A unique project, called GENIUS LOCI, made its way to San Francisco and opened with an exhibition at the Museo Italo-Americano on February 7th. The...
Marcia Gagliardi knows food.
And San Franciscans know her. In the past eight years since launching her e-newsletter and website Tablehopper, Gagliardi has been tirelessly working, digging, frontiering—nay, battling—to expose the Bay Area’s best-kept culinary secrets.
But don’t make the mistake of comparing her to Michael Bauer (one is quite enough, we think) or calling her website a blog. Gagliardi doesn’t try to conceal her identity or pretend she’s just another anonymous table in the crowd (have you seen her red curls?), and the reliability of fresh content means diners can count on her smart and sassy advice week after week. (A recent review of A-16’s new outpost in Rockridge cautioned about the scissors that are served with the pizzas, “Not a good place to break up with someone since your date could cuuuuut you.”)
Naturally, as Tablehopper’s reputation has grown, Gagliardi has been interviewed countless times by local culinary authorities clamoring to know what she thinks of their food.
And so were we. Just where does Gagliardi hail from and what is behind her quippy metaphors and timely insights? (“Flavors are more loud talkers than careless whisperers here,” Marcia wrote of Russian Hill’s Verbena; the website currently features special menus for Passover at SF staples like Delfina and Baker & Banker.) After all, she isn’t a chef, and she doesn’t have a specific background in the ‘industry.’
Our first guess, logically, was that being half Italian was probably foundation enough for her culinary-minded career—and indeed, her paternal grandmother’s visits to California from Italy and Marcia’s own trips to the family’s native Calabria have had an undeniable influence on her palate. But when discussing how exactly she came to be San Francisco’s most charming restaurant columnist, Marcia is pointed in describing the food morals her Michigan-born mother laid down each night at the dinner table: healthy, wholesome and homemade.
Though tortured by the embarrassment of ugly persimmon cookies that could (sometimes) be traded for the perfection of frosted circus animals, those childhood lessons, provided by a mother who experimented with Continental cuisine and braved farmer’s markets before they included jazz music and gourmet crepes, won out over the forbidden pleasure of a trip to McDonald’s. (Thanks, mom!)
Yet despite, or perhaps in spite of all those lovingly made sack lunches and meal-time memories, Marcia has always been an avid diner-outer. She credits her time at UCLA as a broke college student with developing her hound’s nose for quality and authenticity, and broadening her food horizons to include Korean and Vietnamese cuisines, among many others.
“I was a total chowhound … L.A. has a bounty of cheap eats,” Gagliardi says. After moving back to the Bay Area after college (Marcia hails from San Mateo) and beginning work at a text book publisher, she transitioned into advertising before falling victim to the onslaught of layoffs with the burst of the dotcom. It was then that she realized one thing had been a constant in her life—her love of dining out.
Of course, at that time, there was always someone handy to provide coverage on big, fine-dining openings, but in the pre-Eater SF days, there was little press for the types of places everyday people could eat, well, every day. She saw an audience that needed serving. Presto! Tablehopper was born.
Although Marcia’s reviews certainly include the big guys, it’s the little, out-of-the-way, breakfast sandwich/taqueria/ramen/ pizza-type venues and her straight-shooting advice (where should you take someone to break up? Refer to the “Shituations” chapter in Gagliardi’s book, full title below) that have earned her the love and devotion of over 20,000 Tablehopper subscribers.
While there is plenty of competition in the Dear Abby category for dining these days, ranging from 7x7 to Yelp to other jaunty upstarts like the Thrillist, Gagliardi’s 20 years of SF living and trademark fun and feist have helped carve out a niche with springboard potential.
The Tablehopper brand now includes a book, “The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion,” and a late-night dining app that features go-to dishes at over 95 post-11 p.m. venues—no small feat in San Francisco. We hope to also someday see Gagliardi’s brand make it onto television, which is her dream as a food writer/traveler and self-proclaimed “cuisine concierge.”
Finally, no conversation with Gagliardi is complete without picking her brain on where to eat in SF, and for this one, we went Italian all the way. While there doesn’t seem to be a one-and-only on Marcia’s list, she counts among her absolute to-die for favorites the “gorgeously guanciale-packed” bucatini at Tosca Café; the “benchmark” pesto at Farina; and the authenticity of regional homages like A-16, Perbacco and La Ciccia. And what would life be without a teaser? Gagliardi hints she’ll soon be blowing the lid off a new Italian wonder downtown. To learn more or subscribe, visit www.tablehopper.com.