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[Bay Area] Tinderbox, Bernal Heights


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#1 KRamsey

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 02:13 AM

I'm on a large Yahoo group (700 members) of Bernal Heights parents, and some of us were wondering about a new restaurant opening on Cortland called Tinderbox. Here is an unintentionally funny missive by the chef-owner:

"My name is Ryan Russell, I am the owner of the new
restaurant 'Tinderbox' on Cortland and I thought it would be a good
time to introduce myself and my business.
I have lived in the Bay Area for 12 years, I have lived in Bernal
Heights for two of those years(SF for 6) and love the neighborhood
and the residents, so I feel a responsibility to make it an even
better place to live and am proud to be a part of that.

Some may think that all new businesses should cater to children due
to the obvious prevalence of young families and that the neighborhood
should foster an environment that is safe and nourishing for babies
and youngsters, and I agree. But I am of the opinion, and am putting
my money where my mouth is, that Bernal Heights could use a creative
outlet that won't limit ourselves to what is perceived as a child's
cognitive limitations.
I suppose I am of the European school of child rearing(I don't have
any kids yet) that a young mind is extraordinarily nimble and when
given a chance, a child can adapt to a sophisticated environment;
when surrounded by enlightening conversation or artistic or musical
enriching atmosphere begin to develop an inquisitiveness about the
world, begin to understand that the world is bigger than themselves:
to form opinions and learn how to articulate them.

To be honest Tinderbox will be an adult place, that is if your child
cannot control their behavior we would rather not have them disturb
others diners. But we ourselves are young and weren't children too
long ago, so in talking months ago about how we could contribute to a
neighborhood kid's life and development we decided that once a month
we would bring the Bernal youths in for a "kids in the kitchen" day
where we would show them some technique and recipes that might expose
them to the world of modern cuisine and sustainable food systems that
we are so enamored with.

We all live in this community because of its diversity cultural
richness and should continue to cherish it.

I have included my bio as well as my business partner/chef's bio if
you are interested, and I assure you that we have lofty goals for
Bernal Heights and its young minds.


Ryan Russell was born into a foodie family. He was making zabaglione
while his classmates played video games. Russell's meticulous nature
and creative longing led him to study landscape architecture at
University of California, Berkeley, and he helped found Tierra Viva
Landscape Design in Emeryville, Ca, with a focus on pioneering edible
and native landscapes. The concept of sustainability was forefront
in Russell's colliding worlds of modern design and food systems, and
led him to study Permaculture with Penny Livingston and Brock Dolman
eventually earning his Permaculture design certification. During
this time Russell revisited his innate passion for food working for
Rising Sun Catering out of St. Helena with Chad and Heather Harris;
the part time job became an obsession with kitchen craft. Under
Chad's tutelage, Russell was exposed to some of the best products
available to a chef, and gained an appreciation for rustic satisfying
food, food that causes craving. Here in the kitchen he could use his
architectural and design underpinnings to manifest edible art using
incredibly conscious components--- the turnover was much faster than
realizing a construction project; in fact, he could imagine it,
prepare it, and get instant feedback from his diner in a day.
Russell was sous-chef for Rising Sun when he received an offer from
111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco to be in-house caterer, he
realized the offer was a perfect venue to push his own version of
conceptual, creative fare using the best ingredients available. Hot
Rod Pantry was conceived. .A year and a half later Russell found the
backing he needed to open a restaurant he could use to explore the
potential of his culinary vision. It would be a laboratory for
experimentation with kitchen space to continue his burgeoning
catering business. When Russell met Blair Warsham, he knew he had
found a kindred spirit. Someone who had the fundamental skills but
wanted to cook outside the confines of categorization.
Blair Warsham hails from Atlanta, Georgia, but his culinary journey
began in Charleston, South Carolina where he graduated with Honors
from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in
2000. After graduation, Warsham continued working under the tutelage
of executive chef Bob Waggoner, a three-time James Beard nominee
for 'Best Chef of the Southeast' at the Charleston Grill. The first
of several bold moves for Warsham was the acceptance of an exclusive
offer from Waggoner to train with some of France's most renowned
chefs. In 2003, Warsham trained at a slew of Michelin-rated
restaurants with chefs Patrice Demangel of Sofitel Biarritz Miramar
Hotel, Gerard Charbonier of Le Bougaincillier, and Jose Deanacleto of
Hotel Million. Before returning to the United States in 2004, Warsham
completed his European experience working under chefs Rose Gray and
Ruth Rodgers at The River Café in London. The profundity of
Warsham's European experiences led him to find a restaurant where he
could apply la technique to American food, leading him ironically to
his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia to work with chef Anne Quatrano,
three-time James Beard winner for 'Best Chef of the Southeast', at
Bacchanalia. When an executive sous chef was needed at The General's
Daughter in Sonoma, California in 2005, Warsham accepted the
position. It was there that Warsham developed a passion for
California's fresh approach using local waters, farms and artisan
producers of Northern California. After dining at Campton Place in
San Francisco, Warsham was captivated by chef Daniel Humm's forward
thinking approach to creating innovative and contemporary cuisine
that married modern French with American sensibilities. Warsham knew
that working for Humm was the next step in his culinary progression
and moved from Sonoma to San Francisco and joined Campton Place.
After two incredible years, Warsham declined an offer to sous-chef
for Humm when he left for 11 Madison in New York. Warsham's recent
experience with Big City Chefs exposed him to the intricacies of the
catering business, and he turned down a guaranteed spot on Top Chef
to be with us so we know he's serious about contributing to the
Northern California food revolution."

#2 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 02:23 AM

I believe the expression I'm looking for is: Whoa!

This is the place that is going into the old Chez Maman space, yes?

ETA: Oops I'm an idiot. You said Cortland. And Bernal. But I could swear I heard or read something about "Tinderbox yadda yadda old Chez Maman space." I am cornfused. Anyway, what used to be wherever this place is going to be?
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#3 KRamsey

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 02:49 AM

No, you have it right! It was Chez Maman, then briefly Aura.

#4 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 03:08 AM

No, you have it right! It was Chez Maman, then briefly Aura.

Oh, okay. Thought I was having a senile moment. But then surely it's on 18th and not Cortland, and on Potrero rather than Bernal proper? (Though to be sure they are the same neighborhood divided by a common freeway.)

Anyway, I think "Tinderbox" is an inauspicious name for a tiny restaurant, especially that one with its open grill so close to the customers.

ETA: Never made it to Aura, did you?
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#5 KRamsey

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 12:27 PM

This was the second location of Chez Maman, right on Cortland. Then they secured Mike Yakura from Le Colonial and overnight changed to Aura, a mediocre French-Vietnamese small plates place. Very much like a restaurant I like a lot in Seattle (Monsoon), but not nearly as good. I did eat at Aura a couple of times. First time was pretty good, second time was bad. I think Yakura was off honing his TV persona. They folded and the restaurant group that owned the spot (Maktub, I think) put the space up for sale.

Anyway, I think Ryan Russell sounds like a horse's ass.

#6 galleygirl

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 01:10 PM

This was the second location of Chez Maman, right on Cortland. Then they secured Mike Yakura from Le Colonial and overnight changed to Aura, a mediocre French-Vietnamese small plates place. Very much like a restaurant I like a lot in Seattle (Monsoon), but not nearly as good. I did eat at Aura a couple of times. First time was pretty good, second time was bad. I think Yakura was off honing his TV persona. They folded and the restaurant group that owned the spot (Maktub, I think) put the space up for sale.

Anyway, I think Ryan Russell sounds like a horse's ass.

I think they're looking for a way to say "no children" that won't bring on a s**tstorm of bad publicity...
Bistrodraw Illustration


Where are we going? And why am I in this handbasket?

#7 KRamsey

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 02:23 PM

If he intends a destination restaurant where kids aren't accommodated, he's in the wrong neighborhood. I can only guess that he got a better deal on rent than in other neighborhoods. It's his terrible writing (despite his "meticulous nature") and obvious love-of-self that cracks me up.

#8 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 02:43 PM

Okay, I was completely confused. Somehow I missed out on the Cortland incarnation of Chez Maman entirely, and assumed Aura had replaced the place on 18th. Please disregard anything I post in the future.

And yes, that guy does sound like a pompous, self-involved twit.
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#9 designme

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 10:57 PM

http://www.tablehopp...ne-26-2007.html. This was quoted on Tabble Hopper.




Up in Bernal, the former Aura location is reopening sometime in early to mid July (say, maybe July 10–17) as ~TINDERBOX RESTAURANT~, “an experimental American bistro with a foundation on sustainable food and wine.” The partners want to offer a youthful interpretation of American cuisine, offering a fresh and global take on Cali dining. The project comes from Ryan Russell, who founded Hot Rod Pantry, the in-house catering outfit for 111 Minna. Russell has brought on Blair Warsham, whose resume includes working as the executive sous chef at the General’s Daughter in Sonoma, two years under Daniel Humm at Campton Place, and some gigs in Europe (you can read his entire bio here)—he will be co-cheffing with Russell, and will be a partner in both the restaurant and Russell’s catering company, which will be utilizing Tinderbox’s kitchen.

The menu will feature some playful additions, like the Tinderbox Special, a nightly deluxe appetizer that is a tasting of three items presented in a steel box with porcelain inserts, and will run $11–$12. There will also be the “Keeping It Bernal” prix-fixe menu, with a starter, entrée, and your choice of dessert or a glass of wine that will run in the mid to high $20s. One potential sample menu that floated my way included a starter of crude hamachi with summer melon ribbon, steeped prosciutto and mint oil; banana-wrapped chicken on garlic-potato whip with crispy Kaffir lime leaves for the main; and basil pudding on basil seed syrup with honeycomb for dessert.

Coming on board is Omar White from Pizzaiolo, who will be the GM and overseeing the wine list; John Ragan, now the wine director at Eleven Madison Park in New York (we lost him from Campton Place, along with Daniel Humm) will be consulting on the list, along with Peter Eastlake of Vintage Berkeley (sounds like one hell of a list). Additional elements will include a strong music focus (the host and a partner, Miles Clark, is a sound engineer around town), rotating art by local artists, and they are trying to be as green as possible, using 100% recycled fabrics on the high-backed banquettes, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified hardwoods on the large L-shaped bar, cork wall paneling, and no VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints. Russell designed the 40-seat space, giving it a clean and modern style, with suede chairs, copper-topped tables, and there is also a private room with room for 8–10 people. It will be open for dinner, 5:30pm–10pm Tue–Sun (until 11pm Fri­–Sat), and serving wine and beer until midnight and a late dining offering; there are also plans for brunch soon. 803 Cortland Ave. at Ellsworth, 415-285-TBOX (8269).

#10 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 17 October 2007 - 05:22 PM

Review by Tara Duggan in today's Chronicle Food Section. Two stars. "Shows promise."
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#11 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 07:11 PM

Reidinger review in today's Bay Guardian.

Sounds like he pretty much likes it, too, though he disapproves of grilling avocados. The fig and beet salad sounds tempting to me, I'll admit.
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#12 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 06:17 PM

And now, Meredith Brody at the Weekly.

She likes it too, but thinks grilling avocados is "almost genius"! (She also addresses the ruckus raised by the chef's initial announcement.)
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley

#13 Squeat Mungry

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 05:34 PM

...and now Eater is reporting that Tinderbox closed over the weekend.

That was quick!
It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. -- Richard Bentley