food + drink

what does restaurant design look like?

People eat out for two reasons: the food and the experience. Sometimes one takes precedence over the other, but for a restaurant to truly succeed, both must be deliberately addressed.

Last month I traveled with my daughter for a couple of weeks. We ate out….a lot. By chance we ate in 3 restaurants all owned by the same restaurant group. When we sat down in the third restaurant, I told her I thought all three were owned by the same people, or at least designed by the same group. Being my child, she of course challenged me. How could I know that? They had different names, different menus, different looks. Really they didn’t have much in common aesthetically at all.

I dug in and sure enough they are all part of the same group of restaurants. It made me wonder….what had I seen that made me so sure? I didn’t go into any of the kitchens or wait stations, so it wasn’t about functional design. I just sat down, ate my meal, visited the restroom (I always check out the restroom). Clearly, a well designed restaurant is seen in the details, it doesn’t hit you over the head.


When we walked into each restaurant we were greeted immediately by a host stand. We knew where we were supposed to go to be seated. There was no wandering around wondering if we were supposed to seat ourselves, if this was the front, etc. Point of entry is one of the most important places to make an impression on a new diner. You know that pithy saying….you only get one chance to make a first impression. It matters when you are the diner walking into an unknown situation.


The chairs were the right height for the tables, the tables were the right size for the plates, serveware, cutlery, etc. When I sat in each restaurant I was able to cross my legs without rubbing my knee in the last diner’s child’s wad of bubblegum. And I didn’t have to give away the salt and pepper in order to make room for my glass of water. Designers look at many things when designing seating and tables. Will the fabric on the booth create static cling when you stand up? Not a good look. Does the chair have arms so that someone larger than the average bear will be uncomfortably asking for another seat? Huge no no. Will it stand up to years of abuse or crumble under a diner after three months? Does the table have legs that will interfere with human legs?


We could see our menus and our food, and even though we were sitting next to a window we weren’t bothered by glare. Layering the light successfully isn’t easy. Yes, there needs to be enough light to make the pathway from door to table clear. That’s called ambient light. It lights the room overall. But once at the table a little more directed light is required to see the table top, the menu, the food when it arrives. And maybe there is some decorative light in various locations around the restaurant to highlight art or a wall or something that illustrates restaurant concept. Never light the diner from above…that weird ghostly look with deep shadows under your eyes won’t impress your date. If the restaurant has many windows, a designer will have considered how to protect from glare. If you’re staring at your date and all you see is a silhouette, someone wasn’t paying attention to design.


Of course there is a sign outside that says the name of the restaurant. That’s not the end of graphics though. When you’re sitting at your table, how do you know which way to go to get to the restroom? There is usually a sign, but does it fit with the decor? Is it easy to read? Is it visible from most places in the dining room? The restroom signs in all three restaurants did all three…they fit, they were legible, and they were visible. And the menus, while each was unique, fit the decor and concept of each restaurant.


Restroom design is a big deal in my book. Designing the restroom so that it looks like it belongs in its restaurant is the biggest of big deals. If the restaurant is selling steak for $65 a plate and the restroom looks like it belongs at the gas station down the street, no designer was involved in the project. The restrooms at all three of these restaurants were the biggest give away I suppose. They were all well done and each was unique, but they all had the same sleek and efficient fixtures and accessories. My daughter thought it was ridiculous that my thinking was confirmed by a toilet. Be that as it may, the comfort of the restrooms was clearly thought about and designed. Toilets, mirrors, accessories were all well located.

is it really all that important?

While traveling we ate at a restaurant in Edinburgh that had stellar food. The chef was clearly gifted. The dining room was confusing at best. There was something that looked like a coffee bar at the entry with no host or sign to tell us what to do/where to go. The tables were too low for the chairs. The chairs were of varying heights with cushions attempting to make up the difference. The banquette back was at a 90 degree angle to the seat. I couldn’t see to read the menu. Our expectations were low, but the food was amazing. Clearly the chef had a vision for the food, but perhaps not the time/inclination/money to hire someone to design the restaurant.

Sometimes design isn’t possible for any number of reasons, but I posit that if this restaurant were well designed, it would be winning awards and gaining audience. If you’re traveling in Scotland, hit me up and I’ll give you the name. One day, hopefully, they will decide to hire a designer and match experience to food.

Keep in touch,

everybody eats

where did that tomato come from?

ZeroFoodprint believes that restaurants and diners can lead the fight against climate change. And why not? Everybody eats. And most of us eat out at least some of the time.

food has a carbon footprint

Food production has a carbon footprint: from growing the food to finishing the food to transporting the food. And it is discernible. A food’s carbon footprint can be affected and measured when we look at where the food is grown, how it is grown, where it goes after it is grown. If you enjoy that melon you are eating in Oregon in December, know that it might have traveled from south of the equator to get to you. On the other hand, the lettuce in your salad could have come from a farm down the road. The melon’s carbon footprint is significantly larger than the lettuce’s.

Food preparation also has a carbon footprint. Is your lettuce washed in a constant stream of water under incandescent lights? Or is your kitchen lit with LEDs and your lettuce washed in a bath of water? If you’re eating out, these questions are even bigger and have much greater impact. Energy use, water use, waste disposal all influence the carbon footprint of a restaurant, a meal, a salad. Next time you’re out to eat, ask your server what the special fish is tonight, and also is it endangered and how was it caught?

climate affects food

As eaters, we see the effects of climate on the food we buy. Droughts, atmospheric rivers (yea, we get that in California now), freezes, pests, and so on affect both the cost and availability of food from season to season, year to year. Whether you believe in climate change or not, whether you believe we have the power to affect climate change, isn’t it prudent to do what we can to minimize our own impact? There are many who believe (myself included) it is not only prudent, but it is our responsibility to minimize the impact on our planet wherever we can.

And since (most) everyone eats (out), food seems like a good place to start.

be the change

There are many restaurants and food makers who are and have been embracing the changes that support a sustainable food system. You can eat in their restaurants, buy their products, support their causes.

Bon Appetit is an ‘onsite restaurant company’ (do not ever call them a cafeteria, seriously, they are so much better than that). Bon Appetit is a leader in onsite dining that values both social and environmental sustainability alongside culinary expertise. You can feel good about eating next time you go to a museum or ballpark fed by BAMCO folks. In addition to corporate and campus facilities, Bon Appetit is also a partner at The Commissary in the Presidio and is the brilliance behind Stem in Mission Bay. Fedele (BAMCO founder) is an old friend, so don’t mind me if this sounds a bit like a plug. It is, and it is because I believe so much in what he is doing.

Hampton Creek makes food from plants. That may not sound like much, but they make food like mayo out of plants. And their aim is to create a plant-based food revolution. Their thinking is that plants are cheaper, easier and cause less environmental damage to grow, therefore food will be cheaper and easier to obtain. Join the revolution at a store near you.

According to Extra Food, 40% of food produced is wasted and 25% of freshwater is used to produce this wasted food. In Marin County, Extra Food picks up wasted food from restaurants, corporations, grocery stores and others and delivers it to organizations in need, thus reducing the amount of food that needs to be produced. They’ve picked up and re-delivered nearly a million pounds of food…their donors are worth supporting. You know they aren’t tossing leftovers into the bin and adding to our planetary emissions.

make the change

If you are a restaurateur who wants to make the change to more sustainable food programs, there are many organizations out there who want to help.

ZeroFoodprint works with restaurants to determine and minimize their carbon footprint so that they are as efficient as possible. Then they work with the restaurant to purchase carbon credits to offset remaining emissions. There are several restaurants already in the program (3 in San Francisco!) and many more in process of achieving ZeroFoodprint.

The NRA’s Conserve Program will help you audit your restaurant for energy use, food waste, water use, recycling programs and fryer use. They will share info on everything up to and including why you should plant and harvest your own green roof. Learn about hand dryers vs. paper towels, washing dishes more efficiently and when to turn on the oven. Just another way to lessen your carbon footprint.

If you’re a restaurateur in California, the Food Service Technology Center will help you design or re-design your restaurant to be most efficient. They will work with you to choose the right equipment for your menu, choose lighting that is effective and meets code without shooting up your energy bill, save money on water. Many new restaurateurs are surprised by the huge bill they get from PGE their first month open. Fishnick knows how to minimize that surprise, allowing for a happier bottom line. And they do it all for free.

Our oceans may be vast, but they are not limitless and the way that we fish them has long lasting effects, for good or for bad. Seafood Watch’s program keeps an eye on how our oceans are fished and how fisheries are farmed, informing the rest of us about what seafood we should be buying and eating. This is yet another way to vote with your wallet. They work with both businesses and consumers to keep us informed. There’s even an app for that

eat right

You’ve gotta eat, so you might as well eat right. And by that I don’t mean eat healthy (although that’s always a good idea), I mean eat so that whatever impact you create is deliberate. If you don’t buy food trucked in from south of equator, your grocer will start selling food from the farm down the road. And if you support your local dining establishments that purchase sustainable product, they can stay in business. There’s no one right answer, but if you eat following your own conscience, you are eating right. And you can pat yourself on the back for saving the planet.

Keep in touch,

opening a restaurant….the reality of budgets

can you afford your dream restaurant?

Waiting for my new client to show up for our first sit down meeting, here’s the text message I got: ‘Hey Leslie. I’m sorry about this. We’ve discussed hiring you, and it’s twice as expensive to hire you than what we can afford (sic)’. This was ten minutes into the meeting they were apparently not showing up for.

check your reality

I’ve talked about this before (here and here).  Restaurants are expensive to open. Begin with a reality check. When I ask about budget, don’t tell me ‘enough’. I’m asking for a reason….I want to help you! If you can’t do it one way, there may be another option. If you want to reach your dream, full disclosure will get you there more efficiently.

This is a relatively small world, so any architect or designer who has done restaurant work knows people who have built restaurants. We will involve whoever we need to verify what you are hoping to do. A GC can give us an idea of cost based on square footage and level of service, I can estimate fees (permitting, architecture and design, etc.) and furnishings, we can throw in some ballpark numbers for equipment, owner costs, the cost of your lease. This is a service that most architects and designers will provide without fee.

Restaurant design and construction is unlike any other retail/commercial work. Ventilation, food safety and life safety targets are higher and thus result in significantly higher costs. Be realistic, don’t pretend that you have endless wads of cash ready to spend if that’s not the case. And do understand that you’re not opening a gift boutique….a much less expensive proposition.

If you’d like to figure this out on your own, here are the items that should be on your spreadsheet. The hard numbers I’m showing are specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, a very expensive area to build. But then, salaries are also high here so there are more bodies who can afford those seats!

1. construction

Depending on your program, this may or may not be your biggest number. These are the checks you will write to your general contractor for all demolition work, construction, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, millwork, finishing. This number should include all of the sub-contractors costs plus the GC’s own labor and materials. When talking with a GC it’s important to be sure this number also includes overhead, profit and insurance.

Here are 3 scenarios that may help you determine where you fall:

  1. You’re leasing a space that is an existing restaurant with enough electrical, an existing grease trap, hoods in place and up to code. You will be modifying kitchen equipment (except hood locations), lighting, hvac, millwork and finishes. Let’s presume this is a mid-range restaurant with table service. Expect $100-150 per square foot.
  2. You’re leasing a space that has never been a restaurant but is a ‘warm shell’. That means that there is electrical and plumbing in the space. Your vision is a fast food or fast casual program. Expect $200-250 per square foot.
  3. You’re leasing a space that has never been a restaurant but is a ‘warm shell’. Your vision is high level dining with table service. Expect $300-350 per square foot.

Take these numbers as base numbers. They can easily go up. And if you plan to do the manual labor yourself, then double the length of your construction schedule (which could be anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months depending on complexity). Remember, every day that you pay rent and are not open is also costing you. Do yourself a favor….hire a general contractor.

2. owner costs

These are wide ranging and will depend very much on your operation. As a start, here are the costs that you will need to research for your restaurant:

  • licenses (business, liquor, etc.)
  • table top: serveware, glassware, candles, condiments, etc.
  • kitchen small wares
  • artwork
  • POS system
  • branding: logo, menu, signage, environmental graphic execution/installation
  • attorney fees: don’t negotiate your lease or partnership agreement without help
  • music system
  • food and liquor
  • staff training
  • rent…for every month you are not open for business

3. kitchen and bar equipment

Grills, ranges, fryers, refrigeration equipment, ice makers, dishwashing, specialty equipment….this will be one of the highest numbers in your budget. You can verify some of these numbers online (if you have a very small kitchen and little equipment). If you choose to use your own online resources, double whatever number you come up with. You likely don’t have enough hand sinks, you forgot faucets, etc. Otherwise, talk with a dealer and get a ballpark number for your kitchen equipment.

4. furnishings and fixtures

This number will include your tables and chairs, light fixtures, host stand, some accessory items. Your designer can put together a budget number for furnishings based on your program and level of finish. Expect somewhere between $300 and $600 per seat.

5. fees

It was my fee that sunk that deal that began this article. And if they couldn’t afford my fee, my guess is they couldn’t afford their restaurant. Here are the fees you can expect to have to pay:

  • Architecture and Design: about 10%-12% of construction costs (that was number 1)
  • MEP Engineering: assume an additional 15% of design fee…this doesn’t track with design fees, but it is a decent ballpark number
  • Food Service Design (kitchen design): assume an additional 10% of design fee…like engineering this doesn’t track with design fees, but again it is a decent ballpark number
  • Structural Engineering: this will vary depending on conditions
  • Lighting Design: unless this is extensive, lighting design will come out of the design fee already mentioned
  • Graphic Design: this is the cost for design of logo, menus, signage, environmental graphics and will vary depending on need
  • Permitting: assume an additional 3.5%-4% of construction cost to cover building permit, planning permit, health department permit, signage permit, sanitation permit. Make a few phone calls as some jurisdictions tack on some pretty hefty fees that can be very unexpected. Especially sanitation.

and then

Once you put these numbers together, tack on at least a 5% contingency. 10% would be better. If all of these numbers together add up to less than your bank account, then you are good to go. If not, find some friends/neighbors/investors who also want to own a restaurant. Better yet, find people who want to be silent partners.

If this is your dream, follow it. There are plenty of us out here to help you…just ask.

Keep in touch,

And a giant PS….shout out to my friend and colleague Lev Weisbach, architect extraordinaire, for providing feedback on this post.

real food, whole food, what’s food?


My dad was a dairy farmer. He raised cows that ate grass, provided cow patties to fertilize the garden and were milked by hand. My grandmother made cheese from the milk, butter from the cream and grew her veggies in the garden. So I grew up understanding the basics of where my food came from. Food seemed pretty simple.

With the rise of industrial farming and mechanization and a need for greater yields with less oversight, GMOs were born. In theory, genetically modified organisms could be a good thing. GMOs could potentially grow in climates that haven’t typically supported them or zones where they are not native. Unfortunately it is pesticide companies that have taken up the GMO challenge and created plants that are toxic to pests. And potentially toxic to the rest of us. This may be unproven….but just in case I’m feeding my family organic.

There is another food path on the horizon. As we’ve been told, it requires much more resource to raise an animal than it does to raise a plant. A LOT more resource. So if we choose not to go the GMO route, or at least not the pesticide sponsored GMO route, we may need more options. How do we feed the world without destroying our planet?

There are some really brilliant food eating scientists and engineers out there trying to figure this out.

  • Hampton Creek is making food products typically derived from animals and creating them with plants. Starting with mayonnaise. Their belief is that food should be easy, delicious, affordable and good for our bodies and our world.
  • Beyond Meat has created a burger that tastes like meat, bleeds like meat, has 20g of protein just like a burger, but is made from plants. Apparently this is NOT a veggie patty as we know veggie patties. The vision at Beyond Meat is to ‘perfectly’ replace animal protein with plant protein for the mass market.
  • Perfect Day is creating dairy without cows. Or goats or sheep or nuts or hemp. Milk and cheese with all the taste and nutrients, none of the lactose, and without animals (except the human form).
  • SuperMeat is an Israeli bio-tech start-up that is building a machine to grow meat. So you can get your non-gmo, antibiotic free chicken from a machine at the back of the market or restaurant or your own kitchen without even killing a chicken. Kind of like cloning a chicken breast without cloning the rest of the chicken.

So I wonder what the issues will be with this newer version of scientifically developed foodstuffs? Will technology be our answer to feeding the world and saving the planet?

{This post is dedicated to my daughter who is studying Biological and Agricultural Engineering at UC Davis. She wants to save the world….and I think she can.}


is it right?

all photos/video courtesy donate to their kickstarter here.

all photos/video courtesy Donate to their kickstarter here.

Do we, each of us, have a right to shelter and food?

A friend of mine uses a Martin Luther King quote as part of his email signature. It seems especially poignant right now as we weather a social climate that is exceedingly animus.

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to social ills that include race relations, economic challenges and religious non-understanding, there are those among us that need help with the basic human needs of shelter and food. As a society are we obligated to provide these basic human needs?

Marcin Jakubowski thinks that making home and hearth more affordable, and less resource intense, is not only do-able but right. He is working on an open source initiative to make affordable eco-housing widely accessible. Along with a host of consultants on everything from energy to compliance to architecture, he calls his endeavor the Open Building Institute. He knows it can work because he has done it. And he believes that you can do it too.

kickstarter link
The idea is that each one of us, either with friends or hired help, can build a home. The Open Building Institute will provide the knowledge: a library of modules and instructions, building materials production facility, training, even a certified builder if you so desire. You begin with what you can afford…could be a tiny starter module with a kitchen, bathroom and loft. As you can afford you add an aquaponic greenhouse for growing food and fish, maybe a separate bedroom, perhaps another bathroom and a library or office. The home is made from CEB (compressed earth blocks) from on site soil, uses solar panels for energy, hydronic in-floor heating. The home operates off the grid and grows as finances and needs change. No mortgage (unless you mortgage the land), no power bills, lower grocery bills.

I’m 100% in favor. Yes, I do believe that we all have a right to shelter and food. And we also have a responsibility to work toward that end. If you want to support the Open Building Institutes Kickstarter you can be part of this solution. Donate $20 and get a book laying out the OBI method. Donate $500 and you can participate in a 5 day build and learn all the nuts and bolts of this system.

In case you were wondering, I have no connection to Marcin Jakubowski or Open Building Institute. This project was forwarded to me by a mutual friend, Nat Turner, who you may remember hearing about in Parti* Notes.

Keep in touch,

who wants tacos?


once upon a time taco bell and i were born…

Have you noticed all the Taco Bell chatter lately? Makes me a bit nostalgic. There was a Taco Bell next to my dorm at San Diego State all those years ago. In the light of day you’d never catch me there, but after midnight all bets were off. Sometime around 1am, when I was done (ahem) studying, those greasy little tacos called my name.

tacos in college

It seems the same is true of today’s college students. My daughter, who avoids dairy and gluten due to digestive issues, succumbed to a Taco Bell burrito late one night recently. I’m sure it was after a long bout of (ahem) studying. Not a good move for her, but she was swept up in the college taco tide along with a group of friends.

And this seems to be the tide that Taco Bell continues to rely on for some pretty sustained recent growth. After graduation I lost track of Taco Bell, aside from noticing they teamed up with KFC in a few locations (an odd match I thought). And that was probably fine with them. Somehow, even with all of the cultural moves toward healthy eating, SLOW food and the like, Taco Bell has managed to maintain the interest of the ever hungry 18-22 year old set.

old taco style: al fresco

When Taco Bell popped up in my feed 3 times in the last month I sat up and took notice. While they have made some effort to offer some healthier options (um, Dorito taco anyone?), what Taco Bell seems to really be focusing on is image. Taco Bell’s original style (if you’re a child of the 70s you’ll recognize that photo at the top of the page) was unique. The brick facade, arches, tile roof and the ever present bell didn’t veer off theme for a couple of decades. If you wanted to sit you did so outside, usually next to a fire pit. Sometime in the 80s the iconic style changed to suburban strip mall and lost most of its charm.

new taco style: beer and wifi

Then last year there was the shipping container store introduced at SXSW. And now Taco Bell is introducing 4 new store styles with an end game, it seems, of getting customers to stay rather than go (slow food rather than SLOW food I presume). Their new concepts include wifi, lounge seating, some have fireplaces, there is natural wood, gray (the color du jour it seems), modern art, mid-century seating, Victorian light fixtures and they’re even testing alcohol in a few locations. According to FastCo, it’s a mashup of every current design trend.

Taco Bell seems to be holding on to just a tiny bit of their own visual history. There’s the occasional pop of fireclay orange. Some of the themes use the textured brick of decades past. But overall, this is a complete overthrow. It will be interesting to see how this generation of Taco Bell fares with the current generation of technology toting college student.

Keep in touch,

slide in to Portland

Partying it up with PhotoShop after a trip to Portland. Check out the nice things I found underfoot. And overfoot. One of these photos is the actual color of my boots….

Sometimes you really need to look down. This is what I found on a plaque on a Portland sidewalk:

We, the citizens of Oregon, recognizing that the future health and well-being of our state depends on the strength and diversity of its people, stand together to celebrate the uniqueness of cultures, lifestyles, ideas and abilities that unite us as a community.

Makes me feel a little better about some of the icky that’s been floating around in these dis-united states of ours. I hope that once this election cycle finishes we can get back to being the actual United States. Portland was, however, a little slice of heaven and a break from all election coverage. And of course a lot of beer and food.

Three of us found an adorable place in the Burnside neighborhood of Portland called Slide Inn. Named after an inn owned by the chef’s family when he was a child, Chef Eugen serves American and German cuisine focusing on (of course, this is Portland people!) locally sourced organic ingredients. But what really thrilled my non-dairy gluten free daughter were the wide variety of items that she hasn’t been able to eat for years without severely inhibiting her digestion. Chocolate cinnamon french toast! She’s ready to move. Apparently Chef Eugen’s wife eats a restricted diet, so he cooks for her as well as the rest of us. The menu is diverse, and everything was absolutely delicious. I recommend a shot of Chef Eugen’s homemade ginger syrup in your coffee every morning.

Slide Inn is on a residential street a block from one of the hip breakfast places in Portland that we weren’t willing to wait 90 minutes to try. And thank heavens they had that crazy wait. Because Chef Eugen is a gem. Not only does he do all of the prep, he does all of the cooking, all of the serving, all of the clean-up and he makes everything from scratch. And because I asked, he very kindly has shared his recipe for his homemade ginger beer with me and you.

Chef Eugen’s Slide Inn Ginger Beer (in his own words)

9 cup water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup ginger ground
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup cane sugar
1 teaspoon dry yeast

Add the tartar, lemon juice, water, ginger,sugar into a pot and boil for 1/2 hour, turn down to a simmer once it comes to a hard boil. Cool down slightly and refrigerate. Let the temperature drop to 75-80 degrees and stir in the yeast. Place a lid on the pot and let the fermentation process begin. You can let it stand for as little as 3 hours or overnight.

I usually do it overnight so that I have a full day of letting it ferment. I like to start the fill process in the morning so that the process can fully complete. The liquid then get’s strained and filled into glass bottles that have a pop top on them. Fill them no higher than 3/4 so that when you burp them the ginger beer will have the space to rise. Place the bottles in a dark room or at a minimum no direct sunlight.

Open the bottle caps carefully and slowly, never fully open them as they will literally explode in your face. When burping the bottles never point the bottles in your or anyone’s face. If you want a sweeter ginger beer repeat this process for 2-3 days, otherwise 1 will do it. Once you have released or burped the ginger beer 3 times you can refrigerate. The colder the refrigerator the less fermentation happens.

*Remember; if it’s not cold enough the fermentation process will start up again, the more that happens the more it will cause gasses to build.

We managed to fit quite a few meals in between walking as many neighborhoods as we could. If you go, here are a couple more places to try. If you find something else that’s great (especially if it’s not in the guide books), let me know.

Keep in touch,

red hills market

Red Hills Market in the wine country south of Oregon. I got dinner to go for 14 people from pizzas, to salads to sandwiches and a whole lot of tea for $150. The food was amazing and the destination was worth the trip.

kopi coffee

In the Burnside neighborhood, Kopi Coffee makes spicy coffees (try the ginger latte…the bomb!) and teas and serves a unique and really delicious brunch menu. Great things come in small packages.

ruddick wood

Ruddick/Wood: yes it’s Newberg which Oregon’s wine country, but it’s Oregon, so I got the beer. And for heaven’s sake just stop fussing and get the fries.

New Seasons Market is everything a local grocer should be. The Portland version of that other national brand.

New Seasons Market is everything a local grocer should be. The Portland version of that other national brand. I got more than a few meals here to take back to my cute Airbnb.

james (and me)

all photos courtesy Alanna Taylor-Tobin/

The James Beard Award nominees for 2016 were announced yesterday and once again San Francisco and the Bay Area have made a proud showing. Below are links to our local nominees, but before I get to that, here is my own personal nominee in the cookbook/baking and the photography category for next year: Alanna Taylor-Tobin of Bojon Gourmet has created her first cookbook due out in September. It’s called Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours. I’ve been following Alanna’s blog for ages and not only are her recipes amazing (and don’t get all hung up on the gluten-free…her gluten-free is not a lesser than substitute for gluten-full, these are recipes that stand up on their own) her photography is out of this world. Her pictures make my mouth water every time. Between now and September, check out Bojon Gourmet and you’ll see I’m right. Come September you can have her right in your very own kitchen.

Now back to James Beard….nominees were announced yesterday right here in San Francisco at the Presidio Officer’s Club. Winners will be announced on May 2 in Chicago. Here are our many local nominees. My next stop is Quince (gotta save a few nickels….this is not for the faint of wallet). Not only is Michael Tusk nominated for Outstanding Chef, but Quince is also nominated for Outstanding Service and you know how I feel about that (here and here)!

Best New Restaurant

Liholiho Yacht Club
871 Sutter Street, San Francisco

Outstanding Baker

Belinda Leong and Michel Suas
B. Patisserie
2821 California Street, San Francisco

William Werner
Craftsman and Wolves
746 Valencia Street and 1643 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

Outstanding Bar Program

Bar Agricole
355 11th Street, San Francisco

Outstanding Chef

Michael Tusk
470 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

Outstanding Restaurateur

Michael Mina
Mina Restaurants (Michael Mina, Bourbon Steak, RN74, and others)
San Francisco

Cindy Pawlcyn
Mustards Grill, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, Cindy’s Waterfront at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Napa, CA

Outstanding Service

470 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

Best Chef: West

Matthew Accarrino
1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco

Dominique Crenn
Atelier Crenn
3127 Fillmore Street, San Francisco

Corey Lee
22 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco

So now make like the Oscars and go eat at all of these fine places before the judges announce their decision. See if you agree! And if you need a date let me know….I may need to borrow a few more nickels.

Keep in touch,

what you do matters

Sometimes you get the shell of a popcorn kernel stuck in your tooth and it hurts a little but mostly just annoys you until you can take a moment to floss it away. I have one of those kernels stuck in my brain. Recently I had a conversation with someone in my life who tends to lean toward the ignorant. I’d say to the right, but it isn’t so much to the right as it is to the empty and meaningless arguments of certain so-called ‘news’ programs.

This current annoying kernel involves personal responsibility. He believes that it doesn’t matter what he does, what any one of us does, as none of us has any effect on the bigger picture or the world at large. So when he tosses his old batteries and fluorescent lamps into the landfill it’s okay. And if he chooses not to do his part to reduce, re-use and recycle, that’s okay too. Someone else will fix it.

People that choose to believe they play no part in the good and bad around them are frustrating to say the least. Lucky for the rest of us there are plenty of good people doing good things for the good of all. When I think about the people who are doing their part to better their own corner or maybe even the whole world, it’s like mental floss to that annoying little kernel.

Our School at Blair Grocery

We are headed back to New Orleans to introduce our music loving son to the city. And to the fighting spirit that infuses so many of its people. People like Nat Turner, a transplant from New York, who has been working nearly a decade to create a self sufficient food, learning and youth empowerment community in the lower ninth ward. Whatever you may think about the lower ninth ward and whether or not it should be re-built, there are people who live there, people without much money, who need to eat. And people whose children need to learn. Nat Turner has fought the system and even his own staff to turn what was once a grocery store under water into a place to feed the body, nourish the soul and teach the heart. And squeeze some math, english and social studies in along the way.

food security

But this is really only the beginning. Modeling food security is at least one of Turner’s end games. We are a country rich in resources but very poor at sharing them equally, or sometimes even at all. At OSBG, Turner is not gardening for fun or to teach his students to plant their own little back garden. He is teaching them to garden for production, to sell what they grow and to live on what they sell. One of the teachings he shared with me several years ago was that you can make a better living selling tomatoes than selling crack. Once you add together the cost of attorneys, downtime while you’re in jail, and whatever cost is involved in purchasing drugs to sell, tomatoes are a more lucrative product. So teaching kids to grow tomatoes creates a better opportunity than what the guy down the street might be offering. If this can work in the lower ninth, it could work somewhere else.

changing the world

Recently, filmmaker Ian Midgley introduced Turner and OSBG to a man, Dr. Marcin Jakubowski, who makes large equipment and shares his designs online. For free. OSBG could use some farm equipment. Jakubowski needed some help pushing his ideas forward and out into the world. The duo could be a powerful force. So Midgley made a movie about the two of them called Reversing the Mississippi. As the movie trailer says…‘If one person can make a difference, can two people change the world?

what you do matters

Every one of us creates an impact…like a pebble dropped into a pond. The ripples are strongest closest to where the pebble falls, but they extend far beyond. To believe otherwise is just plain laziness. I may not be able to single handedly fix the whole world, but I can make my little piece of it a little better. So can you.

Next month I’ll be digging in the dirt at Our School at Blair Grocery with Turner, my son and my husband. They always need extra hands on the ground. Drop in if you’re in the neighborhood…but call first!

Keep in touch,


w(h)ine free….

Happy 2016 world! I just read a blog post about a restaurant customer who complained about the service she received while the staff was caring for a customer who had suffered a heart attack. Oh dear…in our world of instant communication, some of us should really take a beat before we type. If you haven’t seen this story, head on over to my facebook page.

But speaking of complaining, this time of year always brings the round-up of just about everything. Including dining complaints. So just to keep us all on our toes, check out some of these thoughts. If you see yourself here, maybe it’s time to repair what’s broken in your restaurant and enjoy a whine-free 2016.


Marcia’s list of complaints she calls The Bore. I never find it boring….sometimes a kvetch is kinda fun. This year she’s off deviled eggs (they are everywhere, but I love them so I’m not complaining), too much sunchoke, octopus and bad versions of anything. And bone broth. I agree….WTF? When someone first suggested to me that I keep a batch of bone broth brewing on my counter for THE WHOLE WINTER and drink a cup everyday because my tongue is dry (or something equally odd sounding), it lasted about a week. Then we were all so sick of the smell that I ditched the whole thing. It’s not magic….it’s stock made with bones. And since we customers have all made such a freakin’ big deal about it, we now have to BUY the bones at the store. In the old days the butcher gave them away!

parti* notes

Another of Marcia’s complaints is rectangular plates. I get that…they don’t fit well on the table. The shape of the plate doesn’t bother me so much, but the size is important. When you design your restaurant, dear owner and/or chef, please please please purchase plates and tables that work together. When you lay out your restaurant for maximum customer bodies, remember that to get all of those butts in chairs you had to shrink your tables down to 24″ x 24″. That’s a cocktail table. Which is fine if you are putting cocktails on it and a single dish in the middle to hold the nuts. It is not fine if you are putting 4 plates on the table, plus bread plates, cutlery, a water glass, a wine glass and a candle. IT IS NOT FINE! Do not purchase your dishware until you have laid it out on a table and see that it fits. It might mean you need bigger tables, it might mean you need smaller dishes, or maybe it will mean both. Think about these things. Or you will piss off people like me who will never return to your establishment.

cocktail table

this is a cocktail table

these are dining tables. don’t be confused. they are NOT interchangeable.


Friends of eater have a lot to say about what needs to change. Prices, service (that was my rant last year and I’m afraid it still holds), tip confusion, noise. This one bears repeating. As our population ages and our senses dim, noise will become an even bigger issue. When you design your restaurant, or even after it has opened, deal with your acoustics! Yes, you will need to hire someone. And I know you are broke because you are trying to open a restaurant. But if you want to succeed, this is more efficiently dealt with before opening. If you’re already open, take care of it now, while you still have customers.

and then there are the customers

ifyoucantaffordtotip posts hilarious stories from restaurant employees about their customer complaints. I’ve waited on those people! It’s worth a look when you need to have a laugh at someone else’s expense. But honestly, in all my years in the restaurant business, only a few customers, out of hundreds or thousands, were really awful complainers. And only one left me with a story that I still tell. So honestly, most of the people I’ve waited on or dined with show good manners. And most, or at least many, complaints are worthy of a review to see if there is something that can be made better by listening.

Enjoy your dining in 2016!

Keep in touch,

party on!


The winter months are notoriously slow in the restaurant business. When I was still working the floor we’d go from 3 people at the door to 1. And the wait staff would go from 9 servers to 3. We’d run promotions for the concierges from local hotels, offer space for late holiday parties, provide better bar snacks during happy hour, pretty much pimp it up any way we could.

As a customer, you totally win. Whole cities now get into the spirit of getting you out of your jammies and into their dining and drinking establishments. Many of these events offer special menus, special pricing and even support a worthwhile cause, so you can eat and drink and help out someone else. Here are a few of your choices during these dark months. Get on your wellies, get out the door and party on!

SF Restaurant Week

January 20-31

Put on by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, this year, SF Restaurant Week will feature two-course lunch and three or more course dinner menus at different prices: $15 & $25 for lunch, $40 & $65 for dinner. List of restaurants and menus is here. And the beneficiary of this year’s restaurant week is 50 Fund.

SF Beer Week

January 22-31

I’m guessing it’s no coincidence that SF Beer Week and superbowl are so close together. Drink beer, pick a favorite, then buy a six pack before the big game. Beer Week offers everything from corn hole tournaments (am I just too old to get this?) to home brewing to tasting the latest and the greatest. You can drink for a better world, or just drink cause you like it. This event is seriously all over town, so if you’re into beer this will be hard to miss. Take that Portland!

Eat Like a Chef Drink Like a Somm

January 25, February 29, March 28

Stone’s Throw owner Ryan Cole came up with a creative way to support local organizations, and he’s invited us all to his party. I am in! On the last Monday of our 3 darkest months, he turns his kitchen over to local chef celebs with the goal of donating to the Old Skool Cafe. Over the last two years he locally donated $59,000! At $60 per reservation, that is a pretty remarkable sum.

Next I’m heading over to Old Skool Cafe with my very musical son.
Party on for Old Skool! Click To Tweet

Flavor! Napa Valley

March 16-20

You might want to sleep over for this one. Over the course of 5 days Flavor! Napa Valley has everything from wine dinners to wine classes to golf tournaments to tours of the Napa Valley. Each event has an individual ticket price from $95 on up. Many of the events limit attendees so you get all that attention you so rightly deserve. The beneficiary is Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Celebrate these dark days and keep in touch,

teaching vs. giving

I know....could I be any more literal? But it's such a pretty picture...

I know….could I be any more literal? but it’s such a pretty picture…

Before we say good-bye to 2015, here’s a final share. But really it’s not me sharing, it’s them. Delancey Street Foundation and Tender Greens both work to teach people who need support to find it within. They teach people in need the skills to take their lives in new directions.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. ~Maimonides

photo courtesy

photo courtesy

Delancey Street Foundation: I worked around the corner from the Delancey Street Foundation when it was being constructed on San Francisco’s waterfront. It was one of the early developments in the South Beach area and a lot nicer looking than much of what was going up at that time. I wanted to move in. They told me I’d have to go to jail first. Dang. Delancey Street began in 1971 in an apartment run by an ex-felon and served as the beginning of what would become a much larger community of people who had messed up and didn’t want to anymore. Delancey Street provides business training in a myriad of businesses: Christmas tree lots, moving companies, restaurant, catering, advertising, transit, printing and more to ex-cons, prostitutes, drug addicts and others who have hit rock bottom. Through training and community they are able to re-build their lives. According to some this is the most effective rehabilitation program in the world. Based in San Francisco, Delancey Street now also has locations in New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Los Angeles and soon Massachusetts. Run by the amazing Mimi Silbert, who has been involved from the beginning, Delancey Street continues to change the lives of so many by teaching.

tender greens

photo courtesy tenders greens

Tender Greens: Based out of LA, Tender Greens has a number of restaurant locations throughout California. They focus on local, sustainable products from farms with whom they’ve built strong relationships, and they serve food that is simple and healthful. In addition to their restaurants, Tender Greens began a program in 2009 called the Sustainable Life Project which aids (mostly) kids aging out of the foster care system. When foster kids turn 18, the foster system no longer supports them (although some states, including California, have programs that some kids can apply to which extend their support another two years) and they are left to find their way on their own. As a parent I am aware of how much support my own kids need as they approach and pass this age. At this point, the support net for these foster kids is minimal at best and many end up struggling to survive. Tender Greens provides a 6 month internship and teaches them about work ethic, food, cooking, managing a budget and other life skills. Once the internship is over, the kids have an opportunity to apply for a job at Tender Greens or receive support to find work elsewhere. The statistics on foster kids who ‘age-out’ are dismal. Tender Greens is changing the statistics, one child at a time.

On a personal note, if you have an organization that would like to begin a program like Tender Greens’, call me. I’d like to help.

So that’s it folks….2015 is a wrap.

I hope you find ways to see the good and be the good through the holidays and in 2016 Click To Tweet

Keep in touch,

food tv


Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, the Galloping Gourmet and Martin Yan, those are the chefs I grew up with, the chefs who taught me what I enjoy in a cooking show. Current food television offers a much wider variety than days past, much of which makes me want to run screaming from the room. Kind of the way you’d run from the kitchen of a crazy chef. I’ve worked with chefs who rip phones off walls and throw pots. I don’t want to hang out with them in person or through the TV screen. So if you do enjoy that style of food drama, you should probably click away right now.

If you do enjoy a good cooking show, or entertaining romps through neighborhood restaurants, or info about where food comes from, then stick around. Now that it’s raining in California, and I’ve binge-watched all my current dramas through, it’s time to catch up on food. Check out my list…and send me yours too. Hopefully it will rain for a very long time and I’ll binge-watch my entire list while the drops are still falling, then move on to yours!

restaurant shows

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having: Phil Rosenthal is funny. He’s a writer, an actor (well, he was), a producer and the creator of the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. And he apparently loves food. So he travels the world with his friends (some of whom you’ll know) and he eats food. He’s done shows in Tokyo, Italy, Paris, Hong Kong, Barcelona and Los Angeles. He will take you to amazing places to eat good food. And you’ll even learn a bit about cooking.

Check, Please! Bay Area: 3 regular joes and a host anonymously visit 3 of their favorite restaurants then discuss their experiences. Very homey and a great way to stay in touch with the Bay Area food scene.

cooking shows

The Mind of a Chef: How do great chefs think? And what do they cook? Crawl right into their creative brains and learn what real chef-ing is about (and no one in this series will refer to themselves as a ‘celebrity chef’, but they are all the best of the best). David Chang, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield, Magnus Nilsson, Ed Lee, Gabrielle Hamilton and David Kinch. Brilliance in the kitchen.

Julia Child: PBS release has released a selection of episodes from various Julia Child’s series. It’s a potpourri of Julia and a lovely way to spend an afternoon! Learn, cook, then see if you can do the voice. ‘Chello….Ihhhhh’m Jhooolia Chaaaiild….’

Good Eats: cooking with Alton Brown, well kind of. Alton Brown isn’t a chef. He’s kind of a geekyscientist who applies his mad science to food. And teaches us how to cook things in a really nerdy but effective way.

more food

Food Forward: Food rebels in the 21st century and beyond. I can’t possibly say it better than they do…‘Food Forward goes way beyond celebrity chefs, cooking competitions, and recipes to reveal the compelling stories and inspired solutions envisioned by food rebels across America who are striving to create a more just, sustainable and delicious alternative to what we eat and how we produce it. Created by a veteran documentary film making team led by Greg Roden, Food Forward explores new ideas of food in America as told by the people who are living them. Each episode will focus on a different theme–school lunch reform, urban agriculture, sustainable fishing, grass-fed beef, soil science–and spotlight the real people who are creating viable alternatives to how we grow food and feed ourselves.’

Enjoy our rainy weather and happy watching…

Keep in touch,


my favorite restaurant design competition winner is….

…not from the US. As a matter of fact, there was only one US winner this year in the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards 2015. Parq Restaurant, San Diego, won in the ‘colour’ (it’s a competition out of the UK) category. More on our one winner later.


In the meantime, let’s look at who else short listed. And if you play the bi-coastal best restaurant game, notice that there are 3 entries short-listed from New York and 3 entries short listed from California. And there are 4 entries that are located inside hotels….nice to see this trend continuing. And yes, I know I included a potty shot below. The whole of Mourad is beautiful, but the bathrooms have me swooning. Something else I noticed across the board….a lot of gold. Does this mean we are coming to the end of the reclaimed-from-an-old-barn look? Can we (hopefully) continue to use sustainable materials without having them look like we pulled them out of the basement?  Oh lordy, one can only hope.

lordy people we can be sustainable and still see an end to the reclaimed-from-an-old-barn look Click To Tweet

Short List

all photos courtesy Restaurant and Bar Design Awards and the design teams involved: Studio Munge, Meyer Davis Studio, Dawson Design Associates, Lundberg Design, nemaworkshop, Emporium Design, hOmE Studio and Bluarch.

The winner is…

And our one and only US winner is Parq Restaurant and Nightclub in the GasLamp District of San Diego. Congratulations to Davis Ink on their win! It is definitely a colour-ful space!

all photos courtesy Restaurant and Bar Design Awards and Davis Ink.

Enjoy the pretty pictures. I certainly do!

Keep in touch,

cutting edges


Our planet is changing, am I right? Anyone, even the most conservative (and I use that term the way the politicians use it, not in its proper form), sees the changes in climate, ocean water, sea life, animal behavior, as well as the way we humans treat one another. Maybe we can do something to impact the global changes, maybe not. Regardless, do we need to continue with the carelessness we’ve shown over the many past decades? There are plenty who think not, and as this movement grows I hope that treading on our planet with care will become the norm. It’s odd and disconcerting that taking care has become a bit cutting edge!

When did 'waste not, want not' become cutting edge? Click To Tweet


Farming is nothing new. My dad grew up on a farm, and his parents before him came to America so that they could farm (and not be killed in a pogrom, but I digress). And yet farming has changed so much in the last fifty years that my grandparents would hardly recognize the mega agro businesses of today. Unfortunately farming, like so many other businesses, is dominated by the few, leaving the many to struggle to keep their farms financially sustainable. Decades ago, when a bad rainy season or a swarm of locusts destroyed a farmer’s income, farm subsidies were born. Over the years farm lobbies and the huge industrial farms have learned to work the system to their own advantage, leaving the rest of us with food that is both less expensive and of lesser quality than that of our grandparents. We have become accustomed to spending less on our food, but honestly is it worth the cost to our planet and to our health?

Paul Kaiser has found a better way. In my drought stricken home state, Kaiser is raising his vegetables the old fashioned way, with a few modern twists, and is doing it sustainably both for the land and his own pocket. His methods have been labelled ‘Organic 2.0’….Kaiser highlights the shortcomings on many larger organic farms: too much water, too few plantings, too much disruption of the land (discing), fertilizers (even organic), not enough composting, overall destruction of the topsoil. Kaiser plants his land in a mish-mash fashion interspersing various crop plantings with trees and non-crops that bring pollinators, beneficial insects and natural fertilization to the land, and he covers the whole thing with lots and lots of compost. He sees his methods as a triple win: socially (he employs farm workers), environmentally and financially.


Zero waste grocery stores are beginning to show up around the US as well as in Europe. Much like purchasing from the bulk section or at a local farmers market (where you bring your own re-usable bags), they sell everything from produce to cleaning supplies and everything is sold un-packaged. Customers bring their own re-usable containers, measure the weight of the container (tare weight), then pour or scoop or dump in their purchase. This allows customers to buy what they need…leaving less waste from spoiled food, less packaging in the compost bin or landfill or the ocean.

all photos courtesy their respective websites


Ben Shewry, chef and owner of Attica in Australia, has turned a small suburban restaurant in Melbourne into one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. He uses local, sustainable ingredients, mainly vegetables, and creates cooking techniques unique to Attica and the products he is creating. Foraging, cooking Maori style in the earth, working with each ingredient to find its essence. And yes, the price is high. But the wait to get a reservation is long…and in my opinion, that’s good. Check out his video (you’ll need a netflix account).

When chefs of this caliber focus on cooking seasonally and locally, there is a trickle down effect. Have you seen the menu at your local fast food joint lately? It’s a long way from healthy, but it’s getting healthier. And many of the fast casual restaurants tout local sourcing, no additives, anti-biotic free meat, etc. As diners learn the value of eating sustainably, this will translate to every income level.


What about the waste? Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill in Manhattan, has figured out what to do with cucumber butts. He created a two week pop-up at his Manhattan restaurant called WastED where he re-combined the ends, the butts, and the leftovers into food that he served diners at $15 a head. And they loved it! Food waste is a huge issue, especially in developed countries. I’ve heard statistics that are shameful: 30-40% of food produced in the US is wasted. Meanwhile people are starving.

Bon Appetit Management Company has begun a program called Imperfectly Delicious Produce to purchase less than gorgeous fruits and vegetables to be used in their kitchens. More than 10,000 pounds of produce were recovered during the first few months of the program. That’s 10,000 pounds of food that fed people rather than landfill! If you live in the SF Bay area, there are groups that will pick up food from restaurants and shops, like Extra Food. If you have fruit trees or vegetables that you don’t pick, or don’t pick completely, there are groups that will harvest your edibles and donate the proceeds.

My grandmother hung cheese over her kitchen sink and caught the whey to use for her farm animals. What happened to those days of waste not, want not? It’s time to take these ‘cutting edge’ ideas back and make them part of our culture once again.

Keep in touch,