After I got my parents out of my hair, we had ACT tickets and some vague plans to have dinner afterwards. However, when we stretched our legs during intermission, neither of us wanted to go back for the rest so we escaped. "I've got a couple wines that you should try. Where do you want to go? Asia de Cuba, Cortez, Colibri...?", he asked. I shook my head to those and said, "Actually there's a smaller, more intimate place, a tapas bar called Anju, just around the corner up Taylor that I've wanted to try. I chatted with the owner at a Spanish wine tasting. We could order a couple dishes and move on if we don't like it."
We got the last open table. The couple next to us were sharing a paella pan filled with hot and spicy seafood duk buk ki, which is when I discovered that the menu includes some Korean fusion items! Before I had a chance to pick a soju cocktail, I found out that, unfortunately, the Korean specials were already sold out. The next discovery of the night was spotting the owner, Mark Choi, in chef whites. A former programmer, he was handling the kitchen himself while between chefs, which I considered iffy.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, our first two dishes turned out great. Four thick medallions of Ahi tuna loin were crusted with bits of dried black olives seared to crunchiness yet retained the red-hued core and almost meaty taste. I loved the textural contrast. The sauce of pureed pistachios added a nutty richness. A trio of different rustic montaditos - anchovy, jamon serrano and shavings of highly seasoned roast meat - was a bit heavy on the manchego cheese but packed a wallop of flavor, each one more delicious than the last. They were large enough to cut in half and share easily. I appreciated the side of tossed spring greens for a palate cleanser.
We decided to stay and ordered a couple more things. While we waited, the complimentary house appetizer of asparagus and potato tortilla came out. A bit grainy, but delicious nonetheless. The cuttlefish with poached onion and garlic was wonderful too. Tender with some chewy bite, the lozenge-sized pieces were infused with carmelized garlic sweetness. The mushroom rice, a mold of risotto -like rice studded with wild mushrooms, was a bit less successful. I had asked Mark about the texture of this beforehand, wanting to know if the rice would still have the bite of 'bone' at the center. He said that it would, unless customers asked for it cooked more, and also served less than steaming hot to accentuate the flavors. It was al dente, but rather than creamy, the rice was kind of gummy. The rice did have lovely flavor though.
We couldn't decide what to order for dessert. Our server suggested the chocolate truffles. These were on the firm side from being served too cold. Very silky chocolate, though I didn't like the sugared cocoa powder coating. We also had two boules of lemon sherbet that was very lemony and the perfect light ending to the meal.
The wine list has a nice selection of Spanish and Calif. wines. I was glad to see the confidence to offer a list with about 3/4s Spanish wines. We opened our two bottles of Syrah: 2002 Kamen Sonoma Valley and 2003 Holus-Bolus Santa Ynez Valley (label below) to taste side-by-side. Mark had a chance to take a break with us to taste them too. I liked the Kamen a lot, much more complete and complex. The Holus-Bolus was overripe, pruney, and all flabby fruit with little backbone to hold it up. Vince was spot on in that it showed a little more beneath the high alcohol and stewy flavors with some aeration, but I still didn't like it. We gave Mark his choice of what remained to share with the staff and he picked the Kamen too.
The tab was just under $50 with tax. We'd been comped on dessert and corkage, so we left a $25 tip.
550 Taylor street
(between post and geary)