Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going Local Mission Eatery

"entirely local, humane and housemade."

Plain and simply written in the bottom left corner of the menu. What Local Mission Eatery neglected to add are other key things like: "exceptionally fine, inventive and well-made."

We 3 dropped in for dinner at this Outer Mission establishment a couple of weeks back, thanks to a Blackboard Eats special I'd signed up for giving us a free bottle of wine with our meal (and a nice one to boot). And we were pleased that we had. A lot of what we tried was bursting with flavor, well-seasoned and cleverly paired. I'm told Local's only been serving dinner for 6 months now. Here's hoping folks come out to support their fab work.

The gnocchi had a nice, airy consistency but were a tad underseasoned. The tomato water, however, was divine—the best kind of savory-sweet agua fresca (slurp-worthy to be sure) with juicy stewed heirloom tomatoes bobbing about along with a good helping of mozzarella and basil leaves.

I've grown to love sardines, and this is the reason why: Local Mission Eatery's ginormous rendition were marinated and then grilled, giving them a really fine flavor and texture. They came piled on a plate with crisp-tender cranberry beans, braised fennel and fresh greens, drizzled with a sweet-tart romesco sauce and crowned by strands of saffron.

Kudos to JG for being a good sport and trying the lamb tongue. When we asked how the tongue had been prepared, our server told us the offal had been confited (braised in fat). We thought, hmmm, sounds pretty good, especially when paired with roasted peaches and nectarines, toasted walnuts and bitter greens. Well ... let's just say the lamb tongues (yes, plural) came out looking exactly as you'd imagine: a bunch of tongues curling this way and that on the plate. JG could barely stomach even half of one. They were pretty spongy and not terribly flavorful. But wow, the accompaniments were so good and went so well with the lamby that I found myself eating not one tongue but two. Let's just say they grew on me.

I didn't have a whole lot of the chicken roulade, but what I did have impressed me. Usually I avoid chicken on a menu, as it seems it's often poorly done, dried out, uninspired. Not so in this case. The crispy skin housed an incredibly moist and juicy interior. The sauteed tokyo turnips with bacon sitting on a lovely puree of parsley root in a pool of chicken jus made for the perfect complement to the bird.

I've had goat before and not particularly liked it. But this dish has changed my mind—Local's cooks had braised the rich, dark meat til it was falling off the bone. A tangy tomatillo salsa kept the dish from getting too heavy. I loved every bite.

It seems everything on the menu came with a little twist, even the plum tart with creme fraiche—it arrived with a sprinkling of fennel seeds, some fennel fronds, plus a scoop of celery relish on top.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pitstop at Pica Pica

I'd been telling folks how much I missed the incredible accessibility of cuisines that I once enjoyed when living in downtown Manhattan—not just your usual Italian, Chinese and Japanese fare, but also Venezuelan, Russian, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, Cuban and more. One of my absolute faves was and still is East Village hole-in-the-wall Caracas, which puts out the best empanadas and arepas I've ever had; plenty of others agree—often the wait to get in can stretch for an hour and a half or more (luckily, there's takeout). Whenever I'm in town, I always try to pick up one of the deep-fried sweet corn hot pockets (aka empanadas) stuffed with shredded beef, sweet plantains, black beans and cheese (called the de pabellon) as well as one of the spongy pita-pocket-type arepas, packed full of another delightful meat and cheese combo. It's something I wish we had in SF.

So when I heard that Pica Pica Maize Kitchen was opening in the Mission, I was psyched. Finally. Venezuelan-style arepas and empanadas conveniently located nearby. Sadly, the empanadas don't hold a candle to the ones at Caracas. But the Pabellon maize'wich (pictured above) comes damn close ... at least in flavor and appeal. This is true comfort food. And at a pretty good price. Welcome to the neighborhood, Pica Pica.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Spot of Italy at Darwin Cafe

Thank you, SS, for the heads up on newly opened Darwin Cafe, a tiny spot tucked away on Ritch street serving up hot pressed sandwiches that made us daydream of lazy food forays in Italy. We loved the bresaola and blue cheese packed with plenty of sharp watercress on fresh Acme bread. The sando with slices of salami paired with huge wheels of heirloom tomato and oozing mozzarella cheese was also quite divine. Who knew a sammy could sate us so?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Celebrating in style at RN74

A few of us went for a long and leisurely lunch at Michael Mina's RN74 not too long ago to celebrate VB's birthday, and a fine choice it turned out to be.

Everything we ordered from the modern American menu was seasoned so well, the flavor combinations skillfully balanced. VB's oh-so-juicy grilled kurobata pork loin with crumbly cornbread financier, roasted licorice-y endive and juicy bing cherries in a nutty brown butter jus was the hands-down winner.

We also liked RN74's luscious hunk of creamy burrata ringed by a garland of marinated veg, and served with a big bowl of grilled bread.

I was happy as a clam with my al dente hand-cut tagliatelle with sweet corn, leeks, fresh basil, pistachio and castlemagno cheese.

JL's grilled Mediterranean sea bass was light and flakey, accompanied by a medley of fingerling potatoes, cauliflower, artichokes, capers and a tongue-tingling lemony sauce.