Top Tastes

Top Tastes, rather than a list of all-time favorites (another thing altogether), are among the best eats since my last newsletter, often from new openings. Many don’t make the cut, being a revisit previously written about or simply not as stand-out as dishes mentioned.

Baked oysters and Spicy Shrimp Cocktail at Marlowe


Marlowe took over now defunct Aussie restaurant, South, a couple weeks ago and I,  for one, love the distressed wood tables and clean black, white and wood elegance in the new space. It has a NY, neighborhood bistro vibe. Bummed when Cortez closed, I was delighted to see the Exec Chef here is Cortez‘ Jennifer Puccio.

Brussels Sprout Chips

My one minor issue upon an initial lunch visit was how long it took for food to arrive (opening kinks?) Lunch took over an hour and a half, which on a day off I love, but not ideal on a work day. That being said, service is gracious, welcoming, and the food utterly satisfying.

Humble in appearance, a warm open-faced Deviled Egg Sandwich ($9; lunch only) is one of the best egg sandwiches ever with a layer of crisp, meaty bacon, aged provolone, pickled chilis, horseradish aioli on the side (perfect for fries). Marlowe Burger ($12 lunch; $13 dinner) is already getting raves and you can see why just by looking at it on almost everyone else’s table. Next time.

Open-faced Deviled Egg Sandwich

Smoky Cauliflower Gratin ($7), cheesy with baked, aged provolone, is sinful – you’d never know you’re eating veggies. Ditto for Brussels Sprout Chips ($6), melting sprout leaves crisped with Meyer lemon and sea salt. There’s classic steak frites and roasted chicken entrees, plus playful Spiced Prawns ($12), served plump and whole (yes, with eyes on ’em), with a boozy, Bloody Mary-inspired cocktail sauce. Espresso ($3) is properly done. I licked my spoon clean on Upside Down Apple Crisp in a mason jar ($6). It’s basically bourbon ice cream layered with crazy-good brown butter caramel, apples and crunchy crisp. Yum.

The menu is short, simple and seemingly typical American comfort food. But somehow it’s a step above: filling, heartwarming. This could become one of those great neighborhood restaurants worth crossing town for. P.S. there’s  a bar menu and fine wine selection… my lunch was brightened by a glass of ‘ 08 Birichino Malvasia Bianca from Monterey ($8) and an ’09 Barricas Torrontes from Mendoza ($7).

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Ristobar's attractive cheese & meat storefront

Ristobar Though the charcuterie and cheese craze played out years ago, I actually found that to be Ristobar‘s stand-out. For $10 each, choose two cheeses, two meats (out of twenty). I assumed there’d be a bite or two (which is how many restaurants do it), but instead, got a generous tasting platter with honey and fig to pair. I ate beloved Culatello (Parma’s most prized cut of pork, from Salumeria Biellese) and San Daniele’s Proscuitto, along with a pungent but balanced Piemonte Blu Moncenisio, and tangy, semi-firm Salva Cremasco from Lombardia.

Ristobar's Charcuterie & Cheese Platter

Italian wines by 3/6/10/16 oz. pours, make it blissfully easy to try as many as you like, including famed Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (having been to both these Tuscan towns, I’m much more a fan of wine from the latter). Explore regions like Marche with an ’07 Sartarelli Verdiccio Classico, or Alto Adige with an ’07 A. Lageder Chardonnay. There’s highly-praised Italian beers by the bottle (up to $27). But be prepared for noise as you sup: the former Emporio Rulli space is chic but cacophonous, as many Marina restaurants seem to be.

Pastas, like Gnocchi in gorgonzola dolce latte sauce or Crawfish Cavatelli (both $15) in yellow pepper puree/crustacean sauce, fell short of the best in town, though decent, especially the latter. I enjoyed flatbread-like Vesta Pizza ($12), a large sheet covered in ricotta, fennel sausage, speck, arugula, tomato sauce. Osso Buco ($18), veggies and salads work well, if not particularly memorable, except for a Sicilian-style Caponata ($4) with raisin sweetness.

Ebb & Flow's Crab Dip

Brand new Mission seafooder, Ebb & Flow, is a friendly place in the seemingly cursed space on Guerrero at 18th that’s been at least four different restaurants that I can recall. Upon my opening week visit, sweet staff and natural lighting from giant windows hold promise. Fish & Chips and Oyster Po Boys are the type of fare on offer here. Crab Dip ($11) is mostly crab meat with a little cream, artichoke, leek and Parmesan. An uber-fresh Crab Sandwich ($14) on Acme bread lacked much flavor – a little lemon would have helped? I enjoyed less common items, like rich Tuna Casserole ($14) with pasta shells, leek, cauliflower, celery, fresh Spring peas, yogurt bechamel, topped with fried onions and pea sprouts. Tasted like Mom’s home-cooking.


Tee Off's Kangaroo Burger

Tee Off Bar & Grill – A $20 Kangaroo Burger is pretty much outrageous for a dive bar when even upscale restaurants usually charge no more than $15-16 for Kobe burgers. BUT, this is kangaroo and that’s a harder to acquire meat. I prefer Kobe or even buffalo in a burger, but this is adventurous fun with fried onions and kiwi relish on top. Make sure you call ahead, as they only serve it on weekends and until supplies run out. Paired with fried asparagus, spicy Bloody Marys and sun on the back patio, it’s a happy weekend respite.

If you see these at Shanghai, get 'em!

Shanghai Dumpling King has been a longtime favorite for Xiao Long Bao and dim sum (grungy as it is and with lackluster dishes outside of dim sum). Recently, I had light Egg Puffs dusted in sugar. I wish I knew the proper Chinese name (anyone?) A server walked by with them and I snagged some, warm out of the fryer, eggy, delicious: the flavor of a Chinese egg custard in a pastry puff ball.

Hakka Pork Belly

Thanks to Patty Unterman’s always intrepid finds of under-the-radar Asian food, I went to Hakka, focusing on Hakka cuisine of Southeast China, impressed by the freshness of their Hakka dishes and the pride with which the staff served them. Fried strips of Pumpkin in Salted Egg ($6.95) are just a good time, and it’s easy to finish your greens when they’re crisp Chinese Broccoli sauteed in rice wine ($6.95). My waiter explained that fatty Pork Belly ($8.95) over preserved cabbage and mushrooms is a traditional Hakka dish that hasn’t changed in decades. Get through a layer of skin and fat to tender, anise-scented pork.