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    What’s New? It’s a Restaurant Explosion

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    2024 has brought an explosion of tempting new Bay Area restaurants worth visiting. It’s a good sign that the industry is beginning a welcome recovery, and also a signal that diners are wanting to get back out and socialize once again. There are too many newbies to name here, but I’ve highlighted a couple of them that are among my favorites. My advice? Try them now before their popularity soars.

    Early To Rise Chef/Owner Andrew McCormack
    Photo by Briana Danner

    Early to Rise, San Francisco

    “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” The old adage is a mantra for this welcome newcomer, which opens at 8 am in San Francisco’s NOPA neighborhood. In short, Early to Rise is a must-visit café. Helmed by the charming Chef/Owner Andrew McCormack, lately of Spruce and Quince, this neighborhood spot is the talented young restaurateur’s successful foray into elevating breakfast, lunch, and brunch cuisine. His fine dining pedigree is on display in every aspect of this beautiful restaurant. Housed in an old Victorian, the eatery boasts soaring ceilings, beadboard walls, and stained-glass clerestory windows atop floor-to-ceiling outlooks onto the vibrant street scene outside. Despite its century-plus architectural bones, the interior design exudes a clean, contemporary vibe (think modern diner), with comfortable booths, bar seating and—my preference—counter seating at the window, where you can watch the world go by.

    Bar at Early To Rise
    Photo by Brianna Danner

    Everything Chef McCormack does is handcrafted, from the hand-paddled butter, to the homemade breads, to some of the Bay Area’s best scratch-made malt bagels, and the to-die-for donuts made in-house and filled with Earl Grey tea cream. The quality is first-rate, yet it’s still attractively affordable.

    There’s one downside to the restaurant. Partly because it’s so popular already, they don’t take reservations. But waiting in line encourages talking to your fellow compatriots. That supports community building, another positive byproduct that perhaps is also intentional. I’d call that a plus in this era of techno-addictive dining. Speaking of which, sitting at the indoor streetside countertop also makes you engage with your neighbors, another bonus. In my case, it included talking shop with the talented singer-songwriter Amy MacClain, as well as discussing our city’s culinary merits with a lovely gentleman in biopharma who just moved to San Francisco from North Carolina.

    Tangerine Pudding at Early To Rise
    Photo by Brianna Danner

    So, how’s the fare? It’s comfort food on steroids, with a touch of California innovation thrown in for good measure. My readers know that having grown up in Highland Park, I’m always on the hunt for a good bagel. Guess what? The “everything” bagels at Early to Rise are everything you or your Jewish mother would ever want. They’re dense, chewy, and utterly yummy. They’re served with scallion and chive cream cheese, along with capers, tomatoes, and onions; basically, you have yourself a satisfying meal.

    But wait, there’s more! We sampled the Indian-inspired samosa potato pancake, which looks like the Japanese pancake okonomiyaki (but isn’t). It’s filled with roasted carrots and peas, enhanced with tamarind and green masala spices, and topped with a patterned visual display of lime yogurt. It’s another winner. The roasted asparagus salad with molasses was a surprisingly delicious mixture of sorrel, charred baby onions, lemon, and julienned molasses ham.

    Lox Plate at Early To Rise
    Photo by Dave Bazzano

    Our next course (and a favorite of my husband) was the tri-tip and poached eggs. It’s a kind of take on coq au vin, but with tri-tip, and served in a red wine and mushroom sauce on homemade sourdough bread. The steak is tender and flavorful, and the combination is perfection. We considered the tangerine pudding that our neighbors ordered for dessert; but we were too stuffed (the portions are eminently shareable). Next time! The service? Efficient and friendly, which adds to the restaurant’s hominess. Beverages include brunch cocktails and a tantalizing wine list, with some lesser known but tasty vintages. The Gay Gourmet’s verdict? Rise up early and savor the gastronomy at Early to Rise.

    Malibu Farm, Tiburon

    This popular Southern California-based chain has thankfully arrived in Northern California, and we’re the happy recipients. Now open in Tiburon on Main Street, Malibu Farm astounds with a sweeping view of San Francisco Bay and the city skyline.

    Grilled Artichoke at Malibu Farm

    There’s a bar and coffee shop on the first level, and indoor dining plus an expansive, outdoor heated deck that’s dog-friendly on the second level. The vibe is California casual chic, with bleached wood tables and chairs amidst a beachy, contemporary design. The restaurant has outposts in the original Malibu location, as well as Newport Beach, San Diego, Lanai (Hawaii), New York, and Tokyo. But make no mistake: this is not one of those formula enterprises where each locale is a copycat. At Malibu Farm, each restaurant has its own culinary identity, while still offering some of the dishes that make the grade elsewhere.

    Bar at Malibu Farm

    Chef Helene Henderson is the guiding light, yet Tiburon’s local chef Chris Ball (formerly of One Market and Yankee Pier) adds his own special touches that reflect the Bay Area’s bounty. The eatery’s overall principle embraces sustainability, coupled with a dedication to local farmers. It shows on the menu. Another admirable quality? The service is welcoming and knowledgeable, with waitperson Kaitlin and manager Tanya standing out as service rockstars. Unlike many San Francisco restaurants, the cocktails arrived on schedule. I got my martini within minutes!

    There’s a full bar that entices with some crafty signature cocktails. They include the “Jalapeño,” a tequila-based drink with jalapeño agave and lime juice. On offer also is a Strawberry Mezcal Negroni, which tempted me, but lost out to my beloved Botanist gin martini. The wine list tends toward local California wines, and my husband selected a dry Provence-style Schug rosé wine.

    Upstairs deck view at Malibu Farm

    We began the meal with the house-made, outsized Parker House rolls. They arrived delectably with three different butters. Those included basil butter (tasting like it was just picked from the garden), strawberry butter (like Neiman Marcus, only fruitier), and regular butter. Soft and palatable, the rolls melt in your mouth. For appetizers, we selected a grilled artichoke heart, with a savory and delish crispy panko-crusted poached egg, all surrounded by a creamy hollandaise sauce. The combo worked well together, with the richness of the egg balanced by the heartiness of the vegetable. The shaved, raw Brussels sprouts salad was crunchy and fresh, topped with shaved almonds and just the right amount of spice. Lightly dressed in a whole grain mustard vinaigrette, this salad delivered with a bang. The coconut ceviche, served uniquely with taro chips and a house-made salsa, was silky and tender, another highlight.

    For the main courses, the hubby loved his medium-rare hanger steak (he proclaimed it “juicy and tender”), served with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts, mixed with candied pecans, and Point Reyes bleu cheese. My pan-seared Mt. Lassen trout (more like salmon than trout) was cooked perfectly medium-rare, and accompanied by English peas, new potatoes, asparagus, and a piquillo pepper tapenade. I thought the saffron citrus sauce was too tangy and overwhelmed the dish. Nonetheless, I think this entrée has merit. My suggestion to the chef? I’d skip the citrus sauce and let the tapenade (with the accompaniments) shine as the accent to the fish.

    The menu also offers an interesting selection of pizzas (including an avocado pizza with jalapeño ricotta that beckoned), a vegan coconut curry, and build-your-own fish tacos.

    All in all, Malibu Farm is a modestly priced American bistro, with a talented chef and a stupendous view. I’d recommend visiting before the crowds descend.

    Bits and Bites

    Old Skool Café, the wonderful youth-run, jazz themed, nonprofit supper club in the Bayview district that employs at-risk youth, is celebrating a big milestone: its 20th anniversary! Supporters are helping create a “Wonderwall,” an art piece that commemorates the 20 years of the organization’s important community work.

    Robots are here! China Live, created by celebrated Chef George Chen (and one of The Gay Gourmet’s favorite Chinese restaurants) is partnering with Bear Robotics by introducing its Servi Plus robot. I’m glad to see that the robots don’t replace the needed waitstaff; they just assist. I still love the personalized service of a human being, but technology can point to the future. Onward!

    I’ve just become acquainted with La Fête du Rosé wine and it’s delectable. Golden State Warriors’ Chris Paul is an equity partner in La Fête Wine Company, which owns La Fête du Rosé. Since its inception, the company has donated a portion of the proceeds from every bottle sold to programs that send underrepresented youth on unique travel experiences, as well as to organizations focused on creating opportunities for the BIPOC community in the wine and spirits industry. This French imported wine and its sister wine, La Fête du Blanc, are now available at the Chase Center. I like that the brand is African American-owned, but I’m also a fan of its taste. The winery describes the nose as exhibiting “hints of apricot and peach, and a slight minerality.” Sipping this dry Provence-style rosé is like taking a mini-trip to St. Tropez. I say, “La Fête du Rosé all day!”

    By the way, yours truly is heading to Japan to celebrate my lovely sister’s big birthday, so I’ll miss a couple of columns. But I’ll be back. Stay tuned!

    Early To Rise:
    Malibu Farm:
    Old Skool Café:
    China Live:
    Bear Robotics:
    La Fête du Rosé:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on March 21, 2024