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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Is San Francisco Killing Restaurants?

Is San Francisco killing restaurants?

That’s the question posed by San Francisco Chronicle food editor Michael Bauer. With a slew of taxes, and new wage and sick leave requirements for staff, is the cost of running a restaurant in S.F. too high?

This week, on his official Chronicle blog Between Meals, the food critic took a look at some of the costs San Francisco restaurants are asked to pay. “How about a $200 a year ‘candle’ tax for starters? A $146 propane tax? And then there’s the $146 tent tax.” Additionally, voter approval of local ballot measures that require all city businesses to provide sick leave for employees, and an increase in the minimum wage, means that restaurant operating costs are going up.

Not surprisingly, the post got quite a response—from restaurant owners and patrons alike, all of whom commented anonymously.

Amen. The cost of doing business as a restaurant in SF is the HIGHEST in the country per employee when all the ‘extras’ the City, etc. charge are factored in…. Even the best, best restaurants, excluding a few are only making decent money when you factor in the hours, etc. it takes to make a go of it.

When it comes to this issue, you guys only see those evil people who want to unjustly provide health insurance and fair wages to a sector of the workforce dominated by women and minorities, all renters and all living close to poverty. I see increased competition that will improve the quality of the restaurants that can provide a quality product while taking responsibility for the people who do the work.

There’s a very simple solution to this—just move your restaurant to somewhere cheaper—Oakland, South San Francisco, Livermore, wherever. People will still come if it is good…. There is nothing particularly magical about a San Francisco location.

Do you want only the large corporate restaurants to be able to have restaurants in the City? Or do you want $30 entrees in every restaurant? The City should realize that the restaurant industry is also a deciding factor for conventions, leisure visitors, etc…. Decisions to hold conventions in SF are made everyday because of the vitality of the dining scene. So there. Where is your bread buttered SF City council?

But perhaps the final word comes from Brett, of the blog In Praise of Sardines, who is currently in the process of opening his own restaurant, Olallie, in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. Is he daunted by the slew of taxes being levied against the city’s restaurants? In a word, no. “I know the risks and costs of this business,” he writes, “and yet I still have decided to open a restaurant here…. I love this city too much to even consider doing it anywhere else.”

There might be hope for San Francisco’s restaurants yet.

Forsake All Others

In his November newsletter, Beau Timken, the proprietor of San Francisco sake-selling joint True Sake, flat-out begs his readers to try drinking sake with their turkey, cranberry, and mashed potato feast.

If you’re in the San Francisco area, Beau makes it easy for you to saunter in and choose your Turkey Day sake, he promises, “I will hang little turkeys around the necks of the sakes that excel with the bird in the True Sake store.” I might have to go in just to see the little turkeys.

However, if you don’t happen to be staggering distance from America’s first sake store in Hayes Valley, you can still benefit from Beau’s thirsty knowledge:

I look for a robust acidity when I pair with meat, game or fowl. Add to that butter and other mouth filling flavors I like sakes that have some staying power in terms of flavor. I select fatter sakes that fill the mouth, rather than the light clean ones that fire right through the palate. Think meaty sakes for meaty flavors, and also use a larger glass than usual to mix up that acidity. Go with your big reds glasses, and don’t worry about the next day big reds hangovers.

1. Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai
2. Kikuhime Yamahai Junmai
3. Masumi Yamahai Junmai Ginjo
4. Taiheizan Kimoto Junmai
5. Tenzan Junmai Genshu

So basically this year I am asking you all to ‘Be a man!’ (or Woman) and go for it. Throw sake to the lions and watch how well it performs. There isn’t a fowl alive that cannot be paired with nihonshu. I will add 5 more sakes that are new this year that will also stand up to that overcooked underjuiced slab of white sandpaper that your father calls his ‘best bird ever.’

5. Narutotai Nama Ginjo Genshu
6. Kasumi Tsuru Yamahai Ginjo
7. Born Muroka Junmai Dai Ginjo Nama Genshu
8. Tsukasabotan Junmai Dai Ginjo Shizuku
9. Otokoyama Junmai Genshu

Also, check out Beau’s sake lingo in order to decipher the above recommendations. Kanpai!

Apples and Oysters

Head up to Sebastopol for a double dose of natural beauty. First, taste some of the many varieties of apples grown by Walker Apples, including Northern Spys, Pink Ladies, Romes, and Arkansas Blacks. Twenty dollars will buy your forty pounds of apples, and they let you taste each kind. It’s a great year for apples, says Ericruo–juicier than last year, very crisp, and with a good amount of acid to balance the sweet. Arkansas Blacks are particularly recommended.

Second, what problem can’t be solved with an entire quart of freshly barbecued oysters? Head to the Drakes Bay stand at the Sebastopol Sunday farmers’ market for succulent barbecued oysters. They’re $2 per oyster, or $18 to $20 for a quart. Melanie Wong says they were even good in July–and there’s no ‘R’ in July.

Walker Apples [Sonoma County]
10955 Upp Road, Sebastopol
707-823-4310
Map

Drakes Bay Oysters [Marin County]
formerly Johnson

At Blue Ribbon Market, Mustard Like Fine Wine

At Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, the mustard can upstage the sandwiches. Benjamin68 has no complaints about his smoked duck and honey on toast, but his enduring memory is of amazingly good Dijon mustard, with “intense, vibrant flavor and an incredibly long finish, like a great wine.” Made in France, it’s sold under the Blue Ribbon brand, both the Dijon ($6 a bottle) and a whole-grain variety ($8).

Blue Ribbon Bakery Market [Greenwich Village]
14 Bedford St., between Downing St. and 6th Ave., Manhattan, NY
212-647-0408
Locater

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Fantastic mustard at Blue Ribbon Market

Mexico City Flavor

El Huarache Loco stand in the Alemany Farmers’ Market provides a taste of home–if you’re from Mexico City, that is. Huaraches, handmade from fresh masa before your eyes, are fried up with just the right touch of grease, says marlon. Quesadillas made with squash blossoms are wonderful, melty and hot. Everything tastes right to folks from Mexico City–even the mole is reddish and tastes of almonds, like it does back home. Try one of their aguas frescas with your food, or check out their cafe de olla, made with piloncillo for a nice molasses flavor.

El Huarache Loco [Bernal Heights]
at the Alemany Farmers’ Market
100 Alemany Blvd., San Francisco
415-647-9423
Locater

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Huarache Loco: Mexico City food

Filling Up on Baked Goods at a Gas Station in Brooklyn

Devotees of Ostrovitsky, the hound-endorsed bakery in Midwood, can fill up on kosher treats in Borough Park at a satellite outlet tucked into a Rio gas station. Selection is smaller than at the Avenue J flagship, but it passes the road test, reports Mike R. He rates the challah “high-test” and the hamantaschen “89 octane.” There’s also coffee and a steam table laden with pastas, potato kugel, kasha varnishke, and other hot foods.

Ostrovitsky Coffee Shop and Bakery [Borough Park]
3715 14th Ave., between 37th and 38th Sts., in Rio Service Station, Brooklyn
718-436-5222
Map

Ostrovitsky Bakery [Midwood]
1201 Ave. J, at E. 12th St., Brooklyn
718-951-7924
Locater

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Great Challah in Brooklyn?

Turning Over a New Leaf

Leaf Cuisine, a (mostly) raw and vegan restaurant, is a good choice for anyone looking to eat light, says Poorwater, who likes their wraps and salads. You can build your own wraps and salads using nine kinds of filling.

For something more filling, go for the croquettes, “delicately dehydrated until crispy on the outside, soft and yummy on the inside,” as the menu says.

The croquettes are pretty tasty, and come with flavorful sauces. There’s veggie sunburger (vegetable-seed croquettes with sweet, tangy tomato sauce), Bombay burrito (lentil croquettes with coconut-curry sauce), and Mediterranean medley (sun-dried tomato and walnut croquettes with spinach pesto).

In salad form, these come topped with tomatoes, sprouts and greens. (The house dressing, a creamy ginger-shoyu, is delish.) In a wrap, they’re rolled up in a collard leaf (default) or a sprouted grain tortilla.

Wraps and salads average about $10. They also have appetizers, soups, and other entrees.

Also in the area is Leonor’s, a vegetarian Mexican place. The food is fresh, clean and satisfying, says Poorwater, though you’ll probably want to add salt and hot sauce. In addition to the usual Mexican fare, they also have pizza, burgers, and salads. Oh yes, “burgers.” They use fake meat and soy cheese–not like the real thing, but kind of tasty in its own way. Fake chicken, for example, is a lot like a salty matzoh ball.

Leaf Cuisine [East San Fernando Valley]
14318 Ventura Blvd., at Beverly Glen, Sherman Oaks
818-907-8779
Locater

Leaf Cuisine [Culver City-ish]
11938 Washington Blvd., Culver City
310-390-6005
Locater

Leonor’s Vegetarian Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
11403 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood
818-980-9011
Locater

Leonor’s Vegetarian Mexican Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
12445 Moorpark St. # C, at Whitsett, Studio City
818-762-0660
Locater

Leonor Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
5217 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village
818-769-6315
Locater

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Leaf Cuisine in Sherman Oaks–Report (also, a Leonor’s Mexican Vegetarian mention)

Doughnuts for the Beverly Hills Set

With Fritelli

Fromage Fort

Fromage fort is an old French creation born of frugality, a means of using up all the odd–and old–bits of cheese that have accumulated in the pantry. It can be made from any mix of hard, semisoft, and soft cheeses, and all mixes seem to work, so long as they’re not too salty. You trim them of their rinds and any moldy spots, and combine them in a food processor with a clove or two of garlic and enough white wine (or cream, or vegetable stock) to make a rough paste, perfect for spreading on bread or toast. It’ll keep about a week in the fridge.

Several recommend Alton Brown’s recipe.

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Fromage Fort

Bagels by Mail

Bagels are serious business in New York. Happily enough, some favored New York delis will deliver their babies by mail. The cost of shipping perishable goods overnight is high, but if you really need a New York bagel:

For Ess-a-Bagel, call the 3rd. Ave. location, 212-980-1010

Janet from Richmond has had great success ordering H & H bagels.

L_W orders from Bagel Boss and says the bagels come fast and fresh.

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Mail order bagels