Friday, March 28, 2008

Dinner at Sodini's in North Beach

There are certainly quite a few options for Italian dining in North Beach, and Sodini's on Green Street is a perfect choice if you want a tasty dinner featuring huge portions of food and authentic and fresh ingredients, as well as a cozy, dimly-lit ambiance with red and white checkered tablecloths, lots of candles, huge bottles of vinegar and wine for decoration, and Sinatra or Sinatra-esque tunes in the background. The menu features abotu 10 antipasti including gooey and delicious cheese bread and steamers (you can choose clams or mussels) cooked in a white wine broth and served with garlic bread, as well as lots of varieties of pastas with various sauces, meat entrees including a gorgeous Pepper Steak and Chicken Alla Sodini (grilled chicken topped with ham, mozzarella and cream sauce served with linguine alla casa), and lots of pizza options. The wine list is fairly short but certainly covers all the bases. I had a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa which was crisp and tasty. Others had the same as well as a delicious and velvety Valpolicella. We started with the Bruscetta, which is six large and nicely toasted pieces of bread covered with heaping portions of diced tomatoes mixed with garlic, basil and olive oil. The garlic flavor was quite strong but everyone enjoyed the start to the meal. Per usual, I had the Chicken Caesar Salad for my entree. It's probably enough for 2 to 3 hungry folks. Heaps of crisp romaine lettuce are topped with a generous amount of Parmesan cheese and large, moist chunks of grilled chicken breast. The dressing is delicious and I enjoy that there are anchovies in the dressing as it adds that distinct rich and nutty flavor without having the filets directly in the dish. Others had the special of the day, which was Grilled Prawns with Linguini in a pesto sauce, and Tortellini Con Pesto, or beef-filled tortellini in a creamy basil and garlic sauce. The rich, verdant green in the sauces was appealing and the flavors were all delicious. There wasn't much beef in the tortellini but the creamy cheese inside was flavorful and even a bit piquant. All in all a casual and enjoyable meal in a true North Beach institution.


510 Green Street in San Francisco

Thursday, March 27, 2008

$1 Oyster Happy Hour

Hog Island in the Ferry Building is a bright and cheerful space on the water side of the building with a somewhat simple but delicious menu. Offerings includes several salads, a gorgeous grilled cheese sandwich made with Cow Girl Creamery's Mezzo Secco, a cave-aged Gruyere as well as Fromage Blanc, a few varieties of baked oysters and of course the lovely selection of raw oysters. Perhaps the best time to go is for happy hour which occurs on Mondays and Thursdays between 5 and 7p.m. and whereby a select variety of oysters are offered for $1 each. Each time I have been lately the variety is Sweetwaters, which are wonderfully small and purely briny - almost no creaminess at all. The oysters really impart that special breath of the sea. Also on special and to go with the oysters is beer on tap for $3.50. I usually pair the bivalves with Honig Sauvignon Blanc which is one of the bottles on the wine list under $30. The crispness of the wine balances perfectly with the smooth and succulent oysters. The venue gets fairly crowded for happy hour but you can put your name down on the sign in sheet and hang out at a spot nearby and the waitstaff will come and find you. The happy hour is really something to look forward to on a Monday, and is a great way to start out your Thursday evening as well. Hope you stop by and enjoy.

Hog Island

One Ferry Building, 11A in San Francisco

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tapas at Bocadillos

Bocadillos, Gerald Hirigoyen's casual and warm tapas spot between the Financial District and North Beach, is a great spot to pop into and relax and unwind while enjoying a nice glass of wine and a few small plates. The menu is a nice range of bites to more hearty dishes and ranges from delicious fried Fish Sticks to Oxtail "Tempranillo" to Warm Octopus with confit potatoes and piquillos. Several of us stopped by before going to a play in the Financial District and really enjoyed the meal and the ambiance. The space is small with a bar area toward the rear and sturdy, wood tables sprinkled throughout. The vibe is rustic yet inviting and the warm-colored walls and dim lighting add to the mood nicely. The wine list is interesting and well-suited for the food. I had a nice dry white wine from the RĂ­as Bajas which is in the region of Galicia. The nose was nicely floral and on the palate the wine was crisp and refreshing. For food, we started with Seared Ahi Tuna with a citrus salad and avocado relish. The tuna was perfectly rare and the citrus notes really complemented the briny fish. We also had 18 month Serrano Ham, Patatas Bravas with a creamy and delicious romesco sauce, a Mixed Fields Greens Salad with sherry vinaigrette, and Chilled Prawns with "Huevos Diablo," guindillas and pimenton. I particularly enjoyed the prawns atop the deviled eggs which had a gorgeous, smooth and slightly spicy flavor. At $2.50 each they are a steal. The Patatas Bravas were crisp and delicious as well and instead of the usual cubed shape the potatoes were cut into substantial slices which worked well in the dish. One item we didn't get but that I can't wait to try is the Fried Brussel Sprouts with serrano ham and pears. Brussel sprouts are so wonderful when cooked properly and I think it's great they have appeared on many menus in the area. There is also a choice of around 8 sweet dishes which include Warm Chocolate Cake with banana ice cream, Kefir Yogurt with huckleberry compote, and Macaroons 'Luzien' with pistachio ice cream. If you haven't had a chance to try Bocadillos yet I hope you make an occasion to stop by and enjoy the warm ambiance and tasty treats.

710 Montgomery Street in San Francisco

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brunch at Luna Park

On a recent sunny and warm Sunday a nice set of folks and I dined at Luna Park for brunch. We arrived somewhat on the early side for brunch and the place was already buzzing with folks in the mood for some tasty food and drink. The ambiance at Luna Park is casual, comfortable lively with bright red table- and bartops, exposed brick walls adorned with funky prints and paintings, lively light fixtures and a peek into the kitchen in the back of the space. This day the doors and windows in the front of the restaurant were open and the lovely day was able to be at least partially enjoyed even while inside. We settled in and everyone was immediately happy with the menu as it ranges from breakfast staples to more lunchy items as well as fun dishes such as goat cheese fondue. Brunch drinks are fairly pricey at $8 a pop but most folks had at least one mimosa or similar drink. The orange juice was ok but definitely was not freshly squeezed. I had the Cobb Salad which is a hearty mix of mixed greens, chopped tomatoes, chunks of chicken breast seasoned with rosemary, sliced avocado, tasty crumbles of bacon and chopped hard-boiled egg. The dressing is mildly creamy and tasty with a velvety texture and rich flavor reminiscent of the avocado in the dish and is well-seasoned with salt and pepper. Others opted for dishes including the French Toast, Monte Cristo, Salmon Hash, Nicoise Salad, Chilaquiles and Steak and Eggs. Everything was delicious. The French Toast was especially decadent and came with winter berry compote and mascarpone cream. It was likely a small dinner later that day for those who indulged in that menu item. I have had the Nicoise Salad many times for dinner at Luna Park and the dish is the same for brunch and certainly still quite a nice meal. The salad features mixed greens topped with rare seared tuna slices, potato, fresh green beans, tomato, olives and chopped hard-boiled eggs all lightly dressed with a vinaigrette dressing. The Chilaquiles were a big hit as well. The dish includes fried tortillas with spinach, tomato, beans, avocado and eggs. The eggs were well cooked and the flavors combined well. All in all a successful start to a lovely Sunday for sure.

Luna Park
694 Valencia Street in San Francisco

Monday, March 3, 2008

Late Night Eats in North Beach

North Beach is most certainly a great neighborhood for a host of reasons, including the large number of fun and interesting venues to spend time in and explore. So, it's not uncommon to find yourself in the neighborhood at a later hour and not having eaten dinner yet. There are numerous options as far as late-night dining goes, and a tasty one, if you don't mind sometimes large crowds and loud music in the background, is Mojito Cafe. The venue is located in the heart of North Beach on Grant Avenue. It's a fairly small space with a long bar and a space for music and dancing. The ambiance is definitely that of a bar versus a restaurant, and the wall behind the bar features some funky and certainly different art and other items to capture attention in case your eyes wander a bit. The menu is just what it should be - a nice range of types of items, all of which are satisfying and fairly easy to eat - and it's served nightly until 1 a.m. Options include a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, a selection of Sliders, a hearty plate of Nachos, and Chicken Two Ways. Everything is made to order so you can customize as best suits. The Chicken Two Ways features tender and moist chunks of dark-meat chicken, three large and nicely spiced chicken legs and celery sticks all served with a rick, creamy ranch dip. It's a nice burst of protein for sure. The nachos come with the usual fixings and feature large and quite crisp tortilla chips which add the perfect textural contrast to the various dips and toppings. In particular, the guacamole that is included is seasoned well and thick and creamy. You can dine at the bar or at one of the few small tables that adorn the borders of the restaurant.

Mojito Cafe
1337 Grant Street in San Francisco