Review: Criolla Kitchen
A few days ago I went with my partner to Criolla Kitchen. I was pretty excited to check this place out since it is only a few blocks away and the space looks nice.
Since Criolla recently opened, it stil has the typical San Francisco gotta-go-to-the-new-restaurant-even-if-we-stand-in-line-for-two-hours set :-). We were quite pleased to see then that our walk-in status got us seated very quickly. The line started forming following our entry.
For appetizers, we ordered the Yam tater tots. My childhood memories of those delicious nuggets with a crisp outer exterior and ripping hot but fluffly insides may have gotten the best of me. They were just okay. Smaller than your typical tot, not quite hot and no salt was a let down. There was a green dipping sauce that did nothing for me but my partner really liked.
There are two sauces on each table that are made in-house. A spicy red and a white (mojo?) sauce. Both were pretty decent accompanyments to all the dishes with the white sauce being my favorite (if a spicy doesn't doesn't put my mouth on fire and tear up my insides it's a waste of calories :-)
Just like some people around us, we all got excited about the back of the menu where you could find slow-cooked BBQ. Unfortunately there is small print saying you can only get it a few days out of the week (and not the day we were there). Many people were sighing and had that familiar sad-face look of "I had no plans for BBQ but now my mind is set on it".
Clearly the star dish here is the Fried Chicken and Waffles. Since we are both cutting back, we went for some other options. My partner ordered the Shrimp and Grits while I ordered the pork chop.
Things went a little bad here. The server wrote down I ordered the hamburger so when the food arrived, I had this giant beast of a burger topped with onion rings in front of me. The waiter was not there and we had to explain this to some other person delivering the food. They re-fired my meal and never offered to take my partner's food and bring them both together. This is okay to some extent but to not at least offer is a bit odd.
At the same time the wrong food was delivered, my wine was out and my partner's ice tea was out. The waiter went out of his way to ask if he wanted another iced tea and brought it right back but I coudln't get the waiters attenion for another 10 minutes to order another glass of wine.
The pork chop was delivered finally but my partner's food was nearly gone so I felt like it was time to kind of rush-eat. The pork chop was pretty good if not slightly overcooked. They make it look like a steak by basically butterflying a bone-in chop. I got the definite impression that they were firmly pressing on the meet to speed up the cooking process but unfortunately that also pushed out the delicious juices. This is just speculation on my part but given the amount of pork chops I've cooked in my life, I feel it is safe to say that is what happened. I did taste the shrimp and grits and felt there was a ton of good flavors if not too heavy-handed with the onions and salt.
Overall, the food was not bad but not great. The service needs to pick up their game big time and the menu needs some fine-tuning.
If you are looking for a local spot to grab some grub to fill your belly, I would recommend Criolla. There's a good chance I will go back the next time I feel a need for some stick-to-your-ribs food or am bringing friends for a full meal before hitting the town.
2295 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114
I visited the restaurant a couple of weeks ago with a friend too, just because I wanted to see how different it is from Bagdad Cafe, which I think was an institution and still not really clear what happened and why it closed.
Anywho, Criolla kept the layout but freshened up the look of the place a bit. But still have the open airy feel. The menu of course is different and I too was looking forward to BBQ but it wasn't available on the day I went (which was a Sunday). Makes me wonder if they even focus much effort on the BBQ. They should really pick days they will serve it so people can plan, like how Ad Hoc makes Mondays its fried chicken day. Criolla could easily say BBQ is Sunday Wednesday and Friday, for example.
Even though I wanted to try Southern cooking, there's a lot I can't order because I don't like deep-fried foods, and there's the typical fried chicken, po boys, etc. So I ended up getting the BBQ oysters to start, which was good. Nice plump oysters cooked from the grill. My friend got a special salad that had some particular plant shavings, and it was interesting to try a new ingredient. Forgot the name, but it was also nice.
I got the shrimp and grits too, and I actually enjoyed mine because it really had a nice spicy sauce to it. It really tasted like home cooking as opposed to a fancy restaurant go at shrimp and grits. My friend had the fish dish, which was healthy and looked like the fish was cooked well.
For my visit, I actually had a great waiter who was from the South and really knew his stuff and was very friendly and helpful. While we were there, I noticed they seemed to have a lot of wait staff, because many of them were standing around doing nothing. I think maybe you just had a bad waiter who's still adjusting to the newness of the place. Hopefully the managers can weed out the bad ones because it does seem like they overhired to kick off the place.
I had a nice dinner there and like the idea of Southern cooking. I'll probably go back again even though I don't feel like I have a lot of options especially when they're not serving BBQ. It's nothing amazing but it's very homey and nice, I think, for the area.
We went yesterday on one of the nights they serve BBQ. There are only two options (brisket and ribs) which come with slaw, potato salad and a sauce.
I liked the deep, smoky flavor of the meats, but had a texture problem with both--I'm not always a fan of falling-off-the-bone tender (which comes across to me, sometimes, as sloppy and gelatinous), but both the ribs and the brisket were a little too tough--I needed my knife to saw meat away from the rib bone.
The sauce was very tomatoey, a bit too ketchupy, but I prefer my BBQ sans sauce anyhow. I liked the slaw (with shredded green apples) and the potato salad. Despite the generous serving size of the dinner, or because there were four forks at the table, we went for dessert and split a lovely bread pudding with Wild Turkey sauce and just a bit of orange--a taste reminiscent of Tartine's morning buns.
Limeade was awesomely tart (and we got our free refills--without asking, or even finishing our first round!) and service was friendly.
'Q wise, I prefer Sneaky's brisket...and no one's ribs.
I liked the shrimp & grits on my visit a couple of weeks ago, too. I thought the menu description of 6-7 shrimp sounded a little insubstantial, but it was plenty. I liked the sauces on the table to add at my discretion as well.
I also had the homeade limeade which is listed on the menu as including one refill. Unfortunately the server didn't reappear to provide the refill until he was bringing our check. Your service issues were not an anomaly. But it was otherwise friendly and enthusiastic, and I'll also go back to try the chicken & waffles.