I fell in love with Universal Cafe. I've known about it for what seems like ever, but I'd just never made it out to this little eatery in the fuzzy area between the Mission and Potrero. So, on a whim, I decided now was the time to give Universal a go. Of course, it helped that we'd found parking just in front and that you could see just how inviting the cafe was—a wide open kitchen couched by a long bar, high ceilings with a clean, modern feel—through the glass storefront. Couple that with my craving for a glass of red wine and thoughts of sushi (the original plan for dinner) suffered a quick death: Good red wine trumps sushi almost every time.
Super fresh, seasonal and really quite simple, the dishes we ordered stood up, demanding we take notice. And we did. The grilled shrimp, cooked and seasoned just right, came out on a bed of al dente, mildly flavored chickpeas with kalamata olives peppering the app. A little lemon, a lot of olive oil and a drizzle of creme fraiche added just the right amount of zing and zag to create contrast and ultimately balance in the dish.
You can't have red wine without some serious meat, so I went for the Niman Ranch braised pork sitting atop a generous helping of herbacious spaetzle along with some wild greens. The pork was DeeRishous ... falling apart with just a flick of the fork. The bitterness of the greens cut through the richness of the pork and contrasted nicely with the easy-going flavor of the pasta.
But it was the wild mushroom homemade pasta in a creamy pancetta-flecked sauce that bowled us over. It's probably the best pasta I've ever had, said my dinner partner. And how. Munching on a trumpet mushroom and then some maitake and then still more on oyster mushrooms, I quickly filed through my memory of previous pasta feeds. Nope. Save for a bolognese and tagliatelle dish at Supper in the East Village, I've got to say this is the best.