When not enjoying cheap eats from hole-in-the-wall favorites like Mexico-authentic chilaquiles from Dona Mago or fantastic xiao long bao, sesame balls and dumplings from Dim Sum Club, I am out exploring new openings, new chef’s menus and returning to places, most recently Amoura, Schroeder’s and Boxing Room. These two low-key newcomers work well for takeout, though no one dish initially wowed: Kung Food in Nopa/Western Addition and Mekong Kitchen in the Castro.
Here are my top 5 dishes for April, from new openings and established spots.
1. Aaxte’s Morcilla (Blood Sausage) & Chickpeas
April 17, 2015, was the opening date of long-awaited Aatxe (pronounced “aah-CHAY“) on the dramatically transformed ground floor of the Swedish American Hall and Cafe du Nord (the latter, one of SF’s legendary live music venues, is set to reopen in a month or so, with new decor and menus). My Zagat feature article on an array of tapas at this Basque/Spanish restaurant from chef Ryan Pollnow and on the Bon Vivants cocktail menu is here.
It’s a tough call choosing a favorite between the surprisingly exceptional patatas bravas or mussels escabeche, but the most comforting initial dish is one of two larger plates ($24-25 each): morcilla (that’s blood sausage to you) and chickpeas, hearty with fall-apart pork cheek, carrots, pine nuts and raisins.
2. Octavia’s Ricotta & Spring Onion Toast
Intimate Frances has been a diner’s and national press favorite since it opened in 2009. Now chef Melissa Perello and crew have opened the long-anticipated second restaurant, Octavia, in a space that housed a long line of restaurant greats from the Meetinghouse (I still miss their brunches), to the original Quince, and most recently Baker & Banker. My Zagat feature on the opening and standout initial dishes here.
Funny enough, my favorite initial dish is toast ($5). The toppings change but the base is none other than Josey Baker levain so you already know it’s excellent. Spread with warm ricotta, charred spring onion puree and accented by fresh watercress leaves, it almost dissolves in the mouth, leaving you wanting more.
3. Parallel 37’s Nettle & Bloomsdale Spinach Beignets
During a very special dinner at the newly-remodeled Ritz-Carlton’s Parallel 37, Chef Michael Rotondo and pastry chef Andrea Correa paired multiple courses of dishes all utilizing coffee with a wide range coffee pairings from the great Saint Frank (my piece on coffee & tonic at Saint Frank from a year ago).
My favorite course during the dinner was Rotondo’s nettle & Bloomsdale spinach beignets, dotted with candied lemon and mouth-meltingly good. The crazy part was how gratifying and fluffy the beignets were though filled with spinach. “Healthy” beignets — who knew? The dish was artfully arranged with garden vegetables (cucumber, Bibb lettuce, rhubarb, lovage, snap peas), marked by nettle dust and coffee-infused tarragon yogurt puree.
4. ICHI Kakiya’s Hokkaido Scallop Crudo
Erin and Tim Archuleta just opened ICHI Kakiya this week with longtime collaborator Shasta Olarte (restaurant manager/beverage director) in the original ICHI Sushi space, which is now down the street in larger digs and renamed ICHI Sushi + Ni Bar. My Zagat article on the ICHI Kakiya opening is here.
This stunner of a crudo dish ($14) shows off silken scallops from Hokkaido, Japan (which you can also order solo for $5.75). Archuleta pairs raw scallops with kombu (edible kelp) pickle purée and house-cured salmon roe. It exhibits both clean flavors contrasted by umami complexity, wrapped in sheets of nori (seaweed)… like a raw scallop nori taco.
5. Precita Park Cafe’s BBQ Quail
Owners Rachel Herbert and Dana Oppenheim (of Dolores Park Cafe and Duboce Park Cafe) are doing something new with Precita Park Café, which opened in 2012 on charming Precita Park (my original SF neighborhood 14 years ago). Here’s my Zagat feature on the new chefs and menu.
Sightglass Coffee-infused BBQ quail ($12) is easily the most fun dish on the menu. The crispy-fried quail is stuffed with house chorizo mac ‘n’ cheese over a bed of pancetta and kale, partnered with a fried green tomato. “Bicycle sauce,” a house Sriracha-style sauce, perks up the dish with a splash of red and heat.