Although I don't envision "In Praise of Sardines" as a restaurant review blog, per se, from time to time I can't help but shout the praises of restaurants I've visited that I particularly liked. This past week I went to a pair of restaurants in San Francisco's Mission District that I feel are especially worthy of a mention.
I have to admit it took me a while to warm up to Limón, the most hyped of the wave of Peruvian/Nuevo Latino restaurants that have swept over San Francisco's dining scene in the last few years. I think my hesitation to embrace the likable Limón stemmed from my fondness for another Nuevo Latino restaurant at the other end of Valencia street, Alma. I was acquainted with Alma's chef, Johnny Alamilla, and I could see that the restaurant was struggling, especially with the increased competition from the newly relocated, grander and sexier version of Limón. Now, with Alma's unfortunate recent closure and Johnny's departure to Tahoe, I thought it was time to revisit Limón and see it through fresh, unbiased eyes.
I'm finally ready to jump on the Limón bandwagon. Even in the original location on 17th Street, I had loved the uplifting palate of lime and tangerine splashed on the walls, cheery colors that almost demand that you loosen up and look on the bright side of life. In the new location, a loft-like space reminiscent of the original Slanted Door that used to be just down the block, the owners wisely retained the same palate and added gorgeous dark mahogany floors to create a festive, lounge atmosphere.
Everything my friends and I ordered from the menu was perfectly prepared and incredibly tasty. We started in the front lounge area with a refreshing pitcher of sangria, that citrusy, chilled red wine drink that I always manage to avoid when I'm in the sweltering heat of Spain but am oddly only too happy to slurp down in the icy fog of San Francisco. After we moved to our table, we dug into a fresh and lively tasting platter of four of the signature ceviches. Unlike many ceviches I've endured, each one of Limón's was lightly kissed with lime and other seasonings at just the last minute, enhancing rather than overwhelming the seafood's flavor and texture.
All of our meaty entrées--the pork chop (chuleton carlitos), the top sirloin (lomo saltado), and the rib-eye (churrasco a la parilla)--were equally juicy, tender and flavorful, so I could not name a favorite. Well, maybe because it's so difficult to find a well-prepared pork chop, I'd recommend the chuleton. Our desserts were good, but not particularly memorable (OK, maybe I had too much sangria to remember what we had).
I was inspired to visit the newest Mission hot-spot, Range, after reading a letter from the chef, Phil West, to Sam Breach posted on her blog, Becks & Posh. He mentions that he uses a lot of my favorite local organic farms (including Mariquita and Happy Quail Farms) as sources for his ingredients, so my wife, N, and I paid them a visit this week.
For the most part, we enjoyed everything we ate there. We started with an unusual sounding hamachi sashimi with avocado and cantaloupe (good, but even better with the addition of a touch of salt, making me wonder why I don't carry a container of my favorite Maldon sea salt with me for emergencies) and the bay scallop "diablo," a voluptuously creamy gratin that the chef apparently learned in New Orleans. Both of these appetizers tasted even better when paired with a glass of one of my favorite white wines, a Rías Baixas from Galicia in western Spain, which is made from the albariño varietal. The Rías Baixas served at Range, a 2003 from Morgadío, was one of the best I've tasted: round and creamy, incredibly aromatic, yet acidic enough to cut through the richness of the scallop dish.
Our next courses included a particularly well-prepared pork shoulder, always a must-order for me when I see it on a menu, and a venison salad, listed as an appetizer. All of the desserts at Range sounded tempting, which is a feat in itself, but we eventually settled on a pistachio waffle with caramel ice cream, a chocolate custard and huckleberries. It was a fun and satisfying end to a good meal that showed that Range has the potential to evolve, like Limón already has, into a destination restaurant.