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Restaurants & Bars

Blue Bottle Buzz

So I finally made it over to the Blue Bottle Cafe. It's a strangely exhilarating experience, as the old-fashioned burnished hominess of the coffeehouse has been turned into a post-modern coffee laboratory. With all the beakers, tubes and flashing lights, the cafe is just a few caged rats short of being a place I could imagine producing prescription mood drugs.




But coffee is a bit of a mood drug itself, and the steaming cups I had were as delicious as the Japanese siphon system (the first in the US) was perplexing. The coffee is indeed good, but the show is even better.

Stompin' at the Savoy

This was the scene last week at the Alembic, the best cocktail bar between Van Ness and Japan, where intrepid bartenders Thomas Waugh and Daniel Hyatt (in ties and vests) had suspended the use of their standard cocktail list and replaced it with the entire 293-page Savoy Cocktail Book. Originally published in 1930, this volume is both a valuable historical clue to the vibrancy of a distant age and a still-relevant compendium of drinking fun. A dozen copies of the book were available at the bar, and drinkers were invited to simply thumb through it and find something they wanted to drink.

Good drinking at the new Yoshi's

Had a chance to visit the new Yoshi's on Fillmore with our food editor, Sara Deseran, the other night. The array of interesting dishes presented to us kept us busy, but not as busy as all the delicious things to drink. We were helped along the way by the impressively knowledgeable and enthusiastic saké expert Ben Baker. He kept our glasses full of everything from a flowery, nuanced daiginjo to a solid, fruity gingo to an earthy shochu. Baker taught us the progression of these that a Japanese person would follow at a similar meal, which, contrary to the order we drink wine in the West, flows from the most fine and flavorful to the most solid and plain.

Grubstake



Last week, I had my first experience of an SF tradition--late night dining at the Grubstake. In 6.5 years of living here, I'd never been. But last week, after getting off a shift at Cantina at about midnight, I went over there with my wife (who was also just getting off work) for a bite. We were starving, but stayed away from the Portuguese specialties like linguiça, the famous pork sausage. Instead, we just had a burger and some of those fried jalapenos filled with cream cheese. These were a novelty to Christie—who was disappointed not to find them more spicy—but were familiar to me, as they're common back in Texas, where I grew up.

The Little Things



One thing I love about Neyah White's operation at NOPA is the care and attention he pays to the less heralded aspects of cocktail craft. Sure he cares about the base spirits, fresh fruit juices, and interesting herbs and spices. But the things most loves seem to be the liqueurs, bitters and tinctures that don't get all the same attention. Most of them he makes by himself, which is why it was a treat to get a tour of his own personal cellar space in NOPA's cramped store room, where his magical infusions and marinations all happen.

Fish and Farm



Had a chance to stop by and see the new culinary team at Fish and Farm, Charlie Kleinman and Jake Des Voignes. You might remember that these two were the old culinary team that cooked a memorable meal last year back at the Fifth Floor. I was glad to see that the two had returned with such flair at a small downtown restaurant that bustles with an animated energy, yet preserves a sense of intimacy and discretion.
   

An Epic Training

As you probably know, Epic Roasthouse, the new meat restaurant from Pat Kuleto and Co. down on the Embarcadero, opens today down on the Embarcadero. While resolved to eat less meat, I still have a great interest in it, especially how animals are raised, killed and prepared. So when Epic’s executive chef Jan Birnbaum invited me about a week and a half ago to sit in with the entire restaurant staff for their training on their meats, I went.


School Spirit

Wine classes in the city abound. You can learn about reds and whites in any number of places, from City College to the CCA to multitudes of smaller, private institutions. But if you wanted to learn about spirits and cocktails there has been no organized way to do that. Until now.

Cantina’s Staff Appreciation Party

We had the holiday, no, staff appreciation party for Cantina employees and friends last week. What was supposed to be a leisurely Sunday lunch followed by a mellow bar crawl  for us to hang out together beyond the confining box of the bar didn’t go as planned.

We went to Bodega Bistro— one of my favorite restaurants in the city—for lunch. Unfortunately, lunch was planned for 2 p.m., but the kitchen shuts down at 2:30. So instead of eating slowly and in a relaxed manner, we sort of pounded the food, as well as the copious amounts of wine we brought (most of which we left to the good staff of the restaurant, which closed while we were still there, though they mercifully let us stay and continue to make fools of ourselves).

What I Drank on Christmas Eve

I drank sake and a beer on Christmas Eve. We decided to get the homey stuff—pan-seared steak, Caesar salad, a bottle of Napa Cabernet—out of the way on the 23rd while watching season four of The Wire. The Cab was a rather unromantic wine, but still really good.



On Christmas Eve, we went for Sushi at Ebisu. It was packed and convivial, and the walk there and back through SF’s quiet, deadened streets was simply beautiful.
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