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

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.jpg

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.

The San Francisco Bacon & Beer Festival in August

August 15, 2013 by  

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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.

Experiencing New Zealand ‘s Foodie & Cultural Scene

July 31, 2013 by  

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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.

Restaurants:
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:
Meredith’s
The Engine Room
TriBeCa
The French Cafe
Cazador
Ebisu
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.

Cocktails:
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).

Waiheke Island Yacht Club, a Kiwi Transplant to Open in San Francisco for American’s Cup

June 19, 2013 by  

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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.

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