With so many hot new food projects it can be hard to keep track of them all and this month is especially buzz-y. Here are fresh updates including one from chef Traci Des Jardins, who is no stranger to Bay Area Bites. Her new restaurant, The Commissary, opened this week in a restored building that once housed barracks. This eatery is being run in conjunction with the Presidio Trust and Bon Appetit Management Company, and serves up more Spanish flavors than Des Jardins' other spots: Jardinière Restaurant, Mijita, Public House, and Manzanita. Des Jardins is in the Commissary kitchen right now, but once things settle down kitchen duties will go to executive chefs Reylon Agustin and Robbie Lewis, pictured above. You may want to call ahead since the hours during the soft opening are varied.
I caught up with Des Jardins at a preview event while plates of fingerling potato with chorizo and aioli came out of the kitchen, followed by beautiful and tasty sardines with fava beans, radish and garlic. A hearty cheese board was also on offer and other guests who were taking in the airy and open space included Craig Middleton of the Presidio Trust, photographer Frankie Frankeny, Susie and Mark Buell, Liz Einbinder, James Stolich (Cook with James), Jennifer Roy, Joe Brown (his bread from Marla Bakery is used), and Culinary Consultant Laiko Bahrs. The chef's comments have been edited for content and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: How's the opening going?
Des Jardins: It's always crazy. You know how it is. I'll be here through it all.
Bay Area Bites: What are some of your favorite dishes and what's the menu like?
Des Jardins: It's very improvisational and will change. We're getting seafood that's rated well by the Monterey Seafood Watch and is local, like sardines in escabeche. We do some of our own curing here. There's also grilled squid and garbanzo beans with fennel and aioli; striped bass, clams and toasted almond picada; as well as roasted chicken, liver toast, Marcona almonds and dates.
The wait for Chino (which is Spanish for Chinese), a modern Chinese spot from the folks at Tacolicious, is almost over. Chino, which is still under construction, has been eagerly anticipated because it means a new place in the Mission District to eat steamed buns known as baos, noodles, “grab pancakes” of the zhōng zhuā bǐng (蔥抓餅) variety, dumplings and other small plates, with or without adult beverages. Danny Louie had a hand in helping create the bar program, and drinks of interest include the Shanghai Buck (Pampero aniversario rum, ginger, bitters & lime) and Chinatown Iced Tea (Baijiu, almond milk, passion fruit, Lipton tea and lemon). Chino will open this Wednesday, May 28 in a space that for years housed a tapas eatery called Andalu.
Joe Hargrave came up with the idea for the casual Chinese spot with his wife, Sara Deseran, who is a San Francisco Magazine editor and food writer. The menu was crafted with an assist from chef Telmo Faria (who has long been associated with Tacolicious) and initial work was done by chef Brandon Jew, who is no longer on the project after a friendly parting. Chino started as a pop-up at the Ferry Building and Hargrave traveled to some fun spots for a little R+D before moving into the brick-and-mortar location. Hargrave updated me on what to expect. His comments have been edited for content and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: What dishes can customers look forward to?
Hargrave: It’s a funny concept and not totally different than Tacolicious, which we took a lot of heat for. I have a super love of noodles and dumplings and you can go to a few places in the Avenues, but overall it's just not prevalent and available here. Sara wrote a book 12 years ago about Asian vegetables, and it's a topic that she really knows a lot about. We're going to have vegetables and cocktails along with baos and Dan Dan noodles that will be authentic, whatever that means. Look for Korean and Japanese flavors. It's not going to be fusion.
Bay Area Bites: What are the tough parts about opening?
Hargrave: We don’t speak Mandarin, so sourcing ingredients means I have to take a picture, and go to a market in Chinatown, because I don’t have any words. If I go to La Palma for Tacolicious, I can speak Spanish and order 50,000 tortillas. If I go to Chinatown, I am not able to do that.
It's just amazing, when people tell me “if you’re going to do a Chinese restaurant you have to have a wok and these are the dishes you have to do.” I say no, I don’t have to do a wok station, it’s just not my concept. San Franciscans are very funny about authenticity.
I was in Taipei, Taiwan and there was super mashed-up food showing Japanese influence and lots of fresh seafood. We went to a place called Addiction Aquatic, that has the most amazing fish market. The pork with peanut in spongey white bread is Taiwanese and we're bringing that back.
Chairman Bao and M.Y. China use Peking duck. At Tacolicious we do a taco of the week; the bao is almost replaceable with a tortilla. At Momofuku, I tried a pastrami bao that was delicious and really good. There is also a Cubano with chile cheese, and pork that was pressed... those things would bug the purists to no end.