Monday, January 28, 2008

I'm blogging for Gawker

So I have left the Business Times and am writing for Gawker, a blog about media and pop culture. My last day at the Business Times was Jan. 19; my first day at Gawker started last night (Sunday).

You can read some of my initial Gawker posts here (the ones with my name in the lower right corner, mixed in with other peoples' posts).

Gawker is based in New York but I will be based at home in Berkeley, working an evening shift to get a jump on the next day's news.

I've long been an admirer of Gawker Media CEO -- and now Gawker Managing Editor -- Nick Denton, and this opportunity was too good to pass up. Still, I'll very much miss covering the hospitality beat at the Business Times, not to mention the East Bay. (I'm writing so many individual goodbye emails that I'm still sending them out; should probably just put everyone in a mass email already.)

I apologize for the long break in posting; I was busy interviewing and preparing for this gig and did not want to say anything until it was official.

In about three months time I'll probably start looking for freelance magazine work here and there (hospitality-related, hopefully) to flex my long-form writing muscles; if you know of any opportunities, please email me!

People have asked me what is going to happen to Covers. Here is the answer:

I'm going to keep writing Covers. Hospitality is a beat I'm going to keep following, and I'm going to have something to say on a regular basis. But it probably won't be on a daily basis, especially over the couple of months.

The best way to read Covers is along with all the other great restaurant blogs in this town, like SF Eater and Tablehopper and Bauer and your favorite food blog, in an RSS "feed reader" like Google Reader. A feed reader lets you read a bunch of different sites on one page, and it makes it a lot easier to follow sites that update sporadically.

If you've been sending me tips, the good news is that I can now post them up immediately, because I don't have to hold anything for the Business Times ;-) I promise, if you send me something good, I will get it up within an hour of seeing your email.

A tech note, you'll have to access Covers through Right now, you can also get here through, but I'm turning back into a truly personal homepage.

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog, offered words of encouragement or helped educate me about the biz.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mina elaborates on his Millenium concept

No entrees, says the NY Times:
in a year or so [Mina] plans to open a wine bar and restaurant in San Francisco that will have no main courses but rather 25 dishes of about the same size divided into five categories.
This is from a story on the death of the entree, which is really just a fancy way of saying we now tend to eat more courses, because we want to live like kings, because we're upwardly mobile, because we're Americans, but Americans who increasingly ape the French, except with much less valuable currency, because in trying to live like kings we tend to overdo things and spend more than we earn.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tanya Holland brings TV glitz to West Oakland

West Oakland twice struck out landing the Wayans Brothers, who were going to build a movie studio thing on the old Army Base until they realized their children's "fun zone" would be right next to toxic emissions from giant container ships. Woops.

Now the neighborhood has finally landed a development from a TV star, albeit on a slightly smaller scale and a lot more healthy: Tanya Holland, who previously hosted "Melting Pot" on the Food Network and ran the kitchen at Le Theatre in Berkeley, is opening Brown Sugar Kitchen next month at the former home of Triangle Cafe at Mandela and 26th.

The concept is "cooking with soul" using "locally grown, organic and seasonal ingredients whenever possible." Wines are from African American California vintners -- and from the South of France. There will be microbrews -- and Blue Bottle Coffee.

Think of soul food combined with formal French training. The recipes in Holland's cookbook should give you some idea.

Holland is doing a cooking demo Friday night at the Museum of California (in Oakland).

More in my Business Times update: Food Network star to open West Oakland restaurant (free link)

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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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