Food and Beverage News from San Francisco by Carol and Joe Davis, epicures with a unique and
insightful perspective on Food in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area


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and only the facts.
Together, Joe and Carol understand what "people of taste" expect in a good dining experience. They also understand the importance the Chef plays in a restaurant's success! Thus, when a Chef makes a move in San Francsico it is a Big Event!
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Forbes and Bob Castle
Carnelian Room, Dessert
Keith Reese, Harris Restaurant/Acme Chop House
Harris' Restaurant Lobster
Carnelian Room, Alan Glass and Suzie Carter

Toque of San Francisco #3

2002 has started out well for San Francisco restaurants because of the forward thinking people at the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau ( and The Golden Gate Restaurant Association ( Everyone knew that something had to be done to bring out the locals to San Francisco restaurants during the usually quiet months of January and early February. Other than around Valentine’s Day, these are generally the slowest times for restaurants.

Tourism had been down and the weather was cold by Bay Area standards even including snow on local peaks. The answer was the “Dine About Town 2002” promotion which was set up by Brian Baker of SFCVB, David Gingrass of Hawthorne Lane and Jean Claude Persais of Aqua. This promotion was a great success, bringing substantial business to The City’s ailing restaurants. The concept was to offer three course Prix-Fixe lunches for $19.95 and dinners for $29.95 allowing people to dine at some of the finest restaurants in the City, including restaurants they had always wanted to try but for one reason or another were never able to.

The kickoff to draw attention for the promotion was on January 11, 2002 at Ferry Plaza, where a number of Chefs created a giant bowl of an original-recipe San Francisco Cioppino. The word was spread by advertising, the media, the website , but mostly by word of mouth. We told friends who told friends and “yada yada”. The restaurants had the option of being part of the promotion by offering lunch, dinner or both. Some of the over 100 participating restaurants included: Asia de Cuba, Boulevard, Cliff House, Fog City Diner, Forbes Island, Julius’ Castle, Harris’ Restaurant, Momo’s , Moose’s, Rose Pistoli, The Magic Flute, Tommy Toy’s and Red Herring.

We interviewed three of the participating General Managers, Keith Reese of Harris’ Restaurant on Van Ness Avenue, Bob Mulhern of Momo’s across from Pac Bell Park and Caitlin “Charlie” Boyle of Red Herring near the Embarcadero on Steuart St. regarding their thoughts. Keith Reese said that this promotion was a tremendous push for Harris’, that San Franciscan’s were starving for a break and that this was the answer .Although his PPA (Per person averages) was down due to the fact that 70% of the covers were from the $29.95 Prix-Fixe Menu, the volume made up for it and more. The comments that he received from his customers were overwhelmingly positive. One couple had been to 10 different restaurants during the event.

Over on the other side of town near Pac Bell Park where Barry Bonds will be back to try to reach 600 home runs this year, Bob Mulhern of Momo’s was equally pleased by the results. He felt that this was the best promotion that the SFCVB and GGRA had ever done and that it really stirred up the local economy bringing people back into The City. Momo’s opted to offer 4 courses, offering their customers a chance to try more choices. He spoke with many new customers from Oakland, Marin and San Mateo. These diners enjoyed coming into The City and particularly liked the fact that they knew the price of dinner “up front”. Some diners can be intimidated by not knowing what to expect and prefer to stay home rather than be embarrassed or bust their budget. Experimenting with a cap was how one happy customer put it.

Charlie Boyle of Red Herring called “Dine About Town 2002” a stroke of genius. Reservations doubled from mostly local San Franciscans who enjoyed choosing from the Prix- Fixe Menu, although some chose from the regular menu since 3 courses for about $30 was in the restaurant’s price point anyway. Other restaurants reported an increase in the 20-30 year old set who were finally able to afford and experience the higher end restaurants with this offer they couldn’t refuse. Other diners said they will return even without the deal since they now felt that they knew the restaurants.

Dave Bratton, Research Manager for SFCVB reported that one restaurant had 195 lunches and another 229 dinners but that real results would be difficult to track in some cases. He like many others, who were brought in by the promotion, ordered off the main menu. The promotion was only supposed to last for 2 weeks but was extended into February because of the popularity. This will most certainly become an annual promotion and will be a month long from the outset in 2003 as per Brian Baker.

We also participated in the Dine About Town 2002 event. We dine out a lot and always enjoy new experiences. We were particularly intrigued by the thought of dining under the sea on Forbes Island ( Having lived in Sausalito for many years and seeing Forbes Island with its palm trees out in the Bay, we had always wanted to visit The World’s Only Floating Island. After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard and while building over 100 houseboats that are in Sausalito and other Bay Area Marinas, Forbes Thor Kiddoo created the island as his own personal residence. The 700 ton 50x100 foot island was his personal residence from the late 1970’s until it was re-outfitted and turned it into an elegant underwater restaurant in the late 1990’s. We had heard about this transformation but until “The Dine About Town 2002” promotion, we were barely aware that it has been open as a restaurant and afloat between Pier 39 & 41 for 3 years.

We called some friends, made a reservation and headed out for what we felt would be at least a unique experience. From the start, the 5 minute boat ride from H dock past the lounging sea lions we were all smiles. It was like getting away, like being on vacation. When we reached Forbes Island we were impressed with the sandy beach, palm trees, and walked into and up the 40 foot lighthouse tower to get a panoramic view. Coit Tower and the Transamerica were on one side, Angel Island, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge on the other side all looked lovely on this cool clear evening.

It was now time to dine and we were led below to the dining salon which seats 60. The main room has a fireplace, a wood bar and is appointed with turn of the century nautical artifacts. It was a very dramatic and romantic setting. We looked out through the portholes but alas there wasn’t much to see. Now the moment of truth… Was this to be a serious dining experience or just a fun adventure?

Our Waiter was very professional and told us what was available with the Prix-Fixe Menu and the additional charges if we wanted to upgrade which we felt was fair. We had opted to bring our own wine and pay the corkage which was just fine with them. We now know that we could just as easily order from the Wine List. Perhaps next time we’ll enjoy the Beaulieu Vineyards Chardonnay, Reserve Carneros ($48.00) to pair with the Salmon and Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa ($66.00) to pair with The Rack of Lamb.

We started off with the Baby Greens with Pears, toasted hazelnuts, and Balsamic Vinaigrette ($9.00) which was a large fresh and tasty salad. As Entrees we chose the Atlantic Salmon which had a fabulous crusting and a side of vegetables ($26.00) and the Roasted half Rack of Lamb, herb brioche crust, tomato lamb jus ($32.00). Here we were glad to pay the $6.00 upgrade charge as the Rack was fantastic and a very healthy serving. Next came dessert and we loved the Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee ($8.00).It was one of the best we had ever had, delightful, creamy and refreshing. Chef de Cuisine Art Wagoner had prepared our dinners to perfection and we were quite pleased. The moment of truth had come and we found that Forbes Island with its California with a French twist style of cuisine is serious about food! We met Forbes Kiddoo after the meal and thanked him for creating this fantastic dining experience. Had it not been for Dine About Town 2002 we would probably have never had this fantastic dining experience. Congratulations to SFCVB and GGRA for a great promotion.

Speaking of rooms with a view, there is nothing like the panorama from The Carnelian Room ( ). Atop The Bank of America Building this is definitely the restaurant to impress and be impressed. We enjoyed the Commonwealth Business Media holiday party in the Golden Gate Room. Executive Chef David Lawrence, who looks over both the restaurant and banquet rooms received his formal Culinary training in London at Westminster College and brings a wealth of experience including cooking for British Royalty. He has created a menu of French inspired California Cuisine. We were pleased to find that the food could live up to the view. We enjoyed our salad, loved the Herb Crusted Salmon with truffled white beans grilled radicchio and The Carnelian Strawberries with Vanilla Ice Cream. A meal worthy of the great view!!

As ever there have been changes on the dynamic San Francisco Bay Area restaurant scene. A number of restaurants have recently either opened or changed names and formats including Home (formerly John Frank) in S.F. with Executive Chef, Lance Dean Velasques offering more popular priced meals. Redwood Park in The Transamerica Building in S.F.offering some of the Bay Area’s most expensive cuisine but the word is that Chef George Morrone’s preparation and presentation makes it worth it. Brava Terrace, which is in Black Hawk Plaza in Danville, Executive Chef/Owner Fred Halpert is offering quality, fresh cuisine at very fair prices. The restaurant which has a fireplace and an exhibition kitchen which is framed by huge mosaic columns has a stylish and intimate atmosphere. We enjoyed the Mediterranean, Northern Italian Cuisine particularly the Bibb Lettuce Salad with spicy caramelized walnuts, apples and sherry vinaigrette ($7.00), the Aroncini-Fried Risotto Balls with fontina and tomato sauce ($5.00) and the Coq au Vin which was a delicious rendition of the classic French dish of braised chicken with mushrooms, onions and potatoes in Red Wine sauce ($15.00). With tasty fairly priced offerings like these Fred Halpert’s latest venture is going to be very popular.

New Chefs include the Ukrainian born and European trained Chef de Cuisine Armen Jeghelian at McCormick & Kuleto’s .and Marc Schoenfield at Red Herring. Closings include Livefire in Yountville, a victim of tourism being down and 24 at Pac Bell Park, which will reopen as the Acme Chop House. A number of local pros including Keith Reese are on tap to turn this packed during baseball season only location around. We had terrific meals at 24. Michael Bauer of The S.F. Chronicle who recently put together a terrific annual Bay Area Top 100 Restaurant section gave 24 a very positive review with 3 Stars but for some reason it never caught on in the off season. We look forward to trying Acme Chop House.

We are also pleased to report that Downtown Oakland has gone Uptown. Verbena Restaurant located at 1111 Broadway, a light, bright, fresh and fun restaurant with Chef Josh Ladd in the kitchen is making Oakland a destination for those who want a City Style atmosphere with cuisine that is a cut above. The exhibition kitchen, Mahogany Bar with Wine ladder and a view of the park behind it with a Stonehenge likeness make the atmosphere very inviting and pleasing. We particularly enjoyed the Artichoke appetizer ($7.95), Short Rib Sugo with fuscilli ($14.50) and the delicious Apple Crisp ($5.95) for dessert. With the Marriott Hotel next door, Convention Center around the corner, plenty of garages for parking and 12th St Bart for easy public transportation access Verbena will surely be successful. Mayor Jerry Brown can now truly say that Oakland has gone Uptown Downtown.

Endangered Species is now a hot topic for restaurants. Chilean Sea Bass which has gained popularity in the past 10 years is quickly becoming an endangered fish. More than 50 local restaurants and wholesaler Japan Fish Corp. have begun a “Take a pass on Chilean Sea Bass” campaign to try to cut demand and save this species. Look for other popular fish to be taken off menus soon as well. Another hot/cold topic is the proper care of left-overs / doggie bags. Alan Fairhurst Sous- Chef at Scoma’s told us that 20% of their diners now take some food home. He wrote an interesting piece called The PR of Left-Overs on the Hot Issues page. Scoma’s has added Day Dot Take-Out Guidelines on the bags to advise their patrons on how to keep the left-overs fresh and healthful. Being proactive these days is both appreciated by diners and prudent for the restaurants.

Local Wineries have started their promotions early this year. Kenwood Vineyards sponsored a “Rain or Wine” event where for $5.00 (included free logo wine glass) you were able to taste their wines while sampling tasty treats from Delicacies Catering. Lake Sonoma Winery had a 1999 Saini Old Vine Zinfandel Release Party. Valley of the Moon had their second annual Valentine Moon celebration tasting event where for $5.00 you also got to keep the logo glass. These tasting events are quite popular so keep an eye out as they will continue from now through The Crush in the fall. Most wineries now have websites where you can learn about events. Check out,,, Just add .com to your favorite wine and you’ll likely find their website and events. The Wine Institute released their latest statistics and The U.S. continues to drink more wine than we produce by 19 million gallons 552,763,000 (3rd in the world) to 533,596,000 (4th in the world). France is both # 1 in wine production and consumption producing nearly 3 times the U.S. and consuming nearly twice as much wine. Luxemburg leads in consumption per capita at 16.07 gallons per person while the U.S. ranks 34th at only 2.01.Better drink up if we ever intend on catching up!!!

Until we eat again….