: views from the Hill

Monday, January 31, 2005

[FOOD] Ponzu

401 Taylor Street (at O'Farrell)
San Francisco, California 94102

Tel: (415) 775-7979
Fax: (415) 351-7656

Breakfast: M-Su
Lunch: available for private functions and business meetings.
Dinner: Su-Sa

Our Saturday night exercise in Dine About Town eatery took us to Ponzu, the small pan-Asian restaurant next to the Serrano Hotel, a boutique hotel near Union Square. (That location is a reason, perhaps, why Ponzu is open for breakfast.)

The executive chef, Michelle Mah, was until recently the sous chef at the Grand Café, just up the block (and where we ate last Sunday).

Our server was excellent, even though the staff seemed a bit overstretched. The bar is oh-so-glam, as is the dining room.

A table of four late-twenty-early-thirty-somethings -- a couple and two guy friends -- across the not-so-very-wide room from us got rowdier as the night went on. Between nibbles and food, the two guys had, at my count, and who knew what they had before we arrived or after we left, four sake bombs a piece.

Recipe for sake bomb: Balance a glass of sake on your chopsticks over a full glass of beer. Bang on the table (1-2-3-SAKE BOMB!) until the sake glass drops into the beer, then chug the beer, racing to beat the other party.

Hm. Yes, the crowd was younger and hipper than we ever were, but unlike Café Claude on Saturday night, we weren't the only people over forty in the joint.

We checked out the menu and opted for the Dine About Town special.

We shared two salads. The Vietnamese Prawn Salad (with mango slaw, peanuts, chile–lime vinaigrette) had a substantial bit of finely shredded purple cabbage -- not my favorite -- in the slaw. We were given two quarters of fresh lime to squeeze over (and then drop into our water glasses). The prawns had been sliced in half, so you were more likely to get a bit of prawn in each mouthful. I'm not a huge cabbage person, but this salad was excellent. There was enough chile in the vinaigrette to leave your lips buzzing when you were through.

The Hosui Asian pear and watercress salad included radicchio, celery, fennel, and white soy-ginger vinaigrette. Both salads were substantial and flavorful. Definitely re-orderable.

We both ordered the Vietnamese pork tenderloin with palm sugar caramel sauce and chile braised asian greens (bok choy, I think) as our main course. The other choice on DAT was a vegetarian option. The pork was delicious: four to five slices. The chile, again, added a substantial zip to the dish. The combination of the caramel-chile-greens and the pork was brilliant.

For dessert, his nibs ordered the trio of fresh fruit sorbets: pineapple, pear, mango (I thought as I tasted them). I had the Cognac chocolate truffle torte with coconut-caramel mousselline. The torte was served in slices, like rectangular wedges of brownies. Macadamia nuts in the torte. The mousseline was very light and helped cut the intensity of the chocolate. A thin wedge of carmelized brittle with added coconut (it tasted like) completed the dish. Delicious, and I didn't have to share.

Dine About Town deal price plus a bottle of pinot noir and tax totalled about $100. Above and beyond that was the tip.

The walk over took about fifty minutes. The walk (uphill!) back took more. We sat out on the deck and watched the lights on the Bay and sipped Cognac and talked about life until it was time for bed.

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