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 Boozy snowcones at Derby Cocktail Co.

 Smoked hamachi from Californios.

 Bok Ssam's Korean fried chicken.

The Weekly Feed

Inside The New Fort Mason Off The Grid, Chez Panisse update, Whole Foods’ cheese coup, and more news, trends and scuttlebutt from the Bay Area food scene.

First Look
On Friday, the fourth season of Off the Grid’s biggest outdoor food truck party—the one in Fort Mason—kicked off with a new cocktail bar, an outdoor lounge area, and four different al fresco tasting menu options. Street food has come a long way in this town.

Let’s start with the new food trucks that have joined the group this year. Founder Matt Cohen has added 13 vendors, chosen from a whopping 100 applicants. A few of my favorites were the momo from Bini’s Kitchen’s, a two-bite dumpling encasing Nepalese-spiced chicken; an irresistibly crunchy Korean fried chicken sandwich wedged onto soft buttery waffles from Bok Ssam; a sweet-salty, honey-batterd corn dog from Sticks; and fall-apart house-cured corned beef from Old World Food Truck.

All of that can be had before you enter the new bar, Derby Cocktail Co., created by Stag Dining Group with the help of barman Reza Esmaili.  Let’s just start by saying that there are boozy snowcones available, and they do not disappoint. The Triple Crown Snowcone Programme ($8/each) includes three options: a bramble with gin, blackberry and lemon; a hurricane with rum, passionfruit and lime, and a brown derby made with vodka grapefruit and honey. The rest of the menu is Kentucky Derby-themed. There’s a Milk Julep (rye, crème de menthe, cream, celery bitter; $9), a New Old Pal (bourbon, bitter orange liquer, dill, dry vermouth; $9), and much more. The bar sits in front of refurbished school bus, BrewTruc, on-site for your lounging purposes. 

And there is more. Just to the right of the bar and the bus are four separate heated tents offering four-course tasting menus from popular street food vendors and dining clubs. Stag Dining Group will be cooking its seasonal, charcoal-grilled fare in a tent dubbed “The Outpost.” Azalina’s serves a sit-down meal of Malaysian street foods. Hapa SF will send out a menu of Filipino fare. The newest contender is Californios, run by a few émigrés from Sweet Woodruff, who are cooking Mexican fare that’s been reinvented with their distinctive NorCal aesthetic.

Seating is limited for all of these Friday-only dinners, and the pricing ($40-45) is extremely reasonable, so if you’re into unusual, al fresco dining experiences, book ASAP. Reserve Stag’s upcoming dinners here, Azalina’s dinners here, Hapa SF’s dinners here and Californio’s here.

Cheese Scoop
This week, we’ve got a grocery scoop for you. Drum roll, please: Whole Foods will welcome its first ever non-dairy cheese into its cheese section. The brand is called Kite Hill. Apparently Whole Foods’ buyers have never gone the vegan cheese route because they never found any products with flavor that was up to snuff (Most vegan cheese is made like Jell-O in a mold.).

Kite Hill makes their products using an unprecedented artisanal process. Pat Brown, a Stanford microbiologist, helped them crack the code to binding nut milk proteins (Kite Hill uses macadamias and San Joaquin Valley almonds) in the same way that normal milk proteins bind. The brand will debut today in Whole Foods Los Altos and Palo Alto; Tuesday in Oakland, Berkeley, Noe Valley, Franklin, and Potrero Hill; Wednesday in Mill Valley, San Rafael, and Sebastopol; and Thursday in San Jose, Cupertino, and Capitola. The cheeses are all exclusive to the Bay Area until they go national later this summer.

New Chef Wire
Vijay Bist, owner of Amber Dhara (680 Valencia Street), called me over the weekend to talk about the new chef he just brought on: Manish Tyagi from the highly-rated Rasika in Washington, D.C. Tyagi also cheffed with the Taj Group and Oberoi in India, so his changes to the menu are certainly worth looking out for. (No doubt, the less than glowing review of Amber Dhara in the Chronicle has something to do with this new hire.) Bist teased a few new dishes we can expect to see on the menu in the coming weeks: Chapli minced lamb kebabs, lentil-crusted curry patta scallops, lamb curry with aromatic cashew sauce, Lahori chicken, a fiery Goan pork chop Vindaloo, and chocolate rasmalai terrine for dessert.

Bist is also very excited about the new cocktails he’s been working on with syrups and ingredients from Konda, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas where he spent his childhood summers. With the arrival of Tyagi, Bist is lowering the menu prices, and in a few weeks, he’ll start work on the sound issues he’s been getting some flak for. But first, Bist is going to Kerala this Wednesday for a ten-day research trip. He expects to come back with new exotic recipes and spices. Tyagi’s changes should be instilled on the menu soon after that.

Sustainability Watch
Marcia Gagliardi recently brought up Yuubi Japanese Restaurant’s (501 Balboa St.) push for sustainable sushi. Apparently Yuubi believes in serving more sustainable fish, but they aren’t convinced that their customers are willing to pay the price for it. Read more about the campaign and buy a $30 voucher for their sushi here. That way you can show your support and eat some delicious sustainable fish in the process.

Disaster Dispatch
Unless you’ve been vacationing in Northern Korea, you are aware of the very sad news that the entire façade and porch area of Chez Panisse was damaged by a fire on March 8. The entire upper and lower porches are in the process of being demolished, meaning that the restaurant itself will need to be repaired structurally as well. Alice Waters has stopped taking reservations for now as they ascertain how long it will take for repairs, which are estimated to cost $200,000. Last week, team Waters told Inside Scoop that the first week of June looks like a realistic opening goal.

Opening Soon
The Exploratorium is gearing up to reopen on April 17 at Pier 15, complete with two restaurants from Coco 500’s Loretta Keller. According to Inside Scoop, the main attraction is Seaglass Restaurant, which will open with the great views and Northern California-fresh fare one would expect. There’s also going to be a take-out only café called The Seismic Joint offering lunch fare and coffee.

The Dal Bozzo family, of The Stinking Rose, The Old Clam House, The Franciscan, and formerly Boboquivari’s steakhouse, are about to open another steakhouse called Osso (1177 California Street) up on Nob Hill. GrubStreet notes that the liquor license has just gone through, and the concept will probably be very similar to Bobo’s. You could call the space cursed: with a revolving door that’s seen Vanessi’s, The Californian, Watergate, The Sparrow, and Gramercy Grill come and go over the past decades. So what’s the hook? At Bobo’s the menu boasted the only bone-in rib eye in San Francisco proper. At Osso, it will be steak that is dry-aged for four to six weeks off the premises. I emailed the folks at Bobo’s to see if the exodus of the Dal Bozzo’s will correlate to any kitchen changes. Will let you know what I find out.

One Last Thing
On April 8th, Martin Yan will be hosting a fundraiser at M.Y. China (845 Market Street). The interactive dinner will include live cooking demos at various food stations, passed bites, and a live auction. More information and $125 tickets available here.

 

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