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Turning Tables: Chef Thomas Keller Opens Mexican Restaurant; Quince Owners Debut Casual Wine Bar

Plus, Tawla in San Francisco closes
The carnitas tacos at La Calenda
Photo by: David Escalante
The carnitas tacos at La Calenda

Julie Harans
Posted: January 17, 2019

Thomas Keller Opens Casual Mexican Concept in Yountville

Fine-dining authority chef Thomas Keller ventures outside his wheelhouse with the opening of La Calenda, a casual Mexican restaurant. The concept debuted Jan. 3 in Yountville, Calif., just down the road from Keller's Wine Spectator Grand Award winning the French Laundry and Best of Award of Excellence winning Bouchon. The chef's group also owns Grand Award winner Per Se in New York.

La Calenda's menu offers approachable, classic Mexican staples such as tacos, tamales and enchiladas. Oaxaca-born executive chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling sources ingredients from Mexican producers, local farmers and the French Laundry's own culinary garden.

The wine program also has a Mexican focus. The French Laundry's head sommelier, Erik Johnson, worked with La Calenda's team to create the 50-selection list, which highlights regions like Valle de Guadalupe and Santo Tomas. Nearby Napa Valley is also well-represented, including many small-production labels.

"Unquestionably the most exciting part is that this is the first time we have been afforded the opportunity to build a wine list around this style of cuisine," general manager Eric Jefferson told Wine Spectator. "We honor the history of Mexican Americans in Napa Valley through the lens of the wines highlighted on our list."

A New Wine Bar from the Quince Team

Courtesy of Verjus
Verjus is part–bar and restaurant and part-retail.

The owners of Quince in San Francisco's Jackson Square, Michael and Lindsay Tusk, are opening a new wine bar in the neighborhood later this week. Verjus will be more casual than their nearby Best of Award of Excellence–winning destination.

Inspired by the low-key yet high-quality eateries of Europe—like caves à manger in Paris and tapas bars in Barcelona—Verjus is a multispace, no-reservations concept where everything is ordered at the bar. Beverage director Matt Cirne describes it as a place to show up, drink great wine and eat in a casual setting. "Your experience might last 10 minutes—a quick glass of wine and an anchovy [dish]—or it might be three hours," he said.

Verjus also features a retail shop, which includes a bar that serves cheese, canned fish snacks and other bar bites. The space opens into a secondary dining area with more seating and a larger bar. The menu of European eats by chef Michael Tusk changes daily, from snacks like black pepper and asiago cheese puffs to larger plates like duck confit with quince jam. There's also a charcuterie program of house-made pâté, sausages and more.

The wine list has about 400 selections, with 10 wines by the glass and plenty of good-value bottles. The program is about 60 percent French, balanced by picks from all over the world, especially Italy and California. Cirne focuses on low-intervention wines from small producers with bright, bold flavors to match the cuisine.

San Francisco Mediterranean Spot Tawla Has Closed

Courtesy of Azhar Hashem
Tawla had earned a Restaurant Award since 2017.

Award of Excellence winner Tawla in San Francisco's Mission District has closed. Owner Azhar Hashem cited the increasing struggles of operating a restaurant in the city as among the reasons for the closure.

Overseen by wine director and general manager Christina Sanger, the 135-selection wine list was strong in classic wines from France and California, but also highlighted under-the-radar regions like Lebanon. Chef Joseph Magidow served a Mediterranean menu of shareable small plates, such as a trio of house-made labanehs.

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