Not just any Tacobar

Photograph of Tacobar getting a fresh look by Jonathan Pontell

“WE’RE NOT THE usual taqueria,” acknowledges Antonio Solano, the dynamic manager of Tacobar at Fillmore and California. Tacobar just got a facelift, an updated menu and a bright new paint job as the popular corner spot at the heart of the neighborhood prepares to celebrate its ninth birthday in April.

Tacobar is also now set up to accept online orders and payment, which lets customers skip the line for pick-ups. “You show up and it’s ready,” Solano says.

They’ve also partnered with the Caviar delivery service. “You’ve got to stay alert and give the customers what they want,” he says. “We love being here, and we want to continue to be successful.  What else can we bring? This is our baby. My dad taught me always to give 100 percent.”

Of the new color scheme and new menu items, he says: “We’re authentic, but reinvented.”

The curtain is rising on Noosh

The back bar at Noosh, “opening very soon” at Fillmore and Pine.

AT LONG LAST, the highly anticipated new casual fine dining restaurant coming to Fillmore and Pine is ready to offer the public a taste. Noosh passed its final health inspection on January 31 and began delivery and office catering in early February.

“This will give guests a first sneak peek at our fine casual menu,” says co-founder and CEO John Litz. “We now work through delivery and office catering . . . while we simultaneously interview, hire and train our staff, preparing for our soft opening very soon.”

During the year the restaurant has been in the works, Noosh has already blazed a new path by hosting dozens of private events as the restaurant was under construction and working through operational logistics. “Many of our Pacific Heights neighbors comment daily to us they think it’s a smart strategy that has created more interest,” Litz says, as well as an early revenue stream. “We are excited to bring it to Fillmore.”

Music at the market

Budding musicians from the SFJazz High School All-Stars perform at the Fillmore market.

MIA SIMMANS, manager of the Fillmore Farmers Market since last May, is a true believer — both in farmers markets and in the music that makes the Fillmore market unique.

Her cred on both scores is impeccable: For the last seven years, she’s been both a vendor and musician at several of the farmers markets in the area. “It’s a great way for a musician to make a living,” she says. “You get to play during the day, and then go home and sleep in your own bed.”

In fact, two of the combos that regularly perform at the Fillmore market — the Dave Parker Sextet and the group now headed by Kenny Rhodes — have been playing at the Saturday morning market at Fillmore and O’Farrell for more than a decade.

But it can be a tough way to make a living. Most markets can’t pay musicians anywhere near what they’re worth. The mothership organization, the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, is a nonprofit and is typically strapped for funds. The Fillmore market currently pays nothing at all; musicians only pocket the tips from grateful listeners and passersby.

But Simmans is determined to change that. She takes inspiration from the pluck and perseverance of Tom Nichol, who founded and managed the Fillmore market for a dozen years until shortly before his death in 2015. The two were friends.

“Tom was able to raise money to pay the musicians from within the community,” Simmans says. “And I want to keep that going in his memory.”

With some help from market headquarters, Simmans recently applied for two grants, and at least one of them looks promising. “If we get that grant, we may be able to pay something — maybe $25 to each musician,” she says. “And if we get that second grant, well, then we could be talking about something real.”

Simmans still makes music, playing and singing under the stage name Mama Mia d’Bruzzi when she’s not out managing markets. She also manages the Castro and Alameda markets. “But the Fillmore is my favorite,” she confesses. “It’s got the music — and, really, some of the greatest vendors.”

Says she: “I really believe in the farmers. These are the guys sweating in the fields. And I really believe farmers markets are an important way to take back the country from the big corporations. It’s a peaceful revolution.”

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