Like Champagne, Tequila, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, piment d'Espelette is one of those rare things regulated by AOC, meaning the product's name is tied to a specific region and can not technically be produced outside its designated origin. Piment d'Espelette is a chili pepper cultivated in the Basque town of Espelette. It's similar in flavor to paprika, though many chefs find its brand of smokiness and aromatics particularly bewitching. Of course, the pepper has been around forever, but recently I've seen its frequency rise on menus around town. Jasper's Corner Tap chef Adam Carpenter, a long-time lover of piment d'Espelette, suspects it's showing up more now because the price has recently become a bit more approachable. "There was a time when it was over $100 a pound," he says. "It was very scarce." Here's a glimpse of some places where piment d'Espelette is popping up these days.
15 Romolo lets you eat its burger "yo mama style" with peanut butter and bacon. Heirloom Cafe tops its off-menu beauty with pungent Epoisses cheese. Chef Bruce Hill hand-designed a burger weight to evenly cook the patties at Bix. Hayes Valley's Straw serves its ground beef mounded on a donut. As any of these restaurants will tell you, when it comes to surviving the stiff burger competition in SF, you've gotta have an angle.
Even before Matthew Straus left his wine director position in L.A. to move up to San Francisco, he had been plotting his perfect restaurant—a restaurant where the bottle comes first.
The recession has made way for people to open restaurants with the same DIY spirit that's inspired the current rash of picklers. Without a doubt, it's given the dog-eat-dog restaurant industry here a softer, more earnest face, infused with that original 70's Chez Panisse idealism. Whether or not this makes for a sustainable business model, the jury is still out. But for now, I'm enjoying watching neighborhood restaurants open here with a true homespun touch and genuine intentions.