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Best of the Bay 2014: Food
As Credited | Photo: Maren Caruso | June 23, 2014
The very best sweets, spirits, and salumis of 2014.
Carbohydrate Oasis (Best Baked Goods)
The original home of Marla Bakery was a puny Mission takeout window. But it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call Amy Brown a baker without borders, simply because her talent is apparently boundless. Brown, who owns Marla with her husband, Joe Wolf, is as capable of turning out a perfect vanilla-cardamom coffee cake as she is of creating a peerless bagel. In May, Brown and Wolf graduated from their commissary kitchen to a full-scale restaurant in the Richmond. Shortly before it opened, they got married there, kicking off their sweetest collaboration of all.
3619–21 Balboa St. (near 37th Ave.), 415-742-4379
Rebecca Flint Marx
Neighborhood Joint (Best Pork Bar)
When you’re the owners of a beloved neighborhood restaurant, what do you do next? If you’re Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan, you do it all over again—to equally great acclaim. In December, eight years after opening La Ciccia, the husband-and-wife team debuted La Nebbia, an Italian restaurant trafficking primarily in pork and pizza paired with a stellar wine list. It’s an approach that invites sharing and lingering, and the neighborhood has responded in kind.
1781 Church St. (near Day St.), 415-874-9924
Ice Cream Impresario (Best Sweets)
Is it crazy to fork over $18 for a pint of ice cream? Yes. But when it’s as good as Bootleg Creamery’s, insanity is a trifling price to pay. Operated out of a Berkeley commercial kitchen by Jessica Rollison, the delivery- or pickup-only shop sells wildly creative flavors like Cap’n Crunch and toast and jam. You order the $8 pints online, pay a sliding delivery fee of $5 to $10, and wait for Rollison to bring them to your doorstep. Simply put, it’s sweet deliverance.
2530 10th St., Ste. 3 (near Dwight Way), Berkeley
Pre-Dinner Cocktail (Best Spirits)
It’s a rare restaurant that can make you enjoy a long wait at the bar, but thanks to its Pimm’s Cup,Stones Throw is just such a restaurant. Bright, tart, and sweet, the drink is the liquid equivalent of a Lilly Pulitzer dress. Befitting the zeitgeist, it’s concocted with a housemade version of Pimm’s that’s combined with lemon juice and ginger beer and gilded with a basil leaf. Needless to say, it goes down easy.
1896 Hyde St. (near Green St.), 415-796-2901
Thing to Happen to Sebastopol (Best Food Hall)
When the Barlow opened last winter, the artisan megaplex bestowed a slew of shops upon a growing hamlet that desperately needed them. Among the two dozen epicurean highlights are Zazu Kitchen + Farm (home of the bacon-in-the-batter waffle) and a bevy of beers. At the compound’s west end, chocolaty stouts flow from the Woodfour brewery’s taps, while Spirit Works pours sloe gin and grants tipplers a glance at its California whiskey, tucked away in barrels and slated for arrival in 2015.
Hwy. 12 (at morris st.), Sebastopol,707-824-5600
Jenna A. Scatena
Beer Trend (Best Light Beer)
The great thing about the Bay Area IPA boom? Its many flavorful beers. The worst? Some of the best have crippling double-digit alcohol levels. But thanks to a new raft of local brews, restrained imbibing is a distinct pleasure. Take Alpha Session IPA, from San Leandro’s Drake’s Brewing—a refreshing riot of six hop varieties that registers a lunch-appropriate 3.8 percent alcohol by volume. OrSierra Nevada’s Nooner IPA, a 5-percenter with a punch. Even the super-boozy Lagunitas just got into the game with its Daytime Ale, a citrusy 4.6 ABV American IPA with the perfectly apt tagline “Sometimes you want a beer, then you realize how much crap you need to do before you call it a day. This is it.” Indeed.
Restaurant Redux (Best Breathing Room)
When Outerlands opened in 2009, it introduced the city to the practice of lining the entire interior of one’s establishment with planks of reclaimed wood. Eating there was like sitting down in a hobbit house designed by the Kinfolk magazine staff. Would that all be lost in its renovation? The answer is an emphatic no. When it was resurrected in May, the restaurant revealed itself to be bigger and better and, yes, as woodsy as ever. Nothing has been lost, but everything has been gained.
4001 Judah St. (at 45th Ave.), 415-661-6140
Upstart Winery (Best of Sonoma)
If you need a reason beyond good wine to visit wine country, the brand-newHamel Family Wines is your answer. A mix of low-key and high style, the winery bucks the “sleepy Sonoma” norm. Vineyard dinners come courtesy of Gary Danko, while picnic tables encourage visitors to soak in the sun while downing a bottle of Hamel’s crisp, dry rosé. This summer, expect a campfire concert series, movies in the wine cave, and events decked out by designer extraordinaire Ken Fulk.
15401 Sonoma Hwy. (near Madrone Rd.), Sonoma, 707-996-5800
Restaurant Snack (Best Legumes)
The Parker House rolls are lovely (and free), but it’s the Square’s dainty crock of fried corona beans that makes for truly transcendent predinner snacking. Their skins are crisp, their innards creamy, and their piment d’espelette and lime seasoning inspired. Created by executive chef Duncan Holmes, they are, to put it starkly, almost fatally addictive. To eat one is to eat 20.
1707 Powell St. (near Columbus Ave.), 415-525-3579
Tea Mecca (Best Caffeine)
After spending a decade transforming his family’s humble tea shop into Grant Avenue’s vaunted Red Blossom Tea Company, Peter Luong was ready to do his own thing. And he’s done it quite beautifully with Song Tea & Ceramics, an elegant haunt trafficking in small-batch leaves and exquisite handmade clay teapots. While his leaves are rarefied, Luong’s hospitality is anything but: Venture into his store, and he might well invite you to sit down, sip, and stay for a spell. You’d be wise to do so—the rush, after all, is for the coffee crowd.
2120 Sutter St. (near Steiner St.), 415-885-2118
Sheep-Driven Chinese (Best Noodles)
Out of the small new crop of restaurants that have recently started serving the Shaanxi region’s cuminy lamb-centric cuisine, the best is Terra Cotta Warrior. Sequestered in the Sunset, the restaurant is a slurper’s delight: Chewy handmade noodles swim in a soup called Qishan minced pork noodles, its deceptively delicate broth crowned by a fierce slick of chili oil. Hot and sour lamb dumpling soup is equally remarkable; it’s little wonder that the joint’s been luring Chowhounds from far and wide.
2555 Judah St. (near 31st Ave.), 415-681-3288
Reason to Forswear Vegetarianism (Best Salumi)
The housemade charcuterie trend might be past its prime, but Trou Normand’s chef, Salvatore Cracco, is bringing it back by nudging it to new levels of perfection. His menu is a paean to pork, presented in 25 varieties that include a jiggly little bowl of aspic, creamy, pistachio-studded mortadella, and unbelievably delicious coppa scented with red wine, fennel, black pepper, and cayenne. Cracco prefers his salumi on the young side (meaning it has a shorter drying time)— but “sumptuous” might be a better descriptor.
140 New Montgomery St. (near Miss ion St.), 415-975-0876
Comfort Food (Best Pizza)
Jeff Krupman got his start selling his Neapolitan pies illegally on the street, so it’s appropriate that his storefront incarnation of PizzaHacker has a slightly ad hoc feel. But the diners crowding the picnicstyle tables couldn’t care less about decor—they’re here for the charred crusts, the heirloom-tomato sauce, and the housemade fresh mozzarella. The menu, limited to a few pies, is brief, but its pleasures are vast.
3299 Miss ion St. (at 29th St.), 415-874-5585
Spirit Distiller (Best Gin)
Before he launched Botanica Gin and its parent company, Falcon Spirits, last year, Farid Dormishian worked in gene therapy. Today, you could say he works in liquid therapy, toiling in hisEast Bay lab to conjure his fragrant, high-proof spirit using cucumber water, Bulgarian juniper, and local lavender and angelica root. Next up: a raspberry liqueur, a limoncello, and an amaro made in collaboration with Envolve winery. Soon, you may be tossing them back at a bar near you.
Greek Feast (Best Souvlaki)
Sometimes you don’t even realize that you need a restaurant until it appears, fully formed, and then you wonder how you went without it for so long. Such is the case with Souvla, the very fresh, very modern Greek souvlaki joint that Charles Bililies opened this April in Hayes Valley. His menu is short and sweet: lamb, chicken, pork, or sweet potatoes wrapped in warm, pillowy pita or piled on top of a salad; a side of ruthlessly addictive fries scattered with salty crumbles of mizithra cheese; and swirls of tart, refreshing frozen Greek yogurt for dessert. Everything is as simple as it is beautifully prepared, proof that fast-casual can be synonymous with style and elegance. It’s no surprise that Bililies is already planning to replicate his winning formula. May he go forth and conquer.
517 Hayes St. (near Oc tavia St.), 415-400-5458
Old Hot Dog, New Tricks (Street Meat)
The even-better-when you’re- drunk bacon-wrapped hot dog is having its moment in the refashioned street-meat spotlight, thanks to Los Shucos. The Lilliputian storefront does sell a bacon-wrapped frank, but its main attraction is an epic wiener of the Guatemalan variety, comprising chorizo-and-beef sausage entombed under a layer of guacamole, a squiggle of mayo, and an addictive parsley-driven salsa called chapina. Needless to say, you’ll need napkins.
32241/2 22nd St. (near Miss ion St.), 415-366-3868
Mood Enhancer (Best Décor)
In a city mired in reclaimed wood and Marais chairs, the interior of Loló stands out like an ecstatic mirage, its screaming color and wacky design functioning as an antidote to Edison bulb exhaustion. Owned by chef Jorge Martinez, the restaurant owes its look to his co-owner and wife, Lorena Zertuche, who created the clashing patterns of riotous oilcloth and the walls plastered with origami boats. The banquettes actually have suit jackets sewn into them. Loló might just be the epitome of happiness, so please clap along.
974 Valencia St. (near 21st St.), 415-643-5656
Fish Taco (Best Stand)
While the Bay Area is lousy with tacos, the authentic Baja-style fish taco remains a rare breed. Perhaps the finest can be found at Vanessa Chavez and Murat Sozeri’s Oakland farmers’ market stalwart, Cholita Linda, where the fried tilapia is crunchy and tender and the tortillas are fresh. Works of such finesse demand a brick-and-mortar home, and in March, Chavez and Sozeri opened one on Telegraph Avenue. Although the menu includes other worthy options, it’s the fish tacos that continue to win hearts and minds, to say nothing of stomachs.
4923 Telegraph Ave. (near 49th St.), Oakland
Sandwich Evangelist (Best Subs)
Let’s get this out of the way: Merigan Sub Shop is expensive—like $13-for-a-sandwich expensive. That can’t be ignored, but neither can the fact that owner Liza Shaw makes a damn fine East Coast–style sub. Take her Italian combo, a veritable meat bouquet blooming with slices of mortadella, salami, and prosciutto culled from beasts that Shaw butchers herself. These aren’t so much subs reinvented as subs done very right, and that’s priceless.
636 2nd St. (near Brannan St.), 415-536-2991
Breakfast For Dinner (Best Porridge)
With its evocations of fairytale bears, Wilford Brimley, and retirement home gruel, porridge isn’t the sexiest of foods. But you wouldn’t know it at Alta CA, where Yoni Levy has transformed breakfast’s ugly duckling into a swan by replacing oats with cracked wheat, cooked low and slow, and crowning the result with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, turnips, and turnip-top salsa verde. Earthy and satisfying, it’s like risotto created by a collaboration of woodland sprites, Eastern European peasants, and a stick of butter—or, in this case, brown butter. Levy has given porridge its fairytale ending.
1420 Market St. (near Fell St.), 415-590-2585
Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco
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