: views from the Hill

Thursday, April 15, 2004

[FOOD] Iluna Basque and more

We're splitting time between Hill (Telegraph) and Dale (South Bay) these days as we slowly make the mental mind shift from thinking of Dale as home to thinking of Hill as home. Dale is a giant mess what with all that came out of the house we just sold near Monterey plus the stuff from my brother's place, which sold two and a half years back but which still hasn't been settled and sorted.

Dale is cluttered and claustrophic and stacked and boxed and have I mentioned cluttered? ... and we haven't even talked about my office. I'm spending time sorting through and settling two house-worth's of stuff into Dale while we consider maybe -- just maybe -- selling Dale while the market is hot and interest rates are low.

"... and doing what with the contents from Dale? plus Customs? plus Casey's?" is the question. We talk of buying a warehouse someplace near the Hill to stash the books and the furniture and what-not I haven't yet let go of and maybe buying some place someplace else. Most of the tens of thousands of books (mine and Casey's and those I still keep buying) are in a tilt-up space next to a guy who sells skylights to contractors, who is next to the gutter guru.

The books are in the book-space: the furniture and knickknacks and dishes and punchbowls are here, at Dale, which is where my cable connection and office are -- proof positive that the Hill isn't quite "home" yet...

We go up to the Hill with greater and greater frequency these days as we consider what-next? and watch the boats and walk ... and walk ... and walk and take in dinner and walk ... and walk ... and walk and fall asleep and drive back to the South Bay, where the lucre is made, in the morning. What had been weekend days became Friday night through Monday morning and now is becoming the weekend and maybe Monday or Tuesday night and maybe Wednesday night and soon it's Friday again.

This past Sunday night we ate at Fior d'Italia, Tuesday night at Iluna Basque, and last night (Wednesday) at El Raigón, an Argentine restaurant (excellent grass-fed beef and chimichurri) on Union which opened ... last night.

Amazing how many restaurants are within walking distance, if you don't mind walking. The farthest we've walked from the Hill is to our still-fave Isa which we discovered when we were still dossing at the condo in Pacific Heights, before we bought and settled in at the quite different space we now call home.

Some day when we can't make it up the stairs inside our space and back down again, when we can't make it up and down the Filbert Steps to our little alley-way, when we find it difficult if not impossible to walk uphill and down and over and up from leased parking a couple blocks away, when we need an elevator and someone to open the door, we'll go back to the condo, but please ... not for another two or three decades. The view just isn't the same. Sure you can see the Bay, but the boats are further away, 1940 Vallejo blocks our view of Alcatraz and ... well, it's just not the same. ... at all.

From the Hill, Isa (Luke and Kitty don't have an "Isa" Web site? Why not?) is a fifty-minute walk each way and worth it. We've walked to First Crush, forty minutes maybe. Gary Danko, thirty-five? The conglomerate of tasty places at Belden Place [Plouf, Cafe Tiramisu, B44, &c. ] or Jeanty at Jack's, twenty minutes. Piperade, another of our favorite restaurants, is located down the Filbert Steps and around the corner from us on Battery (1015 Battery). Dinner there involves something more than five minutes less than ten minutes walking "to" -- more walking "fro" because you're stuffed with good food and you have to hike up the Filbert Steps to get home. The walking uphill (always uphill .. from wherever we eat) is a way to work off maybe 100 calories of an excellent dinner.

We stayed closed to home for this week's dinner explorations, though. Iluna Basque (at five blocks) was the farthest we walked to dinner.

Iluna Basque ~ 701 Union St.

Iluna Basque http://www.ilunabasque.com/
701 Union St.
San Francisco, CA 94133

Iluna Basque (a Basque tapas place in North Beach, on the south-west corner of Union and Powell) opened in late February 2004. The restaurant dining room is wood and stainless-steel with an upscale bar on the west side and windows that look out over Union Street and Powell. Inside, if the outside view doesn't interest you, you can catch a peek at the action in the kitchen or just people-watch the wide variety of fellow diners.

Mattin Noblia serves excellent food for someone so young (23). Noblia, as I said, is young and self-deprecating as well, for someone who had been chef at Piperade and now is probably the youngest chef to own a restaurant the likes of his. When we complimented him on his food, he shrugged and smiled, then gestured toward the view of Coit Tower. "But the view, isn't it wonderful?"

Views, schmiews. We have a view of the Bay and the boats from our humble abode, a view of Coit Tower too, if we're facing that direction. We hadn't gone to Iluna Basque for the view from our table. What we don't have at home (but now can have with a five-block walk) are "Txangurro" crab croquettes that melt in our mouths, "Amatxi" style duck rilette served in a small casserole dish with garlic toast, Basque garlic soup with shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes, and salmon tartare with capers.

I had the pineapple "carpaccio" for dessert. Ymmm. Noblia's concoction is a thin slice of pineapple topped with sugar, thrown under a broiler to carmelize the sugar. The pineapple with a now-crusty caramel topping is served warm, drizzled with berry sauce.

We had probably five or six tapas, a bottle of wine, a glass of wine each at the bar while we waited for our table, two desserts, a glass of manzanilla to accompany the pineapple carpaccio, coffee and a bill that topped $120 with tip, if memory serves.

The food though not-cheap was consistently excellent. Yahoo. North Beach and Chinatown don't lack for restaurants, but Iluna Basque is that good -- a perfect spot to take adventurous guests.