Field Notes: Restaurant, Hotel and Food News

San Francisco

Epic Speakers (and Live-Fire Japanese Food) from chef Marc Zimmerman

Yakitori at San Franciso restaurant Yokai
Yakitori at San Franciso restaurant Yokai

An endless stream of hi-fidelity music – jazz, I’m told – pushed through vintage, mint condition JBL Pro Series studio speakers will be a central part of the experience at SoMa’s Yokai, which opened September 22. The latest restaurant from owner and executive chef Marc Zimmerman also focuses on Japanese cuisine and cocktails, like his other SoMa restaurant, Gozu.

With the decibels set low enough so you can hear your tablemates, savor bites from the binchotan grill like a Château Uenae chuck roll A5 Wagyu, Kauai prawn skewers, Shigoku oysters with beet mignonette, or a broccolini and Dungeness crab salad with bonito emulsion and a Jidori egg. There’s a Yokai Burger served on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, and tonkatsu aioli – ask for it GOZU Style and add wasabi Thousand Island and local sea urchin. Try it with a Pretty Bird cocktail, made with Kiyomi Japanese rum and coconut water, one of the NA beverages, or – and what I’m excited about –  a glass of carbonated tea.

Interior at San Francisco restaurant Yokai
Interior at San Francisco restaurant Yokai

Turntable SF No More, Lord Stanley Returns

After two years of pop-ups, the stoves at Lord Stanley in Polk Gulch will be in the hands of long-time Chef de Cuisine, now Executive Chef, Nathan Matkowsky. Matkowsky, who I profiled when he took his “turn” last May, debuted his opening menu then and promises to continue showcasing his love of French cuisine melded with Korean influences. Husband-and-wife owners Rupert and Carrie Blease, who earned a Michelin star on their first go-round of the Californian “bistro de luxe” concept, remain with the project. Welcome, Turntable 2.0!

Nikkei at Union Square

Seared tuna at San Francisco restaurant Chotto Matte
Seared tuna at San Francisco restaurant Chotto Matte

Are you as excited as I am about the opening of Chotto Matte? The Japanese Peruvian restaurant which launched in London in 2013 is opening its fourth US location on the roof of the former Macy’s Men’s Store at Union Square in late October. Yep, this baby’s been a long time coming. The views from up there are sure to be epic and the vibe as chill and trendy as they are at the other Chottos around the globe. The robata grill takes center stage (when you’re not staring out the window) and an open sushi counter and elevated DJ booth will keep things thumping. 

The restaurant is known for late night dining – what that means in SF at this moment in time remains TBD but maybe until midnight? As executed by head chef Carlos Couts, the entire a la carte menu (signatures include Chotto branzino ceviche, tentáculos de pulpo, sato maki sushi and pollo den miso) and bar menu are available, as long as you can party like its 1999.

Cocktails will be a big part of the fun. To wit: the La Chakana (below). Made with Cognac, Mezcal, and Chotto vermouth blend, it is flamed at the table. Maybe this will entice you to stay a little longer?

La Chakana cocktail at Chotto Matte San Francisco – it gets "flamed" at the table
La Chakana cocktail at Chotto Matte San Francisco – it gets “flamed” at the table

Celebrate 15 Years of Peruvian Style

Chef and Owner Gaston Acurio
Chef and Owner Gaston Acurio

La Mar Cocina Peruana, which has been honoring 15 years (where does the time go?) on the San Francisco waterfront with bespoke events in August and September, wraps things up with grand celebration on Friday, September 29. Chef and owner Gastón Acurio will be joined  by other La Mar restaurant chefs, including Chef Victoriano Lopez of La Mar San Francisco, Chef Diego Oka of La Mar Miami, Chef Anthony Vasquez of La Mar Lima, Chef Carlos Lambrini of La Mar Santiago de Chile, Chef Cesar Bellido of La Mar Dubai, and Chef Frank Ponce of La Mar Doha.

All those chefs = a ton of food and each chef with their own food station. Add in free-flowing pisco and champagne, festive live music, dancing on the waterfront patio, and a DJ at La Mar Bar and the night is sure to be a loads of fun. Tickets include all food and drink and can bepurchased HERE.

25 Years for Absinthe Brasserie

Trio of Bivalves at Absinthe, San Francisco
Trio of Bivalves at Absinthe, San Francisco

I write about restaurants all the time, but some restaurants are more personal than others. Like Absinthe. It opened shortly after I moved to San Francisco in 1998 and was my introduction to dining well in the city. Since then, Absinthe has been a culinary beacon for my family. So much so that, whenever my mom flies in, we stop there for a bite on our way home from SFO. (Our classic order is a dozen oysters and two glass of champagne, a shared burger with fries, field greens salad, coffee.) I’ve seen much change in 25 years – Hayes Valley was not as trendy as it is now and there were fewer residents and restaurants back then – and I don’t know how many chefs in the kitchen. What is remarkable is the restaurant’s consistency.

On board since 2021, executive chef Ian Begg hews to the brasserie tradition with dishes of yellowfin tuna carpaccio a la Niçoise and steak frites. Yet I always think of Absinthe as a symbol of California Cuisine for its exceptionally fresh ingredients and clear through-line of French flavors. The menu shifts with the seasons and, as we step more firmly into fall, Begg has seared sea scallops and charred octopus with summer succotash, bacon, soubise, and crispy parsnips on the menu. Don’t miss the sweet corn agnolotti with lobster mushrooms and mushroom cream – as my kids would say: it’s BOMB. Stefan is still raving about it.

You cannot go wrong with any of the classics, like sole meuniere or escargots de Bourgogne dressed up with cordyceps, garlic, and Pernod atop a pastry platter. I didn’t expect to love a Trio of Bivalves but the little touches of cream on the clams and escabeche on the mussels lifted the shellfish to a fresh place (oysters with mignonette are eternal).

Another BOMB: savoring any of the above with a glass of the dry apple cider from Blindwood Cider. Crafted without added sugars, it is dry and fizzy, with subtle yeasty notes from hops. The cider ably stood its ground against champagne and cost 60% less than a glass of France’s insanely popular export. Plus, it’s a local business, so, show them some love. Whatever glass you raise, toast the success of any restaurant such as this that has managed to make it through the city’s many ups and downs while keeping up an exceptional level of service and food.

Kudos to the team!

San Francisco food writer Christina Mueller and producer Stefan Welter at Absinthe
San Francisco food writer Christina Mueller and producer Stefan Welter

North Bay

Flamingo X Turntable

Hoi Nueng Kati _ Coconut Lemongrass Steamed Mussels from Chao Krung restaurant in Los Angeles at Turntable x Flamingo Resort pop-up in Santa Rosa
Hoi Nueng Kati _ Coconut Lemongrass Steamed Mussels from Chao Krung restaurant in Los Angeles at Turntable x Flamingo Resort pop-up in Santa Rosa

Call it Turntable Redux or Turntable North Bay. Whatever the headline is, Carrie and Rupert Blease, the husband-and-wife team behind the two-year run of Turntable at Lord Stanley and the return of San Francisco’s Lord Stanley (see above) are back, this time in Santa Rosa at the iconic Flamingo Resort. To hereby be known as Lazeaway Club  x Turntable, the culinary pop-up series continues with two chef residencies in October, both of whom popped up with the original Turntable

Chef Susan Kim of Korean pop-up Doshi, New York and Amanda Maneesilassan’s family-style Thai at Chao Krung Thai in Los Angeles will split the month, with chef Kim up first. Kim’s menu includes beef carpaccio with tonnato and anchovy crumble, seared Tteok (rice cakes) with halloumi, a seven-minute egg and brown butter gochu, and her bugak chip with Dungeness crab dip. Word is she will also have a few items on the brunch menu and some poolside bites, including a poolside doshirak. Chef Maneesilsasan’s menu at lunch and dinner includes prawn pad Thai that is said to be smokier and more savory than versions many Americans are accustomed to. Thai-style pork jowl, crab fried rice and papaya salad with salted egg are must try’s. 

chefs Amanda Maneesilassan of Chao Krung Thai (Los Angeles) and Susan Kim of Doshi (New York)
chefs Amanda Maneesilassan of Chao Krung Thai (Los Angeles) and Susan Kim of Doshi (New York)

Kim Alter Dinner in the KJ Gardens

Kendall-Jackson Winery is renowned (and by that I mean digging in and doing the heavy lifting) for its efforts at sustainability and pushing the wine world towards a healthier future. Recent efforts include building a sustainable community by bringing together their various communities to dine together. Such will be the case at a dinner in the four-acre estate garden with chef Kim Alter of Nightbird on Saturday, October 7.

The two-time James Beard-nominated chef (2018 and 2020) and 2019 Star Chef Sustainable Chef of the Year designs menus showcasing her commitment to technique, whole animal cookery, and support of local farms. The garden dinner will feature the day’s harvest and Snake River Farms’ humanely raised and sustainable ranch-to-table beef. As is the custom at KJ, guests will be greeted with a glass of wine before finding a seat at the large communal table for the live fire meal. This is your chance to chat up master culinary gardener Tucker Taylor and chef Tracey Shepos Cenami – they’ll be seated at your table, too. Santé!

Revamped Collectors Lunch at Lynmar Estate

Timed to the autumn equinox, Sebastopol’s Lynmar Estate launched a refreshed menu for The Collectors Lunch experience. The five-course menu pairs estate wines and dishes made with estate-grown ingredients to enjoy in the Quail Hill Vineyard. Staff are on hand to guide guests through Chef David Frakes’ reimaging of organic popcorn seasoned with green shiso and fermented garlic salt, paired with Lynmar’s rosé of pinot noir and potato-leek vichyssoise paired with Quail Hill chardonnay. After plates of roasted autumn squash puff pastry and a poivre de Ane (a.k.a summer savory)-spiced duck confit, the meal concludes with toasted orchard pear cake drizzled with mulberry syrup and red walnut praline.  It’s a taste of Sonoma you won’t soon forget.

East Bay

Los Cilantros: Dilsa’s Baaaack!

Dilsa's Esquites, Photo Credit Eric Wolfinger
Dilsa’s Esquites, Photo Credit Eric Wolfinger

After three years of operating her business out of a kiosk at La Cocina’s Municipal Marketplace in San Francisco, owner/chef Dilsa Lugo reopened her Berkeley restaurant, Los Cilantros, at the La Peña Cultural Center on September 13. Lugo’s famous handmade tortillas and salsas appear on nearly every dish, including with chile relleno, fish tacos, enchiladas and shrimp aguachile tostada. She plans to showcase unique heirloom corn varietals in both sweet and savory dishes.

Dilsa Lugo – Photo Credit Eric Wolfinger

Mexican x Japanese Mashup in OakTown

An array of Maexican-Japanese dishes at Good Luck Gato, Oakland
An array of Maexican-Japanese dishes at Good Luck Gato, Oakland

Is it possible that chef-partner Kyle Itani is the first Oakland restaurateur to bring Mexican and Japanese together in one restaurant? Good Luck Gato, Itani’s latest project, reunites the Hopscotch crew – beverage director/partner Daniel Paez and chef/partnerMatthew Meyer, both Low Bar co-owners –dreamed up korokke russet potato croquettes with Oaxaca cheese and tonkatsu sauce and karashi mustard, uni butter elote, chiizu baga sliders (3 oz burgers with yuzu kosho poblano relish and chipotle kewpie mayo and desserts like a black sesame chocotaco.

Drinks are similarly inspired. A beer and shot “situation”  pairs Japanese beer with a Mexican spirit (ask at the bar for their suggestions), or vice versa. Yes, there are NA cocktails (Amor Prohibido pairs hibiscus-jalapeño-ume shrub with lemon and bitters) and nori-infused tequila, mezcal, and suze in an Emerald Zone cocktail.

Don’t worry, it will all make sense once you sit down in the seventies-style room, complete with kitschy spaghetti western soundtracks and films. Don’t forget to pat the gold and white maneki-neko – the namesake lucky cats are an important part of the scene. The multi-culti madness arrived September 14, Uptown.

Oakland restaurant Good Luck Gato partners Kyle Itani, Daniel Paez and Matthew Meyer-photo credit Nicola Parisi
Oakland restaurant Good Luck Gato partners Kyle Itani, Daniel Paez and Matthew Meyer-photo credit Nicola Parisi