Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

An Ideal Meal 

Assemble your own from a buffet of the year's best dishes

Wednesday, Dec 28 2005
Since the superb editor Adam Moss took over New York magazine, there's been a cute little addition to the restaurant reviews. Tucked into the box at the end of the piece that contains hours and prices is a brief list titled "Ideal Meal," which sometimes sounds ideal indeed ("Organic duck egg or potted suckling pig, hand-torn pasta with crushed tomatoes and anchovies, venison or squab, warm Valrhona chocolate panettone"), sometimes unbalanced ("Tonnarelli with tomato, pancetta, and fresh bay leaves; veal ravioli with Sicilian pistachio sauce; Illy cafe panna cotta"). I would be loath to suggest an ideal meal, not knowing your taste. But at the end of another year of voluptuous grazing, what I would love to do is assemble a huge, Las Vegas-style buffet, from which you could pick and choose your own.

In the starters section, there would be the salty fried olives stuffed with melting fontina cheese from Sociale (3655 Sacramento, 921-3200), and two takes on octopus carpaccio: Brindisi Cucina di Mare's (88 Belden, 593-8000) translucent, briny slices sparked with arugula and chewy black olives, and Winterland's (2101 Sutter, 563-5025) squares of octopus, not actually raw, but blanched, still chewy, dusted with paprika and garnished with Asian pear and crunchy sea beans. And a bowl of Tamal's (1599 Howard, 864-2446) superb tuna seviche with minced mango, peppers, lime juice, soy sauce, and ginger, and a platter of the miniature Dungeness crab empanadas. And some of Ino's (22 Peace Plaza, Miyako Mall, 922-3121) fresh uni. Sea Salt (2512 San Pablo, Berkeley, 510-883-1720) would contribute smoky grilled squid in an habanero and pumpkin seed sauce. Next to them, there'd be a huge dish of Café Bella Vista's (2598 Harrison, 641-6195) silky white anchovies, along with an assortment of seafood salads from Andrew Jaeger's House of Seafood & Jazz (300 Columbus, 781-8222): shrimp rémoulade made with both fried and boiled jumbo shrimp, snowy crab Louis, a tart crawfish salad with olives and capers, and a tangle of briny black seaweed capped with Louisiana caviar. Mamacita (2317 Chestnut, 346-8494) would add petite rounds of cornmeal-crusted local calamari and even smaller discs of jalapeño, nicely fried.

There'd be tureens of beautiful soup: Brindisi's acqua povera, a "poor water" full of rapini, white beans, bright green peas, and chunks of fried bread; Tamal's gazpacho, a thick white almond purée, stiff with garlic and topped with halved green grapes; from Cinderella Bakery and Café (436 Balboa, 751-9690), a delicate spinach soup with hard-boiled egg; Winterland's satiny roasted white corn soup, improved with vanilla oil, flaked Dungeness crab, and huitlacoche; O'Reilly's Holy Grail's (1233 Polk, 928-1233) sweet corn and oyster chowder, with huge oysters and cubes of salty, smoky house-made ham; and from Capannina (1809 Union, 409-8001), the exciting zuppa de lenticche con gamberi e fegato d'oca, a purée of green lentils with whole lentils, prawns, and foie gras.

Bravely (after such an abundance of pottage), there'd be just one salad, but a terrific one: Oola's (860 Folsom, 995-2051) sublime Caesar, a stack of crisp romaine leaves drenched with a bold dressing sharp with anchovies and salty with Parmesan, crowned with slippery white anchovies and oily croutons.

There would be an astonishment of pork (and other meat) products: Jack Falstaff's (598 Second St., 836-9239) twice-cooked pork belly with a salad of frisée with pistachios and julienne of strawberry and rhubarb in balsamic vinegar; Rubicon's (558 Sacramento, 434-4100) chunk of seared foie gras, along with a short-rib terrine, garnished with white asparagus, roasted pear, and horseradish; O'Reilly's Holy Grail's terrine of "crubeens" (shredded pig's feet), set off by bright cabbage slaw and a sharp mustard vinaigrette; Chenery Park's (683 Chenery, 337-8537) braised pork belly graced with plump, sweet muscat grapes. Zuppa (564 Fourth St., 777-5900) would supply a platter of affettati (cured meats): best-quality prosciutto, Milanese salami, speck, coppa, and mortadella studded with pistachios.

Zuppa would also show up in the pasta arena, with trenne con crema de cavolfiore, an unusual dish of homemade short tubular pasta in a rich cauliflower sauce dusted with mollica (bread crumbs). Also Range's (842 Valencia, 282-8283) goat cheese and sorrel-stuffed ravioli under lime butter and snipped chives. And Cinderella's pelmeni, sturdy beef-filled dumplings, in chicken broth, with fresh dill and sour cream. And next to them Shanghai Dumpling Shop's (3319 Balboa, 387-2088) famous soup dumplings, called Shanghai steamed dumplings.

Just a few pizzas: deep-dish sausage from Little Star (846 Divisadero, 441-1118); Rosie's farm egg, nettle, and lamb sausage, from Pizzetta 211 (211 23rd Ave., 379-9880); and a fig, Gorgonzola, roasted onion, and rosemary variety from COCO 500 (500 Brannan, 543-2222).

Are we ready for main courses? How about seafood: There'd be Jack Falstaff's delicate pan-roasted Alaskan halibut covered with bay scallops in a green garlic glaze, atop sautéed peas and pea shoots in a light saffron aioli. Also chewy grilled squid from Kyo-Ya (2 New Montgomery, 546-5090), scored in squares, fragrant with fresh ginger. La Folie (2316 Polk, 776-5577) would furnish plump, juicy sautéed frog's legs with a snowy garlic purée and bright green parsley coulis. There would be amazing lobster and green pea dhosas (crepes) from Tallula (4230 18th St., 437-6722) adorned with lemon beurre blanc. We'd have Louisiana bouillabaisse from Andrew Jaeger's House of Seafood & Jazz, full of tiny black mussels (still in the shell), scallops, oysters, shrimp, squid, crawfish, and slices of okra. There'd be chunks of grilled local wild king salmon dabbed with dill and pine nut pesto from COCO 500, and Range's delightful oven-braised pollock with runner beans, cabbage, and fingerling potatoes in a pancetta-enhanced broth.

Lots o' meat: Capannina's homey lamb stew with pancetta and polenta; Tamal's succulent lamb tenderloin brochetas rubbed with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and coffee; and Salang Pass' (37562 Fremont, Fremont, 510-795-9200) quabili pallow, a pilaf of long-grain brown basmati rice baked with raisins and cardamom and topped with shreds of braised lamb shank and carrots. And Thai House Express' (901 Larkin, 441-2248) kao kao moo, aka "special pork leg stew," anise-scented shredded pork with pickled mustard greens; Winterland's Kurobuta pork duo -- crispy belly cooked "sous vide" then quickly seared, and braised cheeks served with amaranth grains and black pepper jus; O'Reilly's Holy Grail's peat-smoked pork shank, meat falling off the bone, with butter beans and Black Mission figs, with a sticky mustard sauce; Chenery Park's grilled double-thick pork chop with roasted potatoes and escarole sautéed with bacon and strips of sweet, tangy dried apricots; an assortment of El Tonayense's (truck at Harrison and 22nd Street) tacos; and stacks of pork ribs from Bo's Barbecue (3422 Mount Diablo, Lafayette, 925-283-7133), Café Rouge (1782 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-525-1440), and Range.

Three steaks: the massive porterhouse cooked black-and-blue from Alfred's Steak House (659 Merchant, 781-7058), the thick rib-eye "cowboy steak" from Sneaky Tiki (1582 Folsom, 701-8454), and Zuppa's bistecca alla pizzaiola, a very thick bone-in N.Y. covered with a light, fresh sauce of chopped tomatoes, roasted garlic, and Italian oregano. And the House of Prime Rib's (1906 Van Ness, 885-4605) eponymous specialty.

A bit of fowl: La Folie's roti of quail and squab -- the quail sided with a truffled pancake topped with a sunny side up quail egg, the squab sliced to display lacquerlike skin and chocolaty meat around a mushroom stuffing -- and Southern Cafe's (2000 MacArthur, Oakland, 510-261-1404) superb fried chicken.

Sides would include Salang Pass' borani kadoo (sautéed pumpkin flavored with garlic, saffron, and cardamom and sauced with yogurt); Newroz's (3321 Steiner, 931-2023) ezme (a salad of charcoal-grilled eggplant, onions, tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, and garlic); COCO 500's creamed corn with marjoram and smoky paprika; O'Reilly's Holy Grail's colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with chopped kale); Andrew Jaeger's House of Seafood & Jazz's grits topped with crawfish swimming in butter; and DeLessio Market & Bakery's (1695 Market, 552-5559) "ultimate potato gratin."

For dessert? Sfingi -- beignets drizzled with honey, sprinkled with pistachios, and served with vanilla gelato -- from Sociale; Salang Pass' firni (rose water-scented milky pudding); DeLessio's meringue-topped tres leches cake, drenched in custard and sided with strawberries; Chenery Park's lemon pudding cake of divinely melting texture with fresh raspberries; and three soufflés -- Café Jacqueline's (1454 Grant, 981-5565) Grand Marnier, and the Brillat-Savarin and eggnog varieties from Range. I'd also have to include Pizzaiolo's (5008 Telegraph, Oakland, 510-652-4888) Riverdog peach cut in half, roasted in the oven, and served swimming in hot sweetened cream -- one of the best things I've ever eaten.

Alas, neither you nor I would now have room for cheese: I can only say that the best cheese plates I had this year were at Brindisi, Rubicon, and Capannina.

Will next year be as voluptuous? Judging from a dreamlike procession of dishes three of us recently indulged in at Scott Howard (500 Jackson, 956-7040), an ideal meal if there ever was one, 2006 is off to a very bright start.

About The Author

Meredith Brody

Related Locations


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"