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May 6, 2012 08:41 AM

Trip Report (March 31-April 7)--part 1

Hello fellow hounds. Thanks for all of your helpful hints. My wife and I had a great time in your beautiful city. I have been meaning to post details of our trip but have just been too busy. Have some time to post a part one now.

Night 1: La Mar. Our plane arrived late, we were tired and wet when we arrived at the restaurant, and the above factors may have colored our experience. But this was easily the biggest disappointment of the trip.

We started with cebiche, which was good but not spectacular. I ordered the Nikei, and was not all that impressed with the flavor profile (maybe I should have ordered a different cebiche).

I had a quinoa salad that was fine but something I easily could have made at home.

The biggest let down was something I ordered called empanada jalea. The menu informed me I would be getting a platter of calamari, clams, mussels, etc...with a variety of Peruvian condiments. Neither menu nor server warned me that everything on my plate would be deep fried in a hefty batter. I ate only half my dinner at best before succumbing to grease gut. Even the mussels and clams (still in shell) were battered, which struck me as just plain odd.

My wife's main, "talarin saltado" also came with all deep fried fish. At least the menu warned her that her calamari would be battered.

The bathroom was filthy, and the dessert (pie de limon) was throat-burning sweet. I was in a bad mood after my meal here (not cheap) and baffled that it had been mentioned both on chowhounds (by several posters) and in the Michelin 2012 guide. Obviously we did not order the right things, but our server did not ever say "by the way, everything on your empanada plate is deep fried, so if you don't like deep fried food you might consider ordering..."

Granted, I have total ignorance of Peruvian food, so maybe I have to take some of the blame. (are all dishes prefaced by the word "empanada" deep fried?)

Day 2: Thankfully everything we ate from here on was better than the first night's disaster. We arrived at the Blue Bottle mint plaza location right before opening, so we did not have to wait in a line to order our coffee. I had an americano and a mocha and my wife had a few cups of drip (pour-over). The coffee was very good, equivalent to what we have enjoyed in some of the better places in Portland and Seattle. I ordered granola to go with my coffee. It was so-so, and suffered from that common granola mishap of too much sweetener. My wife had a few pieces of the parmesan shortbread, which was unique and tasty.

After a busy morning/early afternoon at Alcatraz, we hoofed it to North Beach to L'Osteria del Forno. I really liked how small and personable this place was. We ended up talking throughout the meal to a local couple seated in the table next to us. I really enjoyed how friendly San Franciscans were everywhere we went. Definitely a west coast city (I used to live in Toronto, where this sort of camaraderie with fellow diners is rare).

We had a few appies and a few mains. The fried radicchio wrapped in prosciutto was delicious if a bit stringy. The white bean/tuna salad was solid and exactly what I expected. Our mains were great. I had the special, which was housemade ricotta ravioli. My SO had the crespelles. Both were rich and indulgent. I loved the texture of my ravioli (definitely cooked beyond al dente, but I like that once in a while).

After a very busy day of walking around the city, we arrived at the Slanted Door. We had a very nice meal here. We shared about five dishes: lemongrass grilled rabbit with fennel; grapefruit and jicama salad; wood oven roasted arctic char; a crispy vegetarian imperial roll, and a side of baby bok choy. Everything was well prepared and flavorful, though the food did not strike me as particularly Vietnamese (more Asian fusion). I'm okay with that, though. The flavours were clear, and the food was impeccably fresh. Nothing was overcooked. The food lacked much in the way of spicy kick, but I knew going in that this place's goal was not authenticity.

We had really good service. We wanted to share a dessert, but my wife wanted to order something I found really unappealing: cinnamon gelatin (basically jello) with ice cream and grape fruit wedges. I wanted to get the lemon pudding cake. Our server heard us debating this, and when we finally decided on the lemon pudding cake, our server brought us two desserts (she brought my wife the cinnamon gelation) and comped the second. This was the first of several experiences on our trip where a restaurant comped a course. That is a really nice surprise, and moreover it seldom happens where we live in Canada. And it makes good business sense, because the customer leaves with a warm feeling toward the establishment and (provided the food is good) an eagerness to return.

Anyway, have to go for now, so will continue with a Part 2 when time allows...

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  1. Thanks for the report -- I'll look forward to the rest of it. For reference, here's your original request: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/840335

    I'm was a little puzzled by your description of your "empanada" -- an empanada is basically a turnover (which can be baked or fried). I looked at the La Mar menu on line, and at the top of the empanada section it says:

    "empanadas peruanas y frituras
    House made with a variety of fillings
    All fried and served with dipping sauce"

    So it definitely said "fried" -- maybe in your jet-lagged condition you skimmed over that part of the description. For whatever reason, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your meal, and there's no excuse for a dirty bathroom!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Empanada is not necessarily a turnover. It also refers to anything that is breaded, such as a breaded and panfried pork chop, battered and fried chicken cutlet, etc.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        In the verb form, but what about the noun form? Anyway, as noted below this menu category lists empanadas and frituras (fried stuff).

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          I've had an empanada de leche (noun form) that was a rectangle of white custard dusted in bread crumbs and fried. Looked like a deep-fried mozzarella stick!

    2. Sorry to hear about your experience at La Mar. I've debated trying it on several of our trips to SF and always demurred based on reports of lack of value or noise. The deep fried thing seems weird to me, not that I'm an expert on Peruvian food. I've only ever had deep-fried empanadas once though and they were Chilean, stuffed with cheese. Empanada means inside bread/dough and typically indicates a turnover.

      2 Replies
      1. re: grayelf

        'pan'= bread, making a literal translation of the word very close to its actual usage (which is rarely a safe assumption to make).

        1. re: moto

          I think breaded/inside bread or dough is probably the closed translation as I noted in my post and Melanie added the idea of batter which is essentially a form of bread. I'd sure like to get my hands on a empanada de leche, sounds a bit like my beloved deep fried milk!

      2. Judging from La Mar's online menu, it's pretty clear that the dish jalea is a fritura.

        empanadas peruanas y frituras
        House made with a variety of fillings
        All fried and served with dipping sauce


        1 Reply
        1. re: nocharge

          There were no fillings. It was battered deep fried fish. Unless they were counting the fish as the "filling." And it was not like other 'empanadas' I've tried before that are basically dough stuffed with various fillings and then fried. It was like a "captain's platter" at a greasy fish and chips shop.

        2. That's too bad about La Mar. The bathroom situation sounds gross (I've never used it). Empanadas can be baked or fried but I generally assume they'll be fried when I order one. I don't know if the menu has changed, but it used to specify that their empanadas are fried.

          7 Replies
          1. re: bluex

            Note that empanada can be a noun or an adjective. I've been caught by that before myself and surprised to find not a turnover on my plate but something coated with bread crumbs.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Interesting. That recently happened to me in Puerto Rico and i just assumed it to be a local idiosyncracy (unless that's where you've encountered it...)

              1. re: hyperbowler

                Nope, sadly I've not been to Puerto Rico. This usage was here in the Bay Area.

                Here's the root verb, empanar:

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Oh, that makes a lot of sense. Come to think of it, I think the menu might have said "empanado." I should be more careful with noun verb agreement and the use of "de":

                  breaded eggplant = berenjenas empanadas
                  stuffed eggplant pie = empanada de berenjenas

                  breaded chicken = pollo empanado (what we ate was like chicken schnitzel)
                  stuffed chicken pie = empanada de pollo

                  1. re: hyperbowler

                    Well, be aware that a breaded chicken patty (like a hamburger patty made of chicken) is also called empanada de pollo.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I guess I need to be aware the the word empanada can refer to quite a few types of dishes, not just a stuffed pastry thing-y as I had formerly believed.

                      1. re: anewton

                        As I said, I've had those moments of surprise myself, although luckily, the morsels turned out to be far tastier than what you found in front of you. In this area, we have few examples of the turnover kind of empanada and even fewer of the other usages, so we don't run across this confusion often. You may also want to note that "frituras" refers to deep-fried food, similar to fritto misto in Italian. And thank you so much for your trip report and those to come!