Lawsuits multiply over Fillmore Heritage Center

Opening night of the Fillmore Heritage Center in November 2007.

NEIGHBORHOOD BUSINESSMAN Agonafer Shiferaw has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging fraud and deceit at the Fillmore Heritage Center. It charges that Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Vallie Brown and other city officials violated laws and engaged in other wrongdoing that has cost roughly $100 million in failed public and private investments — and “contributed to the stagnant economic conditions that continue to plague the city’s historic Fillmore District.”

Shiferaw, who owns local commercial real estate and formerly operated the Rasselas Jazz Club at 1534 Fillmore, alleges the city’s attempt to find a new owner of the center — including the vast space once occupied by Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant — “was characterized by irregularities that side-stepped procedural safeguards.”

Four days before Christmas, he filed for an injunction to prevent the city from further leasing or selling the center. The issue is scheduled to be heard on February 13.

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Farewell to a Fillmore local

Lisa and Carlo Middione at a tribute dinner celebrating Vivande Porta Via in 2015.

By BETTY MEDSGER

Elizabeth Derby Middione — Lisa to her many friends on Fillmore, where she and her husband Carlo owned Vivande Porta Via for many years — died early on Christmas Eve after a long illness. She was two weeks shy of her 96th birthday.

She was a member of two noted American families. Her father, Roger Alden Derby, was descended from one of America’s first millionaires, Elias Haskett Derby, who, in the 18th century, was a privateer for the United States who carried news of the American Revolution back and forth from America and England. Her mother, Elizabeth Palmer Harlan, was the elder sister of John Marshall Harlan II, a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Her great grandfather was the first Justice John Marshall Harlan, considered one of the Supreme Court’s greatest justices.

Lisa Middione was a serious student of the piano. She completed studies at Julliard and pursued her career for a short period, but was forced to give it up because of a family tragedy.

After Middione came to California, she became an impresario, sometimes presenting 350 events per year, including Marion Anderson and Marlene Dietrich. She was also a publicist for many arts organizations, including the San Francisco Symphony, Ballet and Opera, and helped create the Stern Grove Music Festival, which she directed for 10 years, and where she met her future husband.

“Carlo loves music,” she once said of her partner in life and business. “We got together because of my involvement in music. Somebody brought him to Stern Grove. The story is that he saw me and announced: ‘That’s the woman I’m going to marry.’ ”

He did, in 1968, and he remained devoted to her until the end of her life.

Lisa and Carlo Middione at Vivande.

EARLIER: “It was inspiring

‘Noosh is creating a new model’

A private party on November 30 hosted by designer Eden Wright offered a preview of Noosh.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

A soft opening of Noosh — the much-anticipated new restaurant coming to the corner of Fillmore & Pine — is coming soon, and private parties are already underway. Co-owner John Litz, who has been promising high concept but thus far has been tight-lipped on details, is finally opening up about what we can expect from the “Eastern Mediterranean Inspired, California Made” restaurant and bar.

To recap: The corner Victorian storefront has been a hippie plant store, the legendary Pacific Heights Bar and Grill and, most recently, the Thai Stick. Earlier this year Litz and his partners, the acclaimed chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmaz, signed a lease, slapped butcher paper on the windows and called in the designers and contractors. For starters, they painted the faded yellow building a classy rich blue.

Litz and his chef-partners say Noosh will approach casual dining differently, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks late into the evening every day offered “at the most affordable prices we can to remain profitable.”

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A master sommelier — and a film star

Verve Wine’s Dustin Wilson returns for a third installment of the Somm film series.

FIRST PERSON | DUSTIN WILSON

For me, becoming a sommelier meant taking part in something much larger than myself. Working with a team of like-minded individuals on a restaurant crew for the greater goal of unforgettable hospitality really excited me.

I was totally ready for the overall restaurant scene, challenging as it was at times. But taking part in a three-part film documentary along the way was completely unexpected.

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Our own piazza

Photograph of The Italian Homemade, at 1919 Union, by Sheila Pierce

By SHEILA PIERCE

La piazza: It’s one of the things I miss most about Italy.

Because la piazza preserves the traditions and habits of the past, which modern life is swallowing.

Because la piazza offers a newspaper stand instead of an app, interaction with people instead of technology and an outdoor space to breathe in where the world goes by in person rather than on a screen.

Because la piazza becomes a canvas of local flora and fauna, the central hub of a neighborhood, where kids migrate in the afternoon to kick a soccer ball and grandparents perch on benches to watch the next generation whiz by — where life slows down.

In the year and half I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve watched una piazza take shape, and by no coincidence it’s thanks to a group of Italians. This piazza is not where you might think it would be: in the North Beach-Little Italy area of the city, which is an admirable community of shops, pizzerie and restaurants run by extraordinary Italian-Americans still operating their ancestors’ businesses. And it’s not oval, square or rectangular, like most piazzas.

Instead, it’s linear, and it takes up two blocks on Union Street, between Laguna and Webster Streets. Here, my kids feel at home, as if back in Italy. In these places, my kids can speak Italian, enjoy homemade Italian cooking and gelato, feel the bond of neighborhood friends, reminisce about the Italian culture they miss and see how the tradition of family-run businesses transcends from Italy to America.

Read more: “A San Francisco Piazza

Still cozy after all these years

For four decades, La Mediterranee has attracted a mix of diners with its atmosphere and food.

By SHELLEY HANDLER

In the very affordable 1970s, the Fillmore was home to working artists, including photographer Edmund Shea. Best known for his collaboration with conceptual artist Bruce Conner and his book covers for neighbor and acclaimed writer Richard Brautigan, Shea’s work can still be seen in the neighborhood today.

Approach La Mediterranee restaurant at 2210 Fillmore, and hanging just to the right of the door is a large framed photograph of a champagne bottle on ice, with “open” splashed across it. On the reverse, the same bottle is shown upended in the ice bucket, with the message “closed” directly below.

Though champagne might seem a bit upscale for this simple neighborhood spot, it reflects both Shea’s quietly bon vivant lifestyle and owner Levon Der Bedrossian’s desire for a place at once humble and indulgent. Shea moved easily between his artistic friends and San Francisco society, where his innate charm was not lost on the ladies. In its own way, La Mediterranee has the same cross-cultural ease — still, after almost 40 years, drawing a mix of creative locals and tony denizens of Pacific Heights.

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Stepping up the wine scene

Verve Wine’s stylish shop is now open at 2358 Fillmore Street.

ONE OF New York’s top wine shops, Verve Wine, is opening a West Coast outpost at 2358 Fillmore today, bringing master sommelier Dustin Wilson back to San Francisco, where he and director of operations Eric Railsback collaborated at the late RN74 and Mason Pacific.

Wilson went on to greater glory in New York at Eleven Madison Park and in the film Somm before launching the first Verve shop in Tribeca.

“We’re super excited to join the neighborhood and looking forward to getting involved and supporting the community,” Wilson said. The stylish shop will offer small-production wines from Italy, France and California, as well as classes and tastings.

Wilson offered a few thoughts about the new shop and his return to San Francisco.

Master sommelier Dustin Wilson: “We’re super excited to join the neighborhood.”

Why a shop on Fillmore Street? 

Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights is a vibrant, walkable neighborhood rich with retail stores and notable restaurants. I admire the neighborhood’s juxtaposition of international brands and small, local businesses, and its ability to maintain a strong sense of community. Between Fillmore Street’s Michelin-starred restaurants, rising star chefs and historic nightlife, it is clear that both residents and visitors appreciate food and drink much as we do. 

Isn’t coming from New York to California with wine a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle?

As a former resident, San Francisco left a lasting impression on me. Leaving the city and my position at RN74 to serve as the wine director at Eleven Madison Park was bittersweet, but with California’s deep connection to wine, my return was inevitable.

With our Pacific Heights store, we not only had the opportunity to design a space that truly captures our brand but also integrate technology — specifically, in-store iPads used to shop our 3,000 label inventory — in a way that would resonate with San Francisco’s tech-savvy locals.

In addition to highlighting some of our favorite small producers and non-manipulated wines from California, we’ll introduce San Francisco customers to a variety of Old World wines and small allocations that are unavailable elsewhere.  

How often do you expect to be out here?

As often as possible! I hope to be in town about once a month for about a week or so, if not more frequently, for events, tastings and to further explore the neighborhood. 

For more information, stop by 2358 Fillmore or visit Verve online.

Photographs of Verve Wine by Jessica Monroy for Drew Altizer Photography

Noosh is the name

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

This just in: Noosh is the name of the new restaurant being created on the corner of Fillmore and Pine. The concept is a fresh take on casual fine dining at reasonable prices. The cuisine: Eastern Mediterranean inspired, California made.

The name — soon to adorn the Victorian storefront at 2001 Fillmore that once housed the revered Pacific Heights Bar and Grill and most recently Thai Stick — is a festive Persian toast “to eat and drink” that also translates as “lovely lady.”

Partners John Litz and the husband and wife chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmax are still noodling the menu. Says Sayat: “Think California cuisine, locally sourced, farm fresh, healthy with an eastern Mediterranean inspiration — your favorite dishes from Turkey, Iran, Greece, all carried through to the bar and beverages.” Adds Litz: “We’re not just about food and drink. It’s about elevating the aesthetic, the service, the hospitality. We hope to set a new standard.”

The trio have the chops. The chefs have cooked in five of the world’s 50 highest rated restaurants. Litz has launched restaurants in Chicago and Mexico and is a founding partner in the tough-to-get-into Lazy Bear in the Mission.

Fillmore residential interior designer Eden Wright has been commissioned to collaborate with the partners on a totally new look for the space. She has an easy commute. The Eden Wright Design studio is just up the stairs above Noosh.

Noosh owner John Litz (center) with chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmax.

Curbside Cafe turns 40

THE CREW AT Curbside Cafe had no idea, but they were about to celebrate the restaurant’s 40th anniversary with the person who started it all. Lee Burns came for dinner on Saturday night, May 26, just as he had 20 years earlier, and 20 years before that, when he and partner Manuel Pena (above) opened the restaurant at 2417 California Street, just around the corner from Fillmore.

When they took over what had been the Maison Aji (below), the rent went from $150 to $300 a month. Two years later when the rent went up to $450, they sold the restaurant to concentrate on a second Curbside in Napa. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Burns said.

Lazy Bear founder taking over Thai Stick

“We want to take advantage of the great corner location,” says new owner John Litz.

By CHRIS BARNETT

Ending months of rumors and speculation, new owners have confirmed they are taking over the former Thai Stick — once the site of the legendary Pacific Heights Bar and Grill, and before that a hippie plant store — on the choice corner of Fillmore and Pine.

Three partners — one of them John Litz, co-owner and co-creator of the Michelin two-star Lazy Bear in the Mission — have signed a lease and hired an architect for the space at 2001 Fillmore and hope to open their new restaurant in the fall.

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