The Half Orange Turns Two (Saturday, July 30)

2ND ANNIVERSARY

A little over three years ago, my business partners Michael and Max and I decided to close our San Diego restaurant The Linkery, which was over eight years old at the time. It was a hard reality to come to terms with, but at the same time it was obvious that if each of us were going to achieve our personal goals, we’d have to start over in contexts that were more favorable.

That decision cast Katie and I full-time into the Bay Area, and into a crazy and exhausting series of living arrangements, jobs, projects, and discoveries as we went about building a life here. Often it still feels like we could sleep for a month and not get fully rested.

Somehow, in the middle of all that, we found ourselves recipients of a few very special gifts: a place to call home, a neighborhood we love, a wellspring of wonderful friends, and the opportunity to operate a casual restaurant in the middle of it all. We could not be more grateful.

This Saturday, July 30, we’re celebrating the 2nd anniversary of that restaurant, The Half Orange. Some unique treats on offer will include:

* A brand-new beer from Ale Industries brewed just for the occasion — a 6.2% patio pounder made in the style category of their own creation, “Glam Beer.” (When Morgan asked what kind of beer we’d like them to brew for the anniversary, I cheekily said “session glam beer”. Morgan is always up to meet a challenge.) This beer is called “Wham Glam Thank You Fam” and we’ll be pouring it all day (or until it runs out). It will pair excellently with…

* oak-smoked grass-fed tri-tip sandwiches on griddled rolls, and served with bacon-fat-cooked white beans. We’ll have a lot of this so it should be available all day and night.

* Late Summer Sumac Ale, a 12-month barrel-aged sour from our longtime friends at Craftsman Brewing in Pasadena. Our friend Sayre, who served as our personal one-man welcoming committee to Oakland, helped develop this beer, and the combination of our new friends and old seems like a perfect way to celebrate. Also, the beer is killer and not widely available, so, you know, come drink some.

* We’re going to bust out some turntables and records we haven’t played in a long time, and bask in the warmth of analog sound and the Fruitvale sun.

I hope you’ll join us, we’ll open at 11am and close at 10pm. Brunch and the regular menu served until 3pm, regular menu served after that.

We love you, have a great day!

On Rebecca Flint Marx on Michael Bauer

Rebecca Flint Marx’s piece in San Francisco Magazine on “The Michaels” that came out today is the most thorough examination I’ve yet read of the dynamic of our region’s Michael-Bauer-driven restaurant scene.

“What this is really about.” Marx writes,

is a city whose impact on the nation’s—and arguably the world’s—culinary culture stands in direct contradiction to its innate provinciality. San Francisco is a village, one that’s full of chefs who have spent their entire career under a single critic and have been conditioned to please him and to not, with very few exceptions, ask any questions.

As an outsider who’s now been in the business here for a couple years, including spending part of that time working on a restaurant that aspired to be in the circle of places that are well-reviewed by the area’s top-tier restaurant critics, I have some, you know, observations and thoughts.

The first is that, as far as I can tell, Marx’s assertion above, if anything, understates how influential Bauer’s preferences are to the development of the restaurant industry here. Prior to the opening of nearly every restaurant here that will appear on his radar, all operations, menu, and media strategy are run through the filter of “What Will Bauer Think?” Every publicist has as their first priority a good Bauer review, because that is the primary way to attract national press (and James Beard Awards). Every GM, chef and sommelier is keenly aware of how their decisions will likely be perceived by Bauer. And yes, absolutely everybody reads the well-circulated documents with his and his partner’s photos and preferences finely delineated. Even many investors want to know from the operating team, how do you plan to get a good Bauer review?

It’s clear that there is a certain type of restaurant that Michael Bauer prefers, and I think that, not unrelatedly, our restaurants of that type are superior to any other city’s collection of same. There’s an argument to be made — and to a great degree, Bauer’s accumulated writing makes this argument well — that by keeping an entire city focused on a single type of restaurant experience, Bauer has helped this region to punch above its weight, and helped bring a lot of fame and financial success to our best practitioners. Much like a small French village might become world-renowned for a single type of cheese or wine, so is the inner Bay Area widely acknowledged as a world-class restaurant city, based principally on its excellence at producing one signature style of restaurant.

There’s also an argument to be made that this condition is not necessarily the best situation for the region’s community of diners. Relative to many other major cities, San Francisco’s group of well-regarded restaurants offers, in my experience, a somewhat startling lack of diversity. Even where the cuisine may vary to, say, French- or Japanese-inspired cooking instead of the more familiar “Cal-Ital” farm-to-table, our restaurants often feel as though they have a very similar soul — the guest experience, philosophy, approach, often even the ingredients themselves are very familiar from place to place. To spend even just a few days in a city like Boston or Los Angeles is to be reminded that there are lots of other ways to do restaurants, and those other approaches offer great and unique experiences that people love and that can also achieve excellence. The many of us who love cities and dining out would, surely, enjoy the development of a more eclectic, even chaotic, community of great restaurants.

Caveats. There’s a lot of them. Here’s some. 1) Despite what I perceive as a general lack of diversity in approach here, there are of course restaurants of the type I’m discussing — the type that make “best new restaurant” lists, for shorthand — that are clearly outside of the dominant paradigm. FuseBOX is one example that comes immediately to mind, and there are certainly others. Oakland seems to be growing more of them; this might be in part encouraged by the overtly egalitarian approach of the East Bay’s most prominent restaurant critic, Luke Tsai. 2) As restaurants mature (and over time become less influenced by reviews), they tend to develop their own unique being. A successful Bay Area restaurant that has 7 or 10 years under its belt is pretty far removed from its planning stages, and will more reflect the core intentions of its operators and team than the context in which it opened. 3) There are plenty of mom-and-pop shops, including many immigrant-owned places, that are delivering absolutely excellent cuisine and diverse experiences outside of the type we associate with Bauer reviews. 4) There are plenty of parts of the Bay Area, including East Oakland where we operate The Half Orange, where the vast majority of diners would not expect the area’s restaurants to have a Bauer review, and as a result his preferences are unlikely to be shaping these areas significantly. 5) Restaurants here, of all styles, are really good, and I’m glad to be living here. There’s not many places that have it this good, even if there are, perhaps, ways it could be better.

ZeeroBells

Please Clean Your Lines!

From the time I started drinking beer until the time I got into the craft beer industry myself, I basically avoided drinking draft beer as much as I could, and stuck to bottles. Because draft beer almost always tasted totally gross.

I’ve since learned that the reason for this is that, as far as I can taste, almost all the draft beer lines in most American cities are not clean. And when I say they are not clean, I mean they are chock full of nasty shit, like this.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 4.14.42 PM

I found this line a while back at a very good restaurant where I was helping them do a little work on their system. They had put in all new draft lines only 9 months previously, but regular line cleaning at some point got lost during a management transition. So this buildup occurred in probably only about a few months of inadequate cleaning. When you think about how many draft lines in your town haven’t been cleaned in years (hint: probably a lot) you get a sense of what’s going into much of the beer being served near you.

(To be fair, of the eight lines I saw on this occasion, only this and one other line had this sort of buildup; two others had visible residue and four were visually mostly clean, although it’s hard to say for sure that nothing was going on inside them.)

We replaced the line shown here, of course, and then the beer on that tap tasted great. I’m confident that this restaurant will stay on top of it, now that they’ve seen both sides of the possibilities.

If you pour beers off a draft system, I hope this is helpful! It’s fairly easy to buy a line cleaning canister and line cleaner (we use PBW that costs about $25 for 4 pounds), and to clean each line at a keg change or every week or two. We’ve also found it good to do a deep clean (overnight soak) of each line periodically, and to change the lines out fully after some number of months (the industry recommendation I’ve heard is every six months). It’s a little extra time and expense, but isn’t great beer worth it?