Here are my top 10 dishes for May, from new openings and established spots.
1. Montesacro’s Margherita Pinsa
Open in April, the new Montesacro is like a quick flight to Italy, transported to Rome itself from the moment one walks through the door off of rough-and-tumble Stevenson Street and is greeted by the Italian owner and staff.
As I detail in my Zagat feature on the opening, this is the US’s first pinseria, an ancient Roman flatbread akin to pizza in oval form with a unique make-up of three different kinds of flour — soy, rice and wheat (all GMO-free, all imported from Rome). Two on-staff two pinsaiolis (akin to a pizzaiolo), Claudio Gaetani and Alessandro Delle Rose, moved here direct from Rome, both masters of the ancient peasant bread. Of the multiple pinsas I’ve tried, all named after Roma neighborhoods, each has been excellent and one I would order again. But I suppose the classic margherita ($15) with its simple topping of tomato, mozzarella and basil, allows the dough to shine and makes for a fine introduction to the truly special pizza category and place. I detail other pinsas here.
2. Trestle’s Anson Mills Polenta Ravioli
Trestle is yet another above-average, “New American” restaurant that in many cities would be one of their best but typifies the high quality at a reasonable price we are spoiled with here in San Francisco. Trestle opened at the beginning of May with a steal of a $35 prix fixe that changes nightly. Add on pasta courses for $10 are, for me, the highlight of the whole meal, as was the case with executive chef Jason Halverson’s Anson Mills polenta ravioli. The ravioli tasted of summer in fresh corn purée, bright with spring onion, arugula and crispy bits of prosciutto.
3. Belga’s Boudin Noir (Blood Sausage)
Just open mid-May, I am delighted with Belga‘s destination-worthy beer selection grouped by major factors (sour, fruity, hoppy, malty, light and so on), plus plenty of hard ciders, wine, French and Belgian spirits, quality cocktails and 10 beers on tap. Hearty-yet-refined Belgian, French and German food — with a California lightness — lends itself well to a number of dishes and house sausages. Though I love the mild boudin blanc ($12), I’d place my money on the boudin noir ($13): lighter than other black pudding (blood sausage), but with no less of that holiday spice comfort. Add on order of frites with house dipping sauces and mussels and it’s a good night. My full Zagat feature on the opening here.
4. 1760’s Whole Roasted Chicken with Aji Verde
A return to 1760 is always a pleasure: a refined wine and Champagne list, Christoper Longoria’s garden-fresh, creative cocktails, vibrant dishes and small plates. During a recent return, I found nothing small about whole roasted chicken ($42) for two, which transported me straight back to Peru with a vibrant aji verde sauce made from Peruvian green chiles to dip the tender chicken into. Accents of pickled green onion, red cabbage and garlic croutons round out the comfort dish.
5. Red Hill Station’s Red Meat Trout Tartare
I’ve talked about this gem of a sustainable seafood, pasta and neighborhood restaurant in Bernal Heights since it opened one year ago. Red Hill Station continues to delight with large portions of shining-fresh fish and stellar side salads (think baked Hawaiian mahi crusted in lemon thyme with butter leaf, frisee, arugula, red leaf little gem salad laden with radishes, golden beets, red pepper, asparagus, grapefruit, kumquats, honey balsamic vinaigrette — what did I tell you about these being far from typical side salads?)
Recently, McFarland Spring’s red meat trout tartare ($15) was all silky perfection, showcasing impeccable raw trout in basil chiffonade and red onion brunoise, perked up by lemon zest.
6. Tofino Wines’ Ricotta Crostini
Open in March from partners April Sack and Mark Nevin, Tofino Wines is my ideal wine bar/wine shop in a far loftier, historic space than is typical for a wine “bar.” Among the quality bites offered this spring, simplicity is often best, as with Bellwether Farms ricotta crostini ($7) — all bread from Marla Bakery. A touch of orange blossom honey and fresh thyme adds sweet and aromatic notes to fluffy ricotta on warm, soft yet crispy bread. You might pair it with the likes of a Domaine Guillemarine Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc, France ($10), its soft orange blossom notes playing with melon and stone fruit flavors.
7. Lunchpad at Noir Lounge
Relaxed Noir Lounge, where classic films play in the back room at night and cocktails and wine flow, is by day an ideal work space, playing classic rock tunes and vintage couches to sink into. Best of all, from 8 AM-2:30 PM every weekday, the Lunchpad menu turns out killer sandwiches that are among the most underrated in town. With an emphasis on thinly shaved turkey sandwiches, there are many worthy choices. I was impressed recently with one of the daily specials with cheeky names, the Juan Bon Jovi, on the menu every Tuesday: roasted turkey, habanero candied bacon, brie cheese, arugula, roasted pear and horseradish cream (here’s more under-the-radar and new weekday lunch spots in one of my Zagat articles).
8. Tavares’ Tilapia
Cozy, Brazilian neighborhood newcomer, Tavares, is the first US outpost of a São Paulo restaurant, located on Potrero Hill. Details on the restaurant here in my Zagat feature article. Tilapia ($16) steamed in a banana leaf is an entree standout. The tender fish is cooked with saffron, topped with mango and accompanied by a dreamy coconut sauce, managing to taste both light and luxurious — like vacation. The fish is paired with a traditional Brazilian pupunha salad: fresh hearts of palm mingling with red onions, tomatoes, parsley and cilantro.
9. Rusty’s Southern’s Barbecue Plate
The space, hidden away off Ellis Street, and the warm welcome from Rusty and crew immediately charm in the new Rusty’s Southern, open at the end of March. Rusty’s parents are from the Carolinas and while I long for more of the soulful authenticity common in travels around those states, the overall package here is promising. Portions may lean small-ish in the case of a barbecue plate ($16.50), but the pulled pork/smoked chopped pork is tender and smoky, partnered with red slaw and hush puppies. I like the South Carolina mustard BBQ sauce, although there is also North Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce. Add on huge, flaky buttermilk biscuits ($5) with sorghum and butter and it’s a heartwarming meal.
10. Mr. Holmes Bakehouse’s Doughronis
A cult hit from day one, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse is already rocking Negroni Week by tributing the great classic cocktail in their brazen, jelly doughnut style. The Doughroni ($3.50 each) is filled with Campari jelly and a Negroni blood orange custard. Inject a pipette of Negroni syrup into the doughnut and prepare for tart, creamy decadence.