Postcard From Tom: San Francisco
Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.
Despite a sour economy, restaurants continue to blossom in San Francisco. These three newcomers rank among my current picks.
CHEZ PAPA (1401 18th St.; 415-824-8210):
You know you're in the right place when you look up from your plate to see Alice Waters, the mother of California cuisine, dining at the next table. One of many new French bistros to surface in the city, this model is distinguished with nearly 20 small plates of mostly Provencal tastes. They include a luscious anchovy-onion tart, beef tartare prepared tableside, and a lovely salad of potato, artichokes, shaved Parmesan and bacon. Attentive service, a thoughtful wine list and first-rate braised lamb also mean fierce competition for the 38 seats in this Potrero Hill oasis. Entrees $16-$24.
JULIA (2101 Sutter St.; 415-441-2101):
The title refers to chef and co-owner Julia McClaskey, the spirit behind the open kitchen of this eclectic dining room, where murals of stormy seas share space with iron fencing and weathered siding. Her equally offbeat menu looks to the world for inspiration and focuses on bold flavors: chile verde, roast cod sauced with lemon and capers, and lusty beef short ribs are among the winning plates. Solo? Check out the friendly, U-shaped bar. Entrees $17-$25.
LIMON (3316 17th St.; 415-252-0918):
Yes, it's small. And cramped during prime time, too. But this family-run Peruvian storefront in the city's Mission District makes up for that with walls painted in cheerful fruit bowl colors and cooking that proves both soulful and extremely satisfying. Empanadas plump with beef, olives and raisins, and ceviche fresh with halibut, yams and corn are the kinds of experiences you might write home about if you were in South America but are lucky to find closer to home. Bring on the sangria! Entrees $11.25-$19.95