As a rule, I try not to play favorites. Whether we’re talking about animals, flowers, or food, it’s impossible to crown a winner across the board. Different moods and situations call for different preferences. No one thing is ever perfect either. Some might excel at one thing but fall short in another. I say this specifically with restaurants and bars in mind, as I’m frequently asked to weigh in. That’s why I can’t say that Phonobar is my all-time favorite… It’s just that the competition would be tough with that near the top of my list.
Established in the heart of the Civic Center, it’s a true oasis in the city. Rarely can you walk into a sleek, polished bar and feel right at home, as if your glittery high heels had transformed into fuzzy slippers upon entry, though I can’t find any other way to describe the experience. Intimate and comfortable, romantic and seductive, fun and casual; any of these descriptors could fit the vibe. If you want to dance the night away, there’s a sweet lounge area with open space to groove, especially when a DJ or band comes to play. If you just want a chill happy hour, sidle up to the bar or park yourself in the covered outdoor booths on a balmy San Francisco evening.
If you know me, you know my focus is quickly diverted to the menu. This is where the party really starts. Om Sabor is in the kitchen, crafting their distinctive globally inspired fusion fair, leaning strongly into Mexican and Californian cuisine. There’s not a single dish that would disappoint, but I’d highly suggest going for the Enchiladas, stuffed with black beans, to get a taste of their masterful handle on spices, layered harmoniously into every bite.
Soups are ever-changing with the seasons, but if you’re fortunate enough to get French Onion Soup as an option, don’t even think twice: Place your order before you even take a seat. Deeply savory, buttery, and with a hint of natural sweetness, meltingly tender ribbons of caramelized onions swim under the cover of soft bread and gooey cheese, all slowly melting together into one comforting spoonful.
Teriyaki Skewers are one of the top sellers, which chef Luis easily sold me on after facing decision paralysis given the breadth of choices. Thank goodness he tipped the scale in favor of these delicately strung strata of chicken-like protein and vegetables. Deftly grilled to ensure crisp, gently seared edges, it’s a true feat to have everything, from mushrooms to peppers, zucchini to meat, cooked perfectly together, glistening under the greenhouse window panels lining the far wall.
Of course, you can’t leave without indulging in a cocktail or two, or three if you’ve got a ride home lined up. Of course, for nondrinkers, zero proof cocktails (AKA mocktails) are far from an afterthought; these drinks are just as carefully blended, infused, and shaken, so you’ll never end up with another glorified lemonade. You’d barely wait a minute even during the busiest of times; they have the process down to an art and a science.
My favorite cocktail of all time, the Paper Plane, isn’t in the printed menu, but all it took was a tentative request for the perfect blend of spirits to arrive at my table. Balance is the word I keep coming back to, describing how well each ingredient compliments one another, never speaking out of turn or stealing the show. That isn’t easy, especially in the more complex, original cocktails developed and only found here.
The seasonal Walking In The Rain is a must for warm summer nights. It’s genuinely refreshing, light and restorative, gently sweetened with vegan honey, and offset with herbaceous cucumber-infused bitters. Should the weather turn cold, when the fog rolls in and blankets the streets, a Hot Toddy will warm you from the inside out, soothing like a hug from a good friend. There’s something for everyone, to take the edge off a bad day or celebrate a good one.
The fact that it’s all plant-based honestly feels like an afterthought because it’s such a natural fit. No one is going out of their way to force it into a box or cater to a specific crowd. It’s just unassailable food and drinks, in a thoughtfully curated space, that happens to be entirely inclusive on all levels. If you don’t go to Phonobar every chance you get, you have no right complaining about a bad trip. It’s a must stop for me every time I’m in town now, and the kind of place I miss when I’m gone.
So, while I don’t want to call it my favorite… I can’t think of another place that even comes close.
370 Grove St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
Halloween decorations may still be gently swaying in the breeze, playfully teasing the onset of fall, but every serious cook and baker knows the truth: It’s game time.
Thanksgiving Menu Planning Starts Now
November marks the official start of The Holiday Season, replete with Thanksgiving feasts, Christmas cookies, and all the festive snacks in between. Now is your chance to map out a plan to maximize your meals with minimal effort. As such, the grand meatless entree is always a key consideration, prone to sending experienced hosts into fits of anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a frozen roast at the grocery store, but given the opportunity to prep this far in advance, I’d implore you to consider a more thoughtful, homemade main dish.
Meet Your New Holiday Centerpiece
Rich with the heady umami flavor of Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms, this free-form pie folds silky caramelized onions into roasted garlic and sliced mushroom caps, celebrating the interplay between sweet and savory. Time, not skill, is the most essential ingredient in making this Caramelized Onion & Shiitake Galette, which is why I wanted to put it on your radar, post-haste. As an edible ode to the season, each slice embodies an ideal tapestry of autumn’s earthy, naturally comforting tastes and textures.
Close your eyes and imagine the sound of flaxen leaves crunching beneath your feet. That’s the essence of this pastry foundation; crispy, golden, and somehow instantly nostalgic. As your fork glides through its layers, there’s a satisfying resistance, followed by a buttery surrender that melts into a crescendo of intense flavor from the filling.
Enhancing Inherent Sweetness
Garlic and onions are both remarkably sweet ingredients when treated with care. Cooked low and slow, the natural sugars come to the fore, caramelizing and intensifying like straight-up vegetable candy. What really sets this filling apart are the shiitake mushrooms, already known flavor enhancers, that are soaked in woodsy apple cider rather than plain water. Sugimoto koshin shiitake have broad, flat caps, perfect for slicing into meaty ribbons that mimic the shape of the onion strings. Their edges crisp gently in the oven, amplifying the whole experience. Subtly tart, with a splash of balsamic vinegar thrown in for good measure, crafting the perfect bite is all about balance.
But What About The Protein?
If you’re worried about fending off pointed questions from “concerned” family members about your protein intake, fear not. You can easily pack in the plant-based protein in a number of ways:
- Serve smothered with chickpea gravy
- Top with crumbled tofu feta
- Mix cooked black lentils into the filling
- Use the leftover cider to make Cider-Marinated Tofu Turkeys
Make-Ahead and Storage Tips
No one wants to spend the holiday in the kitchen while the rest of the family gets to relax around a crackling fire. Lay out your agenda days or weeks ahead of time to simplify the whole process, and make sure you get to enjoy the occasion too.
- Make the pie crust first since it needs to chill. You can prep it up to 6 months in advance and store it in the freezer. Simply thaw at room temperature before rolling.
- Prep the filling up to 5 days in advance. Simply transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge.
- Once assembled, the unbaked galette can be loosely covered with plastic wrap and frozen on the sheet pan for up to 1 month. You can bake it directly from frozen; just increase the bake time by about 10 minutes.
- Leftovers, if you have any, can be stored in a covered container for up to 3 days. To reheat, pop individual slices into the toaster oven at 350 degrees for 8 – 12 minutes, until hot and crispy.
Fall For This Autumnal Comfort Food
As you stand on the threshold of the holiday season, looking ahead at all the festive meals to make and share, remember that the best meals unfold slowly, with care and creativity. As such, a holiday entree like this caramelized onion and shiitake galette isn’t just sustenance; it’s a celebration of textures and flavors that captures the essence of autumn. May its rustic beauty, with a golden, flaky crust and rich, earthy filling, be the beginning of a joyous Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, or any festive occasion.
Tell the truth: Are you afraid of the dark?
It’s okay, you’re not alone… Although, you may wish you were…
Glowing like an unearthly phantom in the night, this arresting fluorescence is in fact quite natural. Quinine, the key ingredient in tonic water, is responsible for creating this ghoulish aura. It may have a very faint glow in regular sunlight, but turns brightly, vividly blue when illuminated by ultraviolet (UV) light, AKA “black light.”
You could easily harness this black magic with any old glass of gin and tonic, but for Halloween, why not have a bit more fun with this party trick? Skull ice cube molds are a must for the full effect, if you ask me, but any silicone ice cube tray will work just fine.
Not a fan of the classic G&T?
You’ve got options! The only critical component is tonic water, leaving the accompanying spirits and flavors up for creative interpretation. Consider a few other effortless, tried-and-true variations on the theme:
- Rum and tonic
- Vodka tonic
- Whiskey tonic
- Aperol tonic
Hosting kids or non-drinkers?
If you want to share a festive drink that packs less of a punch, you can still have lots of fun without the booze. Swap the spirits for any fruit juice, soda, or zero-proof mixers for more flavorful, less intoxicating options.
How do you make a classic gin and tonic?
First mixed up in the mid-1800s to combat Malaria, the gin and tonic is a classic cocktail for good reason. Quinine is a genuinely therapeutic ingredient that can be used to effectively treat the ailment, while gin and a splash of lime helps the medicine go down, as they say. The basic ratio is as simple as they come:
- 1:3 is the standard proportion, which translates to 2 ounces of gin for every 5-6 ounces of tonic water. Just don’t forget to add a touch of fresh lime juice, too!
- Like everything else, it’s a matter of personal taste, so you may see some particularly strong mixes that use equal parts gin and tonic water.
How to make a Grim and Tonic for Halloween
Let’s not over-complicate things here; the “grim” and tonic is absolutely the same as a traditional G&T, but with frozen tonic water instead of plain ice cubes. This has the added benefit of not watering down the drink while still keeping it perfectly chilled and brilliantly refreshing. All it takes is one little trick to make this one hell of a devilish treat for celebrating All Hallows’ Eve with.
In the wrong hands, even the most mundane meal could become your last. It’s the dose that makes the poison, making everything from mochi to plain water a fatal affair. While some people might prefer horror movies and haunted houses to get their thrills, real life is often more terrifying than fiction.
Unmasking the Macabre Morsels
As the witching hour nears, our culinary curiosity takes a wicked turn. It doesn’t take long to unearth a treasure trove of unsuspecting foods that harbor a sinister secret. Hidden in plain sight, there are very real, hidden dangers lurking in some common ingredients, sitting right inside your kitchen at this very moment. Yes, the call is coming from inside your house… It’s too late to run, so you might as well arm yourself with knowledge to fight off a potentially perilous feast.
The Forbidden Fruits
Sweet and beguiling, the bewitching aroma of many common seeded fruits belies a chilling truth. Found in bitter almonds, apple seeds, cherry pits, and apricot kernels, amygdalin produces an alluring almond scent that many do in fact harness to make desserts. However, this deadly chemical compound can release cyanide when metabolized.
It’s a fiendish twist that the vibrant and beloved tomato, star of salads and sauces alike, could harbor a dark secret. The leaves and stems of the tomato plant contain a substance called tomatine. In large quantities, tomatine can be toxic, causing symptoms ranging from stomach distress to paralysis.
At the base of the food pyramid and foundation of society, the humble staple that has comforted and sustained us for generations. However, in the blink of an eye, they would rip that all away. This unassuming tuber is a member of the nightshade family, infamous for harboring some of the deadliest botanicals. Potatoes, especially when they’ve turned green from exposure to light, can contain solanine, a toxin that causes nausea, vomiting, and even hallucinations.
Spices of Sorcery
As you stir your cauldron full of culinary concoctions, consider the mystical power of spices to transform ordinary dishes into enchanting delights. Yet, even these magical ingredients hold ghastly potential. Nutmeg, celebrated for its aromatic warmth, can induce hallucinations and even convulsions when consumed in excessive quantities. Cinnamon, essential for pumpkin spice, can become a poison in large doses, leading to digestive distress and even organ damage.
Savor the Flavors, Beware the Bites
As we revel in the eerie ambiance of Halloween and savor the delicious delights that tickle our taste buds, let us not forget the uncanny truths that lie beneath the surface. The foods we consider mundane can harbor a touch of the macabre, reminding us that even in our culinary escapades, a dash of caution is as vital as the pinch of salt in our cauldrons. Tread lightly as you embark on your Halloween feast, for you never know what black magic awaits in the shadows of the pantry.