Contigo (SF)

I don’t usually think of Spanish food as vegetarian friendly, but when I inquired about the menu at Contigo, the woman who picked up the phone said it would be no problem for not only a vegetarian, but even a vegan. And no advance notice was necessary! With that type of attitude, I couldn’t not go to Contigo with Will.

The restaurant sits in the middle of Noe Valley, flanked by expensive childrens’ apparel stores and expensive pet apparel stores. The space itself is scarcely big enough to contain a large wood-burning oven, the open kitchen, a bar, a few seats, and an outside patio.  Thankfully, the outside patio had heaters and was some-what enclosed, which made our dining experience a lot nicer.

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I started off with a piece of toast with house-cured sardine and a nice bite of olives and anchovies. It was the perfect thing to get me in the mood for the food to come.

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Will had the avocado and pea toast topped with fresh porcini.  The avocado and pea mixture was good enough already, but the porcini sent it over the top.  Can I just sit outside and eat a plateful of that with a glass of Txakoli, please?

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The white gazpacho was similarly great.  It really surprised me because I’m usually lukewarm about gazpacho. This one was creamy, savory, and had those great tart cherries as garnish.

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Next, Will had the chickpeas and spinach, which looked almost like an Indian dish.  They were pretty good and nicely spiced.

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I had the chorizo, chickpeas, and tripe, which is a fairly common Spanish dish.  It was my favorite thing of the night. The tripe was wonderfully tender and the amount of paprika from the chorizo was perfect.  The dish had that wonderful stick-to-your-ribs satisfying taste that only things that are slow cooked for a long time seem to have.

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We also had the patatas bravas which we knew we couldn’t pass up as soon as we saw it on the menu. These were probably the best version of the dish I had ever had. The potatoes were shatteringly crispy on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside. And the sauces! Wow.  I’m drooling just thinking back to that dish.

Is Contigo worth the bus ride into Noe Valley? Yes.  Would I return again? Yes.  Am I sad that there’s nothing like that near me? Yes, but my wallet is happy.

Contigo
1320 Castro Street (at 24th)
San Francisco, CA 94114
415.285.0250

Una Pizza Napoletana

For those living under an empty pizza carton, Una Pizza Napoletana moved from New York to a strange, shrine-like location in San Francisco.  Its cult-like following certainly survived the move as evident from our 30 minute wait just to sit down on a Wednesday night.  It was a good thing we came when we did because a bigger crowd soon developed after we sat.

una pizza napoletana

You might think that the 30 minutes is a perfect time to peruse the menu, but really, all you need is 3 seconds because there are only 5 things to eat on the menu which are combinations of sauce, tomatoes, cheese, smoked cheese, no cheese, and basil. The simple menu reflects the simplicity of the ingredients.

Watching Anthony Mangieri sling dough and skillfully char the almost-cooked pie near the ceiling of his carefully constructed oven is like watching any master craftsmen. They make it look deceptively easy, but I’m sure there are years of experience involved.

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My pizza, a margherita, came out of the oven and went straight into my mouth.  The bubbles of charred crust were shatteringly crisp, while the rest of the crust had the perfect amount of chewiness.  The tomato sauce was perfectly seasoned and perfectly portioned. I hate it when there’s too much sauce on my pizza.  Although the ingredients were as simple as can be, I would include it in my top 5 pizzas of my life.

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A coworker of mine complained that his pizza was burnt.  Maybe we have differing char-scales. I thought my pizza was just the right amount of char: a nice smokey flavor without any of that dry, powdery bitterness of burnt flour.

210 11th St
(between Howard St & Kissling St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
Neighborhood: SOMA
Una Pizza Napoletana

The Slanted Door (SF)

The Slanted DoorFormer president Bill Clinton must be a gourmand because he sure likes to go to tasty restaurants.  One of these restaurants is The Slanted Door in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I found this place after doing a googling for vegetarian-friendly eateries near the Financial district.  The menu for the restaurant made it seem Asian-inspired, which made me a bit worried after trying a few too many bad fusion spots, but the reviews were good so I went anyway.

First off, The Slanted Door is not a cheap place.  Although the waitress had mentioned that they serve family-style where everyone can share everything, the portions were single-portion-sized and the prices were high.  The good news is that most of the food is decent if you’re not too critical of their take on ethnic foods. The BF, our dining companion and I all were fairly pleased with the meal.

We started with rice flour dumplings stuffed with a chopped peanut filling.  The filling tasted like a dry, gritty peanut-butter, which isn’t bad, but is strange.  The skin of the dumplings were sticky, chewy, and satisfying. I’ve had better, but this was pretty good.  I especially liked the citrusy sauce it came with.

The Slanted DoorThe Slanted Door
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clockwise from top left:  oysters, banh xeo, stir fried tofu, turmeric fish

I ordered a half dozen oysters on a half shell, which took longer than I thought it should to arrive.  All of them were fresh and delicious with that wonderful ocean taste. Our dining companion was more of a fan of gulf oysters which I’m told is sweeter but unfortunately weren’t available at The Slanted Door.

Next, we shared the the banh xeo. I believe there’s a vegetarian version, but we ordered the one with pork and shrimp. This was cooked expertly with a hot, crispy outside. The pork was a bit dry and overdone, but the shrimp was okay.  I’ve been so used to eating the vegetarian version that I was surprised when I had a mouthful of meat in one bite.  The meat doesn’t really add much to this dish though, so I’ll probably keep getting the vegetarian variety.

The main for the omnivores was turmeric fish with rice noodles tossed in a pineappple and anchovy sauce.  The fish, halibut, was way overdone, but at least it was spiced well with turmeric and dill.  The sauce was quite tart and sharp, which I really enjoyed.  I just wish that the fish wasn’t so overcooked that it resembled dry chicken breast.  What a waste of a perfectly good piece of fish.

The BF ordered the hodo soy beanery organic tofu.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that it had two different types of tofu: baked and fried.  The dish was bold in flavor with lemongrass and soy, which is great for those who are scared of bland tofu.

We also ordered a dish of stir fried young broccoli, but it was kind of a let down. Anyone can stir fry broccoli with garlic and maggi sauce and charge $10 for it.

Now that I’ve written my thoughts down about the place, maybe it wasn’t as good as I thought.  I do remember leaving it, thinking, “Hey, that was pretty good!” but maybe it was just not as bad as I had feared it would be.  The restaurant is right on the water with large windows everywhere; perhaps the nice ambiance swayed my opinion of the food.  Overall, the restaurant didn’t try too hard to reinvent ethnic dishes but rather just tried to make good food period, which I have to give them credit for.

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building #3
San Francisco, CA 94111