By FAITH WHEELER
It comes as no surprise that San Francisco has the most restaurants per capita — about 39.5 per 10,000 households, according to the U.S. census. No other city comes close. New York is fourth.
As a result, we’ve become restaurant news junkies, always trying to keep up with the hottest new places rather than honoring old favorites. Restaurant-going has become as much about fashion as Fillmore’s many boutiques, with diners vying for boasting rights on the reservations they’ve snagged.
As a restaurant consultant for more than 25 years, I am often asked where to eat. First I list all of the newest, toughest reservations. Then I send them to the neighborhood — because strong signature items will always persevere, and we have in our midst some timeless go-to dishes that can easily keep pace with any new arrival.
To that end, here are five of my favorite tastes at local spots. They never disappoint — and are very likely still to be on the menu when you look for them next time.
Steak Frites at Florio (1915 Fillmore). Florio just hits the spot. On a cloudy day it’s cozy. On a sunny day it’s clubby. The lighting is perfect, the noise level just right. It’s as if you’ve been transported to Europe and the owner knew just what you wanted to eat. While the menu can change frequently, one thing remains the standout: the Hangar Steak Frites. The steak is sliced thickly, juicy with a nice charred edge and subtle salted seasoning, fanned on the plate at the peak portion size, with a big tangle of crispy thin French fries and the positively perfect retro touch: a side of bearnaise. A little watercress will remove your guilt for a split second between bites of beef, egg yolks and butter. Forget your resolution to eat healthily and order an icy cold martini.
Green Juice and a Cheddar Chive Biscuit at Jane (2123 Fillmore). Jane is always packed, so it’s usually best to take the food with you. That is exactly the reason to pop by for the green smoothie and cheddar chive biscuit. It’s a great way to start the day: with something naughty and something nice. The green smoothie with kale, spinach, cucumber, green apple, agave and lemon juice can also be loaded with a banana and ginger. It’s a meal in a cup. Before juicing became de rigueur, Jane had me convinced this was almost a milkshake with all good things. Add the savory biscuit, which is buttery, flaky and cheesy, with a sprinkle of ham on the weekends. The yin and yang of your morning just improved several notches as the angel sips the green juice and the demon marvels at the cheesy cheddar morsels.
BBQ Shrimp ‘n Grits at 1300 on Fillmore (1300 Fillmore). Comfort food never goes out of style. While it’s fun to experiment and get all gastro-molecular, nothing beats a good bowl of grits with perfectly plump, grilled shrimp in a classic Southern BBQ sauce — made with wine, garlic, cream and Worcestershire, not ketchup. The chef’s secret to the grits is using Anson Mills for their gritty mouth feel and boiling them in milk. At the Sunday gospel brunch, pair the dish with a rum drink and you’re in New Orleans. While singers belt the blues your creamy grits evanesce, and when all that’s left are shrimp tails, you’ve found yourself a ritual.
Quiche Lorraine at Chouquet’s (2500 Washington). Chouquet’s is such a sweet addition to the neighborhood because the servers are always so aim-to-please. And, while experimentation is encouraged through the myriad of daily specials, the bellringer is the quiche. It’s a deep-dish, peppery slice of silken egg custard, tangy gruyere and ample chunks of ham — on the days the du jour is Lorraine — all housed in a flaky puff pastry. A mustardy mound of mesclun is on the side. Sit outside with a glass of Sancerre and your French-born waiter and you’re in the 7th. Recently when the oven was temperamental, the server — also a chef — whipped up a first class, dark chocolate mousse. Let’s hope it becomes a standard. C’est parfait.
Ceviche at Fresca (2114 Fillmore). When Fresca first opened, Peruvian cuisine was not so popular with local palates, nor was it widely understood that Peruvian food incorporates Asian flavors. Initially, imagining pimenton and ponzu sharing a plate sounded like fusion, not knowing their authenticity would have them dancing together in unison. All of the ceviches at Fresca are delicious, but the two versions featuring tuna — Ceviche Chifa and Ceviche de Coco — are the standouts. Sushi grade, big eye tuna cut in poker dice-sized cubes takes on either Asian or tropical overtones. The Chifa is balanced with crunchy peanuts, wonton crisps, sesame and avocado in an aji limo ponzu; the Coco with coconut jalapeño milk, cashews, jicama and fresno chili. Both are equally appealing. Get a sampler of four if only for the additional plantain chips.
While some kids on the block might be asking one another where they’ve been lately, forging one-upmanship, you will find me close by dipping my fries in bearnaise and lapping up that very last grain of hominy. It’s an easy choice to make.
Faith Wheeler is creator of Jaded Palate Productions.
Filed under: Food, Drink & Lodging