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The San Francisco Bay Area:
Many Openings, more Closings in 2001
gourmet articlesarchivemany openings, more closings in 2001

By the end of May the dot-com bomb hit and the oncoming recession started to trickle down to the restaurant industry. As the year progressed since then, we've heard from many restaurateurs that business dropped between 20 and 50 percent.

Picture courtesy of OnTheRail.com

As investment money dried up, people moved away from San Francisco and tourism slowed, the ever-resourceful restaurant community reacted. Some places added another dining day, going from six to seven days, or they added services. Others did the opposite by cutting hours in order to cut labor costs. Still others down-scaled menu prices or offered three-course dining deals to lure in patrons.

Nevertheless, looking at the big picture, 50 restaurants of note debuted. At the same time, 35 significant restaurants closed, and therein lies the story. There were approximately three times as many closures of venerable or neighborhood restaurants this year as compared to last.

And then came the national tragedy of Sept. 11, which added wheels to the decline.

This year, the greater downtown area of San Francisco lost the Iron Horse, Brasserie Savoy, Splendido, Oritalia, Planet Hollywood, Cypress Club, Scott's Seafood, Montage, LiveFire and Yank Sing on Battery.

On the other hand, the area gained some new spots. One of the splashiest openings of the year was Asia de Cuba in the redone Clift Hotel. Another million-dollar venue was the Zenlike Ozumo on Stuart Street's restaurant row.

After more than 100 years, Maye's Oyster House, on Polk Street is temporarily closed, according to a recorded message on their telephone. A pretty good deli opened on Polk in the form of the East Coast West Delicatessen, and Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store morphed into the popular Spoon. After a long and successful run, Luzern closed out in the Sunset. Not surprisingly, Nasturium closed in the Richmond District.

In SoMa, Ristorante Ecco stopped cooking pasta and Basque had game only for a little while. Doidge's and Bonta closed quietly in Cow Hollow. But in the same neighborhood, Radicchio became the lovely Merenda, with former PlumpJack chef Keith Luce as an owner and James Ormsby replacing Luce at PlumpJack. Across the street from Merenda, Charlie's drew the hormone-fueled crowds, and Chestnut Street remained pretty stable, with Steven Levine's Cozmo Corner Grill a solid addition.

On a stretch of Market Street near the Castro, Alfred Schilling Chocolate Co. Restaurant & Cafe became DeLessio Market & Bakery, while this week the closed Piaf's is expected to become Piyassa Restaurant & Bar, a northern Mediterranean venue with Turkish tastes.

Chef Todd Davis, formerly of the Lark Creek Inn, brought a change of style to MC2, going from fusion to contemporary American.

In competitive North Beach, we said goodbye to a slew of restaurants: Glow, Cypress Club, Cafferata Piccola Cucina, Emma, P.J. Mulhern's, Basta Pasta, and Little City.

In Noe Valley, Cafe J and the venerable Speckmann's closed. At the Wharf, Gabbiano's Restaurant & Oyster Bar became the new home for the World Trade Club, which moved out of the Ferry Building. Laghi in midtown succumbed to location woes, while the once-wacky Flying Saucer closed on Valencia Street.

Not far away, Three Ring morphed into the Creole-themed Le Crewe under new owners, and in the same neighborhood two new favorites opened - Andalu on Guerrero, and Alma on Valencia.

Everyone except the fast food outlets suffered at the airport for the first half of the year, but after September the suffering was meted out equally. George Chen's Restaurant Qi and Water Bar closed.

Bruno Chemel, former chef at Qi, has teamed up with the Real Restaurant Group which plans to open Beaucoup at 1001 California St. on Nob Hill in early spring. The ambitious project, much like the newly opened Redwood Park in the Transamerica Pyramid, cheffed by George Morrone and owned by Charles Condy, will have a casual bar and bistro, an upscale dining space and another space for private parties.

In Marin, both the Avenue Grill and Chen's Dragonfly, as well as Steve Simmon's Savanna Grill all closed. The latter became a branch of Izzy's Steak & Chophouse. The tiny Filou in San Anselmo became the equally tiny Fork, and we liked it. Roxanne's, a restaurant sans stoves, just opened last week in Larkspur.

In the Napa Valley, the town of Napa and the opening of COPIA engendered a boom in restaurants, while Pat Kuleto launched the Martini House in St. Helena with chef Todd Humphries from the nearby Wine Spectator Restaurant in the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Pilar Sanchez of Meadowood Resort replaced him at the CIA. Cindy Pawlcyn opened the Latin-themed Miramonte in St. Helena to oles.

In Sonoma County, the Girl & the Gaucho opened, while chef Brian Whitmer left Moose's to open Carneros in the Lodge at Sonoma. Two newbies brightened the scene in tiny Healdsburg ... Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen in the Healdsburg Hotel and Manzanita from Willowside's former owners.

In the East Bay, Italian Colors faded in Jack London Square, to be replaced by a branch of Barclay's Restaurant & Pub. The snazzy Terrace Bar at the Claremont Hotel and Resort became a Paragon Restaurant & Bar, making number four. Bistro Liaison in Berkeley livened up mid-Shattuck, while Downtown, also on Shattuck, popped up near the Berkeley Rep. Probably the best new place in Oakland turned out to be A Cote. In Solano County, Remark in Vallejo became the ambitious WaterBarge Restaurant & Tavern.

On the Peninsula, Buffalo Grill went to the last round up even while several stylish places flung open their doors - Village Pub in Woodside and Trader Vic's in Palo Alto, among them. Former Postrio dynamo Kim Beto helped open Kingfish in San Mateo and industry veteran chef Howard Bulka debuted Marche in Menlo Park.

The Ritz Carlton's Navio in Half Moon Bay made a splash on the coast and Cetrella came to the sleepy town. Bradley Ogden opened the oddly named Parcel 104 in Santa Clara, and Z perched in Los Altos.

Restaurants aside, we lost some pretty terrific people last year. Innovative French chef Jean-Louis Palladin passed away, as did cookbook author-chef Barbara Tropp. Front of the house smiles were lost when David Benjamin and Louis ""Luigi'' Marateo died. Hotelier-pioneer Bill Kimpton died at age 65 after a long illness. And the World Trade Center attack snatched pastry chef Heather Ho from our lives.

In the four-star switcheroo of the year, chef Ron Siegel went to Masa's, a Kimpton Group restaurant, from the Condy-owned Charles Nob Hill, while chef George Morrone left the Kimpton-owned Fifth Floor for the Condy-owned Redwood Park. The former Waldorf Astoria's Laurent Gras' has just debuted a highly inventive and refined menu at the Fifth Floor.

Jody Denton left the Azie-Zibibbo-LuLu fold for his own restaurant in Bend, Oregon. Considering the economy, we were surprised to hear that the Latin- themed project he was working on for restaurateur Rowena Wu is still on. Zibibbo executive chef Brent Pollock is overseeing the Folsom Street site.

Chef Julia McClaskey left Dine and, with former manager Robert Hill (now at Cafe Kati), is in negotiations for a space in San Francisco. Justine Miner, McClaskey's former sous chef, is working to open her RNM bar & lounge on Haight Street in mid-March.

That's also when the four-star Fleur de Lys will reopen after a million-dollar fire closed the four-star eatery for many months. With backing from the Piatti restaurant group, Fleur de Lys owners Hubert and Chantal Keller are still planning to open a brasserie near Union Square or on Jackson Street near the popular Kokkari, depending on how negotiations go.

And any day now, chef Philippe Jeanty will open [email protected]'s in downtown San Francisco.

END

Weitten by: GraceAnn Walden - a former restaurant cook who writes about the restaurant scene for the San Francisco Chronicle and leads history- food tours of North Beach, the traditional Italian neighborhood of San Francisco on Saturdays and weekdays. Check out her web site: graceannwalden.com

You can e-mail her at [email protected].

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