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Six Ways to Liberate Your Passover Festivities from Blah Food

An exodus from boring.


The Golden Calf cocktail at Cold Drinks Bar.

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Marla Bakery matzo.

Photo: Clark Miller

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China Live.

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Black Jet Baking Co. macaroons.

Photo: Clark Miller

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Clove and Hoof.

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Hadju Wines.

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Passover has never been known as the most delicious of holidays. Not when its signature foods are gelatin-encased gefilte fish and mass-produced matzo. Yes, it’s a holiday about struggle—but come on, haven’t we suffered enough? Thankfully, celebrating Pesach in today’s San Francisco can be a tasty exodus from those stodgy flavors of old, especially with some of the Bay Area’s most talented chefs reinventing the holiday staples they grew up eating. From arak cocktails to a one-of-a-kind Chinese seder feast, this is as good a year as any to start a brand-new Passover tradition.

1. Have a cocktail.
Mixed drinks aren’t a traditional Passover tonic, but Calvin Young, the beverage director at Cold Drinks Bar—the sleek lounge on the second floor of George Chen’s China Live food emporium—is looking to change that with his Golden Calf cocktail ($16). Young pairs the anise-heavy (and kosher) Masada Jabalna arak from Western Galilee with a subtle single-malt scotch and looks to the Pesachdik seder plate for the rest: Cannelia Cinnamon Cordial and honey are odes to his mother-in-law’s haroseth (a cinnamony apple salad), ginger replaces the maror spice, and Scrappy’s Celery Bitters are a nod to the karpas (bitter herbs) traditionally dipped in salt water. The drink is savory, sweet, tart, bitter, and spicy, with the lingering flavor of anise. 644 Broadway (Near Columbus Ave.), 415-788-8188

2. Step up your matzo game.
San Franciscans live for bread that’s still warm from the oven, so why should they settle for stale grocery-store matzo? Marla Bakery co-owner Amy Brown will start churning out a “shit ton” of her fresh-out-of-the-wood-fired-oven version of the unleavened crackers just before Passover, and they’ll be available every afternoon for all eight days of the holiday. The 12-inch-plus rounds will come in packs of three ($10), but you’d be smart to purchase more: These are seriously snackable, akin to Italian carta di musica due to Brown’s addition of olive oil and plenty of salt. It’s the kind of cracker you wish you could enjoy all year round. 3619 Balboa St. (Near 37th Ave.), 415-742-4379

3. Pretend it’s Jewish Christmas.
Jews travel in throngs to eat Chinese food on Christmas, so why not for Pesach? If your seder routine needs a refresh, the downstairs Market Restaurant at China Live has you covered with a Passover-themed à la carte menu available from March 30 to April 7. Chef George Chen credits his appreciation for traditional Jewish foods to his Los Angeles upbringing, meaning his influences include not just Peking duck but also kreplach and knish. The Passover menu spans both traditions with dishes like Shaoxing rice wine–cured salmon gravlax with goji berries ($16) and a “lion’s head” clay pot ($18), wherein the meatball traditional to the dish is made with matzo meal and chicken—a riff on matzo ball soup. 644 Broadway (Near Columbus Ave.), 415-788-8188

4. Find a new sweets addiction.
The secret that turns plain old macaroons into what Black Jet Baking Co. owner Gillian Shaw has dubbed “Crack-a-Roons” ($2.50) is the slightly overcooked caramel—“a mistake from many moons ago,” Shaw says. That semi-burnt quality wound up becoming the treats’ signature, giving them a crunchy exterior that contrasts nicely with the luscious, chewy coconut interior. These are a decisive step up from the texturally monotonous, doughnut-hole-size macaroons many of us grew up eating after temple, which means that holiday-morning coffee is now a reason to celebrate. And although Black Jet can deliver to your door, a trek out to the year-old Bernal Heights bakery makes for a fun holiday pilgrimage. 833 Cortland Ave. (At Gates St.), 415-829-3905

5. Eat your Manischewitz.
In Oakland, the whole-animal butcher shop and restaurant Clove and Hoof is cooking up two Passover specials that will satisfy the meat lover at your seder table. For those hosting the dinner, the butcher counter offers a take-home braised brisket ($15/pound) that will make you rethink Manischewitz: It incorporates the wine into the braising liquid, which is repurposed into a Passover-friendly reinterpretation of French onion soup ($10/quart). Guests celebrating at the restaurant can also enjoy matzo chicken-fried steak with latkes and chicken schmaltz hollandaise ($14). It might not be kosher, but it sure will taste good. 4001 Broadway (At 40th St.), Oakland, 510-547-1446

6. Drink Cali-kosher.
By day, Jonathan Hajdu is the winemaker at Covenant Wines, a kosher winery in Berkeley. But his Hajdu Wines line is where he exercises uninhibited creative expression. The brand delivers on what it promises: excellent California wine that just happens to be kosher. For your hip alternative seder, Hajdu’s 2015 Eagle Point Ranch Grenache ($50) will surprise even the most jaded of Passover wine drinkers. Or, for a classic Haggadah-reading family affair, try the 2016 Napa Blend ($80) with your mother’s—or Clove and Hoof’s—braised brisket.
1102 6th St. (Near Red Oak Ave.), Berkeley

Originally published in the March issue of
San Francisco 

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