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Monday’s Neighborhood: Dogpatch, San Francisco

Last week we covered the ballpark district around San Francisco’s AT&T Park, where the baseball crowds, diners enjoying some of the city’s premier restaurants, start-up venture workers who occupy slivers of renovated warehouses with no heat, and computer programmers who fill airy loft office spaces mingle together for one of the country’s most dynamic neighborhoods of the present day.

Of course, what happens when the renovated neighborhood starts becoming too renovated, and drives those previously attractive rent prices up and space becomes a premium?

Piccino

The same exact discover then renovate then become the latest “it” neighborhood cycle continues. That certainly is the case as you venture south on the MUNI 3rd Street street car line, leaving AT&T Park, traveling through the UCSF Mission Bay Campus’ new, shimmering buildings that make gritty China Basin’s old maritime based economy a distant, watery memory, and arrive in the Dogpatch.

Whether the Dogpatch becomes the “next” SoMa, influenced heavily by its neighboring tech-savvy neighborhood, or the Mission, its neighboring diverse and culturally focused neighborhood, remains to be seen. The Dogpatch is sandwiched between Potrero Hill and the I 280 viaduct to the west and the waterfront and its maritime warehouses to the east. While the east and west boundaries are very defined, it’s hard to say exactly where the Dogpatch starts and ends to the north and south. My estimate would be 18th St. to the north and Cesar Chavez St. to the south, roughly 10 blocks. Don’t call yours truly the official city zoning planner, though.

Mr. and Mrs Miscellaneous

For such a small neighborhood, such lavish attention has been given to this latest neighborhood in vogue for San Francisco. Of course that would mostly be for its startling wealth of restaurants, food shops, and bars, being a neighborhood not much larger than perhaps a pirate’s eye patch.All discussions with dining in the Dogpatch begin and end with the restaurant that put the neighborhood on the city’s food map: Piccino. Piccino’s sunny space and equally sunny personality perfectly accent the Italian by way of California cuisine. Though its previous exceptional chef Rachel Sillcocks has moved on to equally impressive things next door in the Mission at Range (a little bit like the Piccino of the Mission, with a more intimate atmosphere and less Italy on the menu), Piccino hasn’t missed any steps behind the leadership of owners Sher Rogat and Margherita Stewart Sagan.

The restaurant resides in a bright yellow Victorian home, sharing a next door space with an Italy and France focused wine shop and bar, Dig, and the clothing boutique, MAC. I’ve enjoyed several meals at the open kitchen’s bar seating and in the handsome, light filled dining room that often serves as a de facto lunchtime meeting space for the city’s culture crowds.

Always start at Piccino with the farro based salad, topped with a seductive almond-citrus accented gremolata, presently joined by broccoli di ciccio. Pizzas are terrific, slightly doughier than Neopolitan in style, and sometimes a touch too spare with ingredients. The “Ortica”  presents a lovely mix of wild nettle, summer squash, mozzarella di bufala, and a sprinkling of oregano. Don’t dare to pass up the signature semolina gnoccho with hen of the wood mushrooms, changing your view of all gummy and heavy gnoccho/gnocchi dishes beforehand. The same for the terrific beef and pork polpettes (miniature meatballs) with crushed tomatoes that actually taste of real, vivid tomato.

Semolina Gnocco at Piccino

Start your day across 22nd St. from Piccino with beignets, french toast, huevos rancheros at the Just For You Cafe, the local restaurant à la Seinfeld, if George and Jerry were passionate about food.

Around the corner on 22nd St. is Piccino’s Cafe, a blink and you’ll miss it nook that serves Sightglass espresso on some of the most impressive clay ceramic work I’ve ever seen. Good luck carrying the espresso on the dish for more than four feet. Pastries by Piccino are hit or miss here. I’ve had excellent chocolate chip-chocolate-espresso cookies and recently nearly broke my teeth on a brick hard salted caramel-chocolate sandwich cookie that must have been stale or left in the freezer for a week and never thawed. The commute crowds swarm to the cafe at peak hours from the nearby 22nd Street Cal Train station.

Sightglass espresso at Piccino’s Cafe. Note the wonderful clay ceramic serving set.

Speaking of dessert, you want chocolate I hear? The Dogpatch is the Brussels of SF, full of chocolatiers lured by the space and low rent to make factories and sell with a retail shop. Dandelion Chocolates has departed from its factory here, moving to new, spruced up digs on the red hot stretch of Valencia Street in the Mission. There, it forms a potent 1-2 dessert punch with neighboring Craftsman and Wolves that will defeat any diet.

Next to Piccino’s Cafe is Little Nib, the lab and shop of Michel Recchiuti, arguably the city’s preeminent chocalatiers. Good luck choosing just one chocolate bar or set of truffles here. First and foremost, take home salted caramel chocolate truffles and a sack of a very intriguing, unique take on cocoa powder dusted almonds. Within the month, Recchiuti will open his next door full service restaurant, with more than just chocolate on the menu, The Chocolate Lab. Recchiuti also has a shop in the Ferry Building, a very different neighborhood than the Dogpatch.

Little Nib

The chocolate spree continues nearby on 3rd Street at Poco Dolce, Kathy Wiley’s decade old chocolate kitchen and shop. Her grey sea salt speckled dark chocolate tiles are arguably San Francisco’s most important chocolate creation. Don’t stop there, continue with a salted caramel toffee, an espresso toffee, and the Mayan chile single origin bar (from experience, these are terrific Christmas gifts…)

Rumor has it that Willy Wonka might have a factory in the Dogpatch too.

I’m not able to confirm those rumors, but let’s just say that Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, anchoring the center intersection of the Dogpatch at 3rd St. and 22nd St., is the type of a ice cream shop-bakery that could have inspired Roald Dahl. Ian Flores and Annabelle Topacio used to be high end restaurant pastry chefs, and their visionary flavors for cookies and primarily the ice creams, reflect their training and creativity. Whether the ice cream quality is better than competitors Bi-Rite and Humphry Slocombe is a debate that will never end in this always chilly city with an abnormal love for ice cream.

Inside Mr. and Mrs Miscellaneous

I’ve never been a fan of the quiet, zen-like space that doesn’t boast much of a vibe. Fortunately, the sweets cut through the silence and send you back to 3rd Street yearning you sampled every one of the dozen ice cream flavors and trio of cookies. This time of year, you most likely want to know who makes San Francisco’s premier pumpkin ice cream. The answer would be the version here, boasting triumphant acorn squash and clove notes. The chicory coffee flavor here made me forget the bland, famous version at New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde, and do seek out the herb forward flavors, such as basil or lemongrass-ginger.

Oh, and the caramel with sea salt certainly gives my beloved version at Bi-Rite a run for its money. Now that you’ve cooled off with the ice cream, grab the sensational peanut brittle cookie and an “Everything but…Cookie” cookie that brings everything in the pantry together, from coconut and cacao nibs to white and dark chocolate chips, and presents a formidable cookie that is truly exquisite pastry art.

Dogpatch Saloon

Across from Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous (the last time I’m spelling that) is Serpentine, an excellent, sleek lunch and dinner destination from the folks behind one of the city’s original new age California meets the World bistros, Slow Club. The burger and cocktails get the headlines at Serpentine, but this is no two note restaurant whatsoever.  Think Indian spiced duck leg with turmeric polenta and pan seared chicken livers with fenugreek spice and Thai bird chili, with a “Shiso Sour,” combining Great King Scotch, egg white, St. George Absinthe, shiso leaves, lime, and simple syrup.

Then across 3rd Street from Serpentine resides the Dogpatch Saloon, an essential watering hole that still hasn’t lost character despite the neighborhood’s emergence. It reminds you that the Dogpatch even existed back in the Gold Rush days, when San Francisco’s port focused economy has an accompanying boom, and the workers filled this area.

South along 3rd Street is Hard Knox, a city favorite for no frills Southern cuisine, in particular the fried chicken, and the chance to sample braised oxtails. North along 3rd Street you’ll find Gilberth’s, a Pan-Latin Meets Modern California restaurant garnering mostly generous reviews from the city’s critics, at least for its food. Quinoa crusted fried alligator cakes, empanadas, a lamb and chorizo burger with gruyere, and the signature roasted chicken are the must-orders.

The Ramp, what a setting

Walk off those empanadas at the beautiful green space for the neighborhood, Esprit Park, at Minnesota and 20th St. Then continue munching at the duo of lunch spots from Gilberth and Julia Cab, the Gilberth’s ownership husband and wife team (both opened before Gilberth). Grab a freshly roasted meet sandwich at Oralia’s Cafe on 3rd and pupusas at their 2oth St. Mexican-Salvadorean fast casual restaurant, The New Spot.

Over on Illinois St., the thoroughfare between 3rd St. and the waterfront, sample the constantly changing, innovative sandwich art at The Kitchenette, one of the country’s pioneering, creative culinary enterprises serving out of a loading dock with chef-owners who worked at some of the city’s finest kitchens. The views are…nice? It is waterfront after all. The Kitchenette was one of the originals to open a few years ago, at the peak of the food truck-pop up-cart period. The chickpea crusted fried chicken sandwich with cilantro and cardamom honey is just as rewarding now.

Nearby on Illinois St. is Olivier’s Butchery, one of San Francisco’s leading butchers and sausage makers.
O.k., now we’re thirsty. The Retox Lounge on 20th is an intriguing semi-dive bar option. For cocktails, Serpentine is the only show in town, and not a bad option whatsoever. If it’s a nice day, grab a Speakeasy Prohibition Ale and one of the many patio tables at one of the city’s best-kept secrets, The Ramp. It’s a dive, it’s a local, and it seems like a tourist trap, but all in all, it’s a quintessential slice of San Francisco drinking by night and relaxing in the sun or fog on the Bay by daytime. Dungeness crab melts, burgers, and fresh fish specials are a step above normal pub grub. For a perfect Giants game pre-game spot without the crowds and with ample atmosphere, this is the spot. Feel free to arrive by kayak.

Dogpatch Wine Works

And strangely, you’re in the midst of the Wine Country here in…the Dogpatch? Yes, one of the city’s pioneering urban wineries, Dogpatch Wine Works, stomps its grapes, ages its barrels, and serves in the tasting room on 3rd St., near 22nd St. The best bottle being poured currently is the 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. You can also sample other wineries who used the Dogpatch Wineworks’ production facility, including Jazz Cellars and Séamus Vineyards. Across 3rd St. is the chic Yield Wine Bar, providing a great contrast of the difference between the glamour of enjoying wine and cheese sitting in lush couches and the industrial nature of making the wine.

No, the grapes aren’t grown on the roof of Dogpatch Wine Works or along the waterfront. They come from the real Wine Country– Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Napa Valley, Sonoma County…

All of this in such a compact neighborhood? Absolutely. The Dogpatch exemplifies how a neighborhood stays true to character for centuries, but is always open to new and exciting evolution, in particular with restaurants. As always, the crowds then come in to eat and the press goes crazy about the next, big thing in San Francisco.

What’s next? Bayview/Hunter’s Point?

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