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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rachael Does SF (Again): Is There a Rachael Ray Bump?

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2009 at 12:58 PM

Can this woman solve SF's restaurant downturn?
Last week the popular Rachael Ray visited SF on her Food Network show Rachael Ray's Vacation  -- whose intro makes us giggle, as this show is explained as a way for Rachael to "catch her breath"  between working on "30 Minute Meals, the magazine, the shows, the books, my family" -- as if filming another show isn't, well, work! Rachael's been here several times before, with the the no-longer-in-production $40 a Day, Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels, and a previous Rachael's Vacation, which covered Berkeley, Mill Valley, and Sausalito.  

This time she introduced San Francisco to her husband John, who hadn't been here in 20 years. She wanted to show him everything, from "the exotic Chinatown and counter-culture Haight-Ashbury to up-and-coming areas like SOMA and Cow Hollow." (I guess you could say Cow Hollow was up-and-coming in the '60s. Maybe it's up-and-coming again.) Our favorite Rachaelism: "Re-gentrification is really big in San Francisco", which would explain the Cow Hollow comment: gentrifying an area that's been gentrified before.

We were, on the whole, impressed with her picks -- a mixture of old and new, high and low, and a variety of neighborhoods. We'd send people to Tartine for the baked goods, too -- that gougere looked good enough to eat! -- or SPQR for the trombetti with Romanesco broccoli and ricotta salata, or the canelloni stuffed with sausage, kale, and pecorino. SFoodie called around to see if any of Rachael's picks were experiencing a Rachael Ray bump, either in number of clientele, customers mentioning they'd seen the show, or ordering dishes Rachael highlighted.

At Mama's: "We definitely have a lot of new customers who mention the show. We didn't even know it was on! And, yes, we're selling a lot of the apple pain dore and crab benedict." The elegant Spruce's customers are playing it cool. They told us nobody's mentioned Ms. Ray, and the branzino with tabouli salad that John and Rachael both ordered (oddly, we thought -- isn't it more fun to try different stuff and share?) is no longer on the menu. At Universal Cafe, too, the daily-changing menu might not feature the minestrone, grilled flatbread with potatoes, spinach, and pesto, salmon hash, or country-style pork chops that Rachael featured. Nobody'd mentioned the show there, either. A manager at Cha Cha Cha, (which might not have made my shortlist, but what the hell), says he's noticed more big parties coming in. "And everyone always orders the sangria!"

At Shanghai 1930: "Yes, we have noticed a slight bump in reservations." When asked if the dragonwell shrimp, Peking duck, and firecracker chicken were experiencing record numbers, we were told, "I've noticed a lot of Peking duck -- but then, Peking duck and firecracker chicken are among our most popular dishes anyway." Mamacita was cited for its chilaquiles and pomegranate margaritas.

The one place Rachael visited that we haven't been to is Ottimista Enoteca, "in the funky Cow Hollow neighborhood" -- the aforementioned funk must be due to the exhaust from the BMWs -- for a little late-night snacking. Was it a Freudian slip -- or just TMI -- that led Rachael to offer to take John "around the world on cheese"?

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Meredith Brody


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