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Alcatraces, Noe Valley, SF

Limster | May 6, 200201:11 AM

It's a pleasure to sit at the bar in Alcatraces and watch the kitchen. On this civil Sunday evening, the stoves were bustling and busy, though not quite a dinner rush. At the prep counter, Chef Glenn Thompson moved with the confidence of a giant jazz musician, easy, delibrate and with just the right kind of soul as he assembled the dishes. He's good.

For me, that goodness started with a pair of crabcakes, with plump substantial fibers of sweet crab. And the accompanying vanilla aioli is magical in its little way, emphasizing the natural sweetness of the crab with lots luxurious flavor. On the side a little salad is garnished with a boiled crayfish, ready to be broken up and eaten.

More goodness comes in the deep deep gumbo. The roux is right and it shows in the dark soulful soup. A spoonful brought brown smoky flavors, then a vegetable sweetness, followed by a deeper complexity from the meats and seafood and finally a light but lasting spicy spark. The kitchen is generous with tender chicken and sausage, but it shows the most love with the load of crab (a quarter body and 3 legs). I got down and dirty, cracking the shells and sucking out the sweet sweet meat. The crabmeat is fabulous, saturated with the soup and adopting a meaty texture not unlike beef that's been stewed forever. This is a crab that will put hair on one's chest. Never thought I'd talk about crab that way. But it's good with plenty of ooomph.

I drank a decent gerwurztraminer that went well with the appetizer and entree. Sharp, with an echo of sweetness.

Then a moist chocolate bread pudding (almost the texture of cake!) garnished with a load of lovely toasted pecans, white chocolate shavings and decadent sauces that will send diners straight to heaven or hell (depending on religion). The sauce is really a mix of a chocolate sauce and a warm thick caramel brandy concoction, singing sweet and low. A heartfelt combination.

Chef Thompsons makes the rounds as the kitchen slows.

"How's it doin'?"

"Awwwwesome man."

And I could hardly move.

Tab for the above came to $39ish not counting tip.

P.S. Hot sauce connoisseurs will appreciate the large variety of bottled heat on counter (about 15 or so different varieties).

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