News and Reviews: Inside Scoop SF

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Dinner at Marzano, Atelier Crenn, Super Duper, Hog & Rocks and Sam’s Chowder House

by Michael Bauer

Monday: Marzano

Opened more than three years ago by John Hurley and Justin Hafen, who also own Garibaldis in San Francisco, this restaurant quickly became one of the best Italian places in the East Bay.

The wood-fired pizza is a favorite — the restaurant is named after the famed tomato that goes on the equally famous Neapolitan — but I head here for the wood-oven braised chicken all’ Arrabbiata ($18). The breast, leg and thigh are braised in a spicy tomato sauce, along with peppers and a hint of marjoram.

To start, chef Rob Holt does a fine job with the meatballs ($11), roasted in the wood oven in a tomato prosciutto broth. You could also consider the cornmeal-dusted fried green tomatoes ($12), served with house-pulled mozzarella and white corn.

Three large wood chandeliers made from French wine barrels hang from the ceiling of the cement floored dining room. Long framed mirrors on an exposed brick wall help expand the tight space. Table are squeezed into the narrow space dominated by the bar, making it almost impossible not to meet your neighbor.

4214 Park Blvd. (at Glenfield), Oakland; (510) 531-4500. Dinner nightly; brunch weekends. Full bar. Reservations and credit cards accepted.

Tuesday: Atelier Crenn

Dominque Crenn calls her cuisine “Poetic Culinaria,” which just about sums up the intense artistry that goes into every plate. She uses branches, slabs of slate and just about anything else found in nature to display her creative endeavors.

Her five course menu is $95 (wine pairings add $85) and the Chef’s grand tasting menu $160 +$150 for wine) changes seasonally. You never know what you’re going to get beyond the headings: such as “Summer Arrives,  Walk in the Forest and Ocean and Land. What comes out of the kitchen is always a surprise.

If you’d rather make a meal of desserts, pastry chef Juan Contreras does his part. A few months ago he began offering a five-course dessert tasting menu for $55 (wine pairings add $30). His desserts are often conceptual and ethereal.

3127 Fillmore St. (near Union Street), San Francisco; (415) 440-0460. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Beer and wine. Reservations and credit cards accepted.

Wednesday: Super Duper

This fast-food franchise has a slow-food philosophy.

The Super Duper burger ($6.50) features a half-pound patty that is “sustainably farmed, vegetarian fed and ground daily,” according to a sign on the wall. It’s served on an “artisanal” bun with lettuce, tomato, red onions and a house sauce. I would also add a slice of cheese (50 cents). You can get the house-made pickle spears when you pick up your ketchup and drinks at the service bay.

The meat has a great texture; the patty holds barely together, indicating it hasn’t been overworked. For the price, the burger should be on the must list; plus, the fries ($2) are excellent. And to finish: Straus organic ice cream ($3.25).

The original location in the Castro was opened two years ago by Adriano Paganini, a partner in Beretta, Starbelly and Delarosa.

Four locations: 2304 Market St.; 721 Market St.; 2201 Chestnut St., all in San Francisco. Also, 430 Miller Ave. in Mill Valley. Open daily.

Thursday: Hog & Rocks

Billed as San Francisco’s first (and only) ham and oyster bar, this Mission restaurant offers much more.  I’d definitely try the ham tasting plate ($15/$27) where you can choose three of the five on the menu, and a selection of oysters ($2-$3.25), but I also love the barbecued oysters ($9). For main courses, there’s fish and chips ($16) and cheddar and beer sausage with braised red cabbage ($13.50).

Cocktails are also a draw; most seating is at communal tables in a space that looks like a classic San Francisco bar and grill mashed up with the Barbary Coast.

You’ll find spirits slipping in to the food, too — brandy with the spaghetti with crab and bacon ($19); whisky in the barbecue sauce with the meatballs ($13); scotch in the onions on the hamburger with country ham ($12.50); and bourbon in the vinaigrette for beet and bread salad ($12.50).

3431 19th St. (near Mission Street), San Francisco; (415) 550-8627. Dinner weeknights; open continuously for brunch and dinner Saturday-Sunday. Full bar.

Friday: Sam’s Chowder House

Sam's New England style clam chowder
Sam's chowder. The Chronicle 2007

Few restaurants have the close up ocean views as this Half Moon Bay restaurant that features a wide-ranging menu, from hamburgers and spaghetti and meatballs to paella, cioppino and fried shrimp.

Seafood should be first on the list here. Two items stand out on chef Lewis Rossman’s menu: the New England clam chowder ($6.95/$10.25) where the clams, cream and Yukon gold potatoes are enhanced with smoked bacon; and the lobster roll ($21.95) with chunks of seafood tossed with butter and served on a torpedo roll with sides of cold slaw and chips.

You also can’t go wrong with the daily catch, often a grilled fish such as swordfish ($25.50) with potato cakes and Italian chard.

4210 Hwy. 1, Half Moon Bay; (650) 712-0245. Open continuously for lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Reservations and credit cards accepted.