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Restaurants & Bars 12

Quick SF report from memory: Merenda twice; A16; Campton; Minako

Fine | Apr 29, 200412:13 AM

I really loved Merenda first visit a few months back. Right now, I'd say--pleasant but not WOW and too free a hand with dollops of coarse salt. Of 10 dishes tasted, three days apart, handsdown fave was a salad that included radicchio and smoked black cod. Second was a saltcod (though this is not a sustainable fish right now) based soup. Pork shank a tad too dry; pasta and bits of sausage appetizer didn't come together v. well; two halibut preparations OK but not any more than that and, in all honesty, the one on Sat. tasted considerably fresher than the one on Tuesday; sauteed artichoke dish pretty good; likewise beet appetizer; chicken with currants and pinenuts pretty good--seemed to me on first visit chicken and veggies were organic (as welll as tastier); sweet pea filled ravioli really nice though what I labeled "unborn" almonds were a bit weird.

Campton Place could hardly have been more disappointing--service was hostile and unaccomplished, food not bad but not drop-dead wonderful with chintziness of some portions emphasized by those ridiculously large plates and squab breast served virtually raw despite request for its being cooked through (when chef came out for apparently obligatory if grudging trudge through room, he shrank back in horror when I attempted to bring it up). Best dish was the crepinette of pig's trotters--tasty and also a normal-size portion. And can anyone explain why the various complimentary goodies are all singletons yet way too tiny to share with any but one's intimates?

A16 left me ambivalent. I've complained for years about generic restaurants--Chinese, Italian, what-have-you--opposed to regional. I love the idea of offering the cooking of Campania and actually found some of the dishes almost terrific, but the kitchen couldn't begin to do justice to anything with the overbooked crowds even late on a Wednesday night. (We didn't even sit down till after 9.) Everything missed a litte but not that much: the fennel sausages were great but were served with inedibly oil soaked bread when they needed something more than the little bit of salsa verde to counteract the sausages' richness; the pizza edges were very good (though I'm so accustomed to wholegrain pizza, white flour doughs taste like baby food now), but the almost-liquid topping had soaked through the center and the whole thing, though tasty, was somewhat lacking in substance; the pasta (same thing--I'm used to wholewheat, which has so much more flavor and texture) seemed precooked and was a bit overdone, though the pieces of octopus were nice; I liked my side of escarole but the side of potatoes was overly oily for out taste. The one dish I thought was really borderline inedible was a tuna and--can't remember what green--appetizer that Bauer adored. This had zero flavor and just sat there on the plate like hospital food--warm chopped up fish and greens. seemingly totally unseasoned. I would return though my companion in crime says not.

I can't begin to tell you all that four of us had at Minako, but probably over 50 % of the large menu! I oohed and ahed at virtually every dish, and those I didn't were because they were not my "thing" not because they weren't good. Little things like the quality and variety of the greens from the chef's own garden in the salads that accompanied our "dinners" and their delicious dressings; the freshness of everything; the subtle flavor variations in similar vegan sushi choices; the perfect miso soup; and the unbelievably delicious soup filed with fantastic homemade udon. The cooked mackerel and tuna were excellent; indeed, all of us really were blown away by this exquisite meal. Here was a crowded restaurant with really one cook in a tiny kitchen cooking rings around the big names. I've eaten here 5 times since Chowhounds introduced me to this paragon less than a year ago and this was the best of all very good meals.

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