About 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.
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Okay bacon lovers who just can’t get enough of the stuff no matter how much people say it has jumped the shark, this event is for you: Sunday August 25th is the first ~SAN FRANCISCO BACON AND BEER FESTIVAL~ at the Fairmont.
The event is put on by Eat Boston and is a celebration of all things bacon-y and sudsy, with more than 45 restaurants and breweries participating. Haven, Tacolicious, Nojo, Hopscotch, and Fatted Calf are just a few of the talented bacon pushers who will be in attendance, offering dishes using Zoe’s Meats.
Breweries including Lagunitas, Knee Deep, and Drake’s will be on hand as well, pouring their best bacon-friendly brews (aren’t all brews bacon-friendly?). The event runs from 2:30pm-5pm and tickets are $50 general admission and $65 for VIP, or “baller,” tickets. Proceeds benefit Sprouts Cooking Club, a local organization committed to teaching underserved youngsters how to cook and enjoy healthful, fresh food. 950 Mason St. at Sacramento, 415-772-5000.
New Zealand is a country many Americans hold in high regard, whether they have been or not. I was invited to visit New Zealand to learn about its food, wine, sights, and culture over a very busy and action-packed 10-day trip, which had me zigzagging all over the North and South islands. I covered a lot of ground but let’s visit urban Auckland on the North Island first. And its food of course.
Auckland clocks a little more than 1 million people, and it has an active life on the water, with harbors and marinas. It has a stunning, lush park that you shouldn’t miss strolling through (the Auckland Domain), trendy neighborhoods to walk, dine, and shop through (like Ponsonby Road, plus the recently rehabbed Britomart area in downtown), a multicultural population, gorg beaches nearby, a lovely climate (although wear your sunscreen—the damaged ozone layer is no joke), and is just a half hour boat ride from Waiheke Island (more on that dreamy place in another installment!). A few people said I wouldn’t care to spend much time in Auckland, but they were quite wrong.
I went a few days earlier than my scheduled press trip to check out the city, but the only drawback was that it was Easter weekend, which is technically every Aucklanders’ last end-of-summer hurrah and people leave town (remember, it’s the Southern Hemisphere, so the seasons are flipped). While a lot of places were closed, I still managed to find some notable restaurants that were open (yay).
I flew on Air New Zealand, which let me tell you was downright civilized. Let’s hear it for economy plus, and while it’s not business, it certainly had a service and comfort level that put our American airlines to shame. They even poured a damn tasty sparkling wine—after my first sip, I was like, hold on there mister flight attendant, whatcha pouring there? (It was the Deutz sparkling from Marlborough; a project that is like Champagne Louis Roederer’s presence in the Anderson Valley with its Roederer Estate line.) After some bubbles (mister flight attendant was having fun overserving me), one of the better airline dinners I have ever had, and my trusty sleeping pill, I slept like a rock—the flights to NZ leave SF in the evening, so you arrive in the morning (I landed at 5:30am).
After a quick 45-minute catnap in my hotel (the SKYCITY Grand, more on my home base later), I took a shower, slapped my cheeks to snap out of it, and was picked up by the sassy Charmaine Ngarimu of the Auckland tourism office to head to the Saturday farmers’ market in Matakana. I know, nothing like hitting the ground running.
I couldn’t have asked for a better guide—not only does Charmaine adore food as much as yours truly, her Maori roots also meant I got a deeper explanation on some of the local foods and traditions. We love music and bubbly, so we were fast friends. After about an hour’s drive in the rain, we arrived at the outdoor market. My first bite of Kiwi cuisine was a pāua fritter, a dark abalone fritter served open-faced on a piece of bread, with a sweet and sour chile sauce drizzled on top. (Charmaine told me she makes a better one, and I believe it.) You’ll see pāua shell used in a lot of Maori jewelry as well.
The market was definitely an eclectic scene: we grazed on Vietnamese pork steamed buns (bánh bao), Sicilian arancine, a flavorful Ceylonese wrap, locally made buffalo mozzarella, and sparkling grape juice. (It was like being at the SF Street Food Fest.) One big disconnect I did have: there wasn’t really any recycling! For a market that prided itself on its artisan ways, it was pretty sad to see the tragic (unsorted) garbage pileup in multiple cans. I found one section for recycling but it didn’t look like anyone was even remotely heeding the separate bins. Huh.
We also visited Charmaine’s buddy Glen Osborne, a well-known former All Blacks rugby player who now runs the a butchery shop, and I got a dose of total Maori humor and a show of muscles (I admit, I egged him on). Other nearby places reco’ed to me: Plume (we swung by for a coffee, guess who needed it) and Charlie’s Gelato in Warkworth for their coconut ice cream.
Additional markets in Auckland include Otara (20 minutes away), which is more ethnic with a large Maori and Pacific community and street food, or there’s La Cigale, the local French market.
That evening I headed to dinner with my new (fabulous) dining partner, Nathan Branch, who was introduced to me by a mutual friend. Not only is he a talented photographer, but he’s also a journalist, cook, one fashionable mofo, and skilled world traveler. Yeah, I had delightful company—he was a remarkable host. (I also have him to thank for this very thoughtful write-up about my visit.)
We met at Sidart, quirkily tucked away upstairs in a mini mall in Ponsonby. You slide open a door that reveals a contemporary and comfortable dining room, with a plush tufted banquette along the walls, leather chairs, and many stylish touches. Amon Tobin was playing, couples were canoodling, the fresh evening air was coming through the open windows, all contributing to a blissful vibe (well, until someone would run the espresso machine).
It was one of my favorite meals in New Zealand: chef Sid Sahrawat has an eclectic style—and a bit progressive—featuring very seasonal produce (I was so happy to be there at the end of summer, trust), with hints of exotic spices, and wonderful Kiwi seafood and meats. It very much felt like a personal place, one that was a heart project of the chef and his team. The meal started off very strong (great amuses), with interesting textures, but the main savory courses felt heavy and less inspired—the Roquefort dessert turned things back around. I was really fired up with the insightful wine pairings—it was a great place to learn about New Zealand wines from the knowledgeable Mo (Ismo Koski), even if the pours felt a wee bit skimpy. All in all, there was a lot to dig here: bright creativity, lovely (and very colorful) plating, intriguing flavor pairings, dialed service, and mostly on-point execution. (We did the five-course dinner for $95 NZ, $50 wine pairing; or you can do 10 courses for $140, $90 wine pairing.)
Another highlight was Depot (which Kiwis charmingly call Depp-oh), oh-so-conveniently located across the street from my hotel. I swung by for an afternoon and alfresco bite of Orongo Bay oysters and wickedly good snapper sliders (with preserved lemon mayo). The evening definitely has a lively and “it spot” vibe—it felt a bit like Nopa but in New York (I kept thinking of Schiller’s), with folks crowded in at the bar, and the handsome staff in custom aprons. Celeb chef Al Brown (and chef Kyle Street’s) menu is rustic, casual, flavor-forward, and fun to share—we especially loved the mussels served on the half shell with chorizo and garlic (and the kiss of the grill). Fresh ingredients, with many local farms and purveyors, were called out on the menu. The friendly staff was all pro—sitting at the bar, we got tasted on some swell beers (after a day of wine tasting, all I wanted was some beer). I tasted two winners from Hallertau: a kolsch and pale ale, and when I asked for a beer to go with dessert, they didn’t miss a beat, serving us a “breakfast” beer from Moa.
One evening Nathan and I started our night out at Clooney dining in their lounge (restaurateur Tony Stewart is behind SF’s pop-up, the Waiheke Island Yacht Club). The look is all industrial chic and leather, with plenty of high-heeled ladies making their way into the clubby and sexy dining room. This was definitely the most progressive of the places we visited, with foams and textures galore, and very intensively plated presentations from chef Des Harris. The place is not cheap (apps, which they call entrees, ring in at $26-32 NZ). The signature dish of sugar-cured ostrich (with foie gras mousse and shaved foie gras, heh) on what felt like a five-pound granite plate was transcendent, and the king crab with yellowtail, wasabi and coconut sorbet, compressed watermelon, and ginger gel delivered some great flavor. All the dishes were very involved, but a couple had some components fall flat (like soggy popcorn).
I had a smashing lunch at Simon Gault’s Euro, which is right on the wharf—it’s an inviting daytime spot, with a crisp and modern look (it felt like a mash-up of a seaside vibe and Milano to me). Gault is a well-known chef in New Zealand (and beyond) with his many TV appearances and quality cookbooks (I was happily sent home with a couple), so it was a treat to have him at the restaurant to cook for us.
Joining us for lunch was Helen Dorresteyn of Clevedon Village Farmers Market and Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company, a name I was seeing on a variety of menus around town. (They brought 60 head of pure-bred water buffalo from Darwin in Australia, and the current product line includes buffalo mozzarella, ricotta, gouda, yogurt, and blue cheese.) Simon brought us a Hawke’s Bay fig topped with ricotta and wildflower honey from Blenheim, just gorg. The modern spin on a caprese salad with Clevedon’s mozzarella was a vision of summer. I was also very content with our bottle of Nautilus cuvée from Marlborough, which is late disgorged after three years.
One of my most memorable dishes on the trip was Gault’s poached blue cod from Stewart Island in a spicy tomato and shallot sauce, surrounded with Cloudy Bay clams, green-lipped mussels, and New Zealand pipis (a clam and cockle hybrid). Boom, what a dish (and wonderful showcase for NZ seafood). I asked Simon about which seafood to look for in New Zealand, and he said line-caught snapper from the north, and seasonal items like Nelson scallops, whitebait from the west coast (used in famed whitebait fritters), and bluff oysters (which I was lucky to catch in brief season while I was there).
He also serves some top-notch beef (he’s known for his sourcing), and we had both some buffalo and tender venison with black garlic, squash, and little molecular spheres of Worcestershire (it was a killer match with the 2009 Fromm “La Strada” pinot noir from Marlborough).
After a day on Waiheke Island, Nathan and I fueled up after a lot of wine at Ortolana in Britomart, a rehabbed and up-and-coming area. While I admired the style of the place and the alfresco vibe—and was excited to try the restaurant’s vegetables from their farm—the dishes we had didn’t really pop. (Felt like its simple style would be a better bet for lunch.) The wine list had a bunch of interesting 125ml selections, like the 2011 “Little Rascal” arneis from Coopers Creek in Gisborne, so that was a bonus.
It was unfortunate I wasn’t able to dine at Michael Dearth’s much-awarded The Grove (he used to work at Fleur de Lys in San Francisco) since it was closed for the holiday weekend, but he gave me a tour of the space, and some insider/local food tips too.
There’s an area of Auckland called Dominion Road in Mount Eden (it was a bit of a haul in a cab), which is where I checked out Dearth’s favorite late-night/industry spot, New Flavour (541 Dominion Road)—don’t confuse it with Flavour Town across the street. Total bare-bones and BYOB spot, with brutal fluorescent lighting. The pork and celery dumplings were stellar (I preferred the tender steamed ones over the fried), along with the spicy cucumber salad with a hint of sesame. Would have been fun with a group but I was flying solo—my taxi driver was stoked with all the leftovers I styled him with. Hello, dumplings. (There’s also Spicy House at 557 Dominion if you want to tablehop.) Dearth’s other recos included Canton Cafe in Kingsland for groups, and Sake Bar 601 for sushi and their tuna carpaccio. He also taught me that tipping in New Zealand is about 10 percent, and 15 percent if it’s really superb.
I had an easygoing brunch at Zus & Zo—cool style, and my dish, the Uitsmijter (Dutch-style fried eggs with ham and cheese on toast) was rocking; ditto my new friend’s Kiwi classic dish of mushrooms with blue cheese, a poached egg, and sourdough.
On one of my long walks around town, I ambled for a bit on K-Road (Karangahape) and stopped by Kati Grill for a Frankie (this was a reco I remembered from one of my Indian cabdrivers). It was a fast-casual place with zero soul, but that Frankie (a type of Indian wrap in paratha) was loaded with ginger and garlic and spice—took me right back to Mumbai.
A friend of a friend sent me to Fred’s Cafe, charming spot for an espresso (from Supreme) and she told me to get their lamington (it’s a very New Zealand thing: a sponge cake covered with coconut and cut in half, with whipped cream and raspberry jam in between the halves—yeah, delicious). Loved the patio, my coffee, and the lamington on the cute vintage plate.
Restaurants on my list for next time:
The Engine Room
The French Cafe
The Blue Breeze Inn (new contemporary Chinese joint from the MooChowChow crew)
The gents at Depot recommended Coco’s Cantina, Cafe Hanoi, Ponsonby Road Bistro, and Best Ugly Bagels (Al Brown’s Montreal bagel place).
Dizengoff on Ponsonby for brunch (flat white and mushrooms on toast I have heard is the ticket).
I never hunted down a meat pie, but was told The Food Room on Ponsonby or The Fridge in Kingsland make good ones.
Mea Culpa and Golden Dawn (Ponsonby) and Britomart Country Club
Where I stayed:
SKYCITY Grand Hotel
This hotel was ideally located in the CBD—I was able to scoot to a bunch of different areas quite easily (although the immediate surroundings were full of taxis and tourists). My modern room had a nice view (which I enjoyed from my comfortable chaise), the bed was my best friend (there was even a pillow menu), and the hotel handily had some quality restaurants downstairs (Depot was literally just across the street)—they’re also adding two new restaurants at the moment. The hotel had some nice facilities, including a spa and lap pool.
Another reco (although I didn’t stay there) is for the chic boutique Hotel DeBrett (which is dangerously close to one of the best eyeglass/sunglass stores I have ever had the fortune of visiting, Michael Holmes).
During my trip to New Zealand, I had the pleasure of making my way through all the appetizers at Clooney in Auckland, a very chic and contemporary restaurant from restaurateur Tony Stewart (he is also behind The Hamptons in Auckland). At the time, he told me he had a pop-up, New Zealand-inspired restaurant and bar project that was going to open in San Francisco California for the America’s Cup. After waiting on some finalized details, I can finally spill the beans on ~WAIHEKE ISLAND YACHT CLUB~, opening Thursday July 4th on Pier 29.
First, I need to explain Waiheke Island a bit. It’s an island off that is a short ferry ride away from Auckland. And let me tell you, it’s the picture of dreamy. It has wineries, gorgeous beaches, winding roads, delicious food, and a wonderful easy-breezy vibe. I was so sorry I was only there for the day—I was ready to just show up with my toothbrush and move there.
Tony Stewart is going to be re-creating the relaxed, unpretentious, and comfortable feeling of Waiheke in San Francisco, along with bringing the progressive New Zealand cuisine style (and some ingredients—including Silvers Fern Farm’s SILERE merino lamb) that his projects are known for. There will be a four-course menu (with choices) each evening, plus two-, three-, and four-course menus at lunch; many of these dishes are also available on the bar menu, so you can just swing by for a drink and a bite as well. Look for brunch to launch in August.
His culinary team includes head chef Hayden McMillen (TriBeCa, Vinnie’s, Huka Lodge, Meredith’s, The French Café), who is known for an innovative style that is built around seasonality and purity of flavor. His sous chef is local boy Nicholas Patchen (Boulevard, Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, Spruce, Campton Place, and All Spice in San Mateo). The specialized menu will have a modern/contemporary sensibility, intersecting with local ingredients.
The stylish yet laid-back space is going to feature many design elements from New Zealand, including slabs of macrocarpa cypress polished by hand, American white oak furniture that was handcrafted in New Zealand by Douglas and Bec, and even the pottery was brought over. Stewart has been working with architecture/design firms Sutro Architects (local) and Fearon Hay Architects (New Zealand) on the project. (For those of you into floorplans, you can check it out here.) The restaurant seats 85, plus 12 at the chef’s counter and 20 at the bar.
The bar is going to be a highlight of the experience, made in New Zealand. There will be craft beer from brewer Moa, and sommelier Geeling Ng will be handling the wines and pairings (although don’t expect New Zealand wines—due to some contractual obligations with America’s Cup, the wines will be from Napa Valley). There will also be a cocktail list conceived by Clooney’s bar manager, Needham Woodward.
The stadium (in America’s Cup Village) is just next door and will feature more than 30 live music concerts (Sting performed there last week), so it’s a convenient place to grab a bite before a show as well. Even though the America’s Cup 2013 finals will wrap in late September, Waiheke Island Yacht Club will stay open through December 31st. Am very much looking forward to experiencing this unique Kiwi import!
Photo credit: waihekeboatclub.co.nz.
20 Spot is bringing wine and small plates to the Mission. They opened their doors on March 29th, with a menu of small plates and snacks, plus more than 100 bottles of wine to choose from.
Owners Bodhi Freedom (who owns Bacchus Wine Bar in Nob Hill) and Peter Goggin are offering an eclectic selection of wines from all over the world, with a focus on unusual flavor profiles. They’ll be open Sun-Mon and Wed 5:30pm-12am and Thu-Sat 5:30pm-1am. 3565 20th St. at Lexington, 415-624-3140.
EASTER DAY is Sunday March 31st this year, so get yourself ready for some springtime celebrating. Here are some places around town to meet all of your brunch (and beyond) needs if you’re in the San Francisco/Bay Area in California.
~SPRUCE~ is serving a special three-course Easter brunch (oooh, special!) from 10:30am-3pm. You’ll have a choice of different mains and appetizers; check out the full menu here. The brunch costs $65 per person, not including tax or tip, and reservations can be made by calling 415-931-5100.
Check out the three-course brunch at ~FOREIGN CINEMA~, which includes choices like a warm brandade, French toast, and a croque-madame. The brunch costs $45 per person, $15 for children, and reservations can be made by calling 415-648-7600.
Downtown, the ~BRASSERIE S&P~ will be serving a special brunch menu from 10am-4pm, plus bottomless mimosas for $25, and the usual selection of excellent gin cocktails. There’s a rumor that the Easter Bunny will stop in too. Reservations can be made by calling 415-986-2020.
At ~TWENTY FIVE LUSK~ you’ll find a three-course prix-fixe brunch with choices for $35 per person from 11am-2pm. Check out the menu choices here, and make reservations online or by calling 415-495-5875.
For something a little different (and way fun), check out the Sunday’s a Drag brunch at ~HARRY DENTON’S STARLIGHT ROOM~ at the Sir Francis Drake. The special Easter show includes an Easter bonnet compeition, and obviously you’re encouraged to wear yours too.
The show includes a brunch buffet, and adult beverages can be purchased as well. There are two shows, one at noon (doors at 11am) and the second at 2:30pm (doors at 1:30pm). Reservations can be made by calling 415-395-8595. Sir Francis Drake Hotel, 21st floor, 450 Powell St. at Sutter, 415-395-8595.
If your taste runs more toward dinner than brunch, check out the poutry dinner at ~A16~. Sonoma County Poultry will be featured on the menu, with Liberty duck and Easter specialties available in addition to the regular menu.
~DELFINA~ is opening early on Easter Sunday, if a late lunch/early dinner is your style. Doors open at 3:30pm, and reservations can be made here.
If you’re thinking about taking a jaunt for Easter, take the ferry to Sausalito and catch lunch or dinner at ~POGGIO~, where there will be a special menu with lots of springtime egg dishes like asparagus Milanese, or check out the lamb chops. Mmmm, lamb chops. Lunch begins at 11:30am, and dinner begins at 5:30pm.
Photo credit: pwcmoms.
CHARLES CHOCOLATES is opening an exhibition kitchen and shop in San Francisco California’s Mission District. The new spot opened its doors Friday March 15th and is ready to fill all of your chocolate needs with pavés, brownies, chocolate-covered almonds, and more. The new space features a retail area for making purchases, plus a glass-enclosed exhibition kitchen so you can watch the magic happen.
In coming weeks, they’ll add seating to the patio as well. More confections will become available in the future, but there are quite a few delicious choices already. Welcome back, Chuck (and your peanut butterflies)! And just in time for Easter chocolate time. 535 Florida St. at Mariposa in San Francisco CA, 415-659-8770.
Barbecued ribs. Photo from BBQ Junkie. On Saturday March 2nd, the San Francisco Bay Area had the 33rd Annual Black Cuisine Festival.
The event is a fundraiser for Bayview Hunters Point Multipurpose Senior Services, and included lots of soul food, like barbecued chicken and ribs, smothered chicken, and sides like potato salad, corn bread, yams, and greens. There was also be live music, dancing, and activities for kids.
Additionally, there were some serious sweet treats “like Grandma used to bake,” including pound cake, banana pudding, and sweet potato pie. It was held on 1706 Yosemite Avenue at 3rd Street, San Francisco, California.
Say cheese with the seventh annual ARTISAN CHEESE FESTIVAL, which lands in Petaluma California from March 22nd-24th, 2013. The festival this year includes some fabulous seminars, including a wine and cheese pairing with Laura Werlin, a seminar on new cheesemakers with Janet Fletcher, a tasting panel on mixed-milk cheeses with John Ash, and cheesemaking workshops with Mary Karlin. There are also tours of local farms, workshops on pairing cheese with beer, and grand tasting events.
Some of the activities you can partake in include:
- Hands on Cheesemaking
- Farm Tours
- Wine and Cheese Pairing
- Beer and Cheese Pairing
- Cheese-Inspired Culinary Delights
- Cooking Demonstrations
- Panel Discussions
- Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace
745 Baywood Drive at Lakeville, Petaluma, California. 707-283-2888.