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 dont make the cut, being a revisit previously written about or simply not as stand-out as dishes mentioned.
BEAST & the HARE, Mission – At 22nd and Guerrero, a corner I’ve always found cozily inviting, I sat next to big picture windows of brand new Beast and the Hare, the spare room warmed up by sincere service and fabulous organ sounds of Joe Mooney. Surely another upscale comfort food menu is old news. But every dish pleased, executed with a welcome straightforwardness.
A salad of Escarole ($10) was topped with tasty smoked duck breast, tart pink lady apple slices, fennel and hazelnuts in a mustard vinaigrette. Healthy and light, but not lacking in flavor.
Fritto Misto ($10) didn’t come out quite as I expected in a traditional Italian mix. It was more Japanese tempura-style slices; each item (plump sardines, black radish, squash, tart lemon slices) delicately fried, enhanced by sriracha aioli. Comforting, indeed. An entree of long, house-made Pappardelle noodles ($16) was uber-spicy with Calabrian chili, rich with shredded short ribs and broccoli rabe. I could not find one misstep, also appreciating good beers on tap (Allagash’s Curieux, thank you). While one maybe needn’t cross town for this (it’s an ideal neighborhood spot), you won’t be unhappy if you do.
CAFE JACQUELINE, North Beach – I have been going to Cafe Jacqueline annually since I moved to SF and am surprised at how many long-time locals still don’t know about it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an SF institution up there with our greatest classics, an unusual gem I haven’t found the likes of elsewhere.
Cafe Jacqueline does one thing… and it does that one thing perfectly: souffles. Jacqueline herself, a darling, elderly French woman, has been making souffles here for decades. Go now, while she is still the one in the tiny kitchen with mountains of eggs, and partake of her fluffy, warm delights.
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There are a couple basic salads and soups to start, but then you go in for the wait. It takes about an hour for souffles to come out, while you smell everyone else’s in the tiny, simple but romantic bistro on Grant Street. Once it arrives, you’re ready… and truly grateful. The texture and flavors are perfection, warm out of the oven.
Her souffles generally run in the low $30’s to low $40’s and are big enough for two, though ordering lobster or crab pushes you up into the $50’s. Unless otherwise noted, they all have gruyere cheese. I love Brie and Broccoli or especially the White Corn/Ginger/Garlic souffle. Dessert is equally blissful with chocolate, lime, lemon, strawberry, Grand Marnier, or daily special souffles. The night’s greatest angst comes in choosing your souffle.
Long live Jacqueline!
MAYA, SoMa – Maya is one of those places I visited more when I first moved to SF a decade ago. I’d return on occasion, impressed with the chef’s skill with creative, upscale Mexican, despite a rather dated, ’80’s look to the large space.
Since my last visit a couple years ago, the place has been remodeled with dark woods imparting a warmer look, while the menu is more affordable, mostly under $20, less experimental though still slightly upscale.
I can’t vouch for the current menu, though there are a number of appealing options, but I can say their happy hour is quite a deal. Not only does it last all night (4:30pm to close, seven days a week – you cannot beat that), but margaritas (my choice: Tamarind), wines, mojitos and Cuba Libres are $5. There are free botanas (snacks – a tasty bean dip) until 7pm, while $2 gets you two mini-tacos.
I vote for the Pork Belly Taco with pickled habanero and red onion. One could arguably fill up here for mere dollars.
There’s also a nice selection of tequilas by the glass ($8-$45), including worthy pours such as Espolon, Siete Leguas or local Don Pilar. On the last Tuesday of every month, they throw Tequila Tuesday tastings where $10 gets you no less than three tequila tastings, a margarita, tacos and bar bites. The next one is December 28th (6-7:30pm) when Herradura will be the featured tequila.