Ate at both Blue Plate and Pesce over the weekend...
I made a reservation at Blue Plate on Wednesday in anticipation of the forecasted hot night on Friday. Blue Plate will not specifically reserve an outside table, but you can make the request and they will do their best to honor it. They did. Half of our party arrived a half hour late, so they asked us to wait at the bar until everyone arrived. I was afraid they'd give away our table to one of the several walk-in parties that came in and made the request, but thankfully they did not; they instead offered those parties a table in the back dining room with huge open windows facing the outdoor garden.
If there is a more lovely outdoor dining spot in the bay area, I have never seen it. This is better even than the garden at the French Laundry. The enclosed patio is absolutely lovely. The garden is arranged in a sort of four-leaf-clover pattern. Brick tiling fills in the clover and various trees, vines, and flowers surround the outside of the pattern. One small wooden table with a patio heat lamp rising from its center is placed in the center of each lobe of the clover. Each table then become a private dining circle, surrounded on 75% of its circumference by rustling greenery. Tiki torches and tea candles add beautiful lighting. Truly one of the most stunning spaces for eating in the bay area.
Unfortunately the food failed to live up to the surroundings. With the exception of one entree, our group ordered several round of small plates and sides to complete a meal.
The dishes that were enjoyed were:
- Cold Watercress Soup -- a starchy potato based soup blended with fresh, mild watercress. Refreshing and good, though not terribly exciting.
- Grilled Sardines -- Whole (innards and all) sardines were fresh and delicious.
- Macaroni and Cheese -- rich, tangy goat cheese and firm noodles were most enjoyable.
But we did not enjoy:
- Melon Salad -- Very underripe melons, inexcusable at this time of year when even Safeway has superb melons.
- Pan Fried Trout -- "Angry" style (with the tail pulled through the mouth). Didn't actually get to try this one, but the person who ordered it ate two bites and no more.
- Scallops Cruda -- the several raw, sliced scallops were fresh and creamy, but the accompanying sauce was redundantly rich and buttery, and the fried lemon verbena was overwhelmed by the thick, greasy beer batter. This dish craved for acidity.
- Grilled Octopus -- definitely the worst dish (and alas, we had ordered two) as it tasted of fuel, like when someone puts too much lighter fluid on the grill.
- Two more -- there were two more small dishes in the mix, but I can't recall what they were anymore. They were not enjoyed by those who ordered them.
Desserts were better. Especially good was the nectarine and blueberry pie, which achieved a perfect balance of sweet and sour, nectarine and blueberry.
Including a round of beers, a $30 bottle of wine, food for four, tax, and tip, we paid $200. Too much, I felt, for the lackluster quality. Service was pleasant and quick, especially considering the flight of stairs between the garden and kitchen. I could see returning on another hot night, but I'd stick with the simpler preparations and maybe try the oft-praised meatloaf. But I'm in no hurry.
The following evening I dined at Pesce. While the space is not nearly as charming as the garden at Blue Plate, it is still a pleasant restaurant dominated by a long bar running most of its length. A few tables were set up outside on Polk street, but we were seated in the small dining room in the back of the restaurant.
The food here--Ciccheti, or Venetian "small bites", dominated by seafood--was consistently better than blue plate. We had and enjoyed:
- Octopus with Potato and Celery -- As others have said before, the octopus here has a texture unlike anywhere else. Rather than rubbery (even when not overcooked, octopus and squid still have a rubber-like texture), the texture is most like fresh roasted turkey breast. Pototoes, celery, and copious olive oil completed the dish.
- Grilled sardines -- filleted sardines (no innards this time) were set atop a bed of pasta pellets (don't remember the Italian name) in a light tomato sauce. Fresh and meaty sardines were excellent
- Scallop salad -- Coins of scallops (about 6 slices, probably from 2 or 3 whole scallops) were carmelized and cruncy on the outside and just cooked through inside. Even the scallop-hater liked them.
- Linguini Frutti di mare -- fresh, tender clams, mussels, bits of halibut, and shrimp (latter item not so tender) were tossed with a generous portion of just-barely-undercooked linguini. The seafood juices melted into the marinara sauce, creating an excellent and abundant sauce.
- Peas -- side of fresh peas with carmelized, sweet red onion and pancetta. Excellent.
- Tiramisu -- Didn't try this, but it was served in bowl rather than as a slice out of a large sheet. Was devoured by the couple that ordered it.
- Gelato with Pesche and Berries -- Probably the least enjoyable dish as the gelato and pears didn't sing, though the bits of huckleberries in zinfandel were delicious. We were jaded after the excellent nectarine/berry pie at Blue Plate.
The total bill here was $115, which included one beer and two glasses of wine. A great deal for the amount and quality of food. Service was fine, though the waitress often deposited dishes at our table and tried to rush off, we had to call her back a few times to ask questions or order drinks. But everything worked out fine.
So despite the less spectacular setting, the good food and more reasonable prices mean I would return to Pesce far sooner than Blue Plate.