As always, a taste-rich month in my city. Visited old favorites like Tommy’s for champion margaritas, Little Delhi’s savory Indian in the Tenderloin (glad they now have chaat on the menu), brunch and cocktails at classy, retro Presidio Social Club, hit-the-spot cheeseburgers at Sam’s, and Pho Ga at Turtle Tower. Then there’s new spots that didn’t quite grab me upon first visit: I dig Outerlands‘ woodsy, rustic charm, accepting vibe and staff, and daily fresh concept, but found the food a little bland; Mission’s The Corner is a cool spot to linger over a book, and such friendly staff, but my lunch sandwiches were, again, bland – I prefer their breakfast of coffee cake and Four Barrel coffee; The Tipsy Pig, despite great bar food and drinks, heady library room and casual back patio, is ruined by the literally screaming din of Marina-ites out to play (maybe when they’re open all day one can find a quiet hour?) Now for some favorites this month:
• I couldn’t be happier about my fave Italian restaurant starting Sunday brunch. The menu walks the line of Incanto classics (like Rustic Pork Ragu), Chef Chris Cosentino’s fantastic Boccalone meats and hearty egg dishes. I’d trust the “Butcher’s Treat”, which changes weekly (c’mon – be adventurous!) Three slices of hearty Beef Tongue was a recent “treat” ($15) served with perfectly poached eggs, piquant salsa verde and buttery grilled bread (Chris is the offal master). A crowd-pleaser is surely the amazing Milk Toast ($9), like French toast without the “eggy” factor, soaked and plumped-up in raisin juice, citrus peel and mascarpone.
• Got out to the recently oft-blogged-about Trouble Coffee (a couple blocks from the ocean in the Sunset) for a triple-threat breakfast of Cinnamon toast, Coconut and Coffee ($7). Toast is buttery and thick, accented by the fresh simplicity of juice straight out of a coconut, but the local coffee was a letdown for me. Watery and flavorless, I could barely drink half of it (strong and robust for me, thank you). Three cheers for funky garage sale decor in this closet-sized space and for the playful breakfast idea. Too bad about the coffee.
SAVORY – VEGETARIAN
• Midi just opened in the former FiDi Perry’s space, two levels devoted to chic Pan-Asian food with Cali/Euro flair. Cocktails are surprisingly good with housemade syrups aplenty. I found the Fava Bean & English Pea Puree Sandwich ($13) with shaved gruyère and lemon oil, a refreshing lunch.
SAVORY – SEAFOOD
• Still in its soft-opening run in showpiece Frisson space (the retro-riffic dome of that former interior intact), A5 Steak Lounge‘s food is surprisingly better than I expected given the lax attitude in service and clientele. I like the option of a small 7 oz. cut of NY steak ($15), though you can upgrade to 8 oz. Kobe for $29. A generous Mac ‘n Cheese side ($7) is cheesy, piping hot, covered in bread crumbs. Common as it sounded, my fave may have been the Crab Salad ($12) – fresh crab meat with avocado, blood oranges, mache and what tasted like pomegranate drizzle.
SAVORY – MEAT
• I’m lucky to work near Dogpatch’s covert garage/ weekday lunch outfit (getting quite the buzz in less than two weeks of opening), Kitchenette, as one visit already has me craving more. With daily changing menu, here’s hoping I’ll again see the perfect Bahn Mi-like sandwich of Beer Tangerine roasted Berkshire Pork ($8) with cilantro, jalapeno, cabbage and a side of macaroni salad. Paired with tart Meyer Lemon/Tangerine/ Blood Orange juice of the day ($2)… watch out!
• Mission’s bright new hole-in-the-wall, La Oaxaquena, is a Mexican bakery and eatery serving a range of Oaxacan specialties like tlayudas (a crispy flatbread covered with everything from beans to meat), spiced Oaxacan Hot Chocolate ($1.35), and Chicken Mole Enchiladas ($8.50). The latter is two enchiladas, beans and rice, with tender, shredded chicken, cooked to perfection in a downright addictive chocolate mole sauce that’s balanced with spices.
• Cortez is often forgotten or underrated in my estimation. Yes, portions are sometimes small and pricey, but over the years, even with a chef change, I find it a place of consistent quality and taste married to creativity. Daily changing soup shots are winners, desserts some of the best in town and plates like Shrimps a la Plancha are richly satisfying. Despite the overabundance of Pork Belly on menus these days, I rave about Cortez‘ version ($16) accented with tart Rhubarb slices, a little frisee and Honey-Mustard emulsion.
• Pirate Cat Radio has a Bacon Maple Latte ($5) I won’t soon forget (can’t spend that much on coffee on a regular basis!) Adding African cayenne? Shot it to the stratosphere. My day couldn’t help but be right after that savory breakfast dream of a drink. Now for a side of scrambled eggs.
• On a weeknight at Heaven’s Dog (which I only recommend for cocktails from the all-star bartender lineup), I took a Whiskey Freedom from Choice (bartender’s discretion – you choose the spirit), as pro, Jackie Patterson, shook up two lovely versions of the brown stuff in herbal, then citrus form. My latest choice on the regular menu is a 1932 recipe of Tiger’s Milk No. II, a frothy blend of Spanish brandy, rum, sugar, cream and nutmeg. That’s what I call a nightcap.
• At Nirvino’s Mixology Contest at Tres Agaves on 3/31, Josh Harris, of newly re-opened/refreshed 15 Romolo, made my favorite creation of the night, which thankfully won: “Eye in the Sky“, Cielo Blanco Tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime and pineapple, Peychauds, topped with fresh grated nutmeg and a spanked sage leaf!
• Bourbon and Branch has become quite my regular spot over the years and I await each new seasonal menu with expectation. Spring debuted last week with highlights being Joel Baker’s balanced beauty, Pear Sonata (Old Tom Gin, Elderflower Liqueur, Pear Eau de Vie, Dry Vermouth, Lemon, Pear-Elderflower Foam) and Ian Scalzo’s crazy, smoky Mariachi (Mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse, Cointreau, Lemon, Orange Bitters). But the best drink at B&B this March was a St. Patty’s Day-only special (again, from the brilliant Joel Baker): Finnegan’s Wake ($12), a savory, creamy dessert of Bacon Rasher-infused Black Bush Irish Whiskey, turbinado syrup (turbinated sugar made from sugar cane extract), egg white, Bitter Truth aromatic bitters with a bacon-redolent skewer of baked beans. All I can say is, Wow… please be a permanent fixture! Honorable mention goes to to Martin Cate’s Port Light (bourbon, passion fruit, honey), of my beloved Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge, who was mixing it up for B&B’s “Tropics in the Tenderloin” party the last two nights!