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I am searching for all things grubalicious!

I write about the San Francisco restaurant scene, from cheap eats to fine dining, ethnic foods to all-American, tried and true spots and soft openings of new places. Follow me on my gastronomic journey! Be sure to visit me at http://grubalicioussf.com.

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Sozai Restaurant and Sake Lounge

 1500 Irving St
San Francisco, CA
 

Sozai - some of the best Japanese fare in town

When Ritsu and his wife took over Sozai on the corner of Irving and 16th in the Sunset, I was seriously doubtful that they could Gil and Mari’s (the former owners who now own Nombe in the Mission) food and sake offerings. Well, it turns out that the food may actually be a tad better than the old Sozai and is equally delicious with Nombe. The sake list is not as extensive as Gil’s, so Nombe is still the place to go for serious food and sake pairing in my book. Ritsu used to work at Blowfish to Die For and this is his first restaurant venture, and by the looks of it, he is doing amazing business. The tiny 30+ seat eatery was packed by 6:30 and there were people waiting for a table the whole time we were eating, about an hour! There were two servers/hostesses who circled around the dining room in a friendly and efficient manner, and our multiple plates came out remarkably fast considering how busy they were. All of the dishes were good, but some standouts included the skewered chicken meatballs, hamachi carpaccio with jalapeno and hamachi kama. The only potential downside is that feasting here can be pricey because it’s tapas/izakaya style here, so portions are, for the most part, petite. Two adults and two kids devoured numerous items plus sake and beer that totalled $188 before gratuity. That said, since this place is so close to our house, I am sure we will going back often. And we’ll make sure to have reservations!

Tofu Steak with Mushrooms

Three pieces of soft tofu covered in a sweet sauce with thin slices of meaty mushrooms, green onions, and shredded nori. Comforting!

Octopus Balls

Great batter – crunchy outside and creamy inside – but only a small piece of octopus inside. Yummy, though.

Fried oysters

A trio of big oysters comes with chili garlic sauce on the side.

Pork Belly Skewers

This was probably my least favorite dish, kind of plain, a bit chewy, with just two flat pieces per order.

Tsukune (Chicken Meatball)

These tiny skewered meatballs had good texture and a nice, slightly sweet flavor that was addicting. I think our son ate 24 of them in one sitting! Per order, you get two skewers with 3 small meatballs each.

Hamachi Carpaccio with mustard miso vinaigrette and jalapeno

Ever since Pres a Vi in the Presidio closed, I have been looking for a place that does a hamachi crudo with jalapeno that is just as zingy and delicious, and now I’ve found it. I absolutely love the thin, tender slices of fish with the mustard miso and small slices of jalapeno on top. Yum!

Tonkotsu ramen

Our daughter happily slurped up nearly the entire giant bowl of noodles with boiled egg and thick pork slice. We had to move the green onion slices out of the way since she doesn’t like onions, but that was no big deal. The broth was rich and almost creamy. Pretty good but not the best in town.

Hamachi Kama

We shared two orders of this divinely crisp-skinned, salty, meaty fish and nothing was left. Some places char it too much or not enough – this was perfection.

Duck Skewers

It was on the Specials board and the server suggested we try it. The meat was tender and served with a port wine reduction. Somewhat surprisingly, our daughter enjoyed it the most. To me, it was good but the sauce was a bit bland.

Gyusuji (Braised Beef Tendon)

If you enjoy tendon, then you will like this dish. But if you have issues with chewy textures, it may not be for you. It was a steaming dish of tender tendons sprinkled with chili powder and green onion. Really great!

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Kenwood Restaurant and Bar

 9900 Sonoma Hwy
Kenwood, CA
 

Kenwood -

During a week long trip to the wine country, a friend suggested we stop here for lunch here because it is one of her favorite dinner destinations, but she had never been for lunch. It was a weekday, so it wasn’t very crowded, and the majority of the people who were dining looked like they were retired. Food and service in the airy, cottage-like dining room were fine, but nothing was particularly memorable or exciting. It was kind of vanilla, actually. There are so many spectacular food and wine experiences in that neck of the woods that I don’t think I would go back unless I happened to be in that exact area and were famished.

Escargot at Kenwood Restaurant and Bar

Escargot

I started with the escargot – half a dozen in their shells with a standard garlic parsley butter. The escargot was tender and the sauce was good, although it could have had a little more garlic.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

I opted for the dolmas under the Soups/Salads/Small Plates section of the menu as my entree. It came with three large grape leaves stuffed with lamb and wild rice. It sat atop sliced cucumbers, yogurt and golden raisins…LOTS of golden raisins. The dolmas were tasty but in lieu of the yogurt with sweet raisins, I would have preferred more acid – a few lemon slices would have done the trick.

Artichoke

I love artichoke, especially when it has been grilled and has a smokey flavor. This one was very plain and came with a bland aioli – in one word, it was boring. It could have used some salt and pepper at least.

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Sutro's

 1090 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA
 

Scenic ocean view and solid seafood at Sutro's

This is the kind of restaurant you want to take out of town visitors because the ocean view at this historic site is amazing. Plus, the food and service are reliable, too. When you walk downstairs to the bar and dining room, you are struck by all of the natural light shining through the large windows, the high ceilings and the expansiveness of the place. Every table is a good one here. Most recently, we enjoyed an early Father’s Day dinner in a corner window overlooking the beach. It was a big six-top with plenty of elbow room so our daughter could peer outside and wave at the beach-goers walking down the path past the window. Our server was attentive, professional and very accommodating. It was a relaxing, enjoyable meal in a beautiful setting – always a treat, even for locals like ourselves who live not far from Ocean Beach.

Scallops

Our son enjoyed the seared scallops which came with fingerling potato and asparagus hash. When he asked for it without the asparagus, they were happy to oblige, as everything is cooked to order.

Halibut

The halibut was huge and well prepared, with a nice sear to it. It sat atop a giant sweet potato pancake which lent nice crispness and a slight sweetness to the dish.

Oysters

We shared a half dozen Kumamoto oysters which came with a meyer lemon mignonette. The oysters were best plain or with a bit of fresh lemon since the mignonette was quite tart.

Chocolate mousse

The kids devoured their mousse with raspberry coulis and an oreo wafter.

Ricotta creme tart

The sweet, warm ricotta tucked into a puffy phyllo pastry was delicious. It had crispy bits that looked like shredded wheat and made the dessert look like a miniature nest. A highlight of the evening.

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Bar Crudo

 603 Bush St
San Francisco, CA
 

Successful, beautiful seafood at Bar Crudo

Bar Crudo is a must if you haven’t been to the offbeat Divisadero Street digs and treated your tastebuds to its well executed seafood and fish dishes. Nestle into your seat and begin your meal with something fresh like oysters on the half shell ($2.50 each) and a cold beer. Work your way through the menu which is divided up into sections for raw seafood, cold and hot. It’s not a super extensive menu but that’s how they stay focused and consistent, turning out quality food that is often sublime. It’s a cool and casual place to get a top notch meal in the Nopa area, without the hideous waits that other spots in the area are known for.

Crudo Sampler

This celebration on a plate showcased four fish each distinctly prepared from the other. Well-balanced and mouth-watering flavors and textures made every bite a pleasure to savor. We had artic char served with horseradish cream, dill and wasabi infused tobiko, a personal favorite, and Rhode Island fluke with jalapeno, basil, mint, citrus, coconut milk and crunchy chicharrones on top which my husband loved. We thoroughly enjoyed the scallops which were served with celery root and roasted apple puree and truffle salt, as well as the butterfish with orange vinaigrette, olives, black garlic and shiso.

You can order 8 pieces for $23 as well.

Uni Avocado Toast

We had to order this dish, especially since our server admitted that it is so good that she actually dreamed about it. It came with frisee and herb salad and indeed, it will undoubtedly leave you dreaming about coming back for more. And even if you don’t love uni, I bet you will be a convert once you try it here.

Hamachi Kama

I have to say that this dish was the least impressive, mainly because the flavors didn’t wow us and it was on the small side. I’m used to having grilled hamachi kama and love it when it has crispy, salty skin on the outside and is tender and moist on the inside. Here, in a spicy mustard oil, it was just okay, although it was prepared with some of my favorite things like oyster mushrooms and cannellini beans.

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Ristobar

 2300 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA
 

Good food and efficient service abound at Ristobar

This beautiful Marina spot is the perfect place to go when you want to kick back and relax over a glass of wine and some cheese or if you are looking for a complete Italian meal to share with friends. It is warm and inviting while still feeling spacious. It gets four and a half stars.

Our party of 15 sat comfortably at neighboring tables in the semi-private room at the back (I say semi-private because people have to walk past that room in order to get to the restrooms), carefully tended to by our chipper, knowledgeable and easy-going server Michael. We ordered many plates to share, and each was successful, save perhaps, for a plate of wilted chard, kale and spinach that wasn’t wilted enough for my liking and made me grateful for having a strong set of teeth. Mind you, many people in the group didn’t have an issue with it. In addition to our sharp server, the efficiently run kitchen scored high marks. All of our dishes were delivered in well-paced succession so that there was always something to go with our wine (and raspberry sodas for the kids). All in all, ours was a relaxed and enjoyable two-and-a-half hour meal that literally left a good taste in our mouths.

Pappardelle

This dish was a delicous preparation of fresh pasta, seafood, zucchini and spicy tomato sauce. We ordered several of them so that everyone could get a couple of mouth-watering bites. It went really fast!

Gnocchi

The gnocchi were soft, pillowy and glistening with gorgonzola dolce latte and Sicilian pistachios. Even the Italians at our table were pleased with the quality and authenticity of the dish.

Valencia Pizza

This pizza comes with ricotta, goat cheese, asiago, pear and watercress on a crispy chewy crust. Really good savory and sweet combo.

Oven roasted beets

Think warm oven roasted beets with creamy melted fontina cheese together in one dish. For some, it was an odd pairing, but I enjoyed it.

Duck leg confit

Both kids simply loved this dish. My son even had two orders of it, on top of pizza and a chocolate trio dessert. The duck was served with mushrooms in a huckleberry reduction. Hearty, meaty, cooked perfectly with crispy skin and all. It’s a real winner.

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SPQR

 1911 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA
 

SPQR will satisfy your craving for animal parts

This Italian eatery always packs in a crowd, and for good reason. If you like offal or the internal organs and such of butchered animals, then this Pacific Heights restaurant is a must. SPQR specializes in rich, yummy things like fried rabbit liver, bone marrow, crispy pig’s ear and sweatbreads. Dishes change based upon availability of ingredients, and for people who are watching their cholesterol and calories, there are a few lighter menu items such as Meyer lemon risotto with pea shoots.

Chicken Livers

Part of the joy of eating this dish is being able to dip into the jar of balsamic and rhubarb jam, and spread it along with some of the decadent chicken livers onto crunchy, chewy crostini. Sweet and savory, creamy and crunchy, warm and cold, it’s a gift to the senses.
My four year old daughter loved the rhubarb jam on crostini but found the livers a bit strange.

Columbia River King Salmon

Under the large plates section of the menu, there is a salmon dish with beet fregola and pickled rhubarb which tasted really fresh, was perfectly cooked (they tend to prepare it on the rare side but I requested it cooked well for my child and they did) and had a refreshing amount of acid. Our daughter devoured it. In fact, she liked the salmon so much that she wanted more, so we ordered the Grilled Wild Salmon Belly with golden raisin saor and pepper jam from the starters portion of the menu ($8), to compare the preparations. Both were equally delicious.

Local Sardines

This starter comes with bread crumbs, Lady apple puree and chili oil. I’m a big fan of sardines, so this dish was good, but it seemed to lack a little pizazz. Maybe it’s because I prefer mine marinated (for that, go to Gitane in SF, they do a great job).

Sweetbreads

I think that if more kids tried this dish, they would like it. Kind of like popcorn shrimp and popcorn chicken. Those little morsels are really addicting. Actually, I don’t think I’ve never met a sweetbreads dish I didn’t like. The best in recent memory were at The Richmond on Balboa Street in the city, and SPQR’s were just about as good. Think grilled onions, morels and black garlic sauce – mmmmm!

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Acqua Pazza

 201 E 3rd Ave
San Mateo, CA
 

Charming Southern Italian Eatery in San Mateo

My girlfriends took me to lunch for my birthday recently and we had a lovely meal. It was a really warm, sunny day so people were enjoying their lunch on the small patio as well as inside with the windows facing the street completely opened. Everyone who works there is Italian so you get an immediate sense that the place is authentic. They make their own pastas and breads and put a lot of pride and love into their dishes. Service was attentive and very friendly. They even sent out a complimentary house made tiramisu for dessert.

Lentil Soup

I was impressed by the hearty portion and loved how piping hot it was. The soup was filled with lentils, tomatoes, carrots, onions, sausages, and all sorts of light and fresh savory flavors.

Sole picatta at Acqua Pazza

Sole picatta

Delish! My friend and I both ordered the sole with a classic lemon, caper butter sauce. It was the best sole picatta I’ve ever tasted. The fish was moist and the sauce was perfectly seasoned – not too tart and not too buttery – and it was accompanied with veggies like carrots, potatoes and zucchini. Look at how pretty it looks served on this painted dish.

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Sushi Aka Tombo

 1737 Buchanan Street
San Francisco, CA
 

Great sushi experience in Japantown!

My family used to go to Honu’s which used to occupy this space because we loved the live music and Hawaiian vibe. We were so disappointed when it closed. Now that Sushi Aka Tombo has taken over, we have a new go-to spot for great sushi and other Japanese eats. The decor is simple and there is nothing fancy about it – not much ambiance – the focus seems to be on the food. Service was spotty, our server started out really strong and then seemed to forget about us as more people came in. Still, we had a good experience and both of my kids enjoyed the food so we will be going back!

saba nigiri

My test for sushi is always the saba. The saba here was very tender and delicious, not dry and chewy like some other places. It would have been nice to have a slightly bigger bed of rice, but I was able to pop the sushi into my mouth in one bite, just as you are supposed to do, Japanese style.

uni nigiri

They had local uni as well as Japanese uni on the daily specials board so I opted for the latter. It was amazing! It just melted in my mouth and didn’t have that bad aftertaste that you sometimes get with not-so-good uni. I could have eaten a dozen of these easily.

Gyoza

My son ordered two of these because he liked it so much. He also devoured the kalbi short ribs which he gobbled up, too. The gyoza are deep fried rather than pan fried so that is why I didn’t give it five stars. In my book, gyoza should not be deep fried.

Hamachi kama

The four of us shared two orders of hamachi kama. They were on the small side but well prepared. Sometimes, grilled hamachi kama tastes too charred, but this was absolutely perfect – tender and meaty, and slightly salty. Mmmmmm!

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Iluna Basque (CLOSED)

 701 Union St
San Francisco, CA
 

'Top Chef' season 6 contestant is chef/owner of this place

Since chef Mattin Noblia is on the current run of “Top Chef,” I thought it would be fun to check out his North Beach restaurant, Iluna Basque, and sample some of the Basque flavors that he perfected in France and Switzerland.

My foodie girlfriend, husband, daughter and I recently shared a number of small plates for dinner. Everything looked attractive and for the most part, everything came to the table nice and hot. Did we find ourselves basking in the glory of the flavors and textures of Basque cuisine? Not so much. Many flavors lacked balance and some of the textures were troubling. 2 1/ 2 stars overall.

The best things about this place were the relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff and extensive list of wines by the glass.

We really wanted to fall in love with this place and wholeheartedly root the young buck on as he battles it out on t.v. It always pains me to write unfavorable things about a restaurant. It’s like killing a little bit of someone’s dream. But since many of you have expressed an interest in hearing more of the ugly stuff along with the good, I’m sharing this experience with you. Maybe it was an off night, or maybe we didn’t order the right things. It’s doubtful, since our collective tastebuds told us that so many of the dishes failed. Maybe chef Noblia will show me a thing or two by taking the title of “Top Chef.”

chocolate cake

Everyone agreed that this cake with raspberry coulis was good.

flan

The koka, caramel flan, was fine, pretty ordinary.

croquettes

The shrimp and potato croquettes were tacky and gummy inside. Even my daughter spat the goo out with a frown and a disdainful “ewwww” to go with it

stuffed piquillo peppers

The Spanish salt cod filling in the piquillo peppers fared only a smidge better than the croquettes and suprisingly didn’t have much taste.

mini lamb burgers

These started off strong, with sweet carmelized onions and well-seasoned meat. But halfway through, mine had an off-putting gritty texture and my girlfriend said she wanted to spit hers out.

mini pizza

The same thing happened with the serrano ham and Etorki cheese pizza. The first couple of bites were good, but after that, the ham tasted more like a salt lick, and we were lapping out of our water glasses. My ravenous daughter, who is a bit of a pizza connoiseur at the ripe old age of three, did eat a couple of slices of the new pizza we ordered minus the ham, but once she popped the last piece into her mouth, she scrunched up her face, grumbled about wanting to go home “now!” and curled up in her stroller to try to forget her sub-par pie experience.

scallops

The sauteed scallops with ratatouille were well cooked, but blah.

empanada

The only redeeming but not jaw-droppingly good dish was the chicken, olive and tomato empanada. The crust was buttery and flaky the filling had a nice, distinct olive flavor.

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Nob Hill Grille Restaurant

 969 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA
 

Not just for breakfast anymore

Nob Hill Grille is a cozy gem that my husband and I recently discovered, run by Bay Area natives, Rich Paez and Fabio Stefani, with chef Heli Samaniego as the driving force in the kitchen. Rich and Fabio, who have over 20 years of restaurant experience between them, took over the restaurant that only served breakfast in 2007 and have transformed it into a delightful dinner destination as well. We had the pleasure of dining as guests one evening and came away appreciating why Nob Hill Grille won the title of “Best American Restaurant” from Best of the Bay. We haven’t had a chance to return for brunch yet, but Nob HIll Grille was also bestowed the honor of “Best Brunch” from SF Weekly.

As you’ll see below, our starters, salads and entree were just about perfect. Desserts were a little less impressive, but overall, Nob Hill Grille is definitely worth a visit. I can’t wait to go back and sample other items such as mac and cheese, chicken pot pie and baby back ribs.

For dinner, the intimate dining room downstairs is ideal. For brunch, I imagine any seat in the house is great, but sitting at the street-level dining room counter to watch your meal being prepared in the partially open kitchen would be particularly fun.

brioche bread pudding

The only unfortunate part of our meal was the bread pudding with Bourbon caramel sauce and hand-spun sugar. It had great flavors and I admired chef Heli’s handiwork with the sugar decoration, but the bread pudding itself was burnt. Rich assured us that it was an abberation. By then, we were so satiated from everything else we’d indulged in that we really didn’t mind.

Wagyu sliders

Using local, seasonal ingredients, chef Heli treated our tastebuds to fresh flavors in dishes such as Wagyu sliders on a molasses bun. It was rich and delicious, with a little kick from spicy Djion-mayo, a little sweetness from sauteed onions, and a little creaminess from melty cheese. I loved the mild, crunchy East Coast pickles that came on the side.

burrata and heirloom starter

The house made burrata was divine – the rind was perfect, not too thick like some other places I’ve tried, and the inside was super creamy – and it was served with mouthwateringly juicy heirloom tomatoes, micro basil, a sprinkling of pepper, Australian pink salt and balsamic. Such a simple yet perfect dish.

filet mignon

The melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon was perfectly cooked and served with tender cannellini beans, broccolini, and roasted shallots in a port demi-glace topped with crispy onions. I don’t typically love fried onion strings atop my beef because it’s usually too heavy and greasy, but theirs was light and crispy, not greasy at all. The dish is a meat lover’s dream, hearty and comforting.

Summer salad

My husband, who isn’t a huge salad guy, admitted he could make an entire meal out of the salads here. We both loved the one with grilled peaches, watermelon, mache, bleu cheese, house made brioche croutons and mustard vinaigrette. Summer on a plate. The flavors were perfect – sweet fruit, tangy mustard dressing, the rich saltiness of the cheese. Loved the brioche croutons – they had a nice, fresh chewiness, not the hard crunchy little squares you often get.

beet salad

We adore beet salad, and Chef Heli’s version with petite goat cheese croquettes in a balsamic dressing was satisfying. The beets tasted incredibly fresh and sweet. I liked the fact that the goat cheese were bite-sized, not those nearly overwhelming big wheels you sometimes get.

peaches and cream crepes

During dessert, we sipped on a Cambria late harvest viognier, Santa Maria Valley ($8) to go with the handmade crepes with Bourbon macerated peaches and homemade whipped cream. The wine was better than the dessert – the crepe was okay, but nothing to write home about. It’s something I could have easily made at home.

Showing entries 1 - 10 of 64
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