I was a little bit negligent about the blog this month, but not for a lack of great meals. The highlights of July include spots from all around the Bay: Le Garage (Marin), Zero Zero (SOMA), and La Penca Azul (Alameda, my hometown). Check out my thoughts below.
Taking full advantage of the ambiguous, awkward Wednesday 4th of July holiday, my Dad and I ventured over the Golden Gate Bridge to Le Garage for a midweek lunch. This place was clearly not built for walk-in traffic; it’s tucked away at a pier at the end of a long driveway. Even when you’re looking for it, it’s a little difficult to find (hint: just keep driving until you hit water). Is it worth the hunt? I’m not convinced. The food, ambiance, and service all left a little to be desired. As the name suggests, it’s a converted garage – which presents its own set of problems. Even at noon on a Tuesday, it’s one of the loudest restaurants I can recall ever visiting. My neck got a great workout as I strained to hear my dad, who was sitting just in front of me. I am pretty sure he’s pissed about the California high-speed rail proposition, but I can’t be sure.
The service meant well. But, when one orders a sandwich and the server brings mussels? Not good. Such was the case with my dad. After our server realized his mistake, I sat with my scallops as they furiously whipped up my dad’s actual order. These kinds of things happen; but they also managed to charge my dad for his sandwich AND the unordered mussels. Hate to say it, but that’s Le Garbage.
Oh, you want to hear about the food? My dad and I started with what I would describe as “fried cheese.” Heaven help you if you can screw that up. The cheese was lightly breaded, warm, and oozy. It was exactly what I hoped for, if not a bit on the skimpy side. My entree – scallops – often fall victim to insulting portion size, but with four large scallops and vegetables, I didn’t regret the order. The butternut squash added a fresh, healthy dynamic to the scallops. As is often the case, I enjoyed the (free) crusty bread and butter most of all. To be honest, when it came to decide about dessert, I was over it and we peaced out.
Again capitalizing on the 4th holiday, I headed over the Bay Bridge for a hometown visit in Alameda. As a youngster, I learned my ABCs, to count to 10, and about Mexican food at La Pinata. To my chagrin, La Pinata recently changed its name to La Penca Azul, which I can neither spell, pronounce, nor translate (if you’re curious, the B- I got in college Spanish still haunts me). It will always be “La P” to me.
The name of the game here – as it should be at all Mexican restaurants (ahem Mamacita) – is large portions and small prices. I ate and drank myself silly and dropped a single Jackson. And the food is GOOD. The menu is about as thick as an encyclopedia – offering everything from Mexican classics, hamburguesas, tortas, to breakfast options – but I recommend sticking to the classics. Between all the sides and complimentary chips & salsa, Jac and I couldn’t finish off our shared fish tacos and tostada salad. We waddled out with money left in our wallets. Excelente!
As my mom texted me last year: “Zero Zero is a Ten.” The restaurant celebrates its two year anniversary this month and has been a wonderful edition to SOMA. Zero Zero’s chef, Bruce Hill, has been a consistent fixture in my blog because of his other two spots – Bix and Picco. Each serves a different purpose and slightly different food, but each renders me speechless. Bix is the nice one; Picco is the suburb one; and Zero Zero is the (sort of) casual pizza spot in SOMA.
Zero Zero is focused on pizza and small plates (there’s no burger unlike the other two outlets). I bypassed pie this visit to focus on all the other small plate temptations. Perhaps one of my favorite plates of all time is the avocado bruschetta offered at Picco and, not surprisingly, it’s just as good here. The concept of avocado on toast isn’t revolutionary; it’s just executed better than… anything. In fact, the bruschetta offering is even more robust at Zero Zero, with a spicy, crunchy chickpea option in the mix. It’s not a 10 like the avocado bruschetta, but I had no trouble polishing off my share. Interestingly, the fried chicken falls under the “antipasti” section of the menu but it’s hardly a starter portion size. Fried chicken has to be one of the most volatile dishes out there – it can be really good or really bad. No surprise endings here, it was awesome. The bird is served over a spicy chili and yogurt sauce, to remind me I was at a classy establishment.
Dessert was the last thing I needed at this point, but I just don’t have the willpower to say no to a build-your-own ice cream sundae. Maybe I’m running out of steam, but I can’t even come up with words to describe what this is like. Have you seen build your own sundaes (except for McDonalds – which, admittedly, is good)? I have not. There are limitless combinations and I hope to try them all.
As the sundae situation illustrates, Bruce Hill is all about taking simple pleasures and doing them really well.
Needless to say, July was a good month. Bring it on August. Suggestions welcome…
85 Liberty Ship Way
La Penca Azul
1440 Park Street
826 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA