Top Tastes

Top Tastes is not a list of all-time favorites, rather the best tastes of the last two weeks (since my last newsletter), often from new openings.

3 NEWCOMERS: Tavern, Burgers, Tapas

These three new places just opened; these early dishes jump out.

PARK TAVERN, North Beach (1652 Stockton Street, 415-989-7300)

“Poulet Rouge” (red chicken), standing at attention

Staring out at Washington Square Park and city views from Park Tavern’s front dining room, one could be in Europe or New York… yet the glow is distinctly SF. The menu exemplifies typical San Francisco cooking: high quality ingredients and preparation in heartwarming dishes. There’s raw, fried or smoked menu categories, and entrees like a plump poulet rouge (red chicken) standing at attention over a platter of potatoes and wilted spinach, doused in herbs and jus. From the owners of Marlowe, this new space is already a source for comfortable sophistication in North Beach.

Compressed watermelon, prosciutto, truffle

Early stand-out: Though bites like NY steak crudo ($10) sprinkled with Parmesan and crispy horseradish delight, a delicate (read: slight) appetizer of compressed Yellow Doll watermelon and Mangalitsa prosciutto over mustard greens ($11) is the one that leaves an impression. It’s true: compressed watermelon with meat is a trendy starter in recent years, but it’s a delicate whisper of truffle that sends it over the top. Truffle can easily be heavy-handed, but here it’s a welcome tease, hinting at umami worlds behind its initial sweet and savory contrasts.

Fernet Shake

Bonus: Dessert should not be forgotten at Park Tavern, and, no, I’m not talking about daily “birthday cake” specials (like coconut cream or chocolate caramel), both sold out on my last visit. I headed straight for grown-up ice cream shakes ($9 each): Fernet ice cream with a shot of Fernet and Fever Tree ginger beer, or an Arnold Palmer with black tea ice cream, lemon gelato and St. Germain elderflower liqueur.
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UMAMI BURGER, Cow Hollow (2184 Union Street, 415-440-8626)

Umami’s Manly Burger

Raved about ad nauseum in LA for years, Umami Burger already has a staunch following ensured. The chain’s first SF opening paves the way for the next two Bay Area locations already in the works. Whether craving their sauces (Umami ketchup, Dijon mustard, roasted garlic aioli, jalapeno ranch) or veggie burgers like the Earth Burger ($12 – mushroom edamame patty in white soy aioli with truffle ricotta),  Umami Burger is a guaranteed hit. Overhyped? Definitely. These are good burgers, to be sure, but there are many equally gourmet and crave-worthy burgers in town. Still, they’re having fun and it shows.

Tempura-fried onion rings

Early stand-out: I’m all about the Manly Burger ($11): beer cheddar cheese, smoked salt onion strings, bacon lardons. There’s only a bit of each ingredient, but somehow the thin layer of bacon cheesiness makes you appreciate it all the more. Add in a side of giant tempura onion rings ($4.50) and the day’s stresses seem minimized.

CANELA, Castro (2272 Market Street, 415-552-3000)

Canela’s gazpacho as an amuse

Canela is an airy new Spanish tapas restaurant in the Castro. With the front window ushering in bright sun and Market Street’s bustle, it’s a lovely mid-day respite with a glass of sangria ($5). They’re still finding their legs with the menu (mostly tapas; will evolve to include dinner entrees), and as is expected, some dishes work better than others. Kudos for their house-made chorizo on coca flatbread ($14-15).

Canela’s simple salt cod salad

Early stand-out: There’s two… a bright amuse of gazpacho (also on the menu at $5 cup/$7 bowl). Tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper, garlic, and olive oil puree kick-start the taste buds. Salt cod salad ($9 small/$15 large) is punctuated by olives, red onion, and orange slices, cutting the saltiness of the fresh fish, while orange vinaigrette ties it together. For me, salt cod evokes the Mediterranean, particularly when it’s this fresh and, well, salty. This simple salad sent me right back to Spain gazing out at the sea.