Top Tastes

Charin, a secretive new tasting menu-only restaurant

Dining on elk at Charin, a secretive new tasting menu-only restaurant

My Top Food Articles: September 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

CHARIN, a secretive new dinner in changing locations

Ryan Scott’s MASON in Potrero Hill


6 new restaurants and bars with UNIQUE DESIGN


Underrated & Established Spots


What to eat from TRICK DOG’s NEW CHEF

Unsung Heroes: BIX, a classic 1930s-esque supperclub

East Bay

6 Island Gems in ALAMEDA


$10 Lunch: the new MELTED in downtown Napa


5 New Fall Cookbooks from Bay Area Restaurants


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


The Latest

An array of Nick Balla’s artful smorrebrod at Bar Tartine during new daytime hours


Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Two unusual, new Mission sandwich options: one of the city’s best restaurants launches lunch with Scandinavian influence (part of the Nordic culinary wave finally reaching the West Coast), and a low-key panini shop opens, refreshingly real with Middle Eastern touches.

BAR TARTINE, Mission (561 Valencia St. between 16th & 17th Sts., 415-487-1600)

Bar Tartine chef Nick Balla talks smorrebrod at SF Chefs’ Scandinavian/Eastern European cooking demo in early August

Nick Balla’s forward-thinking, Eastern European cuisine at Bar Tartine is some of the most exciting food in the city right now so new daytime hours (Wed.-Sun., 10:30am-2:30pm) are a gain. Smørrebrød is Danish for “bread and butter” – these open-faced sandwiches (1 for $6; 3 for $15) lead the way on the new menu, though heartier sandwiches are on offer, too, such as beef tongue ($12) generously laden with sauerkraut, onion and that Hungarian staple, paprika, or on the vegetarian side, slab bread filled with lentil croquettes, yogurt, cucumber, padron peppers.

On rustic rye bread, smørrebrød toppings evolve – I find two enough, three for those with a bigger appetite. My favorite is bacon, egg, avocado, dill and roasted tomato in a blue cheese sauce blessedly garlic-heavy, garlic happily present in my mouth for the rest of the day. Creamy chicken liver pate is a gourmand’s option, although such a generous scoop of pate overwhelms accompanying apricot jam. Another toast is topped with smoked eggplant, white beans, olive, roasted tomato, while a sweeter side is expressed in hazelnut butter and rhubarb compote.

Humble, urban charm of the new Hot Press

They’re calling it a sandwich counter and you can certainly take out, but Bar Tartine’s rustic tables and expanded space welcome, ideal for lingering with Four Barrel coffee and that divine Hungarian fried bread, langos ($9), you’ve heard me talk about often – it is on the lunch menu, thank God. Now it’s amped up with toppings like lamb, horseradish cream, summer squash and tomato, or blackberries, peaches and cream. Langos with fried egg, hollandaise and bacon is a breakfast dish of my dreams.

In the spirit of meggyleves, Balla’s Hungarian sour cherry soup that wowed me last summer, there’s chilled apricot soup ($9), not as sweet as suspected, smoked almonds and sour cream adding texture to the savory/fruity broth. Jars of pickled treats line the walls, available in the menu’s snacks section (pickled curried green beans!), refreshing contrasted with a kefir-ginger-strawberry shake ($5). During the launch week of Bar Tartine’s lunch, I noticed the place packed with food writers, sommeliers, and industry folk eating artistic slabs of Eastern European/Scandinavian-influenced eats, already confirming it as a smørrebrød/daytime destination.

HOT PRESS, Mission (2966 Mission St. between 25th & 26th Sts., 415-814-3814)

Middle Eastern influence in Hot Press’ Dream Cream

With a friendly Middle Eastern welcome, the guys at the new Hot Press welcome customers into their humble Mission shop for panini, Caffe Trieste coffee, and Three Twins ice cream by the scoop, waffle cone or sundae. While American sandwiches, like their pastrami loaded Staten Island ($7.75) with Emmentaler cheese, house Dijonaise, cabbage slaw and sliced pickles, it’s Middle Eastern/Lebanese touches and vegetarian offerings that skew unusual. Dream Cream ($6.50) is soft-yet-crusty ciabatta bread slathered in light cream cheese, sauteed peppers, caramelized walnuts and cucumbers, Za’atar spices perking up the mild, comforting panini. On a French baguette, another vegetarian sandwich with Middle Easter leanings is Ayia Napa ($6.99), likewise comforting with melted halloumi (a traditional Cypriot cheese from the island of Cyprus), mint leaves, tomatoes and a douse of olive oil. Pollo de la Mission ($7.75) is a neighborhood tribute of free range chicken on ciabatta in creamy chipotle sauce, pressed with peppers, grilled onions, Colby Jack cheese and corn.

Staten Island: pastrami as panini

Sides ($2.25 1/2 pint; $4.25 pint) range from coleslaw to a salad of spinach leaves, goat cheese and strawberries, while three bean salad – cannellini, kidney and garbanzo beans tossed with onion, parsley, lemon, olive oil – comes in mini-tasting cups with each sandwich. Local ingredients go beyond ice cream and coffee to sandwich bread from Bordenave’s in San Rafael, with neighborhood goodwill in the form of a kids menu and dessert sandwiches like Peanut Butter & Better ($4.99): creamy or crunchy PB, sliced bananas, lavender honey or grape jelly.

The space is non-descript in a refreshing way, with sidewalk seating and Middle Eastern music videos playing on a flat screen. Thankfully, not every new opening in the Mission is a hipster, trendy affair.


Top Tastes


Oxtail three ways, a hammy biscuit, gourmet meatloaf… comfort comes in each of these forms at new spots (or in the case of Presidio Social Club, with a new chef) in meat dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


AMERICAN EATERY, Embarcadero (1 Ferry Building at Market St., 415-391-0420)

Barrel aged cocktails at Presidio Social Club

Prather Ranch is to be commended for raising sustainable, humanely-reared meats with a whole-animal (let no part go to waste) sales model. I’ve long enjoyed sausages and quality meats from their Ferry Building butcher. A few months ago, they opened American Eatery, providing their meats to go in drool-worthy dishes like Chuck Wagon chili ($6.50), a mixture of pork, pinquito beans, sharp cheddar, scallions and sour cream, or Munich-style white bockwurst sausage ($7) with whole grain mustard sauce and sauerkraut.

American Eatery executive chef Erica Holland-Toll came from the former ACME Chop House and Lark Creek Inn. Long using Prather Ranch meats at her restaurants, she was well-qualified to oversee the Ferry Building menu. Breakfast is playful with unusual offerings like braised pork scrapple ($8), a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch mix of pork trimmings, cornmeal, flour, and spices in a sort of panfried loaf. Their burgers tempt, even at breakfast, particularly The Stonebreaker ($12), laden with cheese curds and meat gravy.

Divine ham & cheese biscuit at American Eatery

I go for their maple smoked ham. Try it in an Acme Torpedo roll ($10) joined by avocado and Eatwell Farms egg, perfected with basil and cheese curds. I’m particularly smitten with the maple smoked ham and cheese biscuit ($8). The thick biscuit cushions Prather Ranch’s thinly shaved slabs of ham, San Joaquin Gold cheese, a fried egg and red eye gravy mayo. Biscuit Bender’s flaky buttermilk biscuit is the right choice – a local baker whose biscuits can also be found at Mission Cheese and Hollow, they wisely make larded and non-larded versions. Ah, lard! Kudos for keeping tradition alive.  I devour the sandwich with a Blue Bottle cappuccino, then sigh with contentment.


O3, Civic Center (524 Van Ness Avenue between Golden Gate & McAllister, 415-934-9800)

O3 sleek, comfortable space

O3 Bistro & Lounge opened in January in the former, transformed California Pizza Kitchen. The sleek, open space in tones of black, silver, purple exudes an Asian cosmopolitan feel with open windows offering a view of busy Van Ness Ave. Not an obvious foodie stretch, the place is busy with the business/Civic Center set. While there’s a range of small plates ($7-12), from hoisin-glazed short ribs to ahi tuna crudo, dinner adds on pricier ($18-28) entrees such as seared scallops with lobster garlic noodles.

O3’s oxtail grilled cheese

It’s fall-apart tender braised oxtail that calls out to me. At lunch and dinner find it in wonton shell tacos ($8-10) with jicama slaw, while at lunch there’s oxtail hash ($13), a mixture of caramelized onions, roasted red bell pepper, and russet potatoes over kimchi dirty rice, topped with bacon dust and a fried egg.  Does it get much more comforting? At a recent lunch I indulged in an oxtail grilled cheese sandwich on rustic, thick slabs of bread, glorified with sweet spice in the form of five spice raisin jam. Braised oxtail any which way? Bring it on.


PRESIDIO SOCIAL CLUB, Presido (563 Ruger St. at Lombard, 415-885-1888)

PSC’s fresh sardines

Long one of the more uniquely beautiful SF dining rooms, Presidio Social Club (PSC) is set in a 1903 military barracks like a sunny, white, 1940’s clubhouse with hints of red and chrome. Grabbing a bar stool for an Anejo Sour or Aviation from bar manager Tim Stookey and crew is a timeless respite. Their rotating barrel aged menu pleases, particularly the Aged Reasons Rye: rye, Punt e Mes vermouth, Cointreau, orange bitters.

Brightly seductive smashed peas

New chef Wes Shaw hails from Texas, working with longtime chef/owner Ray Tang on a new menu that doesn’t neglect PSC classics like a Dungeness crab Louis sandwich ($18) or their above-average mac n’ cheese ($10). But he also adds new life with TX nods, like 8-hour smoked brisket on Tuesdays or marinated calamari, kicked up with butter beans and chiles. Fresh Monterey sardines ($10) come flaky over chickpea puree, shrouded in celery, while cracked Dungeness crab or a platter of oysters (Thursdays are $1 oysters, 4-7pm) remain ideally suited eats in PSC’s crisp space.

Hefty but elegant PSC meatloaf

Surprisingly, two vegetable sides ($6) are among my favorite menu items, both deftly prepared, as fresh and healthy as they are palate-satisfying. Broccoli di ciccio is tossed in lemon with garlic and chiles, while smashed peas in mint oil are brightly seductive. How about that meat? One of the best dishes on the menu remains classic meatloaf ($17), infused with a new life – a seemingly bigger slice than I remember in years past. Like mom would make if mom was a gourmand, the juicy, meaty loaf rests atop a sea of mashed potatoes, crowned with slivered carrots and fried shallots for a pseudo-light finish.

Who’s ready for more meat?

Written by in: Top Tastes | Tags: , ,

The Latest


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.


The Latest

Beef cheek ramen lunch at Nombe

The Lunch Hour

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

The lunch hour advances around town with a slew of notable openings or new lunch menus. Here are some of the best lunches from new chefs or recently opened spots (most opened in the last one to six months).

NOMBE, Mission (2491 Mission St. at 21st, 415-681-7150)

Salmon nori rice & oxtail ramen

Nombe faced a bit of a struggle recovering from uber-talented chef Nick Balla’s departure to Bar Tartine, eventually landing on new executive chef Noriyuki Sugie, who has cooked in NY, Chicago, France, Sydney and the like. With Sugie’s cooking, Nombe proves to be as much a gem as it ever was. An excellent sake list and caring service set it apart, but wait till you try Sugie’s ramen (thankfully just added to the dinner menu in addition to lunch). There’s a lot of great ramen out there, but I tend to be one of the unconverted who registers ramen’s comfort factor but can often find the taste bland. I realize once I finally fulfill my dream of traveling to Japan, I may change my mind, particularly if ramen tastes like Sugie’s.

Excellent sake menu

Order: Ramen noodles are house made, subtly chewy, with accompanying meat. While I enjoy options like oxtail, my favorite is a heaping bowl of beef cheek ramen ($13). The tender meat is savory and robust… and, oh, the broth! No blandness here – the broth is layered with flavor. Scallions, mushrooms, umami foam and soy-marinated egg add even more dimension. If not ordering sake, matcha ice milk or lavender oolong ice tea ($4 each) to drink.

903, Bernal Heights (903 Cortland at Gates)

903’s comfortable space

Laid-back Bernal Heights claims one of the best new lunch spots in town. 903 just opened weeks ago from owners of nearby Sandbox Bakery. Similar to Sandbox, Asian influences enliven American food. The former Maggie Mudd’s space was dim and unmemorable, but they’ve transformed it with soothing colors, flowers, a communal table and bench dotted with pillows. There are bento boxes of chicken tsukune or miso salmon, while the bulk of the daytime-only menu is sandwiches and a few breakfast items.

Order: Crispy shrimp balls in a challah hot dog bun ($8.50) may not jump off the menu, but juicy shrimp lightly fried in three crispy balls in a bun are delightful, particularly with garlic aioli, Sriracha and sweet & sour plum sauce. The one vegetarian sandwich is no afterthought. Baked tofu ($7.50) has more texture and flavor than is typical on a “burger bun” made entirely of rice (also with their Japanese karaage fried chicken sandwich). Pickled carrots, soy tahini, baby greens and a layer of nori (seaweed) complete the sandwich.

SWEET WOODRUFF, TenderNob (798 Sutter St. at Jones, 415-292-9090)

Sweet Woodruff’s open kitchen

The TenderNob has a new destination café in Sweet Woodruff, the casual second space opened by owners of upscale Sons & Daughters. With an open kitchen, high ceilings, muted grey/blue walls, and stools lining rustic wood counter tops, the place feels completely San Francisco, with expected gourmet elevation of sandwiches and casual dishes. Take-out is ideal for nearby workers, but giant, corner windows make it a welcome place downtown to linger.

Pheasant Hot Pocket

Order: Pheasant hot pocket ($7) is the most playful of early offerings. A flaky phyllo pastry stuffed with peas, carrots, and, of course, pheasant is warm and comforting. Cream of parsley root soup ($6) nurtures, set apart with green garlic, pine nuts and a welcome tinge of sweetness from golden raisins. A suckling pig sandwich ($9.50) is appropriately tender, contrasted by pickles, though with ghost pepper aioli I expected serious heat (not so).  For dessert, a peanut sweet soy tart ($4) is peanut-y goodness.

WISE SONS DELI, Mission (3150 24th St. at Shotwell, 415-787-3354)

Wise Sons brick & mortar location

I said it a year ago when Wise Sons Deli was merely a pop-up: it is refreshing to have this quality level of Jewish food in San Francisco. Just like their pop-up locations, lines still run out the door in their brand new brick and mortar location (in fact, good luck finding “off” hours to drop in). How can I not be delighted to have fresh-baked loaves of rye bread, corned beef hash, and matzo brei available six days a week (they’re still at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays)?

Order: Chocolate babka bread is downright dreamy ($3.50 per hefty slice; sometimes available as a bread pudding). Earthy/sweet chocolate and crumbly crust are better than coffee cake.

Pastrami bread pudding

A mild chopped liver ($7) is appealing even to those skittish about liver. Challah French toast ($9) is fluffy and sweetened with orange butter and maple syrup. House-baked bialy fills a bagel void, layered with cream cheese ($3) and seasonal smoked fish like salmon or smoked trout ($8/11). They address my craving for whitefish salad with smoked trout salad ($9), wisely using a more sustainable fish choice. Don’t forget hand-sliced pastrami or corned beef and an egg cream soda. One can only hope a meaty, moist pastrami bread pudding I sampled at an opening party shows up on the specials board.

SQUARE MEALS & BATTER BAKERY, Russian Hill (2127 Polk St. at Broadway, 415-674-1069)

Square Meals’ welcoming cafe

Square Meals is just what Polk Street needed: a friendly neighborhood café with eat-in, delivery or take-out foods and dinners, delectable baked goods and sweets from Batter Bakery (who they share the café with), Ritual coffee, a wine happy hour, and board games to play in a mellow setting. Offerings include cool, subtle soba noodles with crab, mint, chili and escarole ($24 a lb.), lasagna, pork schnitzel, flank steak, falafel patties.

Square Meals’ namesake book

Order: The lunch highlight is a daily changing sandwich, like tender halibut enlivened with strips of bacon and silky caramelized onions ($13). Don’t miss Batter Bakery’s Sand Angel cookies, a glorified, denser Snickerdoodle.

SEOUL PATCH in ROCKETFISH, Potrero Hill (1469 18th St. at Connecticut, 415-282-9666)

Rocketfish is a Potrero Hill sushi restaurant, but by day, it’s a Korean fusion (yes, I used the dread “f” word) pop-up, Seoul Patch. A few menu items rotate, with a couple traditional Korean dishes in the mix. Eat in at Rocketfish’s bar top or roomy booths.

Seoul Patch’s fried chicken sandwich

Order: Their fried chicken sandwich ($10) with daikon slaw has been an early favorite, and with good reason. The fried chicken is blessed with subtle Asian spices, crispy breading giving way to juicy meat within. Their sandwiches can suffer from not enough sauce or contrast, translating to dry, as in the case of a Korean BBQ Pork Sando ($8.50) with avocado, tempura onion ring and a pickle.

Korean pancake

Though spicy pork was well prepared, the sandwich needed a sauce to tie it together. Traditional Korean dishes, like Bibimbap ($11 – a rice bowl with bulgogi beef and fried egg), are better elsewhere. I prefer a green onion pancake ($5.50) that recalls Japanese okonomiyaki: chewy and moist, it’s dotted with bacon and kimchi, drizzled in kewpie (Japanese mayo with vinegar) and oko sauce, both typically used on okonomiyaki.

SOUTHIE, Oakland (6311 College Ave. at 63rd, Oakland, 510-654-0100)

Excellent Southie sandwiches

While I enjoyed Rockridge’s Wood Tavern from the first time I visited years ago, I didn’t exactly rush out after hearing about their sandwich offshoot last year on the same block, Southie. There are hundreds of excellent sandwiches in SF and I needn’t cross the bridge for yet another pork sandwich. But I was pleasantly surprised to find Southie’s sandwiches among the better I’ve had all year. Wine on tap makes lingering at high tables in the narrow space a pleasant lunch respite.

Lobster roll at New England Lobster

Order: A Dungeness crab roll ($18) trumps most crab sandwiches. On a buttery brioche, it explodes with succulent crab meat. Celery root remoulade and Meyer lemon brown butter elevate it to near perfection. An expensive sandwich to be sure, but they did not skimp on crab. “Spicy Hog” ($10) is their popular pulled pork sandwich on an Acme roll. Again, it seems everyone is doing a Southern-influenced pork sandwich these days, but theirs is a shows strong, loaded with coleslaw, pickled jalapeno, and lime aioli.

NEW ENGLAND LOBSTER, South San Francisco (170 Mitchell Ave., South SF, 650-873-9000)

New England Lobster’s new food truck

Industrial South San Francisco near SFO is certainly not the place most of us would head for lunch – and not for lobster. Look for a new, bright red truck off Mitchell Avenue, outside seafood/shellfish source, New England Lobster. The best lobster rolls I’ve had have been on the East Coast (overflowing rolls at Pearl’s Oyster Bar in NY’s Greenwich Village have been excellent for years). Despite the New England moniker, New England’s lobster meat is not the most flavorful nor is the bread that dreamy buttery brioche used in the best lobster rolls, but they are satisfying sandwiches, particularly if you ask for drawn butter to drizzle over them.

Order: Lobster corn chowder ($5) is essentially a creamy bisque dotted with corn and chunks of lobster. It’s decadent with a lobster roll (the one other option is a crab roll). If you happen to be nearby or need a bite before a flight, this is a fun, unusual option.


Top Tastes

Morocco to Bone Marrow Brilliance:
Four Memorable Meals

Here are four recent stand-out dishes or meals, from affordable hole-in-the-walls (Grill House and Prime Dip Sandwiches) to upscale creativity (Haven and Aziza):

HAVEN Preview Dinner at PLUM,  Oakland (Haven will be in Jack London Square; preview dinners are at 2214 Broadway; 510-444-7586)

Duck and beets, interpreted a few ways

Anticipating the opening of Daniel Patterson’s restaurant (currently slated by year’s end), Haven in Jack London Square, there’s been a series of preview dinners on Tuesdays at his Oakland restaurant, Plum (the last one is 11/15). Haven chef Kim Alter has been on hand cooking a five course Haven dinner, recalling her signature style she made waves with at Sausalito’s Plate Shop.

Bone Marrow brilliance

While I saw Alter’s promise there, I find myself more excited by the Haven preview. It seems her meticulous artistry is making space for comfort in a way that satisfies yet is not routine or predictable.

Three cheers for her bone marrow dish, possibly my favorite bone marrow interpretation ever. A trail of garlic scents the air as two hefty bones come out. Vivid, pickled watermelon radishes brighten up the marrow visually, while leeks and yuzu juice add unexpected layers.  Smeared over crusty bread, it was so satisfying and garlicky, we wanted to applaud. A main course of duck breast and tender duck confit delighted with the accompaniment of beets multiple ways, including dehydrated beets ground up with rye grain, or in German sauerkraut style.

Brillat-Savarin cheese in brioche w/ olive oil ice cream

Cocktail king Scott Beattie put three classics on the preview dinner menu, getting creative with ingredients in keeping with a gin theme. Old World SpiritsRusty Blade gin makes a lush base with maraschino liqueur and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth for his take on a classic Martinez ($10). Smooth and sexy with the duck dish in particular.

Coi’s (Patterson’s flagship) pastry chef Matt Tinder took care of dessert, winning me over by filling buttery brioche with warm Brillat-Savarin cheese topped with crispy honeycomb. Savory, creamy, with gently floral honey, it’s a dessert exemplifying the spirit of the entire dinner: inventive yet ultimately gratifying. I’m left expectant for what Alter and crew will cook at Haven.

Beattie's Martinez w/ Rusty Blade

P.S. It seems Grubstreet (where I fill in as SF editor from time to time) had an equally winning menu on another Tuesday Haven preview.

GRILL HOUSE MEDITERRANEAN, Tenderloin (533 Jones Street, 415-440-7786)

After moving around to various Tenderloin and North Bay storefronts, gifted Turkish chef Vahit Besir’s started at the new Grill House Mediterranean, only to leave a few weeks later. I caught him on one visit to this humble hole-in-the-wall, no longer there on my most recent stop. Though other food writers have deemed their visits inconsistent, my tastes here have been steady and as such, I find it a worthy place to pick up Middle Eastern bites when in the ‘Loin, though missing Besir.

Grill House Mediterranean

Shredded chicken, lamb or beef shawarma ($9.99 plate, or combo of all three: $11.99) fills out a toasted lavash wrap ($6.99-7.99) quite nicely, companion to lettuce, tomato, cucumber, hummus and tahini sauce (as spicy as you wish).

The menu runs $10 or less with ubiquitous starters ($3.99 each) of baba ganoush, tabouli, dolmas, piyaz (white bean salad), and lahmajun, essentially Middle Eastern flatbread topped with ground beef. The most addictive bite is feta cheese pie ($3.99) straight out of the oven (or stuffed with beef, chicken or spinach). Tomatoes and warm feta ooze from a roll sprinkled in sesame seeds. A supreme Middle Eastern treat.

PRIME DIP SANDWICHES, Tenderloin (518 Larkin Street between Turk and Eddy, 415-800-8244)

No frills pastrami goodness

Blue collar workers and Civic Center government staff line-up at Prime Dip, a new sandwich shop on Larkin. No frills, just hefty dip sandwiches ($6.99-7.99) on French bread, including a popular prime rib dip. Under $8 is a deal for such hefty rolls, including a choice of sides like mac n’ cheese or mixed veggies. There’s a loaded lobster dip ($12.99) with hot dill butter, though I find my New Jersey (NY) roots push me straight for the hot pastrami dip. Crusty French bread softens when dipped in meaty jus, while spicy mustard and melted Swiss cushion thinly sliced pastrami.

AZIZA,  Outer Richmond (5800 Geary Blvd., 415-752-2222)

Duck Confit Basteeya

A meal at Aziza is never boring. Celebrated Chef Mourad Lahlou (whose new cookbook was just released) puts such an artistic spin on Moroccan food, one never knows what a dish will look like just from reading the ingredients listed on the menu. Some achieve greater heights than others but all fascinate, reinterpreting elements of Moroccan food. Though Aziza’s anticipated downtown location just fell through, they are on the hunt for a new building.

Meatball and grape skewers over herbed jicama

Savory, garden-fresh cocktails were the highlight of a recent visit (see Imbiber), but on the food front, juicy, little meatballs ($14)  on skewers with grapes play the sweet/savory card to winning effect, accented by herb-tossed jicama. I adore Lahlou’s basteeya (or bastilla), my ultimate Moroccan dish, found commonly at Moroccan restaurants. This visit it was tweaked from the usual chicken or traditional squab, filled instead with duck confit. Tender, shredded duck is encased in phyllo dough ($22), sweetly contrasted by raisins, cinnamon and powdered sugar, plus slivers of almonds. Savory and sweet gets me every time.

Written by in: Top Tastes | Tags:

Site Admin | Log out | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by