Virginia Miller

Upper highs, Valley loves

Appetite: Jerk-spiced duck hearts, kambocha squash spaetzle, mango curry -- the best of Upper Haight and Cole Valley

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All together now

Communal dining spirit enlivens new spots: Mission Bowling Club, Mozzeria, Castagna, and Claudine

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virgnia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Incredible burgers in a bowling alley, SF's deaf community gathering over Neapolitan pizzas, brothers serving food from their hometown of Nice in a tiny restaurant, dining around a U-shaped counter off a FiDi alley... each of the restaurants below opened within the last 6 months, providing a unique communal experience (and, most important, fine food to go with) that makes one feel like actually engaging with, rather than ignoring, fellow diners.

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Appetite: Pebble Beach Food and Wine Fest delighted with celeb chefs, wine copter

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Despite chilly breezes and outrageously high ticket prices ($500 was cheap), PBF&W, April 12-15, was a bustling, fun-filled weekend, with celebrity chefs, after (and after-after) parties, copious amounts of caviar, champagne and white Burgundy sipped overlooking the waves from the Inn at Spanish Bay fire pits, and a helicopter ride with sommeliers(!) to Carmel Road's vineyards.

3 spring cocktail trends

Sip on this season's haute new libations, from wine cocktails to fizzy bottled daiquiris 

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Spring imparts new life and lush green after winter rains. It also ushers in a glut of new cocktail menus, emphasizing the best produce of the season and exciting new trends.Read more »

Appetite: An elegant line of tequilas

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Tequila Avión has gained a sort of cult status from a (unsolicited) mention in the show Entourage, but I’m glad to say this tequila holds enough quality to stand on its own. Produced in the Jalisco highlands, in the town of Jesus Maria at the highest elevation of any tequila producer (7000 feet), brings a naturally higher sugar content to the agave plants. Their process is to roast the agave plants at very low temperatures and let them cool naturally which retains more juices and makes the plants less fibrous when crushed.

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Appetite: Exploring 3 wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

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Call it dessert wine if you will, icewine (eiswein in German) is definitely sweet. But winemakers prefer to call it “rich and concentrated,” an apt icewine description, which, when produced well, retains enough acidity to keep it from being cloying.

Icewine’s intensity comes from frozen grapes, allowing greater flavor concentration. Unlike in Sauternes, Bordeaux, icewine is not sweet from botrytis (noble rot), rather from frozen, concentrated juice. Canada and Germany are the largest icewine producers in the world, with most of Canada’s icewine vineyards in Ontario, which I recently visited. Besides attending the annual Niagara Icewine Festival, I spent time with three wineries and tasted winning salumi and cheeses made locally.

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Gourmet fresh (and cheap)

Warm muffaletta, chicken meatball Reubens, fizzy Kvas ... Market and Rye, Anda Piroshki, and All Good Pizza hit the spot

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The hunt for authentic Bay BBQ

FEAST: Join in on a -- successful -- hunt for stand-out sauces and beautiful brisket

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virginia@sfbg.com

For a child of East, West, and Middle America, I have an unexpected and profound affinity for the music and food of the South. Traveling in the region, my love grows. Florida conch and stone crab, Tex-Mex and Texas brisket. But when I dream of the South, I think Deep South. Start talking low country and Gullah cuisine, or Cajun and Creole cooking, and I become brutally homesick for a home I never had.Read more »

Appetite: Jazzy 1950s-era bar in former newspaper printing room? Believe it

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Bourbon and Branch, Wilson and Wilson, Rickhouse... I've frequented (and written about) each since they opened. Though some tire of the speakeasy concept, Bourbon and Branch led that trend, remaining one of the more transporting places to drink anywhere. I value owner Future Bars' emphasis on setting and will always adore a setting from another era or place, whether you call it speakeasy or not. Taste and quality is crucial, but I'm grateful for that rare bar I can escape to, to feel as if I'm in another time or world, preferably with an excellent drink.

Future Bars' brand new bar, Local Edition, opened yesterday off bustling Market Street near Third (in what was the Manhattan Lounge), full of retro spirit. I visited a couple days before opening to check out the space, and again opening day for drinks, when the line to get in wrapped around the block (hopefully not a sign of things to come?) The underground space has a 1950s-era jazz club feel and is surprisingly large (over 5000 square feet), so even after the throngs entered, it was not full. The bar is sexy and candlit with a stage, restored vintage chairs surrounding low tables, and red bench seats lining the walls.

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Two on the rise

The evolution of Bar Tartine and Txoko's European flair -- chilled cherry soup to Basque cider 

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Age is good thing: for wine, whiskey, cheese, wisdom, sense of self... Age deepens, fills out, matures. In the scheme of things, these two restaurants are youngsters — Bar Tartine has been successful since opening in 2005, Txoko was the new kid on the block in 2011. But they've steadily improved: what was exceptional at times last year is now more consistently so. Read more »