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Dinner at Piperade, SF

Melanie Wong | | Jun 10, 2006 11:23 PM

Last Saturday, I had a long overdue first dinner at Piperade. My Spanish culinary consultant was in town and he really wanted to try it. I'll confess that it wasn't my first choice, but despite, my diplomatic efforts to dissuade him, that's where we ended up. At the end of the night, I had to admit that it was a much nicer meal and evening than I'd expected. Plus, it was fun to have his play-by-play explanation of what I was eating and I'm glad I took advantage of that. He liked the place and I was happy too.

We started with a toast of Cava. It was a particularly nice one of Parellada only with very pale hue, lemony scents (without the typical rubbery cava aroma), and a drier, crisper finish. We shared the three most interesting sounding small plates. The txangurro (Dungeness crab salad in the foreground) was the weakest of them. Nothing wrong with it, just lacking in spark and it was the only thing that I probably wouldn't order again.

After that blip, it was off to the races! The warm sheep's milk cheese and ham terrine was as unique and delicious as others have raved about (see Felice's description linked below). Yes, it's quite salty, but the tart/sweet, snappy green apple and frisee salad made an excellent counterpoint. Then the rich and over-the-top meter cranked up with the beautifully seared slab of foie gras sauteed with Monterey calamari, fresh grapes and verjus. It was such a refreshing change for a foie gras dish not to be mucked up with jammy, overly sweet sauces. The foie was pink in the center, charred on the outside and the rendered duck fat enriched the juices mingled on the plate. I could never have imagined that perfectly cooked, tender calamari tubes and tentacles could be so delicious swathed in foie and grape juices. It was a tough decision to not mop up every little drop, but we had to leave room for the rest of our dinner.

For large plates we had the signature piperade and the filet of cod "Donostia" with clam, asparagus and peas. While I wasn't as taken with the piperade, my companion pronounced it a very good version. He commented that the texture of the sweet peppers was spot on and the tomatoes were a subtle and barely perceptible back-note. I loved the perfectly poached cod, just cooked through and barely pulling apart into thick flakes. A very delicate prep, the fresh spring time flavors of the fresh peas and asparagus sang through the sweet clam juices. Spooning up and sipping those fresh briny juices was the best part. My friend said that this was a classic San Sebastian-style preparation.

For dessert, we relied on our waiter's recommendations to order the turron mousse and the warm chocolate cake. The ultra-thin slices of toasted almonds that shingled the top of the mousse were especially amazing. Even in the bites without them, the almond flavor in the mousse was quite remarkable, and deepened even more with the swirl of excellent caramel sauce. The chocolate cake was very nice too, but not as unique. I especially liked the cultured creme chantilly on the side that added a needed tartness to the balance.

We were both impressed with the level of execution of all the dishes. My friend deemed everything quite true to its origins and done well here. He was also impressed by the value here compared to other San Francisco restaurants. For me, the food wasn't exciting, but it was high quality, complete and very satisfying.

Servicewise, we had one blip early on, but after recovering from that small miscommunication, our server was extra attentive. We also got a lot of attention from the busers who conversed with my friend in Spanish. The table next to us was extremely loud and only our desserts were enjoyed at normal noise levels. Still, we enjoyed our meal so much and didn't let that distraction ruin our night.