Dinner at Piperade, SF
- Melanie Wong
Last Saturday, I had a long overdue first dinner at Piperade. My Spanish culinary consultant was in town and he really wanted to try it. I'll confess that it wasn't my first choice, but despite, my diplomatic efforts to dissuade him, that's where we ended up. At the end of the night, I had to admit that it was a much nicer meal and evening than I'd expected. Plus, it was fun to have his play-by-play explanation of what I was eating and I'm glad I took advantage of that. He liked the place and I was happy too.
We started with a toast of Cava. It was a particularly nice one of Parellada only with very pale hue, lemony scents (without the typical rubbery cava aroma), and a drier, crisper finish. We shared the three most interesting sounding small plates. The txangurro (Dungeness crab salad in the foreground) was the weakest of them. Nothing wrong with it, just lacking in spark and it was the only thing that I probably wouldn't order again.
After that blip, it was off to the races! The warm sheep's milk cheese and ham terrine was as unique and delicious as others have raved about (see Felice's description linked below). Yes, it's quite salty, but the tart/sweet, snappy green apple and frisee salad made an excellent counterpoint. Then the rich and over-the-top meter cranked up with the beautifully seared slab of foie gras sauteed with Monterey calamari, fresh grapes and verjus. It was such a refreshing change for a foie gras dish not to be mucked up with jammy, overly sweet sauces. The foie was pink in the center, charred on the outside and the rendered duck fat enriched the juices mingled on the plate. I could never have imagined that perfectly cooked, tender calamari tubes and tentacles could be so delicious swathed in foie and grape juices. It was a tough decision to not mop up every little drop, but we had to leave room for the rest of our dinner.
For large plates we had the signature piperade and the filet of cod "Donostia" with clam, asparagus and peas. While I wasn't as taken with the piperade, my companion pronounced it a very good version. He commented that the texture of the sweet peppers was spot on and the tomatoes were a subtle and barely perceptible back-note. I loved the perfectly poached cod, just cooked through and barely pulling apart into thick flakes. A very delicate prep, the fresh spring time flavors of the fresh peas and asparagus sang through the sweet clam juices. Spooning up and sipping those fresh briny juices was the best part. My friend said that this was a classic San Sebastian-style preparation.
For dessert, we relied on our waiter's recommendations to order the turron mousse and the warm chocolate cake. The ultra-thin slices of toasted almonds that shingled the top of the mousse were especially amazing. Even in the bites without them, the almond flavor in the mousse was quite remarkable, and deepened even more with the swirl of excellent caramel sauce. The chocolate cake was very nice too, but not as unique. I especially liked the cultured creme chantilly on the side that added a needed tartness to the balance.
We were both impressed with the level of execution of all the dishes. My friend deemed everything quite true to its origins and done well here. He was also impressed by the value here compared to other San Francisco restaurants. For me, the food wasn't exciting, but it was high quality, complete and very satisfying.
Servicewise, we had one blip early on, but after recovering from that small miscommunication, our server was extra attentive. We also got a lot of attention from the busers who conversed with my friend in Spanish. The table next to us was extremely loud and only our desserts were enjoyed at normal noise levels. Still, we enjoyed our meal so much and didn't let that distraction ruin our night.
Thanks for the report. I'm gearing up for a Basque Crawl and I can add this to my list of items that should be ordered.
I don't think I've read one enthusiastic post or review about the piperade. It must be an aquired taste ... like socca (another culture, I know).
However, I want to get it anyway to compare it to Iluna Basque. Yes, I know what I'm getting into there.
I didn't find my first Piperade visit exciting either. However, when I re-read my post, I guess I was impressed with the Gateau Basque ... not impressed enough to remember I even tried it without out that post.
That was one reason I was asking about Piperade to go. I'm thinking that the kitchen does desserts and pastries well and the to-go window might be a nice place to pick up a baked good some morning.
The rabbit is on my to-try list. I'm trying to make it there for lunch one of these days where the rabbit is part of the 3-course prix-fix for something like $24.
Thanks again. Lovely photos as always.
What did you think of the wines?
My visit was exciting and well worthwhile -- I wouldn't hesitate at all to recommend Piperade. I said the food wasn't exciting, but that doesn't mean it wasn't highly delicious and somewhere I'll want to try more. The level of execution, perfect textures, etc. was very impressive at this mid-price level. Only the crab salad seemed to not be seasoned not quite right. That cod was almost jelly-like in texture, exactly on point to highlight and not overcook its fresh sweetness, and worthy of a star Hong Kong seafood chef. In San Sebastian/Donostia it would be made with white asparagus. Here, the peeled green spears were the finest asparagus were the finest I've had in ages, tender crisp and nearly as sweet. Hirigoyen was in the kitchen that night.
As an entree, the piperade (topped with crispy ham and a soft-yolked egg) was too much "comfort food" soft blandness to eat much of. If I'd just had one bite or two as an appetizer, it might have had a more distinct flavor impact and not turned boring.
The wine list is very nice, but I didn't study it carefully as we had planed to order just a few glasses. We had a dozen or so selections to choose from. The Cava was very fine. I didn't pay attention to the producer, but noted that it was described as made from all or principally Parellada, rather than blended with more Maccabeo and Xarel-lo, the other cava grapes. This gave it an extra lightness, closer to a blanc de blanc style. From the by-the-glass list, we also had a glass of rosé and a red Toro. They were good enough, but not as special. If we'd ordered one more, I would have picked the red Irouleguey. That might have been a better choice than the very ripe Toro, but I needed to taste it for other reasons. The one service misstep is that I'd asked the server to split each glass into two for us to share. Somehow we misunderstood each other, but that was quickly corrected.
So, please don't get me wrong. I enjoyed Piperade very much.
P.S. My friend took a photo with his superior camera from the other side of the table. I haven't seen it yet, but with the terrine in the foreground, I bet it's more interesting.
re: Melanie Wong
I agree the piperade wouldn't make a good entree. I thought I remembered it being a "small plate"; I also remember the egg making it quite rich -- again, better as an appetizer (or as a side/condiment -- that's the kind of thing I'd make and put with grilled/pan roasted meat).
What I remember liking was the interplay of contrasting flavors and textures in many of the dishes. Time to go back!
RW, I'm surprised you haven't read any enthusiastic reports. Here is mine from March:
I understand service has been a major complaint about Piperade in the past, and perhaps it is an issue more at dinner if the restaurant is trying to turn the tables faster. But for lunch, service was unrushed and extremely pleasant. One the table for shared starters was a tartare of bacalao and oysters, a garlic soup, and a French onion soup. The garlic soup was easily the favorite, but I convinced everyone to leave some as I knew I wanted to take some home for a late-night snack. This was all consumed with a Tablas Creek Roussanne which worked quite well.
K chose as his entree lamb chops served with Manchego potato gratin and I opted for rarely-seen veal cheeks with fava beans and cepes. Our guest was dieting and opted for a butter lettuce salad. Both our entrees were astonishingly good but the veal cheeks, undoubtedly a sous vide preparation, melted in the mouth. We had as a second pairing a Guelbenzu blend that consisted of a cab-sauv/tempranillo blend which worked quite well.
Being a business meeting, more time was needed for negotiations and dessert was ordered... a cheese plate and port for Kevin, a Gateau Basque for me, and our guest (then realizing how great the food was and foregoing the diet) ordered an apple tart. At one point during the discussion, I mentioned in passing to our guest that K and I were experimenting with making cheese but were struggling with finding goat's milk that is not ultra-pasteurized. While clearing plates and overhearing this remark, our server brought a large hunk of goat's milk cheese from Petaluma for us to try. It was a simple gesture, done without largesse and was well-appreciated.
Just another eager Chowhound trying to help out.
I ate at Piperade on Saturday night and while the food was good, the service was absolutely dismal. I walked in and there was a couple waiting right in front of the hostess stand. So I stood next to them for about 6 minutes and no one helped us. Then another couple came in and made the area a tight squeeze so I moved over. Finally the "hostess" came over and offered the other people their table and ignored me again. Another couple came in and she did the same. I finally jumped and waved at her and she noticed me, I'm not that short, but apparently she thought so. I don't blame her for this but isntead of apologizing, she blamed me and said it was my fault for standing where I did, in line behind the other couple. I don't care what kind of restaurant you are, never blame a customer when they walk in the door. Then I was told to sit at the bar and they would seat me when my table was ready. When 20 minutes later she came over and asked me if I was waiting for a table. They finally sat me 25 minutes late, not something to really bother me, my friend was late as well so I paid no attention.
The entire meal, nearly 2 hours, the waiter never once actually greeted us. We would have to shout our orders at him as he ran by. We had 3 courses with drinks and we didn't get any friendliness from him. I am not saying it was his fault, he probably had too much to do, but the fact that he had too much to do speaks for the restaurant. It's not the worst service I've ever had (I believe that was when my waitress got drunk and couldn't find my check), but it certainly isn't anything I would go back for.
The food was good but I feel pretty sad about the entire experience and paying so much for it.
The food, we started out with Pequilla Peppers stuffed with goat cheese, pine nuts, and golden raisins. Fabulous. We also had seranno ham, which I love. For the meal I had a lamb chop and my friend had halibut, the halibut was good, not too exciting but the lamb chop was pretty amazing. Then we hollered our dessert order at the waiter and got a chocolate cake with creme fraiche that was pretty fantastical.
I definitely wouldn't go back here though and I am not going to recommend it to anyone. It goes to show you how much service impacts a dining experience. You could be eating at the French Laundry or Cyrus, but if your waiter treats you poorly, the food tastes much worse. I hope they can fix their problems for their own sake.
After a long absence I returned to Piperade about a year ago and had a wonderful experience. The food was well executed and the service very attentive. I have since gone back twice over the last year and it was worse with each visit. The service was especially lacking. We asked for a few minutes to decide on our order after asking a couple of questions about the menu and then it took 20 minutes for them to return to the table. After our appetizers were finished we waited about 20 more minutes before the server returned to the table and asked us what we had ordered for entrees.
The last time the service was not quite as bad but the server was rather unfriendly and much of the food was overcooked.
Have not been back.
I visited there about a month ago, and have eaten there a time or two beforehand. I loved the apps that we got, and also thought that the entrees were great...however, I was shocked to say the least with the portion size of the proteins in our entrees. I paid $29 for a 3 ounce piece of salmon?, halibut?, etc....All four of us eating were dismayed by the price-to-portioin ratio of proteins on the main. It seemed that our app. portions were actually larger!
Did you find this at all?
I'm in utter shock from some of these comments. Piperade is one of my favorite restaurants. I always feel like my palate has been transported to Spain. I eat there quite a bit and every dish is always well executed. FYI, Chef Hirigoyen was nominated for a James Beard award. If he can't execute then who can. I honestly believe at their price points it is a value. As for service, I have never had a problem. I remember one night we had a waiter with an incredibly thick accent but very adorable. He would say something and we all looked at each and not knowing at all what he said, we responded with, "Great!" We just turned it into some fun.
I had no problem with the food or price but I remain by the bad service problem. I'm glad you have had good experiences but it seems you are out numbered here. I'm not one to complain and I don't require much but it would have been nice if while we were ordering he hadn't left in the middle of the order.
I also had an experience with horrible service there earlier this month. First my partner's menu caught on fire (she was holding it over the candle accidentally), and no one noticed. Then the waiter came and offered me a drink; when I declined he ignored my partner.
When the waiter did finally reappear, my partner ordered several small plates for her meal, specifying the order in which she'd like them to arrive, and I ordered a main course. The arrival of the dishes was all wrong -- all of her food came before mine did, plus the order was totally off -- and we actually sent some of the food back so the timing was more appropriate. (This was a very rare moment - we are NOT high-maintenance diners at all.) The waiter was totally clueless about the fact that the food came out at the wrong time, never came to check whether we were enjoying our food, and never offered us more drinks. We blew off dessert because the service was such a nightmare; we were eager to get out of there. To their credit they did comp us a drink because of the service issue, but really -- this restaurant is too well-established, and the service issues are too well-known, for there to be any acceptable excuses.
Too bad it was our 10th anniversary.
Not to excuse the bad service, but in my experience, most small-plates places in SF, at least when they're busy, cook dishes as convenient for the kitchen and serve them as they're ready. (That's one way a restaurant can keep costs down.) In such cases, the only way to get things in a particular sequence is to order in stages.