This year's SF Beer Week saw 2600 people and almost 70 locally crafted beer companies pack SoMa's Concourse Exhibition Center. New beer gardens are popping up from Hayes Valley (Biergarten) to the Mission (Southern Pacific Brewing Company), and there are fancy beer restaurants like Monk's Kettle spinoff Abbot's Cellar en route. Artisan beer is the new cupcake. But it's worth noting a handful of San Francisco restaurants have been giving beer its due dilligence for quite some time.
Leopold's sausage and kraut (photo by Ed Anderson)
It's been 12 months of good eating. After reviewing all my past blogs, I've pulled out some—though clearly not all—of the most delicious dishes from 2011 and listed them in no particular order. A couple are new discoveries to me (see L'Ardoise), some are rediscoveries (see Kiss), but most are new as of this year.
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.
Ian Begg and Ryan Maxey are pretty open about the reason they left their high-profile gig at Café Majestic in 2008. Management wouldn’t let them fully realize the style of food and service they aspired to, so the two friends took off to San Sebastian, a place chef Begg already had his eye on for some time. The Spanish city, nestled up by the French border, is coastal, metropolitan, and wickedly serious about its food. The similarty to SF is undeniable. But Begg and Maxey love it for what's different from their hometown: the enchanting cobblestone streets, the medieval undertones, and most importantly, a proliferation of unassuming taverns serving outstanding food. For three years now, the pair have been working on the business plan for a California-fueled riff on these Basque taverns. The guys already run cult-followed sandwich shop Naked Lunch on Broadway, so when the Enrico's space next door went on the market back in January, they thought, "Why not here?" About a month ago, their Txoko opened on strip-club-paved Broadway. It might be lacking cobblestones, but it's got its own flavor. Inside, you'll find vintage furnishings, medieval-style chandeliers and a communal table.