The Chatterbox

Gossip & News (the word on the street)
February 11, 2020
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Lily’s dining room, with a stone counter that flanks the open kitchen. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Chef Rob Lam. Photo: Erin Conger Photography.

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The curving banquette and family table at the back of the restaurant. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The spice boxes and antique mirrors behind the bar. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

I am thrilled to announce the news that chef Rob Lam (Perle, Butterfly) is going to be opening a Vietnamese restaurant on Clement Street in the Inner Richmond, partnering with landowners Lily (Hue) Lieu and her sister, Lucy Lieu. It’s going to be called ~LILY~, and they plan to open in mid-March or so. It’s opening in the former Q, and will have a 49-seat capacity.

The buildout is by CCS Architecture, and it’s an absolute looker, with beautiful materials and details. There’s a long stone bar and counter, which runs the length of the dining room, flanking the open kitchen. Behind the bar is a large wall display of spice boxes, antique mirrors, and intricate light fixtures above the bar. On the opposite wall is a tufted banquette in cordovan leather, which runs the length of the room, and ends in a half-booth with a round table (this is going to be a popular family table).

The room is full of texture, with a carved wood lattice that covers the ceiling, with four different panel designs. The tabletops are made of natural stone, and have a subtle gleam and texture. Both the barstools and chairs are made of walnut, with a chic and minimalist design. There’s a large mural above the banquette that depicts the Qingming Festival, an important day when one shows respect to one’s ancestors, which ties in with the restaurant concept, with both the Lieus and Lam paying homage to their heritage and family recipes.

Rob Lam was born in Vietnam, and when his family moved to Southern California after the fall of Saigon, his mother opened a restaurant called Vien Dong, just outside of Los Angeles, so restaurant life is in his blood. A graduate of the University of San Francisco and The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Lam moved back to California after graduation, where he took on a postgraduate fellowship with the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. His cuisine is very technique-driven, he cares deeply about sourcing quality ingredients, and loves bold flavor—he’s a big fan of delicious. You can always expect some soigné touches from Lam (he’s a fan of the finer things, like caviar and uni), and he also will be making his own sauces and ferments.

While Lam has included Vietnamese ingredients and dishes at his past ventures, Lily will be his first truly Vietnamese restaurant. It will be in honor of his mother and the women in his life who have helped shape him as a person and as a chef (women ruled his household growing up, and taught him about maximizing flavor while cooking, even while on a budget). Many dishes will hark back to his childhood, like the classic bun cha Hanoi (barbeque pork and rice noodles with Vietnamese herbs and lettuce and a warm fish sauce), but he’s also updating some dishes, like his mother’s bun bung chay, a noodle soup dish traditionally made with pork ribs, tamarind, turmeric, and vegetables, but he’ll be doing a vegan version, with fermented rice and tofu, lily bulb stems, green plantains, green papaya, tofu, and pea tendrils.

He’s also going to show his playful and innovative side, with a spin on a French dip with his pho dip sliders, or his bo tai chanh, a classic rare beef dish with toasted shallots, here served with bone marrow and sesame chips, and instead of lime, it’s paired with yuzu nuoc cham. Whether you come in for a solo meal at the bar counter (there will be a couple wonderful noodle soups, including his fantastic bun bo Hue oxtail-lemongrass noodle soup), or want to go for a full family-style spread (including a whole crispy fried fish or curry lamb shank), the menu will be flexible to accommodate all kinds of diners. I’ll share the menu as the opening gets closer, it’s still getting fine-tuned. (But be sure to look at my post about the tablehopper birthday dinner at the end of February, when you can preview a bunch of the dishes.)

Lam’s good friend James Yu (Great China) is heading up the wine program, which will be sure to have some real gems, with a focus on global, aromatic white and red wines built to pair well with Lam’s aromatic cuisine, offering fruit and lifting acidity. Yu is also the master of offering some incredible deals, which make wine lovers really happy whenever they open his lists.

When Lily opens in March, it will be open for dinner from Wed-Sun 5pm-10pm, and then lunch and Sunday Vietnamese breakfast will be introduced later. (I’m already scheming for a jook breakfast.)

Please note these are preview pics—the space is still under construction and is going to get a deep cleaning! Stand by for more updates on the opening soon. First, we party! 225 Clement St. at 4th Ave.

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You’ll be the first to dine at Lily at the tablehopper preview dinner! Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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A sneak peek of the Bo Tai Chanh/Bone Marrow and Lime Beef Carpaccio/Tartare. Photo: Rob Lam.

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Canh ga chien/caramel chicken wings française with yuzu shrimp paste. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Many thanks to Champagne Henriot, our sponsor for the evening, who will be pairing their gorgeous cuvées with our dinner!

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Chef Rob Lam showing a guest how to prepare the skewer wraps at a past tablehopper supper with Ernest Vineyards. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

SOLD OUT! TO BE ADDED TO THE WAITLIST, PLEASE EMAIL MARCIA. Can you believe tablehopper is turning fourteen? Crazy. Of course, I love any reason to celebrate and get together, but this birthday party is going to be extra-special, because it’s all about following your heart (and talent).

As many of you have noted over the years, I’m a huge fan of my good buddy chef Rob Lam’s Vietnamese food. He was the chef-owner at Perle and Butterfly, but the only times you could experience his Vietnamese food was at the jook pop-up we did together (Jook Joint), at our Vietnamese wine dinners featuring the wines of Vinho Verde and Ernest Vineyards, and he recently prepared the most bangin’ spread at High Ho Silver, my private event for mymilligram and celebrating my 25 years of living in San Francisco. If you’ve ever had his soulful Vietnamese dishes, you know they aren’t like anything you can get in the City, with his top-notch ingredient sourcing, handmade touches, and authentic home recipes (I keep encouraging him to bring the funk—we’re ready for it!).

So, as you just read in my column, he’s finally opening his Vietnamese restaurant (~LILY~), the one I’ve been waiting for and bugging him to open for years. And tablehopper readers are going to be the first to dine in it! On Friday February 28th, we’re holding a celebratory dinner in honor of tablehopper’s 14th and Rob finally giving us the food we want, offering you an extensive preview of the dishes that will be at Lily. Rob loves to feed, so when I say extensive, I mean it. Get ready for an extravagant menu below.

And it wouldn’t be a tablehopper party without some Champagne, hello! I am so thrilled to partner once again with Champagne Henriot! (Our last event together was at Great China four years ago, one remembered and cherished by many!)

Champagne Henriot is one of the last remaining family-owned Champagne houses (founded in 1808!), currently in the eighth generation with Gilles de Larouzière. Henriot’s house style is driven by Chardonnay, with long lees aging (it’s rich and focused, with elegance and finesse). Get excited for a night of tasting some gorgeous cuvées!

And what goes best with Champagne? (Besides me?) Caviar, of course! We are so thrilled to have Tsar Nicoulai providing us with some of their incredible (and sustainable!) caviar. So grateful!

Take a look at our event’s extensive menu (subject to change); this menu will be updated in real time.

First Course (Passed Appetizers)
Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs

Goi Cuon Nem Cua/Seafood Salad Rolls
Brokaw Avocado, Dungeness Crab, Kauai Shrimp, Uni, Strawberry Fish Sauce

Da Ga Chien/Crispy Chicken Skin
Black Truffle Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, Pickled Shallot, Lompoc Pepper Crema

Bo Tai Chanh/Bone Marrow and Lime Beef Carpaccio/Tartare
Goji Lime Fish Sauce, Viet Herbs, Pickled Bermuda Onion, Sesame Crackers, Cashews

Muc Chien Moui Thoi/Salt and Garlic Fried Calamari
Peppers and Pineapple, Toasted Garlic, Sriracha Remoulade, Lompoc Pepper, and Lime Sauce

Bahn Mi Pho Bo/Beef Pho Dip Sliders
Hawaiian Bread, Kewpie Mayo, Hoisin Sriracha Sauce, Jalapeño, Pho Dipping Broth

Second Course (Family-Style)
Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé

Bahn Tom Co Ngu/Fried Shrimp and Sweet Potato
Vietnamese Herbs Salad, Pickled Vegetables, Meyer Lemon Fish Sauce


Cha Ca Thang Long/Turmeric Grilled Market Fish
Dill and Onions, Vietnamese Herbs Salad, Pineapple-Fermented Shrimp Sauce, Sesame Crackers

Bun Cha Hanoi/BBQ Noodle Platter
Rice Noodles, Housemade Sambal, Vietnamese Herbs Salad, Pickled Carrot, and Daikon

Third Course (Family Style)
Champagne Henriot Brut Millésime 2008

Bahn Chung Vit/Roasted Duck and Crispy New Year Sweet Rice Cake
Crispy Duck Confit, Apple Hoisin Vinegar, Vietnamese Herbs, Pickled Vegetables

Bo Luc Lac Do Bien/Shaking Beef and Seafood Noodles
Crispy Egg Noodle Cake, Diver Scallop, and Kauai Shrimp Stir Fry, Fried Rock Shrimp, Uni Soy

Ca Chien/Crispy Fried Whole Fish
Chinese Sausage and Pepper Stir Fry, Caramel Nuoc Cham Sauce, Vietnamese Herbs and Lettuce

Dessert Course
(TBD)
Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain

Did that just make your eyes pop out or what? Like I said, it’s going to be a full-court press, the Vietnamese feast of feasts!

We’ll start the evening at 6:30pm, with the passed appetizers and a welcome glass of Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs, and then we’ll be seated for the subsequent family-style dinner. Unfortunately, we can’t accommodate dietary restrictions, but if you have to sit a few courses out, you’ll still have plenty to eat. Tanya Pringsheim‑Evans​ of Maisons & Domaines Henriot will be there to walk us through the Champagne pairings.

In honor of tablehopper’s 14 years, we are offering this supper for only $114, inclusive of tax and tip and all pairings. Get your ticket here.

I really hope to see all of you at the table—can’t wait to cheers you with some Henriot Champagne! Let’s ring in Lily, and finally having access to Rob’s delicious food in SF!

Friday February 28th, 2020
6:30pm reception
Lily
225 Clement St. at 4th Ave.
San Francisco

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Shake Shack classics. Photo via Shack’s Facebook page.

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The Indie bowl and tofu poke bowl at Indie Superette. Photo: Aubrie Pick.

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The spacious and stylin’ interior at Dumpling Time at Thrive City. Photo courtesy of Dumpling Time.

The lines are already way too long at the first location of ~SHAKE SHACK~ in San Francisco, now open in Cow Hollow. The New York import is known for their classic burgers, chicken sandwiches, griddled flat-top dogs (no hormones or antibiotics), and crinkle cut fries, and something that isn’t as easily found in SF: freshly made frozen custard.

For that last item, they’ve partnered up with local purveyors b. Patisserie, Dough XX, Dandelion Chocolate, and Pie Dreams for some custom sundaes, like the California Cold Rush: vanilla custard, B. Patisserie kouign amann, salted caramel sauce, and Dandelion Chocolate cocoa nibs. There’s also the Bay Area-exclusive Golden State Double, a Richards grass-fed beef cheddar cheeseburger topped with pickles and smoked garlic aioli (I’d tap that). Local brews from Fort Point Beer Company, 21st Amendment Brewery, and Drake’s Brewing Company are available, plus Shake Shack’s exclusive Brooklyn Brewery ShackMeister® Ale, plus two Shack wines.

There’s an outdoor patio with ample seating, and the Cow Hollow Shack was constructed with recycled and sustainable materials. Open Sun-Thu 11am-10pm, and Fri-Sat 11am-11pm. 3060 Fillmore St. at Filbert.

Sharing the terrace is healthy neighbor ~INDIE SUPERETTE~, a plant-based café and wellness market conceived by MINA Group’s President Patric Yumul (he named it after his daughter). The menu should fit in just perfectly with the health-obsessed Marina and Cow Hollow residents, offering primarily organic and non-GMO ingredients for its cold-pressed juices, elixirs, smoothies, a variety of açaí and chia bowls, veggie burgers, nutrient-rich savory bowls, sweet and savory toasts, vegan soft-serve, a selection of pastries from Firebrand Artisan Breads bakery, and coffee beverages featuring LAMILL Coffee.

Fire up with keto-friendly and adaptogenic smoothies, like the Ready to Rumble Monkey, with vanilla ghee, MCT oil, cacao powder, chaga, strong coffee, almond milk, and banana; and Roar, with lucuma, barley grass powder, maca, banana, ashwagandha, cordyceps, vanilla stevia, and macadamia milk. An array of additional adaptogenic supplements can be added to smoothies and açaí bowls for $1 each.   The market includes made-to-order items, fresh produce, specialty grab-and-go sundries, beverages, Moon Juice powders and dusts, and even Beyond Meat burgers and sausages. Look for keto-friendly wines, hard kombucha, gluten-free beer, and additional alcoholic beverages, coming soon. Open daily 7am-9pm. 3060 Fillmore St. at Filbert.

Over at the oddly named Thrive City, the surrounding district of Chase Center, you’ll find a new location of ~DUMPLING TIME~, serving their handmade dim sum inspired by Chinese and Japanese preparations made with local California ingredients. There are also some new items inspired by the menus at Dumpling Time’s Ginza and Shibuya restaurants in Tokyo, Japan, and there’s also a full bar with cocktails, in addition to beer and wine. Dumpling Time is open for lunch 11am-3pm and dinner 5pm-10pm. 191 Warriors Way, Suite 101, at Terry A Francois Blvd.

Future Thrive City neighbors include Miller & Lux by Tyler Florence, Nachoria, Gott’s Roadside, High-Energy Food Hall by Chef Michael Mina, Belly & Sweet Belly, and Mission Bay Wine Bar at Thrive City.

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The exterior of the new Tartine Inner Sunset on 9th Ave. Photo: Paige Green.

Some big news came out last week that Tartine Bakery workers (at the original Tartine Bakery in SF, Tartine Manufactory, Tartine Inner Sunset, and Tartine in Berkeley) were trying to unionize in pursuit of better pay, job protection, and more—read the Chronicle story here. The latest update is Tartine management has declined the workers’ union demands—for now. File this one under definitely developing, like their dough.

A quick update, in case you were wondering where the talented chef Melissa Perfit has landed after the closing of Ayala: she’s now the chef de cuisine over at ~NIKU STEAKHOUSE~ (see, she just isn’t about seafood, although we love her for it). Joining her is new GM Mickey Clevenger, our Johnny Cash of front of house.

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The new trellis with live greenery at Barcino. Photo: Kelly Puleio.

After many years of running a restaurant at Gough and Grove, The Absinthe Group announced they’re closing ~BARCINO~ on February 15th. The team is going to be focused instead on opening ~ARBOR~ in the former Arlequin Cafe space; Barcino chef de cuisine Kaili Hill and general manager Michael Goss will transition to Arbor in their same roles. Executive chef Ryan McIlwraith is working with the team to develop a new menu that will be convenient to the neighborhood, and they will continue to offer guests access to the refreshed outdoor patio (along with neighboring Arlequin Wine Merchant). Stand by for updates.

Folks in the Castro who depend upon ~SLURP NOODLE BAR~ for a quick dinner or bite before a movie will be bummed to know it closed after six years in the Castro. (469 Castro St.) Just up the street, ~DAPPER DOG~ has also closed. 417 Castro St. at Market. Read more on Hoodline.

Over in the Sunset, ~SAN TUNG 2~ has closed, it was reportedly a challenge to run both locations—fortunately the main dumpling and wing location soldiers on. Hoodline mentions the new tenant is Grill N Curry, serving grilled Pakistani and Indian dishes. 1033 Irving St. at 12th Ave.

Over on Polk Street, neighborhood wine and beer bar ~ROBBERBARON~ is another business forced to close its doors for a city-mandated seismic retrofit, on March 8th, which is estimated to take five-plus months. There is a chance that Robberbaron may not be able to reopen following this closure, so they are hosting a fundraising event on Thursday February 20th and a GoFundMe to help offset some costs and help them reopen. Here’s hoping they survive, and I know they’re looking for a temporary home. 2032 Polk St. at Broadway.

January 28, 2020
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The exterior of La Folie, a landmark restaurant in Russian Hill. Photo courtesy of La Folie.

Francophiles, Russian Hill residents, longtime SF diners, fans of tasting menus, and many former chefs and cooks who came through the kitchen at ~LA FOLIE~ were dismayed with the news yesterday that chef-owner Roland Passot and his wife Jamie have decided to close the restaurant and La Folie Lounge on March 14th, 2020.

They opened the restaurant 32 years ago, in 1988, providing a highly personable, contemporary French fine dining experience for their guests, an elegant setting for countless special occasions. Chef Roland embodies the spirit of a true French host—always in the kitchen, circulating the room, and even popping into the lounge next door to see who’s in. And La Folie is a family affair: Roland’s brother, Georges, a sommelier at La Folie, was often the first face you’d see when you walked in (they share the same Lyonnaise twinkle in their eye).

But chef is turning 65, and is ready to “turn the page,” and start doing other things, like work on a memoir and cookbook (he has 50 years of cooking tales to share); lead culinary tours to France, Spain, and Italy; and he will continue to be in partnership with the Vine Dining family of restaurants: Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, San Jose, and Menlo Park; LB Steak and Meso in San Jose; and an upcoming LB Steak in San Ramon (he is looking forward to hosting some pop-up dinners, too). He wants to have time to “think about ourselves”—his wife Jamie had cancer two years ago and is now thankfully in remission, and it’s time for them to be free of the constant demands of running a restaurant and enjoy life more.

I heard some rumors that Roland was trying to sell La Folie around the end of last year, and he is still hoping for a young chef to take it over and continue the legacy of this special place on Upper Polk; he said when they first moved in, there wasn’t much going on in the neighborhood, and some people thought it wasn’t a good idea to open there—funny how he proved them wrong. Over the years, of course there were ups and downs, but he knows they’ve had such a good run. The restaurant goes on the market this week.

So much talent has been trained and come through La Folie’s kitchen (it’s a chef’s legacy!) and the floor, and they have some truly longtime staff—some have been there for 20 years, and chef says they are going to help all of the employees find good placements. A big loss will be the departure of wine director Robco, our Rob Renteria, always ready with a friendly smile and mischievous laugh as he pours you something fantastic. He has been there for the past seven years—no word on his next stop, but his fan club will find him.

Merci to the La Folie family for all the hospitality over the years. And thank you for teaching me who Bernard Loiseau was vis-à-vis the frogs’ legs that were on the menu, back when I came into the restaurant for my first time when I was writing for Gayot in 2008 or thereabouts. Even through the menu, Roland would teach. Enjoy this new phase in your life, chef.

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Croissant perfection at Arsicault Bakery. Yelp photo by Stephanie L.

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The lineup of bagels from Daily Driver. Photo: Frankie Frankeny.

The second location of famed croissant-maker ~ARSICAULT BAKERY~ has opened in Civic Center, an offshoot of the original Inner Richmond location. But now, owner Armando Lacayo has much more production space to work with, which means he’ll be expanding the current lineup of croissants, croissants, kouign amanns, and chocolate chip cookies to include tarts, quiches, napoleons, and sandwiches on housemade baguettes and country loaves. But first, he wants to settle in to the new location and make sure everything is coming out perfectly. Visitors will find some seating, with more coming outdoors soon. And for now, less of a line. Open Mon-Fri 7am-2pm. 87 McAllister St. at Leavenworth. [Via Chronicle]

Meanwhile, the taker for the Marla Bakery space in the Outer Richmond has been revealed: the Outer Sunset’s ~DEVIL’S TEETH BAKING COMPANY~ is going to be opening a second location! Owner Hilary Passman will be bringing her famed biscuit breakfast sandwiches, quiches, and other baked goods for breakfast and lunch service. Look for an opening in February, more details soon. 3619 Balboa St. at 37th Ave. [Via Eater.]

If you’ve been craving the wood-fired bagels (and butter) from ~DAILY DRIVER~, but find the Dogpatch location a little tough to get to, you can now pick some up at their new bagel shop in the Ferry Building Marketplace. You’ll also find their housemade cream cheese, quark, wood-fired pretzels, simple bagel sandwiches, and coffee from Red Bay Coffee.

But this pop-up isn’t at a kiosk: they’re using a 1984 Chevy shorty panel van that rolls out every morning and rolls back in at night. (The team donates a portion of sales to Project Wreckless, an auto shop in The Bayview that teaches at-risk kids the craft of restoring old cars.) They are exploring options to build out a permanent space in the Ferry Building, but for now, the van shop is open every day from 6am to 6pm.

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The exterior of Allegro Romano. Yelp photo by Tiffany L.

According to an ABC license transfer, the chef-owner of Ideale in North Beach, Maurizio Bruschi, is possibly taking over ~ALLEGRO ROMANO~ from another fellow Roman, Lorenzo Logoreci. I reached out to Ideale and Maurizio’s business partner, Giuseppe Terminiello, for confirmation and more information, but didn’t hear back in time for my deadline. In the meantime, entertain yourself with the recent spate of one-star reviews on Yelp about the cranky proprietor—sounds like someone forgot about the “allegro” in their business name. 1701 Jones St. at Broadway, 415-928-4002.

After being temporarily closed for the past nine months, it looks like ~BUTTERMILK SOUTHERN KITCHEN~ in the Mission has closed for good. According to a tablehopper tipster, the space was getting cleaned out this past weekend, and the awning now says ~YU SAN FONG~. If anyone has any intel, do tell! 2848 23rd St. at Bryant.

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Half a rotisserie chicken at Bonita. Yelp photo by Cherylynn N.

The former Squat & Gobble in the Castro is now the second location of ~BONITA TAQUERIA Y ROTISSERIE~, serving rotisserie chicken, tacos, burritos, bowls, quesadillas, nachos, tortilla soup, salads, sides, and weekend brunch (Fri-Sun) with bottomless mimosas. You’ll also find micheladas, sangria, beer, and more. I tried confirming the hours from their other location in the Marina, but no dice—let’s assume it’s 11am-10pm like their original location for now. There’s plenty of outdoor seating as well. 3600 16th St. at Noe.

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Get that bib on and get ready to crack some crab at the annual crab feed! Photo courtesy of The Alice Collective.

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Big smiles during a Pencils for Kids backpack delivery in Thailand. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

The 8th Annual Crab Feed is this Saturday February 1st at The Alice Collective in Oakland, featuring fresh Dungeness crabs from our local fishermen, plus bottomless mimosas and endless beers will be flowing. You’ll enjoy sourdough garlic bread, a seasonal mixed green salad, housemade garlic noodles, and the main event: fresh Dungeness crabs with drawn butter and lemon, with chocolate chip cookies for dessert (if you have any room left).

There are two seatings: 11am to 1pm and the second at 2:30pm to 4:30pm. Tickets will sell out, so get yours ASAP! $80. Proceeds from the Crab Feed will benefit The Golden State Salmon Association. The Alice Collective, 272 14th St. at Alice, Oakland.

Chef Nico Peña of ~TARTINE MANUFACTORY~ is hosting a Winter Chef & Winemaker Dinner Series through March 2020. Book your table for these special one-night collaborative menus through OpenTable, and select the prix-fixe menu once you’re seated.

Tonight (
Jan. 28) is Little Frances with Erin Pooley; 
Feb. 11: Stirm Wine Co. with Ryan Stirm; Feb. 9: Tartine Bread Team Pizzeria Night; 
Feb. 25: Martha Stoumen Wines with Martha Stoumen; Mar. 1: chef Joseph Sasto
; Mar. 15: chef David Yoshimura, Restaurant Nissei. Seatings available from 5pm-9pm. 595 Alabama St. at 18th St.

Pencils for Kids is hosting their annual fundraiser to help children in Bali, Myanmar, and Thailand attend school on Thursday February 6th, Small World, Big Flavors, at DZINE. Get your ticket for a walk-around tasting featuring Chibog, Curry Up Now, Esan Classic, Nick’s on Grand, Helio Roast, and more, plus wine pours, a silent auction, and a raffle. Tickets are $75, and the evening begins at 6:30pm. If you are unable to attend, but would like to donate to this worthy organization, please click here. 128 Utah St. at Alameda.

January 14, 2020
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Caviar, Leek, Crème Fraîche. All photos courtesy of Gap Year at Nico.

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Duck Apicius Pithivier, Apple, Mint.

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Sea Bream, Turnip, Citrus.

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Turbot, Bone Marrow, Turnips, Endive, Sauce Matelote.

Owners Andrea and Nicolas Delaroque of Michelin-starred ~NICO~ in Jackson Square decided they wanted to spend a year off with their daughter in France, and instead of selling the restaurant, a very novel solution was found. Their good friend Paul Einbund of The Morris (whose wife, Vanessa Yap Einbund, designed Nico’s website) and his team are running an interim concept for the year with Nico’s wildly talented chef de cuisine, Jordan Guevara. The year-long, extended pop-up is aptly named ~GAP YEAR AT NICO~.

The collaborative project features a tasting menu ($140) with wine pairings ($110), as well as an à la carte menu for those who want to go that route (um, there’s côte de bœuf). Guevara’s cuisine is intricate, both flavor- and technique-driven, and strongly influenced by classic and vintage French recipes—you will see small notations on the menu that refer to the original source (the chef’s cookbook and page number), so AD13 refers to Alain Ducasse, page 13. But these current dishes at Gap Year are not facsimiles—instead, they were inspired by the originals and revised and riffed on.

Just look at how glamorous and gorgeous they are—and Einbund tells me they’re not just pretty plates, the’re made with the development of deep flavor in mind, like the painstakingly made duck pithivier. How fantastically soigné. (It all begins to make even more sense when you learn Guevara was an assistant for Bocuse d’Or Team USA 2019.) And hold the phone: I can’t believe the elegant presentation of the turbot, with bone marrow, turnips, endive, and sauce matelote ($80). (And by the way, the stunning caviar course comes with a full ounce of caviar, freshly opened just for you.) Pastry chef Alice Kim is also reportedly doing some wondrous things, like a Calvados mille-feuille, fantastique!

Einbund, of course, has crafted next-level wine pairings to match the elevated experience of the six-course tasting menu, primarily featuring his top choices of Champagne, and two still wines. And here’s a bonus feature: since they’re pouring so much Champagne for the tasting menu, you can order some really special selections by the glass. I say pop in and treat yo’self at the charming eight-seat bar. Of course, the madeira-loving Einbund has added 10 selections, and he tells me the pairing of the chestnut soufflé pancake with black truffle and Brillat-Savarin with madeira is just phenomenal, so that’s another way you can enjoy a little something-something at the bar. And there are culinary-driven cocktails from bar manager Natalie Lichtman for you to try as well, with ingredients like sudachi and tarragon.

Einbund tells me the team is working very collaboratively, like servers offering input on wine, with a lot of crossover in their roles as they all push to offer a very special experience. You have one year to start working your way through this menu (which will assuredly be constantly changing) and cellar, time to get to it. Tue-Sat 5:30pm-10pm. 710 Montgomery St. at Washington.

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The sleek new look of Ristobar, with high-top tables and a banquette. All photos: © tablehopper.com.

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The back section of the sinuous bar.

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Housemade tagliolini with local Dungeness crab and a cherry tomato sauce.

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The off-the-menu Jimmy G. pinsa (with ‘nduja, peperonata, burrata, green olive, and tomato sauce).

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A showstopper dessert: the Taormina, with fried cinnamon pastry with ricotta cream, topped with a dollop of Sicilian pistachio cream.

The lights are back on at the corner of Chestnut and Scott, with the reopening of ~RISTOBAR~, after being closed for a building retrofit since 2017. Owner Gary Rulli decided the timing was right to overhaul the layout and look of the spacious restaurant—it has now been divided into a restaurant and an upcoming pasticceria/caffè, due to open in late April.

The restaurant side features a long and curving bar, flanked by high-top tables and a tufted banquette along the wall, with more seating in the back and a semi-private room (with the original red booths). It has a classic look, with blue-and-gold patterned wallpaper (almost the same blue as Pantone’s color of the year, so on-trend), comfortable blue bar chairs with nailhead accents, touches of bronze, and lots of warm wood.

It straddles that line of being nice, but not tooooo nice—you can come by for a cocktail at the bar or a casual bite, or have a date at one of the tables—a quality that will make it a great neighborhood hangout. The vibe over the weekend was very upbeat, with music and already a social scene at the bar. There are also a couple TV screens above the bar, so you won’t miss an important game (Gary is a big 49ers fan, and even has an off-the-menu pizza right now, the Jimmy G. More on that in a moment). The beautiful mural on the ceiling is still in place (I was pleased to see it).

They soft-opened in the beginning of the year, and chef Francesco Brevetti is just ramping up and working collaboratively to implement Rulli’s vision for what the neighborhood wants. Appetizers will highlight quality ingredients, like burrata with peperonata ($16) or San Daniele prosciutto and mozzarella ($18), along with a seasonal winter salad ($12), and pepata di cozze (sautéed mussels in tomato sauce, $16). Housemade pasta ($20-$26) is going to figure prominently—we had some wonderful tagliolini with local Dungeness crab and a light cherry tomato sauce, and a special with fresh porcini. Our neighbor’s cavatelli with burrata also looked amazing.

There are some pinsas ($18-$19), made with a soy, rice, and double-zero flour that is easier to digest (the pinsas are fired in a state-of-the-art Moretti electric oven). They come out with a spongy and raised crust with nicely developed flavor (the dough ferments for 72 hours), served on a wooden pizza peel. We had to order the Jimmy G., with ‘nduja, peperonata, burrata, green olive, and a light brushing of tomato sauce. Yes, that pizza was as sexy as its namesake. A bonus is this is the kind of pizza that travels well and warms up nicely for lunch the next day (and it’s also much easier to share than a Neapolitan-style pizza).

You’ll find a few rustic secondi, like grilled octopus and oven-roasted chicken, but be sure to save room for dessert, because don’t forget: Gary Rulli is a master of pastries! There’s the Taormina, a small tower of fried cinnamon pastry with ricotta cream layered in between, and topped with a dollop of Sicilian pistachio cream (with pistachios from Bronte). Rulli is also known for his top-notch panettone, which shows up in a bread pudding budino with vanilla cream gelato, and you will enjoy every last spoonful. Need a little something to pick you up? Get the affogato ubriaco: espresso with whiskey, espresso gelato, and cream, oh yeah. If you just want something more on the digestivo nightcap side of things, don’t miss the Whiskey Stellato, with bourbon, Cynar, sugar, five spice bitters, and egg white. That will send you home humming.

Once the pasticceria opens, Rulli plans to launch a rotating calendar of guest chefs in the restaurant, from his talented previous chefs (Angelo Auriana and Michele Belotti) to Paolo Laboa (formerly at Farina, and the master of mandilli al pesto!), and even host chefs from Italy, like Emilia Cuomo of Pastificio Cuomo in Gragnano. Because of Rulli’s pastry background, he also wants to have guests from the pastry academy in Italy.

When the pasticceria and caffè open, there’s going to be a gorgeous jewel box of a case from Italy, and guests will be able to enjoy weekend brunch on the tables outside with freshly baked pastries made that morning. Rulli also wants to offer some casual Italian street food out of the caffè.

We really enjoyed exploring the wine list (we were in such excellent hands with the dynamic and knowledgable sommelier Antonio Tartiglione, who was an opening somm at Roscioli in Rome!), which features unique and quality selections from all over Italy, from a pallagrello bianco from Fattoria Alois in Campania to a chardonnay from Vie di Romans in Friuli, and a delightful Franciacorta from Trentino: Berlucchi 61. You’ll have some fun and make some new discoveries, let them drive the bus.

Dinner is served Mon, Wed-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 4pm-11pm, and Sun 4pm-9pm. Closed Tue. 2300 Chestnut St. at Scott.

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Mamahuhu’s stylish dining room (designed by Studio BBA). All photos: © tablehopper.com.

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Egg rolls with housemade sweet and sour sauce.

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Kung pao chicken.

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Mushroom mapo tofu.

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Broccoli and beef.

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Some stylish details and fun artwork that ties in to the restaurant’s name (horse horse tiger tiger).

It’s time to take a new look at sweet-and-sour chicken and kung pao chicken (with “pizazzy mala peanuts”). Get fired up to try the brand-new ~MAMAHUHU~ from Brandon Jew (Mister Jiu’s), who partnered with Anmao Sun and Ben Moore on the project. This Inner Richmond, fast-casual spot is just next door to Wing Lee and across the street from Green Apple Books, a vibrant neighborhood that Jew lives in and knows well.

At Mamahuhu, Jew is taking some Chinese-American classics, like broccoli and beef, and giving them an ingredient and technique upgrade and San Francisco sourcing spin, like making a grass-fed beef gravy and adding king trumpet mushrooms to Chinese and American broccoli. As for the sweet-and-sour chicken, wait until you taste the sauce. It’s no longer a sickly-sweet and cornstarch-laden syrup with red food coloring, now made with hawthorn vinegar and honey (Jew tells me the sauce was originally made with the hawthorn berry, which gave it its red color, and is an ingredient used in Chinese medicine and herbal remedies). He’s using Mary’s chicken, which comes with an awesome rice flour coating that gets a puffy crunch (you may want to skip this one for delivery and save it for dining on-premise). You’ll also enjoy that tangy sauce with the egg rolls, which have an almost-custardy interior.

There’s an abundant serving of mushroom mapo tofu, with so much depth of flavor (thanks to the doubanjiang bean paste) and a balanced heat (with some numbing Sichuan mala action); and happy family, with wild-caught shrimp, free-range chicken, shiitake, and “stay humble veggies,” a Cantonese stir-fry dish. You could order these house specials à la carte (they range from $16-$19), or you can order any of them as a combo, with jasmine rice and wok’d greens for $15 (fried rice is $3 extra, an egg roll is $2, and supreme broth is $5). Considering Mamahuhu is located in rice plate central on Clement, it’s makes perfect sense, and is an ideal option for solo diners.

Sides include wonton soup with schmaltz ($12), a variety of vegetables ($5-$10), including mala YOLO celery ($5) with cold celery and celtuce topped with a crunchy and spicy topping that is totally like chef-driven chile crisp. The jade fried rice ($10) is more about quality than quantity (it comes in the standard smaller delivery box, not the large one), with Niman Ranch pork, wild-caught shrimp, organic egg, and kale, giving it a dark green hue.

I want to return just for the chop suey sundae ($7), with toasted rice soft-serve, Hodo soy milk, jasmine tea jelly, black sesame sago, and an almond cookie on top.

There’s also tea and tea sodas; Very, Very Far beer on draft (from Off Color Brewing); and three wines. The restaurant originally offered delivery, but is on pause while they ramp up dinner service on-site.

The 35-seat space is so charming and casual-chic, with wood booths and banquettes, vibrant artwork (look for the horse and horse and tiger and tiger, which is one meaning of “mamahuhu”—the other is “so-so”), soft-pink floors, and nice punches of color. Studio BBA is behind the eye-catching design (the space was formerly an organic produce market), which really over-delivers on the fast-casual format with so many nice materials and stylish choices. Which is just like what the food is designed to do—offer an affordable experience with the best quality, sourcing, and housemade touches. Personally, I like seeing chefs pushing and coming up with creative solutions within these kinds of budget constraints. Whether you can afford to dine at Mister Jiu’s or not, Mamahuhu is meant to be enjoyed by everyone.

The restaurant is starting with dinner service Tue-Sat 5pm-10pm (nightly service is coming soon), and will resume delivery service on Caviar, and then will launch lunch service. The opening is Wednesday January 15th. 517 Clement St. at 6th Ave.

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Chefs Laurent Gras and Joshua Skenes. Instagram photo via @jskenes.

Some quick chef updates: after a year and a half of running the show at ~SAISON~, co-owner and chef Laurent Gras announced in an Instagram post that he was moving back to New York “to be closer to my wife, family and friends.” (But first, he’s enjoying some time in the sun in Baja California.) No word on what Joshua Skenes has in mind next for Saison, whether he will be bringing in a new chef, or returning to the kitchen, but he does mention “a new experience at Saison in 2020.”

Chef Jason Fox, most recently of Commonwealth, has joined San Francisco Proper Hotel as executive chef, leading the restaurant Villon, rooftop Charmaine’s, and La Bande. Look for a unified theme of progressive California cuisine on the menus—the new bar menu at Charmaine’s features snacks and street food found around the world, while Villon will highlight his elevated cuisine style, like shrimp agnolotti with a roasted chicken dashi; Dungeness crab with Green Goddess dressing, kohlrabi, and cured egg yolk; and his potato gnocchi with mushroom and kale. The all-day restaurant will also feature breakfast, lunch, and brunch items, like overnight oats, malted barley pancakes, and a vegetarian Cuban sandwich. 45 McAllister St. at Market.

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The California hot fried chicken sandwich from Automat. Instagram photo via @automat_SF.

I still haven’t gotten over the closure of Green Chile Kitchen in NoPa—I keep thinking I’ll swing by for green chile stew, a heartland taco salad, or a breakfast burrito, and then I’m like, oh yeah, that one is long gone. It’s tough to deactivate a 14-year habit.

But now, the taker for the space has been announced: pop-up ~AUTOMAT~ from chef Matthew Kirk is going permanent. His pop-up (at various locations, like New Taraval Cafe) has been making a hot fried chicken sandwich, contemporary California tasting menus, tacos, and the $35 delivered bread box has been a hit, with pickle-spiced sourdough bagels, tomato focaccia, everything bagel sourdough, and other creative creations. Kirk was previously a sous chef at Lazy Bear, and chef-owner David Barzelay will be partnering with him on the project. Look for an opening by late fall/early winter. 1801 McAllister St. at Baker. [Via Hoodline.]

The currently closed ~THE ELITE CAFE~ is going to be the latest restaurant in Adriano Paganini’s Back of the House group (A Mano, Beretta, Delarosa, Barvale, Starbelly, Wildseed, Super Duper)—number 32, to be exact. Details are slim at the moment, but SFist mentions it will be Italian. 2049 Fillmore St. at California.

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The almond croissant at Boutique Crenn. Photo via Instagram: @boutiquecrennsf.

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Khao mun gai from Good Gai’s. Instagram photo via @eatgoodgais.

In advance of the opening of ~BOUTIQUE CRENN~ from Michelin three-star-toting Dominique Crenn in the Salesforce Tower, you can try some of their baked goods and pastries in a pop-up: Boutique Crenn X Cubert in the Salesforce Transit Center. (Cubert is from Off the Grid, a mobile and modular pop-up kitchen that looks like a kiosk.) Pastry chef Christina Hanks and head baker Jacob Fraijo are turning out some gorg-looking croissants, millefeuille, and other kinds of viennoiserie, plus canelés, and some savory items, like fougasse topped with vegetables from Crenn’s organic Sonoma County farm. Check their Instagram for updates. And eye candy. Available Mon-Fri 7am-2pm. 425 Mission St. at Fremont.

Noodle lovers will be intrigued with this build-your-own-bowl concept called ~QINGSHU~, which opened in the Sunset. It’s inspired by malatang, a dish and dining format from China that is almost like an individual hot pot. You select your ingredients (vegetables, meat, seafood, different kinds of tofu, and noodles) and pay by the pound ($7.99/lb.), pay for any additional premium ingredients like shrimp or beef, choose your soup base, and the ingredients are cooked for you and brought to your table. Sounds like a fun thing to check out! Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm and 5pm-9pm, Sun 12pm-8pm. 816 Irving St. at 9th Ave.

I’m a huge fan of khao mun gai, and there’s a new window serving this classic dish (Hainan chicken rice) from the folks behind The Chairman truck. It’s called ~GOOD GAI’S~ (LOL) and the shop is in Bayview. Hours for now are Tue-Thu 11:30am-3pm for take-out, so if you work or live nearby, here’s a new lunch option for ya. 2723 Oakdale Ave. at Barneveld.

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Meet the new lineup of breakfast tacos at weekend brunch at Tacolicious on Valencia. Photo: Gregory Wells.

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The Que Chido (fried egg, bacon and crispy hash brown taco with a salsa roja). Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Jugo verde at Tacolicious. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

After being closed for a seismic upgrade and renovations—while Van Ness Avenue continues to be torn up and a complete disaster—~HELMAND PALACE~ has reopened. The dining room got an update, as well as the exterior. Show them some support and head in for their famed kaddo! The restaurant has been open since 1971. 2424 Van Ness Ave. at Green.

Breakfast tacos are a holy grail, and especially Austin-style breakfast tacos, the benchmark! Fortunately for us, ~TACOLICIOUS~ has just launched a weekend brunch menu of six kinds of breakfast tacos, and they even took an R&D trip to Austin. You’ll find the Tejana, with migas (with crispy tortilla strips cooked into egg), roasted poblano, and a creamy, emulsified jalapeño salsa, inspired by the popular Salsa Dona at Taco Deli (this was one of our absolute favorites); El Gabacho, with scrambled egg, avocado, and crazy-delicious bacon jam they make in-house, which I told them they need to start selling stat; and Que Chido, with fried egg, bacon, and crispy hash browns with a salsa roja (great texture).

You can get fancy with La Fresa (filet mignon and fried quail egg with salsa macha, so good with the beef!), and there’s a vegan offering, and a classic El Mexicano with scrambled egg, housemade chorizo, and potato. The flour tortillas (with some corn) were on point, and Tacolicious really rocks the salsas. I say bring a friend, order all six, and split ‘em up like we did! Tacos are $4.50 for 1, $16 for 4, and $36 for 10.

You can perk up with their horchata and cold brew combo, and I felt somewhat healthy with my jugo verde (kale, pineapple, and mint juice), until I took another bite of the bacon jam. Ha! There are brunch cocktails, including a michelada, always a winner. Served Sat-Sun 10am-3pm. At the Mission District location at 748 Valencia St. only for now; the Marina location will launch the taco menu and 10am weekend brunch on January 25th.

There have been some changes over at ~1760~, which has a new menu format that is a three-course tasting menu for just $39. A new region or culture or cuisine will drive the rotating menu every three months or so, with some comfort food inspiration too. Right now, they’re starting with Tuscany, serving three courses of wintertime dishes, with an additional pasta course available for $10, and the option for wine or cocktail pairings. (If you desire a vegetarian option, they will be complete dishes, not just the original dish with the protein removed.) If you have some 1760 favorites, fret not, because the bar menu will remain à la carte!

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Mijita tamales. Photo © FrankenyImages.com.

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BSK’s impeccable waffles (at its original location). Yelp photo by Pei K.

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Meraki Market. All photos: © tablehopper.com.

It’s a new year, with a fresh round of closures that totally sucks. Over at the Ferry Building, Traci Des Jardins has shuttered ~MIJITA~ after serving her amazing chilaquiles there for 15 years. The Chronicle reports she was at the end of her lease, and may repeat the concept somewhere else, but that’s TBD. She reportedly has another Mexican restaurant concept in the works, so we’ll need to stand by on that; she will continue to be part of The Commissary, Arguello, School Night, and Public House.

And just after one year of business, Tanya Holland is closing the Ferry Building location of ~BROWN SUGAR KITCHEN~ after service on Sunday January 19th. It’s a shame to lose the first and only black female-owned business in the Ferry Building Marketplace. She’s going to be focusing her attention on her Oakland location, and her post on Instagram alludes to more to come.

I received a tip a few weeks ago that things were strange at ~CAFE FLORE~ in the Castro, with diminished hours, erratic hours of closure, and more. And how sad: after 47 years of serving as an iconic location in The City, the café closed over the holidays and is moving to an events-only concept. Of late, the food (and cocktails) have not been been where they used to be, or should be—but man, with the right operator, that place should be humming. It’s a damn shame. I hope someone with some money steps in, buys the location, does the upgrades it needs, and does it right. It’s too iconic, and beloved by so many for being the Castro’s alfresco living room, since 1973! 2298 Market St. at Noe.

Another icon has closed: after 25 years on Valencia, ~BURGER JOINT~ has thrown in the dish towel. The building was going through a retrofit, but it looks like they don’t want to wait it out. 807 Valencia St. at 19th St.

And it just keeps on unraveling: ~FRINGALE~ in SoMa is closing on January 25th—it opened in 1991. I remember dining there often when Gerald Hirigoyen was the chef (the restaurant had the most amazing sweetbreads). In the Chronicle piece, current owner Jean-Marie Legendre cites the endless construction on Fourth Street and the changing lunch habits of the local tech workforce as the primary reasons for closing. 28 years, what a run. 570 4th St. at Brannan.

Lower Nob Hill residents who liked the quality food and groceries at ~MERAKI MARKET~ are bemoaning its sudden closure. I wrote in to owner Stanlee Gatti for an update on what’s next—the site mentions a “restructuring,” but who knows what that may mean. [Via Hoodline.]

In the temporary closure department: the newly open ~GOZU~ remains closed after a small fire on New Year’s Eve. A note from the restaurant states: “On New Year’s Eve (December 31, 2019), there was a small fire at Ittoryu Gozu. The fire department came instantly and no one was injured. The majority of the space is in good condition, however we will need some time to rebuild our hearth—the main feature and element of our robatayaki-inspired restaurant.

“The fire was not due to any wrongdoing by the Gozu team, but was due to a structural issue. The restaurant employees, the building’s staff, and city officials have stepped up to handle this unfortunate situation. As we learn more about the damages, we will share with our community, but do not foresee being closed beyond two months.

“During this time, our incredible team that we have built over the last couple of months, will come together and positively impact the community by further refining and evolving our vision to be stronger than before. Please stay tuned!”

Another temporary closure is ~SOUVLA~ Hayes Valley, which is closed through January 27th for renovations. But they thought of everything, and parked the Souvla truck at PROXY, where you can order almost all of Souvla’s menu from 11am-10pm daily.