Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No hats off to Chapeau

One of the most consistently satisfying dining experiences in SF has been at Chapeau. The restaurant was very small, very reasonably priced with excellent service and food. It was on Clement just west of Park Presidio and you could always get a parking space along the frontage road there. Chapeau recently moved to the former Clementine site on Clement and 2nd and we just had a disappointing dinner. The food was still great and prices remain most reasonable for the quality (3 course meal selected from the menu is $38), but basically the service stunk. The chef/owner was at the door to overly greet everyone. He shook my hand twice. When you leave, he bestows a kiss on the cheek of the ladies and heartily shakes the men's hands. What he wasn't doing was keeping an eye on the service and the movement of food. I was reminded of the old Le Cyrano on Geary where madame kept her eye on all aspects of the food and service. You felt you were in excellent hands. We did not feel the same at Chapeau. A majority of our party only ordered entrees so I expected the service to speed up for those of us ordering appetizers; it did not. Drinks were slow to come and it felt certain tables were getting better treatment. Once the food came, it was great, although I had to calm down a little from my waiting furor. The mussel soup was delicious, the skate wing beautifully presented with excellent flavors. Desserts are OK (we were comped a couple of desserts, which was nice but unfortunately did not make up for the evening's shortcomings). Monsieur deeply apologized for the lapses in service and said he would be talking to the staff the next day. I held back (until now) saying the problem was him since he was emphasizing affect over effect.

Palo Alto is now home to a Sancho's Taqueria and the world's best fish taco is right downtown. Sancho's started in Redwood City and became an instant success, soon moving to larger quarters. The owners also ran the taqueria in an East Palo Alto market, but have now switched to Lytton and Cowper in Palo Alto. Although they have most of the standard Mexican fare done satisfactorily, their fish tacos, either fried or grilled, are just superb ($3.95). 3 make a good meal for 2 people. The ceviche is also excellent and their chips and salsas are fresh and tasty. They use sustainable ingredients and biodegradable paper products, which is very commendable for their reasonable prices. I wish them lots of success.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A few more great San Francisco meals

Had a rash (in a good way) of some fine SF eating. We had dinner last week at The Richmond, a small, chef-run dinner spot in guess where, the Richmond. On Balboa, near 7th, we met cousins for a 6 PM dinner and had no probem finding a parking space, although we hit lots of traffic getting there. Plus #1. A delicious amuse bouche of creamy leek soup left a nice mouth feel and opened the senses up for more. Plus #2. Shared appetizers of beet salad and ahi carpaccio were fresh and delicious and served with La Brea baquette and 3 kinds of butter. Bread was quickly replaced. Plus #3. Menu changes with what's fresh. Plus #4. Entrees included a chicken scallopini with chicken ravioli and a fresh Pacific cod with calamari. Entrees are all under $20 and just the right size. Plus#5. Service was excellent as were desserts, including an ethereal panna cotta. Plus#6. And a superb wine list, very reasonably priced. I want to come back and sit at the bar with a nice glass of red and order a burger with fries for $9.95!

We returned to Nopa Thanksgiving weekend and were thankful we did. Nopa is one of our favorite SF restaurants, reliably excellent and the service is always great. We know the owner- chef, but it's so great not to have to fake our enthusiasm for this restaurant. When we made our reservation we asked for a quiet table as it's noisy in there, but a few tables are under a balcony so you can hear your tablemates. Sheila calls it the senior section. We started with mussels (all open and very plump Penn Cove), flatbread with butternut squash, baked egg with tomato gratin, and litle fried fish. All superb. If you like pork, you must order their pork chop, consistently perfect, the best in the Bay Area. The lamb shank was also good but pales next to the pork; the swordfish was done perfectly. Warm chocolate cookies with sweet milk made a homey dessert and a thing I love about Nopa is you can get hot chocalate after dinner. I'm not a coffee drinker so it's quite a thrill having a rich, dark cup of cocoa. Vahlrona too! The wine list is superb, almost too long. Our server talked us into 2 great but for us pricey wines, an incredible white, Mathiessen sauvignon blanc-ribolla cialla-semillon, and an excellent red, a 1999 rioja from Lopez de Heredia. Both worth it and key parts of a great meal.

And now, presenting a fabulous breakfast, at Brenda's French Soul Food on Polk near Eddy. Small and mighty, Brenda's serves the best biscuit I have ever had and it came with a really fine hangtown fry(eggs, oysters, bacon), a daily special. The weakest part was a large serving of potato hash, but that would have been a star at another restaurant. Sheila had Bananas Fosters French Toast, another special, each under $10 (prices are great too), and it was wonderfully buttery and carmelly. I didn't try their beignets and hope to soon, although I may not be able to resist that incredible biscuit. A trip to the restroom takes you through the little kitchen, by Brenda cooking and past the biscuit and beignet stations. What a find!

And lastly, a good, cheap dinner in the Mission: Limon Peruvian Rotisserie, a sister to Limon which recently reopened on Valencia. This one's in a small corner buildng on So. Van Ness and 21st. The free-range rotisserie chicken is cooked perfectly and you know, there's nothing like a good roast chicken. A whole chicken is $16.95 including 2 large sides (we opted for excellent fried potatoes and sweet potatoes) and 2 dipping sauces. Our group of 4 also split a ceviche mixto, with prawns, halibut, and calamari (delicious) and an unusual but tasty ensalada de vegetales, cooked seasonal veggies in an orange/Dijon dressing. Also enjoyed the mango mojitos made with sake. We skipped dessert there and walked to Bi-Rite Ice Cream on 18th for my first taste of their famous ice creams. Wow! Salted caramel and brown sugar with ginger swirl both immediately entered my pantheon of great ice cream.