To keep tabs on every Bay Area restaurant and bar opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a monthly rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past thirty (or so). Let’s eat.
We’d preface this column by saying things are getting weird out there, but (A) that’s been true for the last 18 months and (B) you already knew that. So we’ll say instead that this edition of Table Stakes leans slightly to the comfort side of the column. What do we want? World-beating burgers, empanadas and fresh pasta (we’d add the schnitzel strips at the New Belgium to this preview, but you’ll hear enough about those in a second). That’s not to say we’ve been bereft of new, Michelin-quality dining this summer — on the contrary, Ho Chee Boon just opened one of the city’s most beautiful restaurants with his Empress by Boon. There’s something for everyone here. We’ll be at Chao Pescao, in front of a $7 happy hour cocktail.
One last-minute addition, sadly unavailable for review, but too good to skip: the late ‘n’ lauded Lord Stanley closes up shop after six years on Saturday — to rise, like a restaurant phoenix, as the slightly more experimental-minded Turntable. For the next few months, it’ll welcome a series of Argentine chefs invited to S.F. by Narda Lepes, a food star in her native country. Lepes will be cooking herself the last week of November; Micaela Najmanovich kicks off the showcase on Tuesday.
Grab a seat on the patio at New Belgium and you’ll immediately notice two things: (A) Mission Bay has quite possibly blown up since you’ve been here last, and (B) the reassuringly familiar sight of Oracle Park lies just across Third Street. Though everything kicks off on game night, we’re voting for the relatively sedate vibe of a quiet, post-lunch-crowd weekday afternoon, when it feels like we have the whole gorgeous, glass-walled space to ourselves and we’re not distracted from our plate of superlative, why-bother-going-to-Vienna-anyway-travel’s-terrible-now schnitzel strips.
On the menu: About those schnitzel strips: They come with pickled mustard seeds, fried herbs and mustard crème fraiche, and they are literally better than any schnitzel-centric dish we’ve tried in the course of three separate, and schnitzel-intensive, trips to Austria. We also loved the cheddar beer fondue (literally: who wouldn’t), Thai tacos and sticky, sweet chicken wings with Calabrian chili. (There’s beer, too — but the schnitzel!)
1000A Third Street
Quite possibly the most beautiful restaurant in Chinatown, Empress by Boon is a must-add to your list of reliably impressive spots. Come here for a date that matters, and take heart that the only other decision you’ll need to make, after opting for the $78 prix fixe menu, is which cocktail to add to your dining program. (They can help with that — check out their Insta for inspo, like this Gattaca-looking Blue Rose, with rum, lychee, rose syrup and baijiu.)
On the menu: As you’d expect, the prix-fixe Cantonese menu changes seasonally, but have confidence that it’ll be informed by whatever’s coming up at the restaurant’s farm in Gilroy. This is Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon’s brainchild, and the reward for the hard work he put in as Hakkasan’s international executive chef. His menu is appropriately and wonderfully particular, like with a zucchini-prawn dumpling with zucchini broth and Australian black truffle.
838 Grant Ave.
Our emotional state is best reflected in that moment from Peep Show when Mark’s jilted Sophie (IYKYK) and tells Jez that he needs to be handled with care: “No one should approach me. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks and everything’s fine. Maybe we’ll have a wedding in a couple of weeks. But I’m on the edge, stress that. Everyone needs to be kind to me.” Afterwork gets that, and wants to make our lives better with happy hour hot wings, Wednesday night trivia, nice big screens to watch all the sports, and food from restaurants we actually like.
On the menu: No more sacrificing the quality of our burgers just because we want to eat while simultaneously watching television. That’s thanks to partnerships with Super Duper Burger and The Bird, all cogs in the Back of the House restaurant group machine. We’ll be ordering the Bird’s fried chicken sandwich.
409 Gough St.
Maybe you think you’ve already tried Itria, from Al’s Place alum Daniel Evers, who opened up for pizza-to-go in May. With the full opening just a couple weeks ago, though, Evers shows his full vision for the restaurant — not some dime-a-dozen pizza spot but an appropriately buzzy, design-y Italian, with an array of crudo options and some excellent, not-exorbitantly priced pastas.
On the menu: Bring a friend and you can do like Tony Soprano and split the family-style branzino with clams, capers and chili. Otherwise, there’s the chef’s tasting of three crudos — will it be the miyagi oysters with the plum mignonette, or perhaps the day boat scallops with preserved lemon and sea beans? — plus one of the delectable pastas, maybe orecchiette with pork sausage and rabe pesto. Madone!
3266 24th St.
If you’re desperate for a Caribbean vacation — for even a couple hours of warm sun and hot sand and lovely people and wonderful food — Chao Pescao is here to do that work for you, thanks to chef/owner Rene Denis. The product of a Cuban-Colombian household, Denis has quite possibly already made your life better with his previous venture, the long-running Soluna Cafe & Lounge. With Chao Pescao, Denis changes up the menu from the sunny Mediterranean to the even sunnier and arguably even tastier Caribbean, and we are here for all of it.
On the menu: All the bocadillos (including the yuca frita). All the sopas (including the pozole rojo). And every single one of the four empanadas on offer, beginning with the valluna de cerdo with slow-cooked garlic pork, sweet plantain, black bean, queso fresco and hot sauce.
272 McAllister St.
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