Finding the divine in wine

Scopo Divino offers wine from around the world.

Scopo Divino offers wine from around the world. Photos by Marc Gamboa

Q & A | FAITH WHEELER

The latest wine bar to pop a cork in the neighborhood is Scopo Divino, a cozy bar and restaurant that has taken over the Food Inc. space at 2800 California, near the corner of Divisadero. Owner Tim Schuyler Hayman, a first-time restaurateur and career newspaper ad man — with nearly 20 years at the SF Weekly and the Chronicle — explains his vision for the new neighborhood spot.

How did you come up with the idea of changing your career and opening a wine bar?

I have always been interested in small business and I had a lifelong dream to run one myself. I discovered wine at age 4 when my father put a big glass of burgundy in front of me and told me to smell it. It was love at first whiff.  Tasted terrible, but I discovered flavor later.

I grew up in Sonoma and Marin so I have childhood memories of going on tasting tours with my parents in Glen Ellen. The feel, the damp wood smell, the musty cellars — they all bring back my fondest memories.

As I got older, I would frequent wine bars in the Bay Area and knew I could do better: take a tasting room concept from the wine country and bring it to the city.

Was that the inspiration for the design?

Yes. We set out to create a relaxed wine country feel with designer Daryle Baldwin of Bausman & Co. The Tuscan red walls create a living room effect, alongside the custom-built alder wood bar and bar stools made by Bausman. Tapestry lounge chairs and sofas clad in old world fabrics like an Italian cut velvet and a Belgian kite chenille add a homey touch. The wallpapered powder room also reads more like a residence than a restaurant.

And the response so far?

I have found that people are looking for a place that is cozy.  I’ve watched customers come into bars and they first take the most comfortable corner, they next look for the best overstuffed chair, and so it goes. I was not going to have metal chairs and cement floors. Comfort is key. We have lots of cozy corners and comfortable nooks and people seem to love it. They are also shocked by the breadth of our food program.

Scopo Divino owner Tim Schuyler Hayman

Scopo Divino owner Tim Schuyler Hayman

What makes Scopo Divino different?

Some wine bars have good wine without good service; some offer good service but not good food. Our aim is to do it all. We spent eight or nine months tasting multiple vendors and hundreds of wines to curate our list. And then we were lucky to find our chef, Mark Cina, who had past experience working under Corey Lee at Monsieur Benjamin and Benu.

We have more than 1,000 bottles of wine and offer 36 wines by the glass, choosing the signature varietals by region. We have terrific Zinfandel from Oakville, Gruner Vetliner from Austria, Barbera from Italy. We believe the expressions of the wines are best as signatures from the original heritage.

The heart of the program is Burgundy — a forever favorite of mine. Wines are available by glass or bottle and tastes of some of these wines are accessible using the Coravin system. We are proud to offer labels from all around the world that will blow people’s minds.

Do you offer flights?

At the moment we have three flights: “A Taste of France,” featuring a Provencal Rose, Sancerre and Viognier; “A Taste of Italy” and a “Wine Therapy Session,” aka the Bartender’s Choice.

You speak of wine therapy, and it says “wine therapist” on your business card. What do you mean by that? 

Well, Scopo Divino translates to “divine purpose.” And we believe the purpose of wine is as a mood enhancer or mood changer. We almost named the bar, “Wine Therapy.” We look to discover how people are feeling when they come in and pair their emotion to the wine accordingly.

So if I walk in in a bad mood, what would you serve me?

First I would gauge if you’d prefer a white or red. If you said white, I’d probably move you to something bubbly. It’s hard not to improve your mood with a Lambrusco Italian-style sparkling wine. It’s usually red and sweet, but ours is blush and a little dry, beautiful by the glass and just $11.

What If I said I had a fabulous day?

Then I’d take you straight to champagne. I love the whole emotion of champagne. Another factor is if you are alone or with a group. Or if you really want to celebrate, then I’d show you our library list of harder-to-find wine. Brut Blanc de Blanc from Jura, produced by Francois Montand, is one of my favorites at $9 a glass.

Scopo Divino brings a wine country tasting room to the neighborhood.

Scopo Divino brings wine country tasting room style to the neighborhood.

What about the food?

Our food program really surprises people since they don’t expect great food coming out of a little neighborhood wine bar. We offer a grazing menu and our chef has taken our bar bites to another level: sophisticated plates that are really well matched with wines.

We have a nice sized cheese and charcuterie program that we developed with San Francisco Cheese School, a handful of great nibbles including truffled popcorn, house-made pasta and focaccia. But the star of the show is the Petites Assiettes section offering composed dishes from $7 to $17.

Some standouts include the Lobster Cavatelli, Mushroom Stuffed Quail on a Bed of Gnocchi, Cauliflower a la Plancha and a Bavette Steak. We turn out so much food in this tiny kitchen. And everything is small and to share so the prices don’t break the bank.

Any plans to open for lunch?

Yes. Currently we’re open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Soon we’ll add lunch Wednesday through Friday. And brunch is coming on Saturdays and Sundays.

So what are your wishes for this place?

I truly want to provide people an extension to their living rooms. When you think about all of the small apartments in the city and people paying really high rent, it’s time they had a neighborhood gathering place — a place to unwind and feel comfortable. People say this place feels like home, and that’s exactly what I want.

From the farm to the Fillmore

An assortment of summer squash from Oya Organics at the Fillmore Farmers Market.

An assortment of summer squash from Oya Organics at the Fillmore Farmers Market.

THERE’S A friendly new face behind the artfully arranged array of squash, tomatoes, onions, carrots, beans and other produce at the Fillmore Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at Fillmore and O’Farrell.

It’s Marsha Habib, founder of Oya Organics, who started by farming a one-acre satellite garden a few years ago with low-income Latino farmers in San Jose. It was there that she met her partner, in life and Oya, and made the commitment to buy a tractor. She now leases and farms 15 acres of land in Hollister while dreaming of owning her own farm some day.

Marsha Habib of Oya Organics

Marsha Habib of Oya Organics

Habib explains that the name Oya was purposefully chosen. In Japanese it stands for “nurturing”; in Spanish it means “big pot.” And it’s also an Afro-Brazilian diety who represents storm, weather and transitions. That echoes Habib’s personal growth she describes as “a big transition from growing up in the suburbs.”

Driven by a passion for urban social justice and bitten by the farming bug, she at first assumed that local farmers markets were the most natural outlet for a small farmer committed to good organic food.

“But believe it or not, it’s hard to get into farmers markets,” Habib says. Her foray in was arranged through a colleague now at the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association she had known from working together in AmeriCorps.

That connection introduced her to market manager Tom Nichol, a beloved fixture and motivator at the Fillmore Farmers Market who died in May 2015 at the age of 63. Nichol got her into her first farmers market in San Jose, then another in Belmont.

But after her second weekend at the Fillmore Farmers Market in late July, she proclaimed it the friendliest. “I can’t tell you the number of people who walk up and say: ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’ It’s a warm welcome,” Habib says. “And I’m so grateful to Tom. I don’t know if we’d be farming today if not for him.”

Sheba keeping jazz alive on Fillmore

Sheba owner Netsanet Alemayehu is almost singlehandedly preserving live jazz on Fillmore.

Sheba co-owner Netsanet Alemayehu presents live jazz nightly with no cover charge.

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

The Queen of Sheba, the Old Testament tells us, was a stunning Ethiopian temptress who dazzled King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. with a caravan of camels laden with gold, jewels and spices to promote lively trade between Israel and Arabia.

A mere 31 centuries later, the co-owner of Sheba Piano Lounge at 1419 Fillmore Street is a regal Ethiopian promoting live jazz in the Fillmore every night of the week with no cover charge.

Netsanet “Net” Alemayehu and her sister and business partner, Israel, aren’t trafficking in gold and jewels. But they jet into SFO from their homeland three times a year loaded down with hundreds of pounds of fragrant Ethiopian spices for the Abyssinian dishes and creative cocktails on their reasonably priced menu.

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Jane the bakery coming to Geary

Jane will open a bakery-cafe in the former KFC/Taco Bell at Geary and Steiner.

Jane will open a bakery-cafe in the former KFC/Taco Bell (right) at Geary and Steiner.

THE LONGSTANDING  KFC/Taco Bell at Geary and Steiner shuttered earlier this year, and now the space is getting a makeover with a new lessee: Jane. The popular cafe, which has locations on Fillmore in Pacific Heights and on Larkin in the Tenderloin, will be converting the space into a production bakery, along with a coffee shop for customers.

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It’s a sweet and tangy neighborhood

spiceace

WHEN PERUSING THE floor-to-ceiling offerings at Spice Ace at 1821 Steiner Street, don’t overlook the one inspired by and named for your own front yard: Pacific Heights Blend. Its complex citrusy Asian flavoring comes from a mélange of the unexpected: lemon, ginger, orange, coriander, garlic, Aji Amarillo, chives and cardamom.

Sales associates at the spice emporium wax rhapsodic about its dual sweet and tangy qualities, its lingering ginger notes and its unique ability to brighten chicken, fish and vegetables. “It’s particularly good on broccoli,” claims one. “If you weren’t a fan of broccoli and you put some Pacific Heights Blend on it, you’d come away loving broccoli.”

Another attests the spicy blend was prompted by the flavors of the Pacific Ocean, with a nod to the historical context of the Barbary Coast.

But Spice Ace co-owner Olivia Dillon reveals that the true inspiration for the blend came considerably closer to home. “For many years, my mother (and best friend) and I lived in a penthouse in Pacific Heights with unobstructed views of the bay from almost every room,” Dillon recalls. “We had many wonderful dinners with friends and family over the years, enjoying great food as well as the view of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

And thus was born and named “Pacific Heights Blend.”

Last call at the Elite

The Elite Cafe closed on Easter Sunday and will remain dark while new owners take over.

The Elite Cafe closed on March 27 and will remain dark while new owners take over.

By THOMAS REYNOLDS

Stop by the Elite Cafe on a Wednesday night in early March to meet a friend for a drink and the bartender asks: “Have you heard? The Elite’s been sold.”

It’s a shock. For 35 years a mainstay on Fillmore Street, its classic neon sign a beacon at the heart of the neighborhood, the Elite looks like a place that has always been there — and for nearly a century, it has. It opened in its Art Deco splendor in 1928 as the Lincoln Grill. In 1932, during the dry years of Prohibition, it became the Asia Cafe, which is what the neon sign spelled out for the next half century. It became the Elite Cafe in 1981.

Peter Snyderman took over a decade ago, after swearing he would never run another restaurant when he closed the Alta Plaza at Fillmore and Clay. “You don’t get an opportunity to own a place like the Elite very often,” he reminisces before heading in for the final brunch on Easter Sunday, March 27. “But I realized it was time to let someone else breathe new life into the Elite.”

The new owners will keep the name and the look and the New Orleans flavor, he promises. “It’s not part of the deal, but it’s part of the understanding,” Snyderman says. New owner Andy Chun, a rising restaurateur, confirms much will stay the same.

“It just means so much to so many people,” Chun says. “When an opportunity came up to do something with the Elite, we wanted to keep it the Elite and make it the best it can be.”

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The experiment is over at the Academy

Nicholas Pallone was the new chef masterminding Academy Bar and Kitchen.

Nick Pallone was the chef behind the Academy Bar and Kitchen. Photo by Marc Gamboa.

PIZZA IS BACK. The rebirth of long-running Pizza Inferno as the Academy Bar and Kitchen — with former Florio chef Nick Pallone bringing a more adventurous dining experience to the corner of Fillmore and Sutter — is over. Though the Academy name will remain, Pallone is gone and the previous menu consisting mostly of Neapolitan pizzas has returned.

“I regret to inform you that my time at Academy Bar and Kitchen has come to an end,” Pallone said in a Facebook post. “Due to logistical constraints, my partners and I have come to the conclusion that it is best to go our separate ways.”

Pallone and owner Peter Fogel reportedly tusseled over whether pizza should be offered at the Academy and it disappeared from the revamped menu. Then last weekend the restaurant closed, less than six months after its debut, with a sign in the window citing “restaurant maintenance and upgrades.”

By the end of the week the old pizza menu had returned.

EARLIER: “Pallone’s passion will rule the menu

Elite Cafe is sold

After the rain, brunch at the Elite Cafe, on Sunday morning, March 6.

After the rain, a line was waiting for brunch at the Elite Cafe on Sunday morning, March 6.

THE ELITE CAFE, the bustling Art Deco period piece at 2049 Fillmore Street, has been sold.

Peter Snyderman, a Fillmore veteran who has run the restaurant for the past decade, is handing over the reins to a new group headed by Andy Chun, who created the Press Club near Union Square and more recently reinvigorated Schroeder’s in the Financial District. Among the investors is Rick Howard, who owns Harry’s on Fillmore.

The liquor license transfer was filed March 9. The Elite’s staff was told the night before that March 27 will be their last day.

EARLIER: “The Elite Cafe, aging gracefully

‘We’re old school’

Photographs of Jackson Fillmore at 2506 Fillmore Street by Marc Gamboa

Photographs of Jackson Fillmore at 2506 Fillmore Street by Marc Gamboa

Q & A | FAITH WHEELER

Rare is the restaurant in San Francisco still going strong after 30 years. But Jackson Fillmore — the beloved, quintessential neighborhood Italian spot at 2506 Fillmore, now under new ownership — remains noticeably unchanged. That’s thanks to the brother-sister duo Kelly and Casey Sullivan, lifelong family friends of original owner Jack Krietzman. Kelly Sullivan remembers coming to the restaurant the year it opened when she was a 4-year-old and eating cold zabaglione.

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Blue Bottle still coming to Fillmore

AFTER CONSTRUCTION started and then stopped, neighbors began to wonder if Blue Bottle Coffee was backing out of its plans for a new outpost on the shuttered Tully’s corner at Fillmore and Jackson.

Not so. It’s still on.

The new coffee shop started before Blue Bottle announced it was merging with Tartine Bakery. A combination of the two in the pair of storefronts at the top of Fillmore seemed like a terrific addition to the neighborhood.

The merger was later called off, but Blue Bottle applied on January 27 for a building permit for “tenant improvements for new coffee cafe in existing coffee cafe space” valued at $200,000. Blue Bottle got permission earlier to combine the former Tully’s and Juicy News storefronts.

“Blue Bottle Coffee is still forging ahead to open at this location and the cafe is progressing nicely,” says Defne Crow, a spokesperson for Blue Bottle. “We are very excited to open our doors later this year.”