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Sens and Sensibility

The one and only drawback to Sens, the new restaurant that draws on talent from several trustworthy corners of our local food universe—a general manager and sommelier from Kokkari, chef from Plumpjack Café and pastry chef from Citizen Cake and French Laundry—is getting to it, via an elevator and hallway buried within the promenade level of the mall-ish Embarcadero 4 building. But the location pays off once inside, where your view from the dining room or spacious patio is of swaying palms lined like sentries in front of the iconic Ferry Building.

The southern Mediterranean fare pays off as well, with nods to Greece, Turkey and North Africa. Figs, olives, couscous and lamb abound. My very favorite dish—and we sampled many of them—was the appetizer of lamb meatballs, three herb-laden spheres of ground lamb bathed in cherry tomato mostarda (which tastes like a fruity-spicy chutney) that were by far the best lamb that has entered my mouth this year.


Sens' lamb meatballs; photo by Frankie Frankeny.

The appetizer list also boasts fried olives—a trendy specialty around town these days—and halloumi, thin slabs of slightly salty, grilled Cypriot cheese, which was a hit at our table. Four little grilled riblets of tender lamb drew sighs as well. For entrees I highly recommend the fig-olive stuffed sole, a roulade of seasoned fish tucked around a delicious sweet-savory stuffing.


Shuna Fish Lydon's cumin pot de crème; photo by Frankie Frankeny.

The sweet-savory theme continues with desserts, courtesy of masterful pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon, whose insightful blog features her musings on opening a restaurant and what it’s like to cook for a living. The poached pear with buckwheat cake was autumnal and inventive, and the cocoa cake bathed in dark chocolate sauce with cardamom ice cream was classically satisfying. But the cumin pot de crème was the sweet-and-savory masterpiece of the evening—a light-as-air, slightly buttery custard laced with a hint of cumin and honey and accompanied by a little chopped pile of apples, walnuts and figs. Oh. My. Goodness. How the joys of simple foods do multiply when you mix them well.