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.
Long a staple of izakayas and taquerias in San Francisco, tongue meat has started to break ethnic barriers, slipping its way onto California-influenced menus of every stripe. Chefs adore its flavor and its texture. Diners fall into one or two camps: "Why not?" or just "Why?" Love it or hate it, menu sightings of animal tongue are becoming almost common at popular restaurants around town. Over the course of interviewing several chefs about it, descriptors like "melt in your mouth," "unctuous" and "delicate" were each dropped on several occasions. Naysayers, are you ready to be convinced? Take a look at what chefs are doing with it around town these days. Maybe it'll get you to watch your mouth.
Remember those pickles from Vlasic with the smiling stork on the front? Well you can forget about them. Pickles may be everywhere in San Francisco right now, but they're way outside the bread-and-butter box. Think pickled baby green tomatoes, turmeric-pickled cauliflower, cabbage in chili paste, or any of the thirty something other pickles Nick Balla will rotate into the dedicated pickle section on the menu at Bar Tartine. He's not the only one up to his elbows in brine these days. Hayes Valley's new Boxing Room has a pickle section on its menu too. And Danny Bowien is serving pickled peanuts to the masses at his flagrantly popular Mission Chinese Food. Why pickles? And why now? Balla thinks the pickle movement springs from a collective new openness to more ethnic flavors in slightly higher end restaurants. After talking to a slew of chefs around town about their best pickle practices, I'd have to agree.
Salted Caramel, chewy gelato and Kelvins aside, there's something to be said for the straight-talking scoop of vanilla ice cream. Humphry Slocombe, Mr & Mrs. Miscellaneous and friends make great company, don't get me wrong. But the hip stuff comes with cumbersome price tags and stamina-bending lines, hence this humble quest. Last week I assembled a list of the uncoolest ice cream spots I could find—none of them in the Mission or the Marina. Then I drove around with a cooler in tow and asked for one scoop of hard-packed vanilla ice cream from each one. Nearly every single scooper responded with a surprised "will that be all?" and a googly "what's wrong with this woman" stare. Apparently ordering vanilla ice cream is uncool even at the uncool ice cream places. But some of these naive scoops are worth your time. Let's break it down with some unscientific ratings.
The SF Pride people estimate 1.2 million people will rally for this weekend's festivus. It all begins—officially, at least—tomorrow at noon in the Civic Center. Then Sunday's parade marches from The Embarcadero to City Hall. And you can bet your boxers the Castro will be blowing up all weekend long. Although many restaurants are simply hoping to survive the weekend influx, some of them are striking out with special offers or just happen to have prime seating. Here's a list of possibilites, across the SF scape.
A little over a year ago, a young chef named Galen Garretson was working with Michael Tusk at Quince. A certified kitchen tool geek, he and Tusk would often compare notes on professional gadgets as they bemoaned the lack of good knife sellers around town. Garretson decided to do something about it. And now we have Town Cutler, his three-week-old knife shop on a stretch of Bush Street in the Tender Nob. Just this morning, Garretson told me there was a line at the door before he opened several times last week. Apparently he and Michael Tusk aren't the only ones in need of a good knife shop. Here's what else Garretson had to say.
As San Francisco restaurants pull off intricate tasting menus and wine pairing contortionism in their dining rooms, the bar area continues to be a place for chefs and bartenders to loosen their (purely proverbial) ties. Secret menus, raw bars, wine on-tap, fancy burgers, gratis bites and no reservations—this is restaurant bar eating in San Francisco. And here's what's happening now .
In case you forgot, Sunday is Father's Day. Don't stress. Lots of local food and drink gift possibilites are just a click away. Here are a few picks that will save you and your dad from the steak-of-the-month club.
1) Boccalone's Salumi Society is great Father's Day material. Buy dad a 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month subscription for assortments of porcine products delivered on a regular basis, straight to his door. There's also a Father's Day gift certificate option if you'd like to keep it open-ended.
In the past, say, three years, foodists have become increasingly blasé about being presented with a freshly killed whole beast and a big knife. Butchered a whole pig? Been there done that. Give me the cow.
This weekend, one of my friends asked for a good new lunch spot to hit in the Mission. The first place that came to mind was La Torta Gorda, even thought it's not new, because it's one of the few spots that serves pure unadulterated satisfaction and great service on the cheap. But that wouldn't do. My friend wanted "booze options" in lieu of a "gut bomb," as he put it. They finally landed on Luna Park: it has hard liquor and a day of drinking was clearly on the agenda. I got to thinking about how little attention lunch gets, in general. There are, however, a few big-time dinner players that've recently added lunch to their roster—all of them offering a full bar to play with. And now, a little air time for the mid-day meal.
Essential SF knowledge in your inbox
Sign up for our email newsletters to keep up on events, restaurants and SF haps.