by Carolyn Alburger
Yesterday I climbed a ladder up to the rooftop of Nopa restaurant to visit its brand new baby bee hives. Owner Jeff Hanak has been working with Terry Oxford and Brian Linke of Urban Bee SF to cultivate a two-hive community for three weeks now. Weather permitting, its honey will surface on the food and cocktail menus below the roof as soon as June. The idea of freshly harvested honey on a menu is romantic and all, but these urban hives are really all about the bees.
As Häagen-Dazs nation-wide Help the Honey Bees campaign will tell you, bees are in grave danger of extinction. According to Oxford and Linke, pesticides and lack of agricultural diversity in the countryside are the main offenders. In contrast, San Francisco boasts relatively pesticide-free "perfectly neglected," diversified foliage—Eden, as far as bees are concerned. So Oxford and Linke are looking for like-minded restaurants to help them cultivate healthy colonies around town. Deliciously complex, partially crystallized San Francisco honey is the happy byproduct, salable enough to fund the cost of labor and maintenance.
So who else is hiding a treasure trove of bees around town? Bi-Rite Market was one of the first food-related businesses to bring in hives three years ago. They now have two hivesmaintained in concert with City Bees (one of SF's most highly regarded urban bee colony cultivators since 1998). Bi-Rite sells its honey exclusively at its 18th Street location. Marshall's Farm—who's had a large bee community at the CIA Greystone for 15 years now—put four hives in at the Fairmont Hotel about 11 months ago. Owner Helene Marshall—also a master with bee puns, just listen to the Marshall's Farms voice mail recording—says they're basically right on top of the Tonga Room and you can look down on them from the right vantage in the Farimont's lobby. Just ask the concierge for help. Marshall's Farm started selling honey to nice restaurants nine years ago. The now-defunctPostrio was their first account. Now they maintain about 80 different bee communities across the Bay Area, including six beloved hives for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville.
Here in San Francisco, Flour + Water is putting in hives of its own on May 14th and hosting a bee-centric art exhibit to go along with it. After the Laurel Court, Quince and Cotognachef-owner Michael Tusk was next to the restaurants-with-hives game with six rooftop hives. Here's the funny story of how he got started. Mission Beach Cafe now has four,Farm:Table has two and Blue Bottle had three installed a few weeks ago at its headquarters in Oakland. "We look for like-minded businesses to partner with," says Oxford. "We're so lucky to have such, amazing, ethically minded restaurateurs around here."
Oxford is now hard at work designing labels for her first retail batch of honey coming to market soon. In the meantime look for Urban Bee's very complex, lavender- and anise-laced product at Quince and Cotogna, a more floral taste at Nopa, and a light, golden yellow, flowery one at Farm:Table. You see, just like wine, bee byproducts have terrior; so honey cultivated in the Castro will taste quite different from Nob Hill's nectar. And it's still too soon to tell how the honey at Mission Beach Cafe and Nopa will taste, but Oxford says their 15,000 starter bees are very hard working. So what does this mean for the honey? "It'll probably be a little more on the floral side."
“...The best pizza I have ever had outside Rome...”
Ace Service in San Francisco
by Jacob Kenedy
Nancy Oakes is a good friend and a former employer. She is chef/proprietor of Boulevard, which opened in 1993 and is arguably one of San Francisco's finest restaurants. Oakes, albeit a couple of decades after Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse, has played a significant role in creating a California cuisine focused on purity of flavour and local ingredients in magnificent combinations. Much as great Italian gelato is said to taste more strongly of its flavour than the ingredient used to flavour it (more pistachio than pistachio nuts, for instance), so, too, does the original California cuisine exaggerate and purify fresh, honest flavours.
Sweetcorn soup might be made by paring the kernels from fresh white supersweet cobs, making a stock from the cobs to get all the flavour, then poaching and puréeing the pearly white seeds in it. The result: a simple soup that truly tastes more like fresh corn than fresh corn itself.
Boulevard continues to be truly brilliant: its wood-roasted Iowa pork loin, braised cheek, potato "polenta", girolles and creamed nettles could be the best plate of food I can remember, each component so perfect it brought tears of joy and jealousy. But, many of the restaurants that sought to imitate Chez Panisse and Boulevard have lost their way, endlessly repeating a mantra they have long ceased to understand.
I spoke to another SF restaurateur about to launch a new venture who proudly described it as using "local ingredients, direct-sourcing from farmers" (each probably identified on the menu - Farmer Joe's beef with Farmer Bill's beets on a bed of Ted's farm's leaves) - yet he told me nothing about what the food would taste like, or what the feel of the restaurant would be.
The good news is that a new cuisine is in its embryonic stages, switching focus from producer to customer. Oakes, together with her more senior staff, is to open a second restaurant, Prospect, this summer. Its menu will consist of medium-sized dishes encouraging the diner to imagine and create their perfect meal and dishes, ordered in a sequence dictated by the customer.
For a look into the future, Ravi Kapur, chef de cuisine at Boulevard and the man who came up with the idea for Prospect, told me to go to Nopa - "the most significant opening [in the city] of the past four years". A two-storey-high room with exposed beams has been fitted out in a thoroughly urban style. Nopa shares Prospect's seating ideals: fine service at wooden tables, a bar at the forefront of the operation and a table commune at its heart.
Three of us arrived without a reservation and were told in a happy sing-song way that the wait would be an hour, and we could take drinks while we waited. I had been told the best drinks in town were served from the slick, welcoming bar and can now only agree. The cocktails are unusual and sound very grown-up (sherry-based, herbaceous, or using unearthly spirits) but are utterly delicious.
Fried little fishes arrived, perfectly cooked, crispy without and juicy within, with a delicious salad of sharply seasoned frisée and a dab of uninteresting aioli. A flatbread of house-cured bacon, spigarello and gruyère, despite confit garlic that my companions thought excessive (and unnecessary, I thought), was the best pizza I have ever had outside Rome - the dough crispy-chewy and wood-fire scorched, the topping perfectly sparse with pungent cheese and the bacon breathtaking.
Closer examination of the menu revealed it to be broadly Mediterranean in origin, with a focus on harmony of flavours, rather than unthinking combinations of x + y + z = Cal cuisine. A dining companion's duck (seared breast, confit leg) came with a little heap of produce - squashes, potatoes and hazelnuts that looked like a beautiful pile of autumn leaves. My sturgeon, though beautifully cooked, was lost amid preserved Meyer lemon and grilled escarole so smoky it dominated the plate. A side of Early Girl tomatoes, which came tossed with purslane, mint and shaved pepato cheese, was a symphony of flavours and textures and was at once the humblest and best thing we ate that evening.
To go with this variety of dishes I asked for a recommendation of a "not-too-ripe US Pinot Noir", worried that we might find many American reds a little overblown for our varied order. Our helpful waitress understood immediately and guided us to Cima Collina, aromatic and lean, which sung alongside our main courses. Service continued to be quirky, friendly and informed - unintrusive but ever-present, discreet yet amicable. Asking about a dish led not only to a full list of the main ingredients but how each was cooked. Had I asked who in the kitchen had cooked anything on the plate, I am sure she could have answered without hesitation.
The service throughout was of a standard we can only dream of in Britain. A great waiter, after all, not only knows all the rules but is aware of each of their customers - exactly where they are in the course of their meal, what they might be wanting, whether they want to know their waiter or to not even know he or she is there. He or she is, also, an actor, becoming the person the customer wants them to be for those brief moments they share at the table. Tips are bigger in the US (15-20 per cent) and waiters are sometimes higher paid than their managers. In mainland Europe, family restaurants help to keep the standard high; it's hard to be slack if you're the owner's cousin and the cook's husband.
California cuisine is in some ways following the lead of modern British food - gutsy plates and simple combinations - a reversal of sorts for we used to follow the American trend. Their standards of service, however, remain something the rest of the world could emulate.
“Of all the fine wine lists in the Bay Area, my favorite is the one at Nopa.”
Wine Lists That Elevate the Cellar
by Eric Asimov
For wine lovers, a restaurant's wine list is a hallowed key to its soul. The menu may reveal the inclinations and ambitions of a chef, but the crucial questions about the food will only be answered through execution and follow-through.
But the wine list?
Carefully examined, it displays the inner nature of a restaurant. Is it a place of vision and creativity and passion? Or has a restaurant's identity been determined by focus groups? Is the craving for profits placed above all else? Or, worst case scenario, has the restaurant completely abdicated the task, or rather the opportunity, and instead handed over the list to a soulless distributor? For that, I have but one word: corkage.
Personally, I always prefer a list of iconoclastic vision over one aimed simply at people-pleasing, and for that the Bay Area is a treasure-trove, with no shortage of wine lists that express the idealistic intent of their creators.
It's easy to start ticking off names, like the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero, where the wine director Mark Ellenbogen put together a list that courageously paired cool-climate, largely European whites with the restaurant's Vietnamese food, even as Americans were gravitating toward big, domestic reds.
Just as bravely, Shelley Lindgren at A16 in the Marina district created a list that celebrated the largely unknown wines of southern Italy. At RN74 in the Millennium Tower in SoMa - where the list incorporates the vast trophy holdings of the wine collector Wilf Jaeger - Raj Parr, the wine director for all of Michael Mina's restaurants, has sprinkled inexpensive treasures throughout, so that if the 1966 Musigny from Roumier is out of range at $6,400, there's a 2005 Bourgogne rouge from Denis Bachelet for $75, or better yet, a superb 2007 Corbières Campagnes from Maxime Magnon for $54.
But of all the fine wine lists in the Bay Area, my favorite is the one at Nopa, the casual, eclectic gathering spot north of the Panhandle. I'm not saying Nopa has the best wine list in the area. With roughly 200 bottles, and another few dozen half-bottles and magnums, it's by no means the biggest or the most complete. But in the selection of wines, the fair prices and the spirit it connotes, it's closest to my heart.
It takes only a brief glance at the list to see that the wine director, Chris Deegan, has selected bottles that will exalt the simple, clear flavors of the Mediterranean food. These are wines that for the most part are balanced and restrained, complementary rather than dominant. Often that means wines from Europe rather than California, but, while Nopa's list is heavily European, it is not dogmatically so.
I love to start a meal with a glass of dry sherry, but how often do you see sherry on a list outside of Spanish restaurants? Nopa offers not only the ubiquitous La Gitana Manzanilla, but a fine Amontillado from González Byass and both a palo cortado and a dry oloroso from Emilio Lustau.
Often, if you are the persnickety sort like me who grabs the wine list immediately upon being seated and lingers over it lustfully, you peruse a wine list looking for that safe harbor - that one bottle you know you will like among the dozens you cannot abide. Nopa's whole list is a safe harbor full of bottles that I would be thrilled to open, from classic appellations like the 2008 Fleurie from Domaine du Vissoux, to wonderful oddballs like the Vinja Barde vitovska from the Carso region of Italy.
The domestic selections fit right in. I love Truchard's roussanne from the Carneros, and Copain's Monument Tree pinot noir from the Anderson Valley, while Mount Eden's estate chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains will please both white Burgundy fanatics and lovers of big California chardonnays.
If Nopa's list has a deficiency, it's in the lack of aged wines, not surprising in a small restaurant, which may not have the room to store wines for extended periods. The exception is the Riojas from Lopéz de Heredia, which are not released until they are well aged.
Nopa also offers some little-known gems, like the 2007 Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas, a profound old-vines albariño, and the pure, complex 2004 Les Poyeux Saumur Champigny from Clos Rougeard, very good now, even better in 10 years.
Some people might fault Nopa for its lack of pantheon wines, the classic greats that are primarily affordable to wealthy collectors. To me, those special-occasion wines are not necessary. Nopa may have achieved destination status, but it is still essentially a neighborhood hangout. If you must have those wines, I have two suggestions: Corkage, or RN74.
6 reasons to make dessert the main course
by Michael Bauer
Dozens of restaurants offer bread pudding, and some are very good, but few are as captivating as this simple concoction at Nopa, with a light texture that belies its rich flavor. Most recently it was served with caramelized apples. But if bread pudding isn't on the menu, drown your sorrows with the sopapillas drizzled with burnt orange caramel.
“Few restaurants in recent memory have soared as sensationally as Nopa”
Emerging from an avalanche of early acclaim to be a genuinely winning restaurant
by Paul Reidinger
A hoary bit of wisdom teaches that we should be careful what we wish for, because we might get it - and if we are a new restaurant wishing for a meteoric rise, what might we expect? Few restaurants in recent memory have soared as sensationally as Nopa, which opened near the Panhandle in the spring of 2006 to widespread acclaim. By the end of that year the place was anointed by the San Francisco Chronicle as a "classic" and admitted to the pantheon of the area's "Top 100" restaurants.
The only comparable spectacle I could think of was the birth of Firefly, whose first menus in the autumn of 1993 attracted the instant and adulatory attention of the food media, followed by galloping herds of the trend-involved. There are meaningful differences between the two narratives: Firefly was a fairly small neighborhood enterprise in a quiet neighborhood, whereas Nopa is a much larger operation on a busy thoroughfare in a bustling part of town.
But the basic question remains: how does a young restaurant handle instant and massive acclaim, and what happens when the circus leaves town? Does the venture survive the decompression and adjust itself to life in the light of common day, or, having been over inflated, does it pop like a bubble? Bubbles do have a way of popping.
Buzz, like infatuation (of which it is a form), is a temporary condition, and people under the influence of buzz are in a state of altered consciousness in which they can fail to notice all sorts of sins, from uneven food to erratic service - problems that are most likely to afflict restaurants in their early, teething stages. But when the buzz wears off and the media turns to the business of telling everyone what to think about some other place, people regain their senses and start to notice what is in front of them at the place nobody's talking about any more.
Nopa, like Firefly, has survived its passage through this crucible. The restaurant's proprietors, Laurence Jossel and Jeff Hanak, have kept a steady hand on the tiller, and the result today is a buzzing convivium of mostly younger folk, animatedly gathered at the restaurant's several foci, including a Chaucerian communal table at the front, a bar along the north wall, and a mezzanine overlooking the exhibition kitchen with its wood-burning oven. There's even a gathering place for service staff, a round table near the foot of the stairs to the mezzanine, well-stocked with napkins, flatware, and other gear for resetting tables.
And there is Jossel's excellent food. He made a splash a few years ago at Chez Nous, and he's brought a similar urban-rustic flair to the kitchen at Nopa. An iconic Jossel dish might be a small crock of cannellini beans ($9), baked in the wood oven with tomatoes, feta cheese, and oregano for a distinctively Greek effect. One is tempted to describe this dish, which is crusted with bread crumbs, as a gratin, but it isn't, really; there isn't quite a word for it, and this is a big clue about the kitchen's intentions and methods. Recombinant cooking carries its share of risks, but if, as here, it's pursued intelligently, with a sense of place and past - if it's evolutionary rather than revolutionary - it can produce exquisite results like this one, novel yet grounded.
God is in the details, in the kitchen as elsewhere. Most of Nopa's dishes are recognizable, with small, gracious twists and innovations to set them apart. Calamari ($9) are braised in a golden-bronze saffron broth along with quartered new potatoes and a scattering of fried chickpeas. A soup ($8) of white beans and kale, along with plenty of bacon and a base of chicken stock, is like an unpuréed version of the Portuguese soup caldo verde. And flatbread ($14) resembles a little square pizza, topped perhaps with slivers of red onion, white cheese, and prosciutto.
We were particularly impressed with the pork chop ($22), which distinguished itself through a tender juiciness that could not entirely be attributed to gentle cooking. (The meat was done to about medium, I would say, with a broad hint of pinkness in the middle). Our server confirmed that the pork had indeed been brined for several hours in brown sugar; it ended up being plated on a bed of soft polenta dotted with roasted root vegetables and ribbons of fried taro root.
Quite as good in its own way was a braised lamb shank ($25) - still on the bone, Neanderthal-style - nested in a salad of toasted farro grains, shreds of chanterelle mushrooms (a pretty yellow-orange, though not as spectacularly colored as the examples I saw at a Helsinki farmers market in August), and a pile of mustard greens.
There are only so many ways to describe meat so tender that it falls away from the bone at the touch of a fork or knife, and I have not found a new way. But this was meat of that sort.
The hamburger ($12), made from grass-fed beef, is simply sublime, one of the best I have ever tasted in the city or anywhere. It's presented on a toasted bun of discreet robustness - not a fancy, fluffy focaccia but not a skinny hack job, either. Even the sometime vegetarian was impressed by the burger's rosy juiciness, or perhaps he was faintly disappointed by his tagine ($17), a medley of root vegetables (mostly parsnips and turnips) gussied up with lemon yogurt. He described the tagine as "good," which would have been fine if everything else hadn't been excellent.
Among the desserts, the primus inter pares is the sopaipillas ($8), an array of pastry pillows, deep-fried, dusted with sugar, and ready to be doused with burnt-orange caramel sauce. You pour that out yourself from a ceramic flask, no sweat.
7 Terrific Bean Recipes
by Emily Kaiser
From Christmas limas to Rio Zapes, Rancho Gordo's heirloom beans have become a cult favorite among pro and amateur cooks. Chef Laurence Jossel shows them off in seven terrific recipes.
Steve Sando, the owner of Napa Valley's Rancho Gordo, is a persuasive heirloom-bean salesman. He's making beans exciting, and it's a sight to behold. At his outdoor stall at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, he might hand a shopper a bag of tan-and-violet-striped Eye of the Goat beans, explaining how they taste so much like steak that they recently resolved the marital difficulties a customer was having with her vegetarian husband. Or he might pull out his Good Mother Stallards, covered in white and purple swirls, and describe how they create such a delicious "pot liquor," or broth, when slow-simmered in water that it's like free soup.
Through Rancho Gordo, Sando sells nearly 30 varieties of heirloom beans from Mexico, Peru, Colombia and the American Southwest-rarer, older, intensely flavorful breeds rejected by industrial agriculture because yields can be small and unpredictable. Sando finds many of these beans on trips through remote parts of Central and South America. (Increasingly, customers also mail him their own bean finds.) He judges by looks as well as flavor, planting his most beautiful discoveries on two acres of land by his house in Napa. If he likes how they taste, he sends the beans to farmers, who grow them on 150 acres in the Napa and Central valleys. Sando spreads the word through an online store (ranchogordo.com), at the Ferry Building and in his brand-new cookbook, Heirloom Beans.
By his own count, bean entrepreneur is Sando's seventh career. He's been a clothing salesman and an aspiring diet guru (he first conceived of Rancho Gordo, or "fat ranch" in Spanish, to promote Mexican food for weight loss). For one year in the late 1980s, he worked as a jazz DJ for a radio station in Milan, where he mixed classic American cocktails on the air, holding the shaker up to the microphone. As that experience suggests, he's always loved American food and drink. In the early `90s, back in the States and working as a consultant and graphic designer, he began growing native American varieties of heirloom tomatoes at his home in Napa. Then, one day in 1999, he was flipping through a seed catalog and spotted a picture of some Rio Zape beans. Burnished-sienna with black streaks, the pinto-like beans were used by the Hopi Indians of the Southwest as a string bean. Sando bought some, planted a few and cooked the rest. "They had these hints of chocolate and coffee, these flavors I'd never tasted in a bean before," he recalls. "I thought, Well, here's something I know, only it tastes so much better. I just wanted to try more."
He began planting more and more beans: flageolets ("It's OK, they sound French, but they're originally from Oaxaca," he laughs), borlotti (originally from Colombia) and limas (originally from Peru). Instead of promoting sidecars in pidgin Italian, he found himself rising at 5 a.m. to carry his beans to farmers' markets and restaurants.
Today Sando has close to 100 chef customers all over the country, thanks to his enthusiasm, his passion for teaching the best way to cook his beans and, of course, the beans themselves-stored in Rancho Gordo's climate-controlled warehouse for no more than 12 months, unlike mass-market beans, which Sando says can sit in hot silos for years. Thomas Keller, his first chef-customer, wrote the foreward to Sando's book; other chefs contributed recipes. Laurence Jossel of San Franciso's Nopa restaurant created the dishes here. He discovered his first Rancho Gordo beans shortly after opening Nopa in 2006. They were small, white cellini runner beans, a more assertive version of Italian cannellini, which he stirs into a lush clam chowder with butternut squash. He now also uses earthy Midnight Black beans to make surprisingly satisfying burgers, spread with a potently smoky blend of roasted red peppers and tangy feta cheese. At Jossel's new Mexican place, Nopalito, the chef wants to serve refried Rio Zapes with zippy pickled nopales, or cactus paddles, and fresh corn tortillas.
Jossel's eclectic recipes prove Sando's point about his beans' versatility. "You can take them with you to France or Istanbul or Vermont; you can plant them anywhere and cook them with anything," he says. "They adapt to local tastes."
Although Sando's goal is to offer beans-and chiles and corn, too-from all over the Americas, for now, he is focused on Mexico. Jossel also plans to use as many imported Mexican ingredients as he can at Nopalito. Sando is particularly concerned that Mexican heirlooms could start to disappear in the wake of NAFTA's requirement that the country eliminate its agricultural tariffs on beans and corn. Having phased out the last of these taxes this year, Mexico may soon see more beans and corn from the U.S. that could threaten its own farms.
"Seed savers and groups that advocate slower approaches to cooking are important," Sando says. "But the best way to protect these seeds is to make them commercially viable. Once you eat them, you realize this is not just about romantic ideals; you want to save them because they taste so good."
“late-night restaurant of the year”
2008 EAT + DRINK AWARD: BEST LATE NIGHT
2007 EAT + DRINK AWARD: BEST NEWCOMER
SCENE: This restaurant has made what was once just an unnamed stretch of Divisadero the place to be. Its cavernous space with massive windows has been given plenty of rustic touches — a stack of firewood near the open kitchen, dishtowels for napkins — but a sweeping mural by local artist Brian Barneclo imparts a sense of urban cool. A lively crowd gathers at the bar to sample NOPA's signature cocktails.
EATS: You'll see plenty of homey favorites on the compact, daily-changing dinner menu. The food is simple and mostly organic, with starters such as a flatbread topped with caramelized onions, kalamata olives, anchovies and parmesan and mains such as a Mediterranean fish stew or herbed rotisserie chicken. Desserts also play it safe with crowd-pleasers: persimmon pudding with cognac cream, pecan tart with salted caramel ice cream and sopaipillas, small pillows of fried dough topped with honey butter.
“beyond just mixing proper cocktails to almost reinventing them”
Bar Stars: Neyah White
Throughout his adult life, Neyah White (pronounced NAY-ah) has never quite been able to escape bartending. He started at age 19, serving drinks at a Maryland restaurant where his mother worked as a cook. Later, while taking a year off to travel, he found himself working a bartending shift here and there in Mexico, then Prague.
"I tried to do other things with my life and kept coming back to it," says White. "There wasn't a period when I wasn't a bartender. You never leave it."
Before helping to design some of the Bay Area's most innovative cocktail lists, he saw the less glamorous side of bar life while working as a doorman and bartender at nightspots where the drink of choice was rum and Coke.
It wasn't until his late 20s that White developed a passion for classic, well-made cocktails, about the same time he moved to San Francisco and worked at the newly revamped Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel.
"Classics had always been a hobby of mine. All of a sudden people were ordering them," recalls White.
He began to study vintage cocktail books and to break drinks down to their individual components, to try to figure out what made them work. For example: the Negroni.
"Why is that good? Campari is rough on the palate. Sweet vermouth is kind of crappy. At that point in my life I didn't like gin. But if you're very careful it makes this beautiful thing," he says.
Like many of the bartenders in his milieu, White has now gone beyond just mixing proper cocktails to almost reinventing them, by using hard-to-find spirits and homemade, often esoteric, ingredients, such as his Sunshine bitters, which is infused with cardamom and saffron.
At Nopa, he's in the process of "converting the nuts and bolts of the bar," as he puts it, by replacing all of the bitters and liqueurs with homemade versions. He has more than 20 house-made bitters, and recently made a batch of persimmon liqueur, which he will put up until next fall for seasonal drinks. He also is making a collection of limoncellos, including a Meyer lemon and rosemary version, that he will use in summer drinks.
The New Ideal cocktail is something that came together unexpectedly after he concocted a blackberry root tincture. He thought it might complement a whiskey sour, but that combination didn't work. Yet when he added a few drops of the earthy tincture to a classic Ideal cocktail, he could tell it was going to be right as he poured it into the glass.
"That earthiness acts as a great counterpoint to the brightness of the grapefruit," he says. While the gin and grapefruit are bright elements and the vermouth is a sweet component, the tincture "distracts the palate enough that it sort of stretches it out," says White. "It's an accent that makes the whole thing click."
His process for creating new drinks varies from adding twists to the classics to experimenting until he gets something that is new and only found at Nopa. But his main philosophy, he says, was summed up well by cocktail writer and Chronicle contributor Gary Regan.
"It's about creating drinks where the integrity and heart of the base spirit is not covered up but brought to the forefront. The ones I'm really proud of are drinks where it's all about showcasing the ingredient rather than trying to cover it up," says White.
White says Nopa's drinks are special because of specific tools - such as the restaurant's alderwood grill that he uses to smoke fruit for liqueurs - and the knowledge of the staff. White adds that his inspiration also comes from the unique environment of the Bay Area.
"It's about being in San Francisco and having unparalleled access to distilleries and produce. I have winemakers and distillers and farmers sitting at my bar every night of the week," says White. "Nobody else gets that."
Current gig: Bar manager, Nopa, 560 Divisadero St. (at Hayes), San Francisco; (415) 864-8643 or nopasf.com.
Backstory: In San Francisco, previously worked at Supperclub, Bourbon & Branch, Bacar, Mecca and the Redwood Room at the Clift.
Can't work without: Besides ice, probably Benedictine.
Ask him for: The New Ideal
The New Ideal
Makes 1 drink
Bar manager Neyah White makes homemade blackberry root tincture at the bar at Nopa. If you don't happen to have some lying around, make it without for a classic Ideal cocktail.
1 ounce Bluecoat gin
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes vermouth
1/2 ounce Luxardo or other maraschino liqueur
Juice of half a grapefruit
4 dashes blackberry root tincture
Instructions: Fill a shaker with ice. Add all of the ingredients. Give it a good shake and pour into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the twist.
“a neighborhood is on the rise and a restaurant is leading the way”
The NOPA district of San Francisco - the name stands for "north of the Panhandle," that sliver of green jutting east from Golden Gate Park - was once known mostly for low-income housing and random shootings. But an influx of attention-getting restaurants and boutiques in the last decade have made it one of the city's cooler destinations, even as it struggles to maintain its gritty individuality. NOPA has emerged as a kind of cultural bridge between hippie Haight Street and the rest of the city. Wanderers can satisfy a sweet tooth at a truffle shop, dine on "cruelty-free" dishes at a vegan restaurant, pick up a hammer at family-run SF Hardware, or get a bike tune-up with coffee at the Mojo Bicycle Cafe.
But what really put the neighborhood - and its name - on the map is the restaurant NOPA. The restaurant, which opened last year, has created quite a stir, not only for its organic kitchen (a grass-fed beef hamburger is $12), but for making a point of serving filtered tap water as a greener alternative to bottled. The large space is housed in a former bank and has concrete floors, a communal table and an open kitchen that stays open until 1 a.m., a welcome anomaly in a city that goes to bed early.
“already a classic”
TOP 10 RESTAURANTS OF 2006
by Michael Bauer
I can't think of another restaurant, other than Zuni Cafe, that has such an egalitarian mix of patrons. You'll find socialites, politicos, artists and plain folks from the neighborhood who come together under the impressive beamed, trussed roof. The place has already become a classic.
NOPA was opened in April by Laurence Jossel and Jeff Hanak, who met at Chow, and Jossel's fiancee, Allyson Woodman. The large space, at one time a bank, features polished concrete floors and a large bar with a communal table, open kitchen and mezzanine.
The place is always abuzz, even late at night, when many workers from other restaurants stop by for a bite on their way home. Jossel offers the type of food that keep people coming back: roasted London broil with cauliflower gratin, juicy grass-fed hamburger, fish stew and flatbread topped with bacon and caramelized onions.
The kitchen is outfitted with a fryer, wood-burning oven and wood grill, so the staff can do just about anything. The rotisserie produces a stellar chicken, the grill a great pork chop, and the wood-burning oven an earthy casserole of giant white beans with tomato, feta and oregano. From the fryer comes some of the best fries around and crunchy little fried fish served with paper-thin slices of fennel and a romesco sauce.
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Press Contact Information
560 Divisadero Street @ Hayes
San Francisco, CA 94117