This article was first published here at Table8 where I am national editor.
The 6 key restaurant and bar openings of July are Corridor, Deccan Spice, Don Pistos Tequila Bar, Dabba, Scopo Divino and Black Cat. While there are strengths at each, here are my top three newcomers… and why they stand out.
BLACK CAT, Tenderloin
Opened the last week of July, Black Cat is the most ambitious opening of the summer, seeking to be jazz club, live music venue, cocktail destination and restaurant all-in-one, opened by New York restaurateur Fritz Quattlebaum and operations partner Khalid Mushasha. Start upstairs in a chic, sunny (yet seductive in black tones) bar, then head downstairs to a lush, low ceiling space with revue stage (reservations required for shows) and hues of black, gold, burgundy and cerulean blue. Bonus: They serve dinner till 1am nightly with a limited bar menu until 1:30am.
Who: Chef Ryan Cantwell (Zuni Cafe, Chez Panisse) oversees the kitchen turning out supper club food with Jewish deli touches (a latke section, brisket). Bar manager Gabriel Lowe (Locanda, Beretta) heads up the cocktail menu and bar and wine director Eugenio Jardim (Jardinière), the wine list.
Eat This: The menu initially seems all over the place, from classic pan con tomate (simple, gratifying garlic tomato toast) from Spain to Jewish latkes ($11-13) in creative toppings (grilled turkey figs?) In my first meal, I quickly found layers of gourmet comfort define the offerings. Swordfish octopus meatballs ($11) are refreshingly different (though not quite as juicy as hoped) but local oyster and smoked pork tongue pot pie ($16) is a lush horseradish veloute under a flaky, puff pastry dome, that almost sings of brine and the sea. Then there is the Black Cat double brisket patty melt ($16) laden with Munster and Swiss cheeses, pickled and caramelized onions, all on Jewish rye. It looks small and demure compared to some of your mountain-high NY or LA Jewish deli classics, but then you taste its fatty, thinly-shaved goodness… and nothing is missing.
Drink This: Jardims wine list is savvy and smart, offering a pour for every palate but also appealing to us wine geeks with a grower Champagne page and wines from Burgundy to Hungary. On the cocktail side, Lowe sticks to the classics made with finesse and balance, like the underrated, dry sherry classic, a Bamboo ($13), the ideal aperitif of sherry, dry vermouth and orange bitters, or the goes-down-easy Invisible Gin ($13) cocktail, combining gin, Amaro Nonino, Small Hand Foods pineapple gum syrup, ginger, lemon and soda. This is superlative drinking compared to what one normally gets when hearing live music where drink is an afterthought.
June 28th was the official opening date for Corridor, another ambitious restaurant from the Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group (behind the excellent Trestle, Fat Angel, Stones Throw). Corridor brings a much needed, fresh approach to the busy intersection of Civic Center and Mid-Market near theaters, concert halls and major companies (Twitter, Uber, etc.), one that would be beneficial downtown or anywhere. Think order-at-the-counter ease and speed with high quality food akin to a mid-range, sit-down restaurant. In fact, you do sit down with one waitstaff to bring everything you need, if you wish to add on drink or food to an initial order.
If was running across the street to the Symphony, the ballet, opera or to SFJazz, this is the kind of place I could slip in without a reservation, bring a few people and have a little something to please each palate without worrying about being late for a show. Its a welcome lunch and dinner respite where one can linger or move fast as the day demands without compromising in taste and quality.
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How It Works: During my first visit, the flow worked impeccably as I was given an old school room key with my table number after placing my order at the counter. I then headed to the cozier upstairs tables, gazing down over the lofty, bustling dining room and kitchen below and out onto busy Van Ness.
Eat This: Dont miss that monkey bread ($6). Its not traditional, sweet monkey bread but a dreamy savory version laden with cheddar cheese, chive oil and accompanied by basil aioli. The chicken parm sandwich ($14) is a laudable version, utterly gratifying smothered in provolone cheese, pesto aioli and tomato sauce, partnered with giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables) and crisp broccolini.
Drink This: There are refreshing vermouth and low proof cocktails as well as short but thoughtful wine and beer selections.
DECCAN SPICE, The Mission
Opened at the beginning of July in humble Valencia Street digs, Deccan Spice was the biggest surprise of the month: a South Indian-leaning restaurant (think dosas and uttapams alongside curries and Indian breads) offering Hyderabadi cuisine also known as Deccani cuisine the native cooking style of the Hyderabadi Muslims. I wish Deccan Spice was in my neighborhood as this would be new favorite Indian takeout and neighborhood go-to.
Eat This: The dosas ($7-14) and uttapams ($8-12) are soulful, comforting and filling, laden with your choice of ingredients from chilies to onions. The crunchy, vibrant cashew curry ($13) is a tomato-based curry with all the joys of a tikka masala, sans meat, but another welcome option for those who might not want paneer (Indian cheese). There is an extensive selection of curries and biryani, appetizers and Indian breads from naan to roti.
Drink This: As an alternative to the ubiquitous mango lassi (and exhibiting a bit of the salty, tart qualities of real deal lassis), the strawberry lassi ($4-7 in 4 sizes) is a delightful change of pace.