Northside SF  

October '09

The Tablehopper:
Springtime brings new beginnings

By Marcia Gagliardi

Aqua (252 California Street) closed suddenly and without fanfare at the end of April (a week or so before its expected closure). While Michael Mina will be moving into the space May 1 and starting fresh with a new concept, it seems someone named Mark Weiss of the Whisk Group has actually bought all the Aqua assets (furniture, name, kitchen equipment, even the website) and plans to reopen Aqua elsewhere in San Francisco. Obviously someone believes fine dining is alive and well.
Sometimes big things come in small packages: there’s a new chef at Le Club (1250 Jones Street, 415-922-2582) on Nob Hill, and she is quite the talent (the space has a history of great chefs, including Melissa Perello back when it was Charles Nob Hill). The new chef is Amy Glaze, and she recently moved to San Francisco from New York, where she was cooking at Le Bernardin for two years. She left there as the senior line cook, and prior to that, she was in Paris for three-plus years at Guy Savoy. It ends up when she previously lived in San Francisco, she cooked at Ristorante Ecco on South Park back in the day, and owner Gina Milano and Glaze have been friends for 16 years.

Glaze is ramping things up first with a bar menu that is geared for affordable luxury. The late-night crowd is currently ordering mini smoked salmon croque monsieurs with caviar ($15); hiramasa kingfish seared rare with Asian pear, micro shiso, jalapeño-kabosu sauce ($22); and braised beef short ribs with baby heirloom carrots, cipollini onions, lardon, and tiny marble potatoes ($20). I spoke with Glaze, and she expects to start expanding the menu. She mentioned they want to offer a nightly seasonal prix-fixe menu, and they also plan to have table service once again in the dining room. Stand by.

Over on the Embarcadero, there’s the gorgeous new Lafitte (Pier 5, The Embarcadero, 415-839-2134), quite a cool addition to the dining scene. Chef-owner Russell Jackson, whom some know through his SubCulture Dining private dinners, finally has his own pier to dock his pirate ship. (And yes, the name refers to the Louisiana pirate, Jean Baptiste Lafitte from the early 1800s.) The restaurant is now open for dinner.

The spacious Beaux-Arts building dates back to 1918, and has soaring ceilings and tall windows, punctuated with a visual counterpoint of heavy wood pillars and supports, and quite the view of the water. The room feels like artsy-industrial, with a stunning wood communal table, sealed concrete floors, and a row of stylish barstools that look upon the open kitchen. Michael Guthrie, Riley Johndonnell and Russell Jackson all collaborated on the minimalist but rustic design, which all feels very considered, from the stemware to the menu design to the flag on the back of the servers’ sweaters. There’s also a secondary indoor-outdoor seating area that is surrounded with windows and topped with a tented ceiling – perfect for a private party.

There’s no menu that can be described in great detail: it’s going to be whatever is fresh that day, and Jackson’s culinary influences span from French to Italian to regional Mexican to Japanese. He is committed to using the best ingredients he can find, and prices will range from $7–$26 at lunch, and $8–$32 at dinner. (His sous chef is Patricia Barclay: The Public, Town Hall.)

The wine list by Shannon Tucker (Bar Tartine, Eccolo) will change often, and will consist primarily of uncommon, esoteric wines, largely of limited production, along with several wines exclusive to Lafitte. There’s also a full bar geared toward inventive, ingredient-driven cocktails (I had a couple tastes and both were fresh and delicious). There will be an extensive nonalcoholic beverage menu as well. Hours are Sunday through Wednesday 5:30 p.m. until late, Thursday through Saturday 5:30 p.m. until later (how’s that for “time will tell”?); lunch will be Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and brunch will also launch later on.

Some changes in the Marina: there are new owners at Isa (3324 Steiner Street, 415-567-9588) – Elias and Sameera Memon. I spoke with former owner Luke Sung, who said, “It’s going to remain the same – same menu, staff … just [my wife], Kitty, and I will be gone.” The Sungs are very busy with their three kids (ages 11, 9, and 5), so they wanted to simplify and focus on their other restaurants, Domo in Hayes Valley and Prime Rib Shabu in the Inner Richmond. The transition should happen in the next month or so.

Bistro Aix (3340 Steiner Street, 415-202-0100) has reopened after its nine-month major renovation. Owner Jonathan Beard has added a custom wood-burning grill by Malcolm Chase, reclaimed oldgrowth redwood and cedar from Heritage Salvage in Petaluma, and a Northern California marble bar top and tabletops salvaged from a post office. The menu has changed little but will focus more on items from the grill and the inspirational region of Provençe, where wood-burning fireplace grills are often found in the kitchens of older homes. Monday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

And Cow Hollow residents can now indulge in a carb and sugar high at John Campbell’s Irish Bakery’s second location (3130 Fillmore Street, 415-563-1519). Go in and discover their crazy-delicious scones, breads, sandwiches, and tarts. (It’s OK, I give you permission!) Open daily Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

North Beach continues to have some changes: Mangarosa (1548 Stockton Street) closed at the end of April, and the new business opening in its place will be called Café Maria (the project is from building owners Carlo and Michael Nuovo). And Joseph Manzare is putting Joey & Eddie’s (1652 Stockton Street) on the market – time will tell whether he has any takers or tries another concept.

Marcia Gagliardi also writes a popular weekly e-column about the San Francisco dining scene; subscribe for free at Got a hot tip? E-mail

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