Monday, November 26, 2007

Kuleto restaurants delayed, over budget

Pat Kuleto's two waterfront restaurants, WaterBar and Epic Roasthouse, have fallen two months and at least $2 million behind schedule, I reported in the Business Times on Friday (free link!).

Also, some of the ceilings are going to be pretty low (8 feet).

On the plus side: lots of outdoor terrace seating, high ceilings over the dining room, and both restaurants are pretty far along.

The project was already dropping jaws at its $18 million cost, now the cost is somewhere over $20 million.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

I posted photos from my honeymoon online.


More than half of SF restaurants open on Thanksgiving today

Photo  by Maitri on Flickr"I think there was a time 20 years ago where most restaurants closed for Thanksgiving. I think that’s gradually shifted to where most [400+] are open.”

--Kevin Westlye, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, in the Examiner

(Photo courtesy Maitri on Flickr via Creative Commons license.)


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Failure of SF grease recycling goes ignored

Photo courtesy nchoz on FlickrSo the city of San Francisco is trying to recycle restaurant grease into biofuel for automobiles, to save the city's pipes from having a heart attack, and to clean our air, and to save the planet from melting, and it's going to be so awesome, even the Chronicle and its self-styled nemesis BeyondChron manage to agree on its front-page-worthy awesomeness.

Which is why I think it's funny no one mentioned this has been tried before, and has failed.

Two years ago the Golden Gate Restaurant Association named Bay Area Biofuel of Richmond its "preferred vendor" for grease recycling, and then in May 2006 I wrote a big front page article saying the company was growing production based on the partnership, and hoped to soon be profitable. The executive director of the restaurant association said Bay Area Biofuel "has all the right stuff" for the partnership, and according to my notes told me the association had conducted interviews to "find the industry leader" before settling on the company.

In October 2006, my colleague Lizette Wilson checked in with Bay Area Biofuel as part of a industry roundup article. She found the company still unprofitable, looking for more money from investors and drowning in unprocessed grease ("We need to expand production significantly to keep up with supply and be profitable").

By February of this year, the company's website had disappeared.

Then in May, Bay Area Biofuel Inc. of Richmond, CA filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in an Oakland court, according to Dow Jones Newswires' Corporate Filings Alert.

With Bay Area Biofuel gone, the city obviously needed to turn to a different company for its new grease recycling program. It settled on Blue Sky Bio-fuels of Oakland, which according to the Chronicle has been making biofuel for just two months.

I'm not saying San Francisco's new grease-to-biofuel effort will definitely fail, just that the city and its partner Blue Sky need to be asked what they will do to avoid the fate of Bay Area Biofuel and how certain they are about the sustainability of the restaurant grease recycling program. And coverage of the city's high-profile announcement should take note of the dead corporate body lying on this green road to the future.

By all accounts, including those of restaurateurs I interviewed in May 2006, restaurants are more likely to recycle their grease -- instead of pouring it down the drain -- if pickup is timely and reliable. There are well-established companies willing to reliably pick up restaurant grease for less glamorous ends than biofuel, as they have been doing for years. If restaurants are going to be encouraged to switch to a new recycler, it should probably be someone who is going to be around for some time to come.

(Photo courtesy nchoz on Flickr via Creative Commons license.)

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Tony Bourdain keeping it real in Fruitvale

My friend Connie emailed to say Anthony Bourdain is chowing down in front of at least one of the famed taco trucks in the Fruitvale district of Oakland:

so i just sent zack on a taco run to our favorite
truck (mi grullense) and he just called saying that
tony bourdain was there (w/the contra costa times).
he's super tall and ordered the cabeza and the tripa.

cool, huh?

Very cool, but what would be even cooler is if Tony could convince one of those truck owners to publish "Taco Truck Confidential." SO much scarier than Kitchen Confidential.

(PS, maybe he found this place through nerdfury??)

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Friday, November 16, 2007

How to give a presentation in a hotel: Step one, avoid hotels.

Software company owner Joel Spolsky recently demonstrated his software in 20 different cities, and learned plenty about hosting meetings in hotels:
  • Avoid hotels. Spolsky writes, "Before you try hotels, look for libraries, museums, and universities: many of went into debt building beautiful, modern lecture halls and now they’re trying to rent them out to pay for all that nice blond wood paneling and the 265 built-in powered Bose speakers."
  • Book the nicest hotel in town, because the quality of the venue will rub off on your brand. Avoid "frightful old relics" like the ones Spolsky accidentally booked.
  • Hotels lie about key details of their meeting spaces, so ask for numbers. Instead of asking whether all audience members will be able see your screen, ask for the height of the ceiling.
  • Go for high ceilings (he explains why)
  • Have loud music, nametags and helpers (he explains why).
  • And more, in:
Joel on Software: How to demo software


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gary Danko's eunuch orgy

So apparently Gary Danko has this fantasy about the end of the world, which involves ... well, read for yourself:
Gary Danko envisions a "delicious and awesome festival" set on the banks of a lake in Udaipur, and featuring eunuchs, platform beds, and fifteen wines, including a Nebuchadnezzar of Krug champagne from 1947.
That's from the New Yorker, quoting from a new book called Last Supper, about the fantasy last meals of various chefs. Udaipur, by the way, is a lake-filled city in India.

Someone PLEASE order this thing with overnight shipping and send me all the other juicy details!! (I'd do it myself, but it's starting to sound like the sort of thing that might be illegal to send through the mail.)

In the meantime, we all should thank Gary, the sole San Francisco chef in the book, for representing our gloriously and freakishly hedonistic city so very, very well!

Then Tyler Florence, recently transplanted to Marin, ruins the whole Bay Area's rep by poring boring sauce on the whole thing and saying he fantasizes about a “classic Southern feast of my childhood ... No frou frou French. No snout-to-tail. No fucking foie gras.”

I love chicken fried steak as much as the next Texas boy, but Tyler it has to be said: LAME! YOUR FANTASY DOESN'T EVEN CONTAIN A SINGLE CASTRATED DUDE!!

New Yorker: No seconds

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Your wine bottles are melting the planet, snob

I just got a press release saying I should buy my wine from Oakland vintners because shipping bottles from Napa spews way more carbon than shipping grapes, since glass is so bloody heavy.

And it turns out there is new scientific research to confirm this, described the author Tyler "Dr. Vino" Coleman on his awesome blog.

Which has been covered elsewhere, but everyone, including Dr. Vino, emphasizes the solution of continuing to buy wine bottles, but from a local winery.

Yet Dr. Vino's research found boxed wine "has much less (carbon) intensity" than bottles.

Wine snobs object to boxed wine because it was historically used for low-quality wine and sometimes even marketed to alcoholics as cheap guzzle. Also, the wine suffers is you leave it in the box too long, since it's wrapped in plastic, so you can't age the wine.

The thing is, the vast majority of Americans who buy bottled wine do not cellar -- heck, their wine is lucky to last 48 hours! And the composition of wine, from what I gather, has evolved in response. Most bottles serve as props to perpetuate the acknowledged, romantic fiction that they will be lovingly aged by sophisticated drinkers in the cool, dry caves under their chateaus.

Get with the program, Monsieur Terroir! I'm ready to start buying some quality boxed wine to drink in my sweltering shack!

I'm also ready to start re-using my bottles. Hook a hose up to your tank or barrel or whatever, stick it in my used bottle or portable plastic tank, and fill 'er up! If it works in France it can work here. And ideally I would be able to buy not just from the winery, but at the wine shop, supermarket, heck even my gas station. I mainly use them for Ben & Jerry's anyway, and they're right across from Acme Bread and could give Kermit Lynch a run for their money!

It's time to end this preposterous charade of wastefully shipping bottles around.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Desperate scramble for line cooks (and the future of tipping)

The Chronicle this morning takes a front-page look at how low kitchen wages make it quite difficult to retain solid line cooks, while increasingly demanding chef bosses make it even tougher.

This is one of the more interesting aspects of the widening divide between the tipped front of the house and untipped kitchen workers. Owners argue that recent minimum wage hikes have exacerbated the divide by diverting owners' money to waiters, who earn minimum wage but have historically been their best compensated employees because of tips. Owners say that money would have otherwise been spent on raises for the kitchen staff.

Proposed solutions to the problem range from replacing tips with a service charge to, more recently, getting the city to freeze the minimum wage for tipped workers, instead of increasing it every year.

Eater SF isn't sure it sees the problem, here, since waiters only get paid (*cough*) nine bucks an hour, and this one blog that hates everything ever in the Chronicle also hates this story.

One solution that occurred to me recently is simple but uncomfortable and unlikely: if we all cut back our tips enough to make up for the minimum wage hikes and eventual health care benefits, owners will have room to raise prices and give wage hikes to the back of the house.

After another year or two of minimum wage hikes, 10-15 percent could become the new 15-20 percent. If your tax dollars and menu prices have hiked the minimum wage several times in four years to 35 percent above the statewide minimum and if the promise of free health care for uninsured workers is delivered (assuming failure of a pending a suit by restaurant owners), is it not reasonable to adjust your tip to account for this more dignified standard of living?

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dlibert creator flails with restaurant in Bay Area

Dilbert creator Scott Adams is struggling to manage his restaurant "Stacey's" in a Dublin strip mall, according to a New York Times story today.

The restaurant is bleeding money as customers choose national chain restaurants over Stacey's. Owner adams took over the deteriorating operations in July and tried to improve everything from the food to the decor, but his staff just laughed at him and compared him to an actual infant baby, probably because he has no management experience and virtually zero restaurant experience (he bussed tables a long time ago).

Nevertheless, the whole staff seems to think he's a great guy, and not a terrible boss. Now he's trying to use his Dilbert celebrity to drive business to the place. Oh, also, he has a smaller Stacey;s in Pleasanton that is doing well.

Thanks to the chef-owner who sent me this -- with no small dose of Schadenfreude, surely.

NY Times: The Tables Turn for Dilbert’s Creator


Friday, November 09, 2007

City may ban hotel-condo conversions forever, approximately

No wonder St. Francis owner Laurence Geller is so obsessed with the city's hotel-condo conversion moratorium -- Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin wants to make the temporary, 18-month ban effectively permanent.

The SF Examiner reports that Peskin is proposing extending the ban for "at least a decade," but don't worry, you can get an exemption if you ask Aaron nicely.

And then ask the Planning Commission nicely.

And then ask the union officials, neighbors, activist groups and other Planning Commission lobbyists nicely.

Between this and recent developments in commercial finance, San Francisco hotels seem to be depreciating nicely.

Examiner: Supe aims to shield hotel rooms from condo conversions

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oakland hipster slams restaurant in RECORD TIME, so John Birdsall is now obsolete

Flora, a cute little restaurant in downtown Oakland, has been open for approximately four hours, so of course it has already been declared DEAD AND PASSE AND LAME by a snide local hipster who has better taste in restaurants than you, because you live on the wrong side of the Caldecott Tunnel and work in an office and are probably wearing Dockers.

Kevin Cook, food writer at, hasn't actually been to Flora, but he has read another writer's blog about when she went to Flora earlier this afternoon, and he has already had it up to here with the restaurant, which he vows to never visit again, or ever, since he's never actually been in the first place.

Based on seven pictures and a 193-word review, Cook declared, in the comments of course, the following:
I will never understand why a place like flora attracts anyone. I don’t care how new the kitchen staff is–making a decent vinaigrette shouldn’t take any practice or time for a professional. Tuna melt? Come on, this place sounds like an upscale togos for the walnut creet office worker lunch crowd.
To recap: Kevin Cook does not understand why Flora does not throw in the towel and shut down and admit it's over, already, since it has managed to ruin its reputation in the four hours it has been open by making a bad vinaigrette and, uh, serving sandwiches, to people who work in offices. And possibly live in Walnut Creek. Ew.

This is the glorious future of food criticism, which shows why reviews printed on dead trees by so-called professionals who secretly love sandwiches and Contra Costa County and cubicles are now obsolete forever, oh holy god I want John Birdsall back they laid him off I didn't want to tell you but there it is The End.

(Seriously, the East Bay Express laid off Birdsall and six other staffers, including Kara Platoni.)

A Better Oakland: Flora opens tonight! (Updated with pictures)

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Lame waiter words enrage Frank Bruni

He hates
  • "Enjoy"
  • "Enjoying"
  • "Pardon my reach"
  • Talking to you in the first person (plural): "Do we have any food allergies ..."
  • Talking to you in the third person: "Would madam enjoy ..."
  • "Enjoy"
  • "Perfect."
  • "Excellent choice."
  • "Enjoy"
Not the freshest story idea, but we must read Bruni faithfully, because some day he is going to lose it, in a restaurant, with the violence, and it is going to be awesome.

NY Times: Tonight, Patronizing Language. Enjoy.

Previously: You May Kiss the Chef’s Napkin Ring

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Exclusive Flora pic! (... link. Exclusive Flora pic LINK. Still exclamation-mark worthy!)

The team behind high-end Mexican restaurants Dona Tomas in Oakland and Tacubaya in Berkeley are close to opening their Uptown Oakland joint, Flora.

I walked past the restaurant last night and spied a small group inside, putting on the finishing touches. It is looking like the casual cocktail cafe we were promised last year, with a definite Raymond Chandler, late 1940s feel.

My cell phone shots are awful, so go check out this picture, taken by one of my companions last night.

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Town Hall guys strike again

Marcia at Tablehopper made me laugh: She says the owners of Town Hall and Salt House would "make a great law firm."

They're called Rosenthal, Rosenthal and Washington.

Or at least, that's what I'm calling them from now to eternity.

They're launching an "oyster bar and fish shack" and, in keeping with their operating philosophy, putting it in the same neighborhood as their other two restaurants (and not in Oakland). This lets the founders keep a close eye on all their properties and more easily trade staff and, presumably, ingredients. Plus you can do effective cross-marketing and more easily generate buzz, since you already have a neighborhood client base. At some point there's an upper limit where, if you open too many restaurants in one neighborhood you start cannibalizing your sales, but apparently these guys don't think they're close to that point yet.

Also, more chaos at Mint Plaza.


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Michael Mina also rocking the Millenium

Nice scoop in the Chronicle today, Mina is going in to the Millenium Tower condo project:
  • Mina + "his longtime wine director" Rajat Parr
  • Named RN74 after Burgundy highway
  • spring 2009 opening "at the earliest" (building itself not done until spring 2009)
  • 4,700 square feet, with 70 seats in dining room, 60 in bar
  • "moderately priced French-American cuisine ... A typical menu will offer five vegetable dishes, five fish, five pork and poultry items, and five meats."
  • Mina: "I just want it to be very relaxd."
I'm a bit of a dunce -- I was tipped to something like this nearly two months ago and forgot to ask Mina about it when I had him on the phone last week. Sigh.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Foie gras is back at Jardiniere

SF Chronicle, August 2003, following attacks on chef Laurent Manrique of Aqua:
Jardiniere's Traci Des Jardins ... said she will discontinue her signature foie gras and see how customers respond. Although she, like many chefs, wonders if her restaurant will be the next target, Des Jardins says her decision is not about fear. Ever since she visited a foie gras farm in 1995, Des Jardins said she's been "haunted by the image of those ducks."
Jardiniere menu, November 2007:
Liberty Farms Duck Breast,
Fuyu Persimmon, Chestnuts and Foie Gras Beignet, Huckleberry Jus
Emeritus Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California 2005
And from the Jardiniere New Year's Eve menu (PDF) for later this year:

Terrine of Foie Gras
Ginger Gelée and Toasted
Prum Riesling Auslese “Wehlener
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany 1997

Jardinier's opera-loving customers, it would appear, are quite fond of foie gras, and not particularly concerned with Traci Des Jardins' traumatic, terrifying nightmares.

Tough crowd!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Covers is back from honeymoon

Obviously. Expect occasional half-baked observations regarding my three weeks in France and environs (Paris->Lyon->Provence (Lourmarin)->Pyrenees (near Prades)->Barcelona) for roughly the next month. They will be tagged "France" and kept relatively free of Serge Gainsbourg references.

Also, thank you to everyone who visited and provided feedback (via comments and votes) on my Knight Foundation grant application. It has advanced to the next stage of the NewsChallenge competition, meaning I have to draw up a more complete proposal by the end of the month.

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Truffle crisis means you should probably skip the supplement

Not only do California chefs have to buy truffles with worthless American dollars, but it's pretty much no use even trying, according to my awesome chef tipster writes:
Truffles. Theoretically this is their time. There was no late-summer rain in Piemonte, or most of Italy for that matter and so there are no truffles. Some are popping up in the March, Tuscany, Umbria, northern Campania and Lazio, but they're weak and ridiculously expensive. I've got about the best truffle connection you can get and I'd have to pay 2700/lb for little fucking marbles with precious little perfume. I was in Rome two weeks ago and had some - they were ok, but hardly worth it. After three days of packing, traveling and getting into the states, they'll be pointless and most people will probably have to help them along with truffle oil and other such tricks. ... So far, this is a bad year.
The little ones seem to work well enough in special cheeses and macarons, but point taken!

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Michael Mina brasserie -- may yet be (Or: My seduction by Laurence Geller)

Last week I had a date with Laurence Geller, CEO of Strategic Hotels & Resorts and, by extension, the owner of the Westin Saint Francis hotel here in San Francisco. He put me in an apron, plied me with wine, cooked for me in a rooftop kitchen, gave me a signed copy of his rather purple novel "Do Not Disturb" and entertained me with the most delightful story about Michael Mina.

Michael Mina was going to make him a brasserie, in his hotel. Michael Mina was going to put it in the old Oak Room. Michael Mina was going to also make a bakery inside the brasserie and give it a window onto Post Street, somehow, and everyone was going to come and it was going to be awesome.

Laurence told me this, and gave me champagne, which made me happy, and then later he told as much to his 10 other guests, even though he did not care for them in that special way in which he cared for me, and he poured us more wine, and we were happy.

There were warning signs. When, the next day, I called the general manager of the St. Francis, a reliable and trustworthy fellow, he let on that the brasserie plans were, well, in the conceptual stage, but still "likely." And that Michael Mina was in talks but not, shall we say, signed on the dotted line. Michael Mina could not be reached for comment.

Actually, Michael Mina was reached for comment, the day after we went to press. Telling me that the plan for a brasserie was very preliminary, one among perhaps 15 projects Mina's company (total restaurants: 10) is weighing at any given time. But he was fairly certain he'd be running the St. Francis' new bar, the Clock Bar. But writing about the brasserie would be, uh, premature.

Well, Michael, you'll have to call Laurence about that one. Careful -- he's a sweet talker.

SF Business Times: St. Francis sees $150M hotel upgrade: CEO: But first, fix tourism (free link)

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