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Contigo

Contigo
(Photo by Anita of Married …with Dinner)

We have a new favorite restaurant.

Full disclosure: Chef-owner Brett Emerson is a personal friend and fellow blogger. And his restaurant is two blocks from our home, in an area where there is a relative dearth of good restaurants. So, we have a vested interest in seeing Contigo succeed. But I can say, having grazed our way through the ever-changing menu four times in as many weeks, that we would be enamored of this restaurant under any circumstances. 

Loyal readers and friends know that DPaul and I spent a month in Spain back in 2001. We began our journey in Catalonia, first with a few days in Sitges to cleanse our palates, and then on to five days in the magnificent city of Barcelona. We had little experience with Spanish food, much less Catalan, and happily delved into it expecting it would be much like our trips through Italy.

Ha.

While Spain and Italy may face each other across a vast sea and have shared roots going back millennia, their similarities, certainly on the culinary front, are few. We adapted quickly to this new diet of oily fishes, crispy fried croquetas and, above all else, pork pork porkity pork pork pork. But by the end of our month were desperate to eat anything other than Spanish food.

In our first week home, we indulged in all the pleasures endemic to San Francisco. Burritos! Sushi! We traipsed through our regular haunts, reacquainting ourselves with the food addictions we had established here.

And then, on the fifth day or so, the craving struck. Evening came, and the tapas, they were not there. Has anyone noticed my glass has no sherry in it? Where, for the love of all that is good and beautiful in the world, is my jamòn? We were faced with a void that needed to be filled, and would not be satisfactorily for a long time to come.

Well, our wait is over. After three years of hand-wringing, white-knuckled, hair-rending anticipation, Brett opened his Catalan-inspired restaurant in our own Noe Valley. During this period, we rooted from the sidelines, cringed with every pitfall, and cheered at each achievement. Seriously — read the blog and experience the drama.

And while he struggled to actualize his dream, we couldn’t help but worry. What if it didn’t come together? What if the critics didn’t like it? Worse, what if WE didn’t like it? 

Our worries were allayed in the first visit. Well, actually, the second. Our first foray into the restaurant (post-opening) was at 8 pm on the second day they were open, and we would have had to wait an hour or more for a seat. We decided to return later. Two days later. With entourage. And again the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. 

So much about Contigo’s menu appeals; it’s the way both of us like to order food. We’ve started every evening with a glass of sherry or cava and an order of jamòn — usually the precious and rarefied jamòn iberico, with its silky texture and nutty flavor, though a recent substitution of jamòn de paleta was no less spectacular.

We then delve into the variety of pica-pica, or small plates. The selection is ever-changing, but a few things persist. There are always croquetas, and they are always excellent — though if you are especially lucky they will be oxtail. The Galician-style octopus with potatoes is exquisite, and fully reminiscent of the same dish we had in Spain. Plump little albòndigas, meatballs, burst with flavor. A decadent bocadillo of pork belly or dish of butter beans with pig’s ears and trotters further fulfills the visceral pig cravings.

We treat the mains in the same ways as the pica-pica, as splittable nibbles. Fluffy, fragrant coques, or flatbreads, come out from the wood-fired oven warm and smoky, and great for sharing. And we recently adored a tender, medium-rare flatiron steak with fried onions and cheese.

I am chagrinned to say that we have not yet partaken of the restaurant’s prized dessert offering, extra-rich hot chocolate with churros. But mark my words, we will.

The place is popular, which is a very good problem to have. We have the luxury of proximity and so can arrive at the crack of 5:30; often there’s a line by 6. So go early, go late or go on a Monday … but do go.

Contigo
1320 Castro St (at 24th)

Related:

Do read Brett’s scintillating blog.

Amy, Genie, Thy and Anita are equally smiten.

  • May have to make a special trip back to Noe Valley just to go…even though Spain is closer!

  • Tea

    Ha, favorite line:
    “Evening came, and the tapas, they were not there.”
    I too was worried, then delighted, now just jealous that you get Contigo on a regular basis and I do not. xox

  • It was well worth the wait, wasn’t it? So extraordinary in every way…

  • David: Yes, but Contigo is seriously better Spanish food than we had in most of Spain.
    Tea: Next time you’re down, let’s graze together.
    Jenn: So worth it, though that seemed hard to imagine for so long.

  • I am probably lucky that I don’t live two blocks from there, because I would be there at least a couple of times a week. As Jennifer said, extraordinary.

  • It is both blessing and curse, yes.

  • So exciting. I can’t wait to go sometime, hopefully sooner rather than later.

  • Kalyn, we’d love to dine there with you when (not if) you come out next!

  • I am asking Anita to take me there when I come visit (one day!) but with the same groupd of dinner companions! I am so happy for Brett and I don’t even know him!

  • I went on the third day they were open, arrived at 6PM and had to wait 20 minutes because the place was full. Impressive.
    Of the pica pica we sampled, the pork belly was our favorite, although everything was lovely.
    How nice that you are so close by! It is a fourty-minute drive for me, but worth it for the experience.
    Cheers,
    ~ Paula

  • Helen, we’d love to join you as well.
    Paula — we just missed each other! How funny.

  • I’ve been wanting to go for weeks now! There is a serious lack of Spanish food in Berkeley, and ever since I heard Contigo opened, I’ve been trying to get across the bay to check it out. Is it really better than the food in Spain? I traveled throughout the country and found the best food to be in Ubeba, and pretty much all of Andalucia. Thanks for the reminder – I have to make this place a priority.

  • We’ll have to set it up so our worlds collide next time… 🙂
    Cheers,
    ~ Paula

  • Allison — to be fair, you *do* have Cesar, which does not suck. As for whether it’s better than Spain … I think it’s better than most of the food we had in Catalonia, anyway, where they have a much more subdued palate than us Americans. Brett adjusts for our tastes. I agree with you, though, that the food in Andalucia is spectacular. Granada in particular was a real treat, as well as Seville of course.

  • Ahh, I cannot WAIT to go here. Hopefully sooner than later 🙂

  • I would FLY cross country just to eat there! I’ve heard so many great things about it!

  • Well come on out, Jaden!

  • Isn’t this place GREAT! I have been twice in the last month & cannot get enough of it! The homemade salt cod ROCKS!!! And the butter beans with Totters – DAMN! Okay … I am hungry now!