The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2013

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Page 46 of 148

RESTAURANTS THAT MATTER Heading to the ESTABLISHMENTS LIKE THESE MAKE SAN FRANCISCO'S NEIGHBORHOODS THE PLACE TO DINE PHOTO: ALANNA HALE by Merrill Shindler Before the crowds: Nopa prepares for another busy evening. 46 / the tasting panel / may 2013 I Hoods n San Francisco, the Trendy Restaurants of the Moment (aka the Restaurants That Matter) used to be clustered around the hills that stretch from Downtown to the Bay. And though there's still enough trendiness for a dozen cities, high prices and increasing gridlock have driven many of the newest, edgiest places into lesserknown corners of the City by the Bay. In other words, they've led the tourists and their relentless bus tours of this eminently walkable city for the hoods where people actually live. And the locals couldn't be happier. Consider, for instance, Nopa, a portmanteau for "North of the Panhandle"—the Panhandle being the central city stretch of land that extends east from Golden Gate Park. The cooking is Urban Rustic, organic and wood-ired. The room is long, tall, old and glass-lined, with a bar of considerable length—a requisite in beverage-happy SF. The menu is as downhome as could be: housemade pappardelle with a nine-hour bolognese, braised duck leg with curried farro, house-smoked trout with horseradish and kumquats. The website features a long list of purveyors and a journal dedicated to thoughts on The Meaning of Rum. Of which much is served. Firefly sits in the heart of Noe Valley, which used to be best known as the neighborhood where purveyors of illegal substances moved after the Haight-Ashbury became too dicey—and they became too rich. Like the neighborhood in which it sits (and the bug after which it's named) Firely is wildly eclectic, with a menu that rambles from "yummy" (their word) roasted Brussels sprouts with trufle oil, to shrimp and sea scallop potstickers, to potato latkes with homemade apple sauce, to a grilled pork shoulder and sausage combo, to Levy Family braised brisket. Asian-Chinese? Of course—this is San Francisco. And speaking of Jewish cooking, not far from Firely is Wise Sons, an artisanal nouvelle deli that's been earning national attention for bringing New York deli food back from the dead. The pastrami, the corned beef, the salami, the pickles, the bagels— they're all made by hand, in-house. In a city heavy with veggies and vegans, this is an alternative universe, with a permanent line in front. It's proof that rumors of the death of the deli are greatly overstated. Lazy Bear is so neighborhoodish, it doesn't have an address at all. Seriously. You've got to go to the website (, where you're given different ways of signing up for the underground restaurant's meals—which are done a couple of times a month, on weekends, whenever the owners feel like it. Those who have been lucky—and persistent—enough to get in, wax ecstatic over whipped maple eggs, rutabaga chip sandwiches, grilled parsnip with fried quail eggs, and beef short ribs with beef-fat roasted carrots. What matters is that this is a restaurant that breaks each and every rule. And, in SF, is much loved for it.

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