Store Tour: 2019 Bay Area Bites

A soon-to-debut upscale food hall in San Francisco International Airport; Bi-Rite’s new meal and snack kiosk in the city’s Civic Center Plaza; and Berkeley’s dynamic Gourmet Ghetto food scene are worth exploring while in town for the Winter Fancy Food Show. 

Restaurateurs Seek to Elevate Airport Dining: The Manufactory Food Hall 

The operators of three of the most acclaimed foodservice concepts in the San Francisco area have teamed up for a new food hall in the San Francisco International Airport.

The Manufactory Food Hall, located in the International Terminal, will feature the creations of Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, the husband-and-wife team behind the bakery-cafe concept Tartine; Gabriela Cámara, chef-owner of the Mexican restaurant Cala; and Pim Techamuanvivit, chef-owner of Michelin-starred Thai eatery Kin Khao.

(The new venue was still in development as this issue of Specialty Food Magazine went to press, with an opening tentatively set for early January.)

In addition to the three foodservice concepts, the 3,200-square-foot space will include a shared cocktail bar and seating area. Each of the restaurants will offer a scaled-down version of the culinary destinations that the restaurateurs are known for.

“It will be tight, but it’s going to be a good spot to sit and enjoy some of the Bay Area’s culinary offerings,” said Robertson when interviewed this fall.

Tartine, known for its organic baked goods made from freshly milled flour, will supply the airport outlet with partially prepared items from its commissary in San Francisco, and finish them off on site. Offerings will include hot and cold sandwiches, salads, and an assortment of freshly baked goods, such as tea cakes and muffins. It will also include coffee from Tartine’s own newly formed Coffee Manufactory brand.

“We are offering a very basic selection of seasonal Tartine classics,” said Robertson, who noted that he was excited to bring a high-quality food and beverage offering to an airport setting.

“I travel a lot, and I have had really good food in airports, but mostly not in the United States,” he said. “I feel like this is something that should be available for people traveling.”

When interviewed this fall, Robertson said the exact scope of the menu was still in the planning stages, but he and Prueitt were committed to creating an assortment that could be produced quickly and in a small space but did not compromise their principles.

“We will do whatever is the most convenient and the freshest and the most delicious for the customer,” he said. “We know what works in our locations in the city, but we don’t know yet what will work in the airport.”

Hands-On Control

Chris Jordan, chief operating officer of Tartine, said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that the restaurant operators were all assured of having hands-on control of their operations. Travel concessionaire SSP America, which introduced Shake Shack to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, oversees the foodservice at the San Francisco airport.

Cámara said her concept in the airport venue would be based on her back-alley taqueria, Tacos Cala.

“Our menu will be masa [a cornmeal dough]-driven and will feature masa menu items made from organic, locally sourced corn,” she told Specialty Food Magazine.

The corn will be nixtamalized—a process in which the kernels are soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution—in-house, she added.

The signature offerings will be tacos and tostadas inspired by Cala, along with classic dishes from Contramar, Cámara’s acclaimed restaurant in Mexico City, such as the Pescado a la Talla.

In addition, her restaurant in the food hall—which will also be called Tacos Cala—will include breakfast, a new daypart for a Cámara eatery.

The concept will be centered around offering good food in a fast-paced environment. “The key to success in a food hall venture is emphasizing quick service and convenience, while maintaining consistently great quality ingredients and food,” Cámara said.
Bangkok-born Techamuanvivit told the Chronicle that the food hall will give her an opportunity to test a fast-casual version of the Thai menu from Kin Khao, which she opened in 2014 after a varied career that included food writing and jam-making. The airport menu will include rice bowls, noodles, and grilled meats, and the space will also offer retail food and culinary items, she said.

Robertson said the partners have all known each other and are eager to create versions of their menus that work in an airport space.

“Gabriella has business in Mexico City, and Pim has business in Bangkok, so we all travel, and we all agreed that if we could make some better food available in the airport, it would be a good thing,” he said.

In addition to the three restaurants, the food hall also will include a cocktail bar that will showcase the varied cocktail programs of all three restaurant operators. “We are excited about the bar,” said Robertson. “It will have some interesting diversity in the cocktails.”
In addition to their two Tartine bakery-cafes and one existing Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco, Robertson and Prueitt are also collaborating with Phoenix chef Chris Bianco on another outpost in Los Angeles called The Manufactory that will include an all-day cafe, a dinner-only restaurant, and an ice cream and coffee counter.—M.H.

Responsible Food, Ready-to-Eat: Bi-Rite Cafe

With soft serve ice cream and hearty and healthy bowls available at the new Bi-Rite Cafe at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, it’s unlikely anyone will leave feeling disappointed.

This new breakfast-lunch-afternoon snack kiosk opened in October and is run, says Patrick Mills, director of operations and service, with the same principles “as you’ll find in our curated grocery stores.”

And indeed, Bi-Rite is no stranger to serving up a variety of wholesome fare. A San Francisco grocery store since 1940, the company now has two locations that attract a clientele looking for small producers, seasonal and local food, and a creamery, serving ice cream and baked goods.

The cafe is simply the company’s latest venture, and it came about by request. It’s located in the Civic Center Plaza, which houses everything from a museum to government buildings to an auditorium. Last February the Helen Diller Playgrounds opened, drawing a whole new set of people to the area. Wanting to provide refreshments, the Helen Diller Family Foundation approached Bi-Rite with the offer of $2 million to help with building costs, and last fall, the new cafe launched.

Conforming to Bi-Rite’s tenets of caring for the earth and the environment, the new 600-square-foot building was designed to be low impact. All lighting is LED and most is on timers; there’s no gas, only electricity; it’s small and efficient; and all cleaning supplies are green. The building is made mostly of granite and glass. Above the 3-foot-high granite, most of the building, up to the roof, is glass.

“That was designed because we’re in a public square so the granite matches the look and feel of the municipal buildings surrounding the cafe and the glass creates that feeling of transparency, like public buildings are supposed to be transparent,” Mills explains.
The food follows the same ethos as it does in the two grocery stores—all responsibly sourced, as local as possible, and mostly organic. To start the day, there are breakfast sandwiches, yogurt and granola parfaits, Bi-Rite Creamery baked goods like muffins and scones and pastries from a new vendor, The Midwife and the Baker, and a full espresso bar serving local Sightglass coffee. For lunch there are sandwiches, and rotating bowls—both hot and cold—such as Miso Noodle Salad, or Mills’ favorite, the Lentil Bowl, with lentils, rice, chickpeas, avocados, squash, sweet potatoes, and pea shoots.

The Draw of Ice Cream

In the afternoons the cafe scoops the same soft-serve ice cream that it offers at its Creamery store, with chocolate and vanilla always offered and two other rotating flavors, which are seasonal or themed with events at the Civic Center. The ice cream is made with Double 8 Dairy buffalo milk, which has a higher butterfat content. To this, Bi-Rite adds its own flavors. Also available: banana split, brownie sundae, affogato, salted caramel ice cream cup, and ice cream sandwiches, as well as other sweets, which include warm chocolate chip cookies, and seasonal popsicles.

For kids, there’s grilled cheese, turkey and cheddar sandwiches, carrots and hummus, and more. There’s also a free piece of fruit for any kids who’ve picked up a sticker at the nearby San Francisco Public Library’s main branch, making the cafe yet more appealing for the people who will be the customers of tomorrow, though surely the ice cream is the biggest draw for the smaller diners.

Grocery items are limited to flowers, which serve a double purpose of bringing color and joy to the outside of the cafe.

Mills thinks this fare will attract everybody. “Everybody cares in some shape or form about what they put in their body,” he says.

It certainly attracts employees keen on food. “We hire people who really care about food,” Mills says. “You want somebody who expresses passion for something but you’ve got to be careful to avoid hiring people who don’t know about local products because then you might miss someone who’s truly curious but just doesn’t know what organic and fair trade mean yet.”

The cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends, and open late when special events are held in the plaza. There are 30 to 40 seats outside, so customers can eat on the run or people-watch in the plaza. In the future, Mills hopes to attract couples who’ve married in the nearby City Hall. “We hope to turn it into a place to come and celebrate with a rose and a glass of champagne afterwards.”—A.B.

Berkeley’s Food Scene Across the Bay: Gourmet Ghetto

For more than a century, Berkeley has been known as a center of intellectual and political foment. And in more recent decades, for its vibrant and innovative food scene that’s on par with cities 10 times its size.

In addition to being home to one of the most famous and influential restaurants in the country, if not the world, Berkeley is ground zero for the farm-to-table movement and has been a training ground and incubator for many of the country’s finest chefs, bakers, and artisan food producers. Sadly, save for the odd pilgrimage to dine at Chez Panisse, very few visitors to San Francisco venture across the bay to experience the culinary Tao of Berkeley.

There are many interesting neighborhoods in Berkeley that provide amusement in the form of shopping and eating, but none is more captivating than a stretch of Shattuck Avenue and its environs known affectionately as the Gourmet Ghetto. The moniker was coined in the late 1960s, and somehow it stuck. Today, the area has outgrown its provincial roots and has become a popular destination for foodies everywhere.

Local author, artist, food historian, and former cookbook publisher John Harris compares Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to other historic neighborhoods known for food and cafe culture like San Francisco’s North Beach, New York’s Greenwich Village, and Montmartre in Paris.

“I predict that someday Shattuck Avenue between Rose and Virginia will be an official historic ‘culinary arts’ district,” says Harris, “with plaques on walls of buildings identifying former shops.”

The Gourmet Ghetto has evolved over the years and the makeup today is a mixture of old and new. A few of the original operations are still going strong, those that helped establish the area’s reputation as a specialty enclave. They include the original Peet’s Coffee & Tea, the small storefront where Alfred Peet first began roasting coffee and teaching his clientele about the nuances of fine tea; The Cheeseboard Collective, a seminal cheese shop, bakery, and pizzeria that has been an anchor for the food scene here since it opened over 50 years ago (the near cult obsession surrounding the pizza—one offering each day—results in a long line down the street nightly while jazz combos play inside); Saul’s Delicatessen (on what they whimsically call “the Upper North Side”), upholding the venerable tradition of the Jewish deli for over 30 years, is as close to a New York-style deli as you’ll find west of the Hudson River, only they use organic, sustainably raised and grown foods and they make their own sodas. 

In addition to the old guard, there are newer businesses that have spun their own interpretations of what it means to be gourmet. The Local Butcher Shop has been a welcome addition to the Berkeley food scene since it opened seven years ago. Owners Aaron and Monica Rocchino, a chef and former event planner, respectively, source their meat—grass-fed beef and lamb, organic chickens, etc.—as well as complementary goods like seasonings, rubs, olive oil, vinegar, pasta, and so on, from within a 150-mile radius of the store.

The shop has the feel of an old-fashioned butcher, with white tiled walls, low cases to better interact with the customers, butcher block counters, and a team of skilled butchers in white shirts and ties under their pinstriped aprons. Contrary to Berkeley’s image as a bastion of vegetarianism, many of the local consumers like meat but prefer it to be humanely and sustainably raised and are willing to pay a bit more for it. The Rocchinos regularly visit their suppliers (a great advantage of the 150-mile rule), helping to ensure their guidelines are strictly adhered to, including pasture management to avoid the destructive nature of large-scale meat production. (“Our ranchers say they are really ‘soil farmers,” says Monica Rocchino.) And because the butchers are cooks themselves (some are former restaurant chefs), they are always able to give advice about cooking any of the products they sell.

Chocolate has been a component of the Gourmet Ghetto since cookbook author Alice Medrich ran Cocolat in the 1980s. Today there is Alegio Chocolaté, one of the concessions in the Epicurious Garden, an upscale food court located in a converted television repair center. Owners Robbin Everson and Panos Panagos run the shop along with their partner Claudio Corallo, who grows and processes the chocolate in the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe off the coast of West Africa. At one time the largest producer of cocoa in the world, these islands grow cacao that has been untouched by modern genetics and chemicals, resulting in some of the purist chocolate made, with no need for vanilla and soy lecithin, additives that are often used to cover faults in modern chocolate. The charming little shop features many photos of the cacao fields and continuously running videos explaining the intricacies of growing and making chocolate.

Upstairs above the Epicurious Garden is an unusual cooking school called Kitchen on Fire. Owned by Olivier Said and Lisa Miller, it is best described as a professional cooking school for home cooks. The state-of-the-art kitchen offers a 12-week Basics course, as well as individual classes on a variety of subjects including Moroccan food, Thai, French desserts, ramen, tapas, butchery, nutrition, couples’ classes, teen camps, and more. They also regularly host corporate team-building classes where MBAs roll up their sleeves and cook together.

Next door to Chez Panisse is César. Founded by three Chez Panisse alumni, it was one of the first and still arguably the best and most authentic Spanish tapas bars to open on the West Coast. César recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and is still packed with regulars most nights who partake of the expertly made cocktails, eclectic, but mostly Spanish wine list, paella, and a menu of tapas comparable to any found in Spain.

Berkeley is a fast and easy train ride from San Francisco, and the Gourmet Ghetto is a short walk up Shattuck Avenue from BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Visitors to the Winter Fancy Food Show would do well to experience Berkeley’s world-class food. No tie-dyed shirts required.—J.M.

Mark Hamstra is a regular contributor to Specialty Food Magazine and Specialty Food News. Amanda Baltazar is a freelance writer based in Anacortes, Wash. James Mellgren is an author and food writer who lives in Berkeley, Calif.

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