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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cedar Hill Kitchen + Smokehouse Has Flashes of Greatness

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Cedar Hill's barbecued chicken, brined and smoked over white oak. - MELISSA BARNES
  • Melissa Barnes
  • Cedar Hill's barbecued chicken, brined and smoked over white oak.

West Coast barbecue, almost any Southerner/Texan/Missouran/carnivore will tell you, is not known for its excellence. But lord, do we keep trying. San Francisco's BBQ boom -- I can count nine restaurants and food trucks in the past 18 months -- has brought in a couple of promising newcomers. One of them, Cedar Hill Kitchen and Smokehouse, is the subject of this week's full-length restaurant review.

Jon Rietz and Emily Lai opened the Marina restaurant after working together at Memphis Minnie's, arguably the city's most polished barbecue stop. Rietz, a Texas native, is smoking a variety of meats Texas-style over white oak: brisket, ribs, chicken, pulled pork. The restaurant is frustratingly uneven -- especially when it comes to its brisket, which by rights should be the restaurant's focal point -- but his pulled pork is often fantastic and his barbecued chicken, downright awesome. I'm hoping that, as with the best pit masters, time only improves Rietz's barbecue.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Stag Dining Group: Not Quite Underground, But Still a Feast

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Scenes from Stag Dining Group's last semi-clandestine dinner. - COURTESY OF JULIE MICHELLE
  • Courtesy of Julie Michelle
  • Scenes from Stag Dining Group's last semi-clandestine dinner.

The underground dining movement of the last decade, whose fiercest proponents claimed would "kill the restaurant," has either matured or been thrashed into shape, depending on who you ask. Stag Dining Group, the subject of this week's full-length restaurant review in the Weekly, has turned the underground dinner into a successful business, complete with corporate partnerships, liability insurance, and the right permits. But as I discovered when I went to a recent clandestine dinner at the Pacific Rod & Game Club, they've retained something essential from that movement: the ability to stage an event.

Stag Dining Group's two chefs, Jordan Grosser and Ted Fleury, who've worked at restaurants like Campton Place, Winterland, and Alembic (where Fleury is still chef), cooked more rustic fare at the dinner than at their restaurants. But it had a level of polish I didn't often encounter during the heyday of the secret supper. And no communal table at a restaurant can bring strangers together like an afternoon spent shooting skeet, drinking a lot of rosé, and gorging yourselves on fresh asparagus and grilled quail.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Dishcrawl Presents A Sumptious Saunter Through Bayview

Posted By on Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 9:30 AM

An item you just might eat on this Bayview Dishcrawl
  • An item you just might eat on this Bayview Dishcrawl

What: A secretive stumble through the culinary delights of Bayview put on by purveyors of fine food walks, Dishcrawl SF.

Where: A bevy of eateries in the Bayview neighborhood.

When: Tuesday, April 24th, 6:30pm

Cost: 29 dollars for eats at four restaurants and an introductory cocktail hour hosted by 5800 Third.

The Rundown: Even two years ago,the  restaurant savvy steered clear of the Bayview. Today, though,  this sprawling patch of San Francisco is home to many undiscovered culinary gems. Dishcrawl is hoping to expand S.F.'s minds, and tum-tums, by hosting a gastronomic meander through the still slightly tough streets of Bayview. Participants will stumble between four different restaurants, sampling each's signature dish, with the added bonus of meet-and-greets with owners and chefs alike. Exact specifics are being kept under wraps for now, but keep an eye on Dishcrawl's Twitter feed (@DishcrawlSF) for  hints. For those curious about the event but worried about diet restrictions, make sure to shoot an email to the Dishcrawl crew and let them know your concerns.

                                                   Noah Sanders tweets at @sandersnoah.
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ice Cream Bar Is an Adult-Friendly Soda Fountain

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 9:21 AM

An Ice Cream Bar soda jerk, and the mammoth pistachio milkshake (that's the one on the right). - LARA HATA
  • Lara Hata
  • An Ice Cream Bar soda jerk, and the mammoth pistachio milkshake (that's the one on the right).


And there are plenty of kids hanging around the scoops at Cole Valley's Ice Cream Bar -- the subject of this week's full-length restaurant review. But the space, a moody reconstruction of a Deco-era soda fountain, complete with 1930s fountain in back, feels like adult territory, especially after dinner time. Owner Juliet Pries and bartender Russell Davis are resuscitating an older notion of what a soda fountain is: a place where Prohibition-idled bartenders took to shaking up cream and eggs, where the fizzy drinks were once spiked with medicinal tonics such as cocaine and morphine, and where the sodas were made with a very adult level of attention to flavor.

Like the pre-Prohibition cocktails that SF's craft bartenders are reviving, the Ice Cream Bar's neo-fountain sodas are served up with an obsessive detail that borders on the ridiculous. But they can also be -- in the case of this pistachio milkshake, for example, made with imported pistachio syrup and served with a sour-cherry froth on top -- ridiculously good.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sachio Kojima: Pretty Much the Best Thing About Hecho

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 8:11 AM

Sachio Kojima in action at Hecho. - MELISSA BARNES
  • Melissa Barnes
  • Sachio Kojima in action at Hecho.

You know how you can be beset with a feverish curiosity about a place and still can't bring yourself to go there? Exhibit one: the Audium. Exhibit two: Hecho, Joseph Manzare's year-old sushi and tequila restaurant. 


I'd been trying to piece together in my head how sushi and tequila would pair with one another long before the downtown restaurant opened, but, well, you know. It took the return of legendary sushi chef Sachio Kojima (of Kabuto fame) to San Francisco two months ago to lure me to the restaurant, the subject of this week's full-length restaurant review in the Weekly.

Kojima's an amazing sushi chef to watch, perhaps the quickest I've ever seen, but at Hecho he can get so busy that it's hard to interact with him at the sushi bar. (And why else would you be sitting at the sushi bar? Wait, where else would you even want to sit at a sushi restaurant?) My second meal there, seated 10 feet away from both a mariachi band and a mob of margarita-soused tourists, counts as the most bizarre meal I've eaten this year, compounded by the fact that sushi and tequila turn out to go together as well as I had imagined. Which is to say, not at all.

If you do make a pilgrimage to Hecho to sit at Kojima's bar, I'd have one guideline: Only order what the master makes himself. That covers drinks as well as dinner.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bouche Has All the Skills It Needs, Except Menu Editing

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 at 7:50 AM

Bouche's cured salmon with poached egg. - LARA HATA
  • Lara Hata
  • Bouche's cured salmon with poached egg.


His dishes, though, could be divided into the rich and the strange. A dish doesn't come together for one of two reasons: There are flaws in conception and flaws in execution. Usually, it's a case of the kitchen not being able to execute a good idea properly. At Bouche, it was a case of technically precise food with odd flavor or textural combinations. Borzée's best dishes forgo weird contrasts and aim for opulence: chestnut soup with bacon and salsify chips, slow-roasted lamb shoulder with onion-almond jam. Some young chefs need to improve their technique; Borzée simply needs a good editor.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

State Bird Provisions' Plates May Be Tiny, But They're Mighty Exciting

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2012 at 7:35 AM

One of the carts rolling around State Bird Provisions. - LARA HATA
  • Lara Hata
  • One of the carts rolling around State Bird Provisions.

Considering the shrinking of the entrée that has taken place over the past two decades, the American dim sum that Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski are serving at State Bird Provisions -- the subject of this week's full-length restaurant review in the paper -- seems inevitable. Especially in a city where many of us yum cha as often as we do brunch.

The surprise of the two-month-old restaurant is that the dim sum format -- which still isn't kink-free, making you better appreciate the service at Yank Sing and Koi Palace -- isn't the most entrancing thing about the restaurant. Brioza and Krasinski's cooking is. 


The two chefs (he handles savory, she sweet) are combining improbable flavors -- potato chips with orange-scented steelhead roe and horseradish crème fraîche, chocolate-black-sesame crunch with mandarin jam -- so thoughtfully that it's clear they've choreographed how each bite evolves in the mouth. As a restaurant, State Bird Provisions is still wobbly. As chefs, though, Brioza and Krasinski are already performing acrobatic feats.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

i-Skewers Actually Specializes in Dumplings and Grilled Vegetables

Posted By on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Boiled dumplings from i-Skewers. - MELISSA BARNES
  • Melissa Barnes
  • Boiled dumplings from i-Skewers.

Why would you go to a restaurant named i-Skewers? How can you not check out a restaurant named i-Skewers? I asked myself that not a few times before finally stopping in this new Northern Chinese restaurant in the Sunset. I ended up writing this week's full-length restaurant review about the place.


It's a funny little restaurant, where half of the dining room has been turned into a dumpling-production kitchen, the guests' iPhones are the only i-Things in sight, and the meat skewers turn out to be the only part of the menu not worth ordering from. (One more warning: Don't order the grilled "sliced bread," aka toast, either.) 

But i-Skewers' boiled dumplings -- which you can also order pan-fried -- are often flavorful and plump with juice. The restaurant's grilled vegetables, covered in tiny cumin seeds and chiles, are unlike any I've eaten at other northern Chinese restaurants. And you can feast on an order of dumplings and a-choy for $10.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Haven: New California Cuisine Gets Super-Sized

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Haven's baked California with avocado fluff. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Haven's baked California with avocado fluff.

I've been a restaurant critic for more than a decade now, and I can't say I've ever had the chance to review the same chef twice in one year -- at two different restaurants. In fact, I probably would have avoided it if the chef hadn't been Kim Alter, whose food I enjoyed so much when she was cooking at Plate Shop. Alter's now at Haven, the subject of this week's full-length restaurant review in the Weekly and Daniel Patterson's new Jack London Square restaurant. 


Haven's food takes many of the characteristics of the New California Cuisine of Coi or Commis -- plates that look as if they've been gathered up from the forest floor, flavor combinations designed to surprise rather than comfort, and lots of playing around with texture -- and super-sizes them. On one of my visits, several friends and I ordered an appetizer and an entree to ourselves, and we were overwhelmed by food -- these are plates designed to share. More importantly, it was interesting to see Alter's food evolve so much in one year, growing richer, bolder, and, for all its grace notes and twists, more approachable. Alter's a good fit for Haven, and Haven is a good fit for Oakland.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Caldos, Sopas, and Pozoles: What to Eat in the Mission This Winter

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 2:20 PM

Methinks El Delfin's caldo de res put on lipstick and had its hair done before this photo shoot, but you get the idea. - LARA HATA
  • Lara Hata
  • Methinks El Delfin's caldo de res put on lipstick and had its hair done before this photo shoot, but you get the idea.

I had a whole seasonal angle in mind for this week's full-length restaurant review of Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan soups in the Mission. And then, well ... just look out the window. You'll just have to eat soup for the love of it, not its chill-dispelling effects. 


The neighborhood is rich with options. There are pozoles ruddy with chiles and spiked with cilantro and lime, as well as caldos with deep, dark broths and lightly poached vegetables. You may have to set your cell phone's calendar to remind you that Tuesday is sopa de albondigas day at SanJalisco, or that Sunday is the day to find menudo and pozole at Gallardos and El Delfin. Over the course of a few months of eating, I've probably tasted two dozen of the Mission's soups -- and then picked four of my favorites to write about.

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