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Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling new stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce two restaurants offering strikingly different cuisines. Kookez Café specializes in homey American food, while La Ciccia brings authentic Sardinian flavor to the neighborhood.
4123 24th Street between Castro and Diamond streets
Genuine Americana is hard to find in an international city such as San Francisco--but 24th Street's newest restaurant, Kookez Café, aims to provide a truly American experience. The menu features specialties from all over the United States, a West Coastonly wine list, and classic chocolate chip cookies made by the owner herself.
Diners can choose from an ever-evolving dinner menu that may include spicy ribs, barbecued shrimp, pork tenderloin, chicken potpie, and herb-crusted salmon. The brunch menu features eggs benedict, homemade granola, and a "to die for" coffee cake. Prices for main courses range from $8.50 for a burger and garlic fries to $26.50 for a New York steak platter, but most are $11 to $18. A vegetable puff pastry with a house salad is $14.95.
Kookez (pronounced "cookies") opened in March in the spot vacated by Miss Millie's, on 24th near Castro. The café has "a warm, cozy feeling," says owner Lynn Presley, who lives right around the corner at 25th and Diamond streets. Presley's son Deano Lovecchio manages the restaurant, and the chief chef, Amir--who goes by only one name--handles dinners and weekend brunch with the help of sous chef Eileen de Loez.
Meanwhile, Presley does all the baking, including about five desserts each week, such as Grandma Lori's Chocolate Brownie Cake or Pennsylvania Dutch Pear Baby (a lemon-poached pear soufflé served with vanilla ice cream). Customers won't always know in advance what desserts are being served, but Presley is flexible. "If regular customers have something they're looking forward to and they're coming in, if they let me know 24 hours in advance, I'll make it for them." She's also happy to sell her baked goods whole, for dessert fans who want to take a pie or cake (or cookies) home.
Presley's baked goods inspired the restaurant in the first place. "I just love to bake. I make these chocolate chip cookies, and I've tweaked the recipe over the years," she explains. Friends told her she should turn her cookies into a business, but she was busy working as the principal of Woodland School in Portola Valley, near Palo Alto. A year and a half ago, she left that position and began considering a new career. "At first I thought of opening a coffee shop to sell the cookies," she says, but she quickly realized that cookies alone would not pay the rent. She began to hatch the idea of opening a full restaurant, the space on 24th Street became available, and Kookez was born.
Kookez Café is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Sundays from 5 to 9 p.m., and for weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Sundays are Kookez Kidz nights, offering a special kids menu that includes a main dish, a small drink, and the choice of a cookie or cupcake, for $7.95. You can view all the menus and make dinner reservations online at www.kookez.com. Brunch on the weekends is first-come, first-served.
291 30th Street at Church Street
"We are the first Sardinian restaurant west of Dallas," Massimiliano Conti says proudly, as he stands in front of La Ciccia, the small, 40-seat bistro he opened on April 10 with his wife, Lorella Degan.
What is Sardinian cuisine? It's many things, says Conti, because Sardinia, a Mediterranean island located 120 miles west of the Italian peninsula, was colonized by a dozen different cultures--from the ancient Phoenicians to the Romans, Arabs, Moors, Spanish, and French--before it became part of Italy in 1861. Mince, parsley, basil, and rosemary are its trademark spices. So is saffron, which grows abundantly just minutes from Cagaliari, the Sardinian town where Conti grew up. Degan hails from the Veneto region in northeastern Italy.
"We use a lot of produce from the land and a lot of meats, including wild game, such as wild boar, hare, and wild rabbit. We also use a lot of lamb, and on the coasts, of course, there's seafood," Conti says.
"La ciccia" stands for "belly" or "prosperity" in the Sardinian language, and the restaurant is the culmination of a long search for the Conti family. The couple live in North Beach and had tried "for years to find a spot for our restaurant. But they were either too big or too small, or too expensive," Degan explains.
When they discovered the storefront formerly occupied by Verona Restaurant and Pizzeria at 30th and Church streets, they jumped at the chance to put down roots in Noe Valley.
La Ciccia's menu, written in Italian and Sardinian, with English translations, offers five appetisers, four first courses (soups and pastas), four pizzas, four main courses, and four desserts. You can try an antipasto of assorted salami and Sardinian crostini, $8; a shrimp and garbanzo bean soup, $7; and baked sea bass with potatoes, olives, and bay leaves, for $17. Other savory entrées include the Sardinian lamb stew with saffron, potatoes, and peas; and the Bistecchedda de Boi cun Binu Nieddu (seared beef hanger steak in red wine sauce); both $17.
Individual, thin-crust pizzas, including a pizza of the day, are $10 to $12. The desserts, such as the Macedonia di Frutta al Limoncello (fruit salad with lemon liqueur), are all $6.
Conti is executive chef, and Degan runs the front of the house. The pasta, breads, and pizza dough are all made on the premises, and fish arrives every other day. One item rotates off the menu every three weeks, so there is almost always something new to try.
But the true specialty at La Ciccia is its wine. Conti's family has vineyards in Sardinia, and for four years he served as sommelier at the prestigious Acquerello on Sacramento Street. For his own restaurant he has tried to shape the 70-bottle wine list to present a variety of lesser-known labels, many from his private cellar. At an open house in April, customers' eyes were twinkling after trying the red Nuragus di Cagliari "Selegas" Argiolas and the white Vermentino di Sardegna "Costamolino" Argiolas. Both wines are $7 per glass, or $27 per bottle.
"Please," says Degan, "tell people to come in, even if it's just to have a glass of wine." She points to the freshly remodeled bar area, where there is room for four or five people to sit down and enjoy the Wine Flight of the Week: a tasting menu of two, three, or four different wines ($6, $9, or $12). You can sip all you like: The J-Church is right outside the door to carry you home.
La Ciccia is open seven nights a week for dinner only, from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
IN OTHER NEW BUSINESS
In addition to restaurants sprouting up on 24th and Church streets (for extra tidbits, see Rumors, page 55), there have been several other changes in the village of Noe Valley this past month. Voice writer Laura McHale Holland tells us about two--one involving a hair and skin care salon and the other a center for "Reiki" energy.
We're Envious of NVS
Nicole Tomoda-Adams and Carla Martino are walking tall these days, enjoying the successful transition from employees at the now defunct Bamboo Salon to owners of NVS Hair and Skin. (NVS, an aural play on the word "envious," stands for Noe Valley Salon.)
NVS opened its doors in February and occupies the same 810 Diamond Street storefront that once housed Bamboo, but it is a completely new entity. "We have a different look, different vibe, different name," Tomoda-Adams says. The new look is sleek with black tile floors, custom-made stations with slate accents, and detailed metalwork.
Tomoda-Adams and Martino worked together for about a year and a half before they joined forces. Tomoda-Adams focuses on hairstyling and Martino on skin care and Swedish massage.
"It's very exciting because the business is for you and your family, and the stability is really nice," Tomoda-Adams says. "You're going to have this job [hairstyling] as long as you want it."
Martino agrees. "There's nothing more satisfying than going home and knowing that you worked hard and you did it for yourself," she says.
So far, business has been very good. "Many of our clients will get a facial and massage and then get a cut and style," Tomoda-Adams notes. "It's very laid-back, and when clients leave, they feel pretty complete."
Martino loves the diversity of their clientele. "Noe Valley is a big mommie neighborhood, and sometimes we even get moms and grandmothers coming in together for packages," she notes. "Sometimes it's a group of friends or a wedding party."
There are also plenty of professionals seeking up-to-the-minute styles. "I used to work downtown, and leaving there is one of the best things I've ever done," Tomoda-Adams reflects. "People want high-end services, but they don't want to go downtown for them anymore. They want to stay in the neighborhood, and that way everybody's nice and relaxed."
The duo is planning a grand opening party on June 3, starting at 3 p.m. They'll have cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. All ages are welcome. Call 824-2070 for more details.
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Reiki Energy Unfolds in Purple Iris
For today only, do not anger, do not worry, be humble, be honest in your work, and be compassionate to yourself and others. Those nuggets of wisdom are the five basic precepts of Reiki, a system of teachings and healing founded in Japan at the end of the 19th century by samurai and Buddhist lay priest Mikao Usui.
"The word 'Reiki' is made up of two Japanese words, rei, which means spiritual or sacred, and ki, which means universal energy or life force," says Bette Briggs, who in January launched the Reiki Clinic of San Francisco at 1404 Church Street.
Briggs, who rents space for her clinic in Purple Iris Healing Center, says she was drawn to Reiki about 13 years ago when she sought help recovering from surgery. Reiki worked so well for her that in time she became a practitioner herself. "There is a whole system imparted from teacher to student, and it's about strengthening the connection with one's own energy system, or true self," Briggs says. "If someone wants to have a private session, it's very simple: They lie fully clothed on a comfortable massage table. They'll be covered with blankets; there'll be a candle, and soft music. And the Reiki energy is transferred by laying on of hands."
Hands are placed on or near and sometimes above the body, she explains, and typically follow the chakra system--points on the body that are considered to be loci of life energy in Hindu and certain other Asian cultures.
"The Reiki energy has an intelligence all its own," Briggs says. "It goes where it needs to go. It's the life force energy, and it's the client who is creating the energy they need in order to heal."
She says new clients often experience a deep sense of relaxation and pleasant feeling. "They may have insights into situations, or they may feel that they want to make positive changes in their lives, and the beautiful thing is that [Reiki] operates on all levels simultaneously, so it can affect the physical as well as the emotional, mental, and spiritual."
To find out more, call Briggs at 407-4233 or visit www.reikiclinic.com.
--Laura McHale Holland