Monday, January 18, 2010

Great Peruvian Food by the Bay

San Francisco may have more Peruvian restaurants per capita than any city outside of Peru.  Last September, I wrote about Limón Rotisserie, a casual offshoot of Limón, the first upscale Peruvian place in San Francisco.  This past weekend, I finally ate at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, which opened over a year ago at Pier 1 1/2 on The Embarcadero north of the Ferry Building.  La Mar is the first U.S. effort from Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio.  (He also has restaurants in Lima, Mexico City, Santiago, São Paulo, and Panama City.)

When you walk into the space, you are immediately struck by the size, wondering if the restaurant will be unbearably noisy and if the kitchen can successfully service so many tables.  While La Mar is noisy, I've been to far louder restaurants in San Francisco.  The kitchen does a great job of turning out small and large plates of terrific seafood.  While we were still looking over the menu, we were treated to chips made from white potato, sweet potato, and plantain accompanied by 4 dipping sauces.

Being big ceviche fans, we went for the tasting of 4 cebiches, all of which were terrific.  Just watch out for the peppers.  They pack a punch.  Until this meal, we'd never heard of causas: whipped potatoes and yellow garlic topped with seafood and/or vegetables.  Again we went for the sampler of 4 and loved each one.  We also tried the sampler of 4 empanadas.  While tasty, these were the least interesting of the small plates.

We shared two main courses among us, a seafood saltado and the tuna dish.  The saltado consisted of a variety of stir fried seafood and vegetables topped with French fries and served with rice.  The tuna was seared, topped with a sesame sauce and served over mashed purple potatoes.  Both were delicious.

Being gluttons, we also shared two desserts.  The dulce de leche mousse was too sweet for any of us but the buñuelos de chocolate caliente, warm beignets filled with warm chocolate sauce, were terrific.

We stuck to wine with our meal and were able to select from a good list of California, South American, and Spanish wines.  The cocktail list featured drinks with pisco, a grape liqueur that first arrived in San Francisco in the 19th century.

If you like seafood and interesting spices and preparations, then I highly recommend you visit.  I'll go back when the weather warms up so I can dine outside on the terrace overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sea Lion Update

Last month I wrote about the sea lions that disappeared from Pier 39.  It now appears that the sea lions that frequented San Francisco Bay and the waters off Northern California went north to the Oregon shores in search of food.  Rangers in Oregon parks are reporting larger numbers of California Sea Lions off their shores.  It's possible that herring, anchovies, sardines, and other fish enjoyed by the sea lions are further north than usual due to the El Niño effect.  We'll just have to wait to see if they return to Pier 39 later in the year.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Cozy French Restaurant

I frequently get asked about good French restaurants in San Francisco.  There are well known, upscale French restaurants where you can easily spend over $150/person for dinner.  However, when I think of the type of neighborhood bistro that I've enjoyed in France, I immediately think of my neighborhood French restaurant, Le P'tit Laurent.

The restaurant is located in the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco, just one block from Glen Park BART.  Visitors staying near Union Square can take BART from Powell or Montgomery Street to the Glen Park station and walk one block north on Diamond Street.  The ride is less than 15 minutes each way and currently costs $3.50 round-trip.

The owner, Laurent Legendre, is originally from Paris.  When we visited the restaurant shortly after it opened, Laurent recognized us as soon as we walked in.  How, I don't know, as we only visited his old restaurant, Clementine, a few times and he had left it a few years ago.

The menu contains French classics such as onion soup, escargot, boeuf Bourguignon, coquilles Saint-Jacques, and cassoulet.  Prices are reasonable and, from Monday through Thursday, there is a three-course, prix-fixed neighborhood menu for $21/person.  The wine list contains reasonably priced French and Californian wines.

Le P'tit Laurent is a real neighborhood place frequented mainly by locals.  It's a great place for visitors as they get to see a part of San Francisco they normally would not visit and eat some good French food at a reasonable price.