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.
• You don’t go to an Irish pub for Indian Samosas ($7)… or do you? I know I do at The Liberties when the samosas are spiced with Irish bacon, curry and, wonderfully surprising… blood pudding. It’s Indian, and yet, oh, so Irish. With mint cilantro sauce, it’s perfect bar food. While you’re at it, I’ll take a tasty Irish Boxty/Potato Pancake ($8) with smoked salmon and sour cream on top (add $2).
• Rhea’s Deli serves up such bad-ass Korean Steak Sandwiches ($7.95), it’s tempting to wolf one down in minutes, but better to savor tender, spicy Korean beef, shredded cabbage, red onions and even cheddar cheese on a crunch baguette for as long as you can. Call ahead at this Mission liquor store to place your order or you may wait 20-30 minutes for a sandwich.
• Don Pisto’s is just what North Beach needed: fresh, affordable Mexican in a brick-walled, comfortably urban dining room (formerly El Raigon). The only downside? No margaritas (wine and beer only). Their Ahi Tuna Ceviche ($11) is tossed with chunks of delectable, ripe mango, serrano chiles, red onion and lime juice — it tastes like vacation. Their green mole salsa and house-fried chips are addictive. Carnitas Tacos ($8 for 2) do justice to slow-braised pork with a fresh arbol salsa. No reservations and a low price point mean it’s bustling, but even on a Saturday night, I had no wait and found the relaxed, convivial vibe appealing.
Buttercup Grill in downtown Oakland may look like a Denny’s-style diner, and surely not every dish on the lengthy menu can be a stand-out. But despite a ’70’s chain appearance, there’s a surprising amount of personal care and quality going into the food here… not to mention an eclectic crowd. For one, they do a proper (and hefty) Pastrami Sandwich that lovingly takes me back to my East Coast days. Coleslaw and potato salad do not disappoint. Don’t even get me started on dessert! With recipes from owner, Debbie Shahvar, their signature Upside Down Apple Pie ($3-4 for a huge slice of most pies) tastes like home. Peanut Butter Pie is loaded with cream cheese. Peanut-y and topped with chocolate, I’m dreaming of it still.
• Yes, the slices are pricey ($5-6 for small to average wedges of pie), but Chile Pies and Ice Cream, which just opened on 3/24 from Green Chile Kitchen owners, does make some tasty pies. Skip the gimmicky Frito Pie ($7) and go straight for signature Green Chile Apple Pie with walnuts and cheddar crust, a blend of comforting apple pie with savory green chilies. This is a good one. Going for Peanut Butter Pie again (see Buttercup Grill, above) was 100% worth it. A dark cookie crust and cream cheese- heavy peanut butter, plus chocolate drizzle, make this two for two on awesome PB pies in the Bay Area (Buttercup’s is more affordable, however).
• Moussy’s (named after a small village in the Champagne region of France, hometown of owner, Jean-luc Kayigire’s father) – I went when it first opened a year ago, intrigued by the basement setting in Alliance Francaise, with French students sipping cappuccinos. A couple weeks ago, I finally returned, having heard new chef Nathan Ivry was on board (formerly from the likes of Jardiniére and Grand Café).
On a Wednesday night, I walked down the stairs to a charming jazz duo playing classic jazz standards and even bossa nova (they had me there!) Between that and our warm greeting from our server extraordinaire, Johnny, I was immediately transported to some European basement cafe, lingering over a glass of wine (happy hour specials run Tuesday-Friday, 5-7pm) and a basket of twice-fried (extra crispy – heaven!) Herbed Pomme Frites ($6) with spicy aioli. The fries alone (with a glass of wine or beer) are worth a visit. Add in an Angus Burger ($12) with red onion confit, Gruyere cheese and grain mustard and it gets better. I adore boquerones and their Basque White Anchovies ($8) are fresh and flaky over avocado yogurt. Grilled Gulf Prawns ($14) are plump over white bean puree with citrus and fennel salad. This is a quintessential French neighborhood bistro, the likes of which I wish was in every neighborhood.
• Over the years, I always leave happy at Range, even if I only make it there for dinner couple times a year (I go for cocktails more often). Last week, despite a winning Lamb Shoulder & Lamb Chop ($27) with plump, housemade green garlic spaetzle and baby turnips, and Whiskey & Brown Sugar-glazed Pork Ribs ($12), the biggest stand-out was Melted Leeks & Poached Farm Egg ($11), with bits of crispy red quinoa, doused in a Parmesan broth so aromatic and comforting, I was tempted to drink the last remaining drops. Another highlight was California Halibut ($26), flaky, white, tender with asparagus, barley, almonds and the perfect accent of preserved Meyer lemon. Desserts are not an afterthought here, which is why my beloved Rhubarb delighted in the form of a tart ($8.50) with lush cardamom ice cream.