Fatted Calf (photo credit: Marie Arago)

Surprise your dinner party host with something rad beyond wine

By Maryse Chevriere

Any self-respecting member of San Francisco’s food-obsessed culture knows the struggle: You’ve been invited to dinner, and bringing the boring old standard bottle of wine is just a snooze—even if it is biodynamic/organic. Why not embrace the culinary capital you call home and tap its local artisans for something more unique? Here are eight of our favorite items to get the ideas flowing.

Srirachup from Sosu Sauces
If it’s a barbecue or cookout you’re headed to, help the host up their condiment game by gifting a jar of Sosu Srirachup. Founded by techie-turned-chief-sauce-maker Lisa Murphy, Sosu has struck sauce gold by combining Asian flavors with organic, fresh local ingredients. The signature Srirachup ($7) features California-grown Early Girl tomatoes and a house-made Sriracha—sweet, spicy, and super smooth, you’ll basically want to put it on everything. Find it around town everywhere from Whole Foods to Bi-Rite and Rainbow Grocery.

Finocchiona from Fatted Calf
The best dinner parties always start with drinks and grazing snacks—olives, cheese, crackers. Make a welcome contribution to the spread by bringing some Finocchiona ($25 per pound) from the charcuterie wizards at Hayes Valley’s Fatted Calf. The folks here are serious about the charc and butcher business, working with and sourcing from top local farmers who are dedicated to sustainable and humane practices. As they say, the proof is in the salami, especially this Italian-style one, made with pork, toasted fennel seed, and chile flakes.

Jalabeaños from Pacific Pickle Works
Speaking of great grazing snacks, if you’re in the market for a vegetarian option, look no further than Pacific Pickle Works Jalabeaños, aka spicy pickled green beans. A signature–not to mention, award-winning—item of this Santa Barbara–based fermentables company, these fiery, crunchy beans make for a much more interesting alternative to your average pickle, and are a wonderful accompaniment to a cheese and charcuterie spread. They’re about $10 for a 16-ounce jar and can easily be found around town at big name specialty foods stores.

Potato Chips from Rusty’s Island
Granted, it’s not your typical hostess gift, but these aren’t your typical chips. Trust that no one is going to raise a huff when these next-level natural, handmade potato chips show up at the (casual) party. Hand-sliced, slow-cooked, and bagged by hand in Huntington Beach, these quality chips have garnered cult-like status thanks to the passion of father-and-son team Rusty and Rusty Jr. Thick cut, crunchy, which just the right wisp of sea salt seasoning, you can find them in little bags (about $3.25 for the three ounce size) around town at smaller specialty markets like Bi-Rite.

Pint of ice cream from ShakeDown
San Francisco is not lacking in options when it comes to amazing ice cream (Bi-Rite Creamery, Humphrey Slocombe, Smitten), and yet worthy new additions to the arena are more than welcome. Tenderloin newcomer ShakeDown is one such example, having earned a strong following thanks to their crave-worthy small-batch ice cream. The flavors are always clever and creative (Jacker Crack: Popcorn-infused ice cream with dulce de leche and peanut brittle; So Many Roads: Milk chocolate ice cream with macadamia bark and vegetarian marshmallows), and star hyper-local and seasonal ingredients. There’s house-made gluten-free cinnamon bread in the Cinnamon Toast Brunch, the mint in the Mint Stracciatella comes straight from their garden, and the Lilikoi Cheesecake features Southern California passion fruit. You get the idea, now go get thee to a pint!

Wrapped gift set from Dandelion Chocolate
Help the dinner party end on a sweet note by bringing this gift set ($30) from the über-popular Mission-based bean-to-bar chocolate makers. Inside you’ll find three single origin 70 percent chocolate bars, complete with a tasting guide to walk you through the delectable experience. You can pick one up at their Valencia chocolate factory or Ferry Building kiosk — and good luck walking out with just that in tow.

Growler of beer from Cellarmaker
Forget picking up a six-pack. Show your beer-loving friends how grateful you are for the meal by showing up with a 64-ounce growler of something you know they’ll like from SoMa-based brewery Cellarmaker. The folks here specialize in small-batch experimental brews, and always have a selection for a wide range of tastes on tap: SoMa Vice for the sour beer fanatic, Shout Out Stout for the dark beer drinker, or a Nelquinox IPA for your favorite hophead.

Bette Jane's Craft Soda
For the cocktail-loving host with the well-stocked home bar, pick up a pack of these exceptional small-batch sodas made in nearby Healdsburg (about $11 for a 4pk of 12oz bottles). The company’s signature Original Ginger Beer is fantastic, a balanced mixer with low sugar and the perfect amount of ginger to carry through a cocktail, and their tonic water is the ultimate partner in a classic G&T with notes of lemongrass and meyer lemon. And if you’re really feeling generous, you can also bring a bottle of forest and botanical-driven St. George’s Terroir Gin, made with local ingredients right here in Alameda.

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