Top Tastes

Saison’s enchanting Mediterranean-like patio

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.

I’ve been busy with visiting family and dear friends so am returning to favorites, like Chez Panisse, Michael Mina, Dosa on Fillmore, the original Sushi Bistro, Mission Beach Cafe and B Star.


Yellowtail crudo

PROSPECT, SoMaNancy Oakes, Kathy King and Pamela Mazzola of Boulevard opened Prospect, a long-anticipated restaurant with a stellar crew: Ravi Kapur as chef, Brooke Arthur (long a favorite for her cocktail menu at Range), and Amy Currens as Wine Director (formerly of Luce).  You couldn’t ask for a better line-up, with all the elegance of Boulevard but more of an experimental, hip approach.

Pulled pork sandwiches

The space is huge, almost corporate-looking, but warmed by brown tones and centered bar. I haven’t dined fully here yet (opened June 29) but at the pre-opening party, I sampled a wide range of the food (over ten dishes), pretty much all stellar, as well as three fine cocktails.

Dayboat scallops w/ truffles

The kitchen is impressive, allowing a finely tuned team to crank out Dayboat Scallops ($16) with summer truffles and shaved squash, addictive Pulled Pork Sandwiches, and Whole Wheat Crepes ($19) stuffed with ricotta, nettles and roasted mushrooms. I love Black Cod ($14) in red curry with snap peas, shiitakes, and lightly-fried shiso shrimp fritters.

Brilliant Cherry Thyme Pavlova

Desserts were equally intriguing from a blissfully dark, creamy chocolate mousse/cake topped with berries, to the truly unique presentation and awesome taste of Cherries atop a Thyme Pavlova ($8) with vanilla, black pepper and frozen yogurt.

See my cocktail coverage of Prospect in Imbiber

Opened to the public on 6/29, I suspect Prospect is going to become a key SF dining and drinking destination.

Aziza’s avocado salad

AZIZA, Outer Richmond – It’s always a privilege to be back at this Moroccan stunner, especially when genius chef Mourad Lahlaou is in the kitchen, as he was on my latest visit.

Blissfully good squab with foie gras

Dishes are better than basic descriptions sound at Aziza, like the artistic splay of Avocado, Chicken Cracklings, Radishes, Spring Onions & blossoms ($12), a farm-fresh contrast in textures, or a sashimi-style Tuna ($13), curled up with cucumber strips and sea beans on a black garlic puree.

Aziza’s eggplant couscous

Rarely will you taste Eggplant, Cauliflower, Medjool Dates, Veggies over Couscous ($18) like this: grilled, earthy, in saffron foam. Might as well die happy with the lush richness of Squab (including some confit-style pieces), Cherry, Frisee, Spiced Honey Bread and a whipped mound of Foie Gras ($16). Wow and wow.

Desserts maintain the quality level and cocktails are some of the most inventive in town (see Imbiber).

Saison’s intriguing entrance

SAISON, Mission – Walk through the side gate of Stable Cafe’s 1800’s carriage house setting, to enter Saison’s remodeled garden, evocative of an Italian or Mediterranean villa patio.

White lights are strung across the courtyard, a lemon tree emits a soft citrus aroma, a rocking chair and vintage ashtray stand invite lingering, and the wood-burning hearth glows (which will also be a bread baking oven and whole animal cooking station). The new Saison is entirely transporting.

Chef and owner Joshua Skenes has taken his acclaimed weekly “pop-up” and launched a full, Tuesday through Saturday restaurant, open June 22.

View from Saison’s Chef’s Table

Cooking on the only Molteni stove in the Bay Area, the 30-seat interior is minimalist, but warm and glowing, with Danish furniture and open flow between dining room and kitchen.

Prices are hefty for this unusual dining experience, from a one nightly seating/$98 per person/8-course tasting menu, to a four-seat chef’s counter at $200 per person, or a two-seat chef’s table with 20 customized courses at $200 to $500 per person (!) They were smart to add the casual, enchanting patio to the mix with a la carte options for those not partaking in multi-courses. Something for everyone.

Saison kitchen prep

At a pre-opening dinner, I sampled possible menu offerings, while Sommelier Mark Bright kept us satiated with wine pairings like an affordable 2005 Chateau de Montpezat Coteaux du Languedoc and 2004 Neal Ellis Shiraz.

Dishes were delicate, tiny, artistic, and, of course, farm fresh, from hand-picked, local ingredients. Highlights include crispy Sweetbreads roasted with caramelized honey and intriguing slant of berbere spicing, as well as a perfect rendition of one of my favorites: rhubarb as a sorbet on milk granite with tart strips of rhubarb.

Japanese breakfast

NOMBE, Mission – I’ve written about Nombe before, but only recently finally made it out for their brunch, unlike any other in town. Chef Nick Balla offers Japanese Breakfast ($19) with broiled Black Cod, Onsen Tomago (silky, slow-cooked egg), miso soup, Koshihikari rice with wild nori, pickled vegetables and umeboshi. It’s a spread of delicate flavors and traditional Japanese technique, lovingly created in a colorful assembly of small plates.

Nombe’s Tonkatsu Donburi

For a more hearty dish, order Tonkatsu Donburi ($13), a heaping bowl of Koshihikari rice with nori, mizuna, scrambled egg and pickled cabbage mixed in, tonkatsu-style Llano Seco pork on top. Wash it down with milky iced Matcha Tea ($4) and save room for those awesome beignets… this last visit offered ultra-tart Strawberry Beignets ($7) stuffed and topped with tart strawberry jam.

SERPENTINE, Dogpatch – It felt good returning to Serpentine, a hip Dogpatch staple I visited more when it initially opened. While every dish may not wow, the quality level is high from cocktails (see Imbiber) to dessert. Bright, seasonal contrasts play together in salads, like Snow Angel Peach & Crimson Baby Nectarine Salad ($10.50) with little gems  and purslane  greens, juicy, thick pancetta, mint, toasted hazelnuts, elderflowers  in a zingy champagne vinaigrette. Creamy green peppercorn vinaigrette provided a contrast in a Shaved Summer Squash Salad ($9) with arugula, fennel,  radish, spring onion, basil and moist ricotta salata shaved on top with crunchy bread crumbs.

Hit-the-spot calamari

An intriguing mix of Asian and Middle Eastern spices play out in dishes all over the menu, something you wouldn’t catch perusing it (see the Tasting Table article that coincidentally came out the day I visited). I was transported back to Thailand with the heavy Thai chilis and fenugreek in tender Pan-Seared Petaluma Chicken Livers ($8) with hearts of palm & potato salad.

Roasted banana ice cream sandwich

The dish that stole the night, unexciting as it may sound, was Chickpea Battered Calamari ($8.50): a comforting heap of tasty squid accented with garam masala spicing, Italian butter beans, tomato and mint

Dessert topped it off with the decadent sweetness of an Ice Cream Sandwich ($7.50) packed with Bi-Rite’s roasted banana ice cream in burnt sugar cookies, surrounded by caramel-y, Santa Teresa Rum sauce. Balance is best exemplified in Tcho Dark Chocolate Cake ($7.50) which fuses an already great local chocolate, toasted coconut ice cream and balsamic cherry compote in a pleasing blend of bitter, sweet and creamy.