With Locanda da Eva, Former SF Weekly Critic Robert Lauriston Switches Sides

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Locanda da Eva
I find myself in an odd position: Interviewing one of my former restaurant-critic colleagues about the restaurant he's opening. Robert Lauriston, prominent Chowhound and eater-about-town, has written restaurant reviews for both the East Bay Express and SF Weekly, as well as SFoodie (though never during the same period as I have). Now he's opening Locanda de da Eva in Berkeley, in the space that once housed Mazzini Trattoria and Zax Tavern. I thought I'd ask the aspiring George Bernard Shaw straight out: What's a restaurant critic doing opening a restaurant?

SFoodie: So how's it going?

Lauriston: I'm doing fine. It's sort of an odd situation. I don't know what I'm doing, so I hired a chef (Huw Thornton, last of SPQR at A16 ― his sample menu is posted on the website), who is handling everything in the kitchen, and a GM (Matt Derrick of Terzo, Pesce, and Cortez) who is handling everything in the front of the house. I'm just handling the administrative details ― decoration, contracting, the wine list ― so I'm caught up while everyone else is slammed with friends-and-family [dinner] stuff.
 
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Weird-Ass Beer of the Week: Hanssens Oudbeitje 2000

Categories: Beer, Lauriston
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Some years ago, B. United International, a New York-based importer and distributor, started commissioning limited-edition, vintage-labeled beers, ciders, and sakes intended for aging,  cellaring them until ready to drink, and only then releasing them to market under its Master's Collection label.

Case in point, the Hanssens Oudbeitje Lambic 2000. Hanssens, located in Dworp, Belgium, is not a brewery but a blender: the house buys lambics (beers spontaneously fermented with wild yeast) from breweries, then blends and ages them, playing a role much like that of négociants in the French wine trade. Hanssens started in May 2000 by putting two-year-old lambics from Boon and Girardin into 600-liter wooden barrels with 150 kilos of peak-season fresh strawberries, sparking a secondary fermentation of the sugars in the fruit. The beer aged in the barrels until the following March, when it was bottled.

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CSA Adventures, Box 16

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In this week's box:
  • strawberries (2 baskets), 1 lb. 12 oz.
  • fennel, 15 oz.
  • asparagus, 11 oz.
  • baby artichokes, 12 oz.
  • sugar snap peas, 12 oz.
  • kale, 11 oz.
  • lettuce (2 heads), 12 oz.
Full Belly's strawberry season got off to a bang with this double portion. I just washed these and served them plain as dessert.

Normally I cut the stem out of kale, but this was so young I just made a chiffonade and threw it into a pot of soup that had otherwise finished cooking. Prepared that way, the kale took only a few minutes simmering to cook through.


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Cheap Wines That Don't Suck: Marchese de Petri 2003 Chianti Riserva

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Chianti used to be one of the great bargains of the wine world. Farmers in the several Tuscan Chianti regions grew a lot of good to excellent Sangiovese, a grape that, in the hands of a skilled winemaker, can make wines as fine as any in the world. However, until recently, when making Chianti they blended 70% Sangiovese with 30% lower-quality grapes Canaiolo Nero, Malvasia, and Trebbiano, resulting in wines that, while often very pleasant, could not be sold at premium prices.

This changed in 1971 when the major Chianti producer Antinori made an unblended wine from its best Sangiovese grapes and aged it Bordeaux-style in small oak barriques. Since this wine did not follow the DOC rules, it could not be sold as Chianti, so Antinori registered it as a relatively unregulated vino da tavola and gave it the proprietary trademarked name Tignanello, after the vineyard. (Subsequent vintages contain around 20% of the equally noble Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.)

The international demand for and unprecedented prices commanded by this wine led other Chianti producers to create their own proprietary "super-Tuscans." The diversion of the best grapes into these new wines resulted in a corresponding drop in quality of the producers' Chiantis.

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Wine & Beer Events, May 1-10

Categories: Lauriston, Wine
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Friday, 5/1, 6:00-8:00 p.m., The Jug Shop (1590 Pacific at Polk): Sake2Me tasting, $10

Saturday, 5/2, noon-3:00 p.m., K&L (638 4th St at Bluxome): tasting of small, artisan-estate Champagnes, $20

Saturday, 5/2, 2:00-5:30 p.m., SF Wine Trading Co. (250 Taraval at Funston): tasting of Spanish wines, $10

Saturday, 5/2, 4:00-6:00 p.m., The Jug Shop (1590 Pacific at Polk): tasting of under-$20 Italian wines, $10

Monday, May 4, 3:30-5:30 p.m., Bently Reserve (301 Battery at Sacramento): California Cabernet Society of tasting of 100 California Cabernets, tickets $50 with K&L promotional code

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Monday, 5/4, 6:00-8:00 p.m., The Jug Shop (1590 Pacific at Polk): Pio Cesare (Alba, Italy) tasting, $10

Monday, 5/4, 6:00-9:00 p.m., California Wine Merchant (2113 Chestnut at Steiner): tasting of wines from Petroni Vineyards (Sonoma), $20

Monday, 5/4, 7:00-9:00 p.m., 18 Reasons (593 Guerrero at 18th): "Italian Basics" class with Delfina wine director Becky Swanson, tickets $35 ($30 members)

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Eat, Drink, & Watch Saturday's Big Fight

Categories: Events, Lauriston
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SF fans of British boxer Ricky "Hitman" Hatton have an obvious choice for a convivial public place to watch this Saturday's big fight. The Abbey Tavern (4100 Geary at 5th), while Irish, has a good selection of UK beers on tap including Bass and Boddington's, and while no food is served, customers are welcome to bring in whatever they like, such as fish and chips from Old Chelsea (932 Larkin near Post). The fight's also being shown at Kezar Pub (770 Stanyan near Waller), which has a huge beer selection, serves American pub grub like burgers and wings, and was named "Best Bar for Expats to Watch Their Home Sports Teams" by SF Weekly in 2004. Both places are charging $20 cover.

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Fans of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao could go to the Abbey and bring along, say, a pile of lumpia and a lechon, but if you'd prefer to join a likely unanimous crowd of Pacman supporters, consider heading to Gerry's Grill (31005 Courthouse Drive, Union City, in the Union Landing shopping center). One of two US branches of a big Philippine chain, this place offers Pinoy comfort foods such as chicharon bulaklak, sisig, and liempo, plus San Miguel light, dark, and premium in bottles and American beers on draft. In partial compensation for the schlep, the cover is only $10.

Happy Hour Deals: B Bar

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Though its perch on top of the Moscone North complex might be hard to find the first time you visit, B Bar is worth seeking out at happy hour, when this Boxed Foods spinoff offers some of better values in the generally not-cheap neighborhood, as well as a great view and both indoor and outdoor seating. While officially located at 720 Howard (between Third and Fourth), it might more helpfully be described as in the Yerba Buena Gardens complex, between the Metreon and the Center for the Arts Theater, above the waterfall. If you know where Samovar Tea Lounge, B Bar is just at the other end of that rooftop plaza.
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Happy Hour & Duck Fries at Orson

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At happy hour, Orson (508 4th near Bryant) offers "classic cocktails" (i.e. well drinks) for $5, your choice of a martini, Manhattan, margarita, or southside (a Chicago specialty made from gin, lemon juice, mint, and simple syrup). These drinks are good, but note that the regular specialty cocktails, such as the "black Manhattan" made from top-shelf rye and Averna, still cost $9, and are arguably worth the higher price.

There aren't any discounts on the food, either, but the duck fat fries ($7) are definitely a good value. These are a perfected, grownup version of the McDonald's style, thin and crisp with a creamy center, and the browned-butter béarnaise dip served with them is amazing stuff. Orson's happy hour runs from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

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Michael Bauer Watch: Local Food, Imported Wine--Why?

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In his blog today, Bauer ponders a reader's question as to why, at a restaurant that focused on "very local, farm friendly, organic and sustainable" food, "the wines were predominantly French and Italian." Let's take his responses point by point.

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First, Bauer opines that "wines from Chile, Spain or Australia may offer more value per dollar than the California counterparts." True enough, but the wines at the restaurant in question are, as at many of our market-driven, otherwise locavore places, French and Italian.

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Next, he suggests that, since "many of these wines are unfamiliar to the average consumer," restaurants can, for example, mark up a Michele Chiarlo Arneis higher than they could a bottle of California Chardonnay. Sounds good in theory, but I don't believe I've ever seen a wine list where local and imported wines had different markups. Most restaurants around here sell bottles for three times the wholesale price, which is double the undiscounted retail list price. (As far as I'm concerned, anything higher is a ripoff.)

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Sicilian Events with Fabrizia Lanza

Categories: Events, Lauriston
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Fabriza Lanza, daughter of the eponymous founder of, and instructor at, the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school / foodie resort on the Regaleali estate outside of Palermo, is touring the West Coast to promote Sicilian culture and cuisine. Two or three of the events are in the Bay Area:

Monday, May 11, 6:30 p.m., Italian Cultural Institute (425 Washington near Battery): screening of Lanza's short documentary film The Bread Altars of St. Joseph's Day, an interview by noted local cookbook author Carol Field, and light refreshments. Free, but reservations required; call the Institute at 788-7142 to RSVP.

Tuesday, May 12, Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck near Vine, Berkeley): four-course Sicilian dinner with Regaleali wines, $125 including wine before service charge and tax. The menu:

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