Follow-up on Fina Estampa
Took 13 friends to Fina Estampa on Van Ness last Saturday. I wanted to go to the original in the Mission but our group would have been way too big for the restaurant to handle. Their suggestion was to make a reservation at their Van Ness branch. I did so, somewhat reluctantly as I had my heart set on the source but it was the wise thing to do given the size of our group.
Our party was clearly the largest in the restaurant and the service was very accomodating and welcoming. We were not rushed, hurried along, left alone for too long of a time at any one period. The service was good enough not to be a distraction which is one thing I always look for.
Our waiter was patient with the entire table as we tried to decide what appetizers to share. After asking him about which were Peruvian versus Spanish (don't know if they also do Spanish food at the Mission location but they have a good representation at the Van Ness branch), we ended up sharing about 7 appetizers. We ordered anticuchos or marinated beef heart (Peruvian); tamal or a "tamale" which was an olive, chili, egg, and pork/or beef filling steamed in masa; ceviche (Peruvian ceviche, acc. to our waiter); green steamed mussels, tortilla, fried calamari, and grilled tripe (Peruvian).
I am not a fan of offal but will try anything once, except for brain. The beef heart was excellent and had a great marinated flavor. The marinade had left a citrusy and smoky imprint on this meat and the texture of this app. itself was like cubes of medium-well steak. It was very surprising to me that it "tasted" like beef. I had the expectation that it's texture may be more liver-like (I don't know why I thought this). However, as the heart is a muscle, it really was like cubed steak. It was excellent and I would definitely enjoy it again. The tripe was so-so. It was very chewy, a la rubber band, and it had a serious charred grill flavor to it. The only thing I tasted was carbon and I don't think I'd get this one again, neither for flavor or novelty.
Of the other apps. we ordered, I was most impressed by the seafood ones- ceviche and fried calamari. The ceviche contained shrimp, clam, squid, and fish. The citrus marinade was lime based but not overpowering. The seafood was just cooked through so everything was very tender. This dish also had some sliced onions in it. It had excellent flavor and texture but I also like a little bit more crunch in ceviche. Outside of that preference, I'd order it again. Fried calamari was outstanding. The batter was light and very crunchy but this dish was not greasy at all. Some of the best calamari I've had ever.
Moving on to entrees...Our group was satiated by this time by our appetizers and a few rounds of libations. Entree orders were not nearly as diverse as the appetizer round. 1/2 of the table got some form of Spanish paella and the other 1/2 got some form of arroz con name-your-meat. The entrees were huge and very filling. In fact, most people left half of the dish uneaten as the rice was so filling.
I had gotten spicy rice with seafood. Again, the seafood was cooked through and not rubbery. I am so impressed when people can cook squid properly. The only drawback to this dish was the lack of spiciness. There were fresh condiments on the table that you could add to kick up the spiciness or the sourness of your dish. I opted to go sour and garlicky (lime, cilantro, and garlic sauce) versus trying the aji sauce which was extremely tasty but too spicy for me.
My husband got the killer dish though. He got squid stuffed with crab and scallop meat(scallop-I think). The squid were then lightly battered, fried, and served with an olive sauce. This dish made me sit up and pay attention. The flavors were different, interesting and complementary. Again, the squid were cooked superbly-no rubberiness at all. The olive sauce was not too salty and yet retained a mild olive flavor (not black canned olives either, mind you).
I had included Fina Estampa on my ethnic supper club hitlist, solely on the basis of the recommendations from this site. It was outstanding and we will definitely pay another visit soon to the Mission location. I can't wait to taste the beef hearts and all the excellent seafood again!
Tida--just a note to mention that just because nobody replied doesn't mean that thousands of people didn't get a kick (and good info) out of your message.
I know it's a kind of sour feeling to take time to write up something like that and get silence in return, but often it's just that people are reading, enjoying, nodding, and moving on.
re: Jim Leff
Just hit Fina Estampa on Van Ness with a party of fifteen. Service was generally pretty good - We had to wait a few minutes to flag down our waitress when we needed a few more carafes of sangria. A note on the sangria - It was really good, but I was surprised to see that the final delivery included some "finish" at the bar. The bartender mixed up some sugar and water, and added to that what appeared to be regular red wine out of a jug. He then added cubed apples and served it. Upon tasting, it was clear that the wine had been prepared and then strained free of fruity chunks - Maybe to control the flavor?
I was tasked with ordering appetizers - I got a couple orders of ceviche, which was as good as I remembered from the Mission branch about a year and a half ago, the beef heart, on Tida's rec, and just as she described, and a tortilla a la espanola, which was good, but nowhere near "best in field," as some of the other dishes are.
I misremembered Tida's description of the stuffed squid, and got the stuffed crab instead. Delicious. A dungeness shell stuffed with crab, shrimp, and smallish, delicious scallops. Plain rice soaked up the buttery sauce nicely. Other folks enjoyed the bistec a la pobre (grilled, I think, on top of toast which sops up the juices, fried banana and an egg on top) and the various paella's... I forget the name of the dish, but one nearby diner had a fried fish, also on toast, smothered in sauteed onions. The crunch and flavor were fantastic.
The Van Ness branch is enormous - You could practically fit the entire Mission restaurant inside the area taken up by the bar. I imagine that the Mission site won't take reservations at all anymore. I hope they are successful. There were not a ton of people in the place, and there was an upstairs which was completely empty. Hopefully people will go there before or after hitting the multiplex on the next block. If it folds for lack of traffic and brings down the original, that would be a double tragedy, on scale with those that seem to have befallen those who consume their parents at banquets in Ancient Greece...
re: Mike Zurer
Reading about your experience makes me want to go there right now. I can't because I'm in Houston but that only intensifies this feeling. I will try the stuffed crab next time as I love crab (being from Baltimore). My husband has raved about that stuffed squid to everyone we know so I think he'll be getting that dish again.
I didn't really think about the restaurant being next to that multiplex but now I have a reason to see movies at that venue. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself and that your experience was a positive one to reinforce your Mission Street memories!
re: Jim Leff
As one of the original cheerleaders for Fina Estampa, I'm so happy you had a good experience. I've never been to the Van Ness branch, and it sounds like the menu at F.E.II is much bigger.
Next time you go, I'd urge you to try the parihuela -- it's the best I've ever had. I'd also try entrees that include potatoes.
And next time I'm in SF, I'll try the Van Ness branch.
re: Dave Feldman
I did go there based specifically on your recommendations and am glad that it was as delicious as it was. Unfortunately it seems that all I think about now is the wonders of stuffed squid and beef hearts but there are worse things in this world. When you come back to SF, I hope your experience on VN lives up to your memories of the Mission and that your meal is great!