About Marcia Gagliardi

Marcia Gagliardi

Marcia Gagliardi is a freelance food writer in San Francisco. She writes a weekly column, Foodie 411 for the SFCVB on their “Taste” site; a monthly gossip column, “The Tablehopper” for The Northside; and regular features for Edible San Francisco. Her first book came out in March 2010: The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion.


Latest Posts by Marcia Gagliardi

Pork Belly, Beef Tartare, Baked Alaska & More During Sonoma Restaurant Week

March 11, 2014 by  

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Pork belly from Belly Left Coast Kitchen in Santa Rosa, just one of the more than 100 restaurants participating in Sonoma County Restaurant Week March 10-16th, 2014, which is roughly an hour north of San Francisco California.

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Beef tartare from Partake by K-J, which will be served during Sonoma County Restaurant Week.

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Trillium chef Jeremy Baumgartner prepares for the opening of the new Mendocino restaurant. Photo courtesy of Trillium Cafe.

Sonoma County Restaurant Week (Monday March 10th through Sunday March 16th): I always feel like I need to announce Restaurant Week with the same voice Oprah used to announce that her audience was flying to Australia in 2010. “And you get a three-course dinner for $19! And, you get a three-course dinner for $29!” I’d shout over the screaming audience. Talk show dreams aside, it’s hard to believe this is the fifth year that Sonoma County celebrates its hardworking restaurateurs with a five-day celebration of all things delicious.

With well over 100 restaurants spanning Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Healdsburg, Petaluma, the coast, and everything in between, this is your chance to hit up some of those restaurants you have been dying to try, but just haven’t been to yet.

New this year: two-course lunch menus for $10, $15, or $20. Three-course dinner menus remain at $19, $29, and $39. I’ll have a full list online, as well as some of my favorite menus, but some of the newcomers you may want to check out include:

  • Palooza Gastropub (8910 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood) is featuring their wedge salad; beef cheeks or chef Chris Hanson’s luxe vegetarian risotto made with Speakeasy lager, mushrooms, and seasonal veggies; and s’mores on a stick, $39. 
  • 38 Degrees North Lounge (100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma): Sonoma Mission Inn’s hot new restaurant serves up roasted beet salad, beef sliders, and crème brûlée, $39. 
  • Belly Left Coast Kitchen (523 Fourth St., Santa Rosa): Love this downtown SR restaurant that’s got a killer pork belly with hoisin and Campfire Stout chocolate mousse, $29. 
  • Red’s Apple Roadhouse (4550 Gravenstein Hwy., Sebastopol): One of my favorite off-the-beaten-path newcomers is doing both lunch ($15, pulled pork sammie or portobello mushroom burger with hand-cut fries and pie) and dinner ($19) featuring their famous fried chicken supper or beer-braised pork belly. 
  • Best Value, Partake by K-J (241 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg): BiteClub is pretty floored by the $29 and $39 dinner menus that include four-plus courses of chef Justin Wangler’s life-altering food with multiple wine pairings. Think oysters with white verjus, smoked loin of lamb, white chocolate panna cotta, beet tartare, and Meyer lemon pudding. Now, keep in mind, each course is just a few luxurious bites rather than a craggy mound of food. But we’d far rather eat well than prodigiously. 

Good news from our neighbors to the north: The Baked Alaska is back.

Granted, we’ve cherry-picked this Mad Men-era dessert (ice cream and sponge cake covered with meringue, baked, and often set alight) from the forthcoming ~TRILLIUM CAFE’S~ menu. But after perusing this new Mendocino restaurant’s menu, it’s indicative of the kind of classic-meets-modern dishes that are emblematic of chef Jeremy Baumgartner’s sensibility.

To wit: This Baked Alaska is an olive oil cake with kumquat meringue and mint ice cream ($9). And as long as we’re thinking dessert first, how about bourbon cream beignets with maple glaze and candied bacon, or a butterscotch pie with caramel and Chantilly cream. At least you’ve been warned to save room.

“We know this is an often overlooked area…We feel strongly that diners who are paying for a Wine Country-caliber meal…in a stunning location deserve not only outstanding food and drink, but…caring service as well,” said restaurant owner Sandra McElroy. Other tempting menu items: spring pea arancini ($12), Dungeness crab strudel with capers and nasturtium ($15), rabbit meatballs and tortelloni with sunchokes ($22), and pork loin and belly with heirloom beans ($26). Also available are several vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items. The restaurant opens officially on Saturday March 15th for lunch and dinner. And of course, dessert. 10390 Kasten Street, Mendocino, California.

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin and top two photo credits Heather Irwin.

Exploring Napa Valley With Food in Mind…

March 10, 2014 by  

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Sometimes you just need to get out of town, and look at that, we have Wine Country right in our backyard with Napa Valley not that far from San Francisco. Winter and early spring are an ideal time to visit: there are fewer crowds and better room rates, and it’s easier to make reservations. So let’s hit the road.

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When exactly was the last time you stayed in downtown Napa? Exactly. Things are a-changin’. Check in to the ~ANDAZ NAPA~, which has an ideal central location, and while it’s a bit on the larger side, the hotel is aiming for boutique style. Go for one of the loft or terrace rooms if the price is right, and ask for a room that faces the back, not First Street (it’ll be quieter). Plan on getting some sleep, because the beds are a pillowy dream. When warm summer temperatures are back, the terrace (complete with fire pits!) will be open for drinks and hanging out.

Book a reservation for dinner at the recently opened ~TORC~ in the former Ubuntu. The handsome, spacious dining room contains 90 seats, with 17 at the bar. I recommend you start with a glass of the Charles de Cazanove Champagne ($16); the Euro-centric wine list is gonna make you thirsty.

Wild boar bolognese with housemade bucatini at Torc.

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The interior of Torc (at the end of the evening).

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Arancini and Ca’ Momi Rosa Frizzante.

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Chef-owner Sean O’Toole (Quince, Cotogna, Bardessono) is one hell of a cook: his menu spans both the inventive and the traditional, ranging from Bengali sweet potato pakoras ($5) with yogurt-truffle dip to an elegant violet artichoke soup ($10). He is definitely rocking an international pantry. The Asian-inspired free-range chicken for two ($41) is a standout (it’s made with a vibrant farce of brioche, cardamom, cumin, clove, Tellicherry, star anise, cubeb pepper, allspice, pork fat, and butter), and it comes with creamy coconut rice. There are also some housemade pastas ($14-$19) you should strongly consider (remember, he has that Quince pedigree). One night we had the wild boar bolognese with bucatini—it was like an Italian molé, with cocoa and orange, and a hit of lime.

Dessert is truly a must. The pastry chef, Elizabeth Gentry, is so very talented; try the citrus-praline tart with lemon curd, caramelized hazelnut sablé, and smoked praline ganache (plus kumquat salt!), while chocolate lovers should get the Manjari chocolate bombe, rich with jasmine (both $9).

If you desire a nightcap, you can head to ~MORIMOTO~ for what is usually a lively scene in the lounge and bar, or enjoy a digestivo or grappa (my pick!) at the small bar inside ~OENOTRI~, conveniently within stumbling distance of the Andaz.

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Rigatoni con coda alla vaccinara (oxtail) at Ca’ Momi.

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The next day, if you’re a biscuit lover, you’ll want to hit up the popular ~NAPA VALLEY BISCUITS~, a Southern diner serving biscuit-y breakfasts that will hold you until dinner (and help soak up any extended wine tastings later in the day). There’s also fried chicken and waffles, or you can go for the Yardbird: fried chicken, bacon, and gravy sandwiched inside a biscuit. Uh-huh.

Another option is to visit the ~OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET~. Start the day at the Ritual Coffee stand, and then take a seat at ~CA’ MOMI~, an enoteca featuring dishes from all over Italy (owners Dario De Conti, Valentina Guolo-Migotto, and Stefano Migotto take the authenticity of their dishes very seriously).

Order the Ca’ Momi Ca’ Rosa Frizzante to go with the flatbread with lardo di Colonnata, a rare treat. In fact, they’ll do all kinds of great wine pairings here, or you can go for a Venetian spritz or an Italian beer (like Baladin!). Piadine (Rimini-style flatbread sandwiches) also rule, especially the Giorgio ($12) with radicchio, prosciutto cotto, and creamy stracchino cheese filling.

Ca’ Momi’s blazing pizza oven cranks out about 20 kinds of pizza, from a classic (and VPN-certified) margherita ($16) to the Momi, with porchetta, taleggio, and caramelized onion ($17). If the carbonara with egg and pancetta isn’t a perfect brunch pizza, I don’t know what is. Plus there are nine kinds of vegetarian pies for those on a healthier tip. All ingredients are organic, and some even come from Ca’ Momi’s own garden for the restaurant.

If you’re in a lunchy mood, the pastas rock, like a northern Italian dish of spatzle allo speck with cream ($16), or the Roman rigatoni ($22) con coda alla vaccinara (with oxtail, pine nuts, and soffritto). Who can say no to gnudi ($16)? I usually can’t. For dessert, get the bigné—cream puffs with a variety of fillings.

~THE THOMAS AT FAGIANI’S~ has a tasty, casual brunch—think corn pancakes, good egg dishes, and a quality Bloody Mary—and if the weather is nice, the rooftop terrace is where you want to be. When tomato season is back, the BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato sandwich) is tops.

From there? Check out wine tasting rooms like Vintner’s Collective, 1313 Main, and Carpe Diem. The Culinary Institute of America is offering new Napa wine education classes at the CIA Wine Studies Annex in the former Copia, listed here. Oh yeah, and there are always the Napa Premium Outlets if you’re in a shopping frame of mind. (Dangerous after wine tasting, btw.)

 

A version of this piece previously ran in my Tablehopping column in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Pork Meets Wine at Charlie Palmer’s Pigs & Pinot

February 14, 2014 by  

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If you haven’t gotten your tickets for Charlie Palmer’s annual Pigs & Pinot in San Francisco CA, time is running short. The event takes place Friday March 21st and Saturday March 22nd.

A sellout each year, this year’s luxe event features chef Palmer and Dry Creek Kitchen’s Dustin Valette, Amanda Freitag (New York’s Empire Diner, multiple TV chef competitions), Bryan Voltaggio (Washington DC’s Volt, and Frederick, Maryland’s Range), Frank Crispo (New York’s Crispo), and Philippe Rispoli (of PB Boulangerie and Bistro on Cape Cod).

Featured winemakers include CIRQ, Domaine Pierre Gelin, Roth, Rochioli, and Pyramid Valley Vineyards.

Events include:
- Taste of Pigs & Pinot, Friday March 21st, 6:30pm-9pm, $175
- Tournament of the Pig, Saturday March 22nd, 10:30am-12:30pm, $125
- Ultimate Pinot Smackdown, Saturday March 22nd, 1pm-3pm, $125

Of course, this isn’t just a ridiculous eat and drink fest; it’s a fundraiser for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, scholarships to the CIA and Sonoma State’s Wine Program, The Healdsburg Education Foundation, Children of Sonoma Vineyard Workers Scholarships, and a whole lot more (including sending a local cheerleading team to the national championships).

Chianti, Italy

February 14, 2014 by  

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Last October, after I finished a week with my father in Rome and visiting family in Calabria, we drove north together in our trusty Meriva.

We were heading to our ultimately separate destinations: he was off toward Padova to visit his friend, Lucio Gomiero of Vignalta, while I was going to be staying for a few nights in Chianti.

Earlier in the year, I was invited by the owners of Il Paluffo to come experience their stunning 15th-century property, and an abridged version of their specialized weeklong program for guests, Toscana Taste and Beauty.

In all my travels around Italy for the past 25 years, I had never visited Chianti, so the invitation was especially compelling for this sangiovese and finocchiona lover.

The Paluffo property is located in a downright dreamy area—full of vineyards and olive groves—in Chianti Colli Fiorentini, in between the tiny villages of Fiano and Lucardo.

The property is truly breathtaking: it includes a medieval tower house, a manor house with gorgeous frescoes from the 17th and 18th centuries (which is where you’ll find four bedrooms that you can stay in), an ancient olive mill, and I loved the creaking doors, terra-cotta floors, vintage key locks, and stone walls—the place has such presence. There are also four apartments you can stay in, good for four to six guests.

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The main house and courtyard at Il Paluffo.

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The bio pool at Il Paluffo

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A welcoming spread of prosciutto, guanciale, olives.

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My dream bedroom in the main house.

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View from my bedroom.

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Aging pecorino at Corzano + Paterno.

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Thought bubble: “Can I have some milk, please?” (At Poggio Antico.)

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Prosciutto at Macelleria Parti.

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The irrepressible Stefano at Osteria dell’Ignorante.

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Coccoli (fried dough) con prosciutto crudo and stracchino at Osteria dell’Ignorante.

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Porcini crespelle at L’Osteria di Casa Chianti.

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The grounds at Paneretta.

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Frescoes at Paneretta.

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A vineyard view at Castello Monsanto (with Tico, of course).

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The grounds at Castello Monsanto (and Tico!).

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Wilma the wonder woman leading a pasta class for Toscana Taste and Beauty.

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Certaldo Vecchio.

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The owners, Liana Stiavelli (whose ancestors owned the property in the 18th century) and her husband, Luca Del Bo, finished painstakingly restoring the Paluffo property in 2010, and I respect the eco-conscious approach they took. They use renewable energy, like solar panels, and rainwater is collected for irrigation.

The bio pool is so unique—it’s a swimming pool filled with natural water instead of chlorinated water, and the surrounding plants filter the water. It’s like an extremely clean pond, and it killed me that I couldn’t hop in—it was the beginning of fall and the stormy weather was just too chilly.

They also have their own beehives on the property, and one rainy afternoon, I was escorted to the hives to visit the bees (and pilfer a bit of honeycomb that we enjoyed later that evening for dessert).

You’ll meet their charming black cat, Ombra (“shadow”), who fittingly slinks around the property, and if you don’t pay attention, you may accidentally discover him like I did when I leaned back into the pillows one evening on the communal couch—he was asleep in between the pillows. We both jumped. And then he hopped into my lap. Meow.

After the long drive north from Calabria (and of course getting lost, Google maps is not infallible), my father and I were tired and hungry (and someone was a little cranky too).

Liana and Luca had a gorgeous spread waiting for us with different kinds of local prosciutto and guanciale, finocchiona (I was blown away with the one they served), green and black olives, a caper spread, pizza from a local pizzamaker, young and aged pecorino, two kinds of marmalade, honey from the property’s beehives, and some wonderful wines (Liana is studying for a sommelier exam, so she can also make some good recommendations on wineries to visit in the area). Now that’s what I call a taste of Toscana.

It was quite the once-in-a-lifetime experience to sleep in my beautiful room, full of antique furnishings, captivating frescoes on every surface (I seriously felt like a contessa in the 1700s), and then to get woken up in the middle of the night with a dramatic lightning show and the loudest thunder just overhead. Crack BOOM! Nothing like a good lightning show in Italy, I swear.

I so enjoyed my view overlooking the courtyard, watching it change with the weather each day, with the fresh air coming through my windows. My bathroom was a few doors down the hall, but I didn’t mind—the massive marble sink basin and shower made me make a mental note for my future dream bathroom (I loved the balance of the modern and the ancient in the décor).

The next morning, after a breakfast of farm-fresh eggs with a chunk of bread (which I drizzled with the spicy Paluffo olive oil, of course), we got my dad off to the train to Padova (ciao Papa!), and then Liana brought me to Corzano + Paterno, a farm and agriturismo known for their Sardinian sheep’s milk cheeses, olive oil, and wine. You don’t find a lot of sheep in the area, so their offering is very unique.

Any guest of the Toscana Taste and Beauty program benefits from a customized experience; when Liana and Luca learned how much I adore cheese and salumi, they made arrangements to take me to truly artisanal places in the area. We had an appointment with the talented cheesemaker, Antonia Ballarin (known as Toni), who walked us through her cheesemaking process.

She does a lot of experimentation, like grappa washes on the cheese, and she told me they use lardo to fill the holes on their Tegola cheese (cool), and one of their well-known pecorino cheeses, Buccia di Rospo (“frog skin”) came about because of a mistake (we love those).

They have quite a range of cheeses, from the creamy Marzolino to a truffled pecorino to the ashy Rocco, made like a goat’s cheese. Their aged (stagionato) pecorino was truly special (and gets spoken for and snapped up by the best restaurants and residents).

It ends up their ricotta is pretty famous in the area, with people coming by around 2:30pm to have it warm and fresh (again, there’s some competition for it). There’s a tasting room where you can enjoy their wine and stellar cheeses, but meeting the vivacious Toni is what made the visit so memorable.

Next stop: the very under-the-radar Poggio Antico. This biodynamic farm raises cows and goats—the owners came from the Veneto about 30 years ago and wanted a change of life. They learned how to make cheese, and now only make raw milk cheeses with a vegetable rennet (based on its name being “Cynara cardunculus,” it’s in the thistle family: a cardoon).

The list of cheeses they produce is extensive, like a goat taleggio, their cow’s milk poggese (which is shaped like Asiago), their caprino fresco, which they learned to make from a Siena native. And then you have this unusual find: mozzarella in Tuscany! Unpasteurized mozzarella, I gotta tell you, it’s the stuff—it was so creamy that it looked like ice cream on my lunch plate later. Even their yogurt was transcendent. There are also a variety of pastas they make from ancient grains—you can pick up some locally made pici to bring home.

A highlight for me was our visit to Macelleria Parti in San Donato in Poggio, a medieval (and walled) city. The second generation is now in charge of this meat shop (founded in 1970). The son, Emiliano, took over in 1989, and he has been making salumi all his life. Literally: there are pictures of him as a young boy in a white coat cutting lardo, I kid you not.

We had a quick appointment for a behind-the-scenes tour of the back room and their production. It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about one of my very favorite salumi, finocchiona, and he let me taste the very tiny but pungent wild fennel seeds they use, crucial. I also learned a funny thing about the name: he said back in the day you would give someone fennel before drinking wine to help hide any wine defects—the term eventually was used to mean “to fool someone” (“infinocchiare”). Gotta love a good etymology lesson while you’re tasting salumi.

The heady smell of their curing room was just beyond, meaty and funky, and I got to taste their famous salame toscano, and an ancient one called bastardo/”mezzone” (it has a little bit of beef mixed in, about 8 percent!), and learned more about their epic lonzino, which is salted, washed, and covered with garlic, black pepper, peperoncino, and nutmeg—you can bet I brought home a big chunk of that one in my bag (had to keep the finocchiona company, you know). The salumi they make here have so much flavor—everything was really juicy and masterfully seasoned. I would drive miles just to be able to go back there again and buy up the entire case—you think I’m kidding?

We had a couple of dinners out that were on different sides of the spectrum, but both were very cozy and comfortable osterie. One rainy night we dined at Osteria dell’Ignorante in Lucardo, and I knew I was going to love the cheeky owner (Stefano Giuliacci) based on the sign on the front door telling people they only serve Tuscan food, so don’t ask for lasagna Bolognese or pasta with pesto. Amen! Priceless. (Be sure to get one of their business cards as well, you won’t be disappointed.)

It was a hearty and rustic meal, one that felt home-cooked and very personal. Totally a Tuscan meal, it tasted of place. Dishes would come out when they were ready, and the vibe was relaxed. Stefano is quite the host. He stuffed us with frittelle di baccalà (salt cod fritters), coccoli (fried dough) con prosciutto crudo and stracchino (one of my favorite fresh cheeses of all time), and we had an unusual pasta of strigoli with a sweeter sauce of figs with prosciutto. And then there’s the kicker: we had donkey with polenta. It was unexpectedly so very good—the tender meat reminded me of brisket, but sweeter. It’s the kind of place where you laugh, drink too much wine, and go home happy with a full belly. Of donkey.

The owner of L’Osteria di Casa Chianti in Fiano offered a different kind of hospitality—less jovial but so very thoughtful and detailed. Our meal had a touch more refinement, with dishes like quail eggs with shavings of the first white truffles, and a carpaccio of lonzino (I love the spice of this salume), with thin slices of porcini, arugula, lettuce, grana, and olive oil. Not a looker, but what a magic combination of flavors. The gnocchi with blue pecorino cheese and fresh figs were ethereal (again, fresh figs in pasta, huh!); the porcini crespelle were a bubbly and cheesy splurge; and of course I had to try their pici in a ragu made with Cinta Senese pork (it’s an ancient breed of Tuscan pig, famous for its white belt).

The owner had the kitchen prepare a tasting menu for us, something I highly recommend so you can taste more dishes. All night, the wine pairings were spot-on, all the way to a beautiful finish of vin santo gelato with crumbled cantuccini mixed in. I was smitten with everything about this place, well, except the high-watt lightbulbs that seared the back of my retina (Italy, what is UP with your bright lights?). And if you’re looking for bistecca alla fiorentina, based on all the steaks I saw on tables, this is a good place to do it—there is quite the grill in the kitchen.

Both osterie were proud to feature pasta made by Wilma of Pasta Fresca (in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa). It ends up she is a very famous local pasta maker who supplies a lot of restaurants around town, and was the very one who was going to teach us how to make pasta one night at Paluffo. It was an inspiring class: we learned so many different types we could actually make (she made it look so easy), and she made sure we all took turns kneading the dough, rolling it, and running it through the pasta machine.

I was so taken with her adorable combination of Italian and English all night—she reminded me of my Aunt Terry, who never quite spoke one or the other after living in the U.S. after 30 years. Wilma is a one-woman army, and showed us how to make garganelli, ravioli, farfalle, tortellini, little stuffed “pochettes,” and pasta alla chitarra, among other shapes. Of course at the end our class of seven got to enjoy the fruits of our labor, along with some local wines. Cin cin! (There are other cooking classes available through Toscana Taste and Beauty as well.)

Speaking of wines, it wouldn’t be a trip to Chianti without visiting a couple of wineries, hello. One winery we visited was Paneretta, which has a 400-year-old castle that will definitely take your breath away. The frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti—dating back to the late 1500s—are something to behold. It’s a traditional winery, all estate grown, that only uses local and handpicked grapes (sangiovese and they are very proud of their use of canaiolo), with winemaking records going back to 1596. We tasted four of their wines (the 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva was a favorite, full of cherry, aged for two years in their ancient casks and in barrique, and then blended).

Another winery we visited was Castello Monsanto (don’t let the name deter you, no relation), where we got to tour the vineyards with the vibrant Laura Bianchi and her two adorable dogs, Tico, a little white fluff who never stopped bouncing around her, and Nina the German shepherd.

Her father’s first vintage at Castello Monsanto was 1962, from the Il Poggio vineyard, and it was the first single vineyard bottled in Chianti Classico. Now Laura is overseeing the winery, working closely with winemaker Andrea Giovanni (previously at Ornellaia). The aging cellar is huge—we’re talking almost 1,000 feet long—and handmade with galestro stones. Laura said when it rains, the smell of the galestro stone matches the taste of graphite in the wine. It’s a huge estate, with olive groves, gardens, and an agriturismo as well.

We tasted some of their wines, starting with the 2011 Castello Monsanto chardonnay (30 percent fermented in oak; I loved the salinity in this wine), and I’m glad we got to try the 2009 Il Poggio (it’s only produced in the best vintages; 90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent canaiolo and colorino)—Laura said it will be drinking beautifully in 10 years. I need to see if I can rent out a little space in their cellar for my own stash. I also was coveting their collection of wines from my birth year of 1971, which I was told was one of the best vintages of the century, natch.

Of course there are a bunch of charming neighboring towns to visit, from Siena (just 40 minutes away) to the walled village of Certaldo (where Boccaccio was born) to the picturesque San Gimignano (don’t miss a visit to the Duomo, with frescoes from the 14th century—I especially liked the Old Testament stories).

When you visit a rural area to get away from the city and get your country mojo on, sure, it’s nice, but it can also be really challenging since you don’t know the area (hello, winding roads and no signs) or where to go. Fortunately, Liana and Luca (and Federica, their hospitality manager) have you covered, and they all speak very good English. And like most Italians, they are properly obsessed about the artisanal products available in the area, but they can also tell you where to eat in Florence, where to get the best panforte in San Gimignano, where to have lunch with a stunning view in Certaldo, or where the Prada outlet is.

But the greatest pleasure of all was hanging out at Il Paluffo. I can only imagine how delicious it would be to go for a walk around the property on a warm day, and then take a dip in their pool, sit in a chaise, take a nap, read a book, snack on some finocchiona, occasionally pausing to look out at that beautiful view. Truly paradiso.

San Francisco’s Loló Opens This Week

February 4, 2014 by  

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Booth seating in the front dining room. Photo by Aubrie Pick.

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The back dining area, with the wall of origami boats. Photo by Aubrie Pick.

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The main bar (with tires for footrests). Photo by Aubrie Pick.

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Dungeness crab croquetas with a piloncillo and mirasol pepper reduction, topped with pickled onions. Photo by Aubrie Pick.

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The front dining area, complete with a banquette that is all suited up and ready for you. Photo by Aubrie Pick.

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The Hamaicon (mezcal, hibiscus tea, St. Germain, balsamic vinegar), a cocktail coming over to the new spot. Photo by Aubrie Pick.

With the closure of ~LOLÓ~’s colorful location this past weekend after six years on 22nd Street, it’s now time to turn our eyes to Loló’s new digs, opening Monday February 3rd. As previously noted on tablehopper, it’s opening in the former Lot 7 on Valencia, which is a much larger location.

The partners in Loló—executive chef Jorge Martínez, his wife Lorena Zertuche, and GM Juan Carlos Ruelas—now have a much bigger playground for their guests: the dining room is more expansive (65 seats!), plus there’s an open kitchen, two bar areas, and in early spring, there will also be a downstairs private dining room with room for 20 (mark my words, this room is going to become party central).

Leave it to co-owner and artist Lorena to blow us away with another fun, vivid, and one-of-a-kind interior. There isn’t a place in town that can touch the creativity of her style—a lot of it is inspired by her childhood on the rancherías in Torréon, Coahuila.

As soon as you walk into the space, you’ll see a riot of color and patterns. On the walls are printed oilcloth, woven fabrics, and men’s suit jackets stitched onto the back of a banquette; there is also a bright pink wall covered in silver doilies, another wall with more than 1,000 hand-folded origami boats, bike tires used as frames, and salvaged car doors (the team even found someone to reinstall glass windows on them).

Take a closer look at the booths and you’ll see the leather belts stitched down the center—and yes, the bench seats are pickup truck seats—while two of the overhead lights are made from vintage bicycle handlebars. It all feels very Mexico, and the artistry and DIY aesthetic are also very Mission.

Lorena says of the design: “With our new restaurant, I was inspired by both my childhood and the heart of the Mission District. As our city continues to evolve, it runs the risk of losing some of its history and culture. I wanted to capture and preserve the artistic spirit of the neighborhood—in my own way—and create an environment that embraces our heritage, ingenuity, and history built around food and community.”

There are also some new dishes on Jorge Martínez’s Jaliscan-Californian menu that integrates Mexican flavors with local ingredients, like Dungeness crab croquetas, oyster and pork chin confit sopes (whoa), black mussel and calamari escabeche, and panko-encrusted avocado tacos. Yup, we get a new taco. No fear, favorites like the taco tropical and the tuna tacon (seared albacore tuna, shellfish aioli, avocado, roasted tomatillo sauce) will transfer over.

Of course the bar team (bar managers David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez) has been working on some new cocktails, while still keeping a strong focus on mezcal. Look for new drinks like El Benito (mezcal, lemon verbena, Avezé gentian liqueur, yellow Chartreuse, bitters), the Mezcal Mula (pomegranate-infused tequila, mezcal, ginger beer, bitters), and the Player, a non-mezcal option with Cynar, rye whiskey, grapefruit bitters, and Anchor Steam. The menu also features a number of Spanish wines.

Aficionados of tequila and mezcal will want to sidle on up to the brand-new, nine-seat Agave Bar, serving mezcal and tequila tastings. There will be a rotating “Vuelos de Mes” (flight of the month), which will include three one-ounce tastings of specialty mezcal and tequila for $10-$12. (If you want a cocktail, you’ll need to go to the restaurant’s main bar or be seated at a table.)

Loló will open with dinner and cocktail service Mon-Thu 6pm-12am and Fri-Sat 6pm-1am. Lunch and brunch service will launch in March. As for what will go into the original space, stand by.

7 Hot Spots for San Francisco’s New Year’s Day

December 30, 2013 by  

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It’s Bloody Mary o’clock. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Ow, what were you thinking? Here are some places to help heal you on New Year’s Day. ~CHAMBERS EAT + DRINK~ is offering a recovery brunch, along with requisite beverages from their three full bars on New Year’s Day. Brunch is served from 10:30am-3pm, and seating will be available by the pool, weather permitting. 601 Eddy St. at Larkin, 415-829-2316.

~NAMU GAJI~ will be rocking a brunch menu of both sweet and savory options, many of them with their signature Korean-inflected flava. You’ll also find mimosas by the glass or pitcher, micheladas, and Bloody Marys. No reservations.

The Marina’s ~BIN 38~ is serving their “Classic Rock Sunday Brunch” on New Year’s Day, plus everyone who comes in between 11am-3pm gets a free mimosa or glass of bubbles. They’ve also got bottomless mimosas for $14. 3232 Scott St. at Lombard, 415-567-3838.

For a whole lotta pancakes, check out the pancake brunch at ~BLUESTEM BRASSERIE~. There are bottomless mimosas available, in addition to a whole slew of other cocktails, and a menu of non-pancake items, too. Take a look at the menu here.

For a fun and fancy time, ~CAMPTON PLACE RESTAURANT~ is offering a brunch menu with an Indian twist, like the local Dungeness crab naan with pullet egg, potatoes, and fines herbes relish ($28) or duck samosa with tomato butter ($24). There are also some more traditional brunch choices, too. All diners will receive a complimentary glass of bubbly, can’t argue with that.

Head to Sausalito for lunch at ~POGGIO~, to make resolutions with a great view. They’ll be open for lunch and dinner, with plenty of pastas and recovery cocktails to keep you going.

Oakland’s ~HOPSCOTCH~ will have a selection of comforting brunch food on New Year’s Day, including a pork belly Benedict, hangover hash, and kimchee fried rice. Reservations are available. 1915 San Pablo Ave. at 19th, Oakland, 510-788-6217.

Don’t want to leave your bed? Get yourself back into shipshape with hangover cure kits from ~FLOUR & CO.~. The kits are $14 and include an English muffin sandwich, seasonal fruit salad, and Stumptown cold brew. They will be sold on December 31st, so pick one up and you’ll be all ready to take on the morning. 1030 Hyde St. at Pine, 415-992-7620.

The Magic & Serenity of New Zealand’s Waiheke Island

November 3, 2013 by  

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The breathtaking view of Onetangi from the terrace at The Hay Paddock’s Clifftops B&B.

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Instant thirst! The Hay Paddock’s fantastic Silk Rosé.

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Insert yourself here. The sunny deck (with vintage French chairs) at The Oyster Inn.

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An array of New Zealand oysters and clams at The Oyster Inn.

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The expansive view at Cable Bay (and also the chopper landing pad).

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At Cable Bay: cured Ora King salmon with watermelon, cucumber, avocado, and wasabi.

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The lovely landscaping (and sky!) at Mudbrick.

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Getting ready for sunset at Mudbrick. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The dining room at Casita Miro.

I went to Waiheke Island for a day trip and when I arrived, I realized I had made a great mistake: I should have stayed overnight on this stunning island.

It’s quite remarkable: after a 40-minute ferry ride east of Auckland, you end up at this dreamy island that’s full of wineries (some are a bit more Sonoma in style, some are a bit more Napa, take your pick).

But here’s what’s crazy: there are all these gorgeous beaches. And olive groves. And farms. And a bright blue sky, and calm waters, and sailboats. Gentle sea breezes. Winding roads. Pinch, pinch. This exists? Yes.

The realization of my mistake happened as I was looking at the jaw-dropping view from the terrace at Chris Canning’s Clifftops B&B overlooking the Onetangi Bay.

The light off the water was shimmering. My blood pressure immediately fell to a slow, peaceful pulse. And then Canning handed me a glass of 2012 Jules Silk rosé (named in honor of his lady)—it was bone dry, made from syrah, cold fermented for three weeks. I was ready to grab the bottle and run to the beach.

Canning is the CEO and winemaker for The Hay Paddock (his business partner is Bryan Mogridge), and their award-winning winery is known for its cool-climate syrahs—they targeted a spot in the Onetangi Valley for their single-vineyard estate, which has 15,000 vines.

It ends up Waiheke is good for Bordeaux blends, chardonnay, and now syrah is on the rise, thanks to the clay-rich soil and dry, moderate, maritime climate.

Labels for their syrah include the Harvest Reserve, The Hay Paddock (you can cellar it up to 10 years), the Harvest Man (an earlier drinking style), and Row 104, which is their top-tier anniversary wine and available on-site only (no restaurants carry it).

We tasted the 2008 Hay Paddock, a complex blend (with petit verdot), sporting good tannins, fruit, and minerality; after barrel aging, the wine is cellared in bottle for two years.

And now, a little Waiheke history for you. The first vines were planted on Waiheke in the late ’70s, and the ferries started coming in the mid-’80s, bringing with them a rise of vacationers and tourists to this idyllic island.

It’s a pretty dramatic population shift, with the island count of 8,000 dwellers swelling to 40,000 in the high season (obviously come midweek if you can).

There are about 30 wineries now (mostly boutique), and many of them are designed to cater to the tourist trade (Canning described one of the bigger ones as a “daytime nightclub”), with spacious restaurants and buzzing tasting rooms. Some, obviously, offer a better experience than others.

The Hay Paddock operates a B&B (Clifftops) with casual-luxe suites, and oh, that view.

They also offer wine education on the terrace for $25 (book in advance), pouring three to four wines (yes, you want to do this), as well as offering winemaker tutorials.

Canning is a humble, smart, and very fascinating person to talk about wine with—don’t miss the opportunity for his insight.

Another place we visited was the relatively new Oyster Inn in Oneroa village, which has three cute, cabin-y rooms available.

The place has a fun, beachy vibe, with an 80-seat restaurant that’s conveniently open all day and evening (they also have DJs and music for summer weekend shenanignas).

The space was renovated by a delightfully welcoming couple (Kiwi Jonathan Rutherfurd-Best and Hong Kong-born Andrew Glenn) who met in London, but fortunately decided to leave their swish London life and targeted Waiheke as a place to open their stylish outpost.

The menu (from chef Cristian Hossack) is full of fantastic New Zealand seafood, like Stewart Island oysters, which were flat and Belon-like; Orongo Bay oysters (Pacifics); and if you’re there in May, you can get lucky with some wild Bluff oysters (a Kiwi obsession—the season starts around March 1st). There were also Tuatua clams from Cloudy Bay.

Fortunately the gents know what’s up, because there’s quite a list of bubbles to go with it all. I went bonkers for their green salad (it has 13 ingredients in it), and you can also get fish and chips, and check their specials.

The restaurant has tables in the prettiest 1950s turquoise, with vintage metal chairs and cutlery from Paris, and a sunny view of the water. I was ready to move in—everything about this place made me feel happy.

One of the most well-known spots to visit on Waiheke is Cable Bay, perched on a hilltop site overlooking Hauraki Gulf where some folks helicopter right in on the chopper pad (and whip grass onto people dining nearby). Or you can enjoy a less dramatic entrance with a 12-minute walk from the ferry, which will help you make some room for the feast you’ll find here. The restaurant has an outdoor terrace, and there’s a contemporary dining room, good for breezy days and for dinner – I would totally come here for dinner if I were staying on the island.

Our hosts for lunch were owner Loukas Petrou and winemaker Neill Culley—you couldn’t ask for better company.

Cable Bay has five vineyards on the island, and they have quite the portfolio, with chardonnay, viognier, pinot gris, malbec, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, plus they make some wines from other non-Waiheke vineyards (Central Otago and Marlborough). Culley explained how the northern slopes on the island are hotter, so you’ll find more syrah, while the southern slopes are cooler, with more chardonnay appearing. Culley is on his 30th vintage as a winemaker (he even spent a harvest in California at Simi), and his wines for Cable Bay are all about small-lot production, low yields, hand-harvesting, and sustainability.

The place is state of the art—the site opened in 2007 (although the vineyards were planted in 2004).

We tasted through quite a few wines over lunch; some favorites included the feminine and French-inspired 2012 viognier, the aromatic 2012 rosé (made from merlot and malbec), the 2010 reserve syrah, and for dessert, the 2011 late-harvest viognier, Sweet Gloria, a beautiful topaz that wasn’t too sweet or showy (and named after the Van Morrison song). Culley’s wines show a lot of restraint and elegance.

While the restaurant highlights Cable Bay’s wines, I liked that they also feature other wines on their list—everything was very well paired. The chef is Sam Clark, who spent some time at Clooney in Auckland, Becasse in Sydney, and Attica in Melbourne.

Our lunch was impressive—not only were dishes beautifully presented (the colors!), but Clark really let seasonal ingredients shine, with just enough fuss paid to them (the kitchen builds the flavors with all the accompaniments). We started our lunch with a silky duck liver pâté, and housemade ciabatta that we dunked into Cable Bay’s peppery olive oil made with leccino and koroneiki. The restaurant is a total showcase for New Zealand ingredients, like our appetizers of cured Ora King salmon and smoked wild venision with pickled vegetables. So utterly delicious. Of course I had some lamb, and the presentation with carrots, dates, wheat, and sheep’s yogurt was one of the best of my trip. Dessert also rocked, with peaches and custard (with jasmine rice sherbet!), and one with poached apricots with olive oil cake (one of many advantages to traveling to New Zealand in May—you catch the tail end of their summer!).

Our final destination for the day was supposed to be at the distant Man O’War, but due to a transportation snafu, my wingman and I paid an impromptu visit to Mudbrick since we had a little time until our ferry. It was like we knew it was going to be the perfect spot for a sunset (we didn’t), and it was like we already knew the gentleman pouring the wines for us in the tasting room (Bob Scott) was related to SF’s own Anna Weinberg (of Marlowe, Park Tavern, and The Cavalier)—fate is funny that way. You couldn’t ask for a better person to pour wines for you—Bob spouted off some fantastic bons mots (“spankingly drinkable!”) and I appreciated all the food pairing ideas he suggested (he made me wish I could manifest a bite of tagine while he described the minerally 2012 reserve viognier).

Owners Robyn and Nicholas Jones did their first plantings in 1992, and currently grow chardonnay, viognier, merlot, malbec, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc. Their new winemaker is Patrick Newton, who came on in 2011, so it will be interesting to see where he takes the wines—he is very focused on purity of flavor.

We can see why Anna had her wedding at Mudbrick—the grounds are mega dreamy, full of herbs and vegetable gardens (“potagers”). There is an airy 160-seat restaurant (the cold-smoked duck breast is recommended), although we posted up in the alfresco bistro, enjoying the tranquility of the gardens while drinking a glass of 2012 reserve chardonnay at our outdoor table. It would be easy to while away the early evening over a bottle, but we had a ferry to catch! Next time, I won’t make that mistake—I will have a room with a view booked, that’s for damn sure.

Be sure to rent a car or a moped, and check out the Saturday Ostend market and Sunday farmers’ market.

Other wineries to visit:

The view at Te Whau can’t be beat, visit Obsidian for syrah, and Bordeaux lovers should seek the Larose at Stonyridge (although it can be quite a scene there).

More places to eat:

Poderi Crisci
Am told it’s a bit expensive, but great for views and a long Sunday lunch (Kiwis are fans of the “long lunch”) with ingredients from their garden.

Fenice
Inventive Italian in Oneroa (from the Mudbrick folks), with beet and chorizo risotto, and was told not to miss the rabbit pappardelle. Open late.

Casita Miro
Loved the greenhouse/pavilion-style look for this airy dining room. A Spanish menu (both tapas and raciones). The Miro vineyards are 20 years old, with syrah, Bordeaux blends, and viognier. Was told to check out their French-style rosé, pinot gris, albariño is coming, and don’t miss the Madame Rouge fortified wine.

Charlie Farley’s
A Kiwi pub, super-casual, right on the beach at Onetangi.

Wai Kitchen
Cool spot for breakfast/brunch in Oneroa.

Spice Cafe
A local hang for good coffee.

More recos for accommodations:

The Boatshed
Luxury accommodations, but still casual and charming.

The Moorings
Studio apartments with a view, and conveniently close to the ferry.

The Courtyard
An affordable apartment (no seaview, but was told it’s quaint).

Lavender Hill
Tuscan villa style, on Waiheke!

All photos – tablehopper. com.

San Francisco’s FallFest For Treats From Local Restaurants

October 1, 2013 by  

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FallFest 2012. Photo by Ellian Raffoul, Moanalani Jeffrey and Robert Lugtu.

On Saturday October 12, 2013, catch San Francisco Magazine’s FallFest at Justin Herman Plaza, a benefit for Meals on Wheels of San Francisco. From 12pm to 4pm, join local restaurants like A16 Rockridge, Juhu Beach Club, and COCO500 for bites. Bartenders from local watering holes will be leading a DIY cocktail station, including the likes of Jessamine McLellan (Hakkasan) and Tony Devencenzi (Bourbon & Branch), and there will also be plenty of wines poured.

Of course, the alfresco location at Justin Herman Plaza will allow for some great views, and you’ll also enjoy live music.

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