Friday, November 23, 2007

A solid newbie and an oldie but goodie: Dinners at Maverick and Zuni

There are few things I enjoy more in life than going out to dinner, and fewer things still that I enjoy more than going out to dinner with my family. This week I really lucked out and enjoyed two nights out at two restaurants, one at a cool new spot in the Mission named Maverick, and the other at a well-established San Francisco restaurant - Zuni.


Maverick's concept is not unique - present modern American food prepared from fresh, seasonal ingredients in a modern, cleanly and sparsely decorated setting - but the execution in the front of the house and, for the most part, the back of the house, is what separates this restaurant from many lesser establishments. As I was heading from work, dealing with traffic and even a speeding ticket, I arrived late. I needed a drink. My father had ordered a bottle of 2006 Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc, which was so-so, but probably will show better after another 6 months or so in the bottle.

We shared a few salads which were all tasty and fresh, in particular the fried squash blossoms with toasted cumin and coriander yogurt sauce and arugula. The wine list was compact and novelly arranged according to Old World (under the header 'The Roots') and domestic ('The Vines'). Clever. There were more choices on the domestic side of things, and fortunately some good ones. I went with a 2005 Palmina Mattia, a Refosco/Cab Franc/Merlot blend from the a couple different Santa Barbara AVA sources. This wine was probably my best restaurant wine selection this year, just in terms of my (and everyone else's) pleasure drinking it and the overall value. No tutti-fruity Cal-Ital here, this is serious wine that had a fresh, pure black currant, blackberry fruit quality to it not unlike a nice young Chinon. It was similarly silky as well, lacking only some of Chinon's herbal and earthy savor. As for the rest of the food, sides were well prepared, especially the mac and cheese (nothing fancy, no goat cheese used, just good 'ol tasty mac and cheese). Sauteed cauliflower was fine and the rapini tasty, though super lemony. My braised veal shoulder, accompanied by a flavorful reduction including chanterelles, parsley root, pearl onions, kale and fingerling potatoes, was the driest piece of meat I have eaten all year. It's too bad, the flavors were quite good and the dish would have been a winner had it not been so dried out. Oh well. Maybe it was a sign that I should stay away from veal dishes for moral reasons, as I used to? Deserts here are quite good - we had a chocolate cake and an apple tart with cinnamon caramel ice cream and creme anglaise. Our service was very professional, if a little quirky. Our server insisted on 'priming' each wine glass with the wine about to be served. Maybe this is a new trend in restaurant wine service? Anyway, good food, solid wine list and reasonable prices all add up to a solid neighborhood restaurant.


I did not realize how large Zuni is. The street entrance leads towards a long copper bar, staffed by people who really know what they're doing and how to welcome you to their spot. Once again, I was running a bit late meeting my parents for dinner. I met them and ordered a glass of Henriot Brut Souverain, which they comped. Maybe it was Thanksgiving generosity, or more likely my dad was working the schmooze earlier. Either way it was a nice gesture, and the Henriot was a tasty drink - crisp and a bit austere as always, lemony with a touch of red currant fruit. Not exciting champagne, but reliable and a great apertif. Zuni looks sort of like an upscale version of a large brewpub, with high expansive ceilings, lots of open space and distressed wood floors. Upstairs, the space is very cleverly broken up into several different smaller dining areas, which helps to keep the noise down and adds a sense of privacy. Our table was directly above the oyster bar. To start we had a bottle of Roland Schmitt Sylvaner, which was round, slightly creamy and tasted like baked apples and a hint of peach. Tasty and cheap. I had an order of roasted sardines, which were fine but not a standout. Salads were fresh and lightly dressed the way I like 'em. For the main course I had ordered a bottle of 2005 Lapierre Morgon - which was a good bit richer and more generous than I had anticipated it. Also considerably lower in acidity, which is too bad. One of my favorite cru Beaujies I have ever had was a Desvignes Morgon 'Javennieres' from the same 2005 vintage; it was much tighter but also a much more interesting wine.

For my main I ordered the much heralded roasted chicken to split with my mom - it was just ok. Back when I lived in DC, I would often judge a restaurant based on how flavorfully and originally they could prepare a plain old chicken dish. It was fun, and actually a good indicator of the overall quality of the cooking. Well, once again the chicken test worked, as I found Zuni to be pretty good, but not all that great. Definitely a good lunch spot, though. For dinner it's ok as well- if the location is convenient - and if someone else is handling the tab.

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