Most Top Chef finalists launch their restaurant careers right after their time on television ends. Not Casey Thompson—she spent seven years after season three traveling, all the while thinking hard about what she wanted in a venue. She met farmers, built relationships, and finally opened Aveline (plus its cocktail bar sibling, The European) in June. As the result of so much careful planning, the restaurant truly embodies Casey’s vision, both in the space and on the plate. One key part of that vision? Pigs. Casey loves to use almost every part of them, including the head. In honor of Aveline’s recent launch, we asked her about her fondness for pork, her cooking philosophy, and some of her go-to spots in San Francisco. GROUPON: One ingredient that crops up on the menus at Aveline and The European is pork. Specifically, pork from the pig’s head—pork jowl, pig cheek, pig ear. What do you like about this ingredient? CASEY THOMPSON: In general, I love any animal that tastes good from head to toe! As a chef, it’s really beneficial for me to use different parts of an animal that might otherwise be underutilized. It keeps costs down and provides guests with the opportunity to try things they may not otherwise try. There is a lot more marbling in these parts than you might think, and there are a variety of different textures in specific parts like the ear. G: Do you think that pig face is trending right now? CT: I don't know. I try not to pay too much attention to what’s “trendy.” I just want to make food that tastes good, and if it means using parts of an animal that are unfamiliar to most people and [then] educating people about them, I’m happy to do so. G: If someone hasn't tried any part of the pig’s head, where should they start? CT: I think a good place to start is with pig cheek—it’s rich and it braises perfectly! Confiting a pig cheek [at home] is easy. The most difficult part is probably finding the product, but your local butcher can help with that. G: Are there other pig dishes in San Francisco that you like? CT: The pork at Kokkari is unreal, and Namu Gaji does a pretty impressive job too! G: Aside from cooking with pig parts, you’re also an advocate for sustainability and the environment. Where does that passion come from? CT: I have a job that impacts the environment, and as such, I have a duty to make sure that my staff and I do all we can not to add to the overwhelming issues we’re already facing. I am also a firm believer in good husbandry. All animals deserve to live a good life, especially if they are giving us theirs for nourishment. It’s our responsibility as humans to recognize that. G: Some of your dishes have original ingredients with a cool, earthy vibe. I’m talking about the "ham snow" and "chicory soil" on Aveline’s menu. Can you tell us more about these? CT: Environmental elements in a dish add interesting flavors. The chicory soil contains nori, breadcrumbs, candied cashews, and chicory—all pretty earthy, you’re right. Now, the ham snow is highly technical stuff: we freeze ham, grate it over cold amberjack, and call it snow! G: You’re also creating the menu over at The European, your bar-and-lounge project with Adam Wilson. It seems like the snacks have more of an updated comfort-food feel. Is The European the other side of Aveline's coin? It absolutely is! There is a secret kid side to me with that menu and, really, it’s us having fun. I do think we have the best burger—it is so good. I want people to use both spaces! Come and eat at The European! G: To close out, can you share some of your favorite San Francisco spots to grab a bite? For coffee: Réveille Coffee Co. For breakfast (and guilty, greasy pleasures): San Jalisco For lunch and dinner: Kokkari, Kin Khao For after-hours drinks and eats: Rye, Tradition, Le Colonial For outdoor dining: The Ferry Building, Slanted Door, Cavallo Point, Coqueta This interview has been condensed and edited. Photos courtesy of Casey Thompson. The European photo by Andi Fisher.Read More
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Sushi is not hard to come by in San Francisco, but so much variety means that finding the perfect sushi spot can be a challenge. Here are our picks for the five freshest, most innovative sushi restaurants in the Bay Area. 1. Cha-Ya (762 Valencia St.) Vegetarian sushi anyone? While that may sound like an oxymoron, Cha-Ya is redefining what sushi means, veggie- and vegan-style. It’s cash-only here, and the wait can be long, but the food is inventive and the service is great. Even meat eaters should enjoy the Cha-Ya Roll: tempura-battered asparagus, avocado, yam, and carrot with Cha-Ya’s special sauce. 2. Minako Organic Japanese Restaurant (2154 Mission St.) Never tried fried “veggie eel” before? This place has you covered, and it accommodates most dietary restrictions. There’s a vegan menu, a gluten-free menu, animal-product-free tempura, and sushi made with brown rice. 3. Roka Akor (801 Montgomery St.) The presentation at Roka Akor is out of this world: sushi served on a landscape of salt rocks, ice, bamboo boxes, and light (that’s right, your sushi plate will glow). The tasting menu is a must-try and incorporates a wide range of different fish. 4. Tsunami Sushi Panhandle (1306 Fulton St.) Tusnami’s classic california rolls are half off during happy hour, but the restaurant is most famous for its combination rolls. Try the Mama San with tempura shrimp and spicy tuna or the Magic Mushroom roll with salmon, snow crab, and enoki mushrooms. Also, consider adding some zing to your meal with sake or wine. 5. Akiko’s Restaurant (431 Bush St.) Located in Union Square, Akiko’s serves up superfresh sushi—the menu changes daily based on the availability of ingredients. The kitchen focuses on serving sustainable, organic, seasonal, and local fish at high-end prices. The omakase menu will run up to $100 per person, but for sushi die-hards, it’s worth it. If you’re not feeling fish, there are non-sushi items on the menu, too, including teriyaki meats and udon soups.Read More
North Beach, also known as San Francisco’s Little Italy, has managed to walk the fine line between a hot touristy spot and an area beloved by native San Franciscans. And with it’s high density of authentic ristorantes, cafes, and Old World delicatessens, it’s a prime foodie spot as well! Here are 5 must-eat restaurants in the heart of North Beach: #1: Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Hands down, one of the best pizza places in all of North Beach, maybe even in all of San Francisco. And it’s all thanks to owner Tony Gemignani, an award winning pizza maker. Tony’s specializes in Napoli pizza and their ingredients are actually imported from Napoli! All of their pizza and pasta dough is made in house, and they even have whole wheat and gluten free versions for the more health-conscious. Just a heads up though: since everything is made fresh in-house daily, sometimes they run out of certain menu items. Be prepared for a long wait as well, this restaurant is amazingly popular and doesn’t take reservations. Leave your phone number at the host stand and then head to a nearby bar for a drink while you wait! #2: Mama’s on Washington Square. Mama’s is another San Francisco institution that doesn’t take reservations and also requires you to stand in line until they are ready to cook your order, but the long weekend waits are worth the brunch that awaits you. Menu items to try include the Monte Cristo, Eggs Benedict, and their 10 types of French toasts (you can choose from sourdough baguettes, banana bread or wheat bread). The homemade jam on each table is also to die for. #3: Cafe Jacqueline. This unique restaurant serves only souffles as a main course, with a choice of non-souffle soups and salads to start. Dinner souffles serve two: choose from asparagus, spinach or lobster - each with a cheese base. Dessert is, of course, a souffle - which must be ordered at the same time as dinner and is not to be missed! The ambiance is super romantic, small, and candlelit, so it’s perfect for a date night or a special night out. #4: Victoria Pastry Co. This bakery is one of the city’s oldest -- in business since 1914. It’s best known for its cakes, and specializes in wedding cakes. They even have bite-sized cake creations for a single-serving taste of heaven. Their specialty is their mini tiramisu - served ready to go in it’s own takeout cup. #5: L’Osteria del Forno. This tiny restaurant is famous for its fresh-baked focaccia (sandwiches and pizzas), and is one of the top authentic Italian restaurants in SF. For meat lovers, hope that the milk braised pork is the special roast of the day - it is divine. Their menu also features a variety of pizzas, salads, soups and fresh made pastas. Small baskets of warm focaccia arrive at your table until your entrees are served. For as tiny a restaurant as this is, they still have a full bar with a wonderful selection of wines and grappas. You can also get their pizza by the slice for folks on the go. Not in the mood for anything here? Explore all our San Francisco restaurant deals.Read More