I took a trip to Cow Hollow last night to see if all the good things I have been hearing about Merenda are true. Merenda sits on the south side of Union St. near Octavia. It is a small place with only 32 seats and additional six (crowded) seats at the small bar. The walls are painted a deep rich red where they aren't exposed brick.
The menu has four sections (Appetizer, Pasta, Entrees, Dessert) and there are four to five entries under each section plus specials. Pricing is via Prix Fixe, 2, 3, or 4 courses: $32, $40, and $45.
My first course was a roasted beet salad with roasted hazelnuts, arugula and ricotta cheese. The dressing was flavorful but not intrusive. Second course was Penne pasta with crab and lobster and a rich, buttery sauce. The third course was a palliard of pork with mushrooms and a square of rich slightly carmelized polenta. All of the dishes were excellent with sufficiently large portions.
With a 500ml bottle of mineral water and a glass of Volnay-Santenots Meursault 1er Cru plus tip, the bill came to $72. This is expensive, which is my only quibble with Merenda. Not everyone will be put off by the prices (a table last night ordered four bottles of wine including a $375 1966 Bordeaux), but if you visit, be aware this is not a cheap date. I was impressed that I had spent that much on dinner, but I thought the value was there.