February Eats Checklist: 5 Standouts of the Month | by Virginia Miller | Feb, 2023 | The Bold Italic

2023-02-28 14:18:11 By : Mr. Michael Ma

These newcomers or new menus cover the gamut, from elevated German beer hall fare to Sichuan Chinese. Alongside this month’s full restaurant reviews — Anchovy Bar, Original Joe’s Westlake, Piglet & Co., Cantoo Latin Asian Rotisserie, Cavaña rooftop bar — these six are also worth visiting, with last month’s standouts here (as always, I’ve personally vetted, visited or ordered from each place reviewed):

Modern German Beer Hall with a View: Radhaus Owners of Biergarten (formerly part of the great Suppenküche, which Fabricius Wiest opened in 1993), Aaron and Matt Hulme opened Radhaus in August 2018 (my initial Time Out review here). This massive, lofty space gazes over the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge, with a dramatic 200-foot ponderosa pine divider paralleling the bar. But most importantly, this modern Bavarian beer hall in Fort Mason Center is a treasure for German food, German beers on draft and rare Germanic schnaps and wines (more on real schnaps here).

Yes, there’s riesling, gruner and eiswein wines, but more interesting is other beloved German grape varieties, like Sankt Laurent or Spatburgunder or fascinating natural wines like 2019 #Mash Straka from Austria, a skin-fermented blend of Welschriesling with Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. As ever, sipping a pour of stiff but elegant Reisetbauer schnaps — from my favorite carrot to subtly nutty hazelnut — is one of my beloved Germanic taste categories. Radhaus’ cocktails are also delightful, like Lonesome Dove, a breezy but robust sipper of Mommenpop Kumquat Aperitif (more on this beloved local aperitif line from Napa), Campo Azul blanco tequila, citrus, soda and a float of Angostura bitters on top.

Chef Mikel Waters continues the legacy of spot-on bratwurst, pretzels, currywurst and a killer chicken schnitzel sandwich there since the beginning. But he’s added delights, most notably a döner kebab, the gyro/wrap-like Turkish kebab variant of kebab originated in West Berlin in the 1970s by Turkish immigrants. A thick housemade pita holds grilled chicken thigh teeming in Turkish hot sauce and tzatziki yogurt-dill sauce. It’s a winner that transports me back to eating doner kebab on the streets of Berlin. Fingernudeln is another newer dish of note: also called schupfnudel, it’s a type of dumpling popular in southern German and Austria, akin to but larger than gnocchi. Here it’s in a creamy brie and vadouvan (mild curry) sauce with broccolini and hunks of sunchoke. Finish with a pretzel bread pudding in beer syrup, then walk it off along the stunning Bay.

// 2 Marina Blvd., Bldg A, Fort Mason; radhaussf.com

Elevated Japanese Skewers & Cocktails: Yokai Stickbar Pop-Up at Gozu I’ve written numerous times of the ever-special Gozu in SoMa since it opened November 2019, which should easily have a Michelin star. In my recent full length review, I describe Gozu’s wagyu focus, infusing all dishes with parts of the waygu vs. a Japanese steakhouse approach. Their Japanese ethos is refined, fine dining, elevated and reflected in everything from superb wine, whisk(e)y and sake selections, to the chef’s counter-only dining room overlooking a binchotan grill.

Chef Marc Zimmerman, Ben Jorgensen and team have been previewing Yokai, which is slated to open late spring nearby at 545 Mission Street, focused on a la carte skewers and bites with cocktails and whiskies, a contrast to Gozu’s elevated tasting menu format. I recently visited Gozu for their Yokai stick bar pop up and it has me even more excited for what’s coming, especially as it means more people will be able to experience Zimmerman’s transported-to-Japan food and beverage director Jordan Abraham’s (formerly of Atelier Crenn, Mourad, Cotogna/Quince) deep drink offerings.

Taking it up more excitement notches, Yokai is inspired by Japanese listening bars, though will be less a formal (quiet) listening bar like you find in Tokyo and more about rich whisky and vinyl collections played in the background on a vintage McIntosh sound system (like I have at home!) Sampling the entire menu during the preview, Hokkaido snow beef and shortrib “nikujaga” skewers were as silky-flavorful as expected. But non-beef highlights included a yuzu kosho-touched Hokkaido scallop skewer and a secret scene-stealer: tender-good grilled potatoes laden with creme fraiche, wasabi and caviar.

Abraham‘s cocktails strike that delicate Japan ethos with balance and glassware, although it was tricky for us insomniacs that all but two cocktails had caffeinated tea in them. It’s hard not to crush a Yokai Highball (Shinshu Mars Iwai Tradition Wine Cask whisky, Sakura (cherry petals) bitters, soda water) with skewers, although I gravitated straight towards the grassy, herbaceous Almost All Green (Green Chartreuse, mezcal, matcha tea, shiso leaf). An impressive flip (whole egg cocktail) is the subtle, creamy-soft All Yellow (Yellow Chartreuse, tequila, lemon, sotol), which could easily have you forgetting there’s yolk in there. Finishing with a golden sesame ice cream sando in a sesame half shell feels playful as it is on point. I’m grateful there is going to be a more casual — but still refined — outlet to experience Gozu’s food and world-class drink list.

// 201 Spear Street #120, www.gozusf.com

Sichuan/Szechuan Spice: Chili House Chef Lijun Han and wife Michelle opened Chili House in 2012. This humble, bustling little Inner Richmond spot has continued to be my first pick for Szechuan/Sichuan Chinese food in SF since. Unlike my travels through Chengdu, the home of Sichuan cuisine in China — where I learned numbing, red oil dishes are only only a portion of the cuisine — Chili House is heavy on the red chile oil, Sichuan peppercorn numbing dishes. They are robust, gratifying, generously portioned and scratch that itch for numbing Sichuan food.

While also known for some dishes outside of Sichuan province, like their Beijing-style peking duck or Xi’an province cold thick noodles in sesame sauce, sticking to dishes like cooked live fish with green peppercorn, pickled fish filet or red chile, addictive dan dan noodles, or spicy wontons transports to the Sichuan province. Look for unexpected specials like cool tofu bites or my favorite new dish I didn’t know before my recent return: Chinese cabbage on a sizzling hot plate with lotus root and chiles (under the vegetables and tofu section of the menu).

// 726 Clement Street, www.chilihousesf.com

Family-Run Italian Bites & Wines: Convivium Enoteca The dark green banquettes and warm woods of brand new Convivium Enoteca, which opened on North Beach’s ever convivial blocks of Green near Grant Street, has dramatically changed from previous incarnations of the space. It’s more chic, warm, different from surrounding restaurants. Sofia Scarpone runs the place with her brothers, their father being Abruzzo native, Lorenzo Scarpone of Italian wine import company, Villa Italia, and a decades-long proponent of Slow Food. Chatting with Sofia on a recent cozy night during the crazy California cold front, I find she worked at A16, that she’s well-versed on Italian wines growing up with her father’s business, while her family shares a love for North Beach and preserving its Italian heritage.

There are thankfully some Abruzzese dishes on the menu, like skewered lamb (arrosticini), while the menu generally runs on the shareable, snackable side, from salumi to bruschetta topped with the likes of lardo di colonnata and black truffle paté, to fried calamari. Roughly three pasta dishes include an Abruzzo classic, spaghetti alla chitarra (egg pasta in lamb ragu), and chewy, al dente trofie pasta from Sicily in a vivid green Sicilian pesto of herbs, pistachios and almonds, brightened with lemon zest. There is one larger filet mignon dish and roasted octopus in romesco sauce, but I stuck with the shareable plates, the trofie pasta and a cute cannolo salato. This flaky, savory cannoli is filled with mortadella mousse and black truffle, marked by crumbled pistachios on one end, osetra caviar on the other. As expected, the roughly 80 bottle wine list runs Italian, veering from Lambrusco to their family’s own affordable, lush 2020 Scarpone Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC red wine. Convivium is a good, centrally-located spot to stop in for a bite and a glass of wine, confirmed by Sofia and family’s warm welcome.

// 516 Green Street, https://conviviumenoteca.com

Fernet Menu with Live Music: Curio Curio held strong during pandemic, bringing back many of our beloved musicians as the restaurant and bar inside The Chapel, one of our great small music venues that attracts some big names. Curio has kept music alive in a time we desperately need it, as musicians play live on their covered patio. Nilo Ayele, a talented local Brazilian musician, sang in Portuguese and Spanish literally the night after I’d just flown back from Lisbon, making me feel (almost) as if I was still in Portugal.

Chef Jason Raffin has long stepped up American comfort food and pub fare since he came on board at Curio, just as he did when he cooked at Comstock Saloon in 2018. Granted, Curio can feel less like a gourmand’s choice on the patio surrounded by families and couples eating burgers. But then the music starts, servers are sweet and the food is better than usual pub fare.

Over January 11 — February 8, chef Raffin tributed an industry spirit favorite in a $45, 3-course menu: Fernet, a bitter Italian spirit SF was drinking in highest world volumes well before (over 20 years ago) the category trended globally. The standout course, unexpectedly, was the salad: a bitter and rich radicchio and red leaf salad in burnt orange vinaigrette and Fernet gastrique, with candied walnuts, pickled apples and Roquefort cheese (why isn’t this fabulously strong cheese on more menus?) A heaping plate of braised short ribs in fried garlic streusel over whipped potatoes and squash succotash in gremolata (parsley, lemon zest, garlic) has Fernet laced in the meat jus. I wanted more Fernet in the soft, pudding-like tiramisu at first bite, but taking leftovers home for breakfast, I got a stronger hit of Fernet the next morning. Cocktails are straightforward (an Old Fashioned variation, for one), but a $30 flight of three paired with each course in a fun theme that works well in this music-centric space.

// 775 Valencia Street, https://curiobarsf.com

Jewish Diaspora/Levantine-Inspired Bakery: Loquat While I miss Hayes Valley’s former 20th Century Café’s much-needed bakery focus on Eastern European pastries of Vienna, Budapest and Prague, the new Loquat, which Tal Mor and Jodi Geren (partners at The Mill and Four Barrel Coffee) opened in October 2022, is a welcome bakery inspired by the Jewish diaspora and the Levantine (region centered around modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan). Former Tartine Bakery pastry chef Kristina Costa (whose heritage is Hungarian-Jewish and Greek) is behind the savory and sweet pastries and a rotating selection of striking cakes, which also reflect Mor’s roots in Israel with an Ashkenazi mother from Jerusalem and Iraqi father from Baghdad.

Savory bourekas (like spiked chickpea and caramelized onion) are flaky outside, soft and warm within, while their lemon tart gained nuance from ubiquitous lemon tarts being made with preserved lemons (providing a salty note) and blessedly rosemary-forward whipped cream. Though painstakingly made with laminated dough, on my visit, the salted chocolate babka was dry and too light on chocolate, making me long for favorite babkas elsewhere, while a tahini chocolate cookie was even more dry. The place is so busy, tables aren’t cleaned and it was tough cleaning our own tables as napkins ran out. Despite these downsides, Loquat is a notable new bakery with charming rust colored velvet banquette and golds. Note: some of Loquat’s baked goods are carried at Geren and Mor’s aforementioned cafés, as well as at Black Bird Bookstore and Café in the Outer Sunset.

// 198 Gough Street, https://loquatsf.com

Celebrating the spirit of the Bay Area.

Founding The Perfect Spot in 2007, Virginia is World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ Chairperson, judging & writing/editor at 60+ publications on dining & drink globally