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Followers of the Bay Area restaurant scene are as familiar with the names Firefly and Delfina as they are with the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower. But what many people don’t know is that those two iconic San Francisco eateries have been serving Passover-inspired meals for the past 20 and 15 years, respectively.
And then there are the relative newcomers to the Passover game: Perbacco in San Francisco, for example, has been serving a prix-fixe Passover dinner for the past six years, and Grand Lake Kitchen and Comal in the East Bay are both making their second go-around with Passover-inspired menu items this year.
When Pesach begins on Monday, April 14, many Jews will, of course, be gathering around the table for a seder with family and friends. But more and more, people are seeking a special Passover meal out — and not just at Jewish delicatessens, but at “mainstream” restaurants.
This article includes only places that have Passover offerings for dinner, be they meals or à la carte items. It is not meant to slight the area’s many Jewish delis, bakeries and markets. All of them have an extensive list of Passover items available, as do specialty shops such as Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco and the Pasta Shop in the East Bay. But most of those items are for pickup and need to be ordered in advance, plus each place has its own procedures and deadlines for ordering. Please contact them by phone or visit their websites.
None of the meals that follow are kosher or kosher for Passover.
For 20 years, chef-owner Brad Levy has been peppering his regular menu with à la carte Passover items during the Jewish holiday. That will be the case again this year, from Monday, April 14, through April 22, Levy said.
“We have a pretty good following even though we don’t do a lot of promotion,” Levy said. “It’s something we do out of love, and some people who come to the restaurant during Passover do it every year — and have never been here any other time.”
Levy said he tries to make the restaurant as “unleavened for Passover” as he can, such as serving matzah rather than bread at each table and eliminating flour and bread products. Then again, the regular menu is in effect, and one of the choices is shrimp and scallop pot stickers.
The special menu includes “Brad’s Famous Housemade Gefilte Fish with Fiery Bi-Color Horseradish,” which Levy modified last year because weather problems in the Midwest made it difficult to get lake fish from that region. So he used local black cod, halibut, rock cod and rockfish. “It ended up being as good if not better,” he said, “so why kill myself when I can make a great product using local fish, which is what we’re all about as a restaurant anyway?”
Another favorite is “Grandma Rose’s Matzah Ball Soup with a Big Carrot Chunk.” Last year, about 25 to 30 bowls of it were served every night.
“Three-quarters of the people are coming in specifically for the Passover items,” Levy said. “and one-quarter are probably saying, ‘What is this stuff?’ Some people have even walked out.”
Entrées include a matzah kugel with charred mustard greens, spring onions, fennel, caramelized cauliflower and Meyer lemon crème fraîche, and “Brad’s Mom’s Beef Brisket.”
4288 24th St., S.F. (415) 821-7652. www.fireflyrestaurant.com
“We’ve served a Passover-inspired menu every year since we’ve been open, which has been 15 years,” said Delfina chef-owner Craig Stoll, who is Jewish.
From Monday, April 14, through the end of Passover, the restaurant will be offering a long list of Passover items à la carte. Like the regular Delfina menu, the list of Passover-inspired items will change daily, but one constant (unless they run out) will be wood-fired matzah made by Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland, which is co-owned by Delfina alum Blake Joffe.
Some of the highlights: Stoll family matzah ball soup, with a walnut in the middle of the matzah balls; an edible seder plate featuring farm egg salad and matzah crostini misti topped with lamb conserva; chicken liver rustic crostini; brisket prepared several different ways during the week; and in addition to the dessert choices, toffee-and-chocolate-covered matzah will accompany the check (in place of the usual Torrone Italian nougat).
3621 18th St., S.F. (415) 552-4055. www.delfinasf.com
Last year’s Passover dinner at Perbacco, created by guest chef Joyce Goldstein along with Perbacco chef Staffan Terje, was so popular that the event has been expanded to two nights this year, Wednesday, April 16, and Thursday, April 17. The cost is $52 per person.
“Last year, we had over 300 guests and had to leave many people on the waiting list,” said Umberto Gibin, Perbacco’s owner. “So instead of doing one crazy day, we thought it would be much better to break it up into two.”
About 250 to 280 guests are expected each night, and reservations should go quickly. The restaurant isn’t kosher, but it will try its best to move all of its pork, shellfish and bread products to the cellar for these nights. Nobody tries to conduct an actual seder, said Gibin, who is Jewish. “It has become more of a social gathering for families,” he added.
The four-course menu is inspired by recipes from Goldstein’s 2005 cookbook “Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen.” Goldstein’s longstanding friendship with Terje has allowed her to carry on the Passover traditions she created at her famous San Francisco restaurant, Square One.
The menu allows a choice of entrée, and the rest is served family style. Highlights include Brodo con Polpette e Uova per Pesach (Passover soup with chicken dumplings and eggs); Stufato d’Agnello (lamb stew with green garlic); and Pan di Spagna alle Nocciole (hazelnut sponge cake). There is also Italian-style chopped duck liver, kosher wines from Covenant Winery and cocktails that are inspired by the symbols of the seder plate.
230 California St., S.F., (415) 955-0663.
Grand Lake Kitchen
For the second straight year, the popular diner across from Lake Merritt in Oakland will be offering Passover-inspired items in addition to its daily menu. The special choices will be available for dinner only during the entire holiday, although GLK is closed on Tuesdays.
Delfina alum May Seto and her husband and co-owner, Dave Wasem, will be serving up matzah ball soup, roasted bone marrow, brisket, smoked trout dip, haroset and “everything matzah with shmaltz,” handmade by nearby Beauty’s Bagel Shop.
576 Grand Ave., Oakland. (510) 922-9582. www.grandlakekitchen.com/passover-2014
Baker & Banker
After a full week of Passover meals last year, Baker & Banker is scaling things back this year and will have a $55 prix-fixe menu on Monday, April 14 only. The menu will include matzah ball soup and braised brisket, and the restaurant’s regular à la carte menu will be available, as well.
1701 Octavia Street, S.F. (415) 351-2500. www.bakerandbanker.com
Delancey Street Foundation president and CEO Mimi Silbert makes sure her restaurant always has some Jewish items on the menu throughout the year, and Passover is no exception. The dinner menu throughout Passover (closed on Mondays) will include à la carte choices such as Granny Dena’s matzah ball soup, chopped liver, carrot tsimmes and three kinds of macaroons. And matzah, of course.
600 The Embarcadero, S.F. (415) 512-5179. www.delanceystreetfoundation.org
Caldo de pollo with jalapeño matzah balls and beef brisket with adobo carrots, raisins and a peanut-chile arbol salsa are two of the highlights of Comal’s second annual Passover dinner series.
Two prix-fixe meals for $60 per person are expected to sell out early, as they did last year; there is space for only 22 diners in the private dining room each night, Monday, April 14, and Tuesday, April 15.
Executive Chef Matt Gandin has created a Mexican-style menu that riffs on traditional Passover dishes and is not kosher. One item back from last year: tequila-cured salmon with avocado, endive, radish and cilantro oil.
2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. (510) 926-6300. www.comalberkeley.com/tradition
The iconic, 38-year-old Oakland restaurant will be serving up a $35 prix fixe menu for an event it is billing as “Last Night of Passover Dinner” on Monday, April 21. The menu is a slightly small one, with matzah ball soup, roast lamb, and haroset with matzah. That might leave big eaters hungry, so good thing the regular menu will be available, too. Seating is limited and reservations are required.
3853 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. (510) 655-6004.
Wise Sons Deli
Wise Sons started offering communal seders in 2011, when it was still a pop-up restaurant, and each year sellouts have been the norm. This year, 160 tickets — 40 for each night, April 14-17 — sold out quickly, at $65 per ticket for adults, $95 if wine is included.
The seder plate explanations and haggadah readings generally go quickly, as food is the main draw, and the mostly under-35 crowd can’t wait to sink its teeth into dishes such as “Red Wine and Prune Braised Brisket with Nana Brown’s Crispy Potato Kugel and Farmer’s Market Tsimmes,” and “Bitter Chicories with Toasted Almonds, Shaved Egg, Radish and Lemon Vinaigrette.” The matzah is from Beauty’s.
3150 24th St., S.F. (415) 787-3354.
For the 12th year, the national chain restaurant is offering its annual “Mexican Seder” at its downtown San Francisco location. The menu is sort of a fusion, offering spins on Passover favorites and highlighting the food traditions of Jews in Mexico.
The special à la carte menu will be offered for the duration of the holiday, in addition to the regular menu.
The highlights include: chipotle-marrow matzah ball pozole soup; matzah-breaded chicken breast; and roasted beets, scallions and avocado with a horseradish dressing, served with crispy parsley and matzah meal tortillas. The entrees come with kugel, green beans and regular or whole-wheat matzah. There is also “Sangria Haroset” made with tequila, honey, cinnamon, fresh lemon, cold-pressed apple and Manischewitz reduction.
30 Mission St., S.F. (415) 874-4300.
A few years back, Palio d’Asti tried its hand at some Passover meals because the chef and operator was Jewish. However, when Martin DiGrande bought the restaurant, “I scrapped it, not really knowing what I was doing when it came to Jewish comfort food,” he noted.
Now, however, DiGrande said his girlfriend is Jewish, “and I started to hear, ‘Why isn’t your restaurant doing this sacred meal?’—if only so she could skip her family’s seder and hang out at Palio.” So for five straight nights, starting on Monday, April 14, Palio will be having “Una Cena di Pesach” at $45 per person.
Some highlights of the prix-fixe menu include a haroset of wine-and-honey-soaked fresh and dried fruits and nuts; matzah ball soup with peas; red snapper, braised lamb shanks or roasted chicken for a main course; and almond pudding. Plus one glass of house wine per table for Elijah.
640 Sacramento St., S.F. (415) 395-9800.
On Monday, April 14, Saul’s will close at 6 p.m. Then on Tuesday, April 15, Saul’s will begin a stretch of four straight nights that will clearly be Passover-centric: Not only will there be a special prix-fixe Passover menu each night, but many patrons bring their own haggadahs, or borrow copies from Saul’s, and conduct their own seders, especially on the second night.
The Passover run will end on April 19 with a first-time event called the Broadway Seder Sing-and-Eat-a-Long. Attendees will get to eat a Passover meal while singing Broadway show tunes that have been adapted with new lyrics that tell the Pesach story. The hosts are dance instructor Bruce Bierman and Cantor Sharon Bernstein, and composer Daniel Savio will be on the piano. The advance cost is $52 for adults and $21 for kids, or $60 and $26 at the door.
The prix-fixe option ($40 for adults, $17 for kids under 12) includes a traditional seder plate and an outstretched arm’s-length list of traditional Passover foods, such as gefilte fish, chicken soup with knaidlach, brisket and sponge cake. There is also a mock liver made of roasted walnuts and peas, and a dish of pureed beets served with labne and zatar. The matzah comes from Beauty’s.
1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. (510) 848-3354. www.saulsdeli.com/deli/dinner-specials/passover
SEE THE MENUS
For a glimpse at the menus and the items being offered, visit www.tinyurl.com/restaurants-pesach.