I dined here on Friday night. My dinner plans fell through and I have been wanting to try this, so I went and sat at the bar. (On Fridays, the kitchen closes at 11:00pm, the restaurant at 11:45pm.)
Upon arriving the first thing I am struck by is the bar vs. table space comparison. There are 16 communal bar seats and 16 2-person tables that can be pushed together for larger groups. For those of you playing at home, this means at least 1/3 of the seats are walk-in for the bar. Almost everyone sitting at the bar is eating, not just ordering drinks. I am also struck by the fact that the servers are in true street clothes – jeans and t-shirts. And no specific t-shirts, some rock band insignias on them, some other writing, etc. This is a *causal* restaurant. (Though the clintele is uniformly dressed "smartly".) Finally, I am struck by the homogeny of the clientele. I am used to this in The Marina. But it may be more apparent here than anywhere else I’ve been. Literally, the youngest person I believe I saw was a girl who was 19ish on a date with a guy in his mid or late twenties, and the oldest person I saw could not have been older than 42 or 43. I suspect the 6:30pm Sunday crowd is different from the 9:30pm Friday crowd, but I’m just saying, so people get a sense of what this place is like. It is noisy, but not untolerable.
I did not notice the by-the-bottle selection on the wine list at first, so I ordered a carafe of a very nice Albarino to start and for food ordered the pears wrapped in bacon. The pears were PHENOMINAL! Such a simple dish – pears, bacon, Point Reyes blue cheese, watercress. But, the proportions and preparations just hit PERFECTLY. This is classic and will stick in my mind for a while. I cannt gush enough about this.
I then ordered the pork confit charcuterie. The bartender told me it was very good. When it arrived I was a little disturbed. I’m not one to shy away from pig fat. I love bacon and sausage. But this was about 85% pig fat, and cold. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted great. But I just could not bring myself to eat more than half of it. (And I went for the more protein-y parts.) The bartender asked how I was liking it and I was honest. I told him I liked it, but that every bite I just sensed my arteries clogging.
I then told the bartender that I wanted a carafe of red wine (wound up with the excellent 2005 Palacios “Les Terraces” Priorat) and another small plate or two. He told me to get the roasted wild mushrooms and the lamb meatballs – that sounded like a good idea.
The wild mushrooms were great. This wasn’t crimini being claimed as wild mushrooms. Cinnamon caps, trumpets, etc. The sunny-side up egg wasn’t necessary, I thought, but I understood the pairing. The lamb meatballs with mint yoghurt were simply out of this world. A home-run and then some. Another one of the best dishes I’ve had in SF.
Overall, I would say Laiola gives A16 a serious run for its money on the “best in the Marina” title – not something I say lightly. This is not a romantic restaurant, but it is fun, young – but strangely more monolithic in its 24-37 age range – and it has some good food and some world-class food.
The by-the-bottle wine list is far more well priced than the by-the-carafe. (Carafes are just under 1/3 of a bottle). Bartenders have no problem drinking with the clientele and giving the clientele tastes so that they can make decisions. I really like this and wish more restaurants were this relaxed. Corkage is listed at $20/bottle on the wine list, but somehow I have a strong feeling that is negotiable if you bring something your server or the bar tender likes. The spicy Margherita is very good.
When I got the bill, the pork confit was listed, then listed as comped because “costumer did not like” – even though I ate half of it and told the bar tender I liked it, I just didn’t want to die of a heart attack in my twenties. I thought the fact that they comped it was extra classy.
I will be back sooner rather than later.