In the industry, it's widely known that chefs put a lot of items on the menu that they don't necessarily get a kick out of making anymore. These are the nachos, tuna tartares and flatbreads of the world. Without a doubt, they are the menu staples, and they certainly do please a whole hell of a lot of people. But while you're happily digging into something cheesy and easy to make (at least for a pro cook), the chef is getting his thrills by putting a few more adventurous, unexpected dishes on the menu. Think chicken foot skewers, whole braised fishes and—gasp—lamb chops at an Indian dosa restaurant. I asked chefs at some of the more popular spots around town what they wish you'd order, even though you really just want the nachos. Give these dishes a shot. You might just learn something.
At Dosa, it's no surprise diners gravitate towards the Indian restaurant's namesake classic dosa filled with mashed spiced potatoes, onions and cashew nuts. Owner Anjan Mitra really wishes people would may a little more attention to the kitchen's free-range lamb chops with lemon rice and raita. "It's a very traditional preparation with wonderfully complex flavors," says Mitra. "I try to introduce it to customers and it's always a wonderful surprise to first-timers."
At SoMa's Coco 500 the top-sellers are beer battered fried green beans and the beef mole tacos. Manager Sadao Nelson says, "The dish that I wish more people would order is our oven roasted whole fish. The fish is so good because of the Siracusa-style seasoning with roasted onions, lemon, herbs, olives. It's also a great presentation, deboned tableside."
Absinthe in Hayes Valley serves more French onion soup and soft garlic pretzels than anything else. What does chef Adam Keough wish people woud notice? The salt-baked salmon with sauce grebiche on the brunch menu. "It's a very old cooking technique," says Keough. "It results in a very moist and delicious flavored fish."
At the Marina's Umami, chef Sam Josi says the most popular dishes are "hands down" the kobe sliders, edamame hummus and the buttercup roll. "Perhaps its a coincidence but those are also probably the three least authentic things we serve. As long as our customers are happy, so are we, but it would be nice to see some customers branch out into the more authentic stuff such as our weekly special sushi options coming in straight from Japan. Think gizzard shad, black-throat bass, red grouper and conger eel. On the hot menu, we just added a bacon-mochi fritter with shishito peppers. It's an idea I brought back straight from one of my favorite izakayas in Tokyo. That's as japanese as you can get."