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The House in San Francisco

Melanie Wong | Jul 8, 2006 10:31 PM

Friday's family dinner was a return to The House in North Beach. As always, we left content and sated by the high quality technique, vibrant flavors, fanciful mosaic-like plates of "tall" food, and good value here.

To start, the six of us shared four appetizers, the only weak spots in a dinner of many strengths. The fried calamari was way overcooked and tough, but it disappeared before it occurred to me to send it back. The asparagus salad was a bit skimpy, but delicious nonetheless, and we split down the middle on whether it was undercooked or just right. The kitchen's best talents were demonstrated in a wonderful grilled fresh fig salad, a mix of mizuna and other salad greens with six halves of sweet, squishy, delicately charred and carmelized black Mission figs. Even better was the seared dayboat scallops appetizer. Described by our server as spicy ponzu sauce, Stephanie found the emulsified citrusy saucing more akin to a beurre blanc styling made with olive oil. This was my mom's first experience to microgreens and she tracked down every last whisp of greenery swabbed in the sauce.

For my sister and brother, I recommended the black cod special draped with Dungeness crab and avocado sushi rolls. They were ga-ga over the perfect doneness of the thick filet of sable, deft searing and the crispy skin. Dad had the braised Niman ranch pork shoulder topped with foie gras, a gilding of the lily if there ever was. Gorgeous crusting, fatty and fork-tender pork, a model for succulence. My father loved the warmly spicy, garlicky, and slightly sweet juices with side of nori rice and Napa cabbage, mixing them together on his plate. Larry pronounced his rib eye and our whole dinner very good with the exception that the vegetables were all on the hard, undercooked side. Mom repeated the rare flatiron steak with wasabi noodles and spicy slaw she had enjoyed so much her previous visit. At $17, that dish is the best bang for the buck on the menu, and even with sharing her serving around the table, we still had steak to take home. I had the fried chicken liver salad and a bit off of everyone's large portioned plates. The creamy-textured and crisp-crusted livers had a garlicky soy marinade like Chinese fried chicken (think kara-age) and were very fresh tasting. The greens were somewhat underseasoned, yet made a good foil for the other assertive flavors around the table.

For dessert, we tried the blueberry bread pudding, mango tapioca, and Scharffen Berger chocolate truffle cake. We found the bread pudding a bit bland. The tapioca had a wonderful creamy texture and fat beads, but would have liked more mango than just the patterned dollop on top. Our universal favorite was the chocolate cake for the deep fudgey texture and the crunchy praline bits.

We enjoyed the 1999 Sanford "Barrel Select, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard" Santa Barbara Pinot Noir from my cellar. Total for five appetizers/salads, five entrees, three desserts, and mandatory service charge for our party size was $235. There was no charge for corkage.

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