Antelope (Black Buck Antelope Saddle)

SADDLE of BLACK BUCK ANTELOPE
BIG 4 RESTAURANT

Saddle of Black Buck Antelope, Big 4 Restaurant
Saddle of Black Buck Antelope, Big 4 Restaurant

The Dish: Antelope (Saddle of Black Buck Antelope)

One of the most incredible meals I’ve had in the past year, without question, and probably as good as any meat dishes I have eaten in the past five years. Both times I’ve eaten antelope previously were in Colorado restaurants, so antelope was my de facto choice from the menu of Big 4, which specializes in wild game. The antelope saddle was a perfect medium-rare, and sat upon a small mound of butternut squash puree. Two late fall fruits—a caramelized pear blintz and a generous portion of huckleberry gastrique—were perfect, semi-sweet complements to the meat, and a tossing of crispy plantain chips rode high atop the saddle. The variety of texture (crunchy, chewy, smooth, and juicy) made every bite a palate dazzler. The portion of antelope was appropriate: large enough to graciously satiate.

Caveat emptor: May be available only seasonally.

The Vibe: Big 4 restaurant

Old-school, formal, and opulent in a particularly American manner. Big 4 Restaurant is more of an expense account place, a place for special occasions, a place where you go when you don’t care how much it costs. The service is professional but amiable. All the old carved wood and antique socio-political ephemera along the rear dining room walls make one feel like Teddy Roosevelt could bustle in and drink whiskeys with you at any moment. You can’t create that type of atmosphere; certain places just carry their history in a way that permeates your experience there. And Big 4 is also likely to attract white-haired men with blonde-haired damsels/table candy for discreet meals, and groups of financiers/lawyers to imbibe whatever’s expensive (power lunch, power dinner). The good news is that Big 4 successfully shoulders its heavy hype. My dish was certainly stellar, and I do recommend it highly for the aforementioned occasion/s when money is not an object. Like, for the perfect instance, when someone else is nabbing the bill.

The Grade: Astounding (unforgettable, awesome) 5 out of 5
The Damage: $38
The Skinny: Big 4 Restaurant
in the Huntington Hotel
1075 California St (between Mason / Taylor), San Francisco CA
Executive Chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls
Phone: (415) 474-5400; (415) 771-1140

Website: http://www.big4restaurant.com/


Big 4 at the Huntington Hotel on Urbanspoon

Pork Chop (Town Hall, SF)

Peanut Tasso Crusted Pork Chop – Town Hall, San Francisco CA

Peanut Tasso Crusted Pork Chop, Town Hall, SF
Peanut Tasso Crusted Pork Chop, Town Hall, SF

The Dish: Peanut Tasso Crusted Pork Chop

I’m not a huge peanut fan, to be frank. Peanuts are like the chickens of nuts; you might enjoy eating them, but you probably don’t want to know where they’ve been before entering your mouth. But the peanuts reinforcing the crust of this Town Hall version of the pork chop are well suited. They provide sufficient Southern crunch and a mild, earthy undertone to the smokiness of the tasso (a Cajun dish enhancement staple that has a smoky, cayenne-bolstered pork flavor).

So the pork chop itself comes somewhere betwixt medium and medium-rare, the thick cut pork showing just a blush of pink. The soft, juicy interior’s textural contrast to the nutty, crunchy crust is a balanced counterpoint. It’s one of the best pork chops in San Francisco, to be lauded both for its flavor and its originality.

But another reason for this dish’s power is certainly the crafty selection and rendering of the accompaniments: wonderful, subtle, and smart. Town Hall acknowledges familiar and classic pork partners like fruit and winter vegetables, then reinterprets their presence entirely. Rich, dark apple butter swirls around the plate instead of the expected dollop of baked apple compote. A sprinkling of pomegranate , the crunchy, juicy seeds relating directly to both the sweet apple and the crunchy peanut exterior on the chop. The flavor relationships between the ingredients become as a whole deeper, more vibrant and, somehow, altogether correct, like a symphony. Described on the menu: peanut tasso crusted pork chop, butternut squash, apple butter.

The Grade: Excellent

The Damage: $24

The Skinny: Town Hall, 342 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA

Phone: (415) 908-3900

Website: http://www.townhallsf.com/

Town Hall on Urbanspoon

Rib Eye Steak (Town Hall, SF)

Niman Ranch Rib eye Steak 

Niman Ranch Rib Eye Steak, Town Hall, SF
Niman Ranch Rib Eye Steak, Town Hall, SF

Town Hall, San Francisco CA

As much as we might belabor the point, a truly superior steak is actually far harder to find than it should be. There are a slew of pretty decent steaks out there, but if you consider the steaks you’ve eaten in the past 5 years that sear your memory like grill marks, I’ll bet the farm you won’

t have many to report. I am happy to share, however, that the Niman Ranch rib eye at Town Hall is in that exceptional beast who deserves a place in the pantheon of the best steaks in the San Francisco Bay Area.

With great meat, as the Argentineans will show you, you don’t need to get too fancy. Just honor the beef. Salt, grill, a little gravy, voila.And that’s what Town Hall’s chefs do here, taking a fine (and generously sized) piece of meat from Niman Ranch and, without much gussying up, delivering a stellar dining experience. Perfectly seared hash marks on the outside, enough fat for flavor but not so much that you start getting self-conscious about how much you’re spitting out, and a mild but flavorful gravy/jus that honors the true flavor of the beef. Everyone making steaks in this town should come down and use this as their benchmark.

Seasonal pairings with the rib eye vary. My rib eye came with absolutely fabulous mac-n-cheese croquettes that had a crisp exterior crunch and a hot carbo-cheese interior that ignites the shivering soul.  Mac-n-cheese croquettes? Really, that’s warped enough to be considered visionary. (Maybe it came from somewhere else, but who cares…these are awesome little poppers. And if they don’t come with the rib eye, they’re usually available as a side for $6.)

The last item on the plate offered a shock of fallen green. The verdant broccolini bouquet sat diagonally across the steak like mislaid compass points, or like beautiful flowers resting on a grave after a very focused toss: with the sort of sacred decorum that’s understood in places like Paris, New Orleans, and Buenos Aires but not always everywhere else. But it seems certainly understood, and honored, at Town Hall.

The Damage: $31

The Grade: Exceptional / Awesome (5 out of 5)

The Skinny: Town Hall

342 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA

Phone: (415) 908-3900

Website: http://www.townhallsf.com/

Town Hall on Urbanspoon

Club Sandwich (La Boulange, SF)

Classic Club Sandwich
La Boulange de Hayes

 

Club Sandwich at La Boulange, SF
Club Sandwich at La Boulange, SF

The Dish: Classic Club Sandwich

Well, La Boulange makes one seriously wicked club sandwich. It is downright inspiring. Perfectly crisp, well done bacon, perfectly toasted layers of bread (or “pain de mie”); a ruddy blushing tomato with fresh-picked flavor; crisp tears of cool lettuce; slightly smoky turkey; and, not for everyone but certainly for clubbers, a fair swipe of mayonnaise. In my book, if you hold the mayo, you don’t get the proper club sandwich taste.

I’m a huge club sandwich fan and it’s always a treat to find a place that actually knows how to make them properly. Merci beaucoup pour La Boulange, for their graceful and well-mannered, perfect club sandwich. I highly recommend the Boulange Club.

 

La Boulange, Hayes Valley, San Francisco
La Boulange, Hayes Valley, San Francisco

The Spot: La Boulange de Hayes

Boulange is a cool chain restaurant that feels like a well-built hybrid. It’s part Euro-café: simple, clean, well-lit and always at the ready to serve up tasty, reasonably priced fare. It’s also part Bay Area neighborhood hangout where you can get together with friends or colleagues for a lunch or a low-key business conversation without the risk of coffeehouse craziness and other caffeinated social droppings. The exterior – a hopped-up hospital green – certainly makes Boulange easy to see or, at least, hard to ignore. The service is friendly and reasonably fast, there’s indoor and outdoor seating, and the selection (and tastiness) of pastries is usually too tempting to refuse.

The Damage: $8.50 (comes with small green salad or fries)
The Grade: Exceptional (5 out of 5)
The Skinny: La Boulange de Hayes
500 Hayes Street (between Laguna St & Octavia St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 863-3376
Website: www.baybread.com

More La Boulange on UrbanSpoon

Veal Sweetbreads (Chez Spencer, SF)

Serious Sweetbreads in San Francisco

Veal Sweetbreads, Chez Spencer, SF

Veal Sweetbreads, Chez Spencer, SF
Veal Sweetbreads, Chez Spencer, SF

Like their signature filet mignon capped with creamy morels & truffle butter, the sautéed veal sweetbreads at Chez Spencer are simply over the top. This pheromone-jolting little plate is rich, rich, rich. Not bourgeois rich, not nouveau-riche, but dirty-old-money, we-don’t-look-at-prices rich.

Chez Spencer’s sweetbreads draw that perfect balance of slightly crisp outside and wonderfully chewy within, with sienna brown gravy (sherry wine vinegar and truffle vinaigrette) that’s waiting for a pirouette of torn bread to dance across its muddled floor. The little glands have a fallen ceiling of crisp baby spinach and a big, flat roof of a Parmesan crisp to add a tiny cheese-tang to the mild tang of the sherry wine vinegar. Some of the best sweetbreads in San Francisco, to be sure, and thankfully, they’re a staple on the menu of this little French hideaway where the Mission District meets the even more grungy South Van Ness and 14th Streets.

The Grade: Exceptional (5 out of 5). This is a large appetizer that should be shared, preferably by 3 people.
The Damage: $17
The Skinny: Chez Spencer 82 14th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 864-2191
Website: www.chezspencer.net
Chez Spencer on Urbanspoon

Roasted Lamb Neck (Incanto, SF)

Roasted Lamb Neck

The Dish: Roasted Lamb Neck

(Incanto, SF) Roasted lamb neck with spring veggies and horseradish aioli.

What a fun dish to eat…the waiter came over and instructed the fork flaying technique that pulls the soft meat apart from the bone. It’s a very tasty treat, among the unusual suspects that Chef Chris Cosentino will dole out when the mood and the seasonal availability strikes him. One of the great things about Incanto in SF is that you’ll get great Italian classics and, if you’re feeling adventurous, will always have an odd option on the menu to challenge you as well.

Step 1: Admire this unusual dish from Incanto. Savor the aroma. Be the hunter. Ready the fork. 

Roasted Lamb Neck, Incanto restaurant, SF CA
Roasted Lamb Neck, Incanto restaurant, SF CA

Step 2: Flay the fork points and dig into the meat. Mix with spring veggies for perfect bites.

Roasted Lamb Neck, step 2: Flay open with fork spears
Roasted Lamb Neck, step 2: Flay open with fork spears

Step 3: Continue De-Forkation 

Roasted Lamb Neck: deforkation of the meat
Roasted Lamb Neck: deforkation of the meat

Step 3: Admire the Carcass / Remains

 

Ah, Neck Bone. Roasted Lamb Neck Bone!
Ah, Neck Bone. Roasted Lamb Neck Bone!

The Grade: Excellent

The Skinny: Incanto

1550 Church Street, San Francisco CA 

Phone: (415) 641-4500

Website: http://www.incanto.biz/

Hours: 5_30 – 10pm, Wednesday through Saturday; 5_30 = 9:30pm Sunday and Monday evenings. 10 am – 2pm Sunday brunch. Closed Tuesdays.

Incanto on Urbanspoon

Meaty Pasta: Pork Ragu Pappardelle

Pork Ragu Pappardelle

Incanto – San Francisco CA

Pork Ragu Pappardelle, Incanto restaurant, SF CA
Pork Ragu Pappardelle, Incanto restaurant, SF CA

The Dish: Pork Ragu Pappardelle

Any meaty pasta that Chris Cosentino and company at Incanto prepare will likely be among the best pastas you’ll eat in San Francisco. The wide, flat pappardelle noodles are house-made fresh, and the meat sauce is simply awesome. Full of flavor and slightly chunky, the walloping dallop of pork ragu makes  a great, hearty meal. 

The Skinny: Incanto

1550 Church Street, San Francisco CA 

Phone: (415) 641-4500 

Website: http://www.incanto.biz/

Hours: Dinners only, Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays)

Incanto reviews on UrbanSpoon

Incanto on Urbanspoon