Top Tastes

Peking duck at Crystal Jade

Peking duck at Crystal Jade

My Top Food Articles: November 16-30

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my many articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some coverage highlights here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

New SF Openings

Hapa Ramen opens its first brick-and-mortar – with cocktails – in the Mission

Crystal Jade opens its first location outside Asia along the Embarcadero

Project Juice’s new Mission shop and first raw food menu, soon to roll out at all locations

The hottest new bakeries in SF

Pies at Ice Cream Bar & the new A Dora Pie in Berkeley

House truffles and gelato pops at Sixth Course in the Mission


Squab tikka masala at Farmer & The Fox, St. Helena

Squab tikka masala at Farmer & The Fox, St. Helena

Underrated & Established Spots

9 cheesiest dishes (best dishes featuring cheese) now

East Bay

Upscale British food at The Growlers’ Arms in Oakland

The US’ first cat cafe opens in Oakland

Wine Country

Just what Napa needed: La Taberna, an all day destination for Spanish food and sherry, wine, Madeira

The Farmer & the Fox in St. Helena – one of the great new Napa Valley restaurants

Brenda's Meat & Three's fried bologna pimento cheese sandwich

Brenda’s Meat & Three’s fried bologna pimento cheese sandwich


Top Tastes

Artful food at under-the-radar Napa gem, 1313 Main

Artful food at under-the-radar Napa gem, 1313 Main

My Top Food Articles: October 16-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my many articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some coverage highlights here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

New Bay Area Openings


First Look at HUXLEY in the TENDERLOIN

2 NEW OAKLAND BURGER OUTPOSTS (also with Asian-influenced tacos and craft beer)

TWISTED DONUT & SWICH: Outer Sunset’s sweet new duo

TINY WARRIOR: A new Mission coffee outpost with creative iced coffees & a pour over coffee menu from various producers

PAPABUBBLE: Barcelona import with housemade hard candies


Squid at brand new Huxley

Squid at brand new Huxley

Underrated & Established Spots

8 Under-the-Radar LUNCHES in San Francisco (including new lunches, off-the-beaten path spots and upscale places with discounted lunches)

SECRETLY AWESOME: 10 Under-the-Radar Bay Area Gems


CAFE JACQUELINE, an Unsung Hero – the “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” of souffles

$10 Lunch: JANNAH, SF’s best Iraqi cuisine?

$10 Lunch: sandwiches at MORTY’S DELICATESSEN near Civic Center

Secretly Awesome: GUSTO in SAN CARLOS

Wine Country


6 things to know about 1313 MAIN in DOWNTOWN NAPA

NOBLE FOLK PIE & ICE CREAM in Healdsburg (Sonoma County)

FLAVOR! NAPA VALLEY readies for its 4th year mid-November


Top Tastes

Tunisian pastries at Bistro L'Aviateur

Tunisian pastries at Bistro L’Aviateur

My Top Food Articles: October 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my many articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some coverage highlights here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

New Bay Area Openings

First Look: THE HALL with 6 food and drink vendors in one food hall Mid-Market

All-day dream cafe, LES CLOS, opens from Saison sommelier Mark Bright, serving impeccable French food & wines

MARLOWE reopens in the former Coco500 space, now with cocktails

BISTRO L’AVIATEUR opens in the Mission with French-Tunsion charm

MONK’s KETTLE REOPENS with sidewalk seating and new draft system



Divine garlic Parmesan knots with fermented tomato butter at new BR+Table cocktail paired chef's table at Burritt Room + Tavern

Divine garlic Parmesan knots with fermented tomato butter at new BR+Table cocktail paired chef’s table at Burritt Room + Tavern

Underrated & Established Spots

CHARLIE PALMER’s BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN: New Chef’s Table with cocktail pairings

OAKLAND’s HOMESTEAD, one year in

10 Great DISHES NOW at Top-Rated ZAGAT Restaurants

BOXING ROOM’s new Sunday jazz brunch

SECRETLY AWESOME: Dive bar lunch at BOX KITCHEN in a SoMa alley

PATHOS, Berkeley’s Greek dining, wine and cocktail destination

Best Thing We Ate: Avocado dish at AVELINE

10 HOTTEST NEW SF Restaurants Now


Top Tastes

Aveline's gorgeous "vegetable garden"

Aveline’s gorgeous “vegetable garden”

My Top Food Recommends, New Openings & More: June 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

As I have been for over a decade, I’m on the ground daily looking for early standouts at each new opening, while sharing underrated places and dishes you’ve seen me write about here at The Perfect Spot for years, and, of course, plenty of drink coverage (cocktails, wine, spirits, beer).

New Bay Area Openings


12 innovative dishes at the new AVELINE FROM A TOP CHEF ALUM

What to eat at funky new Chinese American eatery, CHINO

What to eat & drink at the new Paris-meets-NY chic hotel bar, THE EUROPEAN

KAIJU EATS serves creative izakaya and ramen


Where to Brunch: SoMa’s NEW RED DOG from Chef Lauren Kiino

1058 Hoagie Turns into a JEWISH DELI called Rye Project

3 Summer STRAWBERRY DESSERTS to try at new restaurants

Events/Dinner Series

ACQUERELLO’s 25th ANNIVERSARY DINNER SERIES all summer with guest chefs from NY to Seattle

Underrated & Established Spots

The 8 BEST SEAFOOD SPOTS in the Bay Area

The BIG 4 IS BACK: 9 picks from the new menus

TONY’S PIZZA NAPOLETANA pours beer into pizza


3 reasons to visit PRESS ST. HELENA, including a unique wine cellar, a new patio with fireplace, and a brand new chef from none other than Blue Hill in NYC


CHEF ALEXANDER ALIOTO on his upcoming Summer restaurant, Plin, the Alioto family and more


Top Tastes

House strawberry soda in a cocktail at The Corner Store


Photos & article by Virginia Miller

A wave of old fashioned soda fountains serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic fountain treats alongside quality food is hitting various parts of the country with two notables in San Francisco, including the one-of-a-kind Ice Cream Bar and all-around delights of the new Corner Store. THE CORNER STORE, Western Addition (5 Masonic Avenue at Geary, 415-359-1800)

Boozy, lush Manhattan shake

Old fashioned corner store in ethos, contemporary in style, The Corner Store, from 330 Ritch business partners Miles Palliser and Ezra Berman, sells sodas, candy, beers, wine and gourmet foods, and is an all day restaurant and soda fountain. An airy space and outdoor sidewalk patio nod to an era gone by, though fresh. While the menu reads straightforward, dishes are more interesting than first glance suggests. Chef Nick Adams (Salt House, Town Hall) elevates the umpteenth roasted beets plate ($8) with Greek yogurt, candied almonds, purslane and radicchio in honey vinaigrette – it’s sweet, nutty, vegetal and creamy. Likewise, house smoked salmon ($10) goes well beyond the usual piece of salmon with potato pancake. An herb-laden egg salad flanks a crisp potato pancake, multiple slices of silky, fresh salmon and mound of lettuce.

Glorified house smoked salmon & potato pancake with herb-laden egg salad

Whether a burger ($12) laden with aged cheddar, pickled red onions, pickles and bacon jam, or a fried green tomato sandwich ($9) with burrata and avocado at lunch, items between bread are done right here. Thoughtful $16 entrees are a steal compared to similar dishes at greater cost elsewhere in town, like Snake River pork loin ($16), co-mingling with fennel, marble potatoes, and pancetta, invigorated with shishito peppers and a zippy nectarine mostarda. A side of house brioche dinner rolls ($3) with honey butter and sea salt makes it homey.

Gratifying fried green tomato sandwich at lunch

Hans Hinrichs (25 Lusk, Foreign Cinema) mans a soda fountain menu of cocktails ($10), boozy shakes ($10), and sodas ($8), using local or American craft spirits whenever possible. Though not the  journey through soda fountain history you’ll find at Ice Cream Bar, Hinrichs creates drinks that make you feel like a kid again… with booze. The Muir Trail is a tribute to local nature, both in name and the use of St. George Terroir Gin, a California gin foraged in the Bay Area. Hinrichs allows the gin to shine alongside tart huckleberry puree (huckleberry juice is infused with a sachet of spices, thinning it out with port wine reduction), dry vermouth, lemon and bitters. Sans alcohol, Lone Mountain Egg Cream is dulce de leche and sea salt, creamy with milk, perky with seltzer, plus a number of bottled classic sodas like Cheerwine and Dang! Butterscotch Beer ($4).

Cheery Corner Store

Spirits-laden shakes induce cravings. 50/50 – spiced rum, orange marmalade, vanilla ice cream – is textured and rich with rum and marmalade, accented by strips of candied orange peel. My youthful favorite, a Grasshopper, is a minty dream with Tempus Fugit’s unparalleled Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao, vanilla ice cream and a hint La Sorciere absinthe to perk up the mint. Probably my favorite of all three boozy shakes is the Manhattan. Tasting like a real Manhattan, punchy with bourbon, sweet vermouth, cherry syrup, creamy with vanilla ice cream, bourbon shines though Hinrichs uses no more than 1 oz. of base spirit plus 1/2-1 oz. of any other liqueur in any given shake. Corner Store suits a range of needs and moods, stronger as a restaurant than its casual demeanor would suggest, succeeding as an elevated, craft soda fountain.

Over 75 house tinctures for use in sodas & shakes at Ice Cream Bar

ICE CREAM BAR, Cole Valley (815 Cole St. at Carl; 415-742-4932)

Fantastic new Bonne Vie No. 2: basil leaves, basil ice cream, pink grapefruit, citric acid

Already a Cole Valley destination, Ice Cream Bar is one-of-a-kind. It’s the first to recreate soda fountain drinks not just from popularized ‘50’s shops, but back to the 1800’s, reviving the lactart, phosphate, and traditional sassafras root beer. Recent changes at the family friendly shop include the launch of a food menu and gain of a liquor license – it’s a beer and wine license, so they’re utilizing beer, bitters and fortified wine. Food is simple diner fare, the quality in keeping with their ice cream and soda fountain. Slices of fluffy, thick, house-baked brioche make the sandwiches, each served with a pickle and roasted vegetable salad or house-made sweet potato chips. An egg salad sandwich is soft and lively with chives, arugula, and the clincher: pimento cheese. My favorite, the tuna melt, evokes childhood elevated by Gruyere cheese, organic tomatoes and arugula,  the brioche nearly dissolving in the mouth.

Egg salad sandwich on melting-fresh house brioche

There’s one “must” on the new alcoholic section of the fountain menu (the majority is still non-alcoholic): a classic Angostura Phosphate. Fizzy with acid phosphate, gum foam and soda, a heavy pour of Angostura Bitters makes for a spiced beauty, conjuring fall and winter simultaneously. Can’t Stop is a notable dessert of butterscotch syrup, whole egg and cream, effervescent with Drakes Bay Hefeweizen (adding notes of grain and hay), topped with a musky Carpano Antica vermouth float.

Celery heaven: A Stalk in the Park

Some soda fountain newcomers are among the best drinks they’ve done yet. Bonne Vie No. 2 is a citrus garden delight of basil leaves, basil ice cream, and pink grapefruit – its sour-fresh qualities glorified with citric acid. A healthy-tasting lactart, A Stalk in the Park, is celery seed extract, celery stalks and mint blended with lactart and soda water – a fizzy, vegetal pleasure. Ode to Mr. O’Neil (a double-charged, amplified chocolate soda/lactart) and the wild cherry phosphate remain among their best sodas, but new additions confirm why Ice Cream Bar is like no other. As part of SF Cocktail Week, I judged the first ever soda jerk competition where competitors crafted one alcoholic and non-alcoholic creation. Though unintended, it was no surprise that all three finalists and the winner are all soda jerks at Ice Cream Bar.

Ice Cream Bar’s Angostura Phosphate & Can’t Stop

Creamy, textured 50/50 shake at The Corner Store


Top Tastes

Ice Cream Bar’s delightful team of soda jerks

1930’s Revived in a Soda Fountain

ICE CREAM BAR & SODA FOUNTAIN, Cole Valley (815 Cole St. at Carl; 415-742-4932)

Double-charged Ode to Mr. O’Neil

I was born of another time. As much as I wouldn’t trade the rights and access of today, I hunger for the romance, artistry, and intellectual pace of eras gone by. As a child, I grew up on classic films and white-bread shows like Father Knows Best, where youth hung out at soda fountains listening to the jukebox. Naturally, I was delighted upon hearing a retro-inspired soda fountain was opening near my home.

Cole Valley’s new Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain is no 1950’s milkshake time capsule. Blonde wood ceiling, restored 1930’s bar (which owner Juliet Pries found in Michigan), illuminated art deco signs, all evoke the 1930’s. Soda fountains filled a communal void in the wake of Prohibition and thus were popular in the ’20’s and ‘30’s, but they date back to the 1800’s when, similar to pharmacies where signature bitters (e.g. Peychaud’s) were created, effervescent mineral waters were considered to have healing properties.

Making sodas

Soda fountain revivals and techniques are popping up around the US but I have yet to see this level of detail and historicity anywhere. Bartender Darcy O’Neil’s book Fix the Pumps, is responsible in part for the inspiration behind Ice Cream Bar. Bartender Russell Davis (Rickhouse) developed the soda fountain program, sourcing data not only from O’Neil’s book, but from 1894’s Saxe’s New Guide or, Hints to Soda Water Dispensers by D.W. Saxe.

Classically-inspired recipes line the menu: frappes, floats, crushes, phosphates (soda with phosphoric acid), malts, lactarts (natural lactic acid, commonly found in buttermilk, yogurt, Lambic beers). Davis created over 75 house syrups, tinctures and extracts, using forced cavitation, a culinary extraction technique that maintains flavor intensity of the original source. In keeping with history, bar staff are referred to as soda jerks, deftly operating vintage soda fountains.

Jerks finesse vintage soda fountains

After trying most of the menu over multiple visits, I can’t help but gravitate to the wild cherry phosphate ($7) time and again. Rather than saccharin cherry flavor, it tastes of fresh, wild cherries, in a house syrup and cherry bark tincture, fizzy with acid phosphate and soda water. Another highlight is Ode to Mr. O’Neil ($8), a tribute to Darcy. Like an elevated Brooklyn egg cream, it’s a lactart made with lush Scharffen Berger chocolate syrup and double-charged soda imparting a piquant effervescence.

Oh, that many a day could start with the robust New Orleans Hangover ($8). It’s better than a coffee milkshake with chicory coffee syrup, their sweet cream ice cream, golden eagle tincture (sarsaparilla), and soda. Root beer floats are herbal and creamy, using Russell’s sassafras root beer (an 1890’s recipe – learn about this root beer below in the Q&A with Russell Davis).

A vivacious Wild Cherry Phosphate

I wished to taste more pink peppercorn in the pineapple-based My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend ($7) and more tobacco in the chai-dominant Passion Project ($7.50), both lactarts. Yet all-in-all, each visit yields few disappointments. Splurge on the decadent pistachio milkshake for two ($16), or go earthy-sweet with Touch of Grey ($10), a candy cap mushroom phosphate.

Though Ice Cream Bar is about to launch a casual menu of soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, egg and chicken salads, and the like, plus baked goods, house brittles, toffee, hard candies, there’s currently more than the soda fountain to draw you out. Their ice cream is of unexpectedly high quality, overseen by Ray Lai, who worked at Bi-Rite and Fenton’s.

Lactart revival

They once again shine with cherry in a tart sour cherry ice cream. Sicilian pistachio is rich and nutty. I’ve likewise been pleased with their ice cream sandwiches, particularly roasted pineapple ice cream layered in ginger cookies.

The ‘jerks’ are a delightful team assembled from various bars, offering earnest, knowledgeable service. Tell them a flavor you’d like from the house tinctures and syrups (grapefruit to dill weed), and they’ll make you a custom drink.

Sipping a custom mint egg cream at the soda fountain while listening to big band tunes is a respite I relish whether midday escape or dessert. Crowds of Cole Valley strollers and families abruptly center me back to today, but, then, it’s fair to say there is something appealing for everyone, child to adult, at this already widely embraced neighborhood hangout.

Q&A with Russell Davis

- Why is Ice Cream Bar different from other soda fountain revivals in the US? There are a few spots in the country supporting the “revival” of the soda fountain and its lost drinks, but none take it to the extent and level that we do at Ice Cream Bar. From top to bottom, our menu is not just based on using quality ingredients and refined processes, but also on its inherent historical value. Our syrups are all fresh, cold agitated and our ice is all hand cut. Even our floats are built to the same specifications as they would have made them in 1894 Chicago. We are not playing around.

- What connection do you see between classic and creative cocktails, the world you come from, and old fashioned soda fountain drinks? Many bartenders who didn’t flee the country during Prohibition to practice their craft became soda jerks. There was a beautiful way of mixing that was refined during this period. Also, the techniques that we apply to soda fountain drinks can, and I believe will, be used in the crafting of a refined cocktail.  What I’ve noticed as the biggest difference between Mixology and Soda Jerking… where bartenders focus on using fresh fruits and other seasonal ingredients, soda jerks try to capture flavors (in a tincture or extract).

- Tell me about your Sassafras Root Beer. How is this different from other homemade root beers? First, it’s made using fresh sassafras and a house built sassafras extract, something that you do not find in mass-produced root beer because, by USDA standards, it is illegal because of its slightly carcinogenic properties. But, there is nothing to be afraid of: it’s about as dangerous as cinnamon or nutmeg.  Most people use wintergreen, spearmint, and licorice or anise to replicate that sassafras flavor that was in the original old school recipes of root beer, but nothing compares to the flavor of the true stuff. Next, I use black and jasmine tea as a base combined with a variety of other herbs, then cold brew it with ground marshmallow root to create a thick creamy texture and give it head. Lastly, I add a little bit of St John’s Wort in so, hopefully, it will put you in a good mood as well.

- Given over 75 tincture options and house-made extracts, what crazy concoction would you order if you wanted something unusual? [Laughs] You’ll just have to wait and see when the next menu comes out!

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Top Tastes

Top Tastes is not a list of all-time favorites, rather the best tastes of the last two weeks (since my last newsletter), often from new openings.

Sweet Explorations

Though my sweet tooth has diminished over the years, it only means I can’t stomach sickly sweet. I still take immense pleasure in a fine dessert. Here are desserts so good, they threaten to surpass the meal that came before:

CITIZEN CAKE ICE CREAM PARLOR & EATS, Pacific Heights (2125 Fillmore Street between California & Sacramento, 415-861-2228)

Citizen Cake's winning sodas & phosphates

Citizen Cake has been on a meandering journey from it’s original Grove Street location, to its new Fillmore home, with a recent revamp from restaurant to ice cream parlor. My last visit nearly went south when in the 4pm hour we arrived hungry for a meal as well as chef Elizabeth Falkner’s ever dreamy desserts. Our server informed us they weren’t serving the regular menu though their website, menu and storefront all say they serve lunch from 11am on daily. I’m glad they decided to make a meal for us (they said it was because we were close to 5pm dinner time), but I hope this gets worked out quickly so what is stated as being served is served.

Thankfully, savory dishes we ordered pleased, particularly a fried chicken Cobb sandwich ($13). Though pricey, the chicken is high quality and expertly fried over a layer of egg salad (nice touch), topped with avocado, blue cheese and bacon tomato vinaigrette in a brioche bun. The savory menu is predominantly sandwiches, salads, appetizers and comfort food dinner dishes like meatloaf or spaghetti and meatballs.

Fried chicken Cobb sandwich

Where I get excited is with soda fountain offerings. In classic style, there’s egg creams (favorites from my East Coast days), milkshakes (made with any choice of Falkner’s cakes), phosphates, spritzers, floats, and my all-time favorite root beer, Devil’s Canyon, on draft (now I don’t have to wait for SF Beer Week to have this gorgeous root beer!) Though cherry or Concord grape phosphates ($4) are listed on the menu, ask about off-menu options: I recently ordered a passion fruit phosphate, subtly floral and bright. I likewise reveled in the effervescent tart of a fresh Lime Ricky ($4) balanced by bitters.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know soda fountains are making a comeback, though I’ve been waiting for more to open in SF (watch for a classic parlor to open up soon in Cole Valley).

SF Sourdough Sundae

Darcy O’ Neil’s book, Fix the Pumps, outlines the history and richness of soda fountain culture. I can’t help but fall for the romance of perching on a stool at the counter and ordering a phosphate (the only thing missing is a jukebox).

Soda fountain sips are just the beginning. Falkner’s lush cakes, macarons, cookies, tarts and cupcakes still abound. But there’s now a liquid nitrogen ice cream machine (which she was operating herself on last visit), the liquid nitrogen ice creams a base for an extensive new list of sundaes and shakes.

I went straight for sourdough ice cream, delicately bready, not too sweet and altogether right in an SF sourdough sundae ($9) drizzled with grape syrup, brazil nuts and salted Spanish peanuts. The bowl is dotted with diced strawberries and an exceptional chocolate-peanut butter halvah, sticky and satisfying. I was ready for a second bowl as soon as I finished the first.

PISCO LATIN LOUNGE/DESTINO, Castro (1815 Market Street, 415-552-4451)

Triple chocolate bunelos

The duo of Pisco Latin Lounge and Destino share adjoining storefronts and menus, including the biggest selection of pisco (over 50 bottles) around. But I’ve said enough about sipping pisco here in 7×7 and Where magazines. Unexpectedly, dessert stands out here, too.

Recent returns to this duo (which I’ve been dining at on occasion for years), included a relaxed Sunday brunch and dessert. Blessedly, both brunch and dinner menus offer triple chocolate chile buñeulos ($7). These dense chocolate dough balls are dark and oozing, with merely a hint of chile. Resting in a pool of salted caramel with a vanilla crème anglaise dipping sauce, they are dangerously decadent.


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