June was Sicilian month at Il Fornaio's 11 California restaurants, which put Dish in a nostalgic frame of mind. Back in 1983, Dish worked on Battery and got her morning lattes at the Il Fornaio bakery in Levi Plaza, now the site of Oh-La-La Bakery. At that time, the Il Fornaio empire consisted of only four bakeries, two in the city (the original on Union Street is still thriving), one in Berkeley, and one in Southern California. They were operated by Howard Lester, chairman of Williams-Sonoma, who had bought the rights to Il Fornaio North America from Carlo Vegetti of Italy, founder of the Il Fornaio bakery concept. In 1987, Larry Mindel, formerly of Spectrum Foods, took over the company. It was Mindel who extended the concept beyond bakeries to include full-service restaurants. Il Fornaio will open its first out-of-state restaurant in Portland, Ore., later this year. A Carmel outlet is in the works for 1996.
Who's drinking what? A check around the city's hottest bars revealed vodka is king when it comes to cocktails. At the Elbo Room, the most popular drink is a Cosmopolitan, a mixture of vodka, triple sec, and Rose's lime juice. At the Paragon Bar & Cafe, they're lining up for shots of Paragon Punch: vodka, bluesberry schnapps, a dash of sweet and sour, orange juice, and cranberry juice. Cafe Mars is doing big business with the Martian Martini: Finlandia cranberry vodka, Rose's lime juice, and “a special secret ingredient.” Over at the Tonga Room, where they've been concocting cocktails since 1945, however, it's a different story — one about rum. The drink that outsells all others is the Mai Tai, a mixture of tropical juices and black rum.
Two-year-old Bryan's Quality Meats is known for its sparkling displays of fresh, top-quality meat and seafood. Foodies go there just to feast their eyes upon the soft-shell crabs and ricotta-stuffed chicken breasts, much as art lovers would visit a gallery. In recent months, Bryan's has added sandwiches to its excellent deli, which offers tempting take-home food like rabbit stew, grilled polenta, and vegetarian chili. Dish stopped in last week and picked up a grilled lamb sandwich with pesto and lettuce on rosemary bread. Divine is an understatement. Also on the sandwich tray are grilled marinated rib eye; roasted pork with sun-dried tomato dressing; and the world's greatest meatloaf. All bread is from Grace and Noe Valley bakeries, and top sandwich price is $4. Bryan's, by the way, has great Laurel Village history. The Flannery family, its owners, ran the butcher shop at the Laurel Village CalMart for 30 years.
By Barbara Lane