I'm always at a loss in SoMa. I live in old, creaky Mission, and something about the ultra-new, industrial, metal-on-cement restaurants and hotel bars in SoMa don't appeal to me. Frequently, though, I have to meet people there, and try to find something I like.
My go-to has been Pazzia; the prices are reasonable, service is friendly enough, and I like the sausage pizza and some of the pasta dishes. Lately I've strayed a bit.
B Restaurant was suggested by a friend. Short review: food was good, happy hour 'small bites' were good values, and the setting is nice (in Yerba Buena gardens), though the place was completely empty when we went there, on a Wednesday night I think.
The small bites we tried were great--little pieces of shrimp on toast, some truffle fries. We also split a hamburger, which was just OK--I had just had my very favorite hamburger (from Slow Club) the other day, and this wasn't as flavorful, probably in part because I was splitting with a pregnant woman and had to get it well done instead of my prefered medium rare. Also to start, I had a couple of Marin Miyagi oysters that were fresh and lovely.
We both liked the cocktails menu, which features lots of fresh juices; my friend had one with the alcohol left out. I should have asked for double, but didn't. I'd return, though the atmosphere would be more enjoyable with fellow diners.
Zuppa was also weirdly dead. I liked the food, which is Italian-focused. The pre-dinner focaccia was served with ricotta drizzled with a bit of oil and pepper, a nice touch. We shared house-made sausage as an antipasti, followed by two pasta dishes: pappardelle alla ligure and spaghetti with wild mushrooms. The spicing of the sausage wasn't aggressive enough for my taste: I like a punch of garlic, or fennel, or whatever.
The pasta portions were huge, perfect for my friend, who is about to run a marathon. Under normal circumstances, I think we could have split one portion of pasta and one antipasta and been full. My spaghetti was perfectly cooked, with lots of mushrooms. It was a bit heavy and creamy for my taste.
Before visiting Zuppa, my favorite Italian places in San Francisco were Incanto, La Ciccia, and Ideale, and that won't change--the food they're doing seems a bit more sophisticated than what I found at Zuppa. But it was a pretty decent meal, and I didn't regret it. Unlike...
Orson. We walked by Orson on the way to Zuppa, and at the end of our meal I suggested that we mosey over for desserts and cocktails. Because we are city ladies, and why not?
We reviewed the extensive, eclectic drink and dessert menus (there are about 12 unique creations on each) and settled on two desserts and two drinks. The dessert menu includes two categories, "naughty" (very small bites for about $5) and "nice" (larger portions for about $10).
From the "naughty" side, we ordered "The Chocolate Orb," which included chocolate cereal, banana, and cardamom milk. The taste was ok, a bit like the last bit of cereal left in the bowl, but the portion was so miniscule it was almost ridiculous.
From the "nice" side, we ordered "The Invisible." Basically, it is almond, bergamot and truffle, with all the colors removed; it's the second picture on this page (http://www.orsonsf.com/dessert.html).
I like all manner of nasty bits: hoof, snout, intestine, cheek. The "Invisible" was probably the only thing I've eaten that has disgusted me. Best description I can muster: it was like astronaut ice cream coated in mucus.
I just got a shot of Woodford bourbon, which did me fine. My friend ordered a cocktail, but what she ordered wasn't what she got. We didn't figure this out until the check came, because each drink has about eight ingredients, so it was hard to determine what the right cocktail should be.
Service was weird. One server placed our silverware, then another came to move the fork and spoons to opposite sides. My friend didn't like her cocktail and finished about half; each of us tried one bite of the Invisible and recoiled in visible horror, but no one checked in to find out why we rejected our food and drink.
I liked about Orson that it had a strong voice--everything was considered, planned and approached with a distinct sense of style. I guess I just didn't like what the voice had to say.