Per usual, I’ve been dining up a storm at newcomers like Matador (tacos and tequila near Union Square), Cuban food in Oakland at Casa Cubana, French-inspired cuisine at Antoinette in the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley (from Dominique Crenn) or bagels at the new Wise Sons Bagel & Bakery. I’ve returned to established favorites, like vegan goodness at Nourish Cafe or for sausages and craft beers at Hog’s Apothecary in Oakland.
Read my top openings and standout dishes of February, while below are my top tastes of the month from restaurants that have been around months… or years.
Dragon Beaux: Colorful Xiao Long Bao
One year old last month (February), Dragon Beaux is a sleeker dim sum dining room in the Outer Richmond. The two-room space is marked by blacks and purples with splashes of red, more refined (though still bustling with minimal English spoken by some staff) than the typical dim sum restaurants lining the neighborhood.
Why: As with any of the countless great dim sum spots in SF, some dishes are better than others and each place has their own specialties. Dragon Beaux is a hot pot restaurant at night but I’m about the dim sum during the day. They serve solid dumplings, the most intriguing being their xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings) sampler, each pork dumpling wrapped in a vibrantly-colored wrapper vivid with beet, saffron, spinach or squid ink. There is better xia long bao in town, but none prettier.
Tara Indian Cuisine: Indian-Nepalese Take-Out
Opened in November 2015, Tara Indian Cuisine in the Castro serves Indian food often pulling from Nepal.
Why: It’s mostly about the curries (like a creamy coconut-tomato vegetable curry) and though I miss the greater spice and depth inherent in the curries of Guddu de Karahi and the original Lahore, Tara’s food is made with love, freshness and care from sweetheart staff. It’s one of my new takeout favorites.
Capos Heartwarming American-Italian Appetizers
With a few new menu items, Capo’s continues to draw me in for the best deep dish around.
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Sausage and marsala stuffing ($11) is a newcomer of thick pretzel bread soaking in au jus, cream and marsala wine, recalling old school 1950-60’s American-Italian food, laden with mushrooms, cheddar and mozzarella. Similarly, wood-fired baked artichokes ($15) evoke Rome’s rich artichoke heritage, decadently American in a sea of spinach, provolone and cream, scooped up with garlicky toasts.
Ba-Bite’s Healthy, Gratifying Middle Eastern Food
Open spring of 2015, Ba-Bite has rightly become a Piedmont neighborhood favorite for healthy, gratifying Middle Eastern food, easily ordered at the counter for eat-in or take-out. In some ways, it reminds me on a casual, take-out scale, of the great Zahav in Philadelphia, namely because of its numerous versions of hummus and small vegetarian plates (salatim salad selection at Zahav).
Why: Fresh quality pervades the food, whether massive bowls of housemade hummus (I like the qudsiah, $9.50, a big bowl of hummus with split fava bean pureé in the center) or an array of mezze ($5 each or 3 for $13), like spiced carrots and golden raisins in cumin, lemon and garlic.
Bar Tartine’s Dessert Spread
Bar Tartine is one of my all-time favorite SF restaurants (open in 2005, becoming one of the country’s greats in 2011 when Nick Balla came on board) with one of the more innovative menus in the country, thanks to co-chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns.
Why: A recent return proves the food as wonderful as ever (now mostly a $78 tasting menu with a shorter list of a la carte offerings), always more exciting than the menu reads.
I could call out a few recent highlights, but desserts especially made an impact, an array of bites blessedly unique and not too sweet, pulling as much from the Middle East as from the Eastern European-Japan influence that sings through many Bar Tartine dishes.
The spread included sesame date balls, sweet rice candy, pistachio custard, farmers cheesecake and other fascinating bites far more complex than these brief descriptions insinuate. As usual, it’s the kind of place to look to for what’s not yet been done and for tastes that impress on a global scale.