Top Tastes: Killer Burgers with Wine, Potrero Hill Brunch, Pizza Perfection & More

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.


Decadent Crab Benedict

B3, Mission –  B3, which you’ve heard me talk about at a pre-launch test dinner, has been open since early August, recently adding brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Thankfully, their divine Brown Sugar Bourbon Bacon makes an appearance all over the menu or can be ordered as a side. Candy for grown-ups, it’s a meaty, sweet pleasure.

I went in thinking their Chicken & Waffles ($12) would be my brunch favorite: fried, juicy Fulton Valley’s organic chicken. The waffles are a little dry on their own but doused with pure maple syrup (don’t forget to ask for hot sauce!) and chicken on top, they hold up with crunch, the dish reflects skills Chef Kevin Ahajanian gained cooking fried chicken during his run at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc.

Chicken & Waffles

But where I was sold was on Crab Cake Benedict ($18). Granted, it’s the most expensive item on the menu, but it’s a damn fine benedict with two giant pan-fried Dungeness crab cakes – virtually no filler, all crab meat. Glaum Farm‘s eggs are poached over organic tomato and crispy Pullman toast. Though I am a sauce fanatic, I never appreciate benedict dishes drowning in hollandaise – you won’t see that happen here.

Another surprise is Spaghetti Carbonara ($14), which I wouldn’t typically order for brunch but they brought out for me to try. I’m glad they did. The noodles are thick and tender, house-cured pancetta and caramelized onions add savoriness, while nutty Piave Vecchio cheese and egg liaison (egg yolks and cream) are spun in an intricate web over the heaping mound of pasta.

Spaghetti Carbonara w/ spun Piave Vecchio cheese

Biscuits and Gravy ($12) are heavy on the pepper in Caggiano country-style bacon gravy but appropriately so with Southern influence. It doesn’t overwhelm the dish, while Tillamook Cheddar Biscuits melt in your mouth under a layer of brown sugar bourbon bacon and Glaum Farm eggs. Another generous, satisfying dish.

Biscuits & Gravy

And those burgers ($10) rock. Juicy-pink, using Marin Sun Farms free-range, grass-fed beef, it’s guilt-free… unless you add on egg, bacon, cheese ($1-10 per add-on, the $10 being foie gras). The Veggie Burger ($10) is another unexpected treat made from black beans and beets, retaining the thick, meaty look and flavor of a beef patty. Maybe the best veggie burger this meat eater has had?

Burger w/ farm egg

I was, again, surprised at the impeccable beer selection for a place with a wine focus. Though merely 12 beers, a few on draft, there are such well-chosen selections as Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA ($5) and Goose Island’s Matilda Amber Wheat ($5). North Coast’s Red Seal Ale ($5) paired beautifully with those burgers.

When it comes to wines, well, I’ve gone on before about the special wine list here. I’d put yourself in the hands of Johnny or Ron and let them choose wines for you, which are blessedly available by the taste (as well as glass or bottle), to encourage exploration.

Tasting wines & beers at B3

This visit, I sipped Forlorn Hope’s latest: 2008 Ost-Intirgen. Forlorn Hope is a favorite discovery through B3 – try any of their wines. I was taken with Fort Ross’ 2006 Pinotage’s gentle blackberry earthiness balanced with hints of black tea and vanilla. Again, this one improved with the burgers. Another stand-out is two from Lee Family Farm in Lodi: a 2008 Rio Tinto (56% Touriga Francesa, 24% Alvarelhao, 13% Touriga Nacional, 7% Tinta Roriz grapes), which marries berries to nutmeg and cardamom with enough acidity to make it food-friendly. Their 2008 Grenache is  Monterey-grown with jasmine and berries on the palate. B3 has a slew of sparkling brunch carafes from tropical white to red sangria (not too sweet, despite being mixed with fruit juices), on to mimosas and royales, inspired off of a traditional Kir Royale. These sparkling imbibements seem to flow from every table during brunch.

Lee Family Farm’s Rio Tinto

I’ve heard a small few complain of not being able to pin down B3‘s focal point: is this a burger joint, wine bar, restaurant, what? Quality speaks in my book and I think one of the best things about B3 is that if you want a burger, you’ll get a damn good one, or plenty of other pleasing dishes. Beers? A thoughtfully chosen selection. Wines? Well, that they have cornered for rare, ultra-small production California (and beyond) wineries you often can’t get at any restaurant. They have had a number of new opening kinks but are working them out and even the semi-sterile space is warming up as the official sign was recently added and walls are minimally decorated.

This place is evolving into something special, unlike other hearty food, wine-centric spots I see around the city. I think B3 holds its own and offers the spectrum in casual, gourmet eats fueled by wine and beer.

RAGAZZA, Western Addition –  Essentially, Ragazza is Gialina part deux, with the same pizzas, plus antipasti, roasts and a pasta.

Family portraits line Ragazza’s walls

I went opening night, 9/22, and no surprise: the place was packed, unfortunately with not one, but three, screaming children. Shame on the parents for not taking them outside when they would not stop, which humorously was the topic of conversation during the rest of the meal at the two tables next to me. They (rightly) bemoaned the lack of courtesy, manners or respect from the current generation of parents.

Sardines w/ Sicilian stuffing

What made it worse is the space is cramped, tiny, so those families’ lack of consideration became our problem, too. I live close enough to pick up their fabulous pies to go (which won’t kick in until they’ve been open one month) and thus avoid the unpleasantly crowded surroundings, even though I appreciate the large family photos lining the walls, just as they do at  Gialina. Give Ragazza five months to secure permits, and you can eat in the enchanting back garden, which is the only other way I’d be drawn to eat-in again.

Wild Nettles Pizza

Neapolitan-style pizzas are as satisfying as they are at Gialina, blistered and packed with flavor. This time I had the Wild Nettles Pizza ($15) with preserved lemon (a little more of that, please), red onion & aged provolone. But it was tough to resist getting my favorite again: Amatriciana ($16) with tomato, pancetta, chilies, Pecorino, oregano and an egg in the center. On the antipasti front, Oven-Roasted Local Sardines ($9) with Sicilian stuffing inside are fresh, delicate and enhanced by breadcrumbs. The Renaissance Man complained of too much aioli drenched on top, drowning out the taste of the fish, but I got enough of the fish’s fresh silkiness.

Here’s to Ragazza take-out going forward… I’m happy to have Sharon Ardiana’s pizzas closer to home.


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Prospect’s impeccable Quail dish

PROSPECT, SoMa – In the midst of 3.5 star reviews and consistent accolades, Prospect moves into its early opening months shining. My first take on it was strong and repeat visits only confirm. This place is the whole package (see Imbiber for drink review).

Lately, I’ve been working through the starter/appetizer menu. An amuse bouche of Black Mission figs over diced pear, with shaved foie gras on top, sealed with a drop of vinegar, pepper and pistachio dusting starts the meal off with verve.

Fig Amuse Bouche

I move on to Chilled Summer Beets ($12) over vadouvan yogurt with candied pistachios and onion rings. Indian spices perk up the beets, yogurt adds creamy texture… a superior beet dish. Crispy Pig Trotters ($15) couldn’t be wrong with Maine lobster relish, lobster aioli, summer squash and mint. Popular Black Cod & Shiso Shrimp Fritter ($15) is as satisfying as it was the first time I had it with shiitakes, snap peas in a red curry.

Bright Beet Salad w/ vadouvan yogurt

But let’s just call it now and say Garlic Roasted Quail ($16) is my new favorite here. Sounds “typical” compared to Chef Ravi Kapur’s creatively exploratory dishes. But his tender quail with roasted almonds and Black Mission figs over warm tabouleh with preserved lemon exhibits a gourmet, but comforting, layering of flavors. I’d return just for that dish.

Black & Tan

Black and Tan ($10) is a bittersweet brownie with rich butter-bourbon pudding, billionaires’ shortbread and dark chocolate sorbet. Though not the most inventive dessert I’ve had in recent months, it satiated my earthy chocolate cravings.

Cafe Des Amis

CAFE DES AMIS, Cow HollowCafe Des Amis is the hottest thing to come along in Cow Hollow in awhile. Perpetually packed from lunch to dinner, it’s a quintessential French bistro a la New York, the place where you’d suck the meat off of frog legs (delicately, of course) while sipping a French 75.

Des Amis’ Parisian bistro interior

In black and white with a few hints of red, the space chic but comfortable. Is the mid-range priced food amazing? Not necessarily. There are better spots in town, yet this one has it’s charm – enough so that I would return as much as I was tempted to write it off as a sceney Cow Hollow hang-out for the moneyed, LA-types who live in the area.

Their Corpse Reviver #2 ($11) wasn’t the most balanced version I’ve had (or made) but it works with Oxley Gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon and an absinthe rinse. An Heirloom tomato salad special and Pommes Frites ($6) satisfy, though do not impress, while a Nettle & Spinach Flan ($12) makes more of a statement with an organic egg yolk running out of a silky, green flan.

Scallop & Boudin Noir – best dish of my visit

Truffle, Parmesan and a potato vinaigrette round out the flan with earthy notes. The most inventive dish was a recent appetizer addition: Seared Scallop & Boudin Noir ($14) with green apple for tart and a creamy pickled mustard seed/golden raisin gastrique. A single scallop is succulent while the boudin noir (blood sausage) is served in two little cookie-like cakes, creamy in the middle.

24-Layer Cake

Lest you find that unappealing, I will tell you now: it tastes like dessert. Spiced and chocolate-y, as some of the best boudin noir presentations can be. My non-blood-sausage-eating friend turned into a believer after one bite.

24 Layer Crepe Cake ($8) is literally 24 crepes flattened into one slice with a whipped-style cream and Blenheim apricot jam layered in between each crepe. Chamomile syrup binds it this deceptively light cake together. Upside Down Almond Cake ($8) with caramelized plums is sticky, warm, straightforward, satisfying.


Plow’s sunny interior

PLOW, Potrero Hill Plow’s space (which just opened 9/22) is of-the-moment San Francisco: salvaged wood floors, French Tolix metal chairs with wood tables and benches, massive windows letting in all that Potrero sun, and a clean, urban farm feel.

Pork Sandwich

Ingredients for the lunch and breakfast only spot follow suit. Simple, pure, straightforward, rustic… Alice Waters would be proud.

Opening day there was a slew of service kinks though well-intentioned. The Roast Pork Sandwich ($9.75) is fatty, tender pork, resting in an ACME roll with garlic sauce (could use a touch more of that) with house pickled carrots and beans on the side.

Grilled Cheese

The superior sandwich came week two in a Gruyere/Fromage Blanc Grilled Cheese ($8.75) with sweet, oven-roasted tomatoes contrasting in such as a way as to make me crave one just as soon as I had finished it.

Their breakfast menu (served until 11am on weekdays) is equally appealing.