Top Tastes

Cocktails in Joe's of Westlake's bar

Cocktails in Joe's of Westlake's bar; this photo: Daniel Stumpf

Top Tastes is my usual run-down of tastes over the past two weeks. Rather than a list of all-time favorites (another thing altogether), it’s highlights since my last newsletter, often from new openings. Many don’t make the cut, being a revisit written about before or simply not as stand-out as dishes mentioned.


at Contigo

Calamares & Pimientos de Padron a la Plancha at Contigo

•  For me, dinner at Contigo is a welcoming, comforting experience. Not only is the food of high quality, transporting me to Spain, but the Spanish and Portuguese wines are gorgeous, and staff knowledgeable. In the ever-changing menu, keeping up with the seasons and fresh availability, it’s hard to choose a favorite dish. Last week, it could have been any one of them, including Piquillo Peppers ($9) stuffed with oxtail, pine nuts, raisins, calaspara rice; or ever tasty Catalan-style flatbreads, like the Coca with zucchini, caramelized onions, super-sweet tomatoes, basil, black olives – I added anchovies ($14 + $3 for anchovies); even simple bread covered in garden fresh tomatoes: Pa Amb Tomaquet ($4). I’d recommend them all, especially Calamares & Pimientos de Padron a la Plancha ($8), tender grilled calamari meats with green peppers and aioli to dip. So satisfying.

"Surf & Turf" at Seasons

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Martinis at Joe's of Westlake

•  Though I will surely miss (and watch out for) chef Jason Fox, formerly of Bar Tartine, Chris Kronner (of Good Evening Thursday and Slow Club), is now at Bar Tartine’s Exec Chef helm and his menu is chock-full of goodness. When it comes to beef, I moaned over the Braised Beef Rib ($24), falling off the bone over caponata and rocket salad… until I tasted sinfully buttery, rare Filet of Beef & Marrow Bone ($28). Wow.

•  Joe’s of Westlake Spaghetti Dinner ($11.95) with Meat Sauce and extra-garlicky Garlic Bread (1/4 loaf $3.95; 1/2 a loaf $5.35) is about as old school as it gets. Take the Rat Pack circa 1970’s, add in delightfully crusty bar and bartenders, stellar jukebox (from George Jones to Dean Martin), with strong cocktails mostly under $5, then toss in older clientele from sports fans to decked-out Vegas-types. And this is Daly City… via Reno or old world Vegas. Sitting at the dining room counter for a hearty plate of classic spaghetti takes me back to my Jersey days. On either side of me, I make friends with sweethearts of elderly gentleman, regulars who know and love food. We talk old radio programs, music, and SF through the decades. Not every dish works and the side ’80’s dining room puts me off (glaring fluorescent lighting plus masses of noisy, large families – shudder!) But for a simple pasta or steak & veggies… and truly heartwarming  company… there’s nothing like it. I hope it lasts forever.

•  Nob Hill Grille is not going to change your life but on those rare weekend mornings atop Nob Hill, it’s my brunch spot of choice: friendly, cozy, small (i.e. unfortunate waits for a table), grilling up generously-portioned breakfasts. The last two times I’ve gone, I still find Breakfast Sliders ($9) the highlight: three mini brioche buns with Italian sausage patties, American cheese, scrambled eggs and chipotle aioli.

Foie Gras at Seasons

Foie Gras at Seasons


•  After a few visits to Castro’s new Chilango, I’m not as enthused as I hoped to be, especially at $10-12 a plate for what is done at least as well as in a number of  Mission hole-in-the-walls (the huarache, for example).  But a Chile Relleno does me right and service is sweet if distractedly slow.


•  Saratoga Chocolates, from, yes, Saratoga, set up shop in the Castro in the former Joseph Schmidt chocolate shop. Friendly staff offer truffle samples and like at most chocolatiers, some truffles are better than others (around $1.50-2 each). Chile Spiced is a fine version of chile and dark chocolate, while the too subtle Grapefruit Honey needed more flavor. Just right Caramel Cinnamon tantalized with a strong burst of cinnamon and silky caramel.

•  Bar Tartine must be mentioned again for a Roasted Banana Parfait ($8) with crispy graham crumble in hot buttered rum and brown sugar. A brilliant spin on bananas foster…