On the strength of a trusted recommendation, we headed down to the very popular and neighborhoody Merenda this past Sunday evening. Maitre'd was warm and welcoming. Room was a bit disjointed but overall cosy. The much discussed red walls look nice in the evening, but they do need new chairs to sit in. The present ones aren't comfortable enough.
Server was extremely friendly but didn't strike me as particularly knowledgeable. Had to ask for water and bread which is never a good sign, but the tasty litte olives appeared quickly. The bread was excellent though, and the garlic infused olive oil a nice treat to dip it in.
Our table ordered the salmon gillettes, roasted vegetable plate and rabbit terrine to start. Salmon was pretty good but the terrine was a standout, rich, rustic and the accompanying greens perfectly seasoned. The roasted beets, baby archichoke, haricot verts, marble potatoes and fennel with an aoli were stellar. Truly good and I thank the server for recommending them.
Next came a second course, the table ordered Beef Daube and Penne with Fresh Tuna Sauce. The Beef Daube sauce was well composed, good consistency and flavor. One diner thought the beef a bit too tough due to leanness but I liked it overall. The Penne sauce had seared tuna chunks, capers and fresh tomatoes. Not bad but nothing to write home about and the portion was on the small side even for a 2nd course.
The table ordered a third course, Beef Daube again, Gnocchi with Potatoes/Basil and Duck stuffed Ravioli with Sage. The Gnocchi was good, light. Basil flavor a bit too pronounced and the potatoes redundant. Ravioli came highly touted by server, a bit too heavy for some at the table but well made. Not for everyone.
We all shared one dessert, a molten chocolate cake with cherries. Delicious and highly recommended. Pricing is not cheap at $30 pp for 2 courses, $38 for 3 courses and $42 for 4, but compared to a lot of other restaurants in the city it's not that bad either. I enjoyed Merenda but am not raring to return. I feel that it can stand to improve its entrees and service, especially with the pedigree it comes with - the head chef/owner was the #2 chef in the Clinton White House. I'd be interested to see other postings from recent Chowhound visits. Also of note is that the present menu is much more Fall/Wintery-oriented, interesting considering we are in mid-August. Yes, it's a SF Summer, but still..
1809 Union St
San Francisco, CA 94123
Phone: (415) 346-7373
Cross Streets: Octavia Street