Your Table is Ready

San Francisco

Cocktail of the Week: Pantone 7621 at Trick Dog, San Francisco

With Derby Day tomorrow and Cinco de Mayo right after that, let’s get you a drink already to begin this cocktail- fueled weekend.

You would be forgiven for finding the “Cocktail of the Week” section to be more like the “Beet Cocktail of the Week” recently. After all it was only a few days ago the ode to the Arizona Beet-Yuzu Gimlet was published.  The cocktailian public around the world right now is vehemently protesting: “Seriously Trevor? You may as well do the Manhattan of the Week too!”

Yes, I could. Or a Martini or spring seasonal cocktail of the week, or what not. The finest cocktail I enjoyed in the past week was a masterful “Cocktail à la Louisiane” from Erik Adkins’ extensive Bourbon bar at the new Hard Water along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. So, Bourbon forwards and beet cocktails represent the best of spring’s bounty? Where is the Asparagus Gibson?

Trick Dog's Panetone 7621

Trick Dog’s Panetone 7621

Three years ago, the area of San Francisco far from the tourist circuit where the more edgy Mission evolves into the looser, residential Potrero Hill was a dining desert until the young, gutsy chef Thomas McNaughton opened the barn-burner of San Francisco’s Cal-Ital restaurants, Flour + Water. His bold cuisine vision and execution was, and remains, nothing short of phenomenal. Hence, the lengthy wait times as long as it takes to walk across this city that still have not lessened three years later. Last year, McNaughton opened a more ambitious, seasonal, local driven restaurant Central Kitchen, and the daytime shop/café Salumeria.

The next tenant in the same warehouse building as Central Kitchen and Salumeria has turned the neighborhood and the entire cocktail culture of this fervent cocktail-obsessed city on its side. When Trick Dog opened in February, it was celebrated with cheers, hugs, and kisses almost on par with a Giants World Series parade. (more…)

Plat du Jour: Tuesday April 16, 2013: How Do You Like Your Espresso & Major League Diets

On this spring Tuesday afternoon, we’ll give you an espresso jolt with this excellent and very thorough comparison of “Third Wave” espresso with the classic Italian espresso, courtesy of Erin Meister at Serious Eats.

Yours truly is a classic “Third Wave” coffee drinker, consuming one of these types of espressos each afternoon (or many more than one if away from San Francisco on assignment). Interestingly, my “local” cafe is really an Italian caffé of the sort where if you order an espresso, it’s meant to be a quick one minute shot and you’re out. I often describe this Italian espresso as “watery” and “meager,” so it greatly benefits from a dollop of steamed milk foam as a macchiato. Is the espresso on its really that bland and liquidy? Well, yes it is. It’s not meant to be swirled, sniffed, and examined from all angles like the “Third Wave” espressos.


Is one of the espresso types better?

Absolutely. There is no debate that the “Third Wave” style is the superior product. The depth, the wood, citrus, and herbal notes, complete with its silky structure compared to the Italian’s water– this isn’t even a contest.

However, as the article so beautifully explains, there is a complete difference in the barista’s process, the beans used, and often even the machines that pull the shots and grind the beans. The most glaring reason for the “Third Wave” espresso’s superior body and complete flavor profile is usually because more of the beans are used, creating a much denser shot with a smoother, thicker texture.

It’s an art and a science to pulling espresso shots. For me, there really isn’t a question here of which I prefer, but I know many advocates for both sides. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. If you’re an espresso drinker, you already have a clear preference. (more…)

The New Café: Where Biking and Jogging Meets Coffee

Not long ago, a coffeehouse was, well, just a coffeehouse. Think “Central Perk” from “Friends.” Think about the coffeehouses that dot university towns, with stressed out students sprawled out on couches and fliers covering every inch of the walls.

A coffeehouse was a meeting place and a place for reading. As time went by with the wi-fi generation wanting coffee to go with their Facetime chats or work on their laptops, the coffeehouse became a de-facto anti-social computer lab, the complete opposite of the social epicenter that coffeehouses once were.

Would you like some bike and sugar with your coffee?

Would you like some bike and sugar with your coffee?

What to call a nondescript Starbucks or Peet’s? They are what they are, the same in Topeka or Temecula. They are somewhere in between a coffeehouse and laptop center, where at least half the customers don’t even consume the coffee on the premises.

With the rise of the “Third Wave” coffee movement (a global movement of local, small batch coffee roasters who seek out higher quality beans and often have their own cafés) over the past decade, the actual coffee has been surging in quality. In turn, the idea of a coffeehouse has had both a renaissance and a complete re-imagining. These are the cafés where your barista is both expert and artist, where your precious Ethiopian single origin pour-over arrives ten minutes and five dollars later, and where your espresso’s blend has been sorted with the meticulous care a fine Bordeaux winemaker will do with his grapes.

To accompany the loftier coffee, coffeehouses, including Sightglass and Four Barrel in San Francisco, now are combating the anti-social laptop crowd by not having wi-fi available. Here, it’s about socializing, reading, and of course, the coffee.

Palo Alto, CA's Zombie Runner

Palo Alto, CA’s Zombie Runner

Yet in the past few years, the concept of the coffeehouse has been taking an even more peculiar turn. Forget about the old coffeehouses of couches and tables. Welcome to the generation of where bike shops and running stores co-exist with coffee shops. In many cases, these hybrid shops even roast their own beans. One thing is for certain at these “cycle cafés” and “jogging cafés,” you will be wide awake for that next bike ride or run. (more…)

Restaurants: Commonwealth, San Francisco

Perhaps chronicling an evening at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Restaurant turned me into a giddy eight year old again, but I feel like starting with dessert. No, that’s not because a doughnut is the first image diners see upon arriving at the restaurant on a still very edgy stretch of Mission Street, a street in the heavily gentrified Mission District where no stretch doesn’t boast a majority of businesses with gated windows. It’s true, Commonwealth’s predecessor at the space was the Hunt’s Donut Shop.

Hunt’s wasn’t exactly the new age style of haute doughnut, perfected across the country from Dynamo in San Francisco to Blue Star in Portland to The Doughnut Plant in New York. Hunt’s doughnuts were meant to be consumed, usually under some influence of something. They were not meant to be eaten and savored. You could get a dozen for a dollar. Talk about a good deal for breakfast each morning, future angioplasties unfortunately cost a bit more later.


There were eight doughnut shops in the eight block stretch of Mission Street between 16th and 24th Street back in the early 1990’s, long before the Mission was on any dining radar for those seeking a James Beard award winning restaurant experience. Maybe Hunt’s Quality Donuts was the best of the box of eight?

I haven’t found any evidence of that. I have however learned that Hunt’s was the “epicenter of crime” for this area with no shortage of drug dealer, pimps, and whatever else happened at night. Hunt’s operated 25 hour days apparently. We can infer what we want from that.

Restaurateurs today love being archaeologists when creating new restaurants, discovering sketchy pasts, uncovering atmospheric layers that showed the venue once was a saloon, or a warehouse, or a 19th century mansion, or a 1920’s brothel, or in this case, Hunt’s Quality Donuts. Before Commonwealth took over the property, the venue was a Mexican restaurant with an exterior decor of flashy orange tiles that covered the Hunt’s signage.

The doughnuts have departed, and fortunately, so has the “epicenter of crime” stigma here at the restaurant on Mission, just north of 18th Street. The theme of desserts, however, has not left the building.

Housemase Potato Chips and Malt Vinegar Foam

Housemase Potato Chips and Malt Vinegar Foam

The dessert on my mind is Jason Fox’s interpretation of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, which may or may not have been on Fox’s mind when creating the dish. No meal is complete at Commonwealth without the peanut butter semifreddo, coated with chocolate ganache, and garnished by frozen popcorn. It’s been on the menu since Commonwealth opened in the summer of 2010. It seems to appear on every table, one per person. It’s everything a dessert is supposed to be. You will not share it. (more…)

The Super Crab Bowl: Baltimore and San Francisco Politicians’ Super Bowl Wagers

There is a lot at stake in tomorrow’s Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Obviously, the most important match-up is the one on the field between the Baltimore Ravens and your five time Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers. Then there is the HarBowl element of the Super Bowl, with the game pitting brother against brother, John Harbaugh, the head coach of the Ravens, versus Jim Harbaugh, the head coach of the 49ers.

Intriguing storylines abound. Over a hundred million people worldwide will be tuning in. Beyoncé is performing at halftime. Who knows how many thousands of gallons of jambalaya will be consumed Sunday?


Add another match-up to watch and analyze Sunday: the food wagers between Baltimore and San Francisco’s mayors, and similar bets between the senators of Maryland and California.

Knowing how iconic crabs are to both cities’ cuisines, is it surprising that the blue or red crustacean plays a prominent role in the wagers? (more…)

Bites of The First Half of November

It’s been a few weeks since we savored some of the most special dishes enjoyed each week. Here are some of the bites that stop you in your tracks and make you want to order another round, all based in the San Francisco Bay Area this time around.

Next week we’ll get ready for Thanksgiving, the “Super Bowl” for the food world. Also, we’ll have new reports from Los Angeles and begin the switch to the holiday season, where everything pumpkin becomes everything peppermint.

Beauty’s Bagels, Oakland: Sesame Wood-Fired Bagel with Lox, Salted Cucumber, Capers, Red Onion, Arugula, and Oven-Roasted Tomato Cream Cheese

This new, cute bagel purveyor and much more café in a still edgy part of Oakland boasts an impressive wood-fired oven for their Montréal style bagels, à la St. Viateur and Fairmount (Fairmount is my pick). The smoky nature of the bagel is enhanced when served with just sesame seeds, a perfect contrast the velvet soft ribbons of superb lox. Go for the oven roasted tomato cream cheese for the perfect breakfast and make sure to go for the whole vegetable topping package. (more…)

Restaurants: SPQR, San Francisco

You know a restaurant’s importance in the common vernacular of a city when the initials which make up the restaurant’s name are the medium for learning the abbreviation of one of history’s most important and powerful empires.

I remember visiting a friend from San Francisco studying in Rome  a few years ago. With no knowledge of what “SPQR” stood for in Caesar’s day, he noticed the “SPQR” written at the base of the Julius Caesar statue overlooking the Forum’s ruins, and mentioned how those are the same letters as that restaurant in San Francisco owned by A16 (we had dined at A16 right before he departed for Rome).

Prior to my most recent visit to SPQR, the Pacific Heights, San Francisco, modern Italian restaurant, a fellow diner thought that the “Q” was a “U”, and the restaurant is named “Spur.” No, Spur is a gastropub in Seattle.

SPQR is not only one of the most rollicking dining adventures you will have today in the city of many more than seven hills, but indeed, as what inspired the name of the restaurant, it also stands for “The Senate and People of Rome.”

Before shades of Russell Crowe in Gladiator gear and Kirk Douglas as Spartacus frame your opinion of this restaurant, understand that really the SPQR here could mean Sterling Pastas Quietly Re-Discovered.