Category Archives: Restaurants

Give It Up For Nopalito’s Tacos De Pescado Al Pastor

Fish tacos with a rich adobo marinade -- from Nopalito's new cookbook.

Fish tacos with a rich adobo marinade — from Nopalito’s new cookbook.

 

Not to interject too much politics here, but I had to laugh last year when a political supporter tried to inflame anti-immigrant fervor by decrying that if this country didn’t take measures, we’d end up with a taco truck on every corner.

We should be so lucky.

In fact, if we had a Nopalito in every neighborhood, we’d be quite fortunate, indeed.

The beloved San Francisco restaurant is headed by Executive Chef-Partner Gonzalo Guzman. Born in Veracruz, Mexico, he came to the United States as a child. His first restaurant job was as a dishwasher at Kokkari in San Francisco. He soon rose through the culinary ranks there, as well as at San Francisco’s Boulevard, Chez Nous, and Nopa.

In 2009, he partnered with Nopa owners Laurence and Allyson Jossel and Jeff Hanak to open Nopalito on Broderick Street. It was so successful, it led to a second Nopalito location on Ninth Avenue, near Golden Gate Park.

Just one taste, and you know why the restaurant has such a devoted following. This is food that is vivacious, with flavors that are punchy and complex, yet also clear and true.

NopalitoBook

Even if you don’t live near Nopalito, you can now enjoy a taste of its craveable dishes in the new cookbook, “Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press) by Guzman with food journalist Stacy Adimando.

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The Charter Oak: A Michelin Three-Starred Chef’s Foray Into Casual

Chef Christopher Kostow at his new, more casual restaurant, the Charter Oak.

Chef Christopher Kostow at his new, more casual restaurant, the Charter Oak.

 

The name references a massive oak tree that was once the focal point of the property before it was mowed down in a train derailment long ago.

Now, what has opened there is creating a big bang all its own.

The Charter Oak, which debuted just over two months ago in St. Helena, is the new hot spot in the Napa Valley. It can’t help but draw all comers when it was opened by Chef Christopher Kostow of the Michelin three-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, and his business partner Nathaniel Dorn, Meadowood’s restaurant director. Katina Hong, former chef de cuisine at Meadowood, heads the kitchen at the Charter Oak.

It’s also enticing tourists, curious to see what has become of the storied stone building that housed the popular Tra Vigne restaurant for nearly three decades.

The hearth, where much of the cooking is done.

The hearth, where much of the cooking is done.

Like its namesake, the restaurant embodies wood throughout — from the polished wood tables to the expansive wood bar to the kindling used in the kitchen hearth where beef rib is grilled over cabernet barrels to the wooden cutlery drawers underneath dining tables to the pocket-sized “The Observer’s Book of Trees” that the bar menu gets tucked into.

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Scooping Up Charred Broccoli with Tonnato, Pecorino, Lemon, and Chiles

Broccoli gets a punchy-good companion.

Broccoli gets a punchy-good companion.

 

Imagine your favorite tuna salad sandwich — but in creamy, thick dip form.

That’s the beauty of the Italian classic of tonnato, made with good-quality, oil-packed tuna whizzed in a food processor until smooth with olive oil, mayonnaise, and lemon juice.

It’s traditionally served with cold veal that’s been braised or simmered. You might think the combination of tuna sauce and meat a strange one. But it’s actually an inspired marriage that’s proved a happy coupling for generations. It’s like how opposites attract: a mild-mannered tasting veal gets brought to the foreground by the exploits of its more exuberant, brash, salty-sassy sauce.

But tonnato can go with so much more, as Chef Joshua McFadden shows in his new cookbook, “Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables” (Artisan), of which I received a review copy. McFadden, owner of Ava Gene’s restaurant in Portland, OR; wrote the cookbook with Martha Holmberg, CEO of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

SixSeasons

The book delves deeper into the seasons so that you learn what’s best not just in spring, summer, fall, and winter but during the in-between times as one season starts to disappear into another.

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China Live Brings New Spirit to Chinatown

Scallion bread reinterpreted at China Live.

Scallion bread reinterpreted at China Live.

 

Growing up in San Francisco, I remember attending many a celebratory Chinese banquet dinner at the huge, three-story Gold Mountain restaurant in Chinatown.

This year, long-time restaurateur George Chen took over that old space, pouring more than $20 million and more than three years of work into transforming it into China Live, which some have likened to a Chinese version of Eataly.

I’m not sure it’s quite that yet, what with only the first floor occupied so far. But it’s wonderful to see a splashy new food emporium opening its doors in a neighborhood, where time has stood still for the most part.

Chen plans a fine-dining concept upstairs in the near future, which will be named Eight Tables by George Chen. And a Scotch-centric bar, Cold Drinks, is set to open any day now on the second floor.

A display of products in the retail store.

A display of products in the retail store.

For now on the main floor, there is a Oolong Cafe, a tea bar with savory and sweet bites; a cocktail and wine bar; and a store that sells everything from woks to China Live Sichuan seasoning to barrel-aged soy sauce to cute T-shirts.

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Le Marché At Santana Row

Cardamom snail and sticky bun from The Midwife & The Baker stand at the Santana Row farmers' market.

Cardamom snail and sticky bun from The Midwife & The Baker stand at the Santana Row farmers’ market.

 

If you haven’t yet checked out the new summer farmers’ market at Santana Row, you’re missing out.

Le Marche takes place every Wednesday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., through September. The main Row is closed off to cars, so you can stroll both sides of the street easily to check out the wares of more than 50 vendors.

A bevy of stands to check out.

A bevy of stands to check out.

Beautiful summer tomatoes for sale.

Beautiful summer tomatoes for sale.

There’s everything from organic produce to fresh seafood and meat to cheese to baked goods.

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