Doubling down with Black Bark

Photograph of Black Bark chef David Lawrence by Daniel Bahmani

Black Bark chef David Lawrence: “We might as well go for it.”


When David Lawrence and Monetta White announced plans to open their high end but homey restaurant, 1300 on Fillmore, eight years ago, friends cautioned against it. “They said, ‘You’re going down to lower Fillmore? Are you nuts?’ ” says White, whose mother and grandmother both grew up in the neighborhood.

But soon after the doors opened, the joint was jumping, fueled by foot traffic brought in by the adjacent Yoshi’s restaurant and jazz club. The club was part of the Fillmore Heritage Center — a 240,000-square-foot mixed-use complex that included Yoshi’s, 1300 on Fillmore and a nonprofit art gallery, with 80 condominiums rising above — all constructed in an ambitious attempt to revitalize Fillmore south of Geary.

For a few years, the $75 million bet seemed to pay off, as the new businesses and residents brought a vibrancy, unity and goodwill to the nascent jazz district, along with new patrons and customers. Then suddenly things changed. Fingers pointed at various culprits: a lagging economy, changing neighborhood demographics, bad management, the new SF Jazz Center in the Civic Center. The Lush Life Gallery closed first. Then Yoshi’s declared bankruptcy. An attempt to revive the club as The Addition quickly failed. For the last year, it has sat empty — an eerily silent space nearly a block long. Many people assumed 1300 on Fillmore was no longer in business, either.


Wise Sons is coming, but not yet

The cafe is delayed, but Wise Sons Bagel is already baking at 1520 Fillmore (right).

The cafe is still to come, but Wise Sons Bagel is already baking at 1520 Fillmore (right).


The Wise Sons had planned to open their new bagelry at 1520 Fillmore in December, but it didn’t happen. Now it looks as if Wise Sons Bagel won’t woo the schmear set for another two months at least.

“If I were a betting man — and I’m not — I’d say two months into 2016, possibly longer,” says co-owner Evan Bloom. “We haven’t even created our bagel yet.”

But they’re already baking in their Fillmore location. The ovens are fired up, with bakers working two shifts pumping out rugelach and Wise Sons’ signature chocolate babka dessert for their deli on 24th Street in the Mission, a cafe in the Contemporary Jewish Museum and a Ferry Building outpost staffed three days a week.

“We want to open, but we don’t want to rush it,” says Bloom. “Right now we’re trying to find good people to mix the dough, bake the bread, interface with customers, toast the bagels, mix the coffee — and get our power upgraded. We’re still trying to figure the store layout while getting the bagels rolling. We haven’t even settled on the coffee supplier yet.”

But the fundamentals are in place. The long, narrow 2,000-square-foot space with 30-foot ceilings, previously occupied by Sushi Boom, will be mostly a bagel bakery, but it will also have cafe seating for 12 to 16 in the front, including a stand-up bar, and — they hope — sidewalk seating.

Customers may be schmoozing, but they won’t be noshing on the monstrous pastrami or corned beef sandwiches slathered in mustard or other deli fare served at the 24th Street mothership.

“We’ll be more of a grab-and-go shop and less of a hangout,” Bloom says. “You’ll be able to pick up a pound of pastrami, or lox and pickles, and take it all home. We just don’t make the sandwich.”

The pressure is on. The New York Times ran a long feature story in its Sunday magazine headlined “Why Is It So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?” that raised hopes for a bagel from Wise Sons. Bloom and co-owner Leo Beckerman also had a cameo appearance in Deli Man, the hit indie documentary love story on the slow but steady demise nationwide of real honest-to-God Jewish delis. Wise Sons was the only deli in the Bay Area included.

Deli Man definitely helped us,” Bloom says, “and we do get recognized — which is so ridiculous — but people trickle in because of it.”

A fire wiped out their new Mission commissary, delaying plans to add bagels. Now, on Fillmore, they’re hoping to bring back some of the flavor from the days a century ago when this was a Jewish neighborhood.

The Fillmore was mostly a Jewish neighborhood circa 1900, a legacy Wise Sons will honor.

The Fillmore was mostly a Jewish neighborhood circa 1900, a legacy Wise Sons will honor.

“We’re going to keep it simple,” says Bloom, “with just five types — a plain, an ‘everything,’ sesame seed, poppy seed and salt. It’ll be a good old-fashioned bagel starting with quality ingredients, with no additives, no extenders. It’ll be boiled with a good, crunchy chew on the outside and a soft interior with a good ratio of texture and flavor.”

Until then, the two pals and business partners who both went to UC-Berkeley have plenty of schlepping to get the doors open. And they’re keeping busy clarifying what Wise Sons is all about.

“We’ve been called Jewish fusion,” Bloom says. “We’re really Jewish soul food.”

Uncle Nick takes charge at Dino’s

Photograph of Nick Nickolas by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Nick Nickolas by Daniel Bahmani


Nick Nickolas could be the poster boy for a happy retirement. A tanned 78-year-old who looks and sounds 20 years younger, he built and ran a fine dining empire of 30 restaurants that stretched from Honolulu to Miami, is madly in love with his new fiancee and has all his hair and his buttons.

But he simply can’t stop working.

For the last four years, Nickolas has been managing, maitre’d-ing, setting and bussing tables at Dino & Santino’s at Fillmore and California, spelling his nephew, Dino Stavrakikis, on Thursdays and Saturdays so the single-dad owner could have time with his young son, Santino.

Now, with Santino turning 5 and heading to kindergarten, Dino might be expected to spend more time at his pizza palace, with his Uncle Nick backing off to take a cruise for two and play couples golf. But Nickolas isn’t one to sit on the sidelines.

In fact, he is taking the reins of the 28-year-old restaurant and ramping up to five days a week. Stavrakikis has given him carte blanche to change the menu, with some exceptions: Uncle Nick can’t touch “Mama’s meatballs or her spinach pie,” he says, or a few other house signature items.


It all started with a tomato sandwich



When I was 6 years old, a feisty little thing with a mop of red hair spiraling every which way, my mom made me a simple sandwich for lunch. Not peanut butter and jelly or tuna fish salad, mind you; my mom was a professional chef, after all. Mom’s version of simple was her tomato sandwich: homemade white bread, homemade mayonnaise and a ripe sweet red tomato plucked fresh from her garden.

As Mom arranged tomato slices, still warm from the sun, atop a generous slathering of mayonnaise, she looked me in the eyes and said: “Whenever you eat or cook tomatoes, they need a sprinkle of salt. Salt brings out the sweetness and acidity.” I watched closely, tummy grumbling, as she liberally dusted the sliced tomato with kosher salt.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was a kid; I just wanted to eat my lunch. But looking back, I think my lifelong love affair with food may have begun in that precise moment. Little did I know how right my mom was, or how often I’d think of her sage advice while cooking or teaching. But I swear it comes up in almost every single class I teach, and I tell the tale and pass her wisdom along. (more…)

Pizza is only a slice of the Academy

Photograph of Academy chef Nick Pallone by Marc Gamboa

Photograph of Academy Bar and Kitchen chef Nick Pallone by Marc Gamboa


Nick Pallone is being interviewed, juggling phone calls from business partners and purveyors while a vendor waits patiently to discuss the possibilities of adding more wine to the list. That night the restaurant would have its first dinner service and the benches were still tacky from the last coat of black paint.

Such is the drama of a restaurateur’s life: multitasking, flying seat-of-the-pants and concentrating on the thousands of details it takes to open. Luckily for Pallone, his new restaurant, the Academy Bar and Kitchen, is in the space of an old one — the 21-year-old Pizza Inferno, on the corner of Fillmore and Sutter Streets.

Pallone would often eat with his kitchen staff at the pizza joint after working at Florio, the spot two blocks up Fillmore where he was executive chef for the past four years. Pallone is an Italian food purist, who fought for a pasta machine at Florio to ensure all pasta was freshly made. From Italian American roots, his fondest food memories were watching his Grandma Pallone form the gnocchi for their bountiful Sunday feasts. It didn’t take long for Peter Fogel, Pizza Inferno’s owner, to ask Pallone to become a partner and reinvent the restaurant. An alliance was formed.


Pascal Rigo’s boulangerie is reborn

THE $100 MILLION MAN is coming home.

Pascal Rigo reopened his original Pine Street boulangerie October 5, barely two weeks after it was shuttered by Starbucks, which in 2012 bought the maison mere and the 22 La Boulange cafes that grew from it. In the coming weeks he will also reopen five of the cafes, including the prime locations on Fillmore and Union.

For Rigo, it is a homecoming that rarely happens — a return to the place it began 17 years ago when he built his dream bakery and lived with his family above the shop.


City owed $18 million for Fillmore Heritage Center

The showplace club and restaurant that once housed Yoshi's now sits empty.

The showplace club and restaurant that once housed Yoshi’s now sits empty.

IT HAS NOW cost more than $18 million in city funds to build the Fillmore Heritage Center and keep it afloat.

There is no new tenant in sight for the huge empty spaces formerly occupied by Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant. The garage is losing $10,000 a month now that the building has few visitors. The Lush Life gallery also sits empty and has no potential new tenants. The restaurant 1300 on Fillmore continues to operate, but its future is in doubt.

These are some of the details that have finally begun to emerge about exactly what is happening with the project opened in 2007 to revitalize the stretch of Fillmore Street south of Geary once known as the Harlem of the West. Public hearings on July 13 and July 27 brought out scores of restive neighbors, and a thick “informational memorandum” laid out the sad financial facts, complete with spreadsheets, term sheets, notices of default and lease terminations attached.


Prelude in blues: opening Gardenias

Margie Conard (left) and Dana Tommasino are opening Gardenias at 1963 Sutter Street.

Margie Conard (left) and Dana Tommasino are opening Gardenias at 1963 Sutter Street.


A  new restaurant. In San Francisco. Which should give fat pause.


The first day we’re officially in the place, I’m out on the street assessing our storefront. A smiling kid I don’t know, maybe 15, from Winfred’s, the longstanding hair salon next door, walks up quickly and asks: “You the new owners?” and, without losing stride, wide-arm hugs me congratulations.

* * *

My girlfriend Margie Conard and I had been looking for a space for years, then finally lost the lease to our restaurant, Woodward’s Garden, which was a funky diner under a freeway in the Mission when we bought it. There was no changing it for kids like us, just starting out and planning at the time to conjure a French-inspired dinner bistro. We rolled paint on and made do for 22 years.

The new space is by far the best thing we’ve ever come across. We name it Gardenias, swooping a little bit of our past Garden into our future.

Inevitably, every friend who first walks into the new space begins to beam and says hushed, reverently, how perfect it all seems: location, size, back patio, kitchen, feel. I glow with it all, too; know what they mean. Know in my bones this is right. And part of me hopes to hell it’s all true.


Brenda calls off po’ boy shop on Fillmore

Construction began on the space that was to house Brenda's Original Po' Boys, then stalled.

Construction began on the space that was to house Brenda’s Original Po’ Boys, then stalled.

AFTER THREE YEARS of waiting, Cajun food restaurateur Brenda Buenviaje has lost her appetite to open a Southern style Original Po’ Boys sandwich shop on lower Fillmore.

The chef-owner of the widely praised Brenda’s French Soul Food on Polk Street — and the newer Brenda’s Meat & Three on Divisidero — says she has tossed in the towel on a Fillmore outpost after delays dragged on and on. She declined to discuss the specifics of the deal, but acknowledged it was dead.

She was negotiating to combine the two storefronts at 1406 and 1408 Fillmore two blocks south of Geary that were previously occupied by Domino’s Pizza and the Espress Yourself coffee shop.

New Orleans-born Buenviaje envisioned a counter-service shop with a menu offering 20 different versions of her own po’ boy recipes. The menu she was planning included traditional fried catfish, oyster, shrimp and calamari po’ boys.

Last fall, when she opened Brenda’s Meat & Three at 919 Divisadero, she said the Fillmore project was still on, but described it as moving at a “snail’s pace.” Some of her po’ boys are now on the menu of her Divisidero Street restaurant.

READ MORE: Brenda’s “Anatomy of a Po’ Boy” (with recipe)

Best cocktail in town: Dosa’s Peony


I tell anyone who will listen that the best cocktails in the city can be narrowed down to a list of five: the Kona cocktail at Smugglers Cove, the Dolores Park Swizzle at Beretta, Bar Agricole’s Singapore Sling (not on the menu, so you have to ask for it), the authentic Mai Tai at the Kona Club near the actual tombstone of Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron — and, sitting at the very top of the list, the inimitable Peony cocktail at our very own Dosa at Fillmore and Post.

Peony-6509Dosa’s signature Spice Route cocktail list is the most innovative in the city. South Indian cuisine historically must have been innocent of cocktails, which makes creating a list of this caliber much more challenging. Dosa carefully and consciously chose to focus on India’s colonial ties with gin, while so many bartenders and mixologists turn from this otherwise sleepy spirit and look the other way.

I remember one afternoon expressing to the bartender my then-genuine ignorance of gin. He gave me a crash course on its history, lining up thimble-like tastes of gin through the ages — starting with examples of  Holland’s “jenever” (sometimes “genever,” both a reference to the dominant flavor of juniper) prevalent in 16th century Holland; followed by Old Tom gin, popular in the 18th century; on to Plymouth and London Dry gins, which many of us have had without quite knowing it. It was a valuable yet dizzying education.