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Restaurants & Bars 3

Vivande Porta Via & Lark Creek Inn reports

Peter Cherches | Jun 10, 200610:16 PM

I'm in the process of writing up my Bay Area report for my blog. I've already posted here about Spices 3 & Bodega Bistro. Here are a couple more.

On Saturday, May 27, the day of my arrival in San Francisco, a couple of good friends took me to a favorite place of theirs, Vivande Porta Via, on Fillmore Street. The restaurant has been around for quite a while, and it has a very good reputation for artisanal Italian cooking with the best imported ingredients. Well, my meal unfortunately was a dud. The three of us shared their signature pasta dish as a first course: scrigno di Venere (Venus’ jewel box): beggar’s purse of pasta filled w/spinach tagliolini, rosemary ham, and peas; served on besciamella sauce w/prosciutto and parmesan.

Is it just me, or does the name of that dish sound like an ancient Italian euphemism for the vagina? The restaurant is known for its pastas, and this one sounded intriguing, but it also sounded overly rich, so the decision to share one as a first course was a happy arrangement. For me, if food is layered, stuffed, or made into a Chinese box, there ought to be a variety of flavors and textures. Well, poor Venus's box was rather monotonous. First of all, to make the pouch, the pasta has to be cooked soft enough to make it pliable, which is not the way I like my pasta. The stuffing had neither a different taste nor any texture variation to speak of. Overall, the bechamel, with its cheese accent, overwhelmed everything. I felt that our $19 had purchased us a glorified mac & cheese. My main course, pollo al mattone (boneless chicken breast, marinated in rosemary, sage, and garlic; seared under weights, and drizzled w/a warm balsamic reduction; sautéed swiss chard w/garlic) suffered from an over-saltiness of the meat and the greens. I shall not return.

* * *

The Lark Creek Inn was opened in 1989 by Bradley Ogden, who created a California version of American heartland cuisine. The Inn is a beautiful 1880s-vintage house, and a meal there is a peaceful getaway. Though no longer a place with buzz, it’s blue chip. The appetizers were highlights: the Dungeness crab fritters were excellent (I just made the tail end of the season), and the ham hock raviolo (yes, singular) was unique and memorable. The raviolo is a signature creation, and I always seek out specialty dishes that are unavailable elsewhere. The open-faced raviolo was stuffed with slivers of smoked ham hock and Vella dry Jack cheese (new to me). The pasta was properly al dente. All in all, it was much more satisfying than the Venus jewel box of several days earlier. My main course, a grilled shrimp salad with smoked paprika, was good, but less interesting than the starters.

For dessert the four of us shared one butterscotch pudding. We could easily have skipped dessert, but Lark Creek’s butterscotch pudding has a reputation. Now, butterscotch pudding is not normally something I’d be attracted to, but a reputation makes me prick up my spoon. Well, the pudding was very sweet, too sweet, and frankly I can’t understand what the vaunted reputation is all about.

The 40s swing recordings and the 50s Sinatra ballads they played were just right for the mood of the place. The atmosphere is very WASP, but to their credit I felt right at home nonetheless.

Link: http://petercherches.blogspot.com

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