsa from her plastic dispenser, hand you a paper towel and fork, and give you a beaming smile and a hug.

She fed us all like we were her children. Granted, we were her drunk and disorderly children, but she loved us. She always knew when we needed her most.

For me, it was often at the end of the Sunday beer bust at The Eagle. She’d laugh at me hanging out in a sea of gay men and chaps. One time, I got smart and asked for her mobile number. I used to host a biweekly happy hour (a very blurry one) at Vertigo on Polk in the early aughts, and told her we’d have many patrons in need of her divine sustenance at the end of the party. It felt extra-magic to be able to summon her like that. Man, did everyone lose their mind when she would show up with her cart. TA-MAL-ES!

Tamales are already so ridiculously labor-intensive to make, but could you imagine schlepping around a cart and coolers and salsa and paper towels and forks and feeding a bunch of drunks? That is a rare human. Virginia was exquisitely rare.

It breaks my heart that she was so close to opening her brick-and-mortar location in the Mission, soooo close. The project was beleaguered with delays and issues, but it was heartening to see so many people rally around her and try to help when she got booted from selling her tamales at Zeitgeist (and other bars around town) when the city deemed her enterprise a violation of city health codes (a special shout-out to Nate Allbee and David Campos for spearheading the initial location search). Oh, the irony about the recent bill Governor Brown just signed into law that will help allow Californians to prepare and sell food from their home kitchens.

There will be a vigil in her honor on Tuesday October 9th at Duggan’s Funeral Service (3434 17th St.) from 4pm-7pm, with a rosary at 7pm. The funeral will be Wednesday October 10th at 11am at Mission Dolores Church. According to a tweet from her account, presumably a family member, she had heart trouble. Yeah, it was just too big.

Virginia, San Francisco is ever-grateful for all the love and care you took to feed us, love us, worry about us, and make us so proud to have the one and only Tamale Lady to claim as our own. You made our city that much cooler. (And delicious.) You will be sorely missed—you were one of those mythic and beloved SF characters who is irreplaceable and will never be forgotten. Condolences to her family and all her friends. Rest in peace.


Zarzuela’s prime corner location. Photo via Facebook.

Some big news on Hyde Street: after being open since 1994 (as long as I have lived in San Francisco!), Andy Debbane and Lucas Gasco’s beloved Spanish stalwart ~ZARZUELA~ will be closing soon for a new project and ownership that is taking over.

Executive chef Michael Pawlik—who has been cooking at Russian Hill neighbor Frascati for the past 12 years—is going to be moving in with his co-owner and girlfriend Amanda Banks Barker to open ~ABRAZO~ (which they are defining as “a warm embrace”). Pawlik will be paying homage to what Zarzuela has built there over the past 24 years, offering a Spanish-forward, Mediterranean menu, but it will not include traditional tapas. Banks Barker—who is the bar manager of mamanoko in the Marina—will be putting together the wine list, as well as offering sherry-based cocktails.

There is not a specific closing date set as of yet, so head over for a final paella and tortilla and “gracias” for all the years of great meals while you can. Zarzuela will operate until the transfer process is complete, and the new duo is planning on getting the keys the first week of November. They hope to get a couple soft openings done by the end of November and open to the public the first week of December.

The room will be updated with cosmetic upgrades and new furniture, fixtures, awnings, table tops, china, glass, and silver to create a warm and inviting ambiance. Pawlik is happy to remain in the neighborhood, and loves the idea of being able to continue offering a great dining experience. 2000 Hyde St. at Union.


The former location (as 398 Restaurant & Bar). Photo by Kelly Puleio.

The last time we heard about Union Square’s Hotel G, the Tartine team was planning a café project with April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, but we know why that fell apart.

The replacement concept is ~AYALA~, and the new operators are LA’s Cast Iron Partners (who were part of the last project), with chef-partner Bill Montagne (coming from the East Coast: Snaggletooth in Chicago, and most recently at Paul Kahan’s Nico Osteria), executive chef Melissa Perfit (Bar Crudo, Hard Water), GM Essam Kardosh (Del Popolo), wine director Nick Tilly (who will also be working with Essam), and bar director Julian Cox (Tartine).

It’s going to be a seafood-focused restaurant, highlighting California seafood designed to be shared. You’ll be able to start with selections from the raw bar, with oysters, and seasonal picks like Dungeness crab, Santa Barbara uni, and abalone. Crudos and cured fish boards will be offered, along with seafood pastas (think tortellini in brodo with lobster consommé), and entrées and large-format dishes, like cioppino verde. There will be some meat dishes as well, like dry-aged strip steak.

Wines will influenced by the sea (whether they are coastal vineyards or it’s about soil composition), and look for new California wines, with a focus on organic and natural viticulture. Julian Cox’s bar program (to be clear, he’s consulting on this project in an ongoing basis, not just the opening, but is still with Tartine) will include spirits from small producers, seasonal ingredients, and having fun with the concept: some sea Navy Strength gin and rums, east India Sherry, port, and Madeira. They will also be featuring spirits that go well with oysters.

They want the style and vibe to feel fun and neighborhood-y, while referencing the California coast. There will be three areas: the oysterette (an extension of the bar, flanking the street, with floor-to-ceiling windows), the dining room (which will be a little more private, with ash tables and wood banquettes), and the raw bar, complete with marble and an oyster station, along with a VIP table with room for seven.

They are targeting a November opening, and the next time you’re at Benjamin Cooper (also a part of the Hotel G property), you can take a peek at their progress. (It’s opening in the former 398 Brasserie space.) 398 Geary St. at Mason.


The new booths and banquette seating at Magnolia Dogpatch. Photo: ©


The new back indoor beer garden. Photo: ©


The baked clams “cioppino” on the new menu. Photo: David Martinez.

Last week, I had the opportunity to swing by the newly updated ~MAGNOLIA DOGPATCH~, formerly Smokestack, and the new team has made some significant changes to the restaurant look and concept, adding a beer garden and neighboring 5,000-square-foot event space.

Hannah Collins Design did quite the makeover, adding dove grey and upholstered booths to the middle of the room, with smoky glass light fixtures, and other touches like black tables and grey tiles under the open kitchen counter for a look that is approachably stylish. You’ll see some nods to founder Dave McLean’s favored 60s and Haight Ashbury aesthetic and roots, including the poster in the main dining room and some of the fun vintage ads in the hallway. The space does a nice job of balancing the masculine and the feminine, and the vintage and the modern.

In the back room, it’s now an indoor beer garden, with picnic tables and bleachers, plus state-of-the-art TVs, along with planters and a large, groovy mural. Whether it’s a game night or a private party, there is room for some rumpus. And: dogs are allowed.

The new ownership team leading Magnolia Brewing Company is Dick Cantwell, co-owner, president, and director of brewing operations; Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing Company and executive chair; and Brian Reccow, CEO. 

The new chef is Laurance Gordon, who is no stranger to beer-focused restaurants and breweries (Mikkeller, Belga, Thirsty Bear Brewing Company). They have done away with the previously limiting barbecue concept and expanded the style to more of a modern, all-day American menu (subject to change). There are plenty of snacky items (at a preview tasting, I especially dug the baked clams “cioppino”), plus salads (including a Green Goddess wedge with shrimp), sandwiches, a burger, and some mains, including choucroute garni and Magnolia roasted chicken with preserved lemon, plus plenty of vegetable sides. They really wanted to tailor the menu to be more neighborhood friendly, and a destination for guests who will be catching games at the upcoming Warriors’ Chase Center.

As for the beers, there are 20 taps which will feature Magnolia flagships like Kalifornia Kolsch and Proving Ground IPA, plus some new brews, including Cucumber Squeeze, an IPA which I was calling spa beer (it’s brewed with cucumber peel and pulp and Meyer lemon), plus Momomojo Smoked Peach Ale, and beers from New Belgium and Oud Beersel. Taps will change frequently, with new offerings weekly. Beer will also be available for purchase in cans and two-liter growlers.

Wine is now going to be a focus, with an emphasis on affordable but quality selections, with many from California. The bar and cocktail program are in development, so look for more soon (and a little less whiskey), but you’ll find a few cocktail classics for now. The bar still has its marble top, and is an inviting place to perch.   Hours to start are Sun-Thu 5pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-12am. Weekend brunch and a happy hour are also coming soon. 2505 3rd St. at 22nd St., 415-864-7468   Note: Magnolia Haight Brewery and Restaurant also has a new chef (Roque Mendoza) and menu that remains very pub-like. 1398 Haight St. at Masonic. 


The modern-chic dining room at Freds at Barneys New York, San Francisco. Yelp photo by Genevieve Y.

Now open in Union Square is ~FREDS AT BARNEYS NEW YORK, SAN FRANCISCO~. It’s a corner restaurant and bar on the sixth floor of the store, offering a dramatic urban view from the historic windows. The décor is chic and very ladies who lunch, with an inviting lounge with swanky little chairs that could be right at home at a vanity, and a bar complete with a 36-foot-long faceted mirror (you look marvelous). The elegant dining room is outfitted with mod swivel chairs in a soft green velveteen, and booths in a soft grey-blue. It’s all very pleasant and well-appointed, and the staff was gracious and charming.

But at a preview event last week, I feel like I should have worn a Designing Women power suit with the heftiest shoulder pads I could find, applied some heavy blush, and featured my vintage Gucci bag. The food was like a total throwback to 1991, complete with squiggles of balsamic on out-of-season asparagus, and the Freds [sic] spaghetti comes with pesto, shiitake mushrooms, more asparagus, and the kicker: sun-dried tomatoes. By the time the crab cakes came out with a smear of rémoulade, I was ready to head down to the perfume counter to douse myself in Poison. Or Giorgio. Anyway. I understand there’s some nostalgia about some of the salads and dishes (which date back to the original Freds opening in 1996), but I was really surprised at how anachronistic the menu was. I’d go back for Estelle’s chicken soup, and the perfectly fried Belgian pommes frites with some Champagne at the bar, but otherwise the menu was a head-scratcher. Entertaining, certainly. I guess it’s how fashionistas stay a size 4.

I also think it’s hilarious that I had a total download fail of my images from my camera of the evening. They completely disappeared. I think they got caught in a time vortex. I need to hop in a DeLorean and get back to the future to find them, along with a couple missing apostrophes, be right back.

Open for lunch and brunch: Mon-Sat 11am-4pm, Sun 12pm-5pm. 77 O’Farrell St. at Stockton, 415-268-3550.


Gioia Pizzeria’s exterior signage. Photo: Rebecca Kinney. ©


Hayes Valley is really lucky to be the future home of Gioia’s crazy-delicious pizza. Photo: ©

Some changes over on Polk: after six years in their location, Will and Karen Gioia are moving ~GIOIA PIZZERIA~ to Hayes Valley, and opening a slice shop in the former Two Sisters Bar & Books space in early 2019. They are closing the pizzeria this Saturday October 6th (come by to say goodbye and for specials, like $8 glasses of wine), and when they reopen in the tinier 900-square-foot space, they’ll be serving whole pies, pizza by the slice, meatballs, chicken and meatball Parm hero sandwiches, salads, and daily specials. You’ll be able to dine in or take out. They are going to miss their neighbors, but wanted to streamline into a smaller space with counter service (like their Berkeley shop, which they’ve had since 2004). 579 Hayes St. at Octavia.

Taking over their space will be a second location of Outer Richmond’s ~FIORELLA~, so at least quality pizza will continue from Boris Nemchenok and Brandon Gillis. Look for nightly dinner and weekend brunch too, stand by for dates and more. Get ready for some fun wallpaper. 2240 Polk St. at Green. [Via Eater.]

Over in the Castro, ~SOFIA CAFÉ~ has closed after two years of serving empanadas and café fare, and taking its place will be ~GAI~ from Kevin Lieu, serving Vietnamese-style chicken and rice plates for lunch and dinner in mid-October. 3463 16th St. at Dehon. [Via Hoodline.]

After opening in 1994, Brigitte and Andrew Thorpe have closed fondue palace ~THE MATTERHORN SWISS RESTAURANT~ so they can retire (off to Florida they go!). Eater reports “The Matterhorn’s landlord will retain the restaurant’s chalet decor and hopes to find a new operator from Switzerland.” 2323 Van Ness Ave. at Green.

In the Mission, the Mexican sports cantina from the Tacolicious team, ~BAR SAN PANCHO~, has closed—I’ll be sharing details about the new project, Elda, from Eric Ochoa soon. 3198 16th St. at Guerrero.

And across the water in Tiburon, the Michael Mina Group is taking over the ~GUAYMAS~ waterfront space after a big upgrade—they plan to open by summer of 2019. Stand by for more on the concept. 5 Main St., Tiburon.


A seasonal (and always vegetarian!) spread at Greens. Photo: Nader Khouri.

Some great news regarding our dear ~GREENS~, which has been closed for four months after suffering a kitchen fire before dinner service on June 20th. It’s going to reopen on Monday October 15th, just in time for its 40th birthday in 2019. The kitchen has been repaired, and the main dining room has been restored back to its original craftsmanship.

But with this reopening also comes some big news: executive chef Annie Somerville, who has been leading the Greens kitchen since 1985 (The San Francisco Zen Center opened Greens in 1979), is going to be transitioning into semi-retirement. But she will continue to oversee the culinary vision, and will be keeping her regular shopping schedule at The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Fortunately, she has instilled a strong culture of gratitude, humility, and being of service, which will continue as well.

When asked about the success of Greens, Somerville comments, “I really believe our stability is about goodwill. As food culture has grown, we’ve had greater access to the most incredible ingredients of all time. We can execute high-level dishes with all the exceptional produce we acquire. And at the core of Greens, we are very mindful, especially of our staff; they are everything to Greens. Guests feel welcome here, and the employees feel a part of something special. Being located within the Golden Gate National Park is such a gift. People’s lives are so busy, and they value these beautiful Bay Area open spaces more now than ever.”

So book your reservation, welcome the staff back, and get ready for a seasonal menu full of fall bounty from their partner, Green Gulch Farms.


Mixiote’s incredible morita salsa and lamb tacos at last year’s SF Street Food Fest. Photo: ©


Feasting at CUESA’s Sunday Supper in the Ferry Building’s Grand Hall. Photo ©Drew Altizer Photography via Facebook.


Get ready for a weekend of music, food, art, crafts, and more at Treasure Island Music Festival. Photo by Tom Tomkinson, courtesy of TIMF.

I hope you don’t have too many plans already for next weekend (October 13th-14th), because there’s a lot going on.

First, Saturday October 13th is the ninth year of La Cocina’s San Francisco Street Food Festival, returning to the Powerstation in Dogpatch. There will be 30-plus chefs and restaurants, 90 percent of whom are women, like Reem Assil of Reem’s and Dyafa (2018 James Beard semifinalist) serving pali Cali man’oushe (flatbread with sumac-braised chicken); Nite Yun of Nyum Bai (Bon Appetit’s Hot Ten Restaurant of the Year) serving Cambodian lemongrass skewers with prahok ktiss dip and and pickled veggies; Isabel Claudido of El Buen Comer, serving chilaquiles verdes or rojos topped with eggs and fresh green salsa; Fernay McPherson of Minnie Bell’s who will be slinging her famous rosemary fried chicken (typically only available in the East Bay); and Hang Truong of Noodle Girl sharing Vietnamese pork belly and five-spice chicken banh mi sandwiches. Look for some new vendors too! There will also be cocktails from Third Rail Bar!

Festival tickets are $6 and can be purchased online at or for $10 at the gate (if still available). 100% of each ticket sold is donated to La Cocina. Last year’s festival sold out so be sure to get yours early! And bring cash. 11am-7pm. 420 23rd St. at Illinois.

And then on Sunday October 14th, it’s CUESA’s Sunday Supper: A Farm to City Feast. 40 top chefs will be preparing food outside (it’s quite the setup!), while guests will enjoy an opening reception inside (with hors d’oeuvres, oysters, and cocktails), followed by a four-course dinner in the Ferry Building Grand Hall, with paired wines and tableside presentations. There is also a fantastic silent auction and live auction too.

Funds from the Sunday Supper gala contribute more than 50 percent of the cost of CUESA’s education programs, which serve farmers, kids, and educators in cultivating a healthy food future that nourishes all. VIP ticket: $375 ($250 tax deductible), doors at 5pm; General Admission ticket: $300 ($200 tax deductible), doors at 5:45pm.

And then across the Bay all weekend, it’s the Treasure Island Music Festival, returning after a one-year hiatus in a new location at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland. Tickets are still on sale (both VIP and GA), and I am so fired up to see Tame Impala and Cigarettes After Sex on Sunday. The food lineup is thoughtfully curated to feature many Oakland and East Bay businesses—you’ll find food from Aburaya (bring on the Japanese fried chicken), bling bling dumpling, Curry Up Now, Gerard’s Paella, Itani Ramen, Little Star Pizza, Mi Granny’s Kitchen, Rockos Ice Cream Tacos, The GrilledCheezGuy, and more.

There will also be some great on-site art installations, with many created by local Bay Area residents. Don’t miss “Cosmic Voyager” from the SF-based art collective Chromaforms, a massive laser-cut, stainless steel sea turtle offering horoscope readings that change based on the date and time after participants press buttons on the turtle’s fin. Burners will be happy to see Barry Crawford’s “Mechatheusis,” a mechanical giant squid kinetic sculpture. There will also be Workshop’s Camp DIY if you want to get crafty (try shibori dyeing bandanas or sewing beer koozies!).

Festival gates and box office open daily at 11am, with music kicking off shortly at noon each day. The only way to get to and from the festival is via the official complimentary festival shuttle service at West Oakland BART, or rideshare to the festival’s designated festival drop-off/pick-up area nearby.

September 18, 2018

The light-filled dining room at Barbara. Photo: ©


Take a seat at the bar at Barbara (artwork by Jeremy Fish). Photo: ©


A sneak peek at Barbara’s teglia romana. Photo: Francesco Covucci.


Another look at Barbara’s teglia romana. Photo: Francesco Covucci.

Due to open this Friday September 21st is ~BARBARA PINSERIA & COCKTAIL BAR~ in the former Panta Rei in North Beach from Il Casaro’s Francesco Covucci and Peter Fazio (they are also behind Pasta Pop-Up).

The approachable menu is veering more into a Roman-influenced direction, with California seasonality playing a strong part, too. I got a quick glance at a preview menu: there are antipasti like oxtail supplì, baccalà, and of course some artichokes to go along with that Roman theme. A variety of pastas will range from tagliatelle with ragù (two meats: veal and pork) to some Roman-influenced classics, like bucatini all’amatriciana (my favorite), cacio e pepe, and rigatoni alla carbonara. There’s also an interesting fusilli dish with mushrooms. Daily specials will be available too, like saltimbocca on Thursdays, and porchetta on Saturdays.

There’s a whole section of pinsas (not pizza), which come in an oblong shape, and anyone who is a Montesacro regular already knows the dough of this trending style of pizza is made of soy, rice, and wheat—it’s a lighter and easier-to-digest dough, and can have a nice crispness to it as well. Toppings will include one with truffled egg with smoked pancetta and red onion, and one of my favorite pizza toppings at Il Casaro (mortadella and pistachio) will be making its way over. Pastore Mennato is the consulting pinsa chef, with over 20 years of experience.

Just next door in the adjoining space is Barbara Express, which is where you’ll find a case full of teglia romana, the Roman-style pizza that is baked in a square pan and cut however large or small you want your slice(s) to be. Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium in Rome is the most famous spot—and Barbara will offer the first teglia romana in SF.

The dough is 85 percent water, and fermented for 48 hours (you should see the bubbles that form). It’s baked in an electric Cuppone oven in about three minutes, and has an airy crumb that is crisp and, good for us, can stand up to a variety of toppings. At Express, the teglia romana will be cut with scissors and sold by the ounce—toppings will change daily, ranging from sausage to carbonara, and then off you go. At the counter, you’ll also be able to order supplì, and espresso service in the morning with house-baked cornetti will be coming soon.

Another fun component to the entire operation is there’s a full bar, and Carlo Splendorini (Michael Mina, Pabu) is consulting on the bar program. Pull up a stool…

The light-filled space juts into a corner shaped not unlike a pizza slice, with 68 seats inside, and 40 outside on both sides of the building under the yellow awnings (let your seat choice follow the sun—Columbus or Stockton). The interior is clean and a bit industrial chic, with curving wood and metal chairs, both at high-top and regular-height tables, plus there’s a communal table. The bar features cheerful black and white tiles, and there’s some splash of oxblood red on the walls, and wallpaper is coming too. The artwork above the bar is from neighborhood honcho Jeremy Fish, and in case you were wondering about the name (and why “Barbara” is in neon), the name belonged to Covucci’s great-grandma, who was Roman.

The plan is to open this Friday, but confirm with their Instagram before heading over. Initial hours are Sun-Thu 11:30am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-12am, with brunch launching soon. 431 Columbus Ave. at Stockton, 415-445-3009.​


The lively interior design. Photo: Anthony Parks.


The Ceres, Rayearth, & Windham aperitivo. Photo: ©


A selection of stellar nigiri sushi. Photo: ©


Uni toast with aji amarillo butter, chive, and fleur de sel. Photo: ©

Last week, I was invited to attend a preview of ~KAIYŌ~ on Union Street, and let’s just say you’re going to want to check out this spiffy restaurant and bar, even though I know Cow Hollow can be a tough sell for some folks. The owner is John Park (co-founder of Whitechapel and Novela), and it’s one of those places where there’s as much attention paid to the bar offering as the menu.

The food is inspired by Nikkei cuisine, a Japanese-influenced type of Peruvian food from Japanese immigrants in Peru. The flexible menu from chef Michelle Matthews will work well if you’re coming by for some bites to go with your cocktails, all the way to ordering a full spread. The Hokkaido scallop tiradito ($16) brings the Nikkei concept to life, featuring passionfruit leche de tigre, sweet potato purée, chia, and pickled red onion. There are also ceviches (including one made with heirloom tomatoes) and crudos, plus nigiri, sashimi, and rolls.

The high quality of the seafood is really apparent, and it’s partly to do with Ricky Yap, who consulted on the opening menu and sushi/seafood preparation techniques—if you were lucky, you got to sit at his counter when he was the sushi wizard at Akiko’s. The red snapper with plum pepper paste nigiri ($6 per piece) brought me back to his counter, and there’s also tender duck breast nigiri ($7) with shaved foie gras torchon and sherry gastrique. AND there’s an uni toast ($14) on the menu that is outstanding, with aji amarillo butter, chive, and fleur de sel. Don’t miss it.

You’ll also find more traditional Peruvian dishes, like anticuchos (skewers)—including the classic beef heart ($14), or you can go modern luxe with A5 wagyu kofta ($14)—and there’s also the option to get a half or whole rotisserie Mary’s chicken ($16 or $24), with side sauces and scallions. Speaking of sides, the haricot vert ($8) with miso hollandaise is a winner.

The extensive menu of cocktails is focused on Peruvian pisco and Japanese whisky, with ingredients ranging from lucuma and minted snap pea to ume and lemongrass oil. The names are anime-inspired, which also tie in to the artwork in the space. Sake sommelier Stuart Morris has assembled an extensive sake list, plus there are food-friendly wine selections and imported beers to try.

The space has a playful and vibrant look (overseen by Park and design consultant Hannah Collins), with a 35-foot living moss wall, a punchy yellow banquette, a marble bar, street art murals, and leopard wallpaper. Rawr. There’s also a swell patio out front (the space was formerly Ottimista-Enoteca), perfect for a nightcap or end-of-summer alfresco dinner. Open Sun-Wed 4pm-12am, Thu-Sat 4pm-2am. 1838 Union St. at Octavia, 415-525-4804.


Shrimp Louie at Café Envy. Yelp photo by John V.


Mexico City-inspired chicken tinga tostada at Tato. Photo via Facebook.

Bayview has not just one but two new additions to their dining scene, and both are sequel restaurants from female chef-owners! Yes. Let’s start with the opening of ~CAFE ENVY~ from “Auntie” April Spears (of Auntie April’s and chicken and waffles fame). Her menu includes salads (like a Caesar and shrimp Louie), bar bites (beef, chicken, or salmon sliders, jumbo smoked wings), soups (including chicken and dumplings), a burger, a vegan soul bowl, and large plates like half a lemon and herb-roasted chicken, New York steak, or jumbo prawns, all under $20. You can peep a photo of the menu here.

Cafe Envy opened in the former Monte Carlo space, and there’s a full bar (her new type 87 license is the first new liquor license issued by the city in 80 years!). Open Mon-Sat 11am-12am. 1701 Yosemite St. at Lane and 3rd St. [h/t to Eater]

Another recipient of a type 87 license is the new ~TATO~ from chef/owner Kristin Houk, who is also behind All Good Pizza in the Bayview District. The Mexico City-style menu pays homage to Houk’s abuela-in-law, who cooked in Mexico City and taught Houk many family recipes. The menu includes a range of tacos, quesadillas, salads, tostadas, and more, featuring spit-roasted al pastor, chicken tinga, or butternut squash. The tortillas are from La Palma Mexicatessan, and all-organic produce from a woman-owned co-op called Veritable Vegetable in Bayview. Houk is committed to quality ingredients while keeping prices affordable (there’s also a great happy hour (Tue-Fri 4pm-6pm), with any three tacos for just $10).

The space has a mid-century look, with tiles galore, fun and bright yellow upholstered bar chairs, an open kitchen, and hand-blown glasses for beverages like a Bloody Maria with house escabeche. Newly expanded hours are Tue-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat 10am-10pm, and Sun 10am-3pm (subject to change). 4608 3rd St. at McKinnon, 415-948-0974.


Smokebread (by Duna): it’s like your dream flatbread sandwich. Photo courtesy of Nick Balla.

Here are a couple quick sneak peeks of upcoming restaurant projects, and both involve chef Nick Balla, of Smokebread, and previously Duna, and Bar Tartine. He has been busy with his lunchtime Smokebread pop-up at The Perennial in SoMa, but according to this article, he has also been consulting on the menu for the upcoming ~BERBER~ supperclub in Russian Hill. Look for a North African-inspired menu, and they will offer live entertainment and performances in the back dining room (from belly dancers to aerialists). They’re targeting a November opening. 1516 Broadway at Polk.

In this article in the Chronicle, it mentions Balla is also planning a restaurant concept that will have the utilization of imperfect and surplus food/food waste at its core. Here’s more: “For his new business, Balla plans to have a central commissary and processing facility called Duna Kitchen, and to run Smokebread within it. The menu will have dips, spreads, soups and what he calls spoon salads — chopped vegetables bathed in vegetable-juice dressings (pureed from extra produce) best eaten with a spoon. The space will have to have room for equipment needed to juice, dehydrate and jar the tons of food he hopes to go through. There will also be a bakery for incorporating leftovers into bread, with out-of-the-box ideas like using dehydrated, oxidized (as in blackened) avocado to color and flavor a dark rye bread.”

Amazing, right? He’s considering a location in Bayview, stand by for updates and be sure to read the article for more details on this cutting-edge concept.


A sneak peek at some fixtures and tableware at the soon-to-open Prairie. Instagram photo via @anthonystrong.

Just a couple quick updates here: first, Anthony Strong’s new Mission restaurant, ~PRAIRIE~ is targeting early October for the opening. Dishes on the “new school” Italian menu include: pane distrutto (giant, torn pieces of olive oil-toasted bread soaked in Early Girl tomato pulp, just like crunchy-juicy toast of a BLT), tagliatelle with cutting board ragù (which uses the juice and fat from a whole roasted chicken), and coal-roasted eggplant with umeboshi and Gaeta olives. Ready for all of this. And the highballs. Read more in my original piece here. 3431 19th St. at Mission.

Taking over the massive Crystal Jade location at Four Embarcadero Center will be ~HARBORVIEW RESTAURANT & BAR~, a Cantonese restaurant. According to a post on Hoodline, they’re aiming for a late November opening. Drumm St. at Sacramento.


The fab new classroom, complete with great views. Photo: Terese Sy.


The new shopping area and café. Photo: Terese Sy.


Of course there’s a killer grilled cheese on the menu. Photo: Terese Sy.

Your new cheese headquarters has arrived: ~THE CHEESE SCHOOL OF SAN FRANCISCO~ has reopened in its new Ghirardelli Square home, the historic “apartment house” in the central plaza: a two-story freestanding brick house right by the mermaid fountain, with some spectacular views. It’s not only an awesome cheese school, but there is also a cheese shop, a café, and a private dining space. Owner Kiri Fisher brought on architect Wylie Price (State Bird Provisions, Ramen Shop, Fisher’s Cheese + Wine) to design this cheese dream emporium. The first floor hosts the café and shop (full of specialty items, from a case of cheese to crackers to cheese knives), while the upstairs hosts classes and private dining with views 
of the bay.

On the café menu (overseen by Claudia Gutierrez Smith), you’ll find Fisher’s American artisan grilled cheese with three cheeses melted between country bread (you’ll want to add on the prosciutto jam, and maybe a side of tomato soup); plus there’s pimento cheese, prepared in-house with Hook’s five-year cheddar, Calabrian chilies, garlic, and herbs; smoky blue wedge salad; mac and cheese; French raclette; and fun dishes like “fish and chips” with house-cured salmon salsa, crema, and kettle chips. The café will offer counter service and serve food all day.

Cheesemongers will be available at the cheese counter to help with pairings and tastes, and charcuterie will be cut to order. There are two grab-and-go cases filled with a selection of cheese, charcuterie, antipasti, salads, and sandwiches in case you’re preparing a picnic, and you’ll also find chilled wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages.

Book yourself into an upcoming fall class (the pizza-making classes will use a new, three-tier pizza oven!), and there are even new drop-in classes on Friday afternoons. 900 North Point, Suite K201 at Larkin, Ghirardelli Square, 415-346-7530.


Cancún burrito love FOREVER. Photo: ©

In case you missed the announcement on Twitter, where it spread like guacamole, beloved ~TAQUERIA CANCÚN~ has reopened on Mission after being closed for months for an upgrade. Time to go snag a super al pastor burrito, like, ahora. 2288 Mission St. at 18th St., 415-252-9560.

Also on Mission Street, but this is sad news: ~PRUBECHU~’s chef Shawn Naputi and general manager Shawn Camacho just announced they will be closing after service on Saturday September 29th, after four-plus years of serving their Chamorro-style cuisine from Guam and building up a loyal community. Their farewell email mentions: “We are the latest causualty of the all-too-familiar San Francisco story of landlord disputes and rent increases. Though we are very saddened by this development we have our heads held high and are looking forward to the next chapter of our mission to spread our Chamorro culture through our food and hospitality.” 2847 Mission St. at 24th St.


Ritu’s extraordinary pork vindaloo. Photo: ©


Luke’s Lobster rolls and Black Hammer lobster shell and kelp saison, it’s on. Photo: Isabel Baer.

Some fun pop-ups for you, starting with this amazing Sunday Supper at ~RITU INDIAN SOUL FOOD~ in the Mission (read more about the rebranded location in my Table Talk post), when chef-owner Rupam Bhagat will be cooking a three-course, family-style menu with his mom (Sudha), featuring family recipes. Sunday September 23rd, $40 per guest (exclusive of tax, gratuity, and beverages). The series will run every fourth Sunday of the month. 3111 24th St. at Folsom.

Chef Joe Sasto (previously of the fabulous Cal Mare in Los Angeles, Lazy Bear, and Quince), is doing a pop-up at ~TRUE LAUREL~ on Thursday September 20th, starting at 5pm until everytthing is sold out. He’ll be serving a few small dishes inspired by his favorite bar snacks, including nachos with puffed pasta chicharrones, parmigiano fonduta, refried ceci beans, and senise peppers, and “chicken Parm” tortelloni with mozzarella, pomodoro, garlic streusel, and basil (um, yes). Dishes will be $13-$15. A portion of food sales will be donated to the ACLU of Northern California. 753 Alabama St. at 20th St.

If you’re excited for the upcoming opening of ~LUKE’S LOBSTER~ in SoMa this fall (they’re looking at mid-October), you can have a warm-up at this pop-up at ~BLACK HAMMER BREWING~. You’ll be able to try Luke’s Lobster rolls for the first time, along with a lobster shell and kelp saison, brewed with lobster shells coming from Luke’s, while Black Hammer’s head brewer foraged for the kelp in the Pacific Ocean. Friday September 21st, 5pm-8pm. 544 Bryant St. at 3rd St.