We could get into a heated argument about which came first: the restaurant or the neighborhood name. But there is no denying the importance of Nopa the restaurant on the city's dining spectrum, and the absolute joy that is spending an evening in the bustling the dining room, the handsome bar, or upstairs in the quieter mezzanine. Whether you are or aren't such a fan of the Divisadero corridor's obvious gentrification since the restaurant's 2009 opening, there is no doubt that it has had a profound impact on why the area looks like it does now and the direction it's going.
If you've ever tried to nab a reservation here, you know it's a challenge. Choosing what to order from Laurence Jossel's California-Mediterranean menu is even more of a challenge. His longtime standards are still there for a reason, yet you always are tempted by the new season-driven offerings.
Then there is the vegetarian standout that merges the two together. It changes its produce components by the season. It also is a Nopa standard that has been on the menu since Day One. Jossel's Moroccan vegetable tagine ($19) is manages to be comfort food while also being light and fresh. It's a dish that vegetarians crave but is vibrant and meaty to the point that a devout carnivore would drop the famous Nopa burger and take more than their share of the various vegetables.
With cumin, coriander, and fennel leading the way, the spices lend an alluring taste that shows signs of being a real kicker but then are calmed by the dollop of lemon yogurt. Everything is in beautiful balance.
The real keys are the vegetables themselves. Fingerling potatoes, cauliflower, and carrots will always be part of the equation. The rest of the vegetables rotate by the time of year. Being the start of spring, current farmers market stars spring onions and artichokes are added along with broccoli. Baked and then boiled, the vegetables are delicate and tender without ever being mushy. Some of the vegetables are bright. Some are a bit sweeter while the artichokes provide the most vibrant element from their silky texture and slightly sour profile.
The dish is served in the tagine's bowl (sadly without the tagine's hat), with green olives, toasted almonds, mint, cilantro, harissa, and the aforementioned yogurt as garnish. Pair with the restaurant recommended dry red like a Tempranillo and the hard day of work earlier fades away. Be warned, there tends to be a battle at the table for the toasted almonds.
On a street where the only constant is change, this dish offers the best of both worlds.
560 Divisadero, 864-8643.