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surprisingly good value urban chic

Judy Leibovitch | Aug 6, 200008:36 AM

A friend described The Universal Cafe as being as "good as Delfina's at half the price". Although JB and I haven't eaten at Delfina'a, yet, we decided we couldn't ignore such an intriguing lead.
The restaurant is at the outer edge of the Mission, near the warehouse district and very isolated, and is very tiny. Although we arrived an hour early, they seated us without fuss.

I started with a fennel and fresh tomato soup, with homeade croutons and shredded basil on top which was nice and light and unspectacular, at $6. JB chose the ahi carpaccio, which ended up being a huge, chinese restaurant sized platter of tissue paper thin ahi loaded with greens and dressed with meyer lemon vinagrette. Sandwiching slices along with the greens in the sourdough and foccacia on the table, it easily served two , $6.50. Our entrees were equally well-priced and competently executed. I chose the salmon-wrapped in pancetta which arrived medium rare and moist. Would have liked the pancetta to have been seared a little crisper, but it was too much for me to finish and yummy at $19. JB's saffron risotto with housemade sausage and english peas was also good, $16. I think the most expensive item on the menu was the requisite steak and gorgonzola mashed potatoes at $23. Service was perfuctory at best - had to remind server to fill water glasses, and she was hard to flag down at times, despite the tiny venue. The kitchen, however was wonderfully efficient. We were out in an hour. Wine list was short, but they were pouring a Murphy-Goode Fume and a nice Navarro Pinot by the glass, both $8, I think.
After just having endured a trite and over-priced meal at Oritalia, the food and prices were a nice surprise.

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