In Good Taste
In Cala’s rustic yet chic Hayes Valley space, seafood is the specialty, but don’t miss chef Gabriela Cámara’s sweet potato dish.
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At In Situ, in the SFMOMA, chef Corey Lee recreates chef Mauro Colagreco’s The Forest, a medley of quinoa risotto, mushrooms and parsley “moss.”
Photo: Eric Wolfinger
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The deviled egg garnished with a deep-fried oyster at Leo’s Oyster Bar in the Financial District.
Photo: Aubrie Pick
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The Tuscan-style pork plate at Hayes Valley’s Little Gem restaurant.
Photo: Brandon Tran
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In the same neighborhood is chef Dominique Crenn’s Petit Crenn.
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1. Alfred’s Steakhouse: Bone-in Rib-eye
After a short closure and a shift in ownership to the Daniel Patterson Group, the 88-year-old Alfred’s Steakhouse reopened this past winter with its hidebound vibe intact, but the steaks now sourced from grass-fed, grain-finished, locally raised cattle. The meat is dry-aged in-house, then seared, as ever, on a mesquite-fired grill. Every cut is a cut above, but theone you really want is the 28-ounce bone-in rib-eye ($70), a flame-crusted, table-tilting Flintstonian number. A steak knife is provided, but the meat is so tender that a fork will probably do. 659 Merchant St., 415.781.7058
2. Belga: Cauliflower and Vadouvan, Raisins & Almonds
It may sound perverse to recommend a vegetable side at a restaurant whose calling card is sausage and beer, but whatever: While the cauliflower ($7) at Belga may not be at the top of its list of attractions, it should be. Maybe it’s the crisp-to-creamy ratio, or how it’s combined with golden raisins and chopped almonds and subtly perfumed with vadouvan, a French interpretation of Indian masala. Whatever the source of its sorcery, it’s a warm, earthy dish that, in an ideal world, would be sold by the pint. 2000 Union St., 415.872.7350
3. Cala: Sweet Potato with Bone Marrow Salsa Negra
Between the taqueria and the upscale cantina lies a vast world of Mexican cuisine. This is the world colonized by Cala, the first stateside project from Gabriela Cámara, a celebrated Mexico City restaurateur. Emblematic of the cooking is the roasted sweet potato ($19), an ostrich-egg-size tuber with sunset-orange flesh and charred black skin, served with coarse sea salt, housemade corn tortillas, and bone-marrow-and-garlic salsa negra. You snag a chunk, sprinkle it with salt and wrap it in a warm tortilla smeared with inky sauce. The combination is faintly reminiscent of a taco, but also not like anything you’ve ever had before. 149 Fell St., 415.660.7701
4. In Situ: The Forest
Corey Lee’s brand-new SFMOMA restaurant is built around a deceptively simple conceit: Its menu is a rotating compendium of dishes from the world’s great chefs, replicated by Lee and his team. But while no one dish can define In Situ, its opening menu is united by surpassing earthiness: Flowers, seaweed, pine needles and pinecones all have a place at the table. Perhaps the best example of such flora-forward dining is Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco’s The Forest ($28): A canopy of black trumpet and chanterelle mushrooms, parsley “moss” and nasturtium leaves, it shelters a Parmesan-cream-endowed quinoa risotto so rich and silky, it could qualify as an aphrodisiac. And if a restaurant can convince us of quinoa’s innate sensuality, then, truly, it can bring us the world. 151 Third St., 415.941.6050
5. Leo’s Oyster Bar: Deviled Eggs with Wing Fried Oyster
At Leo’s Oyster Bar, a stylized homage to the two-martini era, oysters arrive in many iterations. You’ll want at least half a dozen on the half shell. But you’ll also want them on the deviled eggs ($6 per egg). Chef Jennifer Puccio ornaments each of these zesty starters with a deep-fried oyster, providing crisp and briny balance to the creamy, tangy yolks. The result is a cocktail-friendly party starter, a classic appetizer with a welcome twist. A few hours and a few drinks later, the details of the evening might be a blur, but you’ll remember how it began. 568 Sacramento St., 415.872.9982
6. Little Gem: Roast Pork Chef’s Plate
Little Gem targets a market that wants its food made properly and lickety-split—at a reasonable cost; from good ingredients; and free of gluten, dairy and refined sugar. Considering the demands, the Hayes Valley restaurant, which opened in December, does darn well. Particularly appealing is a chef ’s plate of Tuscan-style pork ($19.50), which stars a slab of slow-roasted shoulder, sweet corn succotash and chili lime sauce. is is Cal-Med cooking as it should be, flavorful and unfussy. 400 Grove St., 415.914.0501
7. Petit Crenn: Little Gem Salad with Caper-Anchovy Vinaigrette
For the $87 five-course prix fixe menu she serves at Petit Crenn, Dominique Crenn reaches to her Brittany, France, roots and her grand-mère’s recipes. Everything at the bright Hayes Valley spot is served family-style, and there’s plenty for sharing, but a fight might still break out over the Little Gem salad, which, true to its French tradition, precedes the cheese and the dessert. Brought to the table in a large bowl, it’s a crisp jumble of chopped Little Gem lettuce and roasted beets, tossed in a bracing caper-anchovy vinaigrette. There is no finer salad in the city. If you’d like to lick your plate clean, feel right at home. (The salad can also be ordered a la carte for $20 at the chef ’s counter.) 609 Hayes St., 415.864.1744
8. Volta: Herring Platter
Though the humble herring has become fashionable in certain quarters (read: New York), it’s still a rare breed in these parts. So that’s reason to celebrate Volta, which Staan Terje and Umberto Gibin opened in January: The French-Scandinavian brasserie’s herring platter ($19) is freighted with five variations of delectably fatty fish. You’ll find it pan-fried, pickled, chopped into a beet salad, anointed with mustard-dill sauce and garnished with curried apples, and as matjes (or soused herring). Each accompaniment amplifies the herring’s plentiful charms rather than smothering them, and the fish itself is as supple as a silk glove. Westfield San Francisco Centre, 868 Mission St., 628.400.6200
Originally published in the September issue of Silicon Valley