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Sep 10, 2006 06:16 AM

NOPA lives up to the Hype [San Francisco]

NOPA is the kind of neighborhood place that every hound wants to live near. Delicious, approachable food, generous portions, fair prices, friendly staff and an awesome bar.

Started with the wild salmon carpaccio which was one of the bigger carpaccio portions I've seen. The fish was paper thin and full of flavor and paired well with the scattered arugula. The ingredients were well balanced with just enought arugula to give the dish a kick without overpowering the salmon's flavors with bitterness.

We had the lamb riblets which bordered an entree portion in size. The lamb had a crispy outside layer and the inside was a melt in your mouth braise. I believe they braise and then fry them to achieve that texture. The sauce had just the right amount of spice to it. The was my favorite dish of the evening and I couldn't stop eating it so I sucked the marrow out of the bones.

I commented that I was getting full, which never happens after two apps. For a Cal-Cuisine/New American restaurant, the portions are huge. So keep that in mind; you don't need the usual app+entree per person to leave here full. But we didn't know this when we ordered so we proceeded to stuff ourselves silly.

I always feel silly ordering chicken at a good restaurant but the rotisserie chicken has received rave reviews. What can I say? This is everything rotisserie chicken should be. Crispy skin, tender meat and a delicious au jus. Up there with the best rotisserie chicken I've had. I also really enjoyed the wax beans with walnut pesto as a break to the meat.

I'm really picky about my pork, but a lot of reviews had played up the pork chop and our server's enthusiasm sold me on it. It was a fantastic chop: smokey sear, tender, flavorful meat and nice fat distribution. But what made this dish special was the Frog Hollow peaches it was served with. I love the combination of fruit and meat when it is done right and the sweet, acidic peaches brought the pork to the next level. As with all things, they were generous with the peach slices so that there was enough to enjoy for the whole meal. Add to that the mixed greens salad with house made LARDONS and you can understand my enthusiasm.

Overcooked meat is the bane of my existence so I was thrilled that both the chicken and the pork chop were a healthy pink. Here are some chefs who want us to taste our food, right on! And don't even say the word salmonella to me, when you're using good quality meat that isn't from a filthy, factory farm you don't need to cook it to death.

So we were stuffed. I mean really, really stuffed. At this point, we understood why they never brought us bread, it would have been a waste of space (I'm trying to remember which food blogger said, "bread is the silent killer of a good meal.") But it's impossible for me to eat a good meal and not try a little dessert. So we went for the blackberry crostata with lemon cream. It was good, there was some nice tartness to it, the crust was flakey. Maybe a little too sweet for my taste, but I was honestly too full to give it a fair judgement. I'd order dessert again after a less enormous meal.

The apps are the strongest part of the menu. The entrees were good, and nice and big, but the apps were more memorable. I could easily see myself making a meal out of the apps, something I never do because app portions are so often tiny. And although I wasn't too interested in the rest of the entree menu, I could have happily ordered all of the apps (lamb sausage flatbread! fried anchovies! arugula with house cured bacon! I could go on...) I think the ideal amount of food for two would be three apps and an entree, or even just five apps.

All that plus three drinks was $80 before tip. Totally reasonable, and it would be easy to shave $10-$20 off that bill by not eating like complete pigs (we've been clutching our bellies all night). If I was in the neighborhood, I would be a regular. But even though NOPA requires a drive across the bridge I will return. NOPA definitely deserves all the praise it receives.

I'd like to add that I finally got Fast Track and I feel like a complete idiot for spending all these years sitting in bridge traffic. Travel time from Berkeley to SF: 25 minutes. I'm excited because this means I'll be dining in the city more often.

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  1. Great to hear positive recent reports on Nopa. I need to get back there soon. Thanks for the post.

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. Portions were substantial. Six appetizers (including a dish of olives and a light salad) was a hearty meal for two people.

        We did have to ask for bread (excellent) and again every time we wanted more, since they'd only bring a couple of slices at a time. My guess is a lot of their customers don't eat much bread and they don't want to waste it.

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. After going a few times right when it opened -- and feeling like the food was not worth the hassle of waiting for a table and dealing with all the noise, I went back on Friday to give this place one more shot. Thank goodness I did -- I was blown away. It was so much better than my first three visits. Service was genuine and engaging, and the food was superb.

          The one miss for me was the tomato soup. I didn't care for the few spoonfuls I had. It was sweet in a Campbell's soup kind of way, and while it sent my dining companion on a lovely trip down memory lane, it was too cloying for me. That was the only misstep of the night, everything else was superb.

          The cucumber salad was just cukes, feta, kalamata olives, and toybox tomatoes. Simple, right? No way -- these had to be the best cucumbers I've ever eaten in my life. The salad evolved past the typical "Greek salad" classification and became a joyous expression of summer. Texture, flavor, everything was perfect.

          I'd also recommend the strawberry panna cotta. It was wonderful, especially paired with a sparkling Gamay (or it could have been Grenache) that our server recommended.

          Oh - and an individual french press pot of blue bottle coffee at the end. What more could you ask for?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Absonot

            Oooh, strawberry panna cotta. I wish that was on the Saturday menu. Glad I didn't go for the tomato soup.

            Your story is an excellent example of why you should never discount an eatery due to a bad experience during the first few months (ya hear that, all you Ici haters?)

          2. How is it getting a table these days? Do they still have that stupid "don't call until 2pm" reservations policy? Is the walk-in situation bearable on a weeknight?
            Thanks in advance...

            3 Replies
            1. re: foodiegrl

              i don't mind the 2 pm rule, it's just another option and i'd prefer this to no reservations at all. that said, so far i've had no problem grabbing a seat at the bar or common table if arriving around 6/6:30. (this may change as the days get dark earlirr). by 7, it is full and seems to stay that way till 9:30. i have not waited for a table during that time but can usually grab something at bar/common table with a 20 or so min wait (but does require the uncomfortable "hovering").

              1. re: foodiegrl

                I really like their res policy. If they allowed ressies one month in advance, I'd have to plan my dinner there one month in advance. If they only allowed walk ins, I'd have to wait an hour to be seated. Same day ressies give you the flexibility to dine on a whim without a long wait for a walk in table. It's the best of both worlds and I wish more mid-priced restaurants had this policy. And it only takes about 5 minutes to call ahead.

                The bar stools and the communal tables are reserved for walk ins on a first come first serve basis.

                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Please keep in mind that there are a lot of us who can't break away from work right at 2pm to make these calls. It just seems a bit unfriendly. I guess I'm just used to restaurants being a bit more accommodating. The early walk-in info is very helpful, though. Thanks!