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I was at the original Delfina in the mid-late 2000s, before they won their (2008) James Beard Award, and I was pretty much blown away. Then, it was a sketchy neighborhood (sort of like when Corduroy first opened at 11th and K Street), but the food was magnificent. Craig Stoll (the James Beard Award winner) is no longer on the line. In fact, he's no longer at the restaurant. In fact, there are now *four* restaurants including two pizzerias. Times have changed, Delfina has a young gun in Brian Gremillion, but the dinner I had last night was exactly the reason I fell in love with the restaurant last decade. Delfina's wine list is a touch on the expensive side, but I was perfectly content to stay with the Downtown Brown English Brown Ale ($6) from Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA, a nut-brown ale without any unfortunate complications in the long, smooth finish. This is a rare instance where I'm disagreeing with the Beer Advocate, as I think they have the beer underrated (but I also love good, straightforward brown ales). This beer took me through all three courses, and only missed with dessert (at which point I didn't care so much). I ordered the Ribollita da Delfina ($11) expecting a bowl of soup; instead, what was plopped down before me was a hamburger patty. "Oh! I ordered the Ribollita," I said. "This is the Ribollita," the runner replied. The chef takes the components of the traditional Tuscan soup, and forms them into a patty. Just before walking away, he gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder, and said, "You'll love it." And boy howdy did I! I'm not sure what the ingenious influence was behind this, but I'm thinking Haemul Pajeon, and it worked perfectly. This was not a ground-up patty; it was lovingly formed, bound by its bread, but with the chunks of peasant vegetables intact. This was a great dish that showed elements of legitimate genius. Puntarelle alla Romana ($12) with lemon, extra virgin, olive oil, and parmigiano, on the other hand, was as straightforward and traditional - in a kingly way - as it could be. A cold salad consisting of nothing more than the stems cut lengthwise, and dressed perfectly, it was a perfect intermezzo between the Ribollita and the knockout punch. Tripe alla Fiorentina ($10) was, by far, the heaviest dish of the meal, and again, as straightforward as it could possibly be. Heated and served in a cast-iron pan, resting atop a wooden crater so the diner wouldn't burn himself, this was to be eaten with a spoon, and sopped up with Delfina's delicious bread (free upon request). This was a stew, with the tripe prominent, but also containing probably a dozen other components, all melded together into a winter-rich harmony that would go beautifully with a dark wine from Piedmont. Although it wasn't a large portion, I was stuffed when I was finished. In fact, I was so stuffed that I debated not getting dessert, but only for a second or two. Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta ($9) took center stage on a plate strewn with coastal huckleberries and roasted grapes, with some tiny cubes of sugared jellies thrown on for good measure. This was another straightforward (yes, I've used this word four times) dish that relied on perfect execution, and got it. Special kudos to Heather, who was working the host stand, and my bartender Kari, who ensured that the pacing of the meal was perfect, and I told her just as much - whenever I had only a couple bites left of one dish, the next would magically appear, so that I got some overlap as a transition. As I'm a notoriously slow diner, doing this with me presents a custom timing problem, but Delfina pulled it off with aplomb, just as they did with the entire meal.
Went to Californios this week for the fourth or fifth time, and it once again blew me away. The food is right up there with the best tasting menus in Mexico City, imo, maybe ranking just-under Pujol in my book. It would not surprise me at all to see this get a second star in the next couple years. Tickets are shockingly easy to come by for cooking of this caliber. Food+tax+service comes to $204/person (at least for the tickets I bought this time) but the wine list is really fun so you'll probably end up spending more. Thankfully, the ticketing system ensures that past-you pays for the food up-front and actually-eating-the-dinner-you only has to pay for booze. You should go. I didn't take photos but this person did: "Mexico + California - The Inventive, Engaging, Stunning Food at Californios [Review + Pics]" on foodtalkcentral.com 3115 22nd Street (22nd & South Van Ness)
A few years ago, Don helped me get in touch with Eric Ziebold, who in his vast culinary background once worked for Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. I was going to San Francisco and wanted to know where the chefs go to eat in their time off. La Taqueria was one of those places. I hit it again on my most recent visit this past week, and the beef head (cabeza) quesadilla was as good as it was when I first tried it a few years ago. The beefy flavor was intense and wonderful, beating the heck out of any ground meat that might find its way into a typical beef quesadilla. The line to get in is a testament to the place's reputation, and the lunch counter ordering and minimal seating have not dissuaded the multitudes from descending on some of the best fast-Mexican food in San Francisco.
I had a terrific meal a few weeks ago at Range [Closed Jan 1, 2017], a new restaurant in the Mission. My friends and I shared a few starters, which I followed with spinach soup instead of a salad. This was a nice surprise; the soup didn't lend any of that dry-mouth feel that I sometimes get from spinach, even though, according to the server, it was completely vegan except for the dollop of cream in the middle. Nice, tasty, and interesting, even for a meat-lover. For a main, I usually don't order the chicken, but my dining companions had ordered every other dish I was interested in, and the chicken got breathless raves, so I said what the heck. And it was phenomenal. The meat and its sides had innovative but not overpowering flavors and were cooked perfectly. So were all the other dishes at the table (which I of course got tastes of). Finally, after a tremendous chocolate souffle and a tasty alcohol+coffee concoction I had to throw in the towel and call it a night. Incidentally, not only was the food amazing, our server was just great--friendly, knowledgeable on the food, and extremely well-versed on the wine. And to top it all off, the entree prices ranged from $16-20, appetizers $6-13. The San Franciscans at the table all commented that the place could have easily tacked on $4-6 an entree without changing a thing, and it'd still be a deal. And who knows--maybe they will in a few weeks. But my friends are right: that restaurant would still be a find. I highly recommend giving it a go before everyone else discovers it! (or even after!)