Check, Please! Bay Area: 2021 Year in Review

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It was another unusual and, at times, challenging year for many of us — including for the team at Check, Please! Bay Area. While we lamented both the temporary and permanent closures of restaurants throughout the Bay Area, including local institutions, newcomers, award-winners and neighborhood favorites, we also celebrated the resilience of our communities. We were heartened to see so many of you come together to support local businesses and restaurants, continuing to share your love by ordering for takeout or delivery, or, where possible, safely dining in person. Just as many businesses pivoted their model, streamlining menus, allowing for curbside and offering outdoor dining, the KQED team shifted our approach to convening local diners to dish on their favorite restaurants.

This fall, we brought you eight episodes of Check, Please! You Gotta Try This!, a spin-off of the long-running KQED favorite, Check, Please! Bay Area. Three everyday reviewers joined host Leslie Sbrocco remotely to recommend the local dishes they can’t get enough of. From colorful, fragrant waffles to hearty, savory burritos, elegant fine dining to casual food trucks, we introduced you to some of the Bay Area’s most delectable dining destinations. We can’t wait to safely return to the studio at KQED’s state-of-the-art headquarters in San Francisco, but as we begin production on a slate of brand-new episodes, set to debut in spring 2022, we’re looking back at some of our favorite memories of 2021.

Here are 10 highlights you may have missed:

Leslie Sbrocco at Mersea
Check, Please! host Leslie Sbrocco at Mersea on Treasure Island

1. Production at Mersea in the heart of Treasure Island

As COVID-19 continued to present challenges for on-site production, we looked for ways to take our typical in-studio conversations entirely online. While our guests each episode joined us from their homes via Zoom, host Leslie Sbrocco led these discussions from Mersea, a popular destination located in the heart of Treasure Island. Thanks so much to Mersea owners MeeSun Boice and Parke Ulrich for welcoming us and for providing such an incredibly beautiful backdrop!

Singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito on Check, Please! You Gotta Try This!

2. Fantastic Negrito’s most memorable metaphor

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Singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito joined Leslie, award-winning director and Blindspotting actor Margo Hall and Oakland Roots soccer player Max Ornstil on the premiere of Check, Please! You Gotta Try This! to recommend the dreamy, savory jet-black Omu Curry at Dela Curo in Oakland — a dish Fantastic described as “...smoother than Luther Vandross.” With an endorsement like that, it’s easy to see why this dish is “never too much.”

3. Warriors “Dance Cam Mom” Robin Schreiber’s signature dance moves

Golden State Warriors’ famed “Dance Cam Mom” Robin Schreiber joined Leslie, TikTok phenom Nick Cho (Your Korean Dad) and local foodie and social worker Aisha Nelson to discuss their favorite local dishes — and to offer the group a quick tutorial!

Chef Chikara Ono, Coordinating Producer Cecilia Phillips, and guests Latonyia Fernandez, Gypsy Love and Robby Bancroft
Dela Curo Chef Chikara Ono, Coordinating Producer Cecilia Phillips, and guests Latonyia Fernandez, Gypsy Love and Robby Bancroft

4. A lasting friendship between guests

When guests Latonyia Fernandez, Gypsy Love and Robby Bancroft joined Leslie for our second episode of the season, their connection was palpable, their enthusiasm was infectious, and their conversation flowed easily — which led to a lasting friendship! Latonyia, Gypsy and Robby met up in person with coordinating producer Cecilia Phillips at Dela Curo, another You Gotta Try This! pick, for a delightful meal, cementing their friendship beyond the show!

5. Cecilia’s crunchy critters

This season, coordinating producer and reporter Cecilia Phillips brought audiences to eight off-the-beaten-path food spots through her new segment, Cecilia Tries It. But viewers weren’t the only people treated to unique and unusual experiences! On one particularly memorable visit to Mitote Food Park in Santa Rosa, Cecilia sampled tlayuda, a Mexican “pizza” topped with chapulines, commonly known as grasshoppers!

6. Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen’s impromptu solo

Opera singer Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, who has performed with the San Francisco Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and other companies throughout the world, greeted Leslie and fellow guests Alexandra Charlos and Christina Davis with a resonant “Hello!” This brief and thrilling welcome showed off Aryeh’s impressive, extraordinary range as a countertenor, the most rare voice type in all of opera.

Miguel Escobedo of Al Pastor Papi

8. Al Pastor Papi’s scene-stealing singing

Miguel Escobedo’s enthusiasm is contagious — and the owner of Al Pastor Papi, a San Francisco-based food truck, delights customers with his singing, dancing and, of course, signature al pastor, all served from his can’t-miss hot pink truck. When we visited Al Pastor Papi, he showed off some of his moves and even sang a few bars, proving why people come from all over in search of his food and particular flair.

9. Dances with foodies at Storefront Market

Cecilia visited the Storefront Market at Storefront Records in Oakland to explore the connection between food and music, asking attendees what dish makes them “start moving and grooving” with the first bite. Their responses did not disappoint, as children and adults alike danced, shimmied and even did the worm as they thought about their favorite foods. 

What food makes you want to dance? Let us know on Instagram @kqedbayareabites!

Guest Daron Cam (far right) taking the standard funny photo on set of Check, Please! Bay Area in 2018.

10. A Check, Please! Bay Area retrospective

What’s “the Check, Please! effect”? SFGATE dug into this phenomenon, a marked uptick in business reported by restaurants after they’ve been featured on our show, and took a look back over our decades-long history. We’re honored to have the opportunity to feature restaurants throughout the Bay Area, sharing real reviewers’ favorite places and dishes, and we’re thrilled to see these stories resonate with diners across the region. Thanks to SFGATE for this wonderful story, and to the restaurateurs and chefs who shared their experiences!

Thank you for tuning in to Check, Please! You Gotta Try This! We’re deep into production now for a new season of Check, Please! Bay Area, and we can’t wait to bring you new episodes in 2022. Miss any episodes from this season? Stream Check, Please! You Gotta Try This! whenever, wherever, on our website  or with the PBS Video App.

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None of this would be possible without the support of our amazing sponsors! Thank you to Oakland International Airport, IRG, Total Wine and More, Sutter Health and Oceania Cruises for their continued support of Check, Please! Bay Area.