Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Southern and Nueva Peruana in San Francisco

As I've written in recent posts, a good deal of my dining (and breakfasting and lunching) in San Francisco was devoted to historic venues I had somehow never gotten to before. But I also had several excellent meals at fairly new places. I learned about Limon, a restaurant that describes itself as Peruvian/Nuevo Latino fusion, from San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer's Top 100 list. Considering the wealth of restaurants in the Bay Area (the list isn't limited to San Francisco), it's no easy feat to make the list. Limon is indeed deserving of its place on the list.

Don't expect a traditional Peruvian menu at Limon; the Nuevo Latino moniker (or "new world cuisine") is an apt description. While there's only a baker's handful of main courses (in other words, six), there are a large number of ceviches, tiraditos (sashimi-cut ceviche) and appetizers.

The two appetizers I shared were excellent. Costillas Nikkei (crispy spare ribs with a rocoto-soy sauce) were wonderful, moist as well as crispy with a rich porky flavor. Rocoto is a Peruvian hot pepper sauce, but the ribs weren't really spicy, more a spicy-sweet (but not cloying) mix. Also excellent was their spin on fried calamari, served with fried yuca and breaded green beans.

Despite the small number of main courses on offer, I had a hard time deciding, as all sounded quite tempting. I ended up going for the Chuleton Carlitos (pan roasted pork chop over cabbage-bacon hash and mushroom ragout). It was a wonderful play of flavors, with a strong, but not overwhelming, black pepper presence. Once again the pork sang to me, as did the sides.

* * *

It was the shrimp and grits on the menu that drew me to 1300 on Filmore, next to Yoshi's jazz club in the Fillmore district, which for many years was San Francisco's main black residential area and is now building on its history and refashioning itself as an entertainment district with an emphasis on black music. On the Friday night I went to 1300 the streets were abuzz with activity, a major change compared to just five years ago. 1300 on Fillmore is owned by Monetta White, whose family has roots in the neighborhood, and her husband, chef David Lawrence, a Brit of Jamaican ancestry with a background in French cuisine. The menu melds influences from French and California cuisine with classic dishes of the American South.

The shrimp and grits appetizer was a fairly faithful rendition of a classic Charleston shrimp and grits, reminiscent of the version at Charleston's Barbadoes Room, though not in the same league. Still, I'd say it was the best execution of the dish I've had outside the Low Country.

It was hard to settle on a main course, as all of the descriptions made me salivate like a Pavlovian canine. I decided I was in the mood for fish, so I ordered the black skillet roasted catfish with andouille dirty risotto and cornbread panzanella. I was not disappointed.

I'd say prices at both restaurants are moderate, or perhaps the high end of moderate.

San Franciscans are lucky, as I'd bet that per capita they have more good (and more diverse) restaurant choices than the residents of just about any other city in the U.S. I was lucky to have gotten to two of the better newish ones during my most recent visit.

524 Valencia Street

1300 0n Fillmore
Corner of Fillmore and Eddy


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