Originally published April 2014
Dining Out for Life happens every year, when nearly 100 restaurants donate a portion of their sales to benefit the free, local programs and services of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. All of our participating restaurants share in our mission to end HIV transmission and expand access to life-saving care. (Have you made your reservation? Find a restaurant!)
As restaurants around the Bay Area gear up for this special night, we spoke with three local restaurateurs to find out why they are so committed to the cause: Steve Porter of Harvey’s in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, Brian Reccow of Lolinda and El Techo de Lolinda in the Mission, and Adam Timney of Starbelly, also in the Castro.
For diners who are new to your restaurant, tell us what it’s like.
Steve Porter: We are a casual spot that serves the usual pub fare of burgers, salads, and sandwiches. But we’re most well known for our brunch and Bloody Marys. The goal of our atmosphere is to provide a glimpse into what life was like in the Castro in the 1970s. That’s the feeling you get inside the restaurant. As you’re sitting in our dining room you can see what the Castro has evolved into since that era. It gives you a sense of how far we’ve come as a community since those days.
Adam Timney: Starbelly is a casual neighborhood café with a large patio and a communal table fashioned from a bowling alley lane. We serve California comfort food and creative beer- and wine-based drinks for weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner.
Brian Reccow: Lolinda is an Argentinian-inspired steakhouse in a dark, sexy, rich space that’s perfect for the cuisine we present: fabulous steaks. The atmosphere is made for sharing; it’s not your typical steakhouse. The wine list centers on Latin American and Spanish wines, and the drinks are very spirit driven. El Techo de Lolinda—“the Roof of Lolinda”—is Latin American street food with a casual atmosphere and a beautiful view over San Francisco. Its wine list plays to the seasons, and its drinks are very citrus driven in the classic way of Latin American drinks like margaritas, palomas, and piña coladas. There’s a great symbiotic relationship between the two restaurants.
What’s your favorite dish you serve, and why?
Steve Porter: That’s easy: Our buttermilk fried chicken, because it tastes fantastic! Everybody loves it, but you can only get it after 5 p.m. It’s pretty amazing.
Brian Reccow: Right now we have a newly rolled out secret bar menu downstairs, and I know it sounds a little clichéd but the Lolinda burger is absolutely wonderful. Upstairs, I have to say our chicharrones, or pork shoulder. It comes as a half-pound, a pound, or a pound and a half of our special-recipe chicharrones, with house-made tortillas and pickled vegetables. It’s a great dish for a large party to enjoy upstairs; we’re becoming very widely known for that up on the roof.
Adam Timney: It really depends on the time of year. Right now I love our seasonal asparagus pizza with black garlic, manchego, arugula, and grated egg.
What’s the biggest compliment you’ve ever received from a customer?
Adam Timney: Last week I had a five-year-old boy say to me, "You have a really nice restaurant. I ate the pizza with the leaf on it. It was yummy." That was a big compliment, because kids are often unfiltered; they just speak what they think in that moment.
Brian Reccow: A lot of people tell me Lolinda is becoming their go-to place to bring their friends, their co-workers, or their family, where they can come in casually dressed but have a really over-the-top experience. At El Techo, I hear people say that we seem to bring the sunshine, even when the fog shows up. Everyone seems to be enjoying how we created El Techo as a place for all seasons.
Steve Porter: About three years ago, a guy who used to live in the Castro was visiting from Chicago. He was a pretty well-known photographer and contemporary of Harvey Milk. In fact, he had taken a few famous pictures of Harvey. I don’t want to give away who it was, but I think that’s enough info for most people to connect the dots. Anyway, he introduced himself and told me that he thought Harvey would be proud of what we’ve done with the corner of 18th and Castro. That touched me deeply, because at the end of the day, that is what we’re really going for, to make Harvey proud and keep his spirit alive in the heart of the Castro.
Why is Dining Out for Life important to you?
Steve Porter: Dining Out for Life is important to me because the San Francisco AIDS Foundation is important to me. Without their efforts, we would not be where we are today in the battle against HIV/AIDS, both here in the Bay Area and globally. And we still have a long way to go. For us to win the battle, it is vitally important that they get the funding they need to continue their work.
Adam Timney: All of our lives have been impacted by friends and loved ones who have battled with AIDS and HIV, especially here in our community. We are happy to be in a position to contribute to an organization that does so much to help.
Brian Reccow: Dining Out for Life is part of the fabric of our culture here in San Francisco, and an integral part of raising awareness about HIV and continuing to provide the services that are needed. And it’s a great way for us to take a moment and reflect on why we live in San Francisco and how we can contribute to seeing that culture grow.
Who inspires you in your work?
Adam Timney: Right now I am watching a British series on YouTube with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He is an English chef/small holdings farmer/TV personality and I really enjoy his passion for food and the processes involved in getting it to the plate.
Brian Reccow: I get a lot of inspiration from my customers, and from the environment we create here. One of the things I strive to do with our staff—we all work together here—is create a great environment that inspires us, and in turn it inspires our guests as they experience it. It really comes full circle.
Steve Porter: It’s hard for me to answer that question without getting a little choked up. I’m a restaurateur, so you’d expect me to say something like Wolfgang Puck or Gordon Ramsey. But truthfully, it’s Harvey Milk. In the work I do, I get lots of opportunities to positively impact the Castro neighborhood, and I’m always thinking to myself, “What would Harvey want me to do?” Anybody can sell burgers and beers at 18th and Castro and make money, but my goal is to provide an atmosphere that takes our guests back to that era, and gives them a chance to reflect on Harvey and our struggle as a community and to celebrate how far we’ve come.
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