Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco Restaurants’

The Castro is Cooking: Jake’s Joins Restaurant Renaissance

March 22nd, 2012 Comments off

In a food-frenzied city like San Francisco, it’s remarkable that the gay-centric Castro neighborhood has been something of a culinary wasteland. But the Stro’s reputation as a vortex of grinding and black hole of dining has begun to evolve over the past couple years.  Alternatives to Jell-O shots, pizza slices, burritos, steam table dumplings, and penis-shaped Hot Cookies have been arriving at a nice clip.

Chef Erik Hopfinger

Worthy newcomers include tapas emporium Canela, dependable Starbelly with its lovely tented porch, and the nationally acclaimed Frances.  The latest addition to that list is Jake’s on Market, a versatile new watering hole in the space that housed longtime favorite 2223. Jake’s owners Tim Travelstead and Brad Becker (the restaurant is named for the couple’s son) have collaborated on a menu that ranges widely in both its dishes and its price points, with a clear intent to build a clientele of neighborhood regulars as well as diners from further afield.

Chef Erik Hopfinger—a season four Top Chef alum—has cooked at Butterfly and Circa, but it feels like he’s hitting his sweet spot with the slightly upscaled comfort food he’s presenting at Jake’s (Dude’s straight, but I wouldnt be surprised if they form a fan club headquarters a few blocks away at the 440). His smarts show up in an appetizer that our server deemed “The Tupac and Biggie of Crabcakes,” a pairing of two tablespoon sized morsels, one—on the West Coast of the plate—made from fresh Dungeness crab and accompanied by Meyer lemon aioli; and a second—on the East Coast—composed of Chesapeake blue crab with Old Bay aioli. Its a clever presentation, and there’s no doubt you can taste the difference between the Pacific crab’s sweetness and the Atlantic’s salinity.

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Drinks ‘n’ nibbles in North Beach, at Campanula Kitchen

March 21st, 2012 Comments off

North Beach has long been one of San Francisco’s most popular neighborhoods for an early evening stroll. It’s dense with terrific little tourist spots, from one-time Beatnik hangouts like the Vesuvio bar and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s still-going-strong City Lights Books, to Diego Rivera murals, to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul with its creepy statue of Saint Lucia holding her eyeballs on a platter.

While a perfectly pulled espresso has never been hard to find in this historically Italian American enclave (Try the legendary Caffe Trieste, or the wedge-shaped Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store) dining options have tended to lean heavily toward the heavy: Mega-portions of red sauced pasta and other Little Italy staples.  But last year saw the welcome opening of Campanula Kitchen, a great spot to drop by for nibbles and drinks without weighing yourself down.

Shareable late night savories: pork belly dice.


And sweets: ice cream finger sandwiches. (Photos: Campanula Kitchen)

On the sunny southwest corner of Washington Square, Campanula’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide a terrific view of the comings-and-goings of the neighborhood’s dramatis personae (hipster artistes, Sicilian grannies, Chinatown cool kids, and, yes, the dreaded gentrifiers). Look up a little higher and take in one of the best views of Coit Tower in town. Now, turn your attention to the menu of small plates.

Hopefully you’ve come with a group of three or more, because there’s a slew of great tastes to share here. Go for the wild boar sliders, the balsamic-napped burrata cheese dusted with crunchy pistachio bits, the homely looking but intensely flavorful lamb meatballs, and the deep-fried green olives stuffed with ground sausage—maybe the perfect drinking snack.  Good thing, too, because Campanula has one of San Francisco’s best happy hour deals beyond the Castro, with fancy pedigree drinks like the Alameda Mule (Hangar 1 Chipotle, fresh lime, and ginger beer) for a mere $4. Better yet, on Friday and Saturday nights, the happy hour specials are also featured from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Atelier Crenn: The art of the meal

March 20th, 2012 Comments off

Chef-Poetess Dominique Crenn (Photo: Atelier Crenn)

Like it or not, Dominique Crenn is going to play with your food. At Atelier Crenn, the most provocative restaurant to open in San Francisco over the past year, the Versailles-born queen of poetic cuisine presents carrot cake in the form of a carrot, accompanied by peas in the form of sorbet. She serves fish filets atop river rocks, and pâté in the guise of bamboo.

Crenn pays exquisite attention to every visual and textural detail of the four or more scrupulously composed courses that make up your prix-fixe meal. You’ll pay close attention too, because you’ll be trying to maintain your balance as you walk a fine line between appreciating Crenn’s art and eating dinner.

Sometimes you’ll wobble a bit.

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Bay Meets Bayou at Boxing Room

March 16th, 2012 Comments off

Cajun boiled peanuts are a perfect match for a tall draft of Abita


Other than San Francisco, the American city that best combines endless eccentricity, European élan, and unstoppable appetite is New Orleans. Boxing Room in Hayes Valley (SF’s closest counterpart to NOLA’s uptown Magazine Street) brings the bayou to the Bay with spot-on authenticity.

Justin Simoneaux, the big bear of a chef, hails from Louisiana. And after stints at a number of high-end restaurants here, he’s back to his roots with a vengeance. While the fried alligator appetizer is little more than a thrill seeker’s novelty item (Like Rocky Mountain Oysters, they taste primarily of fried batter), the rest of Simoneaux’s menu is the real deal. So are the several varieties of Abita beer on tap and the Neville Brothers, turned up loud.

A duck and sausage jambalaya (available only on Thursday nights) is slow cooked to perfection, the smoky sausage flavor permeating the rice and the crisp-skinned duck meat falls right off the bone. Fried chicken crackles under the teeth with black pepper bite, and zeppelin-sized po’ boy sandwiches spill over with catfish, shrimp, and oysters (ask for a combo of two: it’s not on the menu, but the staff is happy to oblige).

Dessert breaks from strict New Orleans tradition here with beignets upgraded from breakfast with espresso and milk chocolate cream for dunking, and Bananas Foster transformed into an ultra-moist cake, served with bourbon ice cream.

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Cosmopolitan comfort food at Bluestem Brasserie

March 14th, 2012 Comments off

Handsome bi-level dining areas, with plenty of room between tables (Photo courtesy of Bluestem Brasserie)

Since its debut this past June, Bluestem Brasserie has pulled off a remarkable feat: Simultaneously satisfying the out-of-town tourist crowd and the Bay Area’s discerning local diners. Enviably located within a five minute walk of the Powell Street cable car terminus, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the theater district, and the shopping hub of Union Square, Bluestem is a sight worth seeing itself.

The restaurant’s handsome design features huge picture windows framing the bustle of Market Street, mosaic wooden flooring, an oblong table hewn from a single enormous tree trunk, and a dramatic floating staircase between the two levels of a 220-seat dining area—including an al fresco area on the second floor. The cuisine is approachable, unfussy, and impeccably well-prepared.

Downtown highrise residents and business clientele from the nearby Financial District have been converted into regulars by the homey plats du jour(coq au vin on Tuesdays, smoked brisket on Wednesdays) and cocktail-friendly after work shareables.

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Napa Roadtrip, Brunch at Brix

March 12th, 2012 Comments off

Vine dining, indeed.

On a recent Sunday, my partner John and I took a beautiful morning drive from the city out into the Napa Valley, enjoying the rolling vineyard views, not to mention temperatures a good 10 degrees warmer than nippy San Francisco winter (As a former East Coaster, I used to scoff at San Franciscans who felt that  the mid-40s were unreasonably cold; but time has passed, and I’m growing spoiled).

Destination: Brix Restaurant and Gardens. Situated just outside the town of Yountville, Brix is a happy alternative for those of us who enjoy a meal that feels like a special occasion, but are not prepared to drop $270.00 a head on dinner at Y’villes legendary French Laundry (that’s before wine, kids).

Best bet at Brix is Sunday brunch, which rings in at $38.50, a rather astonishing bargain given the tony location and the quality of the meal.

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Meat market, squared: Sneaky’s Barbecue celebrates first anniversary at Rebel Bar

March 12th, 2012 Comments off

Horse meat served Saturday nights

Pork pulled daily

In a city that thrives on unconventional couplings, one of the recent matches most worth celebrating is the toothsome twosome of gay bar, Rebel, and mouthwatering barbecue emporium, Sneaky’s.

Sneaky’s, which started up four years ago as a catering and delivery service, has just celebrated its first anniversary in permanent residence at Rebel, the year-old motorcyle-themed bar and dance club on Market Street. Sneaky’s serves dinner Wednesdays through Sundays, and does a barbecue brunch on Sundays, too.

But to fully experience the venue’s mixed-use meat-on-meat gestalt, come for dinner on a Saturday night at 9, and dig into the Flintstonian portions of Carolina Q (beef brisket is the stand-out: fall-apart tender), fat-infused greens, mac and cheese, and baked beans.

Then, step outside for a digestive stroll (You may need to walk all the way to Oakland, given the heaping helpings) and pop back in around 10:30, when the tables are cleared and Rebel’s weekly Stallion dance party cranks up, with seriously built go-go guys and lots of pork on the metaphorical menu.

Oink! Dessert is served by Rebel after a Sneaky’s BBQ dinner—Video after the jump.

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