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First Bite: St. Vincent

First Bite: St. Vincent

The popular Heart Wine Bar abruptly closed last year when the owner decided to move back to New York, leaving a huge vacant spot on the corner of Valencia and 24th Streets. Not two weeks after opening in its stead, new "wine tavern" St. Vincent is jam-packed nightly, and already seems to be quite the second act at this address. Owner David Lynch trailblazed a $40 fixed price wine list during his last job as the sommelier for Quince and Cotogna, and he's forging into new terriority here at St. Vincent too.

First Bite: Ristobar Brings Real Italian Flavors to the Marina

Ristobar

Perbacco, SPQR, A16, Delfina, Cotogna—no corner of San Francisco is without its take on the California-Italian restaurant with expertly sourced local ingredients. Show me a street corner and I can show you a perfectly al dente noodle with a shaving of fresh seasonal asparagus. But the true unadulterated flavors of Italy are hard to come by.

First Bite: Criolla Kitchen Brings Some Soul to the Castro

Most of my friends in SF are from California or the East Coast. Not many of them are from Louisiana where I grew up. And zero of them are from Baton Rouge. So this morning, when I was interviewing New Orleans-native Randy Lewis of the new Criolla Kitchen and he told me that he used to find himself in Baton Rouge at the Silver Moon—a funky soul food dive that I used to love literally located on the other side of the tracks, giving it a thrilling element of white-girl danger—I wanted to give him a high five over the phone.

Silver Moon's incendiary smothered turkey! Please Randy Lewis, make that at Criolla so I can have it again.

First Bite: Nojo, the City's Newest Izakaya, Ends Sweetly

Who made 2011 the year of the izakaya? Nombe got its new chef, Chotto had just squeaked onto the scene, Hecho with its sushi and robata followed suit, and now Nojo has opened in Hayes Valley. (Not to mention, SF already had Izakaya Sozai, and the drunken institution called Oyaji.)

First Bite: Prospect Is Pulling Them In

The above picture is one of the official press photos of Prospect—the sweeping SoMa restaurant just opened by Team Boulevard. So you might understand why I've been imagining Prospect to look like an uninhabited, rather characterless—and in this photo's case—chairless space. (Notice the bar—no stools!)

First Bite: Citizen's Band is All American

With an appealingly ramshackle, if cultivated, sense of funk, there's something very NYC LES about Citizen's Band, the latest SF SoMa restaurant to enter the scene. If ironic trucker hats were still en vogue, this would be the place to wear them.

Americana is the theme: vintage postcards cover the walls; old, metal tractor seats made into stools (something bare legs can't recommend) are parked at a counter overlooking an open kitchen. The whole space opens up to Pinkie's Bakery which opens up to Icon, a small dance club. There's a progressive dinner in here somewhere.

First Bite: Bernal Heights' Sandbox Bakery

As a resident of Bernal Heights—a neighborhood that's known more for its liberal politics and crunchy good vibes than its haute cuisine—I was excited to finally get a taste of the much-anticipated Sandbox Bakery, which just opened. No slouch, owner and pastry chef Mutsimi Takehara started learning her craft at La Farine in Oakland and at Chez Panisse. She was then the pastry chef at Rubicon and spent 10 years as the Slanted Door pastry chef. So she's spent some quality time with butter.

First Bite: Ironside Docks In South Beach

If Ironside was a girlfriend, she'd be the kind that you really like a lot, that you enjoy spending time with, but who you aren't sure you are going to marry. Ironside is a good-time girl, and sometimes a good-time girl is exactly what you need. The month-old restaurant, opened by the owners of District around the corner, have created a place that speaks to these times. It's casual, it's affordable, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and the eclectic menu has a more refined version of the something-for-everything ethos.

First Bite: Saison Does Fine Dining Without the Fineries

In the ongoing trend of chefs thinking outside the box, Saison—a Sunday night “restaurant” put on by Kris Esqueda, former Michael Mina sommelier Mark Bright and chef Joshua Skenes—has been luring diners from all over the city to a urban-cool space tucked behind the Stable Café in the Mission District. Skenes is now taking reservations for weekend nights too (reserve for September 5, 6, 18, 19, 20, 25 and 27). For $70 you get four courses; add $40 for wine pairings.

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