Mi Almita

 

Alta

Eat This Now

By Virginia Miller

At any given time, it’s easy to find the makings of culinary greatness all over the Bay Area, but once in a while, something really jumps out and gets our attention—dishes or menus that are downright fantastic, from SF to Napa. Here are eight of our favorites to make a beeline for right now.

Mi Almita at Mina Test Kitchen’s Pato en mole de Higos
We love Houston—and so does Michael Mina. His seventh pop-up, Mi Almita (or “my little soul”), launched in August, a collaboration between Mina and one of Houston’s great chefs, the James Beard Award-winning Hugo Ortega. This is one of MINA Test Kitchen’s best concepts yet. And it’s one of the most affordable, too, at merely $39 for a five-course menu, plus supplemental dishes and a stellar drink menu of agave spirits and Mexican wines. Whether it’s chef Ortega’s signature ceviche trio (from his Houston restaurant Caracol) or an earthy-sweet huitlasquites corn soup, the menu is a journey around Mexico with vibrant California-meets-Texas spirit. Then there is the Pato en mole de Higos—crispy duck in fig mole. Spiced and succulent, the duck is accented by sweet potato purée and fresh figs. The pop-up will just be around a few months, so don’t miss it.
Neighborhood: Marina MAP

Solbar’s Potato Gnocchi Pomodoro
A stay at an Auberge resort is always luxuriously pampering, and at the Solage, an Auberge Resort off Silverado Trail, this is certainly the case. Their restaurant, Solbar—set poolside, under a white light–strewn patio—recently brought on new chef Massimo Falsini from Rome, who garnered a Michelin star at Harry’s Bar Roma. (Solbar has been Michelin star–rated eight times.) Falsini is breathing fresh life into the menu with the likes of heirloom tomato salad swimming in cashew butter and basil coulis, and agretti (an Italian herb dubbed “land seaweed”) with Jimmy Nardello peppers, jamón Ibérico and baked buffalo ricotta. His classic Italian pastas take you on a quick flight to Italy from Napa Valley. Don’t miss the divine purity of his potato gnocchi pomodoro in San Marzano tomato sauce, lush with Tomales Bay’s Ramini buffalo mozzarella.
Neighborhood: Calistoga, Napa Valley MAP

The Reubenesque sandwich at City Counter (photo credit: Kassie Borreson)

City Counter’s Reubenesque Sandwich
Opened in May in the heart of the Financial District, City Counter is a dream of a lunch spot, partially inspired by historic Woolworth’s lunch counters and founder Harper Matheson’s favorite luncheonettes when she lived in NYC. Housed in SF’s gorgeous art deco Standard Oil building, it’s a place regulars can fill up on farm-fresh roasted carrots over charred eggplant spread or “counter dips” like artichoke pepperoncini scooped up with Acme rye crisps. The menu rotates but the vegetarian Reubenesque has been on since day one, pleasing meat-eaters and vegetarians alike with smoked beets, sharp Cheddar, pickled cabbage, and "counter sauce" which is a house-made garlic aioli on toasted rye.
Neighborhood: Financial District MAP

Alta’s Monterey squid porridge
Opened this spring in the vibrant artist community of the Minnesota Street Project, chef Daniel Patterson’s new Alta (the second; a third on the way in Oakland) realizes the concept in a whole new way with Dogpatch ease, low proof cocktails on draft, and communal tables. Chef Matt Brimer goes elevated with casual California dishes, showing off the likes of Santa Rosa plums in a vibrant, cool gazpacho. But some dishes transcend the seasons, like the ultimate gourmet comfort of Monterey squid porridge, a bowl of squid ink koshikari rice brightly accented by spring peas, preserved lemon, and Fresno chiles.
Neighborhood: Dogpatch MAP

El Paseo’s Double Bone-in Pork Chop
El Paseo’s magical multi-room space, off a hidden brick alley in the charming town of Mill Valley, dates all the way back to 1948. With its rock star ownership (Sammy Hagar), there is change afoot this fall: new chef Todd Shoberg, who helmed the kitchen at Mill Valley’s excellent Molina. He’s bringing new life to El Paseo’s romantic, one-of-a-kind space in the form of a salt-soaked stone fruit and heirloom tomato salad or Mexican tarragon tomato sorbet post-dinner. But it really is all about that double bone-in pork chop. Massive and meaty, the chop is contrasted by roasted figs, hunks of Pt. Reyes blue cheese, grilled purplette onion, and mustard greens, drizzled in sweet, unctuous Saba vinegar.
Neighborhood: Mill Valley, Marin County MAP

Beef and Cheese at Top Round

Top Round Roast Beef’s beef and cheese sandwich
Recalling American childhood (you could call it a glorified Arby’s), Top Round Roast Beef opened in the historic, vibrant orange Discolandia Records space at the end of August, bringing nostalgic roast beef sandwiches, fried chicken sandos, hot dogs, frozen custard, and curly fries to the Mission. This is old-school, quality fast food with hand-cut fries fried in beef fat, 100% pure beef free of additives, and the chicken is hand-breaded and fried crispy. In fact, it's the first SF location of LA-based chef Steven Fretz and team’s mini-chain. Their Chicken “Cali” (lettuce, tomato, avocado, ranch, sesame bun) is one of the menu’s best items, while classic roast beef sandwiches run the gamut from horseradish to blue cheese versions. But don’t miss their classic “beef and cheese,” meltingly good in a house-made cheese “wiz” and house round sauce, on a soft onion bun.
Neighborhood: Mission MAP

Khamsa’s basteeya
A Mission newcomer this August in yet another new condo building, Khamsa is a sunny destination—with Moroccan lamps and tiles plus a cozy patio—featuring Moroccan specialties, like tagine in vegetarian, fish, and meat forms. Basteeya remains one of Morocco’s classics, and Khamsa’s version gratifies with the right sweet-savory balance. Encrusted in a flaky phyllo pastry, a mix of shredded chicken, almonds, onions, and eggs is a study in flavor and texture contrasts, the pocket dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. If you have more of a savory than a sweet tooth, this meaty-sweet “pie” would be your ideal dessert.
Neighborhood: Mission MAP

Sutro’s at the Cliff House’s house-smoked scottish salmon
A legend since the 1800s that counted even Mark Twain as a diner, Cliff House is pure San Francisco history. It’s upscale side, Sutro’s, boasts dramatic views jutting out over the crashing waves of the Pacific. Now that owner and chef Ralph Burgin—a German native who has cooked from London to SF—is back in the kitchen, you can taste it on the plate, whether in the bright garlic-zucchini-yellow tomato coulis over heirloom tomato carpaccio, or the gently tart frozen lemon souffle for dessert. His house smoked Scottish salmon surprises with a touch of brown sugar. The subtle sweetness contrasts beautifully with horseradish crema, sweet dill mustard, pickled shallots, fennel, and friseé.
Neighborhood: Sea Cliff MAP

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