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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.

Slippery When Wet: Chefs Love Their Basil Seeds

I first slurped up some basil seeds last year at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. The school was hosting a World of Flavors conference on Japanese cooking and a ridiculously hip chef from Tokyo presented me with a little cup of basil seeds on top of soy milk custard and sea urchin—a textural delight for me, but one that could have easily caused another person to run screaming for their mother.

Saison's Dcantr: A Place to Blend Your Own Wine

Paul Einbund is the wine director of the Slanted Door restaurant group including Out the Door Bush Street and Westfield Centre as well as Heaven's Dog. He also runs the beverage program at Frances, and has worked at Coi and more. Look for him here every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter @pauleinbund.

Labor Day Beer Picks from City Beer Store and Monk's Kettle

With Labor Day fast approaching (although not fast enough), we’ve got our minds on something that quite honestly does not pair well with labor: beer. And in a city where there’s about as many brews as there are foggy days, there’s no excuse to be caught drinking a Bud. This year, use the holiday as an excuse to celebrate your taste buds and kick back with a cool one.

We talked to local beer experts, City Beer Store and Monk’s Kettle and got the lowdown on what we should be stocking our coolers with. 

Market Watch: Saison's John De Wolf Browses for Brassica

Every week, Lulu Meyer brings us the best of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and the chefs that shop there.

John De Wolf, sous-chef at Saison, is something of a farmers market junkie. He can be seen weekly at each of all the three Ferry Plaza Farmers Markets. He’s often alongside Saison’s executive chef Josh Skenes, pushing around a chef cart, selecting items for the menu, and chatting with the farmers.

It's Harvest Time For Sommeliers

I've written before on the trend of sommeliers getting out of their suits and donning grubby clothes better suited for the messy business of picking, crushing and fermenting grapes.

Notable locals who are making their own wines: John Lancaster and Rob Perkins of Boulevard (who make Skylark), Emmanuel Kemiji, wine buyer for Piperade and La Mar (who makes a wine called Miura) and Andrew Green of Spruce and the Village Pub (who makes Oregon Pinot Noir for those  restaurants).

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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