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Mar 4, 2009 04:17 PM

Contigo off to a great start

We had a wonderful dinner last night at Contigo, and based on the food, service, and overall experience, they're off to an excellent start.

The atmosphere and decor are great - Brett Emerson has really done a nice job with the place. the setup is similar to Pizzeria Delfina, with bar seating along an open kitchen, and tables further back.

The service was great, especially given that the place is brand new - everything went smoothly, everyone was incredibly firendly, and our server was great - she was very friendly, professional, and offered some spot-on recommendations for both food and wine.

The menu ( is divided into small plates, main dishes, Catalan-style flatbreads, and jamon. We stuck with the small plates because there were so many that called out to us - although it sounds like people love the main dishes as well.

The kitchen turns out food very quickly, and our server recommended ordering a few dishes to start, then ordering more as the meal progressed. We started out with 3 small plates:

Remojon - salad of house-made salt cod, frisee, orange and olives. This was a great start to the meal - the salt cod was tender, delicious, and not overly salty as has been my experience with salt cod. The tiny green olives were among the best I've had, with a rounded, balanced flavor reminiscent of very good olive oil - anyone know what these are?

Setas a la plancha - wild mushrooms with pounded parsley, an incredibly minimalist dish. Tasted like they'd been quickly cooked in butter, seasoned only with salt, pepper, and pounded parsley. Great way to highlight the fantastic, pure flavor of wild mushrooms - there were chanterelles, porcini, and several other varieties we couldn't identify.

croquetas del rabo del toro - oxtail fritters. These were large, very crispy and consisted almost entirely of tender braised oxtail - a very generous, hearty portion. They also contain raisins, pine nuts and (according to our server) chocolate. We wouldn't have identified the chocolate, but they had a very rich, complex, meaty flavor. Highly recommended.

At this point, rather than ordering a large dish to share, we went with two more small plates, both recommended by our server:

Calamares a la plancha - fantastic squid served very simply with harissa. The tender, smoky flavor reminded me of wood-oven-cooked squid I've had at Pizzaiolo - the super-quick high heat cooking caramelizes the squid in places and really brings out the best of its natural flavor.

patatas a la riojana - Potatoes stewed with chorizo and onion. This was one of the best dishes of the night, and was unlike anything I've ever had - although the ingredient combination certainly reminded me of the classic mexican taco/sandwich filling, chorizo y papas. Large chunks of potatoes had been cooked to the point of breaking down, with their starch creating a creamy, emulsified sauce that coated everything. This was a deeply-flavored, rustic, delicious dish, and I would love to know how the potatoes were cooked to achieve that texture so that I can make it at home!

We finished with a wonderful blood orange tart topped with olive oil ice cream. The tart was essentially candied slices of blood orange - rind and all - layered atop a tart crust. I tend not to be a dessert person, but this was great - the pure blood orange flavor of the tart married perfectly with the subtle ice cream.

Overall, best dishes were the dessert, oxtail fritters, potatoes, and shrimp - but every single dish we tried was good enough that I would order it again. Prices are very reasonable given the quality of the food - subtotal (pre-tax and tip) for 2 was about $60, which included 5 small plates, a 1/2 bottle of wine and dessert.

We will definitely be back - best of luck to this wonderful new restaurant!

1320 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114

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  1. Very eager to try this place. In your summation, did you mean "squid" rather than "shrimp"?

    4 Replies
      1. re: OakTownHound

        Your report made me hungry, OTH. This place is now on my list -- I don't think there are any Catalan restaurants in Vancouver. And I like how they change the menu daily. I'm pretty sure the one Spanish tapas bar I've been going to here for 20+ years has never changed its menu :-).

          1. re: Xiao Yang

            Noted, X_Y, now I'm really jealous... wait, I was already really jealous with only one :-).

    1. Just went to Contigo last night, and my friends and I had an enjoyable meal. Overall the food & service were terrific. This is a welcome new addition to the Noe restaurant scene. Below is a recap of what we tried:

      *Anchoas del Cantabrico: Anchovies - nice & salty
      * Calamares al la Plancha: Squid with Harissa - a really tasty dish, highly recommend it. The squid is cooked perfectly and the harissa gives it that extra kick.
      * Rejomon: Salted cod citrus salad - overall a disappointment. It fot a lot of rave reviews on the site, and I was really expecting to be wowed but was not. The salt cod was over powered by the dressing and citrus.
      * Croquetas del Rabo de Toro: Beef (ox tail) fritter - absolutely delicious & a must. When I read the description was unsure, but our waiter highly recommended this tasty deep fried ball of deliciousness.
      * Patatas a la Riojana: stewed potatoes with chorizo - another winner, the potatoes soak up the flavor of the chorizo
      * Bikini: grilled cheese and ham - who doesn't like a hot sandwich.
      * Jamon Iberico de Bellota - so this is the $31 ham, tasty. Glad I tried it since I have read so much about it. Very good, but unless you are are BIG foodie - the Serrano would be just as good
      * Coca del Alachofas - OK - my friends really liked it more than me
      * Pork belly with ears & feet - delicious and the beans are AMAZING.

      For dessert we had the churros with the chocolate sauce - just OK. We also had the cheese sampler - the cheeses were terrific.

      Definitely planning on heading back for another meal.

      1. Stopped in for appetizers last night. The oxtail fritters and octopus are worth the trip. I ilked the Tennessee ham, too. The wine list needs work, but they just hired a new wine person and he said that's going to happen over the next couple of months.

        1. Great report, OakTownHound. We just went there with two other couples and had a great time. So I wake up this morning and look up Contigo and you totally beat me to it -- three months before! Our experience was very much like yours.

          The thing that really stands out was the great service. Our server was helpful, relaxed, efficient and attentive. Her menu advice was great. The pace was pretty fast, but we felt totally unrushed. The food came in waves with a few rounds of pica pica before the platitos arrived. The layering allowed us all to savor each dish and have fun sharing. The actual food service seems to be a team effort, and their choreography was nearly perfect. And the one flub -- when someone kindly topped off our wine glasses and mixed our 2nd wine with a glass of wine my friend was retaining from a bottle we brought with us -- was silently taken care of by our server. I didn't ask for any consideration from her, I just informed her so she could give her helper some advice. But she silently made up for it. From end to end the customer service here shines.

          The Calamares a la plancha was outstanding. Calamari is often used as a texture, a vehicle for other flavors. Here the wood oven preparation and the ingredients brought out a rich fish flavor that made this special. The menu seems to have changed a bit already, I'm guessing due to their emphasis on local, fresh foods. We had two plates of the sardine and avocado toasts that contrasted the textures of the toast, avocado, and sardines with the fish cooked perfectly. Simple ad sublime. My favorite dish had to be the pork belly bocadillo. Should have ordered two of those! Our other dishes? I could find faults with some dishes. The morels in the sugar snap pea dish were barely recognizable - but the peas were so good, they didn't need the morels. So the food is not consistently spectacular. But the overall experience here was much more than the sum of the parts. Contigo is a great addition to Noe Valley.