Restaurateur Gabriela Cámara of Mexico City's Contramar has opened Cala near Hayes Valley in San Francisco. The white-tablecloth Mexican restaurant features concrete walls and floors and a chic, industrial vibe. The focus is on coastal Mexican cuisine and craft cocktails, and there is Mexican brunch on Sundays. In November, Cámara also launched an alley taqueria, Tacos Cala, adjacent to the restaurant that is open weekdays for lunch. Cala is Cámara's first U.S. endeavor. Cala, 149 Fell St., San Francisco, CA 94102, 415-660-7701.
Barcha has opened inside the 425 Market Street office building in San Francisco's Financial District. The Mediterranean bistro from the team behind Sens is also a wine bar by night. Dishes feature Turkish, Tunisian and Spanish influences; a 90-seat dining room outfitted in north African art and antiques, wraparound outdoor patio and takeout window add appeal and convenience for lunch and dinner. From 3 p.m.-7 p.m., a happy hour includes tapas, wine and beer. Barcha, 425 Market Street, 28 Fremont St., San Francisco, CA 94105, 415-957-5463.
Together with Alex Smith and John Park, Smuggler's Cove owner Martin Cate has opened an exciting new bar and restaurant on Polk Street at Turk in San Francisco. Whitechapel is a gin-themed bar experience, designed and crafted by Ignacio "Notch" Gonzalez (Smuggler's Cove) to evoke an abandoned, Victorian-era London Underground tube station, with a barrel vaulted ceiling outfitted in authentic acanthus tiles. The bar has three distinct rooms --- The Platform, The Distillery and The Gin Palace --- with nods and paraphernalia evincing 1800s London. Food from chef David Murphy (Uchi) is gin-compatible and based on gin's countries of origin --- Great Britain, Holland and a subtle touch of Bangladesh. Pub fare includes fish ‘n’ chips, pasties, sausages and pies. More than 100 cocktails fill a menu both historic and inventive; drinks are flavored with a selection of more than 350 gins. Dinner nightly. Whitechapel, 600 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94102, 415-292-5800.
The team behind Comal has opened The Advocate in Berkeley. Seating choices are a shiny long bar, high-stooled community tables, chef's counter or smaller tables tucked up to wraparound benches. The concise menu from chef John Griffiths includes dishes like crispy-skinned chicken filet served on creamy polenta with scattered fresh corn and ginger-grapefruit relish. The Advocate, 2635 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705, 510-370-2200.
NINEBARK is a new Napa restaurant and rooftop bar and lounge in the Thomas & Fagiani's space on Main Street. The restaurant features three floors of "airy, garden-driven design," and includes an open kitchen, chef's table, rooftop garden and casually elegant bar, lounge and dining areas. The chef is Matthew Lightner (Atera, Mugaritz, Castagna), who has formed a partnership with the AvroKO design group, owners of PUBLIC, The Daily, Saxon + Parole, Madam Geneva and GENUINE Roadside. NINEBARK is their first collaboration together, with more on the way. NINEBARK, 813 Main St., Napa, CA 94559, 707-226-7821.
Sessions at the Presidio is a new 3,500-square-foot craft brewpub and dining room inside the Letterman Digital Arts Center --- Lucasfilm's San Francisco campus --- just inside the Presidio's Chestnut Street gate. Heading the team are executive chef Michael Bilger and GM Evin Gelleri, whose shared love of "session" ales --- flavorful, yet low in alcohol --- led to the concept. Brews include some small-batch beers crafted on-site, guest homebrews and upwards of 100 domestic and international craft beers. Cuisine is robust, seasonal and shareable, and includes many ingredients from organic Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. Skywalker Ranch wines are also on a short wine list (that includes 10 choices on tap); craft cocktails under the direction of Peter Ziegler round out the beverage program. Also, notably, Sessions employs the tip-free service model, applying an automatic 20 percent charge to each tab. Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner nightly, Brunch Sat.-Sun. Sessions at the Presidio, 1 Letterman Dr., San Francisco, CA 94129, 415-655-9413.
Sam's Grill has a classy new outdoor bar and lounge on Belden Alley. Called Sam's Seafood Alley, the concept is a modern, al fresco addition to the San Francisco restaurant with its private wooden booths and white tablecloths (and history dating back to 1867). A wood burl bar provides a centerpoint under the outdoor lounge's protective awning, and the space features hardwood flooring and lounge and table seating for about 40 (first come, first served). Cocktails, craft beers, chowder, crab rolls and raw bar offerings make for an appealing after-work menu. Sam's Seafood Alley also has a happy hour that runs every weekday from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Call Sam's Grill for more detail. Lunch & Dinner Mon.-Fri. Sam's Seafood Alley, 374 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94104, 415-421-0594.
A casual Italian restaurant is nearing completion in the Outer Richmond. Called Fiorella and headed up by owner Boris Nemchenok (Uva Enoteca, and New York's Otto Enoteca e Pizzeria), who grew up in that neighborhood, and chef-partner Brandon Gillis (Brooklyn's Franny's), the 40-seat restaurant will offer fresh pastas, pizza, crostini and antipasti, as well as Italian wine varietals from boutique Italian and domestic producers. Look for a December 2015 opening. Fiorella, 2339 Clement St., San Francisco, CA 94121, no phone.
The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, has an opulent new wine tasting lounge from winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset. The JCB Tasting Lounge is a small, sumptuous enclave off the hotel's lobby, featuring an interior and accessories designed by Boisset himself. Flights of limited, boutique wines, light, luxury bites from Parallel 37's chef de cuisine Michael Rotondo and options of cheeses, caviar and more are provided. The lounge also has a retail space with merchandise from Baccarat, Christofle, Goyard and others, and concierge services for wine lovers that reach into San Francisco, wine country and beyond. Open daily. The JCB Tasting Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, 600 Stockton St., San Francisco, CA 94108, 415-296-7465.
Casual Cal-Med restaurant Oro at 8 Mint Plaza has opened. The project from Jason Fox, executive chef and owner of Commonwealth, together with Timothy Felkner, owner of consultancy firm Vigilante Hospitality, features individual and shareable plates from chef de cuisine Travis Day (Central Kitchen, Yoshi's). Specialties include whole animal butchery, charcuterie (coppa de testa, salami cotto, rabbit rillettes) and a "blind" chef's tasting experience of off-menu items, served family-style. The beverage program is headed up by some big names, including wine director Kelly Evans, most recently of Saison. Oro, 8 Mint Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94103, 415-974-1212.
David Kinch (Manresa) will open New Orleans-inspired restaurant and bar The Bywater. Located just down the street from Manresa at 532 N. Santa Cruz Avenue in Los Gatos, the small, casual dining enclave will feature the cuisine of chef David Morgan (New Orleans' Restaurant August, Cyrus). The beverage program led by Claire Sprouse and Chad Arnholt of San Francisco-based Tin Roof Drinking Community will feature classic, authentic cocktails as well as beer and wine. Dishes will be French- and New-Orleans-inspired and there will be a raw bar. Live music will be a focus, and a back patio will offer outdoor seating. The Bywater, 532 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, CA 95030, no phone.
Sabio on Main brings upscale, contemporary dining to Pleasanton. Executive chef and co-owner is Francis Hogan, formerly of Bluestem Brasserie, whose specialties include whole animal butchery, charcuterie and cheese mongering. Hogan is also a certified sommelier. His seasonal, sustainable menu features small plates showcasing a range of international flavors --- European, Asian, Latin American and even Caribbean fare --- but more than 50 percent of the menu highlights Spanish cuisine. Sabio promises an extensive wine list and artisan cocktails. Sabio on Main, 501 Main St., Pleasanton, CA 94566, 925-800-3090.
Bon Marché Brasserie & Bar comes from Matt Semmelhack and Mark Liberman, cofounders of the Mercer Restaurant Group (AQ Restaurant & Bar, TBD Restaurant). The 7,500-square-foot space provides a variety of all-day dining options for mid-Market denizens, including a full-service brasserie, coffee shop, raw bar, craft brewery under master cicerone Rich Higgins and a lounge, along with a private dining room for special functions. The grand, Art Deco-inspired venue has a vibe reminiscent of the Marais district of Paris. There is even a flower shop. Though Bon Marché is overseen by Liberman, executive chef is Matthew Sieger, and the focus is seasonal French fare for lunch and dinner. Pastry chef is Rikki Garcia; sommelier is Allegra Angelo. Bon Marché is part of Shorenstein Properties' redeveloped 1355 Market Street historic building, now known as Market Square. Bon Marché Brasserie & Bar, 1355 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94103, 415-802-1700.
2015 Dungeness Crab Season Off Indefinitely
In a warning issued November 3, 2015, the California Department of Public Health advised consumers against eating Dungeness or Rock crab caught off the California and Oregon coastlines due to high levels of toxic algae. Bay Area crab season is hotly anticipated every fall, and celebrated in countless recipes and preparations throughout the area. Dungeness crab in particular is a local favorite, and even a staple at many Thanksgiving tables. The health advisory, however, bears heeding: When consumed, the naturally-occurring marine toxin, called domoic acid, causes symptoms similar to food poisoning in mild cases, and can be fatal if severe. Crab season is suspended indefinitely. For more information visit the California Department of Public Health's website
The Slanted Door Headed South
Celebrated San Francisco chef Charles Phan will open an L.A. outpost of his modern Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door in downtown’s new City Market South development, located in the Fashion District. The large restaurant will be designed by Olle Lundberg, with a late 2016 opening.
Monday Family Dinners at Terrapin Crossroads
Terrapin Crossroads serves a prix-fixe family dinner every Monday night from 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., featuring varying specials such as fish ‘n’ chips, taco, pasta or pizza dinners meant to be shared. Prices differ for adults and children, and there are à la carte draft beer or house wine options for an additional $5. The casual Marin County restaurant and live music venue is owned by Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh, and known for crowd-pleasing seasonal cuisine. Terrapin Crossroads, 100 Yacht Club Dr., San Rafael, CA 94901, 415-524-2773.
Win a Coastal Bistro in Northern California
Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg, California, in Mendocino County, is looking for a new owner and holding a contest to see who might have what it takes. The restaurant, owned and operated by chef Nicholas Petti, has 88 seats, coastal views and a reputation as a local and visitor's favorite. Petti, who is moving into a career as a college professor, would like to give a prospective owner without much capital the same opportunity he was given when he opened the bistro in 1999. Entrants must submit a 250-word essay (and $100 entry fee) by December 18, 2015, limited to 7,500 entrants. Visit mendobistro.com for details.
Express Prix-fixe Lunch Monday-Friday
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana has an express prix-fixe lunch option weekdays from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. For $26.95, diners are offered three courses with items such as cebiche, chicken wings and Peruvian desserts, and guaranteed turnaround time is one hour or less. La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, Pier 1 1/2, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111, 415-397-8880.
Dine, Give Food at Off The Grid
Off The Grid food truck market gatherings will host local food bank representatives on select dates through December to accept donations of nonperishable goods. Check the market schedule at www.offthegridsf.com for when and where to take food items, or make a direct donation using Square for mobile payment.
Gather in Berkeley has a new executive chef. Thirty-year-old Tu David Phu, an Oakland native, comes to the restaurant from Acquerello, where he was sous chef, and before that he was chef de cuisine at Flora in Oakland and executive chef of San Francisco's Park Cafe group. Phu looks to continue Gather's local- and sustainable-ingredient focus, and will maintain the restaurant's house-made cheeses, pastas and whole-animal butchery program. Gather, 2200 Oxford St., Berkeley, CA 94704, 510-809-0400.
Jeff Banker is now executive chef of Bluestem Brasserie. Banker, a California native, is well known locally for his now-closed restaurant Baker & Banker --- a collaboration with his wife, pastry chef Lori Baker --- and was also executive chef of former restaurant Home for three years. His modern-brasserie menus at Bluestem maintain the restaurant's focus on seasonal, local ingredients and whole animal butchery, including house-made charcuterie and salumi, in small, large and share plates. Vegetables and fish also receive Banker's full attention in dishes such as pan-seared McFarland trout with succotash, marinated calamari and black garlic rouille, and seasonal vegetable maccheroni with slow-roasted San Marzano tomato sauce, eggplant purée, goat cheese and Calabrian chili bread crumbs. Bluestem Brasserie, One Yerba Buena Ln., San Francisco, CA 94103, 415-547-1111.
Daniel Patterson has announced he will step down as executive chef of Coi in January 2016, relinquishing the role to Matthew Kirkley (L2O). The North Beach destination for transformational California cuisine will continue to be owned by DPG. Patterson maintains his partnership with chef Roy Choi on Loco'L, the upcoming healthy fast food spots in Watts and San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Coi, 373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133, 415-393-9000.
Storied Marina District restaurant Betelnut's last day of service was September 27, 2015, after 20 years in its Union Street location, shuttered purportedly due to an increase in rent. The restaurant transformed briefly into Hutong in 2013, then quickly reverted back to the original concept to appease its fans. No word yet on what will take its place. Betelnut, 2030 Union St., San Francisco, CA 94123, no phone.
Saratoga has lost longtime French-California destination Restaurant Sent Sovi, where chef David Kinch's star first soared, and where chef Josiah Slone, together with his wife and partner Khin Khin Slone, took the helm in 2003 when Josiah was only 25 years old. The Slones shuttered the restaurant on September 27, but do plan to reopen the space with a new concept after a short remodel. Restaurant Sent Sovi, 14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070, no phone.
Le Charm (315 Fifth St.) has closed and owner Lina Yew reopened the restaurant in late August with a new partner, four-year front-of-house vet and French native Mathilde Gravel. The new incarnation is called Mathilde and remains French focused.
Three years after purchasing Pascal Rigo's La Boulange Bakery brand for $100 million, Starbucks has shuttered the La Boulange cafés located around the Bay Area. The cornflower blue awnings and signage of La Boulange bakery-cafés graced most of San Francisco's tonier neighborhoods, and the chain's quality baked goods had fed café-goers and provided picnics for locals since French-born Rigo founded the first La Boulange on Pine Street in 1996. Now, La Boulange baked goods fill the shelves of Starbucks, but Rigo has left Starbucks and his cafés are no longer a part of Bay Area culture. We look forward to seeing what will come next for him in either the baking or restaurant realm.
Nojo in Hayes Valley has closed. Chef-owner Greg Dunmore has sold the restaurant to a Japanese conglomerate and will stay on as consulting chef when the new incarnation opens October 1, 2015. Stay tuned for more details.
Oakland's Bay Wolf closed in August. Newly-retired owners Michael Wild and Michael Phelps, both 75, wished their longtime East Bay community "abundant joy" in a heartfelt Facebook farewell. The restaurant was a leading destination for seasonal California bistro cuisine since its inception in 1975.
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Check out the 2015 edition of GAYOT's Annual Restaurant Issue, which features the Top 40 Restaurants in the US and more.