Table for 10: An Insider Q&A with Food Writer Virginia Miller on Popular Communal EateriesMarch 12, 2015
“Food is to San Francisco what Hollywood is to LA.” So says veteran local foodie-blogger Virginia Miller who has written professionally about The City’s restaurants for nine years. San Francisco/Northern California Editor for Zagat and writer of her own blog, The Perfect Spot, Virginia grew up bi-coastal (in New York and LA), which explains why she loves travel and great restaurants so much. For the past decade more fads than ever have been springing up in SF, but one that has stuck around for numerous reasons are eateries and bars featuring communal tables. Great spots for newcomers to the area to meet new people, they’re also favorites of lifelong SF residents because of the quality food they feature. Of course, we have our favorites like Maven in Lower Haight and Marlowe in Soma but we also wanted to hear from the expert! We spoke to Virginia about what makes this type of layout work and what some of her perfect spots in The City are.
Trinity: How did you become an expert in Northern California fare and restaurants?
Virginia: I was trying to explore the bay area, the neighborhoods and cities and towns. The way I would get to know them was through eating. And it wasn’t long before friends and friends of friends were coming to me for where to go, what to do…and I was even leading people around, giving personalized tours and eating with them taking them to under-the-radar places. When my husband suggested I write down my experiences, I thought it was a great ideas and so I started The Perfect Spot. It’s exciting to see how much has changed in the past eight years and it’s all due to a love of food and drink.
T: Why is communal eating so popular in San Francisco?
V: It was originally a way to be able to cater to walk-ins and a multitude of people, and to serve everyone as you would at a bar, as opposed to trying to fit ten more tables into a space. So it’s partly utilitarian. I think it’s also become popular because a lot of people don’t like to always plan ahead and like walk-in options. And it kind of makes the vibe of a place, it allows people to interact.
T: What sort of food should people expect there?
V: I’ve dined at communal tables that serve everything from upscale Mexican to tapas and Italian. Small plates are well-suited to the communal table but I’ve eaten at places that are maybe even a little more elegant. Not necessarily upscale but multi-course restaurants like Lazy Bear which fits somewhere in between.
T: Who goes to these types of restaurants?
V: 20, 30 and 40-somethings enjoy Nopa (one of the most popular communal restaurants in San Francisco) and other places like it that have been in San Francisco for years and are always packed. The whole idea really works around spontaneity and not having to make reservations. However, I’ve seen older couples frequent restaurants like this, so it really spans all ages.
T: How are you expected to act?
V: The rules are similar to those of a bar. Everyone chats and tends to be friendly. Friday and Saturday nights seem a bit trickier because everyone’s going out on date night or with their friends so it may be a bit harder to strike up a conversation, but on a Monday or Tuesday evening it may be a bit easier to talk to people dining around you. I also think one of the basic rules of etiquette is to sit down at your table and say hello to everyone, and from there you’ll kind of figure out quickly who feels like chatting and who doesn’t. Be open to see what happens and go from there.
T: So where should we go?
V: Nopa serves up new American fare and has been hot since the day it opened. Alembic in Haight-Ashbury is smaller and more intimate, although they’re expanding for the first time in a decade. There’s a newer Spanish place called Beso and there’s an older Italian one called Poesia, both in Castro, both feeling transplanted from Spain and Italy and bringing out all kinds of expats from those countries. They’re all fantastic places worth checking out – no reservations required.
For more reviews, check out Virginia’s blog: The Perfect Spot.
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