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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Thursday, November 22, 2007

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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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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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


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

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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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Charles Phan only now realizing he opened his new restaurant in the MALL FOOD COURT. Ahem.

Apparently people are minting money at the year-old expansion of Westfield SF Centre mall, but not poor Charles Phan of Slanted Door, who has a restaurant in the basement food court called Out The Door.

Bloomingdale's made a year's worth of money in nine months at the mall, but Phan is all, :-(

As he told my colleague Sarah Duxbury last week:

... his Out the Door concept is only doing OK.

"People are not embracing the mall in the evening as much as I'd like to see," he said, adding that his 150-seat, 5,000-square-foot restaurant gets only one dinner seating and is not meeting his projections.

See? No turns at dinner!

Imagine that. People not wanting to eat dinner in the mall food court. Hmmmm.

Phan's expectations may be just slightly inflated by his experience at the Ferry Building, where since opening in 2003 he has made close to $12 million per year. There, he does two or even three turns each night at dinner.

Besides Westfield, Phan now has spinoffs in the works in Pacific Heights, mid-Market and at the California Academy of Sciences.

Business Times: Westfield dazzles (free link)

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bruni joins Thomas Keller pile-on

New York Times food critic Frank Bruni today questions whether Thomas Keller has stretched himself too far, lending a sympathetic ear to the Bloomberg story published yesterday.

In a blog post, Bruni reminds us that Keller has a line of "silver-plated holloware sold by Christofle," along with the frozen food, expansion restaurants and other sorts of "diversification and division of interests that arguably contradict Mr. Keller’s words and posture in the past."

He adds:
... Mr. Keller has stretched and continues to stretch...

I read the Bloomberg and Eater reports on Keller an hour after having a cup of coffee at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center, where I met an out-of-town friend for a quick breakfast. I didn’t eat, but I made a fairly thorough visual survey of the muffins, croissants and cookies — there it was! my beloved Nutter Butter! — and I could see several kitchen hands, in advance of lunchtime, making a vast quantity of sandwiches in an assembly-line fashion.

Bruni: Thomas Keller, Inc.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Thomas Keller 'not going to be able to keep the quality' while selling frozen food, Ruth Reichl says

Photo cropped from original courtesy mikebaudio on FlickrBloomberg this morning published a Thomas Keller feature on its financial news wire, exploring whether diversions like a 20-room hotel, catering operation and frozen food line will impact quality at Keller's flagship French Laundry.

Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl tells Bloomberg's James Temple, " You have to expect that with your attention that diverted, you're not going to be able to keep the quality ... I just don't think that's possible.''

The story notes that Keller consulted on the Pixar movie Ratatouille, in which the main character becomes upset when a chef's image is used to sell frozen food on television. And yet Keller recently "designed and placed his name on two real- life frozen dishes for FiveLeaf, a unit of Cuisine Solutions Inc., based in Alexandria, Virginia. The company will soon begin pitching one, Mac and Cheese Lobster with Orzo, to retail stores, said Lillian Liu, the company's marketing manager."

Michael Bauer says, "Once you get into frozen food and pizzas, your fine dining brand gets a little fuzzed out." He is refering to Wolfgang Puck, apparently, but the reader will probably draw a parallel to Keller.

Keller said he mitigates against the risks of growth by
  • growing slowly and carefully, as when he shut down French Laundry for nearly 5 months while working on Per Se,
  • plugging in the old staff at new ventures,which keeps quality high and keeps staff from leaving for bigger opportunities.

Bauer weighed in on this topic in August, saying he did not think the French Laundry has lost its edge and still operated on "a sublime level" above other restaurants. He added that a recent meal there "wasn't as remarkable" as one two years prior, his all time favorite meal.

In July, I summarized some French Laundry backlash from online food writers.

Bloomberg: French Laundry's Keller Takes Plunge With Frozen Foods, Burgers

(Photo cropped from original courtesy mikebaudio on Flickr via Creative Commons license. You may redistribute and "remix" this cropped version under the same license.)

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Google computer nerds to teach children how to eat healthy. Oh holy God.

Google invites you to bring your children to its Mountain View headquarters next month for pizza, soda and television so it can teach them how to not be obese.

If you're afraid your kids are going to grow fat watching television on their computer or chatting with friends on the computer or surfing the Internet all day on the computer or deciding to become computer programmers who marry their computers and eat chips and Mountain Dew until the day their startup gets bought by the world's biggest computer, probably the best way to allay your fears is to march them down to Google headquarters.

Go there on October 20, when the company is fighting childhood obesity by holding a benefit for a TV show aimed at children.

The show is called "DooF" -- "food" spelled backwards -- and airs on PBS.

The benefit basically is a day of eating and walking around the Googleplex, but hey it's not as bad as I make it sound: the pizza is from an organic "make your own" workshop deal that will be led by Steve Sullivan of Acme Bread and by Google's pizza chef.

The soda is Italian soda from a "Euro Cafe" so, uh, probably still not healthy.

The TV is just a big screen showing interviews with kids at the event itself so it will not keep your kids glued.

You also get to tour an organic garden, sip smoothies, learn about "raw foods," taste apples from Donner Trail Fruit, do a food spelling bee, have a cheese sniffing contest with Cowgirl Creamery, and listen to some hip hop dudes called "Felonious." Fair enough.

Just make sure you don't accidentally come on some other day, or your impressionable youth will instead learn how to set up a webcam, start a blog and immerse herself in software development so that she can someday work in a giant computer that controls her transportation, laundry, diet, hair style, dating options, etc.

And bring some cash because Google can't just be letting anyone in the door for free, it's not like they are made of money.

Business Times: Hey kids! Come pig out at Google!

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hotel concierge brags he lives better than you could DREAM OF LIVING!!

An anonymous hotel concierge just wrote in to the comments to explain that he rolls posher than you, makes more money than you, lives larger than you and expects you to keep on tipping and not complaining about his commissions and kickbacks and who pays his salary or whatever.


Here is a taste:
So for those of you who think poor little concierges, what a poor living, you are wrong. Most of us have a better living than any of you. You get free everything. GC to go to restaurants, free rides to the airport and I can go on and on.
But where does the money come from?
Concierges make commision out of everything they do. How do you think they make a living???!!! that tour bus you booked, they make commission, that helicopter tour, scuba diving tour, limo, you name it they get commission just for recommending it.

Oh, also? Some concierges get salary AND TIPS on top of all this. Because, you know, when someone sells you something on commission, it is polite to not only buy it, but to tip as well.

Anyway the commenter's point is that, while kickbacks from the vendors he recommends may finance his extravagant lifestyle, they do not influence him in any way:

I take pride of what I do and I am REALLY good. Never has anybody complained about me either pushig nor selling. My company does not make me sell anything. Since when does it matter WHO pays your salary?

... wether I recommend my company or the neighbors company, I will still make money out of it. And that just comes with the title.

Does every single business that might get a recommendation from a concierge pay a commission?

Creating a positive relationship with concierges can pay dividends. When Ola Fendert was trying to get the word out about Oola's unusually late hours, he reached out to concierges, doormen and taxi drivers, including by plying them with free meals in some cases. (I mentioned the concierge thing in my article on late-night dining.)

You could argue that this sort of wining and dining is a way of spreading knowledge and ultimately helping make patrons aware about a restaurant staying open until 1am, still a rare, hard-to-find thing in San Francisco.

You could also argue that concierges who accept this sort of outreach are going to be influenced to recommend a restaurant that offers them freebies or commissions over a restaurant that doesn't give these goodies, even when the latter restaurant is the better recommendation for the patron.

These sorts of debates are not unknown in the journalism world. But the best journalists uniformly decline freebies, at least past a certain level.

Maybe concierges are totally different, maybe not.

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Limon or Dosa at Mint Plaza??

Like a sweet, sweet Julep on a hot Kentucky Derby day, everyone is grabbing at Mint Plaza, a dingy little lane where Martin Building Company is building a restaurant row to rival Belden Place.

The plaza includes three large restaurant spots, one spoken for by Portrero Hill bistro Chez Papa and the other dibbed by Russian Hill's Sushi Groove. Cult coffee roaster Blue Bottle has a café in 800 square feet, as well.

The third big spot was to go to the Castillo's family's Peruvian-Californian restaurant, Limon, but talks fell through.

Then, I was told by a source involved in the project, talks shifted to Dosa, Emily and Anjan Mitra's South Indian place about five blocks away in the same Mission District neighborhood.

Today, the Chronicle's Inside Scoop reports that Limon is back, "getting close to signing a lease."

Indian, Peruvian – the bigger question is whether Martin can make a culinary destination by photocopying neighborhood restaurants and tearing them out of their original, uh, neighborhoods. Hmmm. Worked for the Ferry Building, I guess.

Oh, and Chez Papa and Sushi Groove were supposed to open by Labor Day -- what happened to all that?

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Phan FINALLY seals deal with Soma Grand

Six months after the developers of the Soma Grand condo complex started hyping their talks with developer Charles Phan to prospective buyers, it looks like the restaurant deal is actually officially happening, if the Chronicle's Inside Scoop is to be believed.

Phan of course is known for his ubiquitous chain of StarbucksSlanted Door-branded restaurants, including the relocated "original" Slanted Door in the Ferry Building, a new one under construction in Pacific Heights, the Out the Door takeout spinoff in the Ferry Building, the Out the Door in Westfield San Francisco Centre and the forthcoming joint project with Loretta Keller at the California Academy of Sciences.

So if you loooorve Charles' crab cellophane noodles to the tune of around $700,000, give or take a few hundred thousand, and you actually mange to get a hold of a mortgage amid the financial markets meltdown, totally go for it!

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hoist Thomas Keller by his own Sysco petard, no really GO AHEAD, says ex-employee!

Photo cropped from original courtesy mikebaudio on FlickrThere's an awesome new post in the comments from ex-Thomas Keller employee "Ken," who confirms that, yes, Keller uses Sysco frozen fries at Bouchon to make what food-media empress Laura Froelich has declared are the best French-fried potatoes on the planet.

But Ken's bigger message is that Thomas Keller has no secrets.

Ask him for the model number of his fryer, he'll tell you. Ask him for what kind of Sysco oil he uses, he'll tell you.

Wait, what?? He uses Sysco OIL even?? Not like goose fat, or rendered Unicorn, or at least the carefully distilled juice of a grass-fed free-range happy cow? God this keeps. Getting. Worse.

But anyway, the point is, you could totally TAKE ON Thomas Keller using nothing more than his goodwill and copies of his own cookbooks. Here's the whole comment:

As a former employee of TK, I will tell you that you are correct about where the fries come from. I will also tell you that if you asked Thomas or Jeff Cerciello, they would tell you what kind of fryer they use and what kind of Sysco oil they use too.

Now, all you have to do is cook and season the fries. Match what they do and open your own place, it's that simple. TK has never hidden anything from anyone. His recipes and techniques mentioned in the TFL and Bouchon cookbooks are on the money and the same as the cooks thaqt work for him carry around in their precious pocket notebooks. TK feels that all you need to know about working for him or cooking in general is - desire.

Another secret about TK is that the pork he uses actually comes from pigs, but don't reveal this, it may cause a stir.

I hope all you local chefs looking to steal Thomas Keller's Michelin-star-studded crown got all that. Basically all you need is DESIRE, along with some chutzpah, hard work, Thomas Keller cookbooks and the ability to READ.

Hey where'd all the chefs go after the last part??

View comment with original post

(Photo cropped from original courtesy mikebaudio on Flickr via Creative Commons license. You may redistribute and "remix" this cropped version under the same license.)

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Farina neighbors really, really pissed off

Photo courtesy katerw on FlickrNeighbors of Mission District Italian place Farina are upset over how the restaurants' customers are double parking their cars and worried about the rooftop seating and the full liquor license.

They think the joint is going to become a haven for loudmouth drunktards who will scream from the rooftop and puke all over their streets and leave their cars in all kinds of illegal places.

Eighty of them complained to the restaurant owners before the place was even built -- parking was already out of control. Then they found out about the roof seating and full bar and got more pissed.

Then 50 wrote letters against the place to the Planning Commission. The commission approved the restaurant anyway and everyone got triple pissed.

The restaurant opened in June, approximately, which apparently pissed the neighbors off even more.

One neighbor got so pissed he was arrested for throwing paint on cars parked illegally outside the restaurant. The only witness was someone from the restaurant so the charges were dropped.

But just to give you a sense of how being pissed can change a man: the guy allegedly throwing paint is, by day, working as a criminal attorney.

Also, he told SF Magazine, on the record, as Matt Wilson, the following: "I just want everyone to know that this restaurant has fucked me."

Like I said: Piiiiissed.

SF Magazine, which wrote about the whole situation (offline, since it is now the year 1993), thinks Farina's owners need to learn to be more nice and friendly to the quadruple-pissed neighbors, because after all Delfina, Range and Bar Tartine have learned to do so.

Either that or just keep having them hauled off to jail for being so damned pissed all the time.

(Photo courtesy of katerw on Flickr via Creative Commons license.)

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SF hotels face capital famine


Hope you had a GREAT summer!

Did you have a GREAT summer?

Hope so!

Because now the money is gone!



Probably not a big deal. The money went away for the month of August, and may return in September, or October, or sometime in the fall, or maybe next year, or maybe not quite ever, but everyone expects it will probably come back.

But for now it's taken a little vacation. Or an extended sabbatical. Whatever.

Don't want to overstate things. By "the money," I just mean the commercial paper that underwrote 80 percent of all hotel finance. And by "gone," I just mean not being given out to anyone, anywhere, anymore.

This really is not a big deal, unless you're a hotelier. Or a restaurateur. Or in the construction industry.

Or a broker, or in interior design, or an architect.

Or in the hospitality industry. Or in a business impacted by the hospitality industry. Or in a business that touches in some way on real estate.

Or in a business that needs, like, capital.

In a nutshell, the problem is that most commercial lending was done through supposedly very safe "commercial paper," or short-term loans to reliable businesses.

But Jim Cramer's hedge fund buddies took some of these loans and invested them in subprime mortgages, junk bonds and probably high-grade Columbian cocaine, no is really sure at this point because we're only talking about hundreds of billions of dollars and who really tracks that sort of pocket change.

Mainstream banks like the one that runs your checking account thought this all sounded swell and started borrowing and lending money this way too.

No one worried too much because as soon as someone made one of these insane loans he could then chop it up into a million pieces and sell the pieces to other investors who didn't know or care much about what they were buying.

They just cared that the loan had been stamped "AAA" by the ratings agencies, who of course valued the loans using computers, esoteric math no one understood and inputs no one could agree on.

About a month ago, everyone finally realized that some of this paper was not backed by operationally sound businesses but instead by people lending money to typical American homeowners which, as you might imagine, is a batshit crazy business to be in. Then they realized they couldn't tell which commercial paper was being used badly and which was sound. Then they stopped issuing commercial paper, which is a way of saying they stopped loaning anyone any money.

Commercial paper underwrites 80 percent of hotel deals, according to Jones Lang LaSalle. Ha ha, pretty hilarious madcap situation, right?

So now hotels, who by the way were sort of supposed to be the saviors of the hard-pressed local restaurant industry, can't get cash and have lost about 20 percent of their total value in like a month or two.

A small fraction of the top hotels can still get money from what are known as "balance sheet lenders," aka people who actually have cash money to lend and aren't counting on reselling the debt to others to offload the risk and aren't like panicking or whatever. Also, if you had a deal closed -- truly closed, not just nonrefundable -- before the meltdown, it will generally still go through, which is why you will still see deals being announced.

The whole capital crunch nearly derailed the recent Hotel Palomar sale a couple of times, all the principals told me, but luckily it was far enough along to make it to the finish line.

More in the ...

Business Times: Credit crunch leaves S.F. hoteliers hungry (free link)

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Foodies are amoral creeps, including Michael Pollan, says Atlantic writer

Quick, read it while the Google cache still exists!

Atlantic writer B.R. Myers savages foodies, starting with Michael Pollan, for celebrating the joys of feeding while ignoring, even mocking, the suffering of animals:
The pleasures of the oral cavity are now widely regarded as more important, more intrinsically moral, and a more vital part of civilized tradition than any other pleasures ... This can be seen in the public’s toleration of a level of cruelty in meat production that it would tolerate nowhere else ...

This is a prime example of food writers’ hostility to the very language of moral values. In mocking and debasing it, they exert, with Madison Avenue’s help, a baleful influence on American English as a whole. If words like sinful and decadent are now just a cutesy way of saying “delicious but fattening,” so that any serious use of them marks the speaker as a crank ...
Agree with it or not, Myers' essay presents an intriguing argument about food and foodie culture that will keep you reading. It is presented as a review of Pollan's Omnivore's Dilmema, and presents that book in a unique new light.

The essay is supposed to be roped off only for Atlantic subscribers, but Google still offers the essay for free from its cache:

Hard to Swallow page 1 (google cache)

Hard to Swallow page 2 (google cache)
Hard to Swallow page 3 (google cache)
Hard to Swallow page 4 (google cache)

Lest you think I post this to bash Michael Pollan, I should note that Myers clearly admires his work and praises two thirds of Omnivore's Dilemma in no uncertain terms.

Myers, by the way, put himself on the map with the thrilling A Reader's Manifesto, an essay attacking literary pretension.

(Also in the same issue of the Atlantic, an essay on San Francisco's Camp Bread and the scones therein.)

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Aqua taking Fifth Floor in 'very French direction,' source says

Laurent ManriqueGriffin Capital's $58 million acquisition of Hotel Palomar from Kimpton included a detailed agreement on how the Fifth Floor restaurant would evolve, a source close to the deal told me, including Aqua Development Corp. running the restaurant, a female chef who has already been specified and an overhaul that takes the restaurant in "a very French direction."

This is all from my Business Times story Friday.

More and more hotel managers are entirely outsourcing restaurant operations. Ducca at Westin Market Street is being run by Puccini Group, who will also run Eno, the wine, cheese and chocolate bar in the Westin St. Francis.

Kimpton also plans to tweak the menu under the new executive chef at Scala's, Patrick Robertson, and as reported here previously, at Grand Cafe to renovate the bar and take the menu in a more French and casual direction.

Business Times: Kimpton spices up hotel restaurants (free link)

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Zuni, Quince buy their produce in Berkeley

Tonight Anne and I watched the engaging documentary "Eat at Bill's," about Monterey Market in Berkeley, and learned that chefs from Zuni, Quince, Foreign Cinema and other San Francisco restaurants cross the bay to buy vegetables and fruit there, a mile from our home.

I knew Monterey Market as the place where Anne could get sour cherries for pie at certain times of year, and as the neighborhood place with better variety than Berkeley Bowl, which is a much longer drive away (albeit with longer hours).

What I didn't realize is that Monterey Market has become a key supporter of pioneering farmers and a hub for some of the most interesting produce out there. Nor did I realize how many culinary maestros slip in its back door every morning.

I was pessimistic that a documentary about a produce market could fill an hour. Eat at Bill's is an uplifting and fun movie that unexpectedly brought me close to tears.

I checked the movie out from the library, another option is to buy the DVD online for $20. They also carry it at Monterey Market.

The filmmaker, Lisa Brenneis, wrote more about the movie in Edible East Bay.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thomas Keller's Sysco fries are totally punk rock, blogger says

In which Laura Froelich makes Michael Pollan cry some more
Dear Michael Pollan,

There, there.

We know you're down because Nancy Pelosi personally hung, bled and skinned your farm reform bill in a Smithfield abattoir on account of it being terrorism, the kind of terrorism that keeps Democrats from controlling Congress again in 2008, when the new president might give them permission to finally end the war or whatever.

Might we suggest some ways to cope with your depression, Michael? Start with some bourbon, neat, followed perhaps by a kill-crazy rampage in which you and your mob personally smash all tractors, ethanol tanks and lifesaving hospital technology your great great grandmother's great great grandmother wouldn't recognize as anything other than witchcraft.

And then fire up your laptop (named for a genetically engineered fruit no doubt!) and log on to food writer Laura Froelich's blog, where she says prepared French fries from Sysco, the massive food service company, are the absolute best in the world, far better than the ones made by hand in a fussy traditional French style by Tony Bourdain in New York.

Laura is especially fond of the Sysco fries served in gauche Las Vegas by agribusiness giant Thomas Keller. As an Archer Daniels Midland spokesman Keller's rep told New York Magazine:
One of the top reasons Bouchon uses frozen French Fries is consistency ... the consistency in these fries is often better than that of fresh potatoes.

The second reason is capacity. Bouchon would need to use over 200 pounds of potatoes a day to fulfill French Fry orders.

Laura Froelich is also a fan of the product. She writes of Bouchon's frozen, government-subsidized corporate welfare fries:

In my opinion, the Keller fries were stellar. Thin-cut (but not too thin), crispy (but not crunchy) on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and just the right proportions of oil and salt.

Feeling better already, Michael? Thought so! Interest you in a FunYun??

Fro Fro Blog: Chowdown - Keller vs. Bourdain

New York Magazine: Keller Cops to Using — No! — Frozen Fries

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ogden has 'less active role' in Lark Creek Restaurant Group, Dellar says

My coworker Elizabeth Browne at the Business Times reports in this week's issue on all the growth at Lark Creek Restaurant Group, and interestingly gets co-founder Michael Dellar to admit that his partner, chef Bradley Ogden, has taken a big step back from the business.

It seems Ogden is especially uninvolved in Bay Area restaurants like Yankee Pier and Lark Creek Steak, according to money man Dellar. From the story:
The 8,000-square-foot Bradley Ogden opened at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 2003, and was named best new restaurant for 2004 by the prestigious James Beard Foundation. Ogden moved to Las Vegas to start the venture and has since taken a less active role in the company, Dellar said, with culinary efforts now headed by Adrian Hoffman, former chef at One Market.
I asked Dellar about his relationship with Ogden in February. He said Ogden was still with the company but had pulled back:

He's just not here very much ... He's here occaissionally -- he makes regular visits here, but his time is spent more and more with our business partners [for example in Las Vegas].

In the Meantime, Dellar is growing the company from 11 restaurants now to 13 in 2008 and 16 in 2009, in the greater Bay Area and "Southern California, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Ariz. and the Seattle area." Revenue companywide will be around $45 million this year.

Business Times: Lark Creek is flowing into new locations (subscriber-only link for three weeks)

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Aqua takeover of Fifth Floor approaches

At a cocktail reception last night for the Grand Cafe's new executive cheif, Mauro Pando, I asked everyone I encountered about the situation at another Kimpton hotel restaurant, Fifth Floor, which has been in management contract talks with Laurent Manrique's Aqua Development Corp.

It sounds like that deal is about to happen.

Here's what someone from the Fifth Floor told me: "it's not going to be a big surprise" when the restaurant announces its new executive chef, likely later this week. This was after I asked about Laurent and Aqua.

When Mauro told a couple of us that he lives up in Carneros, I asked if Laurent didn't live up that way as well and whether he'd be overseeing Grand Cafe. His only reply was a chuckle.

We'll see. The possibility of Laurent working at Aqua was first reported in the Chronicle's Inside Scoop.

Another salient detail is that the Fifth Floor and its hotel, the Palomar, have been up for sale for some time. I first reported this back in December.

At Grand Cafe, Pando is returning the restaurants to its traditional French roots, but also taking prices down a notch. He is presenting more casual, brasserie fare, "a very country approach" with rural dishes like cassoulet.

He is also renovating the "petit cafe" and bar, including adding a zinc bar and bringing in more light.

(For the record, I did not partake in the free dinner following the reception.)

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Chow eyeing Jack London Square in Oakland, even as food hall shrinks

San Francisco restaurant Chow is interested in a location in Oakland's Jack London Square, the East Bay Express reported Wednesday, even as the square's developers struggle to attract other food tenants.

Meanwhile, the developers have cut way back on the restaurant and food component of the so-called "Harvest Hall" at the center of the Jack London Square expansion, I reported Friday. It was going to be 185,000 square feet of sit-down restaurants, food stalls, produce shops, meat markets, a cooking school, exhibitions and other food attractions.

Now it's two-thirds offices, with only the lower two of six floors dedicated to food. Apparently this was allowed under the entitlements approved by the city council a couple of years ago.

The changes were put forward after the developers closed on $200 million in construction financing for the first half of the development. Office is easier to fund these days than food, particularly if you are taking a Slow Food approach.

Business Times: Oakland's Harvest Hall will be mostly offices / Developers line up $200M to begin (free link)
East Bay Express: Back to Square One

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

House wine still sucks, but is now pretty

So remember how restaurants used to mix up the last dregs of wine bottles opened months ago, creating a nasty slush known as "house wine" which they would sell at a very slight discount to college students and other suckers?

Or maybe they would just pick some cheap-ass wine and designate it the "house wine" for the rest of the month?

Well forget all that! Contemporary house wine is totally different and new and chichi and awesome!

See now, instead of making house wine from actual wine that was actually corked, the restaurants are going straight to the wineries and asking for leftover grape juice that didn't even make it into bottles so they can mix it all together in giant containers and serve it in DEAD SEXY glass containers with etching on the side and everything!

As San Francisco magazine reports, the whole thing is very noble and responsible and restaurants would practically be burning down the planet and destroying the wine industry if they didn't sell cheap-ass wine:
In an attempt to reduce waste and lower wine prices, Salt House, under the guidance of co-owner Doug Washington, started partnering with local wineries to create custom blends of house wines served on tap. Imagine: no corks! More money for dessert!
Also doing this are Laiola and Two, aka Hawthorne Lane.

Most of the house wines are a blend of three types of grapes, like Salt House's "Athena Seniors Red '05," which is Cab, Zin and Syrah. Two offers some house wines of a single grape type, like Sangiovese, and there are some two-grape blends at the other places.

At Salt House, the house wines are priced around $10 per bottle lower than the cheapest wines, and are available by the half bottle and glass.

If I'm being a little harsh and catty here (hard to imagine!!), it's probably because I'm totally jealous of Marcia from Tablehopper for sniffing out the story and getting it into SF Mag.

In all seriousness, this is an interesting trend.

(No link, SF Mag story not online.)


Monday, July 30, 2007

Straits looking to conquer world, cash out

Chris Yeo of Straits, who mints money out of his Santana Row and Westfield SF Center locations, is closing on a lease in Las Vegas and is in talks with Host Hotels about a hotel in Newport Beach, a deal that could potentially lead to a partnership or acquisition.

Yeo wants to get bought or go public in four years, so brought in nightlife and front-of-the-house restaurant guru Parnell Delchan, who, random trivia, at one point was Matthew McConaughey's boss at Kwanzaa in New York. [Can we play this up for our LA readers?? -ed.]

He's also looking at mall deals in the Midwest and some other deals in Vegas. Not bad for a former hairdresser.

More in the ...

Business Times: Straits owner brings on manager to grow chain (free link)

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Alan Richman drafted to re-stab Michael Bauer and defend vulnerable city of Los Angeles

Oh hey look! It's Alan Richman, the GQ food writer who touched hearts across the country with his loving advice to the restaurants and residents of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to stop being so fat, narcissistic and lazy all the time and then maybe they wouldn't be so wet and smelly and poor right now!

And he's knifing Michael Bauer on a blog in Los Angeles!
Michael Bauer is a joke. He's not talented. The chefs know he's coming.
Richman either said or seconded those words at a May panel discussion in Las Vegas, according to Eater LA, which printed his comments at the time but put his name to them just last week before concluding, "Maybe not so far off the mark after all."

Richman apparently called Bauer a hack because Bauer meets his definition of the word: someone who turns down what became Frank Bruni's job at the New York Times and then says mean things about Alan Richman.

Like Ghandi, Richman glows in the light of egoless love for his fellow man, so his words come from a place of truth, not spite. And Los Angeles is an impoverished and oppressed city with few elite residents or friends to defend its honor -- precisely the sort of place that moves Richman's giant heart.

So Richman is indeed the perfect savior to turn to when San Francisco's dark lord of gluttony attempts to sully the unimpeachably pristine reputation of Tinseltown's fine restaurants, or to maybe-sort-of sully it, assuming you skimmed his article in traffic with your agent on speakerphone and a botox needle somewhere in your face while listening to KFI or whatever.

Now, Los Angeles, if you'll excuse us, we need to get back to whining about how Michelin doesn't "get" us and hating on our food critics the only way we can stomach: unilaterally.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thomas Keller backlash close to boiling over

To some, 'slipping' French Laundry is 'not the best,' 'disappointed' customers say other chefs 'within striking distance'
Is the mainstream media next?
It was exactly two years ago Monday when a well-established weblog called San Francisco Gourmet posted a surprising, reluctantly brutal review of Thomas Keller's iconic restaurant the French Laundry, saying that over three visits between 2003 and mid-2005 the restaurant "appears to be slipping," mixing up orders, fumbling dish descriptions and letting waiters regularly reach across diners to deliver food and wine.

Meanwhile, the review noted, French Laundry's prices had nearly doubled over five years, rocketing up much faster than those at other top-shelf restaurants in the area, even as those other restaurants gained ground against the French Laundry in food and service quality.

"The French Laundry has exhibited service that has consistently been below excellent," the review stated. "The menu itself seemed to be a notch below what it once was ... I suspect that The French Laundry will not be able to reclaim its past glory."

Reaction to the review was not encouraging. One commenter called it "blasphemous" and said it "lost all credibility" by comparing the French Laundry to a lesser restaurant, Gary Danko. Meanwhile, San Francisco Gourmet drew no concurring opinions from the torrent of French Laundry reviews gushing from the many new weblogs then emerging.

"I was starting to think that I would be the lone voice in the wilderness forever," the author of San Francisco Gourmet wrote earlier this year.

In retrospect, the review was a remarkable harbinger of things to come, probably because it was written by someone especially familiar with the restaurant, with at least six visits to the restaurant in five years.

In November 2006, almost a year and a half after San Francisco Gourmet's French Laundry piece, a blogger and self-described lifetime gourmand named Vedat Milor posted a review titled, "The French Laundry: Solid but imperfect." Milor, too, had visited the restaurant on numerous past occasions and felt it was slipping.

He said the restaurant "displays an automatic, slightly assembly line quality," with predictable food, weak examples of luxury ingredients like truffles and caviar and undisclosed add-on prices.

This description echoed Gary Danko, who called the French Laundry "the Laundromat" when I interviewed him shortly after the French Laundry took three debut Michelin stars to Danko's one.

This past May, a San Francisco-based freelance food writer named Catherine Nash chimed in with her own critical take on the Laundromat. She had visited four years prior, and the restaurant had exceeded her high expectations. This time?

"We were not blown away," Nash wrote on her weblog, Food Musings. " It was not nearly as exciting as we'd remembered or as wonderful as other meals we've had ... it was just not that interesting."

San Francisco PBS station KQED joined in the backlash in June, publishing on its "Bay Area Bites" website a French Laundry review from Michael Procopio, a waiter, former San Francisco Chronicle food section intern and 1997 graduate of the California Culinary Academy.

This story was the first faintly negative review of French Laundry I had seen, and the one that sparked the idea for this post, even before I heard backlash rumblings in the bigger, non-blog media world.

The review included some highly complimentary words for the food and servers. But Procopio found "something was not quite right," including the robotic staff, who insisted he order champagne rather than a still white wine; who recited dish descriptions while mispronouncing key words and who ultimately sent a chill up his spine. Procopio concluded the restaurant embodied "uniformity," "repetition" and "machinery well-oiled."

His unease reached its dramatic crescendo when an aggressively confused waiter read Procopio's $1277 bill aloud to Procopio, his dining companion and the rest of the restaurant.
We were pleased to know that everyone in the room knew how much we spent. Perhaps our waiter thought that a guest at one of the other tables might avail us of his or her superior math skills. We were, all of us, quietly horrified.
Three themes emerge repeatedly in the bad reviews.
  1. Speculation that the opening of Per Se in New York, to say nothing of Keller's three other expansion restaurants, movie consulting or books, has led to an inevitable muting of the culinary and service heights reached at the original French Laundry. San Francisco Gourmet and Milor both mentioned this issue, and Nash brought it up in a comment attached to someone else's review.

  2. That people are holding the French Laundry to very high standards because of its very high prices, which have shot up over five years. Keller was asked about pricing at a Commonwealth Club event in May and became defensive, arguing that he provides good value for the price and pointing to the much cheaper option ($45) at his Ad Hoc, also in Yountville.

  3. The identification of alternative top restaurants, in particular Manresa. San Francisco Gourmet, for example, wrote that Manresa's David Kinch is giving Keller "a run for his money" and, along with Danko and Ron Siegel, is "within striking distance." Milor said Manresa and one other restaurant offered "higher quality product" than French Laundry, "impeccably prepared."

    The blogger behind earlier this month ranked Manresa ahead of French Laundry in a review where he found the latter's food seemed to sympathize with critics who find at French Laundry "a perfection without blemish or character, sanitized, safe, and soulless."
I am agnostic on whether French Laundry is slipping. My one visit to French Laundry in 2003 was my all-time favorite restaurant meal; it also featured a tasting menu half as expensive as the one offered today.

But I will submit to you the following: Hand-wringing over quality at Thomas Keller's growing empire of restaurants in general and at French Laundry, in particular, is likely to continue to work its way up the media food chain, rightly or wrongly. Count on it, and watch for it.

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So sick and wrong: Mark Pastore cooks local kids. And serves them as a 'special' dish.

Can you awful San Francisco foodies ever stop pushing the envelope? Do you have no decency?

Smoke pot and launder drug money in your restaurants, fine. Launch a jihad against science and progress, whatever. Launch a satanic crop-circle cult and worship an Austrian eugenics guy, boring with bored sauce.

But the kids. The KIDS. Can't you leave them alone, terrorists?

Here's Mark Pastore, the chef-owner at Incanto -- and a SICKO -- in the summer Edible San Francisco:
He had a smile on his face when he answered ... "How do you think it's going to look if I have 'neighborhood kid' on the menu?"
Uh, awful?

But he did it. And did it again. And he would keep going, if he could get his hands on more kids.

The author of the article, Andy Griffin, is trying to help him. He thinks, if he can round up enough kids, he can also sell them to Palestinians, Moroccans, Mexicans, Filipinos, Jamaicans ...

Griffin has anticipated your outrage, and has an answer:

America's political culture has embraced multiculturalism, yet goat meat has yet to break into the mainstream. Why? ...

I call Mark Pastore ... Pastore means shepherd in Italian, so Mark is almost fated to serve goat. He had a smile on his face when he answered. "You want to sell me tender, young, locally-grown goats? How do you think it's going to look if I have 'neighborhood kid' on the menu?"

Mark was kidding. Incanto does serve goat sometimes, but the supply of high-quality goat isn't as consistent as it is for pork or lamb. Kid production can be problematic.

At this point, I decided Griffin was creeping me out on a whole other level and stopped reading. But you might want to pick up the magazine (story not online) and read this for yourself. It's almost unbelievable.

Especially the picture of a kid being roasted over a spit.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

SF food bloggers should grow spines, not hide behind keyboards, say (lame!) chefs. (Was that passive aggressive??)

Mix a bunch of a high end chefs together with some wine, radio tape recorders and a stuffy, older audience at the Commonwealth Club. Allow to simmer for half an hour or so. The inevitable result? Bashing on food bloggers!
Steffan Terje, Perbacco: It's a pradigm shift, a new generation is taking over. I guess we have to get used to this -- everybody's a critic. I don't know if I like it yet.

Michael Dellar, Lark Creek Restaurant Group, darkly: Think of the alternative ... (chuckles) [veiled Michael Bauer reference?? --ed.]

Pete Sittnick, Pat Kuleto's new restaurants: I would rather, if that person had a problem, just tell me that night. Don't put it on some blog I don't know how to access.

Steffan: We're in the people business, shaking hands, kissing babies [shurely againsht health code? -ed.] .... We thrive on this instant feedback.

Dellar: [Story about a customer recently in the restaurants who insisted there was a finger nail in his/her blended, frozen lemonade, when really it was a lemon peel, even when shown the peel. One hour later it was on the Internet.] It's everyone's right to do that.
Yup. They actually want you to be direct, and complain, with your vocal chords, in person, instead of scribbling in your little blogger notebook and angrily belting out your mad little screed on your blog or Yelp or whatever you kids are calling it these days. You know, since that is likely to be well received in the typical restaurant, a cauldron of mentally-imbalanced cooks armed with knives, bitter waiters with your credit card number and clueless, coke-addled hostesses who could not care less about your petty third degree burns or whatnot.

Just kidding! Actually if you use this thing called "tact," apparently you can stand up for yourself in situations like these. So it is rumored. And with these things called "Google Alerts," restaurant owners don't have to complain about not being able to "access" your blog or whatever, but that's beside the point.

Oh, also? Your precious Craig Stoll at Delfina? Who feeds Thomas Keller when Tommy comes to SF? He promises to burst your eardrums, underpay his cooks and raise your prices!

Stoll on prices: People will be getting used to higher price menus for everyubody,

You name the city, and restaurants on par with the people at this table are easily 4,5,6,7 dollars higher (per entree).

Stoll on noise: Our architects -- it's their fault! [Joke -- laughter.] If you have a booked place, it's going to be loud. You want your restaurant to be busy and exciting.

Honest to God, I want a certain level of noise.

On cooks: If we paid cooks what they were worth, people wouldn't be able to afford to eat in our restaurant.

Some additional details from Laura Froelich: 2nd Annual State of San Francisco Restaurants

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Monday, June 11, 2007

SF cooks vs NY cooks -- guess who wins, hippie

Hey, hippie San Francisco cook dude, put down the ganja reefer weed for a second and try to focus on something other than your own navel!

Danny Myers apprentice Sarah Schafer has come to San Francisco from New York, and she brought some opinions with her about YOU! So wake up and sober up and detox or whatever!
"I don't want to sound like I'm putting any West Coast chefs down," said Frisson Executive Chef Sarah Schafer, 10 minutes into a discourse on the virtues of New York cooks. "I just don't think they are as disciplined as East Coast chefs."
Oh yes, she did!

She totally just did that!

That might sound rough, but Sarah has some constructive, practical advice to go with her criticism:
  • Try not to be a total flake, especially if you have an interview scheduled!
  • It's called discipline. Have you heard of it?
  • Did you know there are other cuisines other than California Cuisine!? Hard to believe, I know!
  • You are not a television star so please just stop.
  • Work in New York and, if possible, make sure your schooling and childhood were in New York
  • Try to do something other than smoke ganja weed and sleep all the time!
It turns out there are a lot of other chefs around town who favor cooks from East Coast kitchen culture, which is basically "Shut up and get yelled at and do as you are told," very military except even meaner.

And it turns out that if you want to work in certain top kitchens and have a problem with this, go eat some tofu or to yoga class or surfing or just drop some ecstasy and sleep for 16 hours on your stupid futon or whatever, you dirty hippie, and deal with it The End.

Full story in the ...

Business Times: S.F. chefs seek cooks with N.Y. state of mind / They're used to higher pressure, work load (free link)

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Beer ruined by male insecurity

Beer is so rarely served in properly-shaped glassware that places like Toronado, Magnolia Brewery and Alembic have made their names just by having the proper crystal in their cabinets, and Dean Biersch is touting proper glasses as part of his forthcoming tavern in Sonoma.

And the reason you can't get the proper glass for, say, your Trumer Pils at just any old neighborhood pub is that men are afraid of having smaller-than-average ... vessels of beer. Ya, that's it, that's what their insecure about the size of.

The owner of Magnolia and Alembic Dave McLean reveals all in a recent 7X7 blurb:
“You’d be very surprised at how sensitive some men get about being served a smaller glass than the others at their table,” he says. “Must be a masculinity thing.”

... We try it out. In a tulip glass, his exquisitely hoppy Proving Ground IPA smells powerfully like a stroll through a flowering mountain meadow. But in a pint glass, the aromas dissipate.
So even though Belgian ales and hoppy beers are best served in a tulip glass and pilsners in narrow cylinders, they usually aren't, because some whiny man might whine. 7X7:

European mean are apparently much more sophisticated about the whole thing. Typical.

7X7: Beer Genius

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Truffle inflation reaches crisis levels in Alameda

OK, seriously, NO ONE tell Daniel Patterson about this because he's going to start smashing aromatherapy bottles and taking hostages at Centerfolds or whatever.

It's not even been two weeks since the food writer/chef railed in the New York Times about the evil evil evils of so-called Truffle Oil which, hey, not only is completely unrelated to truffles but which also fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.

Today, from the City of Alameda, where the food has been getting more interesting as the island's military history recedes further into the past, we are presented via the Express with a new gastropub called Hobnob.

Where you can get, no really seriously, Truffle Fries, for FIVE DOLLARS.

Truffle. French fries. In a bar. For five. Dollars.

What could possibly be fishy about that?!

The Express' John Birdsall, a heavily armed food media don, is an impatient man with no time for surface narratives, and he obviously has no problem with this. To wit:
Look no further than the truffle fries — a dish that successfully balances fancy with the familiar profile of good old bar food — as proof of Amy Voisenat's ability to read Alameda. Forget some decadent fantasy of pommes frites sprinkled with shavings of black truffle. Voisenat's vision is a pile of skinny fries with a firm grasp of the ordinary, even lacking, as far as I could tell, the tossing with Parmesan and herbs the menu described. [WTF? They couldn't even deliver on herbs and powdered cheese?? For TRUFFLE FRIES? --ed.] They did, however, come with a ramekin of truffle aioli — really good truffle aioli: pale and soft and with bright acidity, a playful bite of garlic, and the delicious, dog-bed funk of truffle oil.

It was a dish that didn't seem like much on first dunk, but revealed a subtle and unpretentious sense of refinement the more you ate. And if all that truffle stuff seemed weird, I imagine you could ask for ketchup and just go on yakking. [We need to have a long conversation some time about word choice, John. Soon. -ed]
Truffle Oil has been a seductress to some of the nation's top chefs, like the chef de cuisine at Per Se.

And know she's going to instigate a bar fight between Daniel Patterson and John Birdsall, in Alameda, with broken bottles and EVERYTHING, and it's going to be awesome.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Larry Biggie writes in to defend what remains of his honor

A couple of weeks ago I noted that a couple of Oakland entrepreneurs were trying to follow the path blazed by Cafe Gratitude of San Francisco and get customers to finance their cafe bar by pre-paying for gift cards ("The future of restaurant finance is here: Oakland man pre-pays for $1000 of beer").

According to the Oakland Tribune article at the time, the aspiring cafe owners had sold only about $14,000 of the $125,000 they needed in pre-sales, almost entirely to friends and family.

But then there was Larry Biggie, of Adams Point, who pre-paid for $1000 in gift cards.

I wrote, "That's a lot of organic beer, Larry." Heh. I crack myself up sometimes.

Anyway, Larry, who is apparently a banker and also apparently a real, actual person with the best ever name "Larry Biggie," has emailed to say he had coffee more in mind than beer.

He was a good sport about the whole thing and apparently got a good laugh out of my post, which is awesome, because people with that much caffeine in their system usually take every little thing wayyyy too seriously.

Come to think of it, Larry, are you sure you aren't a beer kind of a guy?

I also heard from one of the Awaken Cafe people, Cortt Dunlap, also a nice guy. And yes, Cortt, you're right, I am both a journalist and self-styled programmer, which makes me pretty much the perfect demographic for a place that sells alcoholic beverages and coffee, respectively. Given the scale of my habit I'll need about $6k per year, which I'm not sure I can swing, but on the other hand I did just meet this overcaffeinated banker ...

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Nirvana at the Communist Table?

You've probably already read the Chronicle's Food section cover story on communal tables; if not, go read it, it's a fresh look at a long-developing trend.

What I wonder, from a business standpoint, is whether this is a rare, perfect overlap of the interests of patron and proprietor. The patron gets a fun seat, available at the last minute, where she can meet friends and maybe suitors.

The proprietor gets highly efficient use of his space, plenty of cocktail sales to grease the socializing and, apparently, at Pres a Vi, the sale of a whole bottle of Veuve to some dude trying to impress some chick, successfully it turns out.

So what's the catch here? Is service a headache, keeping track of all those individual orders and who is paying for who? Do people linger too long after they are done eating?

And if people want to be so social, what's with the explosion in private dining rooms? The Hilton's planned "urban tavern" is supposed to have four separate private dining areas AND a communal table.

Perhaps it's a sign people are weaving restaurants into new parts of their lives as good food becomes more prized and more central, with restaurants stealing ground from singles bars and private clubs. Lucratively, I might add.

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Chronicle biodynamics letters: So. Very. Best.

I'm awarding Jim Cuthbertson of El Cerrito and especially Kathy Cheer of Santa Cruz the coveted title "Honorary Covers Editor at Large" for their letters to the Chronicle today, regarding the recent story on How Biodynamic Pagan Sacrifice Can Help Guerrilla Market Your Restaurant, blogged here under the title "Chefs turn to witchcraft and sorcery in logical next step for food world."

For those that missed these letters tucked into the back of the Food section, Cuthbertson wrote that "Organic farming is real and has real benefits ... Burying stuff in a skull is just plain weird."

And Kathy Cheer, well, let's just say that not only am I going to print her letter in full, but also that I encourage her to sue me for copyright infringement just so I can meet her in person and shake her hand:
Rudolf Steiner's speeches on biodynamic farming bring to mind the following quote from Shakespeare's "Macbeth":

Saith the witches: "eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, tongue of dog ..."

For those who have the time, this approach to farming is whimsical. For those responsible for feeding large populations, this is tomfoolery.

Blessed be.

Well, these letters may not get you, say, a high-profile gig as a regular contributor to New York Times Magazine, but we're happy to run your stuff over at Covers!

I'm a sucker for a nice turn of phrase, I guess. Even though, like Arugula, Michael Pollan or a well-timed stint laundering narcoprofits, biodynamics is neither all bad nor all good. Right?? Tell me there's a redeeming ending here.

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