A Look Back at Ten Years of Covering SF's Food Evolution at 7x7
Trends come and gone, predictions both true and false, plus scandals and quotes from one editor's decade on the front lines of 7x7's food section.
09.01 Jardinière chef Traci Des Jardins and Larry Bain (now of Let's be Frank) team up to start a new socially conscious program at Jardinière, which includes teaching English as a second language to staff, paying a living wage, and (drum roll) composting. "It took dozens of phone calls, but we finally reached someone at Sunset Scavenger," Bain says. "We're composting and recycling 90 percent of the kitchen garbage."
11.01 Once, when I was in culinary school in New York, I asked a Petrossian Caviar rep if it wouldn't be more sustainable to remove the eggs from a sturgeon via C-section rather than kill the huge, prehistoric fish. He looked at me like I was a crazy West Coast activist. By 2001, Beluga sturgeon are endangered. Sustainable, farmed caviar—which is extracted via C-section—is in. For 7x7, I drive out to Sacramento to visit the very unglamorous Sterling Caviar sturgeon farm made up of big, stinky fish tanks.
02.02 Chocolate snobbery begins. In a story called "Like Wine For Chocolate," I interview Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger about their new Scharffen Berger chocolate. I write, "They're the ones to blame if we're all soon deliberating the fermentation process, analyzing the mouthfeel of bittersweet versus unsweetened, and discussing varieties of the cacao bean—much like an oenophile drops the names of obscure grapes." Three years later, SF does just that, and Hershey's buys Scharffen Berger. Sadly, in 2008, Steinberg dies after a battle with cancer. Scharffenberger himself now tinkers in tofu—Hodo Soy, to be exact.
03.02 Signs of the pasta and pizza craze: We run Delfina's recipe for pork sugo pappardelle. Chef Craig Stoll uses fresh pasta made by Phoenix Pastaficio in Berkeley. (Today, Stoll makes his pasta in-house. At his new Roman restaurant Locanda, he even has a fancy pasta extruder used for making dried pasta.) Meanwhile, little Pizzetta 211 out in the Richmond launches. I remember thinking: A pizza with an egg on it? That's cool. Today, I think: Of course!
05.02 I interview Mourad Lahlou, who has just opened his Moroccan restaurant Aziza. He tells me, "My mother asked me, 'Why did you go 8,000 miles away to cook? What about all those years in school?'" Today, with a TV show in the works and a cookbook coming out this fall, his mother hopefully gets it.
12.02 At the Village Pub, chef Mark Sullivan blows me away with his charcuterie program.
07.03 Obsessed with my love-hate relationship with Amanda Hesser's Mr. Latte column in The New York Times Magazine, I interview her. In person, she turns out to be very uncontroversial and as slight as "a wafer-thin-mint." (She still is today, even after having twins and testing all the recipes in her amazing Essential New York Times Cookbook.) She tells me she loves Capricious cheese, Miette lemon cookies, and dates. Then there's my favorite quote of the year from an interview with NY restaurant consultant Clark Wolf in regard to Jeremiah Tower's tell-all book, California Dish: "I mean, attacking Marion Cunningham? Fannie Farmer? I guess Grandma Moses was dead."
09.03 I give up lattes and never look back after interviewing the since-passed, fiesty Illycaffè chairman Ernesto Illy. The 78-year-old doesn't mince words. He tells me: "A latte kills the bitterness of bad espresso with milk. Then you have bitter milk, and you kill the taste with sugar. Lattes are also a way to get a big buttock in a short amount of time."
12.03 I say hard cider is the new thing. I'm wrong.
02.04 "When I go back [to France], I cry 90 percent of the time. They don't want me to leave. They say, 'Stay, stay' … But first I am going to New York," says Pascal Rigo, who ends up staying put and expanding his La Boulange in about every other SF neighborhood as well as suburbs Danville and Novato.
03.04 Charles Phan opens The Slanted Door in the Ferry Building. I rave about the wild and crazy unisex bathrooms. I also write, "Phan doesn't want people to think he's forgotten about his original Mission digs. After a small face-lift, the yet-to-be-named restaurant will open in the fall with the old Slanted Door's original purpose: a casual, inexpensive spot, serving up Vietnamese street food until 2 a.m." Seven years later, Phan is finally slated to open Wo Hing General Store, a Chinese concept in the original Slanted Door space.
04.04 A16 opens in Feburary with Christophe Hille as the co-owner and pizzaiolo. Shelley Lindgren finds him on Craigslist (not casual encounters—the food forum). We write about Bernal's beloved Liberty Café where Sarah Spearin is one of the pastry chefs. Spearin later goes on to open Dynamo Donut. Liberty is now for sale.
05.04 Mijita opens, Limon moves from the tiny space that's now Maverick, and Fatted Calfopens. With Fra'mani already producing top-quality charcuterie, foodies start to use the word salumi (and I don't mean salami).
02.05 Most shocking closing of the year: the fancy raw food restaurant Roxanne's (now Picco). Frisson opens, and chef Daniel Patterson dabs litsea cubeba essential oil on diners' wrists. I write an article titled "Bloggers vs. Bauer," which includes talk of Chez Pim, Tastingmenu, Becks & Posh, Chowhound, Citysearch, and eGullet. (There's not one mention of Yelp!)
04.05 Jamie Lauren poses at the former Levende Lounge, touting her Indian-spiced lamb mini burgers. Yet to become a Top Chef celebrity and move to LA, she has brown hair and doesn't sport any (apparent) tattoos.
05.05 Foie gras is set to be banned by 2012. Aqua, then run by chef Laurent Manrique, is targeted by protesters.
10.06 I'd like to publicly apologize now to Coi chef Daniel Patterson, Farmer Brown owner Jay Foster, and former Silks chef Joel Huff for the most embarrassing "Hot 20 Under 40" photo shoot ever (shown above). Also, we get a real website. I start blogging for 7x7.com. I learn to let go of having a copy editor.
11.06 For "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee," we shoot the patrons of Blue Bottle and Ritual Roasters. Blue Bottle owner James Freeman says, "Unlike Americans, the Italians expect their espresso to be good, but they don't build an altar to it."
04.07 Bi-Rite Creamery has recently opened. I dip into a scoop of honey-lavender, oblivious to the ice cream trend to come.
08.07 Tyler Florence moves to the Bay Area, and I take him out to a few hippie- dippie Marin farms, including one that has a pond with a hillock called Bunny Island, where rabbits, which are used for their meat, roam free. Florence is a total sport and whips up some dinner on a stove made of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. I can tell he'd like to cook up one of the rabbits.
10.07 Andrew McCormack and Joe Hargrave, co-owners of a restaurant called Laïola, are selected for the Hot 20 Under 40. From the magazine photo, I take note that Hargrave is very handsome. We meet at the Hot 20 party, eventually fall in love, and in 2009 get married. In that order. For the record, he did not sleep his way to the top.
02.08 For a photo shoot for a story called "Charles in Charge," we organize 25 of Charles Phan's family members at The Slanted Door. Twenty-two of them work at his restaurants. Three are his kids.
08.08 A16 chef Nate Appleman is interviewed about what makes the perfect pizza. This is before the Food & Wine Best New Chef departs SF for New York to be the chef at Pulino's, gets a negative review, leaves, and becomes a consulting chef for Chipotle.
09.08 Dynamo Donut's spiced chocolate doughnut makes its full-page, glossy, food-porn debut.
02.09 The Big Eat list launches—a little idea that takes on a life of its own. People form dinner parties around it, create inner-office contests, Yelp about it (a lot), map it, and make a day of it.
03.09 Humphry Slocombe opens, officially making the Mission's 24th Street more than up-and-coming. Co-owner and pastry chef Jake Godby admits to me that he once witnessed former four-star SF chef George Morrone hit a line cook in the head with a fish.
09.09 We do a burger bonanza. Out of the 20 we sample, I eat 10 in a week's time. Just as I'm about to have a coronary and crown Spruce the obvious winner, I sit down to try the last burger on the list: Fish & Farm's. It rocks my world. The black horse burger wins. Also, I tweet my first tweet.
10.09 Chef James Syhabout of Commis is the second Hot 20 chef to hold a fish for his photo (Douglas Keane of Cyrus is the first). There are carrots in Syhabout's pocket, which is something we'd already done when styling Michael Pollan once. (No more props of carrots or fish, please.) David Lynch, former sommelier of NY's Babbo, comes to work for Quince. "San Francisco is perceived as somewhat navel-gazing," says Lynch. "We would joke that guests from here would inevitably announce that they were from San Francisco, as if to trumpet their wine credentials." Lynch says Philz Coffee makes "the sickest latte" he's ever had. (Clearly, he hasn't met Mr. Illy.)
11.09 Melissa Perello opens Frances, and we shoot her holding, yes, carrots.
02.10 The most tempting cover ever: A photo of chicken and waffles from Little Skillet. A poster of it is on our office wall to this day, and it still makes me hungry.
08.10 We write about Benu's opening as the city's turn toward fine dining, shooting the cover of sea urchin risotto at chef Corey Lee's small SoMa loft. Some of the prep is done in his kitchen, which has a very unfancy electric stove. Benu has since been celebrated nationally in The New York Times and GQ. The, in a story I write about social media changing the food scene, San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer says, "I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't be waiting a month before I do visits. Some people say it's not enough time, but some people have Yelpers in during friends-and-family meals."
10.10 I interview chef Masaharu Morimoto, who has just opened his namesake restaurant in Napa. Favorite knife? Morimoto knife. Favorite sake? Morimoto sake. Best thing you've ever eaten? Morimoto sushi. Favorite person? Morimoto. (OK, maybe I just imagined that last part.)
02.11 For our blind tasting of the best burritos in SF (El Farolito wins), we produce the most high-maintenance cover ever, which requires me and a bunch of editors to run around town picking up about 100 burritos and rushing them to the studio. But in an unfortunate move, I don't make it clear enough in the headline that the Chipotle burrito is included as a ringer. And because people don't read carefully, 7x7 is forever criticized as the idiot magazine that thinks Chipotle makes one of the best burritos in SF.
03.11 House of Shields opens. We learn women weren't allowed in until 1972.
05.11 Justin Simoneaux, the Louisiana-born chef who's set to open Boxing Room, is reluctant to name a favorite po'boy. He says his will be the best. When the Boxing Room opens a month later, it turns out he was right.
09.11 I make it to 10 years at 7x7 as the longest-standing, most well-fed editor at a company based in the best food town in the country. I still know how lucky I am.