Jonathan Kauffman will take over as SF Weekly’s staff restaurant critic in January after three years with the Seattle Weekly. The East Bay Express veteran and former cook didn’t have to consider long before accepting the job. He told Grub Street he’s excited to get back to the Bay Area to explore the region’s lesser known gems in depth, from wacky dishes like the Murder Casserole Gangsta Style at Spices 3 to undiscovered Filipino food in Vallejo. Read on to learn Kauffman’s plans for his coverage, his impressions of Seattle, and the bee-line he’ll be making when he hits town.
What makes you want to eat professionally in San Francisco?
There’s a level of expectation that people have for food in San Francisco that’s pretty high. I think chefs strive to meet that. The way San Franciscans eat is very broad, and there are a lot of San Franciscos as well. There are a lot of neighborhoods and cuisines that don’t get covered enough in media.
What are examples of that?
When I was critic at the Express I discovered that there’s a lot of Afghan food in Fremont. Up in Vallejo there’s a huge Filipino community and there are a lot of restaurants nobody is writing about. I think that’s happening in San Francisco as well. It’s as exciting to write about that as what Daniel Patterson is doing.
How is San Francisco different from Seattle?
People live in a landscape of food here (in Seattle). Just in the past four or five months I’ve been given fifteen pounds of Gravenstein apples, jelly, peas.. People cook at home a lot more. They give each other food. It’s not as focused on restaurants as San Francisco.
You’ve identified Spices 3, in Oakland, as one of your most influential meals. Can you elaborate on that?
I love Spices 3 — their “Gangsta Casserole Murder Style,” with the offal and the chunks of blood. I love their sense of humor. What was interesting was that they were trying to really focus on Sichuan regional cuisine, and they weren’t interested in fleshing out the menu with typical Chinese-American standards. The waiters and the cooks and the customers all expected that people would be eating Sichuan food.
What else has influenced your view of Bay Area cuisine?
The taco trucks on International Boulevard in Oakland. Finding out that there were small regional differences in the taco trucks and that the patrons of each truck happened to come from the area where the chef was from. So there was a little de facto community around each truck. And the explosion of street food in the Bay Area wouldn’t have taken place in the Bay Area if taco trucks hadn’t paved the way, both in dealing with the health department and people’s expectations — getting over the idea of “roach coaches,” which is a term I hate.
What do you have planned for new coverage?
I think I’ll be doing a lot of the restaurant coverage, not just talking to chefs, but doing the little mini reviews. Getting out and about looking for “the finds.” Say there’s a Filipino bakery that has a really amazing pastry I like. Writing about that. Something that would never make it into a review but is worth chasing down.
Where will you eat first when you get to town?
Generally my first stop when I get off the plane is a burrito. Just for tradition’s sake. A grilled chicken regular burrito, no cheese. Or the Carnitas.
Earlier SF Weekly Hires Jonathan Kauffman as Critic [Grub Street SF]