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Restaurants & Bars 5

Zarzuela report (long)

george | Jun 4, 2005 02:00 PM

Last night we went to Zarzuela, which is on the corner of Union and Hyde. I had read about this restaurant here on Chowhound so I will report to you my experience.

The service was perfect. It reminded me of the good service I get at old, established restaurants in Italy, France and Spain – where the wait staff have been there for years and work to make your experience memorable.

The space is nice – we sat near a window, and the picturesque tree-line corner, with the cable cars going by is wonderful. It did get a loud as the night wore on, so if this bothers you, beware.

The food:

Appetizers: We had anchovies in vinegar (Boquerones), octopus (Pulpo a la Gallega) and fried calamari (Calamares a la Andaluza). The anchovies were great, although there could have been more. I think that there were 8 half fillets, served with some dressed greens. The octopus was good – thin slices cooked (poached then grilled?) and dressed with some type of tomato sauce, served atop thin slices of roasted potatoes. The calamari was not crispy, but neither was it soggy. I would not recommend this dish.

We had the paella. I read here in Chowhound that it is the best in SF, but I have to disagree. It was mediocre at best. They used fresh ingredients, but it was lacking something – maybe a little olive oil. The ‘crusty rice’ at the bottom of the pan was not crusty at all, but soggy, although brownish in color and well cooked. There was not much flavor, and if not for the lemon and extra salt I used, it would have been completely flat. If this is the best paella in SF, I would avoid eating paella. My friend from Spain felt the same and he really “wanted” to like it.

For dessert, we ordered Crema Catalana, arroz con leche and something ‘Segoviana’, which was described as a marzipan sponge cake with vanilla custard. The arroz con leche was excellent – it is a liquidy rice pudding – but the serving was small. The Crema Catalana was prepared well with perfect texture but needed more sugar. The marzipan cake just did not work for me at all. It was sponge cake with a leathery marzipan ‘frosting’ in a pool of cream anglese and with garnish of raspberry swirls and thin leathery slices of cooked, or re-hydradated dried fruit – probably apple, but as it was flavorless, I really could not tell. This dessert, again without sufficient flavors was a ‘ransom note’ of textures – they just did not work together.

We drank a bottle of Ribera del Duero (Pesquera – not on the menu) which was very good - on the robust side ($44). We also drank Sangria, which did not have much flavor. There were wonderful “hints” of spices, but the fruit flavors just were not there.

Because the service was wonderful, and that a few of the dishes worked, and some of what we saw other people eating looked good, I will probably give it another try. But most of the food was disappointing, especially the paella – I have had better (but not good) paella in the Latin American restaurants and they tend to use frozen ingredients.

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