Jun
15
2014

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

10 Hottest NEW SF RESTAURANTS

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

Every Friday: 25 NEW RESTAURANTS TO TRY IN THE BAY AREA

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

Napa

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

Interviews

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

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Mar
15
2014

The Latest

Oak & Rye, Los Gatos

Oak & Rye’s Puttanesca pizza

BY THE SLICE: 8 New Bay Area Pizza Spots

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Stone & Embers courtyard

Stone & Embers courtyard

As if the Neapolitan, artisanal, wood-fired pizza wave of the past decade weren’t enough, pizza openings continue to come on fast and furious. A recent interview I read with a New Yorker said they couldn’t live on the West Coast because they’d have to miss pizza. Having grown up in NJ (near NYC) and California both, and as a frequent traveler studying food and drink in cities the world over – and certainly all over Italy – San Francisco is easily one of the great pizza cities. The list of pies that are very good to excellent is long.

Amongs the newcomers, From a greasy NY slice to yet more Neapolitan-influenced havens, here are eight new pizza outposts open mostly between Fall 2013 and February 2014, from as far north as Philo in Mendocino County, all the way down to Los Gatos in the South Bay (hint: those two are the standouts of the crop).

North, South, East

OAK & RYE, Los Gatos

Oak & Rye

Oak & Rye

The best of the new pizza ‘comers, Oak & Rye, at first glance looks like just another wood-fired outpost with slick, white walls, sunny space and service. Open since October 2013, it could just be yuppy-peaceful Los Gatos’ first foray into that oft-done territory. There’s no shortage of world class pizza places around the Bay Area, but Oak & Rye, since my first visit back in December, immediately made an impression.

Blackbird

Blackout cocktail

On the drink side, they are strong on cocktails ($10), the exception, not the rule, in the South Bay. Case in point: the anise-laced balance of a Blackout uses SF’s own Emperor Norton absinthe soft with lemon, egg white and a splash of Prosecco. It’s a bright, bracing delight.

There’s ubiquitous small plates and sides like fried brussels sprouts ($8) gussied up with Nueske’s bacon, pecan and maple, or at dinner, a lightly-charred half chicken ($18) with braised kale and humble lemon wedge. Their custom, wood-fired oven glistens, covered in shiny pennies.

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The fantastic Scotty 2 Hottie pizza

But it’s those pies that stay with you: their red sauce is perfection, ideally sweet and savory.  The crust is that fine line of bubbly char and chewy depth. Angelo Womack, of famed Roberta’s in Brooklyn, recently moved across the country, bringing his mad pizza skills with him.

I adore the boquerones (fresh anchovies) brine and salty caper notes of the Puttanesca ($11), a red sauce pie liberally graced with garlic, oregano, onions and Parmigiano cheese. I’m in love with the Scotty 2 Hottie pizza ($16), despite its silly name. Tomato, basil and mozzarella undergirds a brilliant trio of meaty sopressata (dry Italian salami), sweet honey and hot pepperoncini oil. Sweet, spicy, savory… it’s perfection. Oak & Rye is worth driving down to Los Gatos for.

STONE & EMBERS, Philo

Intimate Stone & Embers

Chef Meany works his magic

The other great of the newcomers? Stone and Embers, in the small town of Philo in beautiful Mendocino County. Sad I am that this place is just far enough from home. Call ahead to make sure there’s pizza left – or go for lunch to ensure you don’t miss out (the place closes early anyway, typically by 8pm). As a one man show, Patrick Meany can only fit enough dough for about 60 pizzas a day in the small fridge next to their wood-fired oven. There’s merely three tables and a few bar seats in full view of the pizza-making action.

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Mushroom “chicharrones”

The restaurant opened in fall 2013 – I made it up there in December. Here I first tasted Boonville Bite Hard Cider, a vibrant local cider that is both dry and brightly fruity, showcasing fresh apples and dry bubbles simultaneously. I went next door in the idyllic Madrones complex housing the restaurant, a hotel and a couple shops, to Signal Ridge‘s tasting room, where I stocked up on 6-packs of the cider.

Meany’s crust is some of the best I’ve had from Italy to NY. He works thoughtfully on every aspect of dough-making to ensure balanced, complex crust. Turducken sausage is crumbled atop The Jeffer pizza ($19), layered in tomato sauce under smoked mozzarella and Parmesan, red chili pepper adding heat intrigue. Another pie, 707 1.3 ($16), refers to the area code and all things local. This time it’s the tomato sauce that’s smoked (as A16 Rockridge does in their Montanara Rockridge pie), while local mushrooms, goat cheese from Pennyroyal Farm, and Boonville piment d’espelette (a variety of chili pepper) enliven another fantastic pie.

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707.13 – all things local pie

Small plates are no afterthought. In fact, they feel plucked from San Francisco, easily at home with many hot restaurants of the moment. A risotto of barley and rye ($9) is earthy with local, roasted mushrooms, perked up by green apple and Parmesan. Likewise, fire-roasted brassicas (in this case, cauliflower and brussels sprouts) with baby carrots ($8) are lively with vadouvan spice and citrus, cooled by house yogurt. A snack of crispy mushroom “chicharrones” ($4) dusted in Parmesan and porcini salt is just a great idea. Only pretzel rolls ($1.50) tasted lackluster compared to pretzels I’ve had from places like Esther’s Bakery.

Brassicas & carrots

Brassicas & carrots

Dessert holds up, particularly house ice cream and sorbet ($3) in fun flavors like green tomato, local goat cheese or yuzu (Japanese citrus). Decadence joyously comes in the form of a pumpkin cinnamon roll ($8) with malted milk ice cream.

Though this tiny haven runs out of pizza all too quickly and closes way too early, it’s a food lovers’ treasure surrounded by the woods and farmland of Mendocino County.

SLICER, Oakland

Slicer slices

Slicer slices

Open since fall 2013, Slicer Pizzeria, helmed by Colin Etezadi (former chef de cuisine at Boot & Shoe Service), churns out pies that are not so much authentic NY or Neapolitan pizza but what feels more like Cali-meets-NY, thin crust pizza with interesting but unfussy toppings (slice $3.50, whole $23).

The crust has a nice crisp to it, while seasonal offerings could be asparagus and green garlic, accented with red onion, fennel and pecorino cheese, or savory pancetta and bitter radicchio over tomato sauce, doused with balsamic and Parmesan cheese.

BUILD PIZZERIA ROMA, Berkeley

BUILD's pizza bar

BUILD’s pizza bar

The oldest “newcomer” of this group, BUILD Pizzeria Roma, opened in April 2013, dramatically revamping a downtown Berkeley space into a sprawling, cavernous room. The dining room is centered by a pizza bar where staff build pies to your specifications, with ingredients like silky anchovies or Italian truffle. Husband/wife owners Lisa Holt and David Shapiro (she grew up in Rome) hope to open a series of BUILD – I can see how giant black and white wall photography punctuated by yellow, and build-your-own pizzas, appeal to a range of people.

BUILD pizza

BUILD pizza

So in full honesty, I’ve had better pizzas around the world. This is not so much a gourmand’s pizza den, although it will work for the pizza snob, too. It is fun, interactive and the pies certainly satisfy. With a base of rosso (red sauce), bianca (white/no sauce) or pesto, choose cheese and toppings from the line-up before you.

There’s plenty to drink on the craft beer and cocktail front, like a special beer cocktail one night I visited when Bison Organic Brewing was a featured brewery (something they do regularly with local breweries and distilleries): a Gingerbread Flip ($8) of spiced rum and raw ginger, was creamy with whole egg, effervescent and spiced with Bison’s Gingerbread Ale.

San Francisco

LONG BRIDGE PIZZA CO., Dogpatch

Long Bridge pies

Long Bridge pies

Just opened mid-February 2014, Long Bridge Pizza Co. is an airy, small shop in the heart of Dogpatch, a welcome addition for the neighborhood, cooking pies ($12-14.50 for small, $22-26 large, no by-the-slice) all day long. I wouldn’t call it a destination for those in other parts of the city, but these are gratifying pizzas. They strike a fine balance between greasy NY and Cali-fresh in their straightforward pepperoni, sausage or margherita pizzas.

PIZZAHACKER, Outer Mission

Festive Pizzahacker space

Festive Pizzahacker space

Cult pizza favorite, Jeff Krupman, a.k.a. The Pizzahacker, finally opened a brick-and-mortar spot for his beloved pizza in Outer Mission on the edge of Bernal Heights this January. Despite crowds descending on the lofty-yet-intimate space (formerly Inka’s), PizzaHacker staff are upbeat and friendly, and the vibe festive under blue ceiling and walls illuminated by strung colored lights and communal picnic tables.

There’s about five rotating pies each day ($12-16 each), with wonderfully bubbly crust and engaging toppings. One example: Yo Vinny! is laden with marinated onions, nearby butcher Avedano’s hot Italian sausage, and for lively contrast, pickled Goat Horn peppers.

THE PIZZA SHOP, Mission

The Pizza Shop

The Pizza Shop

Opening weeks ago in February, The Pizza Shop on 24th Street, is the most “real deal” NY of the thin slice newcomers, in the same class as long time, NY slice fave Arinell. I feel transported back to NY walking down the street eating a sopping (with appropriate grease, yo) pepperoni slice ($4 each, $19 for a pie), folded in half on a paper plate, not shy on the cheese.

Jersey love

Jersey love

Chef-owner Thomas Jividen comes from New Jersey and having partly grown up in the Garden State myself, I couldn’t help but cheer for the place when I saw the wood-carving of Jersey on the soda machine. Jividen comes from San Diego’s Bronx Pizza, while he’s running the shop with Laurie Badger from SF’s beloved Golden Boy Pizza. Whole pie delights include the Meat-O, laden with pepperoni, sausage, and, yes, meatballs.

PRESIDIO PIZZA COMPANY, Western Addition/Pac Heights

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Slice of Frankie’s

Presidio Pizza Company had a soft opening in December 2013, which I hit up a couple times in initial weeks. The staff has been so friendly every time, asking for honest feedback on the food. I truly appreciate their desire to improve and hone during those initial weeks.

Presido Pizza space

Presidio Pizza space

Their pizza style is NY/NJ-influenced – there’s even calzones ($8) and cannoli ($5) – though I noticed most of the staff are from Boston or the Bay Area.

Though I could use more tang and sweet-savory bite in their red sauce, meatballs ($6 for 3, $9 for 5) are tender, dotted with basil and Grana Padano cheese. As for the pizza, it’s more gratifying than a game-changer, ideal mainly for those in the neighborhood. My favorite pie has been Frankie’s ($4 slice/$22 pie) with its juicy slices of sausage with rapini, garlic, onions and cherry peppers over mozzarella. The Grandma ($3.50/$20), a thin, square pie could use a lot more red sauce, as could The Sicilian ($4/$22), another square pie, both blessedly straightforward with cheese and basil, or in the case of the Grandma, with pesto and red sauce (add any topping).

The enchanting Madones complex in the countryside of Philo houses Stone & Embers

The enchanting Madrones complex in the countryside of Philo houses Stone & Embers

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May
01
2012

Top Tastes

Convivial gathering around Claudine’s cozy bar

(UNIQUELY) COMMUNAL DINING

Bowling pin light fixtures oversee Mission Bowling Club’s open space

Incredible burgers in a bowling alley, SF’s deaf community gathering over Neopolitan pizzas, brothers serving food from their hometown of Nice in a tiny restaurant, dining around a U-shaped counter off a FiDi alley… each of these restaurants opened within the last 6 months providing a unique communal experience (and most importantly, fine food to go with) that makes one feel like actually engaging with, rather than ignoring, fellow diners.

MISSION BOWLING CLUB, Mission (3176 17th St. between Shotwell & Van Ness, 415-863-2695)

Mission Bowling Club (MBC) is one badass bowling alley. Hipster all the way, there’s no funky smell or dated dinginess in this brand new space. Open and industrial, there’s a front patio, separate dining room downstairs and one upstairs overseeing six lanes and a wood-lined bar area. Cheer on bowlers from comfy couches while sipping a cocktail (solid, though not noteworthy drinks) and filling up on French onion casserole. Essentially, it’s got all you could dream of in a bowling alley in what is already a “seen and be seen” hang-out.

Entering MBC

As soon as we heard chef Anthony Myint, Mission Chinese Food and Mission St. Food wunderkind, would oversee the menu, it was easy to guess MBC was going to boast exceptional food. The beloved Mission Burger ($15; $10 during happy hour) is back. I missed the rich, granulated patty, lathered in caper aioli. An avowed carnivore, I was shocked to find the vegan burger ($10) is almost as exciting. A fried chickpea, kale, shitake fritter is brightened up with sambal (Indian chili sauce), guacamole, and fennel slaw. A juicy sausage corn dog ($7) arrives upright in molecular fashion, standing watch over a dollop of habanero crema. Only a hard, small “everything pretzel” ($5) disappointed. Break up the fat with a taco “salad” ($9), a colorful mix of lettuce wraps, fried tortilla strips, salsa verde and queso fresco. Not bad for a bowling alley.

Suspended corn dog

MBC’s front patio

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CASTAGNA, Marina (2015 Chestnut St. at Fillmore, 415-440-4290)

Brothers Jerome and Stephane Meloni from Nice infuse their Italian heritage and French upbringing in Italian and niçoise dishes.

Classic Niçoise caramelized onion tart

I enjoyed Stephane’s cooking at their former Restaurant Cassis, a far roomier Pac Heights space, but their tiny, new Castagna lends itself to connection. Stephane cooks within full view, Jerome interacts with diners, and I found myself in conversation with tables next to me.  On a good night, it exudes that neighborhood conviviality found in similar-sized restaurants around Europe. Decor isn’t particularly memorable, though red walls always bring a space to life, here accented by the ubiquitous vintage Taittinger champagne ad.

Castagna’s warm, red walls

Sticking closer to tradition is the best way to navigate Castagna’s menu. Stephane’s classic Niçoise caramelized onion tart ($7.50) is the best dish, silky with caramelized onions in a flaky crust, with (the good stuff) white anchovies on the side, which they explained neighborhood diners weren’t quite ready for – I say place them on top and let diners sort it out. I found the steak in my steak frites ($18) too well done (medium rare, please) despite a lush green peppercorn sauce. I’d opt instead for linguine (not house made as they have so little kitchen space, but made fresh for them using their pasta recipe), in sauces from pistou (pine nut, basil, garlic) to bolognaise. Also of note: French-style campagnarde pizza ($15), in the spirit of flammkuchen (Alsatian flatbread), covered in potato sauce, bacon, crème fraîche and raclette cheese.

MOZZERIA, Mission (3228 16th St. between Guerrero & Spencer)

Sheer comfort: the Mozzeria bar

Communal award could easily go to the Mission’s Mozzeria. Maybe we didn’t need the umpteenth Neapolitan pizza place, but there’s none quite like this, run by a deaf couple and staff. San Francisco’s deaf community gathers en masse at a hang-out where speaking with your eyes and hands is as important as speaking verbally. Of course, verbal processors are welcome, too.

Mozzeria’s sparkling wood-burning oven

The dining bar is my preferred perch, particularly to engage with chef Russell Stein (who co-owns the place with his wife Melody). He’s hilarious and reads lips like a master, joking with diners as he spreads ingredients over wheels of dough before popping them into a wood-burning oven.  His heartwarming Neopolitan pizzas ($12-18) are topped with the likes of caramelized onion, pancetta, mozzerella or goat cheese and eggplant. I must admit, my favorite item, the Mozzeria bar ($8), isn’t the most gourmet, but hearkens back to my Jersey youth. Let’s just call it what it is: a fried mozzerella cheese log doused in pomodoro sauce and basil. Sheer comfort.

CLAUDINE, Financial District (8 Claude Lane at Bush, 415-362-1988)

Meatball, kale and fregola (a Sardinian pasta similar to Israeli couscous) soup

Claudine’s chic cafe charms. Big picture windows and corner space on an alley up a half flight of stairs appeal, while a u-shaped front bar creates a convivial dining experience as the bar is so small so you can’t help but exchange good will with neighboring patrons. You can dine at a table, but the bar is far more fun, and works for a quick, casual meal all day.

Dining at Claudine’s alley tables

Much has been made of their meatball, kale and fregola soup ($7/10), and rightly so. It is an unexpected culinary delight in an olive oil-laced brodo (broth) laden with Parmesan, onions, carrots. I can be bored by broth soups at times, but this one holds my interest with plump veal-pork-beef meatballs and pleasantly soggy kale. Roasted mussels ($12/17) arrive aromatic with fennel sausage in lemon and white wine, while even avocado toast ($12) delights topped with dill gravlax, Spanish black radish, and lemon. Leave room at the end for Claudine favorite, s’mores ($7) baked in a glass bowl with layers of marshmallow and chocolate on graham cracker crust. My meals at dinner have been more satisfying than at lunch but it seems to improve with each visit.

Claudine’s colorful dining room wall

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Apr
15
2012

The Latest

GOURMET CHEAP EATS

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

The Galley sandwiches

Trekking around the Bay for what is not at all elusive – excellent food – is ever a pleasure. Finding it on the cheap? Options are endless. Sandwiches stand as one of the easiest ways to fill up for less, making the continued glut of sandwich openings unsurprising (check out the Richmond’s new Chomp n’ Swig – hard to top their Bacon Butter Crunch sandwich: white cheddar, tomato, bits of bacon, and guacamole; or in the Mission, the Galley inside Clooney’s Pub serves a meaty French Onion Sandwich – yes, like the soup and oh, so good). Beyond merely sandwiches, these affordable new (and one not so new) bites delight.

Inside airy, open Market & Rye

MARKET & RYE, West Portal (68 West Portal Avenue, between Ulloa & Vicente, 415-564-5950)

West Portal is lucky to claim new Market & Rye from Top Chef alum Ryan Scott. What could be just another sandwich shop is instead an airy, high-ceilinged cafe in yellows and whites under skylights.

Salted rye bread is made specifically for them by North Beach’s classic Italian French Baking Company (they also use IFBC’s sourdough and wheat breads).

Chicken meatball Reuben

Sandwiches ($8.50-$9) offer enough playful touches to keep them unique, like funyuns on roast beef or Cool Ranch Doritos adding crunch to chicken salad layered with avocado spread and Pepper Jack. Messy and falling out all over the place, I nonetheless took to the Reuben chicken meatball sandwich on salted rye. It helps that I’m nuts about Reubens, overflowing with 1000 Island dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and in this case, red cabbage caraway slaw and house chicken meatballs. I almost didn’t miss the corned beef.

Fresh salad sides

Build-Your-Own-Salads offer healthy alternatives, while above average sides ($4 per scoop, $7.50 2 scoops, $10.50 3 scoops) are generous helpings of the likes of roasted zucchini tossed with cherry tomatoes, boccaccini (mini mozzarella balls), enlivened by mint vinaigrette. The side that didn’t work for me was grilled broccoli. It appeared green and verdant, dotted with ricotta and walnuts in red wine dressing, but was so cold, flavor was stunted.

House made root beer float twinkies ($3.50) are a fun finish, though twinkie-lovers be aware: these are dense, dark cakes filled with a dreamy root beer float cream, not fluffy sponge cakes. Kudos for full-on root beer flavor.

ALL GOOD PIZZA, Bayview (1605 Jerrold Ave. at 3rd, 415-846-6960)

Spicy Louisiana sausage pizza

A jaunt to Jerrold and 3rd Street leads to a food truck parked in a surprising Bayview oasis: a gated parking lot filled with picnic tables, potted cacti, and herbs used for cooking. All Good Pizza (open weekdays only: 10am-2pm) just launched this month from neighborhood locals desiring healthy food and “good, sincere pizza”, with a real commitment to the area (check out their community page).

Nola Muffaletta sandwich

The lot invites lingering over cracker-thin pizzas (a steal at $7), from a basic Margherita to a spicy pie dotted with peppers, fennel, mozzarella, and Louisiana hot links smoked on site. Their trailer houses a 650 degree gas-fired oven in which they cook pizzas. These aren’t game-changing pies but there’s nothing like it in the ‘hood – nor are there many healthy salads, like a kale, radicchio, sweet potato crisps, Parmesan, balsamic reserva combo. There’s panini sandwiches ($7) such as a pig-heavy, super salty Nola Muffaletta: Genoa salami, smoked ham, olive salad, fior di latte mozzarella and provolone cheese.

Italian sodas ($2.50) are all made on premises, like a candy sweet coconut soda evoking coconut oil, beaches and vacation. All this in a Bayview parking lot.

ANDA PIROSHKI, Bernal Heights (331 Cortland Ave. at Bennington, 415-271-9055)

Hot Piroshki sign signals fresh-out-of-the-oven

A close childhood pal is Russian and her mother and grandmother often home-baked us unforgettable Russian treats as kids, from blintzes to piroshkis, those little baked buns stuffed with goodness. I still dream of them – a rarity in this town. Not even in Chicago or NY have I tasted piroshkis as fresh as Anda Piroshki, a stall in the tiny but idyllic 331 Cortland marketplace housing a few take-out food purveyors. I’ve eaten Anda at SF Street Food Fest, but the ideal is to arrive at 331 soon after it opens when piroshkis are pulled from the oven piping hot.

Smoked salmon piroshkis

The dough is airy yet dense, ever-so-subtly sweet, like a glorified Hawaiian roll. They don’t skimp on fillings, in fact, one piroshki ($3.75-$4.50) fills me up. Sustainable meats and local ingredients make them relatively guilt-free. Try a button mushroom piroshki overflowing with fresh spinach, or one of ground beef, rice and Swiss, oozing comfort. My favorite is Atlantic smoked salmon and cream cheese accented by black pepper and dill. It makes a savory, creamy breakfast.

The one downside has been a straight-faced, disinterested server who could not be bothered as I asked a question about Russian sodas (like Kvass, a fermented rye soda – pleasing rye notes if too saccharine) and acted the same when I returned a second time… a stark contrast to the friendliness I encounter at every other 331 business. But momentary coldness is still worth those piroshkis.

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