Ask any chef in town—a meatball is an easy sell. At Pizzeria Delfina, the Italian polpette are second only to the restaurant's namesake pizza. Further North at Chotto, a server says the juicy Japanese tsukune are a "must-try." On that note, almost every culture has a meatball, and San Francisco has representatives from more than several camps. Here, a bit of a cultural lesson by way of hand-rolled meat: from fiery Mexican albondigas to pomegranate-speckled Iranian kufteh tabrizi.
Remember the fried wonton strips you used to get for free at Chinese American spots? Or those old fashioned mom-and-pop Italian joints that almost seemed to pride themselves on how much bread and butter they could stuff you with before the meal? For the most part, those days are over. I've heard chefs say so much gratis bread ends up in the trash, it's basically like throwing money away. But when a restaurant does the pre-meal giveaway right, it stays with you long after dinner ends, becoming a very good reminder to go back. Here are some freebies I can't seem to forget.
Last week Nopa’s Laurence Jossel and Nopalito’s Gonzalo Guzman, came down to the Thursday market to pick up a few things on their list including some almond meal and peaches and to see what else was looking good that day. Their car was already packed from earlier visits to both the Berkeley and Marin farmers markets, but with the late summer season in full swing they couldn’t resist a few impulse buys from the Ferry Plaza.
Nopalito, the Mexican-inspired spinoff of Divisadero's ever-popular Nopa, has almost everything its big sister has: a loyal following, tasty food, great reviews...but for the past year, only Nopa has had access to a full bar. Thanks to the ABC, however, Nopalito is no longer the Skipper to Nopa's Barbie: its full liquor offering began yesterday, and unsurprisingly for a Mexican joint, it's almost entirely focused on tequila. Nopa's renowned bartender Neyah White has curated a small but powerful menu of five tasty drinks, including the delicious Diablo ($9), a mix of tequila, ginger beer, and creme de cassis.
No longer in a pre- or post-holiday stupor, we finally feel we've got the clarity to reflect on a year of eating. It took some sifting through our notebooks, some brain jogging, some staring off into space: And then it all came back to us with the shocking clarity that only memories of delicious meals can conjur up. Some of these dishes are from new restaurants, and some from old favorites. Either way, they all defined a moment.
JESSICA'S TOP 10
The other day we braved the crowds loitering outside Nopalito (mostly young, hip, good-looking people, mind you), on Broderick in between Fell and Oak, to get some Carnitas. Yes, Carnitas, that staple of, oh, every single tacqueria and burrito joint in San Francisco. But Nopalito's were supposed to be better, and in fact its entire, authentic Mexican menu was said to be very, very good.
I don't have many restaurant phone numbers programmed into my cell phone (mostly just the few places I'll order ahead from and pick up on the way home), but last night I added Nopalito's number (415-437-0303) and you might want to, too. Because this new little Mexican cantina from the people that brought us Nopa does not take reservations. They will, however, add your name to a list if you call ahead, a boon when the wait on a rainy Wednesday night at 8 p.m. stumbles into the one plus hour territory.
Welcome to our exciting new partnership with Eater. For this weekly Friday column, Eater editor Paolo Lucchesi gives his opinionated report on all the restaurant news that's fit to print, including chef gossip, a bit of PlumpJackin', hot openings, sad closings, and even some Top Chef updates.
1) As the calendar changes, the final tally of all the restaurant closures in the month of January topped 25, so to commemorate the fallen, it was time to take one last look back at those that passed away. Godspeed.