While the deli remains intact, Wise Sons lost its commercial kitchen in the fire. Photograph: Flickr
Beloved San Francisco deli Wise Sons is scrambling to rebuild its catering and wholesale businesses after a devastating fire in early February destroyed the building that housed its commercial kitchen.
The fire — which killed one person and injured six, according to news reports — also forced the delay of offshoot Wise Sons Bagels, which partners Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom had planned to launch this week. After months of testing, Wise Sons’ commissary kitchen was finally ready to bake bagels for wholesale accounts and branded retail outlets it had planned to open across San Francisco, SFGate.com reported.
Still, Bloom told the Forward that Wise Sons will emerge from the disaster even stronger. “In six months, we’re hoping we’ll be saying, ‘Yes, we made it through the fire,” Bloom told the Forward. “We have to find a new place. And the market for real estate in San Francisco is abysmal. But we know more about our business now. And our staff has really come together. I’m a micromanager. Suddenly, you can’t worry about a lot of little things. The staff has really shown us they can do it.”
For those who may have been wondering whether new tastes would arrive at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco with its new director, there is now an answer. While Lori Starr will not officially become the museum’s new executive director until June 10, word is already out that Wise Sons will be moving into the downtown museum’s vacant restaurant not long afterwards.
Wise Sons’ Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman, who are among the leaders of the Jewish deli revival of recent years, told j., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, that they were very excited to open a second location at CJM. “It’s the next logical step for us,” Bloom said about the projected mid-to-late June opening.
To accommodate the additional food production involved in expanding beyond their restaurant at the corner of 24th and Shotwell Streets in the Mission District, Bloom and Beckerman have leased a new space that will allow for the increased production of baked goods and cured meats.
I recently ate lunch with some family members at Shorty Goldstein’s and was overwhelmed…by the vinegar. I’m afraid that if chef and owner Michael Siegel doesn’t change some things at his new deli in San Francisco’s financial district, he’s going to be in a real pickle.
When I spoke to Siegel in December of last year, as he was working on opening his restaurant (really, more of a lunch counter), he told me that he would serve lots of Jewish deli classics, but that he would add his own, contemporary California-style twists to them. “It will be a mix between tradition and my style, which is a little nouveau,” he said.
The problem I found is that these changes Siegel has made are detracting from the authentic deli food that he is doing right. The biggest issue is his pickles. All you get when you eat them is an overpowering bite of vinegar. The vegetables’ natural flavors are lost, and there are no discernable spices.
“It is so wrong for a deli customer to be served a knish that’s been put in a microwave,” lamented Michael Siegel, a successful San Francisco chef who is poised to open his own new Jewish deli in late January. At his place, almost everything will be made from scratch. “It’s time to bring the pride and love back into deli food,” Siegel said.
The first-time restaurateur takes making a good, fresh knish very seriously. In fact, his deli will be called Shorty Goldstein’s as a tribute to his great-grandmother, whose excellent knish recipe Siegel uses. The moniker is a combination of the great-grandmother’s nickname (she barely reached 4’10”), and her maiden name.
Inspired by new delis like Mile End in New York, Siegel, 33, decided to leave his position as chef de cuisine at Betelnut, a contemporary Asian cuisine restaurant, to join in San Francisco’s Jewish deli revival. “We have a large Jewish population in the Bay Area,” Siegel noted. “There’s a demand and a niche for good, slow-food Jewish deli. Wise Sons beat me to it and proved the point, which serves as motivation for me.”
This is how they’re doing matzo ball soup in San Francisco this year:
First, get an overnight delivery of wood pigeon flown in fresh from Scotland. Actually, first make sure the birds were shot in the wild. With tiny buckshot pellets. Then slow poach the breast meat in a sweet, salty brine. Give it a crust of black pepper and coriander.
For the broth, make it using the pigeon bones, then reduce it by half to make it oh-so rich. As for the matzo balls, construct them with homemade matzo, fresh local eggs, toasted caraway seeds and a touch of soda water.
And there you have it: “Wood pigeon pastrami with caraway dumplings in a double consommé” — or, as chef David Bazirgan calls it, “my take on matzo ball soup.”
“Oh no! Please don’t go!” exclaimed one of The Kitchen Table’s 1,700 friends as he read the restaurant’s announcement on Facebook that it is closing on June 3. Open since the spring of 2009, the upscale kosher fleishig dining establishment in Mountain View, California will shut its doors for good after its dinner service on Sunday.
As The Kitchen Table clients logged onto their computers following the Shavuot holiday, they saw the following message:
The Kitchen Table, the premier Bay Area fine dining Kosher restaurant, will be turning the page after it serves dinner on Sunday, June 3rd. We want to thank our wonderful fans and customers for the support they have given us over these past three years. We will be open with regular business hours on Tuesday, May 29th through close of business on Sunday, June 3rd. We hope to see you at our Kitchen Table one last time.
It appears that the restaurant’s attempts to cater to kashrut-observant Jews, and also local Silicon Valley executives and engineers, with a seasonally fresh California-Jewish fusion menu ultimately failed.
“This is not your average garden,” chuckles Yvette Parnell as we survey the former Hayes Valley parking lot that has been transformed into the Growing Home Community Garden on a stunningly clear January afternoon.
Indeed, a full tour and history of the vibrantly decorated urban garden reveals the magic contained not only in its lush expanse of edible crops, perennials, and herbs, but in its transformative effects on the homeless and housed San Franciscans who have joined forces to create this open green space in the heart of the city for all to enjoy.
The vision for the Growing Home Community Garden (GHCG), located at 250 Octavia Street in San Francisco, sprouted two years ago from Judith Klein, founding director of Project Homeless Connect a program which has connected over 27,000 homeless individuals with essential services since its inception in 2004. The intention of the garden was to offer a safe haven for people to get off the street, or out of shelters for a bit, and have the opportunity to experience the responsibility and nurturing involved in growing edible plants from scratch. Many, but by no means are all of the volunteer members homeless, in shelters, or formerly homeless. They meet weekly over communal meals to discuss different goals for the garden, and to share the work involved in maintaining an ambitious array of crops, including kale, cauliflower, berries, apples, carrots, passion fruit, and six different kinds of tomatoes. To date, over 285 people, including neighbors, students, artists and community members have participated in the garden’s efforts.
This week we bring you two stories about hummus around the globe. Tell us about your favorite hummus in the comments.
“Everyone thinks they make it the best,” is what Abdul Lama said as he stood at the cash register under a portrait of Jordan’s King Abdullah and Queen Rania in his Mediterranean Wraps restaurant on California Avenue in Palo Alto, California. Lama was speaking of hummus, and it appears that his statement is correct — at least from the bit of research I did among the professional authentic hummus makers here in Silicon Valley.
“There’s only one way to make hummus,” Lama’s business partner Abraham Khalil told me emphatically as I sat with him at a table at Mediterranean Wraps’ second location, on busy University Avenue near the gates to Stanford University. The frustrating thing was that he was only willing to go so far in revealing just how he specifically makes his popular hummus.
As the owner of a hyper-local San Francisco restaurant, Yaron Milgrom doesn’t seem unique — after all, the city by the bay is the birthplace of the locavore movement. But Milgrom’s road to San Francisco restaurateur certainly is out-of-the-ordinary.
Milgrom moved from New York to California in 2008 for his wife’s medical residency. At the time, he was getting a doctorate in Medieval Jewish Mysticism from NYU. While he still hopes to finish his doctorate someday, he has turned his attention from the academia to food.
When he moved into the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco he noticed an abundance of taquerias, but recognized the need for a local, ingredient-driven restaurant. In March, 2010, he opened Local: Mission Eatery with chef Jake Des Voignes.
At first glance one might assume that a Sipping Seder, made up of six potent cocktails inspired by the Seder plate, is simply the grown up equivalent of the primary school’s set’s chocolate Seder — an excuse to over indulge, or a means to induce an alcoholic haze to counter the stress of a family Seder. Or perhaps, the maror and shank bone inspired drinks are simply the latest in the long line of Jewish kitsch.
But to meet the creators of this newest Passover culinary innovation is to quickly understand that kitsch, humor and pandering were the furthest things from the minds of Rob Corwin and Danny Jacobs, two serious cocktail enthusiasts. Outsiders may be oblivious, but their cocktail creations are cultural expressions with historic and social value. That seriousness played out in every stage of developing the recently launched Sipping Seder.
San Francisco is famous for its many coffee shops, book stores and taquerias but a good Jewish deli is hard to find. To my surprise, I’ve encountered two delis that have only opened in the past year and that deliver Jewish deli foods with a California twist – pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup prepared with a West Coast sensitivity to freshness and good quality ingredients.
Wise Sons deli only serves food for a couple of hours once a week, but it typically draws a line that wraps around the block and often sells out of their signature pastrami as early as noon. As part of Off the Grid, a group of mobile gourmet food vendors that park in different places around the city, Wise Sons “pops-up” on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm at Jackie’s Café in the Mission. Much like Mile End in Brooklyn, or Caplansky’s in Toronto, the chefs of Wise Sons, two U.C. Berkeley grads Leo Beckerman Evan Bloom, house cure and hand slice their own meats, prioritizing quality and flavor over quantity and variety. Beckerman says, “The main thing is that it all has to be delicious. We’re trying to revive, refresh and educate people about this food.”
Homemade inari sushi, mandle bread, rice balls, spicy edamame, hamantaschen, and rice crispy treats. If there was anything incongruous about the offerings at the recent bake sales for Japan earthquake relief at Brandeis Hillel Day School, a pluralistic Jewish day school in San Francisco, no one seemed to notice. The mix of Jewish, Japanese and American treats spoke directly to the palates of this unique modern Jewish community.
Though bake sales are “not a tradition” in her native Japan, parent Yumi Murase Berman, has learned about them since immigrating to the United States. Reacting to the recent tragedies in Japan, she reached out to other Japanese-American-Jewish families to host two fundraising bake sales. The menu they created for the bake sale was an extension of the multi-faceted identities that exist for many of these multi-ethnic families and the foods they eat.
American Jews have had a long romance with Chinese food. But the food of this school (which serves both falafel and sushi in its lunch program) and community represents more than culinary tourism or attempts of trying the cuisine of the moment. This mixing of cuisines could be credited to the American tradition of adopting and blending foods of immigrants into a culinary melting pot. But it is equally a natural extension of the Jewish culinary tradition of adapting and integrating local foodstuffs and recipes into the Jewish diet. These blending cuisines and food traditions are part of the ongoing negotiation of Jewish identity and community that we see mediated through food. In this case, it comes not from outside influences but from within the growing Jewish community’s internal Jewish culinary negotiations.
Visitors to San Francisco today would find it hard to believe that there were once three kosher restaurants, four Jewish bakeries, five kosher meat markets, and three Jewish delicatessens in the city. In fact, they were all within a two square-block area known as the Fillmore, once referred to as the Lower East Side of San Francisco.
However, the post-WWII exodus of Jews to the suburbs North, East and South of the city eventually left the area without an identifiably Jewish neighborhood or serious demand for kosher food. The Bay Area’s Jewish population is now the third largest in the United States (behind those of New York and Los Angeles), but its extremely low rate of community affiliation has dashed the hopes of anyone who had anticipated a new incarnation of the Fillmore.
Each night of Hanukkah, donut blogger and connoisseur Temim Fruchter will share one of America’s best donuts to devour during the holiday. Click here to read last night’s installment and check back each day for a different city’s top donut.
I have three words for you: chocolate rosewater glazed. I couldn’t believe this place makes a donut that involves rosewater. Not to mention donuts featuring ingredients as haute gourmet as saffron, rosemary and lemon zest. Though, it’s a bit of a toss-up – Dynamo’s neighbor is an adorable classic donuttery called The Jelly Donut, whose fares will only put you out circa 85 cents and are good in the best old-fashioned-donut way. But if you’re susceptible to the flirtation of whimsical craft donuts and swanky ingredients (as I suppose I am) it seems that Dynamo needs to be on your holiday to-do list.
Hanukkah relevance: These donuts are like tiny wrapped gifts. Masterpieces, really.