Saturday, March 31, 2007

Alice Waters is high RIGHT NOW, as a matter of fact

The last words in the April 2007 7x7 magazine are from an interview with Alice Waters:
What are your vices?

You mean in terms of food? Because I really console myself by eating and drinking.

Sex, drugs, rock and roll -- anything.

All of those things.

The reporter then transformed into a giant talking bundle of broccoli rabe, which Waters stabbed repeatedly with her chef's knife before curling into a quivering ball in the corner of the blood-soaked interview room.

Previously: Drug dealers bankrolled Chez Panisse; Waters dropped LSD; hippie waiters stole wine, smok--zzzzzz ......

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hubert Keller doubles down in ... St Louis?

Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys has not one but two restaurants going in St. Louis: a Burger Bar and a steakhouse called "Sleek," both in a riverboat casino, according to the Chronicle's Inside Scoop.

The Chronicle also reminds us that Keller is trying to put Burger Bar in San Francisco, but as a Covers reader you already knew that, and you already knew about one of the two St. Louis restaurants.

St. Louis seems like a weird place for such a high-end chef. When I reported about the Burger Bar in St. Louis in January, Ed Levine told me he thought it was odd because "Hubert's a bit of hipster and might not want to hang out a lot in St. Louis."

Levine isn't kidding about the hipster bit: a photograph of Hubert DJ-ing a party has appeared in 7X7. Apparently it's a major hobby of his, and he agreed to train a DJ ("Frenchy Le Freak," no joke) in his kitchen if the DJ would train Hubert on the wheels of steel.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Drug dealers bankrolled Chez Panisse; Waters dropped LSD; hippie waiters stole wine, smok--zzzzzz ......

So according to this totally uptight Bloomberg money writer dude in snooty old "London," the new book on Alice Waters says her earliest investors were Marxist drug lords; her high-as-a-kite waiters stole $30,000 worth of wine and she personally almost went on a kill-crazy Zodiac-style rampage while high on LSD.

Channeling her longtime mentor Eric "Eazy-E" Wright, who invented gangsta rap after a stint in the Chez Panisse kitchen, Alice says something totally deep about the whole amazing scene and how everything is, like, connected:
"They (the drug dealers) were the only people who had money ... The only sort of counterculture people who had money. We couldn't get it from a bank. God knows."
Thankfully, we in the Bay Area don't get our "book reviews" from a Republican New York smear machine like Bloomberg any more than we get our dietary advice from "scientists" with "advanced degrees" from "accredited universities."

We have our own, totally unmedicated John Birdsall at the Express to speak truth to power, and he's not going to play the Man's little games. Tell him a story about drug-crazed restaurateurs who are frothing at the mouth as they hand satchels full of drug money to the criminal waiter gangs doping up patrons and plotting a communist revolution, and he'll calmly yawn, call your tale a boring, "incurious" "surface narrative" written by an obvious sellout and of course not mention any of this in his book review because it doesn't matter.


Thanks to the Express' Weatherman Chris Thompson for telling us which way the reactionary wind is blowing.

Bloomberg's story about drug deals, LSD and other things that put us to sleep in the Bay Area: Inside Dope on Chez Panisse, Complete With LSD, Stoned Waiters

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Pork belly: So hot right now

Knife's Edge writes that pork belly has become "so trendy that by now I'd say it's passe."

The chef reports that denizens of his Northern California town are flocking to his own restaurant's pork belly with root beer reduction, which he originally thought would be too adventurous for most customers.

He writes: "It's selling. More than we ever have before. Perhaps the mullet wearing citizens of my town only see the BEER part of the sauce and their eyes glaze over."

I enjoyed a wonderful pork belly at Ad Hoc on Superbowl Sunday, then noticed it the other day on the menu at Vitrine in the St. Regis. Some Web searches turn up pork belly recently on the menus of La Folie, Farallon, Salt House, Cortez and Redd. Among others, surely.

Next stop: Olive Garden.

Full Knife's Edge pork belly post: C'est la vie say the old folks

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Cap on minimum wage for tipped employees

Aaron Peskin likes caps, freezingSan Francisco restaurants have been pushing for a statewide tip credit for many years now, which would allow them to count tips toward the minimum wage they pay waiters, at least partly.

Now they are trying to get something similar done on the city level. The idea is to freeze the minimum wage at $9.14 for tipped workers, so they would not get the annual cost of living increases.

The idea is that waiters, bartenders and bussers are making so much money on tips that they can afford to give up their annual minimum wage hikes. Restaurant owners would then have money to give delayed raises to their back-of-the-house workers and to stay afloat, the thinking goes.

A Golden Gate Restaurant Association study two years ago put typical waiter tips at $22-30 per hour, with bussers making an estimated 20 percent of that. The accuracy of such figures could become a key point in determining whether the wage cap idea gains political currency among the Board of Supervisors; whether they see a freeze of the minimum wage, which won't sell, or a freeze in raises for well-off workers, which will sell.

Another idea is to support the gross receipts tax plan floated by Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin, who shows his love for both caps and freezing in the picture at right. Peskin wants a gross receipts tax in place of the payroll tax, a move that would benefit restaurants since their biggest cost is labor.

Either way, restaurants clearly want to put some ideas behind the possible one-day restaurant shutdown I reported more than a week ago.

Full details in my Business Times update today:

S.F. restaurants may push for minimum wage freeze for workers who get tips (free link)

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Correction: Tyler Florence and Kimpton talking, but NOT about Grand Cafe and Scala's

In a Business Times Web update linked to previously from Covers, I wrote that San Francisco boutique hotel chain Kimpton was talking to TV chef Tyler Florence about possibly cooking at the Grand Cafe and Scala's.

As some of you may have guessed, if a chef like Tyler Florence is going to open a restaurant, it is is generally going to be under his own name. Florence did NOT talk to Kimpton about operating Grand Cafe or Scala's, he talked about a variety of opportunities for collaboration, whether at a national level or in one of Kimpton's new hotels.

There are no immediate plans. A Kimpton spokesman told me the door is open to working together going forward.

I have not changed my original Covers post, since it did not include any of the incorrect information, but we have corrected the original Business Times Web article:

TV chef moving to Bay Area (corrected)

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Alice Waters used biographer to get even with Jeremiah Tower. Supposedly.

The East Bay Express' lunatic chef, John Birdsall, can often be found ending careers and asking searing questions like "What's up with that, Bay Area?"

But when he's not knife-blogging, the guy actually writes some enlightening restaurant reviews and, now, a deliciously dishy book review about Alice Waters. So there's no need for John to hunt me down and skin me alive like a game hen.

Birdsall hungrily tears into Waters' latest biographer, Thomas McNamee, for being Waters' idiot parrot man, writing a bio that was not only authorized but suggested by Waters, that does not investigate deeply but instead seems "content with surface narratives."

Alice Waters It's no coincidence, Birdsall thinks, that the book lashes Jeremiah Tower, who was none-too-kind to Waters in his recent book California Dish. Birdsall writes:
It's tempting to think of this book in part as Waters' answer to Tower, whom McNamee presents as rather pathetic. Come to think of it, Waters may have chosen McNamee to tell her story precisely because she sensed he wouldn't probe too deeply.
Full review: Shallow Alice

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Copia opening in San Francisco

My colleague Sarah Duxbury has the scoop in today's Business Times on how Copia, a sort of food museum in Napa Valley, is opening a satellite office in San Francisco at Ghirardelli Square.

The SF Copia will share space with Cellar 360, a Healdsburg wine retailer than will offer tastings and small plates of food. Cellar 360 is a division of Australian spirits firm Foster's Group, which owns wine brands like Beringer and Stag's Leap, but the tastings will be run by people from Copia.

Copia will offer everything from a half-hour tasting course to a two-year certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Sarah writes. Copia is the only entity on the West Coast to offer such certification.

The 6,000-square foot facility is joined in Ghirardelli Square by Fairmont's fractional ownership hotel, set to open in thee fall.

Sarah's Copia story is not online; this may change on Monday but I wanted to post something today because I see the press release is going out.

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Tyler Florence moving to Bay Area from NY, is talking to Kimpton

Because I'm cheap, I haven't had cable at home for a few years now, prefering to watch my favorite shows on DVD from Netflix. This led to an awkward situation when I interviewed Tom Colicchio at 'wichraft SF and he had to explain to me that he was on TV and what Top Chef is, by way of answering a question about traffic to his restaurant.

I am similarly not sure how to play Tyler Florence's move to Mill Valley from New York, confirmed for me just now by his wife (and press contact), since I am not well acquainted with any of his three Food Network shows -- Food 911, Tyler's Ultimate and How to Boil Water.

Will this be giddy news, as the accompanying photo suggests, to all of Tyler's female fans in the Bay Area? Is he admired by local chefs despite his partnership with Applebee's? After all, he was listed in Bill Buford's New Yorker takedown of the Food Network as part of the more credible first wave of hosts on that channel, as opposed to the more telegenic later waves.

In any case, I note in my Business Times Web update on Tyler's move, where you can get more info on this, that:

Florence could likely pick his opportunities in San Francisco. In addition to the three Kimpton openings, the 1,900-room downtown Hilton needs a chef for its planned gourmet tavern; the Argent/Westin is putting in a high-end Italian restaurant and has held talks with PBS chef Nick Stellino; the 1,500-room downtown Marriott has announced it will overhaul its restaurant; the InterContinental hotel under construction next to the Moscone Convention Center will have a 24-hour Italian restaurant and has announced no chef; and HEI Holdings is redoing the restaurant at Le Meridien.
GraceAnn Walden, by the way, broke news of Tyler's move in a brief mention in her monthly e-mail newsletter earlier this week, so consider signing up for that on her website. I am the first to report he is in talks with Kimpton though, so I'm going to mark this as "scoop."

My full story: TV chef moving to Bay Area

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Boulevard takes third swing at James Beard best restaurant prize

San Francisco's Boulevard is nominated for the third year in a row for best restaurant in the U.S., Nate Appleman of A16 is up for rising star, Tartine back for best pastry chef and Ame back for best service.

More on yesterday's James Beard nominations in my Business Times update:

Boulevard up again for best U.S. restaurant award (free link)

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Late at night, restaurants struggle to make money

Who would have thought: paying restaurant workers time and a half on a $9.14 minimum wage does not do much for the bottom line, especially when everyone is sitting around twiddling their thumbs because it's one in the morning and no one knows your kitchen is open, so the place is empty.

Also, everyone did their heavy drinking and eating earlier in the night, somewhere else, so your margins are shot.

"In total, it probably is a wash," said Laurence Jossel of Nopa, the 11-month-old Western Addition hotspot that keeps its kitchen open until 1 a.m. every night. "Some people start this and fade out, because it's a commitment -- in terms of time, in terms of lots of things, especially financially."
Of course, this is the dark view of late-night dining. On the bright side, San Franciscans are slowly but surely becoming trained to expect certain restaurants to stay open well past 11 p.m., so business is ramping up for late night places.

I give a taste of the economics of open-late restaurants in a story from Friday's Business Times: Eateries bite into the night (free link)

The story is sort of dollars-and-cents coda to Amanda Berne's excellent story on late-night dining in the Chronicle in October.

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Early returns on Aqua wine bar: 'Barely ... legitimate', 'clueless' help, 'might disappoint serious wine connoisseurs'

Alder Yarrow is a respected local wine blogger and thus particularly well-equipped to review the new wine bar from Aqua Development, Rouge et Blanc.

Which is precisely what he did a few days ago. Some key tasting notes:
  • "the list ... now includes about fifteen wines from all over the world, some that are unfortunately still pedestrian"
  • "disappointingly, the bar does not offer half-pours, however the staff tell me that it is their policy to offer a free taste pour of every wine on the list to anyone who asks, which allows Rouge et Blanc to barely hang onto its status as a legitimate wine bar according to my criteria."
  • "a modest list of wines available by the bottle ... will satisfy most ordinary interests at several price ranges, but ... might disappoint serious wine connoisseurs looking for special or off-the-beaten-track wines"
  • "I hope they'll eventually get rid of the few glaringly mass-market wines"
  • "both of the folks I spoke with were pretty much clueless about the wines on the list. One even told me he had been asked the same question about what varietals were in the white blend I was drinking several times over the past couple of months, but apparently that hadn't provided enough impetus for him to actually find out the answer, and all I was left with was a shrug."
By the way, this review earns Rouge et Blanc 2.5 stars on Yarrow's scale, which is insane. Until you consider that half of the scale is given over to fire code compliance -- operative doors, working extinguishers, that kind of thing -- and most of the rest is based on how many kinds of credit cards they accept. Who knew?!

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Kim Severson selects embarassing truffle, unmasks Iranian agents. Yes, I'm serious about the truffle thing.

Former Chronicle food writer Kim Severson is now at the New York Times, which last fall dispatched her to wage war against the accumulated sum of human knowledge and progress and to not stop writing until she had burned science itself to the ground.

Oh, sorry, that was Michael Pollan.

Severson was deployed last fall to Italy, where she was to infiltrate the Slow Foodintern gathering at Terra Madre and link up with what she called, in a debriefing that has since been yanked from public view, "the elite troops in the fight against McFood."

I have reviewed this restricted account of the battle at Terra Madre.

There was a "call to arms" involving yak cheese. There was an incendiary "honey manifesto." There was, I kid you not, "some of the warmest applause" when the flag of Iran was unfurled.

But our decorated operative Severson left something out of her November 1 report, perhaps ashamed of the awful, awful truth. Buried deep in a story wrapped in an engima wrapped in the Winter 2006 edition of Edible San Francisco, freelancer Andrea Blum reports:
In Alba (an hour from Turin), during a heavenly meal of white truffles at Lalibera restaurant, the chef/owner Marco Forneris showed me the stack of business cards he had collected from Americans who visited his domain. Among them was Sue Moore of Let's Be Frank and Chez Panisse fame as well as New York Times food writer Kim Severson, who ate there four consecutive times, including lunch.

The pair came to the restaurant the night before, proudly armed with a truffle of their own. Flavia Bodda, co-owner of Lalibera and the only woman on the Italian commission controlling the quality of white truffles in the marketplace, was astonished. "I didn't want to tell them," she said shaking her head. "But it was the worst truffle I had seen in a while. I felt terrible."
So there you have it: Kim Severson, award-winning journalist, really-really-nice-advice-giver to a friend of mine once, good writer, exposer of Iranian sympathizers in our midst -- and terrible picker of truffles. The shame.

Blum's story ends, by the way, with Flavia Bodda bringing Blum an amazing truffle, which is way way so much better than Severson's, and which transforms Blum's senses. "We all have our food moments but this was mine," Blum writes.

And so a freelance journalist not-so-subtly one-ups a New York Times writer; Flavia Bodda escapes stoning from the Iranian Slow Food squads; Michael Pollan successfully bans from all kitchens "anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food" and all pesticides were evaporated forever The End.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Marin IJ: Farallon does $10m per year in revenue. Also, chefs' favorite Marin restaurants.


Restaurants may shut down in protest

San Francisco restaurateurs are enthusiastic about a possible day of protest in which they all close their doors in opposition to the city's minimum wage and other mandates.

The protest idea came out of a meeting attended by close to 100 restaurateurs at Tres Agaves Thursday, about twice as many people as expected.

It looks like restaurants interested in adding service charges to their bills will not be coordinating with one another, to avoid charges of collusion.

More in my Business Times Web update: Restaurants ponder shutdown protest (free link)

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Four Seasons to help you lose weight

It's the menu that helped charming Brit Jeremy Emmerson lose 50 pounds in five months, and if that doesn't sound, erm, appetizing, read Marcia's Tablehopper writeup of the conversion of the Four Seasons restaurant to a steak-and-seafood joint. (The real secret, as always, was exercise, namely running.)

Jeremy's weight loss, which I've chatted with him about (including the requisite "did you say fifteen of FIFTY? question"), recalls Jan Birnbaum's experience as documented in the Chronicle.


Chez Panisse chef says there's nothing funny about pizza

Inside Scoop: In the rough and tumble Oakland Hills, "Chez Panisse Cafe veteran chef and produce buyer Russell Moore has taken over the former Country Home Furniture store to open Camino (3917 Grand Ave.) in about a year."

Also, the oven will be a towering stone inferno whose flames will cook lamb, fish and stews and also avenge
Rusell Moore's passionate hatred of pizza, a type of food he is totally over because he's not jealous of Pizzaiolo even though it was started by his apprentice and they light their stoves with hundred dollar bills.

Also, Dona Tomas couple still opening in Uptown, in case you forgot, because I stopped reminding you every five seconds of the restaurant that sits on the very nexus of all threads of my personal and professional lives. The Chron does reveal the food: "
house-ground hamburger, pasta alla Norma, chowder and salads."

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Monday, March 12, 2007

5% service charge topic of big restaurant meeting

Restaurateurs around the city are seriously considering adding a 5% service charge to cover minimum wage increases, I reported in Friday's Business Times (free link).

Dozens of owners, along with the head of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, are expected to meet this Thursday at Tres Agaves to talk about the issue and possibly coordinate a strategy. Either that or just drink some delicious margaritas at three in the afternoon, but far be it from anyone in the industry to consume alcohol during working hours.

This service charge idea is not new in San Francisco. It surfaced (free link) back in 2004, when the city's higher minimum wage first went into effect, but it turned out to be a false alarm.

But allegedly it's for real this time. Since going into effect in 2004, the minimum wage has since increased three times.

Meanwhile, restaurant owners said they can't hike menu prices any higher -- diners have started ordering cheaper items, cutting back how often they eat out and, horror of horrors, taken to drinking less.

So the restaurateurs have taken up what some of them concede is a bit of psychological trickery: a bill surcharge that could range from 3-18%, depending on the restaurant, but would probably end up being around 5% most of the time.

Technically this can be deducted from the tip. But Mark Pastore at Incanto, who imposed a 5 percent service charge back in 2004, told me that "people rarely do" deduct it from the
tip, even though his menu description of the fee as a "partial service charge" is designed to imply they may do so.

Someone asked me on email this weekend whether this could amount to collusion. In short, the restaurants don't think so. When I asked Kevin Westlye of the restaurant association about this in the course of reporting my story, he said the association attorney believes the meetings are fine because restaurants are not setting prices per se but instead discussing a percentage surcharge. In other words, they are not talking about setting the price of a steak or certain kind of wine, things that would continue to vary widely, but about a percentage on top of these prices.

Full story: 'Service charge' on the boil at S.F. restaurants (free link)

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Chris Yeo may expand to Vegas, once had three struggling businesses, aspires to be like Kimpton

I profiled Chris Yeo of Straits (free link) in Friday's Business Times, and if you can't write an interesting profile of this guy you don't belong in journalism.

The story writes itself: After training at Vidal Sassoon in London, Singaporean hairdresser immigrates to the U.S. He starts a successful hair salon by lying to his landlord and working long hours. Parlays his haircutting profits and clients into a restaurant serving his native cuisine. Signs the restaurant lease as his wife is in labor.

The restaurant is failing, so he gambles on a move to a larger space. Then he gambles on a nightclub. Nightclub tanks, but luckily the restaurant takes off.

The restaurant becomes two, then three, then four, now five, with a deal "95 percent" likely in Las Vegas and expansion to Southern California and Seattle on the horizon.

Oh, and it's a total cash machine, with low food costs and high drinks tabs.

I hope I did Chris some justice.

Full story, including some hard revenue numbers:

A long Strait journey / Restaurateur Chris Yeo's story (free link)

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Women chefs and the 'stainless steel ceiling'

The Chronicle's list of five 'rising star' chefs includes just one woman, and John Birdsall at the East Bay Express thinks this highlights a "stainless steel ceiling" in the industry. He says the business hates women and gays and any man with a complete set of fingers.

But it sounds like Birdsall didn't read Jan Newberry's interesting and well-researched piece in San Francisco Magazine on this very topic a month ago. The awesome picture of Melissa Perello alone warrants a clickthrough (update: now it's gone! But she was running in a field looking very freeeee), but here are some salient excepts:
Laurent Manrique, executive chef of Aqua, didn’t receive a single résumé from a woman when he was looking to hire a new chef de cuisine last December, and Perello says that when she left Fifth Floor, no woman working in the kitchen there was prepared to take her place. Other restaurateurs, like Gayle Pirie, 42, of Foreign Cinema, and Elisabeth Prueitt, 43, of Bar Tartine, say they’d love to hire more female cooks, but few apply.
And this:
However unpleasant the (macho kitchen) antics can get, most female chefs say they take them in stride. Nor is the problem that they’re hitting the glass ceiling, something women in other industries complain about. “San Francisco is a great city for women chefs,” says Michelle Mah, 31, chef at Ponzu. “Everyone here accepts that if you cook great food, that’s all that matters.” Rachel Sillcocks, 29, sous-chef at Healdsburg’s Cyrus, agrees. “The opportunities for women aren’t any less than they are for men.”
Newberry's philosophy for why there aren't more women executive chefs is basically this: They are smarter and less ego-driven than men.

The reason there were more women executive chefs 30 years ago is that they weren't as aware of the downsides of the industry, they didn't have food TV and Kitchen Confidential. Now that the trail has been blazed and been found wanting, Newberry posits, women are availing themselves of supposedly "lesser" opportunities that allow room to breathe, like the pastry station, wine cellar, catering and private chef gigs.

In other words, the only way you can say female chefs are hitting a ceiling is with a macho, patriarchal view of what constitutes success. You know, a view like Birdsall's.

I hasten to add, this is Newberry talking. I would never accuse Birdsall, powerful Godfather of a food media machine, of judging women on attributes other than merit, like appearance.

And in all sincerity, I am by no means saying Newberry's article is the final word on gender relations in the kitchen.

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Correction: THIRD Out the Door in Pacific Heights

In yesterday's item on Charles Phan starting construction on his third Out the Door in Pacific Heights, I said it was the second Out the Door.

In reality, it's the third: One next door to the original Slanted Door in the Ferry Building, one in Westfield SF Centre and the new one. I forgot about the original because somehow in my espresso-addled brain it's just part of Slanted Door.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Charles Phan expansion to Pacific Heights now under way

Slanted Door chef-owner Charles Phan is opening a third Out the Door.

He bought a building in Pacific Heights where he is working on a 3,000 square foot restaurant. When I talked to him on the phone just now he was in the middle of demolition.

I have the address and more on the food concept in an update on the Business Times website today (free link).

I was going to mark this "scoop" but I just Googled and found 7x7 posted something to their website March 1.

7x7 people: When you're not busy ogling the owners of District, consider putting this sort of stuff -- you know, "news" -- on your blog. That and an RSS feed.

UPDATE: OK, I just did some more Googling, and can proudly say that other than tablehopper, Chowhound, 7x7 and the Zoning Board, I was totally first with the story. (So glad I didn't use the "scoop" tag. So very glad.)

Well, at least we know construction has started.

This post has been corrected from its original form.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Early returns on District: Horrible service, bad design, painful acoustics, rude overcharging, mixed food. But otherwise, uh, 'very good.'

Fatemeh at Gastronomie realizes District has only been open two weeks, and realizes that it's more of a bar than a restaurant. Nevertheless, she is pissed off.

I'm not sure what the trouble is.

Sure, her eardrums nearly exploded from the "acoustic nightmare."

Yes, the cramped design left her "bumped" every two minutes or so (paging Michael Bauer ...).

Oh, and maybe the bartender forgot her three-item order. Twice.

Granted, her Carpaccio was "swimming" in what appeared to be bottled Caesar-salad dressing.

But is this really such a big deal?

After all, to make up for all its mistakes, the bar-staurant generously berated her date for underpaying for a bottle wine, before grumpily admitting the humiliating incident had been their fault due to a misreading of the menu.

Such sweethearts!

Fatemeh worries:
Is it fair to judge a restaurant a mere two weeks after opening and post a negative review on a public blog? Probably not.
Actually, given that we're all adults and understand that the place may well improve in time, and given that it's open for business and accepting money, it's totally fair.

And given Fatemeh's review, it's totally awesome.

(I haven't found any other early reviews, except for a few written before District's opening. Including this one from the 7x7 blog that recommends District because it is owned by "these tall good-looking guys who could have stepped straight out of the cast of Melrose Place." Great. That really speaks to me!)

Full review:

Gastronomie: District Wine Bar. Just Another Pretty Face?

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Gordon Biersch founder ditches SF for new restaurant

Gordon Biersch co-founder Dean Biersch initially wanted to put his new beer restaurant in San Francisco, but says he has decided to put it in the city of Sonoma due to spiraling costs in SF.

Biersch's tavern is to be called Hopmonk. The place is optimized for serving beer -- each beer is to be carefully selected, served in traditional glassware appropriate to that particular brew, and paired carefully with food.

The beers will be imported from Europe and selected from regional craft brewers in the U.S. Biersch will also brew a house pilsner of his own design, under contract to a brewer (likely Gordon Biersch).

The idea is to have a constantly-changing lineup of beers by category, for example during a winter month Hopmunk might feature bocks and dunkelweizens.

The food and decor is to be locally-inspired, with a Northern California flavor, rather than an imitation of the sort of pub and pub food one might find in Europe. Though it will use local ingredients, Biersch is not aiming for a high-end "gastropub" type menu as at, for example, Salt House, but more of the traditional bar foods -- sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads.

I have the full story in the Business Times:

Biersch taps out in S.F. (free link)

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Charles Phan, Soma Grand and guerilla marketing

SocketSite today reports as rumor that Charles Phan of Slanted Door is in talks to put in a restaurant at Soma Grand, a luxury San Francisco condo development that just opened a sales office.

It's actually not a rumor: Phan is indeed in talks. I heard the same gossip a week or two ago and called Charles. He told me there were talks but that they were preliminary and he had not decided whether to do anything yet. His publicist confirmed for me just now that this continues to be true.

I'm not holding my breath on this one. But I *am* fascinated by this rumor, because it's giving a significant amount of of free publicity and word-of-mouth to Soma Grand just as the development is offering units for sale.

SocketSite is a scrappy Web publication that doggedly follows the local condo market and the economics therein. The Phan/Soma Grand chatter has become pretty widespread and could certainly affect sales prices of units in the building, but if I were a buyer I would not spend an extra penny on the chance that this deal will happen, simply because it is so preliminary.

Even if it does happen, is Charles' hotness and quality level up to this point, no matter how high both might be, worth a premium?

Isn't there a significant risk that even if this deal goes through (again I'm not holding my breath) Phan, like any other chef, could
  1. leave after his lease expires in five or ten years;
  2. delegate to people whose quality isn't up to snuff;
  3. create noise issues from tightly-packed, cocktail-swilling diners;
  4. be on the unhappy side of a new dining fad
  5. ????
-- I'm not saying this stuff will happen but there's enough of a risk that it makes you question whether there should be any premium paid by a condo buyer to be in Phan's building.

In the final financial analysis, when you are talking about an investment of upwards of $700,000, risks from interest rates, local economy, building quality, crime, and the school district, to name just a few, are of much higher importance than who is running the ground-floor restaurant.

And of course most buyers will probably not make their decision based on who is running the restaurants.

But the Phan rumor, as it spreads among individuals and from media like SocketSite, does help the developers of Soma Grand get people in the door on the cheap. It spreads the name of the development and lodges it in people's memory. It adds a halo of hipness and legitimacy.

This isn't just a restaurant rumor, it is free publicity in an increasingly cutthroat condo market. And it will make an excellent case study for a guerilla marketing class at some point, whether that was the intent behind the rumor or not.

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