Top Tastes is not a list of all-time favorites, rather its about the best tastes of the last two weeks (since my last newsletter), often from new openings.
Cheap Eats: Korean Wave
SF may not be the Korean food mecca both LA and NY are, but there’s been a recent wave of Korean openings I can only hope signals a more robust Korean dining catalog in our future? The more bulgogi and bibimbap in this town, the better.
Ahn Sushi & Soju just opened in the Tenderloin. The menu is half Japanese, half Korean, so not sure about authenticity in that kind of distracted split, but plan to make a visit soon to check out its Korean side of the menu (goodness knows there’s plenty of excellent Japanese around… speaking of which, I recently had one of the better sushi meals in my decade-plus in SF. It’s such a locals-only spot, bursting at the seams, that agreement among diners is what happens at ‘blank’, stays there. I only share a photo to fondly recall lush, giant slabs of sashimi, and a convivial glow in the tiny space).
Here are two 100% Korean restaurants that have opened in the last month, both showing promise and offering a warm welcome.
NAN, Japantown (1560 Fillmore Street at Geary, 415-441-9294)
Thus far, Nan is my first pick for two reasons: a minimalist, airy space, and an extensive, slightly more creative menu. Bibimbap and skewers abound (I tried pork belly skewers), alongside rice bowls and rice cakes. Seafood Pajeon is not the perfection it is at Manna, but Bulgogi mixed with wheat noodles utterly satisfies, especially with Asian beers on tap. I’m looking forward to working my way further through this menu.
MANNA, Inner Sunset (845 Irving Street at 10th Avenue, 415-665-5969)
Manna just opened two weeks ago, a clean, friendly little dining room in the heart of Inner Sunset. It serves a number of common Korean classics but with 44 different plates on the dinner menu alone, there are numerous iterations of bibimbap, short ribs, and stews to mix it up. And they make a buttery, crispy Seafood Pajeon (Korean pancake – $9.99), loaded with leeks, scallions mini shrimp and squid, one of the best I’ve ever had.
Expensive: Going Basque; Honey Bee Menu
FAIRMONT HOTEL’s LAUREL COURT, Nob Hill (950 Mason Street between California & Sacramento, 415-772-5260)
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Yes, there are bees living atop the Fairmont on Nob Hill. The hotel’s executive chef, jW Foster, had a vision of keeping a rooftop garden and bees (beehives are also kept at other Fairmont hotels). He’s done both, enlivening a balcony with bee hives from Marshall’s Farm in nearby American Canyon. Foster grows lush strawberries, bunches of herbs, and seasonal vegetables and fruits. The produce is used in the hotel’s restaurant, as is honey from the bees. With the near decimation of the US bee population in recent years, it’s a strong, bold move to grow and keep your own in a world class hotel.
Blackboard Eats just launched a three course menu (with six menu options) that is certainly farm-fresh and a restorative meal in the elegant, quiet Laurel Court. A couple highlights of the Honey Hive menu? Walnut bruschetta topped with pickled asparagus, Sonoma’s Bellwether Farm’s heavenly ricotta (mixed with honey), and Sausalito watercress. The other is a surprisingly integrated Old Fashioned. I thought honey would make it too sweet but with a gentle touch, it makes for a bracing, balanced version of one of my classic go-to cocktails.
TXOKO, North Beach (504 Broadway at Romolo Place, 415-500-2744)
Though I’d describe new Basque tapas restaurant, Txoko, as uneven in early opening weeks, service is attentive and professional, while the open air space and unique vibe of the former Enrico’s remains a highlight in North Beach. Some dishes border more on California cuisine-meets-French (foie gras, grilled asparagus with fried egg, veal sweetbreads – all of which I tried) than Basque. But there are enough Basque touches to keep chef Ian Begg’s menu from being typical. Though I tried six dishes, next time I may have to spring for the pricey bone-in rib eye steak for two ($65).
The surprising highlight (besides simple but refreshing cocktails, like a $10 Caliente Sunrise – serrano pepper-infused Herradura silver tequila, grenadine, house sparkling orange juice) was at the end of the meal. I have had foie ice cream before, but this Foie Gras Ice Cream ($8) retains the earthy lushness of foie without being overly savory. Creamy and lush, it does well alongside whole wheat sable cookies, and roasted apricots glazed in muscat jelly. Pastry chef Ana Paliza-Brown’s (formerly of Kokkari) desserts promise to be a strong point here, such as Date Bread Pudding with chorizo-candied Marcona almonds.
Mid-Range: Rabbit Pie & Pies
MISSION BEACH CAFE, Mission (198 Guerrero Street at 14th, 415-861-0198)
As ever, I’d return to Mission Beach Cafe for Rabbit Pot Pie and Alan Carter’s pies (like Banana Butterscotch or Cherry). I miss Trevor Ogden’s creative work (he’s now at Chambers Eat+Drink) but it’s good to see Thomas Martinez back on board, whose food I reviewed back in 2009 when he was formerly chef here.