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Dec 5, 2013 11:50 PM

NEW: Alta CA- Daniel Patterson's new restaurant in Mid-Market, SF - any reports?

Alta CA opened for dinner Th 12/5/13, hope to read some reports of Daniel Patterson's new restaurant in Mid-Market, SF.

Alta CA
1420 Market St
near 10th & Fell St, SF
Hrs: M-F 11am-2AM; Sat-Sun 5pm-2AM


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  1. It's been a while since I've had such a polarizing meal. One the one hand the dishes were all good to exceptional but on the other hand the service was horrible and the atmosphere was unappealing.

    It's hard to separate the service from the meal but I will try and focus on the good things first: the food. The server said the dishes are all pretty small so we should order 2-3 a person, we ordered five and could have been very happy
    with three or four. Some like the trotter are entree size to me.

    The dishes
    -oysters- $13 it was six very tiny sweet oysters, I have no idea where they were from as the server never mentioned it. sweet but very tiny.

    Bialys- funny enough this was one of our favourite dishes and it was the only dish served warm. Very good bialys, a bit lighter than some, the onions and poppies were an a warm encrusted paste and with the sour cream just so delicious. It was two for 6 dollars.

    We asked that the meal be coursed so the smoked trout would come next but instead we got the seared monterey squid which turned out to be a salad next.

    The Monterey squid was not what we expected. It was cold squid served on a slightly warm salad. It was good with lots of flavours and textures.

    Then the smoked pork trotter came out which was a huge disappointment. I understand using acid to cut the fattiness of the trotter but it was as if someone make a lovely trotter, perfect brussel sprouts, put a beautiful slow cooked egg on it and then dumped 1/2 cup of very acidic mustard on it. The acidity was overwhelming. $21

    We finished with the smoked trout which was a very tiny portion of lightly smoked fish. The quality was excellent but for 16 dollars I expected a slightly bigger portion.

    The only dessert they have is soft serve ice cream, we got the Chocolate with nibs and sea salt, It was served a bit too cold but the flavours were delicious, not to sweet and rich dark chocolate. $6

    The French Spouse ordered a french press coffee $6 which they almost didn't drink because the chef has decided that they will not serve cream or half & half with coffee. seriously?

    Now on to the very disappointing. The service was average to bad. I made the reservation on opentable a couple of days ago. I got a call at 6pm that night of our reservation asking if I would be willing to move my reservation back 45 minutes. I think in hindsight it was a move to try to get me to cancel but I figured since they just opened if they needed more time I was fine coming a bit later. When we got there it was only 2/3 full and it was never full the entire time. The best service seemed to be given to the people at the bar in particular a trio of guys. Meanwhile it was 15 minutes before a server came to take our order. All the tables around us seem to be in a similar position, with a row of us all have the menus in front of us and no one coming to take an order.

    Even after telling the first server I was hard of hearing, she continued to not try to get any closer to me or raise her voice. I must had said at least 10 times that I couldn't hear her but she kept on directing questions at me. The other server we had I must have pissed off some how because when I asked him to describe a dish, he snapped back he didn't have time to memorize a menu and I could read the description on the menu. He did bring me a menu to read. We asked if the trotter was served hot and the server said it was and it was served room temperature. We asked if the squid was served warm and she said yes and it was served cold. There was no mention that the squid dish was a salad. The wait staff seemed to have no idea about the menu and no interest in telling us about the dishes. The server did tell me that the place is very popular with the people that work at Twitter which I really don't consider much praise. Not once did a server ask how our food was and they even forgot to take some of the plates away until the end of the meal. There seemed to be a small army of servers so I don't understand the lack of attention. They also seemed peeved that we didn't drink alcohol. There was no mention of them rescheduling our reservation or an apology.

    There appears to be absolutely no sound baffling and they were blaring white boy rock a la Pearl Jam and whatever the current version of Pearl Jam is. Both the French Spouse and the people on the tables on either side of us mentioned how incredibly loud the music was so it wasn't just a problem for me.

    We spend $115 on decent and promising food and very lackluster service. I don't think I will go back for a few months to see if the service improves.

    The dining room is wheelchair accessible. The bathroom is through the kitchen and that might be a problem navigating in a chair as there were chefs and servers in the walkway.

    51 Replies
    1. re: tjinsf

      >when I asked him to describe a dish, he snapped back he didn't have time to memorize a menu and I could read the description on the menu.<

      That would have been the end of my evening there.

      1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

        I was taken aback but the place has only been open less than a week. I can understand not knowing the full menu yet but the way he said it was so odd and snarky.

        1. re: tjinsf

          "but the place has only been open less than a week."

          Yes. Not to defend any snarky employee behavior, but assessments of restaurants a week after opening always carry some implicit caveats.

          When I urged a newspaper editor to get her staff critics to write up a novel and impressive little restaurant in my area, she reminded me that they always wait 3 months for things to settle down first.

          At another local restaurant, now well established (it's among several that bbulkow has frequented and praised), which rents a very expensive site -- I know the details and several restaurants failed there before, high rent being a factor -- the owners had originally, while the facilities were being remodeled, announced a planned opening date; but then opened a month early (with work still underway) to start some cash flow against the pressing daily cost of keeping the property idle. That one was _really_ different in its first few weeks compared to later.

          1. re: eatzalot

            Yes, I agree and that's what I was trying to say. I don't enjoy lackluster service but for the first month I can understand working out the kinks. Places in SF seem to do enough covers that a month is usually enough to shake things out. My issue was far more the personal behavior and defensiveness than those opening issues.

            The issues here really also seemed to be front of house as all the food came out at a good pace and were well composed if not always successful.

            I plan to go back in a bit to try it again.

      2. re: tjinsf

        That's so different from the Plum experience that I can only believe Alta will change. One way or another.

        1. re: bbulkow

          I would expect changes either way, because that's what Patterson does....shutting down he kitchen to remodel, and shuffling the staff, are all becoming hallmarks. I would also speculate the reason he picked the location wasn't so much for the lunch crowd from Twitter, it was likely because of some subsidies or abatement for the area that made the project worthwhile. It would mean they have the luxury of making some bad business decisions.

          The no cream/sugar with coffee reminds me of nearby Ma'Velous which finally gave in to customers, even if they're prone to still hiding the cream.

        2. re: tjinsf

          "The server did tell me that the place is very popular with the people that work at Twitter which I really don't consider much praise. "

          What a dumb boast. It's right across the street from the Twitter office, in an area that offers little competition. They could have opened a Kennedy Fried Chicken in that spot and still be able to make that claim.

          1. re: tjinsf

            If they don't use cream in any of their dishes, and there's nothing on the menu that suggests they do, stocking it just for the occasional person who wants some in their coffee would be prohibitively expensive.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              "stocking it just for the occasional person who wants some in their coffee would be prohibitively expensive"'re just kidding, right??

              1. re: pinotho

                Not at all. The kind of cream Daniel Patterson would buy is expensive and perishable. If they stocked it just for the occasional person who requests cream in their coffee, they'd take a loss.

                On the other hand, if the bar stocks it for cocktails, they're just being arrogant.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  a pint of strauss heavy cost $5 and lasts three weeks. Strauss tastes really good.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Clover Organic half-and-half is homogenized, making it a better choice for coffee. $3 for a pint.

                    (I feel Cream-gate coming on.) ;)

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      One might argue that the choice between 1/2&1/2 and heavy depends on the coffee as well - beans and preparation. I LOVED the strauss heavy with whatever I was brewing that day, and didn't notice any separation based on non-homogenization.

                      If you only give a small dab to the folks who ask, I can't imagine the extra $3 or $5 would break a restaurant.

                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                    They're making soft serve. Two flavors daily.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Soft serve is made from a mix. It's not quite illegal to make it from scratch in California but it's an enormous pain, you have to have a separate area licensed as a dairy.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        That's true, but we also know Smitten Ice Cream is getting around this using nitrogen, so who knows.

                        Anyway, whether they're using Strauss Barista cream or Carnation non-dairy creamer, they would be the only place in the city to currently refuse providing dairy for coffee, hardship or otherwise....and hardship isn't convincing.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          I thought the complaint was that they had only milk, not cream or half-and-half.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            To rehash, some of Smitten's flavors use an outside base, the rest are made in house.

                            It's also possible Alta has a recipe for soft serve that allows them to get around the ice cream zoning issues, even if they don't use a base. Point being, you can get around this stuff. Before Alta announced their soft serve, TBD/AQ also announced they would offer two soft serve flavors a day.

                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                            where did you get from Alta Ca that it was made with mix? In fact they claimed it was made from fresh dairy every day.

                            1. re: tjinsf

                              By law it has to be made from a mix provided by a licensed manufacturer. The mix could be fresh daily.


                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      How do you think coffee shops turn a profit with their wealth of dairy, and non-dairy choices?

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Cream of half-and-half doesn't sound like an unreasonable thing for a restaurant serving coffee to have on hand.
                        In a Zagat survey of 1,796 people, only 25% of people use half-and-half in the coffee and 9% use "creamer."


                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          From a customer service POV, it's certainly a bad idea not to stock cream and half-and-half.

                          I think it's one of those things, like charging for bread or an Italian restaurant not giving out free olive oil, that a chef might see as a sensible cost-cutting measure without taking into account how much it will piss off customers.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Their exact words were "the chef doesn't believe milk should be served with anything other than whole milk". Rather than make guesses about how something is, it's best to either ask someone who was there (me) or ask the restaurant. That's if you want facts.

                          It had nothing to do with cost which is a rather silly idea considering it's around 60 a person to eat there and a 5 dollar container of even the best half and half isn't going to break the bank.

                          1. re: tjinsf

                            I just called Alta to confirm that they do not serve half and half or cream with their coffee. The person who picked up the phone told me that was inaccurate so I wonder if that server was just being a general problem that night

                            1. re: hyperbowler

                              ok thanks for that. I have no freaking idea what the server's damage was then that she is making stuff up like that.

                              1. re: hyperbowler

                                Maybe they changed the policy because they were getting so much bad publicity about it.

                                1. re: hyperbowler

                                  ok an update on coffeegate, talked to Benjamin Hetzel,General Manager. He did clarify that it was his decision not the chefs. They are not serving half and half or other things like soy and they only plan on whole milk. The person you spoke to must have also been misinformed according to the GM. It's nice to know it was just a server error. Hope this settles coffeegate, LOL.

                                2. re: tjinsf

                                  Is it possible they were just trying to detour you from using milk, or whatever, out of some coffee purist idealism, and it came out sounding like they wouldn't serve it?

                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                    I can only take them at their word that the chef only wants the french press coffee served with whole milk. they seemed as opposed to skim, almond or whatever including cream, and half and half. who knows. It's not the first time I've had chefs like that. Farley's didn't use to have soy milk, Front wouldn't make hot chocolate and refuses to make lattes, only espresso with milk but it's rarer to see restaurants that are coffee snobs.

                                    1. re: tjinsf

                                      Farley's is just old school, and coffee purists don't consider a Latte an actual drink, but in this day and age, people can walk five doors down and get what they want.

                                      So just to be clear - the problem was that they only offer Whole Milk? I'm seeing that as less of a problem. It's nice if they can dig out some cream, half/half, and assorted options, Milk (and a non-dairy substitute) should be sufficient. Not to defend the coffee snobbery, but one practical reason is a french press with a really light roast doesn't always hold up to cream. I'm getting the sense we've made a bigger deal about this than it needed to be.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        Yes, coffeegate has gotten so big! LOL. It wasn't even a problem per say to be honest, it's more that they didn't mention it before the order and then said it was the chef's choice.

                                        I actually talked to the Benjamin Hetzel, General Manager and he made the decision to have this simple service and they are still doing it that way as of the evening of the 13th.

                                        In the end I do believe a restaurant should run it however they want, but communication is important if you are limiting something.

                                        1. re: tjinsf

                                          Seems to me they should just bring the non-descript little cup of whole milk or whatever they're choosing to serve, like everywhere else, without making a statement about it. Few would care, but for the very few who do, like your dining companion, why should the house get petty and create an issue to explain/defend themselves over?

                                          Then again, Milk works fine.

                                        2. re: sugartoof

                                          Whatever Alta's motives, I don't think they can be accused of coffee snobbery, at least in a contemporary sense. Coffee snobs nowadays sniff at the idea of presspot coffee.

                                          1. re: soupçon

                                            Those are poser newbies. Real snobs appreciate the various virtues of French press, espresso, pour-over, BonMac siphon, Royal siphon, Hario Nel, etc.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              It's true, the real die hards will use every gadget they can to sample beans - but there's also been a move away from press pots in retail settings, if only to distinguish themselves as serious. Also, the labor, timing, and upkeep are issues.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                "there's also been a move away from press pots in retail settings..."

                                                During one of the various Waves of Bay Area coffee enthusiasm (or maybe snobbery, as RL has it), in the 1980s, a local expert wrote that French presses were a current fad, and another wrote that they get rediscovered every few years by new coffee enthusiasts. But I like the first expert's overview of brewing:

                                                "The simplest [method] is as good as any: you steep the ground coffee in a pot of hot water, strain or otherwise separate the grounds, and serve. Open-pot coffee is a favorite of kinky individualists, hermits, hoboes, writers, artists, and other perennially light travelers. [A sculptor friend insists on] a pot improvised from a coffee can and a coat hanger."

                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                  A French press is just an open pot with a built-in strainer!

                                                  My housemate makes coffee in an open pot. And then she leaves the pot with coffee sludge sitting on the counter. For days. Or until I clean it.

                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                    Oh so true, but I don't recall seeing Bay Area places handing out a Bodum French Press to the table until the new roasters showed up. My recollection is of Four Barrel and Equator accounts doing it.

                                                    Who did it in a fine dining setting back in the 80's or even 90's?

                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                      First few times I encountered the French Presses in the Bay Area were at the home of food-obsessed friends and at a few special-occasion fine-dining restaurants, late 1970s to early 80s. I associate those pots mainly with special-occasion restaurants because, as people already pointed out, it's showier than a mere ordinary coffee pot or pour.

                                                      Not sure offhand which particular restaurants used them back then, but likely one or more of: Narsai's (Kensington), Trader Vic's (SF), Iron Horse (SF), Campton Place (SF), Sutter 500 (SF, when Keller was there). And the various Chez Panisse spin-offs or knock-offs that seemed to open and close so often in the first half of the 1980s.

                                                      In his late-80s edition of "Coffee," Kenneth Davids (my First Expert above) reviewed several models incl. Bodum Coffee Presso and "the original" Melior Chambord; preferred the Alessi; and added they all take some trouble to clean.

                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                        I saw them at the Iron Horse possibly late 70's.

                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                          Hmm. Sorry but I'm doubtful....I don't recall Narsai's, Campton Place, or Towers and any of his acolytes ever serving a French Press table side. The single serving sizes weren't even readily available, and the short squat sizes restaurants are using weren't available at all.

                                                          It was also the period when everyone went out and bought the plastic cones, and Melitta filters for pour over. So I certainly agree there's certainly a been there done that aspect to all of this.

                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                            As I said, I definitely encountered it at one or more of the restaurants I named, in that time period (not including Jeremiah Tower's -- I was thinking of other Panisse spin-offs and knock-offs, I didn't use Tower's places), and more than once -- though certainly not all of those restaurants. That experience is independent of whether any particular other diners remember them at other restaurants, or what equipment restaurants use today. In fact the press struck me at the time as ungainly for restaurant service, as well as showy, albeit it made good coffee.

                                                            That experience was why I'd already gotten the impression that French press was something of a coffee-making fashion, when Davids's new edition came out comparing different French press models.

                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                              I think I might have first seen a French press at Chez Panisse. There was only one brand available in the US at that time. Eventually some patent expired and there were lots.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                I was going to say Chez Panisse too, but I rarely have coffee at dinner, so I can't quote chapter and verse.

                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Absolutely. And have opinions on the exact beans and grinds, number of oz per cup, and water source for each to make the perfect stylistic cup.

                                                    I've started to research and enjoy instant coffee, after a trip to Israel where the instant coffee has a certain thing.

                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                      Probably OT, but have you found any brands getting exported to us? I'm picturing Third Wave Nescafe knock offs and it sounds strangely exciting. The Elite Turkish style coffee is nice if you're in the mood for mud.

                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Maybe I'm hung up on semantics, but you're talking connoisseurs versus snobs, inclusive versus exclusive.

                                                2. re: tjinsf

                                                  Alta CA is sourcing its tea from Red Blossom, so maybe they are just very particular about their caffeine.

                                        3. I was there December 5th. There were a few service mix ups and some long waits, but it was opening night and I'm cutting them some slack. The food is casual, but not simple. It is aimed at the mid Market tech crowd, not a foodie crowd, but the people behind the restaurant are talented and can't help themselves so there are a few treats for the food-obsessed. I tried the deviled eggs which were perfectly fine but distinguished by a sunchoke chip garnish. Next, the butternut squash soup with chili oil and roasted pumpkin seeds - also fine; beef tendon puffs (like chicharones but made with beef tendon - these were sinfully wonderful), and house cured pastrami with stoneground mustard. I ended with a roasted cocoa-nib ice cream at the end, which--like the rest of the food didn't make my day--but was fine.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: Paul H

                                            Care to comment on the house-cured pastrami?

                                            >but the people behind the restaurant are talented and can't help themselves<

                                            Thanks for the best writing I've seen today :-)

                                            1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                              It was meaty, on the drier side, and cut medium thin. I prefer the pastrami at The Refuge.

                                            2. re: Paul H

                                              Plum Bar also has those beef tendon chicharrones.

                                              1. re: Paul H

                                                I sat at the bar here, and stuck to a drink. The place was pretty empty, and it looked like a lot of meeting were going on in the kitchen.

                                                Soft serve is down to basic chocolate or vanilla now.

                                                I can't say I understand this place. It's called Alta, Ca. but the menu has an Eastern European slant, and some of it sounds like it would have worked at Il Cane Rosso...and but it's priced just a notch out of the comfort food zone, and the design is closer to Plum, ultra contemporary. It's not set up for a casual lunch alone, but it's not set up for a business meeting, and tables are pretty tight.

                                              2. Had lunch here yesterday and it's a very pleasant space with the afternoon sun slanting in. The bar dominates the room and tables are spread out around the perimeter of the space.

                                                I had the smoked pork trotter which was my kind of meal - rich, unctuous egg and meat with crispy, vegetal brussels sprouts and frisee. Wary of the mustard, I asked for it to be served on the side, but it was not overly strong or acidic and it melded well with the dish.

                                                I also had a housemade ginger beer, which I very much liked, except that it was one of those drinks that seemed to be more ice cubes than liquid. It was served in a tall glass but I wonder if I got much more than 1/2 cup of liquid total. The cocktails looked intriguing, but could not indulge and be productive in the afternoon as well.

                                                On the way back to the car I stopped in at Littlejohn's candies on the same block and bought English toffee and a candied orange slice, both of which were yummy. You can watch them make their candies in the back.

                                                All in all, a nice holiday break.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: sumimao

                                                  Little John's is one of the unsung gems in SF.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    for sure, Little John's a bit pricey but they always give out free samples and the folks that work there are so nice.

                                                    1. re: tjinsf

                                                      It's steep, but you're right, they give out the best samples.

                                                2. As a counterpoint to the service at Alta Ca, went tonight on a spur to Verbena which has been only open since the 18th with a similar price point and style of cooking and the service was amazing, friendly knowledgeable servers, GM that was checking in on tables and circulating, excellent food that matched the descriptions given by the server, actual sound baffling panels on the ceiling (ok that's not service) and really good food.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: tjinsf

                                                    Sounds great, but did you start a Verbena thread?

                                                  2. I was there last week, sat at the bar, and had no service problems, for what that's worth.

                                                    I didn't think the food was super exciting, though nothing wrong with it. Perfectly fine California cooking, of the sort not super uncommon in sf.