How does one create a restaurant that is green and sustainable on every level and even helps reduce our carbon footprint? It only seems natural that such an ambitious movement should start in San Francisco with a new breed of restaurant called The Perennial. From there we move from the future to an oasis in the Tenderloin and a true shrine to gin. Meet Whitechapel and be transported to a Victorian-era distillery inside an abandoned London Underground station.
After two years in the making The Perennial opened earlier this year in the bustling Mid-Market corridor at 59 9th Street. Owners Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz (Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth) have embraced the lofty goal of creating a restaurant that has minimal impact on the planet, adheres to sustainable practices for every component of food and beverage service—including sourcing meats and produce from growers who engage in carbon farming—to create a platform for others to follow that could ultimately reverse climate change. A 2,000 square-foot aquaponic greenhouse is underway in the East Bay that will provide the restaurant with most of its produce.
Photo by Alanna Hale
The 105-seat industrial space was designed by master woodworker Paul Discoe (Ippuku, Greens) and features many reclaimed elements such as the two long slabs of Douglas Fir that make up the L-shaped bar and the woven redwood ceiling tiles from a tunnel in Marin County. In the dining room a rug made of 100 percent recycled fibers lies beneath a sea of poplar chairs and cypress tables with views of the expansive open kitchen. Head chef Chris Kiyuna (Mission Chinese, Noma in Copenhagen) has created a “progressive agrarian” menu and has shifted the focus of meats and other proteins to more the role of accompaniment. Start off with the delicious Kernza—a new perennial grain that counteracts climate change—bread with house-made butter and lamb ciccioli with pickles. Perhaps the most emblematic dish is the potato confit with clams, aquaponic radishes and their greens and a flavorful bagna cauda made with the clam’s generally unused abductor mussels. The Perennial is open for dinner Monday through Saturday.
Photo by Helynn Ospina
Owners Martin Gate (Smuggler’s Cove) and John Park (Novela) wish to transport gin and spirit lovers to a Victorian-era distillery. The stunning interior has a barrel-vaulted ceiling that feels like a London tube station. To the right of the long bar are crimson banquettes that provide cozy seating and marble-topped tables. Toward the back is the Gin Palace with its own bar and ornate wallpaper in the style of the public houses in the 1820s that created different brands of gin. All said Whitechapel has the largest collection of gin in North America. Go early before the crowds arrive and ask for a brief and fun education and tasting. There are over 100 cocktails showcasing the history of gin and the bar regularly offers special classes.
Photo by Kelly Puleio
Inside the kitchen is chef David Murphy (Austin’s Uchi) who has crafted a menu of British, Dutch, and Bangladeshi influences. Start off with the Welsh rarebit served over pumpernickel with tickler cheddar and beetroot chutney or the steak and oyster pie with confit carrots and royal trumpets. If you are with friends and hungry go big and order the Haunch and Flagon, a 36-ounce dry-aged tomahawk steak with Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and blackberry. Whitechapel is open daily for dinner.
Photo by Kelly Puleio
Finding real Spanish cuisine in SF has always proved challenging. While there are several very good “Spanish-inspired” restaurants they typically do not embrace many of the classic and beloved dishes one finds while traveling through the regions of the Iberian Peninsula. Allow me to introduce you to Bellota (refers to the acorn diet of the “pata negra” pigs) a stunning new project from The Absinthe Restaurant Group. From there we will explore MOMA’s In Situ where chef Cory Lee (Benu, Monsieur Benjamin) painstakingly recreates famous chef dishes from around the globe.
After three years of planning, research and design Bellota is now open in a historic building located at 888 Brannan Street in SOMA. The 170-seat, 5400 square foot space was designed by Sagan Piechota Architecture and features a level of design detail not seen in many restaurants. Upon entering guests are greeted by a massive glass wall displaying dozens of the highly prized Jamón Ibéricos as well as 2,500 bottles of Spanish wine. The bar and main dining room have tabletops and counters crafted from California bay laurel with Costa Brava blue leather chairs and booths. Moorish details abound throughout in the form of saffron-colored, tufted leather walls, stencils and brass table lamps.
Photo by Kelly Puleio
The best place to catch all the action is at the bar surrounding the open kitchen with its wood-burning oven, open-hearth grill and custom Hestan 12-burner range. Executive chef Ryan McIlwraith (he was opening chef at Coqueta and has worked with Gordon Ramsay and Jose Andrés) offers diners a multi-regional tour of the Iberian Peninsula. Start off with Spain’s cocktail of choice, the “gin tonic,” and the pan con tomate on Spanish-style ciabatta. There are a variety of cold and hot tapas to share. The perfectly creamy clam and sea urchin croquetas are a must order as well as the Xato, a delicate Basque dish with poached sablefish, trout roe, orange and romesco. While all of the paellas are fantastic—and precisely cooked to order—two dishes from the wood-fired hearth that stand out are the cordero or slow-roasted, Moorish-spiced lamb with flatbread, cherry salsa and ember-roasted, marinated eggplant and the classic Asturian dish known as La Fabada. The latter—now popular all over Spain and rarely seen in the States—is a stew of Astorga white beans with chorizo, morcilla, pork belly, grilled pulpo and charred cabbage. Bellota is open for dinner Monday through Saturday.
The recently renovated Museum of Modern Art has a new restaurant led by chef Corey Lee. It’s more of an art installation than an actual restaurant, serving guests iconic dishes from a cadre of famous chefs from around the world. The talent represented is staggering and includes the likes of Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se), Hisato Nakahigashi (Miyamasou, Japan), René Redzepi (Noma, Copenhagen), Juan Mari and Elena Arzak (Arzak, Spain), Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana, Italy), Wylie Dufresne (wd~50, Alder in NYC) and locals like Alice Waters (Chez Panisse) and David Kinch (Manresa, The Bywater).
Photo by James Stolich
Given the complexity and disparity of the dishes this could be a challenging restaurant for diners were it not inside an art museum. It is a rare intellectual opportunity to try so many creative international dishes without stepping onto a plane. The kitchen is still ramping up so some countries such as Spain are not yet fully realized but will appear on the menu in the months to come. Perhaps the most beautiful and emblematic dish of the moment is The Forest. Created by Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco for his restaurant Mirazur in Menton, France the dish is homage to mushrooms and all things with an earthy texture. A bounty of wild mushrooms is served over a quinoa risotto with parsley “moss” and soft-boiled potatoes. In Situ is open daily from 11am until 4pm.
There is never a shortage of new restaurant openings—and closures for that matter—in our vibrant and ever-changing city. Who would think that some of the most expensive and pristine sushi would be found inside an unremarkable storefront in SOMA, or that some of the best and most authentically prepared Italian food can be found inside a hotel that caters to tourists?
The Theater District has an exciting new Italian restaurant inside the Marker Hotel at 501 Geary Street. For nearly 18 years the iconic space was home to Grand Café and more recently the short-lived BDK/Hotel Monaco. The new concept comes from the restaurant-consulting firm the Puccini Group along with a freshly renovated interior with bright white walls, leather banquettes and an art installation from Amos Goldbaum featuring a series of large, landscape line drawings focused on the city skyline and the Tenderloin.
Photo by Patrick Chin
Executive chef Kevin Scott (Big 4, Scala's, Bar Jules) is serving some of the best Italian food in the city. His menu focuses on refined yet rustic dishes of small plates, pastas, pizzas and several family-style entrees. Start off with the butter beans with goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and breadcrumbs. The tomato base of this dish goes extremely well with the Venetian style meatballs so be sure to order the two together. The eggplant caponata is another flavorful small dish suitable for sharing and comes with perfectly grilled ciabatta. All of the pastas are made in-house and are cooked very al dente, something unheard of a few years ago in a restaurant that caters to tourists and locals alike. The parpadelle with a simple sauce of tomato, butter and Parmesan is ethereal and will make even a native Italian swoon with joy.
Photo by Patrick Chin
Another must-order dish for the table is the fritto misto with calamari, rock shrimp, fennel, lemon and Calabrian chili oil. As for entrees indulge in the iron skillet bone-in rib eye with crispy potatoes and King trumpets, all heavily inflected with the scent of rosemary. Be sure to try one or two specialty cocktails from beverage director Cynthia Tran. Tratto is open seven days a week for breakfast, dinner and weekend brunch.
Located in SOMA along the busy and non-descript Townsend street corridor across from the Zynga headquarters is a little known, hidden gem that has been serving some of the most pristine sushi in the city for the better part of a year. With just 14 seats around the yellow cedar bar Omakase makes for a very intimate experience. Owner Kash Feng (Live Sushi Bar, Live Sushi Bistro) brought on head chef Jackson Yu (Ukai in Japan, Live Sushi, Ebisu) and consulting chef Masaki Sasaki (previously of Maruya) to create a high-end Edomae-style sushi experience.
There is no set menu. Guests choose between two pricing options of $150 or $200 a person (not including sake pairing). The latter typically includes two appetizers, two pieces sashimi, one yakimono or grilled dish and twelve pieces of nigiri, all personally selected by the chef. Dishes change daily and fish is flown in three times a week from Japan’s Tsukiji Fish Market. Servers dressed in traditional kimonos carefully explain the menu and attentively pour sake into handmade Japanese pewter cups, designed to keep the liquid cool. On any given day guests will have the opportunity to taste rare and often hard-to-procure fish such as live conch with botan ebi or tiny Japanese spiny lobster served with abalone. A nigiri serving might include a piece of barracuda, expertly scored, seared with a blowtorch and served barely warm. Omakase—located at 665 Townsend Street—is open Monday through Saturday for dinner.
Photo by John Storey
It has been seven years since Wolfgang Puck shuttered his iconic restaurant Postrio inside the Prescott Hotel at 545 Post Street. Now rebranded as Hotel Zeppelin the former restaurant—once a frequent destination for celebrity diners and power figures like Sean Penn, Elizabeth Taylor, Willie Brown, David Letterman and the list goes on—has a new lease on life in the form of Rambler. Conceived by the Hat Trick Hospitality team Adam Snyder, Hugo Gamboa, and Andy Wasserman (owners of Sabrosa, Redford, and The Brixton) Rambler carries on the spirit of conviviality and social energy in a sleek and posh redesigned space.
Photos by Kelly Puleio
The architectural overhaul and redesign was carried out by Lori Yeomans (Wayfare Tavern, El Paseo) and features two distinct dining areas—a brasserie and an interior dining room—that can accommodate up to 100 guests. The brasserie has a modern California aesthetic with warm tones, leather seating, textured walls and a large wrap-around bar with views of Wolfgang Puck’s original pizza oven. The dining room has a luxurious vibe with soft gray flannel banquettes, mid century chairs, and a curated collection of vintage photography and lithographs.
Executive chef Robert Leva (Salt House, Redd, Auberge du Soleil) has crafted what this writer would classify as a Mediterranean farm-to-table menu with brushstrokes and inspiration from France, Spain and Italy.
Start off with one of the signature cocktails and the rotating selection of oysters on the half shell. Or just dive into the decadent clams casino (bacon, celery root, bread crumbs, parsley) or the baked Hammersley oysters with leeks, spinach and tarragon cream. Smaller plates include a very good charred little gem and broccoli salad with an anchovy and manchego vinaigrette and a comforting yet elegant chanterelle toast with a poached egg.
The menu is fairly extensive and has enough to please most palates with the likes of a lamb sausage tagliatelle, ling cod with clams, olives and shelling beans and even a fun braised rabbit pot pie to assuage the chill of winter. An array of pizzas will also be available. The decadent pork chop (pictured above) is not to be missed! Rambler is open daily for lunch and dinner.
Click here to read my interview with the Hat Trick Hospitality Trio in the Nob Hill Gazette.
The holidays have long come and gone and yet as San Franciscans we do like to celebrate continuously, particularly in establishments that have provided us with good memories over the years. Every one can rejoice that long-time SF restaurant Elite Café at 2049 Fillmore St. has reopened. New owners Andy Chun and Jan Wiginton (Schroeder’s, Press Club) quietly took over the 35-year old establishment last March and have been working to update and relaunch one of Fillmore Street’s most popular dining destinations and watering holes.
Photos by John Storey
BCV Architects—who also handled the restoration of historic Schroeder’s—worked on the refresh of the 78-seat art deco space. The mahogany booths that were badly weathered have been spruced up with a fresh blue-gray paint job and the floor has been redone with penny tiles to closer approximate how it was in the 1920s. Some may lament the loss of the original long wooden bar that has been replaced with Carrara marble but these are new times and this is a more modern take on the original. The tabletops are marble and art deco inspired pendants now adorn the 20-foot-high ceiling.
Chef Chris Borges, a New Orleans native, has kept the menu true to Cajun and Creole flavors with NOLA classics such as duck gumbo and crawfish etouffée. A not to miss starter is the fried okra with vadouvan and cucumber raita. Consider pairing with bar manager Kevin Deidrich’s creative spin on a Sazerac made with Cognac. One very nice thing about the menu is that many of the items are available as half orders, enabling diners to try more dishes. One could go for the NOLA sampler and try the stewed okra, the chicken jambalaya and the red beans and rice. A not to miss classic is the Mary’s buttermilk fried chicken with house pickles. And of course there are the deviled eggs! Elite Café is open nightly for dinner and serves brunch on weekends.
Risotto is one of those dishes that–-while not hard to make–-requires the full attention of the cook. Almost all risottos begin the same way with a bit of olive oil or butter, shallots and onions. Once the rice is added the cook adds stock--a bit at a time--stirring frequently, until the dish comes together in perfection after approximately 20-25 minutes. This version is made with very fresh gulf shrimp (or whatever you have that is pristine) and saffron.
Ingredients (serves 6-8):
-2 cups best quality Carnaroli or Arborio rice
-Salt & pepper
-Extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 pound of the most fresh shrimp or prawns available, peeled & deveined
-2 shallots, finely chopped
-1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
-1 quart or about 4.4 cups chicken stock
-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, plus more for finishing
-1 cup of dry white wine
-1/2 tablespoon best quality saffron threads
In a large heavy bottomed sauce pan add the butter plus 2 tablespoons olive oil and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and shallots to the pot and sweat for 30 seconds. Salt the onions and shallots and lower the heat and sweat them for 1 minute (add more oil if they start to brown). Add the rice to the pot and stir through for 20-30 seconds. Add the wine and saffron and turn up the heat to medium high.
Stir the risotto occasionally, every 20-30 seconds, never taking your eyes off of it completely. Once the white wine has mostly evaporated begin adding–-one ladle at a time–-the chicken broth. Keep the risotto moist and just covered with liquid. Continue stirring and ladling until the risotto is cooked through and almost al dente, approximately 16-20 minutes. Add the shrimp to the pot along with a generous knob of butter and Parmigiano Reggiano and cook 2-3 minutes until cooked through, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Serve immediately and grate more cheese over each plate.
This vegetarian pasta dish gains it richness from seasonal mushrooms, particularly during the wet, rainy months. I like to use--when available--a combination of morels, criminis and shiktakes. Go light on the latter as they tend to have a lot of flavor!. The chili flakes and touch of heavy cream help bind the dish perfectly, and without the addition of cheese.
Ingredients (serves 6):
-1 pound fresh tagliatelle or dried fettucine
-1 tablespoon chili flakes
-Extra virgin olive oil
-1.5 cups fresh morels, cut in half and cleaned of any grit
-1 cup shitake mushrooms, cut into small pieces
-1.5 cups crimini mushrooms, cut in half or thirds if large
-1 cup heavy cream
-1 cup English peas if in season (these can be omitted)
In a large heavy saute pan heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the shitakes and sauté for 1 minute, stirring often. Add the criminis and morels and toss through. Once the mushrooms begin to caramelize and brown (if the pan becomes too dry add more oil) lower the heat to medium. Add a bit of salt and the chili flakes. Continue to cook until the mushrooms are a nice golden brown color.
Add the cream to the pan and turn up the heat to high. Cook for 1-2 minutes until slightly thickened. Add the peas and stir though. Drop your pasta into a large pot of salted water. If using fresh tagliatelle cook for 1 minute. If using dry pasta cook according to the package instructions and remove 1.5 minutes prior. Using tongs transfer to the pan with the mushrooms and cream and toss over high heat until well dressed and the pasta sauce has reduced to a thick consistency. If ever your sauce becomes too reduced or tight add a little pasta cooking water. Serve immediately.
This is an ancient Neopolitan recipe I learned about from Chef Mario Batali. It is incredibly easy to make, can be prepared in advance, and absolutely satisfies all lovers of the cocoa bean, particularly those that have a propensity for intense, bitter chocolate. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream and toasted pine nuts.
Ingredients (serves 10-12):
-1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
-2 cups sugar
-12 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated (or buy already in small pieces)
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-5 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted for 30-45 seconds in a hot pan without any oil
In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, flour and sugar. Whisk in a bit of milk slowly to form a paste, then slowly whisk in the remaining milk. Transfer to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.
Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon and stir to blend and to melt the chocolate. Use a ladle to pour the chocolate into 6-ounce ramekins. Allow to cool, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold and ready to serve.
Serve the pudding with unsweetened whipped cream and garnish with a few toasted pine nuts.
Making pizza at home can be a challenge. Many home ovens do not achieve a temperature greater than 450 degrees which means the pizza takes longer to cook and can dry out. Also, to make a good pizza one needs to plan ahead and make the dough 2 days prior to cooking. It might sound like a lot of work but a 48 hour fermentation time makes for the most elastic and easily stretched dough. One can also experiment with special pizza ovens such as the one from Breville. It's electric and can heat its pizza stone to a surface temperature of about 600 degrees.
My recipe below comes from a lot of experimentation and it's based closely on the recipe for dough from Roberta's Pizzeria in Brooklyn, NYC. Watch the video here. The only difference is I use 100% double-zero flour and Roberta's uses a 50/50 combo of double-zero and all purpose. I find that using double-zero makes for more easily stretched dough and better flavor overall.
Ingredients (makes two 10”-12” pies):
•3 cups 00 flour (I like the Antimo Caputo brand, available at many stores)
•8 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
•2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
•1 cup warm water
Pre-heat your oven with a pizza stone inserted to the highest temperature possible. Most home ovens do not get hot enough so it is highly recommended you consider a specialty appliance like the Breville Pizza Maker. It is available at Williams-Sonoma and achieves a surface temperature of 660 degrees, cooking perfect pizza within approximately 6-8 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the warm tap water and the yeast. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the flour. Mix with your hands by moving the dough around the perimeter of the bowl until all the flour is well combined, about 1 minute. If the dough is too wet add more flour and continue mixing. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Knead rested dough for 1-2 minutes on a floured surface. Cut dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. Remove the dough 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.
Alternatively you can cover the dough balls with a dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature. However, if you can leave the dough for up to 1-2 days it will be far easier to stretch.
To make pizza, place each dough ball onto a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds. Place onto a sheet of lightly floured parchment paper. Top and bake. If using the Breville oven carefully remove the parchment paper 2 minutes into the cooking process. This will ensure the paper doesn’t burn and will develop a better crust! If using a conventional oven you can do the same or leave the parchment in the whole time. It will brown but will never burn or catch on fire.
A roast chicken is a dish everyone should know how to prepare well and have in their repertoire. It is often a true test of a restaurant's chops. There are so many different ways to successfully roast a bird. This is the method that has worked consistently for me over the years and never disappoints.
Ingredients (serves 4):
-1 whole, 3-4 pound, free-range chicken
-1 lemon, cut in half
-8 sage leaves
-4 sprigs of thyme
-salt & pepper
-unsalted butter, room temperature
If possible buy the chicken 1-2 days prior to roasting. Pat the bird dry with paper towels if it is a bit wet. Season aggressively on all sides and inside the cavity with salt and pepper. Carefully--with a knife or with your fingers--pull open the breast skin. Stuff the sage leaves and thyme under the skin. Use a butter knife to carefully push the herbs farther up into and under the breast and evenly distribute. Place on a platter, uncovered, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. The time spent in the refrigerator will help dry-cure the bird and will make for the most crispy of skin.
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Take the bird out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (1-2 hours). Rub the room temperature butter all over the bird in generous quantities. Insert the lemon into the cavity and tie the legs together with butcher twine.
Place the bird, breast-side up, into a cast iron pan or similar roasting pan and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Take the pan out and flip the bird over. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Roast for an additional 30-35 minutes. Flip the bird once more and roast another 10-20 minutes or until the bird is nicely browned and has an internal temperature of approximately 150 degrees.
Remove the bird to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
I like serving roasted carrots and potatoes to go with the chicken. Peel the carrots and cut up the potatoes and blanch them in salted, boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and place into the roasting dish under the chicken with a drizzle of olive oil. Each time you flip the bird toss the vegetables to ensure even browning. I some times add raw mushrooms during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
I love serving my bird with bread croutons soaked in all the chicken fat. Buy a good quality Italian batard or ciabatta and cut up into 2 inch pieces. Heat some olive oil in a saute pan over high heat and add the bread. Drizzle with more olive oil. Season the croutons with a bit of coarse salt and sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top. Brown the bread on both sides and set aside.
During the last 15 minutes of roasting your bird add the croutons to the roasting pan and mix well with the juices and vegetables. Make a lot of croutons as your guests will not be able to stop eating them. Trust me.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com