At the suggestion of a well-informed, food-loving friend from D.C., we had dinner at Merenda on Union between Laguna and Octavia last night.
The menu is divided into four categories of appetizers, pastas, entrees, and desserts, and the kitchen portions each course according to the number of courses each diner orders. Prices are set for the number of courses, so that a two-course meal is $30, three courses is $38, etc. (Can't remember these numbers exactly, but these estimates are in the ballpark.)
The food was very good, prepared well and thoughtfully. Our visiting friend started with the seafood ravioli in tomato-fennel sauce, which was really well-balanced -- a combination of rich and light flavors and the right proportions of filling, sauce and pasta. Our local friend had a mixed green salad with goat cheese toasts to start, and Scott and I had the bruschetta with morels, favas and ricotta. The bruschetta were very good but the toppings were soft and gently flavored -- I thought they needed just a bit of contrast somehow: a tiny bit of acid, a pinch of salt or something crisp in the topping would have made them even better.
For our entrees, we had the "surf and turf," which was monkfish and grass-fed beef; the fish special, which was ahi on polenta with sauteed greens; the gnocchi with duck ragout (nicely seasoned with rosemary and something peppery); and an entree portion of the seafood ravioli. We were all really pleased with our dishes, and three of us went on to enjoy desserts. The "tart of the day" was strawberries and raspberries in cream on puff pastry with marinated cherries on the side, and our visiting friend ordered the chocolate budino, which he enjoyed. I had the cheese course, which changes regularly -- yesterday it was pierre robert with a little dab of black truffle paste and a little mound of baby arugula. The cheese was wonderful, especially with the truffles, and they lightly dressed the arugula with olive oil and salt, which showed nice attention to detail.
The service was also really good, friendly and efficient. The only glitch -- and I mention this only to show how smoothly everything went -- was the busser's second round with the crumber.
A few more random thoughts...We also had a nice bottle of burgundy, the name of which I can't remember but they serve it by the glass as well. The space is small and welcoming, the chef was there and walked through the dining room twice, and the food was simple in a good way -- everything on the plate made sense. It was a really lovely evening.