Haute Secrets: Hi Neighbor’s Tai Ricci’s Favorite SF Spots

Tai Ricci
Tai Ricci

Tai Ricci has worked in restaurants all over the nation, but she’s made her mark on the hospitality industry as the front of house operations lead for Hi Neighbor restaurant group. The team is behind some of the city’s most delicious restaurants—Fat Angel, Stones Throw, Trestle, and Corridor—and the Eat Like a Chef, Drink Like a Somm charity dinner series. Before coming to Hi Neighbor, Ricci worked her way up through the ranks at Michael Mina and SPQR where she was one of SF’s most beloved and charming servers. Walk into one of Ricci’s restaurants and she’ll instantly welcome you in the same way she would invite you into her home—genuinely with a friendly and casual warmth. To learn more about the front of the house maven, we asked her to share more details about herself and the places that she enjoys when she’s not at one of her restaurants. Here is Ricci’s guide to San Francisco.

Where were you born: I was born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Even though it’s been 12 years since I have lived there – people immediately know that’s where I am from.  You can take the girl out of Philly, but you are going to get a hug when you walk in my restaurants and a direct order to finish your dinner plate before you get dessert. 

How long in San Francisco:  Since 2010—I was in Los Angeles prior to my move here. When Michael Mina opened his flagship restaurant in San Francisco I was offered a job. I thought it was maybe going to be for three months, and I knew no one.  I made it a point to get to know every single person that walked in the door. I really just wanted to make friends and see if San Francisco would be my home. Here I am, seven years later.

Neighborhood: Nob Hill. The hills have shelved my passion for heels and dresses but they have done great things for my legs and my butt! I also have great neighbors—the history and the passion for the neighborhood here is magical.  Even now I am still surprised by the neighbors’ kindness. I remember how big my eyes were and how much my heart was pounding the first time I walked around after I moved in. It never stops.

Occupation: Co-Owner Hi Neighbor Group; Stones Throw, Trestle and Corridor. Bad Ass Boss Lady: giving you what you don’t even know you want yet. 

La Ciccia's octopus dish
La Ciccia’s octopus dish

Favorite Restaurant: Besides Hi Neighbor’s restaurants (of course), a favorite is La Ciccia!!  There are no two people in the city like Lorella and Massimo, and their team and hospitality makes you feel like you are the only people in the dining room.  I crave their Octopus.  I think about it daily.  I want it right now!

Best Sushi:  Sushi was the hardest thing for me to find in San Francisco.  After so many disappointments I knew the moment I had my first bite of nigiri at Ichi, and melted along with the uni, this was my spot.  The presentation and the thoughtfulness that goes into every slice of fish, along with the soundtrack, makes for the perfect fun filled evening. 

Best Italian:  SPQR. It’s not only where I found myself as an industry professional and met my greatest friends, but where I had the amazing opportunity to work with the one of the legendary Shelley Lindgren (my mentor). I discovered that Italian food wasn’t only for Sunday football games.  There was a whole world of wine and ingredients out there that I had never been exposed to living in Philly.  It’s not all gravy and cheese—and yes, it’s called gravy–not red sauce.  But don’t get me wrong, no one holds a torch to my parent’s food.  They are going to kill me for not saying their food is the best Italian food. . . pray for me because I’m in trouble.

Best dessert: Homemade Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies that I bake in my oven in my pajamas.  My grandmother always made these cookies and they were the best.  In her later years when I asked for the recipe she mailed me an empty bag of Tollhouse chocolate chips, and the recipe was on the back. It’s the closest to being a chef that I come.

Best place for a romantic date:  Bix. My boyfriend, Tim, and I go there when we want to dress up and have a playful cocktail before being escorted up the grand staircase and enjoying a delicious meal.  You feel sexy the second you walk in—and the service is some of the best in the city.  The piano player and singer are such an authentic touch.  It feels timeless.

Best Sunday brunch:  Foreign Cinema. Hit me with a mimosa and an outdoor brunch anytime.

Best place for a power business meeting: L’acajou Café. It’s small, so if you are lucky enough to grab a seat their cheddar chipotle breakfast sandwich is to die for.  I find a hidden gem like this inspires the mind.  Also it’s important in meetings to be well fed.  That way you aren’t distracted.  Plus you can finish your power breakfast meeting with a cookie! And the coffee is fantastic.

The Big 4
The Big 4

If you have out of town guests, which hotel would you recommend? The Fairmont, or The Mark Hopkins—the Tonga Room and the Top of the Mark are staples when visitors come, so it’s a great bonus.  The Big Four in The Huntington next door is also my favorite bar in the city; it has low lights, deep mahogany, and the perfect dirty martini. I love reading about the history of the city on the walls and the way the piano player always knows the right song.  Then you walk out of the door to go home and see the park and Grace Cathedral—it feels like you are in another world.  A world of the past, the present, and everything the future has to offer.

Favorite shopping venue/boutique: This one is tough.  I love off the beaten path shops where I can buy one of a kind accessories to accentuate the fact that I am wearing a t-shirt and jeans (my work staple). I love flea markets where you can find one-of-a-kind pieces with rich history or a story. I also like anything that is handmade to support local artists.  But for my staples, AG jeans and a well- tailored t-shirt, I use Diaz Brothers. I love their honesty, no fuss policy and how friendly they are.  They also really know a woman’s body. 

Favorite place to buy jewelry/watches: Daniel Wellington! My boyfriend bought me one for my first watch, and his parents got me a second band for my Christmas gift last year. Out of all my jewelry, this gets the most compliments! I love that the face of the watch is smooth, sexy and efficient. I also like that you can change the bands out, so when I have a meeting I can wear a different band than when hosting a booth at Outside Lands, which calls for something more durable. When I see other people with the Daniel Wellington watch we share a smile and a wink.

Best Spa: I don’t have a spa per-se but I do have a woman esthetician who I have been with for 5 years now, Nycole Salazar. She has her own shop, Sugar Society in Russian Hill, and she handles all of my waxings and skin care consultations, as well as the much needed spray tan when it hasn’t been sunny here and I need some contour to hide my belly fat.  She helps me own it and feel better about myself.

Favorite Charity Event: Our Eat Like a Chef, Drink Like A Somm Series at Stones Throw.  Since we opened Stones Throw, we have dedicated the last Monday of the month to a charity (a different organization every year). Guest chefs from the city’s top restaurants work alongside our stellar executive chef Jason Halverson to create an original menu. All proceeds are donated to our partner organizations which have included the Marin Food Bank, Ronnie Lott’s All Stars Helping Kids, and Old Skool Café. Our organization for 2017 is Meals on Wheels. It’s amazing how kind and giving people still are.  When those Monday’s roll around I am reminded of how lucky I am to have the chance to give back. The majority of our guests have been coming since day one.  It creates a joyous evening and the opportunity to make San Francisco a better place.

Favorite Cultural Event:  The Meals on Wheels event (in April) that we have done every year since we opened Stones Throw.  It is not only a great way to give back, but it’s also a wonderful time for me to see our industry friends and regulars.  I used to read for the elderly when I was first in the city and couldn’t donate financially.  The beauty of San Francisco is everyone’s willingness to give back—those in gowns and me still in my jeans and t-shirts. . . all for the same cause.

Favorite Cultural Institution:  The ferry ride to Sausalito.  Nothing is more romantic than floating by the bridge only to land on what feels like the edge of the world.  Nothing is better than when I look back on our magical city and know that it is where I belong.

Tony's Pizza
Tony’s Pizza

Best Pizza: Tony’s. Hands down no questions.  That’s my go to for my random night off dinner spot.  Everything I have had there is great – and being from the east coast sometimes I crave a good old fashioned Stromboli.

Best Steakhouse:  It’s not a steak house, but the steak at Le Chapeau is mind blowing.  Overall I prefer the one my boyfriend makes when I get home from an exhausting shift.  It requires a great bottle of red wine and our cellar is so much fun.  But seats are limited to two and they are taken.

Best Lunch: Causwells in the Marina. I like to slide in for lunch outside or at the bar—that ricotta and honey, it makes me sing.  And then after a great glass of rose I feel less bad about my shopping habit.

Best Gym/Athletic Facility:  Pop Physique. It kicks my ass all the time.  I love the one in Russian Hill and being surrounded by a whole team of people that support each other. The view of the garden out back is also great and the soundtracks are awesome.  Just when I think I want to give up, I see the beautiful hill outside and the gnomes and it makes the pain tolerable. Don’t try and give up—at Pop Physique they push you to be the best. Bring water and forgive yourself for that after work glass of wine (or two) the night before.

Best Massage:  Suchada. I carry a lot of stress and beneath that is a lot of emotion, when I go it’s not only a release for my muscles, it’s also a release of emotions.  And they don’t care at all if you cry, I think they love it and so do I.

Best Limousine/Driving Service: I drive a collector’s item Saturn from 2003. When I’m not sporting that beauty around town I opt for public transportation—I’m lucky to live in Nob Hill which is central to everything.  But when I am sporting those Brian Atwood Heels I Lyft, and I only Lyft.

Best Museum/Exhibit: De Young Museum. It was the first museum I visited in San Francisco and it remains my favorite.  I love their exhibits and the location in the middle of the park is a bonus. Plus the view of San Francisco from the top is priceless.

Describe your city in three words:   Cool. Grey. Love.

Favorite historic/legendary place to see or explore:  Macondray Lane. The history, the beauty, the view and the calm.  Plus it’s fun to imagine what it would be like to live there!

The Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts

All-around favorite spot in San Francisco:  Palace of Fine Arts, on the lawn by the by tree before the curve into the dome.  When I need alone time I create a great playlist, walk over to Lucca Deli to grab some deviled eggs and pasta salad, hit up Walgreens for some magazines, and head over to my spot. Being able to look up into the architecture of Pacific Heights and having the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance with the fog rolling in while the sun is shining on my face is breathtaking.  And the people watching is OUTSTANDING. 

Best Aspect of San Francisco: I love the ability to get out of the city in less than an hour: hiking around the bay, the Marin farmers markets, and Tahoe trips (further than an hour I know).  My favorite thing is to drive to Stinson Beach and read by the water. I never feel pressured to wear a bathing suit there, I go in what is comfortable. That can mean my favorite cashmere sweater or a simple throw and sandals. However, a great Caftan is priceless. Just don’t forget the perfect bag to hold your sunscreen a snack and some goodies from the local stores. At the beach I watch the water splash at my feet, and feel like it is just for me and no one else.