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.


At Yoshi’s, only the sounds of silence

The club formerly known as Yoshi’s closed only 75 days after it was rebranded The Addition.


As a gaggle of City Hall lawyers and bureaucrats scramble to sort out a massive financial debacle of their own making, the cavernous jazz club, restaurant and bar complex at 1330 Fillmore formerly known as Yoshi’s San Francisco, dark for the last six months, isn’t likely to come alive again anytime soon.

The city of San Francisco has now seized control of the venue from developer Michael Johnson, who built the Jazz Heritage Center complex housing Yoshi’s, 1300 on Fillmore restaurant, an exhibition space and a theater, plus 80 condominiums above.

Johnson had taken charge on July 1 of last year when he forced out Yoshi’s owner Kaz Kajimura.

In the months that followed, Johnson eventually renamed the club The Addition and added more eclectic musical acts to the marquee, but never came up with a new concept for the restaurant. Then 75 days after the new venture was officially launched on November 1, it was abruptly shut down and its staff all sacked. Since then, it’s been a ghost building.


Coming soon on Sutter: Gardenias

LONGTIME CULINARY TRAILBLAZERS Margie Conard and Dana Tommasino will continue their gardening theme when they open Gardenias a few doors from Fillmore at 1963 Sutter Street, the former home of Roostertail and Cafe Kati. They previously owned and operated Woodward’s Garden in the Mission for 22 years before losing their lease last October.

Margie Conard and Dana Tommasino

Margie Conard and Dana Tommasino

“We have always bowed to the breadth and beauty of California produce in our food,” says Tommasino. “We have also just inherited one very serious commercial rotisserie that we plan to have lots of fun with. We’re imagining whole herb-stuffed goat or lamb on the spit, with leafy meze sides, along with rotisserie birds, pork, fish, etc.”

They plan to offer small plates for casual dining, as well as full dinners.

“We also have the capacity for doing wines on tap in the new place, which is something we’ve wanted to do for years,” says Tommasino. “We love how green and forward-thinking it is, and many beautiful wineries offer their wines this way now.” They also plan to work with wineries to make their own Gardenias blends.

“We are more than thrilled to have found such a sweet neighborhood and location for our new place,” says Tommasino, and hope to be open for dinner six nights a week by mid-July. “We want to create a space that serves the neighborhood” and also “suits both casual dining and more fancy crowds.”

Tommasino curated various art, reading and dinner events at Woodward’s Garden and plans to continue to host events at Gardenias.

A pastry queen’s second act

Belinda Leong of B. on the Go

Belinda Leong of B. on the Go at 2794 California Street


Only a few days after it opened on the corner of the busy intersection of California and Divisadero, B. on the Go already has the feeling of a neighborhood institution.

As you approach the refurbished building’s tasteful pewter-toned subway tiles and mysterious tinted windows and enter the sparsely decorated space, your eye immediately shifts behind the counter to the centerpiece: an enormous canary yellow French La Rotisserie wafting aromas of the daily fare.

Rotisserie will be the focus here for star pastry chef Belinda Leong and her partner, master baker Michel Suas, who also own the wildly popular B. Patisserie just across the way at 2821 California Street.

Photographs of B. on the Go by Rose Hodges

Photographs of B. on the Go by Rose Hodges


Yes, original boulangerie also set to close

Pascal Rigo at Boulangerie Bay Bread on Pine Street in San Francisco.

Pascal Rigo’s original boulangerie at 2325 Pine Street has become a neighborhood institution.

A FRENCHMAN’S American dream — to open his own bakery and live above the shop, build a group of local cafes serving authentic French pastries and eventually sell it all for millions to a mega-corporation — took an abrupt twist June 16 when Starbucks announced it was shuttering its 23 La Boulange eateries in the Bay Area.

Including the original Boulangerie Bay Bread at 2325 Pine Street.

Employees of the Boulangerie and the nearby La Boulange cafe at 2043 Fillmore were told mid-afternoon that day to close early and assemble at 6:30 p.m. at La Boulange on Fillmore. There they received the news: Starbucks is shutting down the La Boulange cafes by the end of September. Founder Pascal Rigo, who joined Starbucks as senior vice president of food when it acquired La Boulange in 2012, would leave the company at the end of the week.

“Starbucks has determined La Boulange stores are not sustainable for the company’s long-term growth,” said an announcement issued in the evening as Bay Area fans were celebrating the triumph of the Golden State Warriors in the basketball finals. By early the next morning, longtime fans were streaming into the boulangerie on Pine Street, hopeful the original location would be spared.

It was not to be.

Starbucks bought La Boulange for $100 million in 2012 and has incorporated its pastries into Starbucks shops nationwide and in Canada. The company said that part of the deal would continue. But the cafes, the original bakery and two industrial bakeries that supply the cafes and a catering operation will close.

“Why’d they buy them then?” asked Jennifer Delaroderie on Facebook. “Just to shut them down?”

“This is so disappointing,” said Joan O’Connor, formerly owner of Timeless Treasures on Sutter Street. “It is a fabulous business — every location where I’ve been is a gem.”

“This is awful,” said Susan Wels. “Sell it back to the owner — don’t close it!”

Even if Rigo and his investors were inclined to give back the $100 million, Starbucks might not take the deal. Real estate professionals said the company is sitting on a gold mine of prime locations in many of the area’s most desirable neighborhoods.

“It’s an A-plus portfolio,” broker Matt Holmes told the SF Business Times. “The best foot-traffic streets, well-designed, well-placed sites. It will be a feeding frenzy.”

Starbucks said it will also close Evolution Fresh, its juice bar and natural foods cafe on the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento.

UPDATE: “For me, it was time to go,” La Boulange founder Pascal Rigo told SFGate. “I didn’t know what value I could bring anymore,” said Rigo, pointing out that Starbucks stock has never been higher.

“When you have 12,000 stores, and La Boulange is doing so well inside the stores, why do you want to have 23 stores in San Francisco where you don’t want to spend the time or the money?”

He added: “We achieved what we wanted to achieve, which was to have La Boulange in 12,000 stores.”

Rigo hinted he may not be done yet. Of the 23 La Boulange storefronts in prime locations being shut down by Starbucks, he said: “They have a plan for most of them. I have a plan for some of them, also.”

EARLIER:I just have this thing about bread