APPETITE For years, Hayes has been a strong dining neighborhood. Absinthe, Arlequin, Suppenkuche, the Blue Bottle garage are stalwarts. Recent additions Boxing Room and Nojo beautifully diversify Hayes' cuisine. A slew of newer eateries have arrived, especially on the tiny lot known as the Proxy Project (www.proxysf.net ), an open air setting for the new Biergarten, Smitten Ice Cream, and Ritual Coffee. I'm into Proxy's funky, industrial areas sectioned off by chain-link fences. However, I don't find the waits often associated with Biergarten worth it, nor Smitten's ice cream near as delicious as the fun of watching it being made in liquid nitrogen machines.
One of the best shops I've been to in years is just-opened Gourmet and More. French owners stock the store predominantly with French grocery goods, from ciders to foie gras (the latter at least for now). There's a charcuterie station with meat slicer, and an enchanting little refrigerated cheese room, including gems like a camembert from Calvados (a region in Normandy), soaked in calvados (apple brandy from the region). A local Frenchman makes L'Artisan Macarons (www.lartisanmacaron.com ), selling them here individually or by the box — I tried the eggnog and pumpkin ones.
I've just about given up on visiting new kiddie studio-cafe, Seesaw (www.seesawsf.com ). With minimal hours (Fri-Sun), it seems to be closed or booked with a private party each time I've come by to try the unusual offering of Danish Smørrebrød ("butter and bread"): open-faced pumpernickel rye with topping choices like egg salad or herring. Kids, or rather, their parents, sure seem to like the place.
Here are some other new Hayes Valley spots that are rising to the top:
Taste (535 Octavia, SF. 415-552-5668, www.tasteteasf.com ) is an Asian tea house with soothing atmosphere serving impeccable teas in a gaiwan (personal covered bowl) with housemade baked goods, run by husband and wife team (she's the baker). Early stand-outs include soft, grassy Misty Mountain tea from Jiangxi, China ($5 gaiwan, or $8 gong fu cha for sharing). Dim sum staples like pork buns ($2.50) are OK, but unusual items shine. A red bean wheat bun ($2.75) and veggie curry wheat bun filled with potato, carrot, cabbage ($2.75) taste both healthy and comforting, warm with a dreamy, doughy texture. Tea plays prominent in pu-er macarons ($1.75), while scones are made with fresh tea leaves ($2.50). I like the earthy oolong version.
To sample more for less than it costs individually, try tea pairings for one ($18), two ($38), or three ($58) people. Order for one includes gaiwan tea, three steamed buns, one scone, two macarons, one sesame ball, and an exotic fruit bowl. Pure bliss.
What: One of the charming sisters behind Two Sisters Bar and Books (579 Hayes, SF. 415-863-3655, www.2sistersbarandbooks.com ) greets you as you enter this narrow strip of a cafe, lined in classic wallpaper, with a cozy window seat, a handful of small tables, and a tiny bar — all bathed in early jazz music and inspired by European travels (including a bookstore in Krakow, a cafe in Vienna, and a bar in Paris), mixed with Brooklyn funk and NorCal roots. Perfect for a casual date or performance aperitif, this is the kind of neighborhood cafe I've been waiting for.
Sans full liquor license, the sisters offer inspired amaro-, beer-, and wine-based cocktails. The Iggy ($7) is a salty aperitif of silky Punt e Mes vermouth and grapefruit juice with salt rim. Port of SF ($7) is likewise refreshing with Madeira, lime, ginger, and Pilsner beer. For a husky Manhattan stand-in, go with The Duke's Son ($9): Amontillado sherry, Carpano Antica vermouth and bitters. Food is made with care in a tiny kitchen. A blanched brussel leaf salad ($8) is my dish of choice. Freshly laden with creamy French feta, cherry tomatoes, and roasted corn, it sings in lemon vinaigrette. Savory bread pudding ($6) is made with fennel, tomato, Manchego cheese, roasted garlic, and black truffle oil.
Debuting two weeks ago, Dobbs Ferry (409 Gough, SF. 415-551-7700, www.dobbsferrysf.com ) comes from restaurateurs with an East Coast background (Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County, NY, is the hometown of two of the owners). Executive chef Mike Yakura, formerly of Ozumo Restaurant Group www.ozumo.com , helms: they're dubbing the place a "California bistro" with "small town" New York cooking. The three-room space is decorated in muted browns and black with white walls.
Skip the unbalanced cocktails, and head for the dishes. Salads are crisp and straightforward. Eggplant parm pizza ($14) is a pleasant pie of breaded eggplant and basil. Kudos to my waiter for offering extra red sauce: without it the slices are too bready. Crispy sweetbreads ($12) over mustard sauce with bacon are unexpectedly satisfying, while a juicy half ($22) or whole ($35) chicken scarpariello somehow evoked childhood. (Half is enough chicken for two, with gently fried potato cubes like elevated tator tots, Molinari Italian sausage, sweet peppers and a peperoncini for good measure. The broth is the clincher: tart, zingy, savory, it ties the whole uniquely comforting dish together.
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