Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kimpton suddenly bereft of chefs

Marcia at tablehopper is digging the dirt like something furious; maybe she's trying to get back to 'stralia?

First she tallies departures at Kimpton (astutely): With David Cohen gone from Scala's, Kimpton is now without exec chefs at:
  • Fifth Floor
  • Grand Cafe
  • Scala's
The company has been on a national growth tear and this might have the executives distracted from the restaurants.

Marcia also gets her hands on an email from Arnold Eric Wong, one of the founders who left Bacar. Wong isn't quite blunt but does admit that the break with Bacar's "new majority owner" is tied to a juicy-sounding "struggle with the moral, ethical and professional dilemmas associated with Bacar's ongoing enterprise. I tried to come to a compromise that would uphold my personal and professional integrity while working with the new general partners."

So tablehopper saunters off for a vacation in Australia and comes back with serious scoopage.

I so HATE her! (Kidding, mate, kidding.)

Tablehopper chatterbox

Labels: , ,

Aqua opening wine bar

Laurent ManriqueChronicle Inside Scoop: "Laurent Manrique and partners will open Rouge et Blanc, a wine bar in the former Viansa Enoteca (334 Grant Ave.), next to their Cafe de la Presse. Rouge et Blanc will offer an international selection of 40 to 50 wines, with about 15 by the glass, along with charcuterie, cheese and what Manrique calls 'croque baguettes'-- croque monsieur-like sandwiches on baguettes."

Also, AsiaSF expanding to Hollywood!

Labels: ,

SF tourism hurt by U.S. image, hostility to visitors

Former Bush State Dept counterterrorism official Cari Guittard was among the officials Tuesday warning SF hospitality leaders about the need for political action to ease the visa process and make foreign policy changes to help the U.S. image abroad.

I first wrote about the visit Friday in the Business Times (free link), and it unfolded Tuesday as expected. Guittard was among the speakers at the Convention and Visitors Bureau's "Outlook" conference, which this year focused on potential international visitors and their perception of the U.S.

Guittard is a Texan who worked in Colin Powell's state department. But she left the administration (as did Powell, a relative dove in the Bush White House) and now heads Business for Diplomatic Action, a nonprofit that urges changes to combat the perception that the U.S. is arrogant.

Guittard and others argue that international travel into San Francisco is not nearly what it could be if U.S. ports of entry, according to a joint study her group did with the Travel Industry association in January (PDF), were not so awful.

The study found:
  • Overseas travel to the U.S. has fallen 17 percent since Sept. 11 2001. This does not count Mexico and Canada, which both saw an increase.
  • From 2000 to 2005, travel to the U.S. from the UK fell 8 percent
  • ... from Japan fell 23 percent
  • ... from France fell 19 percent
  • ... from Germany fell 21 percent
  • ... from Korea up 7 percent
  • ... from Australia up 4 percent
  • 54 percent of international travelers say U.S. immigration officials are "rude" according to a study by RT Strategies
  • 66 percent are worried they will be detained for hours for a simple misstatement or mistake
  • the same RT Strategies study also found the U.S. was by far the number one preferred destination from a list of 10 broadly defined choices
  • One survey showed the U.S. has the world's absolute worst entry process
More in the study (PDF) and my Business Times story (free link).

Labels: ,

SF Magazine publisher to beat you with his cain

Scot Bondlow's Pubisher's Note in the March SF magazine is worth the price of the whole book.

The angry press baron is furious at baristas and waiters and various servant types for being insufficiently obsequious when they thank you back when you thank them. Or they actually don't thank you at all for saying "thank you," but instead say something vaguely neutral. In Scot's words:
A popular phrase ... has worked its way into the current vernacular of people of various ages and backgrounds. It shows up wherever I go. It's the reply "No problem."

Doesn't seem like much?

Here's my problem with "No problem": it has replaced a foundation of basic etiquette and common courtesy, the phrase "You're welcome."

Example: you're in a restaurant, and you've just paid the check and left a tip, and you say "Thank you."

To which the waiter replies, "No problem."

Really? That wasn't a problem?! For him to do his job?!

At the coffee shop. From your stockbroker. Your doctor even ... Please point this out to your family, employees and co-workers, and maybe even muster up the courage, as I have on a few occasions, to actually challenge the reply.
In the April Publisher's note, Bondlow is expected to issue an 8,000-word denunciation of people who think "gesundheit" is a suitable substitute for "God bless you."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sanctimonious Scotch snobs moving to bourbon; Maker's and Coke to cost $19

From the "If you read it in a glossy magazine it must be true" department: Bourbon whiskey is taking the last of the rich guys who used to spend their money driving up the price of single-malt scotch. And you thought they had all moved on to premium rum, organic vodka or high-grade cocaine!

According to always-honest San Francisco magazine -- well, at least they're ostensibly plugged in among the big spenders -- "small batch whiskey looks to be the next big thing in San Francisco. Young drinkers have been educating themselves with the selection of fine new American bourbons, ryes and single malts now on the market."

A new bar in the Haight called Alembic is all over this trend, with a bourbon-soaked cocktail list (PDF) and what has to be one of the most obnoxious websites in the city, and that's saying a lot considering how Flashfully awful the typical restaurant Web presence is.

Whiskey Thieves on Geary and Hyde claims 70 American whiskeys behind the bar, albeit in divey surroundings accentuated by legal smoking (typical Yelp review: " This place BLEEDS brawlin ...").

In addition to Alembic and Whiskey Thieves, which seem to be reasonably legit exemplars of the Bourbon trend, SF Mag threw in as examples Nihon and Jardiniere. ???! . Still, an interesting new way to spend a lot of money on booze.

Schnapps, by the way, remains pretty much the last liquor type without a ridiculously overpriced, "ultrapremium" brand extension. It's holed up with Boones Farm in the Liquor Alamo.

Correction: My headline originally said 'Jack and Coke,' but Jack is not bourbon. Thanks to Echa in the comments for setting me straight.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ozumo East is confirmed

OzumoI reported a month ago that Ozumo was likely to go into Oakland; I report today on the Business Times website that the deal has closed and Ozumo's Oakland location confirmed (free link).

Ozumo Owner Jeremy James told me in January:

"We're a well established, highly thought of San Francisco restaurant. Opening a second store in Oakland would be very comforting ... It always feels good being wanted."

"In terms of a more welcome business climate, Oakland is right off that bat," James said.

Ozumo's Oakland location will go into 8,000 square feet at the new Broadway Grand condo project in the Uptown district, at Broadway and Grand Ave. The project is still under construction but sales begin Feb. 24.

The new Ozumo will include an "Izakaya" menu of bar snacks.

There's more on Broadway Grand in the Chronicle. I confess I sat on this item for a few days and only corrected my delinquency when I saw it mentioned briefly in the Chron story this morning.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bo of Bo's BBQ is Berkeley hippie plus Mississippi farm kid ...

Bo wears flip flops, too. Don't tell the workplace safety people.... and he's really generous, writes James Temple in an interesting Contra Costa Times profile of Bo, who is already legendary in the East Bay for his barbecue, served out of his restaurant in Lafayette.

Bo gives little gifts that are sometimes not so little, Temple writes. Bo gives free wine when his line gets long. Bo gives money for local homeless children, and food for battered women. Bo coaches little league. Bo helps jazz musicians as a teacher, mentor and benefactor.

Bo gives extra food when he caters. Bo pays musicians at his restaurant so generously that at least one calls him "exceeding generous" and suggested to Bo that he take back some of the money.

Bo seems sort of like a relaxed hippie, which makes sense because he was a grad student at Cal. Temple writes:
His ever-present bright yellow bandanna and bushy white beard suggest the hippie leanings of someone who attended Cal in the early 1970s. So does his penchant for peppering his speech with words like man, beautiful and love.

McSwine hugs customers on their way in. McSwine hugs customers on their way out. He sits down at tables filled with his friends and gabs away. He strolls up to tables filled with strangers and introduces himself.

When people who work to better the community show up, people like him -- firefighters, cops and teachers -- they might get a free beer. They might get a free meal.

But Bo is not shy about calling out the "crap meat" he sees at other BBQ places. And, as Temple notes in a scoop:

McSwine is in discussions to open additional Bay Area operations, potentially in the North and South Bays, and will soon begin selling his barbecue sauce in local stores.

A quick detour on food:

My grandfather in Dallas used to love serving smoked ribs and brisket when we'd visit from Houston, so I enjoy barbecue and visit as many local places as I can. I judge them by the pork ribs, my favorite dish.

I've visited Bo's twice now, and it's now my favorite barbecue joint in the Bay Area, though Everett and Jones at Jack London Square is very competitive on the all important ribs.

I love Bo's ribs, but for some reason my passion falls short of what I would expect, given the care clearly put into the food. I used to think it was a problem with how he smoked the meat, but the last visit revealed exquisitely pink and juicy meat that pulled easily off the bone.

The ribs that get me most excited are barbecued by me personally or by friends and family. Perhaps it's the smell of smoke on clothes, or some other irrational, psychological cue, like the investment of four hours slavishly working a bullet smoker. Maybe it's the smell of smoldering hickory. Maybe it's just the strong spice rub I prefer.

And it's certainly a testament to Bo that the only thing missing at his restaurant is the memory of a long, hot day above a BBQ pit.

Full story: Southern-bred generosity provides tasty, jazzy dish (Contra Costa Times) (free link)

(Disclaimer/name drop: Temple is a friend of mine.)


Hilton's $13m Gramercy Tavern lookalike

Yes, that's a fireplace there in the back.The monstrous San Francisco Hilton can't stop eating. So it's building an "urban tavern" to lure gullible prey (free link).

Traumatized onlookers will remember that the 1,900-room beast ritually devoured three general managers in as many years. But the hotel is still hungry and must be fed, so out come the barrels of delicious, sweet cash money to fill its belly -- for now.

Hotel owners have set aside $13 million to build a restaurant and bar with 240 seats, plus 20,000 square feet of adjoining meeting space.

The place has no chef or name yet, but Hilton has a pretty developed idea of what the place will be.

It's a gastropub, a bar serving gourmet renditions of hearty foods. It's supposed to lure in unsuspecting businessmen for lunch or dinner. Before they know what's happened, they will be handing over their Amex Black cards for backslapping parties in the private wine room, global arbitrage lectures in the meeting hall and client suites in the hotel tower.

Ideally, they won't emerge from the hotel for several years, confused and destitute. Hotels around town have become increasingly adept at this game in recent years, leading to a slew of new high-end hotel restaurants (free link).

Hilton's restaurant is designed to mimic the investment banker's natural habitat: clubby, with dark woods, faux leather, copper and these medieval looking chandeliers. Engstrom Design Group has been working on the interior and expects to begin demolition in August.

The place was built with an eye toward Gramercy Tavern in New York, according to Hilton's new Food and Beverage Director Stefan Gruvberger. But it's unlike anything else in the Hilton chain and is supposed to feel very separate from the hotel.

It will even have its own entrance, near the corner of Mason and O'Farrell, and the Hilton logo will be banished from the premises. It is set to open in March 2008.

Full story:

Hilton to spend $13M to build new restaurant (free link)

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Crank. Eeee!

I hereby declare this crankypants Thursday. Maybe it's the VD hangovers?


The first thing that's pissing people off is small plates, and the fact that restaurants that sell food in the small plate format STILL think it's OK to bring a dozen small plates to the table at the same time, or in an otherwise unpredictable sequence, even though the small plate trend has been with us for some time now.

Close Michael Bauer readers know that this has become almost an old saw for him, and if you carefully read old mid-1990s reviews of places like Thirsty Bear and Cesar you can see that service was a very early thorn on the small-plates rose. Even Cesar's Chez Panisse service culture couldn't help but "border on rude," in Bauer's words.

Now, food writer Catherine Nash informs us that at least one small plates place still doesn't seem to get it -- Circa brought her 10 small plates within 5 minutes, earning a downgrade to "let down" from "loved it."

The things we have to put up with ... sheesh!


Speaking of the Chronicle, former Contra Costa Times food critic John Birdsall has declared a jihad against one of the Chron's food writers from his new qaeda at the East Bay Express.

Taking a break from writing like a crazy person and barking orders at the elected government of Berkeley, Birdsall put Valentine's Day to chillingly effective use, sending orders through the Internet to his agents in Bay Area food media that the Chron's Marlena Spieler is never to work in this town -- ever -- again.

Happy Valentine's Day, Marlena! John Birdsall thinks you're "probably a really nice person!" And he's declared a fatwa against you to prove how much he cares!

With a long bloody chef's knife possibly next to the keyboard as he typed, Birdsall explained that the fatwa is no big deal, just probably related to Spieler's horrifying, detached, painted face as depicted by Chronicle graphics fiends, and the human charcuterie the Chron recently attached to her severed head, plus perhaps the just slightly terrifying hellscape of acid-trip iconography inserted next to her copy to set the mood.

Plus, Birdsall knows a way better writer at his old newspaper, and this other one who has a buzz cut and everything, plus she's a chef and we all know good chefs automatically make great food writers! She's already won over the entire Express editorial staff (by giving interviews?) and they wholeheartedly endorse her, if only to get out of the broom closet where they ("we") are still cowering in mortal fear of Spieler's VDay visage!

(To be less unfair, this other writer actually has a blog you can go read and that at first blush appears half decent.)

Oh, and apparently scary Spieler lives in Australia or Newfoundland or something instead of the San Francisco Bay Area. Whatever -- hasn't Birdsall heard of the Chronicle Foreign Service? It's sort of like the BBC, but without the accents, and underwritten by Hearst instead of British taxpayers. Apparently Bronstein thought it up when he realized there was no other way to get international news in San Francisco.


Having had enough of all this crankiness, particularly of the "hit piece" sort by writers from a certain SmartMoney magazine, Michael Bauer defends his former dinner dates Tim and Nina Zagat against charges of grade inflation, saying that while Tim and Nina might awkwardly fight about the check in front of him, they put out an "influential, useful guide" that's no worse than Chowhound or eGullet. Even if 70 percent of Zagat Guide restaurants now get a once-coveted rating of 20 or better.


Covers, actually, isn't feeling particularly cranky. It's actually been fun summarizing all of this mud, plus I'm still glowing from a Valentine home dinner of lamb, Van Der Heyden 02 Cab and Recchiuti chocolate purloined from its rightful owner.

But if I had to complain, I'd put my crank in the form of a question, you know? Because have you noticed? On CNET's food blog? How about every third post ends in a question? Do you think they're trying to drive up traffic? Or more just trying to get the readers to do all the work?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

ACTUAL SF rezzy scalper unmasked by Bauer!

A few weeks back I noted that a scalper of restaurant reservations was threatening to come to San Francisco from home base in New York.

Now Michael Bauer has found an actual, operating rezzy scalper here in SF, or at least offering SF reservations:

The scariest part: there was a 7:15 Wednesday night rezzy at Coco 500 still available when Bauer mentioned the site at the bottom of a blog wrapup on VD (as chefs call the "romantic" day they detest deep in their hearts even if it makes them truckloads of money).

At some point between 5 am and 9 am, someone bought that scalped reservation!

For shame, San Francisco. For shame.

It's not clear how the Bauer found the site. The context of his post implies it might have been via press release. I'm not trying to devalue his scoop, just amazed if a restaurant reservation scalper actually solicited press coverage.

(Valentine's rant link courtesy Knife's Edge.)


In which I'm crowned 'King' by a royal subject

Regular readers know just how much I like reading cheeky Brits, so it's especially nice when one likes reading me, too.

Sam at Becks & Posh, an ex Londoner by her own admission, certainly qualifies as cheeky. She's so cheeky, she even sings about her beloved city, a brilliant food blog innovation others will surely copy. (I like when she says "a nuclear era.")

In another cheeky masterstroke, she bragged about enjoying a "menage a trois" with a certain ex Chronicle food columnist, promised pictures, and when the big post went online the next day, it turned out she was referring to a trio of citrus, tarragon, avocado. I have to admit, the photo spread likely got a lot of mouths watering, especially the pork belly and the pear and Roquefort number.

Now she's telling everyone to visit "Under the Covers with Ryan Tate." Now, that's just going to scare aware potential readers, Sam. Though I do admit hotel bedsheets are part of the whole double entendre, we try not go under them too often, some of the gossip that crosses my notebook notwithstanding (Macallan 18 or a 2005 Burgundy being the price of details on that). And if I do take readers under there, rest assured there's probably going to be a yummy chef of some sort in there, not me.

Me watching you watching meJust as I could never resist Tyler Brule's impossible columnistic charm, however, I can't help but be flattered at being Bay Area Blogger of the Week, even if I'm number 61 in line for the honor, and "dry "and all that.

After all, "if Marcia (Gagliardi) is the Queen of Scoops in the Bay Area, then Ryan Tate must surely be thing King."

Very kind words. Thanks!

And lots of new readers. Welcome!

To establish my "scoop" bonafides, I point new readers to my introductory post, where I run through some of my past Business Times restaurant scoops, and to a new label I have created, "scoop," for Covers posts where I am actually breaking news or pointing to a Business Times story where I break news.

The front page of Covers will always mix said scoops with lots of linking out to other people like Sam, Amy (who also very generously linked to me early on), Alder, Carter, Marcia and the many many other food bloggers I read on a daily basis, not to mention print media, and my own opining on news that's already out there, whether from myself or others. If that's not for you, just read the scoops-only version of the site!

In the meantime, I'm thinking of renaming Covers "Covers: The blog so nice, Sam blessed it twice!"


Monday, February 12, 2007

From New York, it's the Restaurant Smackdown Show

The Great Restaurant Snoot Wars are rampaging through Gotham!

Earlier this month Frank Bruni laid down his scalding treatise on mounting restaurant snoot. Or, as Bruni put it, the "unmistakable, unsettling shift in the balance of power between self-regarding restaurants and self-effacing diners" -- "Once they were lucky to have us. Now we’re lucky to have them."

Now someone at the Old Town Bar in New York, once part of the opening credits for the David Letterman show, has posted a charmingly anarchic window sign decrying the snoot at a rival restaurant, Graydon Carter's increasingly notorious Ye Waverly Inn.

The sign reads, in part:
... (Carter's Waverly Inn) seating is restricted to an elite who get the hush hush, top secret reservation number. What a classic fatuous liberal. He preaches diversity but practices exclusion.
Tired: Blog posts
Wired: Angry butcher-paper scrawls taped to restaurant windows.

For the full image, click through to Gawker.


Monster hotel consumes yet another GM

The San Francisco Hilton must be fed!

The beast is the largest hotel on the West Coast, with 1,900 rooms, and demands human sacrifice, specifically General Managers.

It just chewed up and spit out John Mazzoni -- for the second time! Mazzoni lasted less than two months before throwing in the towel ... err, towels.

He's off to a job at Hilton corporate, a promotion. And his first term lasted for more than three years, starting in 2003. So I'm not saying it didn't go well for him, all 42 days of it.

But it's starting to look like musical chairs over there.

In between Mazzoni's two terms was Karima Zaki, a warm and charismatic woman who was charming hospitality types all over town starting last March, and breaking new ground as a female hotel executive. But she announced her departure in November after it became clear her predecessor Mazzoni was not going to be needed any longer as the national union negotiator for the chain, contract talks having gone better than expected.

So Mazzoni returned, and Zaki went off to open a giant new Hilton in San Diego, nearer her extended family and her young daughter's old Southern California friends.

The hotel has just begun its search for a new leader. I write about this on the Business Times website today (free link).

Labels: , ,

Man attacked in the Argent, aka the Westin

A Nobel Peace Prize winner was accosted in an elevator at the Argent Hotel, forced out and dragged down a hallway toward his attacker's room.

The attacker then fled and the victim, Holocaust author Elie Wiesel, returned to the lobby and summoned the police. The attacker appears to be a fervent Holocaust denier who later posted an account of the attack online. This is all according to a Saturday story in the Chron.

These sorts of stories can be tough for the image of the hotels involved, particularly larger properties who try to provide extensive security for guests. The Embarcadero Hyatt Regency got caught up in a similar situation in 2003 when a woman was raped there.

It's not clear whether additional security would have helped in this case or not. The article states that the attacker first became aggressive at the lobby level, where he entered the elevator in pursuit of Wiesel, but Wiesel remained in the elevator and it's not clear if there was shouting or a physical struggle.

There was definitely a struggle on floor six, when the assailant dragged Wiesel out of the elevator, but the assailant was sufficiently concerned about something, possibly about being caught, that he quickly abandoned his attack.

In the case of the Hyatt, the assailant talked his way into the victim's room, where the attack unfolded. It was not clear how he gained access to the hotel, or if he was a guest. Obviously, a non guest should not have had access to the floor. The hotel was sufficiently rattled that it vowed to beef up security, particularly around entrances.

The Argent is set to become a Westin in the next month or two.


Farmer Brown wants to reap new place

Farmer Brown chef-owner Jay Foster wants to take over the Plush Room in the York Hotel, the hotel's new owner told me.

Personality Hotels is buying the York from CTwo hotels, plus the Maxwell Hotel from Joie de Vivre Hospitality, bringing its total stable of Union Square hotels to seven.

Personality is already landlord to Farmer Brown: the neo-soul food restaurant is located in the company's Metropolis hotel.

I learned all this at a party for the Diva hotel, which was recently renovated with the help of a bunch of up-and-coming artists. Personality Hotels founder Yvonne Lembi-Detert was excited about the new hotels, but gave no indication on how likely she is to let Farmer Brown run the Plush Room.

Prior to writing my story, I confirmed the hotel sales with CTwo and Joie de Vivre. But after we went to press, someone from Personality called to tell me that the loans for the acquisitions are not fully nailed down yet, so these are not quite done deals at the moment.

The Plush Room, aka Empire Plush Room, is now run by Razz Productions.

This all comes from a story I wrote on Personality Hotels (free link) in Friday's Business Times.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, February 09, 2007

Slow Food opens San Francisco office, wants it permanently

Slow Food Nation mascotSlow Food International has opened a San Francisco office, its second permanent office in the U.S. outside of New York, and hopes to make it permanent.

The office was opened about six months ago in North Beach, at Stockton and Union Streets, primarily to organize the much-heralded Slow Food Nation food expo, which is set for May 1-4, 2008 at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.

Slow Food now estimates the expo will draw 60,000 people to Fort Mason Center!

But the office is also meant to service the highly visible San Francisco-area chapter of Slow Food USA, and Slow Food International would like to keep the office going even after the Expo folds up shop and, in all likelihood, moves to the East Coast in 2009, for example Ann Arbor.

For now, the office is small, about 600 square feet and two people, including Slow Food Nation's Content Director, who I spoke to for the full story on the Business Times website today (free link). But it is expected to grow.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Argent renovation pegged at $29 million

The Chronicle today retreads some old news about the Argent hotel, along with one new bit of info.

Over a year ago, the Argent hotel was sold. I reported the story in the Feb. 3 2006 Business Times.

In the March 27 2006 Business Times, I reported that the Argent would become a Westin.

In December I reported the hotel was going to redo its restaurant in an Italian vein.

Today, the Chronicle reports that the Argent has sold and is being reflagged as a Westin and is getting an Italian restaurant -- the old news.

It also adds that the renovation will cost $29 million -- the new news.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Burger Bar story online for free

My story on Hubert Keller bringing his Burger Bar concept back to his culinary hometown of San Francisco from Las Vegas is now online for free.

(This post was corrected Feb. 9: it originally had the wrong link.)


Vessel charging $500 per table; new age of excess

I almost forgot to post my front page story from Friday's Business Times:

A spate of new bars are riding the second dot-com wave, targeting conspicuous consumers with new fees and rules.

My lead example is Vessel, already open many nights as part of its "soft opening" and set to formally open Feb. 22. Vessel is on Campton Place, across from the hotel and next door to Alfred's steakhouse.

The bar cost $1 million - $5 million to build but is hoping to swiftly recoup that from consumers, charging nighttime rates of $500 for a full, 12-person table and $250 for a half table. That's just to sit down, not including bottle service or other drinks.

I also mention the Ambassador, opened in January and reserving booths for people spending hundreds of dollars on bottle service, and of course Bourbon and Branch, where you need a reservation in advance and have a time limit on your visit.

Finally, there's "Mister," a forthcoming Financial District barbershop-and-bar, which targets affluent young financial services types and offers memberships at the "player," "hitter" and "mogul" level.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 05, 2007

Alice Waters WSJ ad: Not particularly fresh or sustainable

Alice Waters' appearance in an advertisement for the Wall Street Journal newspaper -- blogged about previously -- is now running and is available online, complete with video.

Though no doubt lucrative for Waters' Edible Schoolyard project and/or Waters herself, the advertisement does basically nothing to promote the WSJ as a brand and is thus baffling.

Not once is any effort made to show how the WSJ helped Waters, not in the print ad summarizing Waters' life in a few bullet points or in the video shallowly retreading what she stands for.

Nor are any of the WSJ advertisements particularly informative or enlightening on Waters' life.

The WSJ advertising website doesn't even have the basic sense to reprint any actual WSJ articles about her, by way of providing prospective readers a sense of the high standards and sharp writing of the newspaper.

If anything, the ads tarnish the WSJ brand. The advertisement designers do such a poor job of painting a picture of Waters, in the midst of their effort to to rub the WSJ flag up against her and what she stands for, that they actually create the impression that the WSJ does not actually know how to tell a story, or to profile someone intrinsically interesting, and is thus a poor choice as a newspaper.

This ad campaign is actually worse than nothing, based on the Waters ad. It actually does harm to the WSJ.

I still consider the WSJ the very best newspaper in this country, a hugely compelling read; more tightly written, reported and fact checked than the New York Times; and better positioned against other media, their traditional "second day" in-depth analysis stories offering the sort of color and context that illuminate how newspapers can thrive against other, faster media.

Which is why it is so infuriating to see this ad campaign botched so badly. At a time of dwindling attention spans and declining newspaper fortunes, a paper like the WSJ needs good marketing more than ever.

Oh well.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Fake wine bars make Alder Yarrow want to spit

An actual wine barAlder Yarrow has a fun rant on an experience that is becoming all too common:
You wander into a newly opened "Bistro and Wine Bar" in a favorite neighborhood only to find it is actually just a restaurant -- sometimes even lacking the very piece of furniture that "bar" generally refers to -- that serves wine by the (often over-full and impossible to swirl) glass?
Real wine bars have actual, um, bars, along with wine by the taste and an extensive list that changes, according to Alder. Ideally, they have knowledgeable servers and nice stemware. Sounds reasonable.

Fake wine bars meanwhile, tend to be restaurants with the words "and Wine Bar" tacked on to the end of their name. Or wine shops with a tasting area.

Worth a read.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 02, 2007

Chronicle critic leaves for Dallas

Food critic Bill Addison is leaving the Chronicle for the Dallas Morning News, the Express reports, with no replacement in sight.

Addison was at the paper for just nine months, having been hired from an alt weekly in Atlanta.

The Express says there's a hiring freeze in effect at the Chron, and that existing food staff will have to pick up the slack from Addison's departure. The staff is already pinch-hitting at the Inside Scoop column, which until October had its own writer.

The optimistic view is that perhaps this could eventually turn into a chance to hire Jonathan Kauffman back to the area from Seattle.


Blind waiters and pitch black dining rooms

Interesting story out of China: Dark restaurants, in which you order in the light and proceed to a pitch-black dining room to eat, where you are served by blind waiters.

I was tipped off to a story in the Shanghai Daily Jan 23, available for the moment via Google's cache. One of these dark restaurants opened in Beijing in late December, catering to young people and expatriates, and will soon open in Shanghai. The company behind them hopes to have 20 outlets throughout Asia by the end of next year.

The company's president said: "Eating in the darkness increases intimacy, which best embodies the slogan of the restaurant: A world without emotional distance."

Cell phones, watched and lighters are confiscated and guests are led to their tables by hosts wearing night vision goggles. But "the restaurant will recruit some blind servers in addition 10 ordinary staff," the story states, as in Beijing and other dark restaurants.

A sidebar, not online, claims the first "dark restaurant" opened in Zurich in 1999 by a blind priest who wanted to create jobs for the blind and help diners better understand their challenges.

I have created a "global restaurants" label for stories like this one and the Japanese authentic restaurant inspectors.

Labels: ,

Hubert Keller's Burger Bar coming to SF

Fleur de Lys chef-owner Hubert Keller is bringing his Las Vegas concept Burger Bar back home to San Francisco, though he has not yet picked out a location.

Keller is also spreading Burger Bar to St. Louis, where one is already under construction as part of a casino project, and possibly to Hawaii.

Keller told me Burger Bar is doing close to 1,000 covers per day in Las Vegas and that he is hoping it will soon cross the $7 million per year revenue mark. Bon Apetit credits the ultra-luxe hamburger joint with spawning a long line of imitators after it opened in March 2004. High end burger places have since opened from chefs like Laurent Tourondel and David Burke in New York, Bobby Flay in Las Vegas (reportedly) and of course Thomas Keller in Napa Valley, who is hoping to soon uncork his burger place.

(Of course New York chef Daniel Boulud was serving a high-end burger at his DB Bistro Moderne by the start of 2003, before Keller’s Burger Bar, but that was not a standalone burger joint.)

I report all this in today's Business Times, along with what neighborhoods Hubert is looking in, what other restaurateurs think of the idea and why SF may be more perfect for Burger Bar than Las Vegas.

Labels: , , ,

Limon the leading restaurant at Old Mint

Alongside the forthcoming redevelopment of San Francisco's Old Mint is the transformation of little Jessie Street behind the mint into an attractive, pedestrian-friendly plaza. Fronting the plaza will be three restaurants, installed into the ground floors of various historic buildings across from the Mint.

Upstairs from the restaurants will be condominiums and lofts.

Most prestigious among the restaurants to be located in these attractive old structures will be an entry from the Castillo family, proprietors of the Peruvian restaurant Limon in SoMA. The Limon team is putting in the restaurant at 418 Jessie Street.

This information comes courtesy of a nice scoop in Tablehopper on Wednesday, which I somehow overlooked until last night.

Labels: ,