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Herring Has Its Moment on Bay Area Menus

There's a new fish in town that hasn't been seen on Bay Area menus for about five years: Pacific herring. 

Treatful, the "Anti-Groupon," Brings Online Gift Certificates to Acclaimed Restaurants into the 21st Century

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), we Americans are in the process of spending around $28 billion on gift cards this holiday season, with 80 percent of us choosing to buy at least one, spending an average of $43.23 per card.

There’s nothing new about gift cards, of course, but what is new in 2011 is the effort by a number of local startups to attack the traditional, impersonal sort of card with a new, much more personalized online approach.

Three small companies poised to disrupt the traditional gift card industry in three separate strategies are Giftly, Giftiki, and Wantful – all of which I’ve profiled earlier this year.

Now there’s a fourth to add to the list – Treatful – co-founded by two Stanford business school grads, Brent Looney and Hoon Kim.

Pier to Plate Series: The Plate @ Quince

For the third and final installment of our Pier to Plate series we went behind the scenes with Quince Chef Mike Tusk to get a good look at his own technique for preparing a wild caught local California King Salmon. Watch as he prepares, fillets and serves us some Salmon Tartare (and cured fish) with wild fennel pollen, cucumber and caviar.

Flowers Make the Plate

Remember micro-herbs? About two years ago miniscule strains of cilantro and basil were sprouting up on the most progressive menus around town. "Now the movement is towards more of a modern naturalism," says Ravi Kapur of Prospect. He's talking about flowers. Edible petals, blossoms, sprays and shoots are sprouting up everywhere.

They might look rare, but some of these blooms are about as easy to find around town as rosemary. David Barzelay of the Lazy Bear underground restaurant sees the current uptick as a result of our ever-tightening bond with local farmers coupled with chefs' growing desire to get out in the field and forage for themselves. Here's a handy guide to the most popular edible blooms of San Francsico and where to find them. 

The Secret Honey Bees of SF's Restaurant Rooftops

Yesterday I climbed a ladder up to the rooftop of Nopa restaurant to visit its brand new baby bee hives. Owner Jeff Hanak has been working with Terry Oxford and Brian Linke of Urban Bee SF to cultivate a two-hive community for three weeks now. Weather permitting, its honey will surface on the food and cocktail menus below the roof as soon as June. The idea of freshly harvested honey on a menu is romantic and all, but these urban hives are really all about the bees.

Cut and Dried: SF's Top Chefs Talk Top Pasta

With all the Italian restaurants continuing to open in San Francisco, I've been talking shop with some of the city's best chefs. Particularly, about dried pasta.

Should you think dried pasta is inferior product, think again. Dried pasta is used very specifically for preparations such as carbonara. No self-respecting Roman would be caught dead with a bowlful of carbonara made with anything else. It's a dish that calls for spaghetti with a backbone!

Cotogna: Quince’s New, Younger, Casual Sister

Unless you’re one of those people who merely eat to live, Cotogna is the kind of restaurant that takes hold of your inner glutton. Step inside, and your eyes immediately register the roaring fire while your nose picks up the aromas of the meats roasting on the rotisserie that owner-chef Michael Tusk ordered from Tuscany. Skim the menu full of words like tortelloni, fried pumpkin, porcinis, and sausage ragu, and your hands will unconsciously start rubbing together in greedy anticipation. On a cold winter’s night, how could you not want to dip into a shellfish stew with grilled bread swiped with aioli? Or a creamy mess of burrata with chopped chicories followed by spit-roasted pork with fennel and satsumas?

First Bite: Cotogna (and the $24 Prix Fixe)

There are two types of menu paralysis.

1. The kind when you open a menu and can't decide what to eat because it all sounds a bit … wrong: This includes leap-of-faith menus: "Oysters on the half shell with a cranberry-cilantro mignonette and gingerbread sprinkle." And frustrated-poet menus:  "White chicken. Rain water. Red wheelbarrow."

2. The kind when you open a menu and can't decide what to order because you want to eat it all.

Paralysis case number two is the reason why I sat with Cotogna's menu for quite a while before budging to order.

First Bite: Quince is Set to Align With The Stars

Before you even enter Quince you get a visual of what’s for dinner: A massive window facing the street beckons diners to gaze from the darkness outside into a kitchen glowing with stainless fixtures and copper pots, and outfitted with a centerpiece of a three-ton royal-blue Bonnet stove the size of a studio apartment. The voyeur opportunities Quince’s kitchen offers might be classier than that of the peep shows at the Lusty Lady up the street, but the excitement that it generates in the loin of fine dining aficionados is the same.

David Lynch on the New Quince and the SF V. New York Food Scene

Quince Restaurant­­—slated to open in its new Jackson Square location on Oct. 1—landed a big fish when it lured sommelier David Lynch from New York. Lynch was the wine director and GM at Mario Batali’s Babbo, as well as the Spotted Pig, but also wrote, with Joe Bastianich, Vino Italiano (Crown)—the best book about Italian wine in decades. Shortly after landing in SF, he sat down to talk about the big move.

How does the New York restaurant scene regard ours here?

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