Rubicon, a seminal restaurant on the modern San Francisco scene, closed its doors Aug. 9 after a 14-year run that launched some high-profile careers for both chefs and sommeliers. A Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 1998, the financial district restaurant was the brainchild of restaurateur Drew Nieporent and his founding partners, movie director and vintner Francis Ford Coppola and actor Robert De Niro.
Nieporent, who has six restaurants in New York, blamed the high costs of doing business in San Francisco for the restaurant's demise. "The rent was $60,000 more than any of our places in New York," said Nieporent. "The payroll in San Francisco was $100,000 more than New York. And San Francisco's health insurance requirements were killing us. The restaurant was doing well, but we just couldn't make money."
The exposed-brick dining room became a destination as a succession of chefs made their names there. Traci Des Jardins, who opened the restaurant, now has Jardinière across town. Rubicon's last chef, Stuart Brioza, may have been the best since her. Others who toiled in the kitchen over the years include Richard Reddington (now of Redd in Yountville), Jeremy Fox (now of Ubuntu in Napa), and Robbie Lewis (now of Bacar in San Francisco), not to mention former pastry chef Elizabeth Falkner, who now has two San Francisco restaurants, Citizen Cake and Orson.
Sommelier Larry Stone, a partner in the restaurant, created the wine list and roamed the floor for years before leaving in 2005 to manage Coppola's Rubicon Estate in Napa Valley. Along the way, some of the sommeliers who worked with him there were Rajat Parr, wine director of the Michael Mina Group and the Grand Award winner Michael Mina in San Francisco, Alan Murray of Masa's and Kyle Boatright, Rubicon's most recent sommelier.
Rubicon's 25,000-bottle wine cellar could go to a potential buyer of the restaurant, said Nieporent, who added that if that didn't happen he had other possibilities in mind. "It will not be auctioned off," he said. When award-winning New York restaurant Montrachet closed last year, Nieporent auctioned off the cellar because of partnership differences.
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