Restaurants and Bars rss

Our favorite products, gadgets, restaurants, bars, wine, beer, and food websites and blogs.

NYC and Portland Nonstaurants

Following up on the SF Bay Nonstaurant list, now we’ve put together lists of some of the alternative dining options available in fellow nonstaurant strongholds New York City and Portland, Oregon. They’re not exhaustive, but they’ll give you a taste of what these great food-cart-centric cities have to offer.

If you want to delve further into the amazing street food culture of these cities check out some of these other links:

Food Carts Portland, which has reviews of all the food carts in the city.
• Discussion of new and old nonstaurants on’s carts and trucks forum.
Midtown Lunch, which has great info on NYC food carts, many of which congregate in Midtown to catch the office worker crowd.
• Two must-read NYC-basedChowhound threads on the best falafel carts and halal carts around the city.
Lost Taco, a guide to the many taco trucks in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, home of many fine cart-dining options.

Go Ahead, Bring Your Crying Baby!

Look for the restaurants of Washington DC to be filled with a large number of sippy cups and highchairs June 13–21, as the city is the home of what’s being billed as the first Kids’ Restaurant Week (subsequent Kids’ Restaurant Weeks follow in Chicago and New York City). Participating restaurants will offer fixed-price menus and seating from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Parents and kids age 12 and over pay $29; kids under 12 pay their age.

Families who venture out will get to try a bunch of snazzy restaurants not typically frequented by the onesie set, such as Juniper, Mie N Yu, Zola. And the special kids’ focus will help parents avoid getting the stink-eye from the types of diners who question their right to be seen in public.

Steak and Stripper Poles: A New San Francisco Nonstaurant at Bruno’s

In the continuing vein of restaurants-that-aren’t-really-restaurants (a.k.a. “nonstaurants”) popping up in odd places with low overhead, now comes “Good Evening Thursday.” The concept: a Rat Pack–style steakhouse that appears one night a week in the private room at Bruno’s in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s the project of a group of restaurant-biz buddies (chef Chris Kronner, formerly of Slow Club and Serpentine; Danny Bowien of Farina; and Sam White of Chez Panisse) and is serving American classics like filet mignon for two with a side of roast potatoes and creamed spinach, chopped salad, oysters Rockefeller, martinis, etc.

Though Bruno’s has seen past iterations of fancy dining ventures, of late it’s been more famously known as the kind of bar where tri-curious couples could go to pick up a “thirdy.” (The private party room upstairs, where the nonstaurant operates, has a big sign on the wall reading “Pussycat Lounge,” stripper poles placed throughout the floor, and a bad scarlet color scheme.) But the “Good Evening Thursday” crew has classed it up, not only with delicious food, but also with beautiful staff (girls in little black dresses, guys in ties and vests). The first night saw a few kinks in the service (a leek terrine that didn’t set properly, and no coffee—there’s no heating element in the “dining room,” though the organizers are using the moribund kitchen downstairs), but they were far outweighed by the energy and food. There was even an Alice Waters sighting! “The theatricality of it is half the fun,” says Kronner. “And the idea is that this is mobile now—we could take this group of people and do this anywhere, which would ideally be the goal. I feel like we could cook out of the back of my car.” But does your car have stripper poles?

Reservation only, through

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Eating, Donating, and Volunteering with Dining Out for Life

Times is tight, man, and eating out is one of the things that some people consider a luxury. So it gets the ax. Or people commit to eating like Chowhounds, which is not a bad thing. But here’s another not-bad thing: when your restaurant dollars (a) support the community, and (b) support a good cause. Dining Out for Life is happening nationwide on April 30. Check the map for your region—here in the San Francisco Bay Area, a lot of good restaurants have agreed to contribute at least 25 percent of their profits on that day to HIV/AIDS organizations.

The organization that will benefit in the East Bay is called Vital Life Services, and they asked us to point out that they need volunteers who will greet people at the restaurants. Volunteering is the new working, says the New York Times. Get in on the action.

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Rise of the Guinea Hen

At a recent charity dinner, I did a culinary double take when I dipped into Chef Nancy Silverton’s guinea hen crostone (translation: ragu with black truffle and pancetta liver sauce on a large toast), a dish frequently found on the menu of Silverton’s restaurant Osteria Mozza.

The bird, which is native to—surprise!—the West African country of Guinea, first crossed my radar when I lived in France, where it’s often seen on the table during Sunday dinner. But I hadn’t encountered much of it stateside until recently. The slightly gamy, flavorful fowl is gaining in popularity, and has been popping up on menus from Osteria Mozza in LA to NYC newcomer Rouge Tomate. Chowhounds have also been weighing in on their guinea hen experiences at Bar Bouloud and the Copper Beech Inn.

One of the primary farms raising guinea fowl is California’s Grimaud Farms, where adventurous home cooks can purchase the bird online (though it’s a bit steep: $26 for nearly 3 pounds, yet the yield is only about 50 percent).

The high price might make it seem worthwhile to raise your own. In fact, it seems that someone in Brooklyn may have already come up with that idea. But the birds’ obnoxious racket would probably help make a $26 hen (or a road trip to a restaurant serving it) a more attractive option.

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Black Should Be the New White

About a year ago, it occurred to me while eating at Nopa in San Francisco that it would be incredibly helpful if restaurants offered black napkins instead of white. (It has occurred to Chowhounds too. And Savory Tidbits was on the black-napkin tip even earlier.) I know you’ve had this happen to you, right? You sit down at a restaurant, lay the white cloth napkin on your lap, and at the end of dinner there’s a blizzard of white fuzz on your dark clothes.

So for the past year I’ve been asking for black napkins most places I go, which it turns out is actually proper etiquette. They’re never offered outright, though I really can’t understand why; the waiter at Town Hall said that it’s not his job to teach people etiquette, and offering a black napkin would “verge on judging someone’s choice of crap vodka”—huh? It also seems that mostly only higher-end places in San Francisco have them (Anchor & Hope, Zaré at Fly Trap, Sutro’s at the Cliff House). I was astonished that hot spot Nopa didn’t; I mean, come on, you’re a semi-hipster destination, tons of people are wearing black at your tables!

How about we start a black-napkin movement? The more of us who ask for them, the more the restaurants will take notice. It’s kinda like inquiring about the source of seafood or meat: Higher awareness = potential positive results.

Bargain Basement Fine Dining

City restaurant weeks are gearing up, from San Francisco’s Dine About Town to New York City’s Restaurant Week. If you haven’t participated in one of these events before, it’s all about a bunch of restaurants (normally hundreds, and we’re not talking about the Chevys and Olive Garden variety) putting together special, fixed-price, (usually) three-course meals. It can be a good way to try fancy restaurants without spending a lot.

Below is a list of some of the restaurant weeks that are coming up in different cities, but first here are some things to keep in mind when you visit a restaurant:

• Compare the price of the restaurant week prix-fixe menus to a place’s regular menu to make sure you’re actually getting a deal. If the restaurant is just offering its cheapest apps, entrées, and desserts, it might not save you any money to do the prix fixe.

• Check OpenTable to make easy reservations. A lot of cities have their own OpenTable hubs dedicated to their restaurant weeks.

• Remember to ask your wait person to see the restaurant week menu.

• Prices don’t include tax, tip, or drinks.

dineLA Restaurant Week
When: January 25–30; February 1–6
Price: For three courses, priced by fanciness “level.” Deluxe dining: lunch $16, dinner $26; premier dining: lunch $22, dinner $34; fine dining: lunch $28, dinner $44.

NYC Restaurant Week
When: January 18–23; 25–30
Price: For three courses. Lunch $24.07, dinner $35

San Francisco Dine About Town
When: January 15–31
Price: For three courses. Lunch $21.95, dinner $34.95

Philadelphia Center City District Restaurant Week
When: January 25–30
Price: For three courses. Some may offer lunch; dinner, $35

Washington, DC Winter Restaurant Week
When: February, exact dates TBD
Price: For three courses. Lunch $20.09; dinner $35.09

Chicago Restaurant Week
When: February 20–27
Price: For three courses. Lunch $22; dinner $32

Baltimore Winter Restaurant Week
When: January 23–February 1
Price: For three courses. Lunch $20.09; dinner $30.09

Beatbox Your Order Clearly into the Microphone

The best part of this video is when the McDonald’s worker says, “I’m sorry, I only caught the double cheeseburger … can you throw that down again?”

Economy Got You Down? Eat Some Beef Stroganoff

When I’m depressed or stressed, I don’t crave tiny raviolis made of gelatinized ram’s blood suspended on wires above a smoking pillowcase. I crave chocolate chip cookies, refried beans, and lamb pappardelle. I’m the norm.

According to UK-based grocer Tesco, recession sales on comfort foods have shot through the roof, and many of the country’s experimental chefs and fashionable dining establishments have begun retooling menus to place crab cakes, steak, and mac ’n’ cheese front and center. (Bye bye Pop Rocks, foie gras ice cream, and anything that could be construed as “daring.”)

Scott McCoy, general manager of the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco, recalled that during the last economic dip (2001), he was managing a hotel whose restaurant was “just getting slaughtered.” He directed chefs to totally revamp the menu with classic cozy dishes no less than 25 years old. “They went back and researched old menus, and put beef stroganoff on there, and it was great!” says McCoy. (Stanford Court’s Aurea restaurant, incidentally, offers grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.)

Mmmmmmm, beef stroganoff. Yeah, you know you want it now. Well, here are some places that serve it. If your city isn’t on the list, just wait.

La Dijonaise, Culver City, California
“They do great things with gravy and stewy things, and potatoes.” -Chowhound Cinnamon

The Highlander, Atlanta, Georgia
“The Highlander has some of the best bar food in Atlanta.”

Spork, San Francisco, California
“Spork is located in an old KFC location. The name is a tongue in cheek reference to the prior occupant.” -Chowhound

Caldera Public House, Portland, Oregon
“The beef stroganoff is one of the best in town. Reasonable prices, good food, nice folk.” -Portland Citysearch

Red Rooster Wine Bar and Café, Chicago, Illinois
“Very reasonable rustic French and BYOB.” -Chowhound Chicago Mike

Delicatessen, New York, New York
“Famished-looking models lounge around white Formica tabletops, nibbling hesitantly on bits of vulcanized pastrami.” -New York Magazine

Nonfat Double Soy Laptop Hatred

Throughout history, coffeehouses have been the birthplaces of everything from revolutions to master works of literature. But these days, they’re mainly the setting for marathon Craigslist surfing sessions. Recent developments in San Francisco indicate this might be changing.

When a former employee of San Francisco’s enormously popular Ritual coffeehouse opened up the competing Four Barrel down the street, he pointedly, gasp, didn’t install wi-fi. (Four Barrel also plays its music on an old vinyl record player.)

The bedhead hair, scarf-wearing, fixed-gear bicycle crowd gave their stamp of approval. Says former Ritual, now Four Barrel fan “Jebediah”: “I’m an artist. I cannot feel inspired in a setting where there’s so much ‘clicking’.”

A few months later, the electrical outlets mysteriously disappeared from Ritual, hidden and/or covered from view. (Free wi-fi is still available, but if your battery goes out, you’re out of luck.) A recent visit to Ritual showed an endangered race of underemployed, white, knowledge workers flickering weakly in the dimming light of cultural extinction.