So the other day, Bon Appetit named San Francisco the best food city in the country "right now." My guess is that when they release their actual "Best New Restaurant" list, it'll have an SF spot at the top of the list, as it has before and will continue to from here on out, to infinity. Because now the rule is: Everyone Loves SF.
Bon Appetit's Andrew Knowlton specifically called out some spots that are legit making dope shit. Al's Place is fucking delicious. And I definitely want to get my ass to Liholiho Yacht Club. But, ugh, who the F can really afford to go to Lazy Bear? I'd for sure drop in if I could convince one of my media outlets to front the cash and figure out how to get me a reservation. And his other picks? Aster is totally meh, and Hawker Fare hasn't been great since James Syhabout expanded his menu and opened up on Valencia Street. He took the skin of the khao man gai, for christ's sake. Rintaro is fine, but the service is so weird ... I just can't. And whatever, maybe his other favs are great, but, again, who can get in there without a bot?
Most of the meals I've had in SF where I've dropped over $30 for dinner have been irritating.* It sucks to spend serious money on food that isn't any more interesting that what I could throw together at home and it's eaten in a room surrounded by techies or wannabe SF-fan girls Instagramming every single dish. I was talking with my boss the other day about a pop-up event thrown by a certain former Top Chef lady. The event sells out in like 5 milliseconds every time it comes up. And each dish gets its own hashtag. Yep, hashtag.
I died a little inside when I heard that.
The whole point of this rant is to say that there is equally good, if not far more interesting and chill food in Oakland, Albany, and (sorta) Berkeley. Even in fucking Vallejo. I don't always have the best meal of my life, but I almost always walk out happier and more excited about my job when I'm eating in the East Bay.
Case in point: Salsipuedes, the new project from Jay Porter/Marcus Krauss/Bradford Taylor/Luis Abundis. The tiny little restaurant just opened up on a totally dead spot of Market Street in North Oakland. Its opening was shrouded in a crazy amount of press; Porter is really good at hyping his shit, plus Krauss has a pretty epic pedigree (Restaurant at Meadwood and whatnot), and Taylor and Abundis have solid followings for their wine and ice cream, respectively.
They're still in soft opening, but they've been working hard to get the lots of eaters between now and their grand opening shindig on the 20th. I got to go eat for free (always a bonus), but I would have dropped in on my own, regardless.
Salispuedes means something like "get the fuck outside and have fun" and the food mostly reflects that ethos. It's sorta Baja California food, which equals some kind of Mexican-Japanese fusion with a shit ton of seaweed and sea animals thrown in. Just about everything on the menu tastes like the ocean in a very deliberate way. But it's not like going to a sushi restaurant or slurping down a dozen oysters. It's a way funkier ocean under Krauss's direction. No one else is cooking food like this, at least that I know of.
Not everything was great. In fact, quite a few of the dishes could use some serious tweaking. But I was so psyched on the resto's unique character that I didn't really care.
The tempura fried sea beans are now my new standard for a bar snack. On their own sea beans are a salty, crunchy bite. Coated in perfect (yes perfect) tempura batter and deep fried, they're impossible to put down. Imagine the texture of the best possible shoestring fries or onion rings, and add a serious dose of umami and salt and then dip it all in crazy MSG-filled Kewpie mayo. It's totally fucking delicious and well worth the $8 price tag.
Whatever the pink wine I was drinking** was an excellent accompaniment. It had briny, salty notes, too. Super dope shit.
I was also pretty much sold on Krauss's version of cioppino, which wasn't really anything like cioppino. The stew was basically a giant bowl of clams, Rancho Gordo cranberry beans, some kind of flaky white fish, and a crazy amount of seaweed. It was oceanic and earthy at the same time, evoking that Daniel Patterson land+sea dish that I made one time, but way more laid back and generous. I would have liked the dish to have a bit more acid and fat — perhaps a drizzle of excellent extra virgin olive oil or else a little cured pork and a sprinkle of red wine vinegar.
Krauss's Tiradito is likewise very close to being excellent. The cod is sliced in generous, sashimi-style slices (Read: you won't feel ripped off, but you better like raw fish), and is crazy-fresh. There's some paper-thin serranos and a yuzu drizzle that are a nicely subtle match to the fish. My only quibble is that the ginger on top was, as my always excellent dining partner Emmeline said, inexpertly chopped. A much better idea would have been to serve it in super thin julienne slices or perhaps infuse it into the yuzu sauce. Still, we polished it off.
I was less excited about the octopus bao — the bread was too cottony and dry, and the mash-up of (fortunately, super-tender) octopus, little shrimp, chicharones, and salsa verde was just, well, weird. I would have rather demolished a plate of that octopus topped with just the chicharones and maybe a thinner tomatillo sauce.
Also strange was the roasted corn dish. It was sort of a take on elotes, but with nixtamalized corn ice cream (ice milk?) instead of cheese and salmon roe instead of, I dunno, lime? The flavors worked, but the hot-cold balance was off. It could have used twice as much roasted corn and a smaller scoop of the ice cream situation. Also more roe. Always more roe.
It's a pretty dish, though.
Dessert is limited right now, but was super fucking good. Abundis makes crazy-weird ice cream flavors, mostly with a Mexican slant, in Oakland and I had yet to try them. You should try them.
On the menu at Salsipuedes was his rose petal ice cream with rhubarb syrup and pickled strawberries. I normally don't go for floral ice creams — they all too often taste like grandma soap — but this was expertly balanced. The pickled strawberries added a shrub-like flavor to the whole thing, and the rhubarb was likewise not very sweet. I had a glass of fruity Ale Industries Cherry Kush alongside — great pairing rec from the server. I don't even like ice cream that much, but I ate the shit out of this.
So in an effort to throw down a hastily written conclusion, I think that Salsipuedes is pretty rad. I have faith that Krauss will get his kitchen in order and keep improving the food. (He told me that he's been having a hard time getting a consistent staff in the door, so maybe that's the source of some of the food issues.) And even if it does continue to be hit or miss, I'll still eat there simply because it is different.
Consider this my call for new shit. Give me more new, unique shit, Oakland. It's better than SF dining any day.
*Yes, obviously, there's still great cheap shit to eat in SF. I, for one, and super pumped to check out TACORGASMICA or whatever it's called. Anna Roth, I bow down to you.
**Okay, it was a rose from the Canary Islands, Frontón de Oro. Killer. You should drink it.