So a friend of a friend was in town, visiting from rural Illinois, so we all decided to go out to dinner on Thursday. Figuring he was somewhat culinarily deprived, I aspired to find a place that was a little out of the ordinary, and so tried, naïvely, to land reservations at Limòn. Now, I have no problem with places that tell you there’s no availability when you call. What I do have a problem with is places that don’t pick up the phone, routing you to a mailbox that’s full so you can’t even attempt to request a reservation. After a few attempts with the same results, I shifted gears and focused on another commendable Nuevo Latino restaurant, Destino. And hey, they’re on OpenTable, which makes my life easier.
I hadn’t been to Destino in a couple of years, but remember liking it pretty well. The fact that it’s made it nearly six years so far in a less-than-ideal location, wedged in a nearly transit-free zone in the mid-Market section, speaks to its quality and customer loyalty. I’m sure that they will only continue to succeed with the burgeoning Octavia Boulevard project, lending some much-needed commercial context into an area long overshadowed by the 101 overpass.
Unfortunately, that relative inaccessibility proved problematic. DPaul and I both planned to arrive about 6:15; at 6:05 the skies opened up and rain fell in walls of water so heavy visibility was obscured. By the time I arrived at the restaurant, I was soaked from the knees down. Luckily, Destino’s interior is so warm and inviting, and the staff so friendly, I quickly forgot about it. The two-for-one happy hour mojitos didn’t hurt either.
Destino’s space is far from palatial, but they’ve made effective use of it. There’s a modest slate-covered bar at the front with room for four stools. In the dining room, a banquette lines the eastern wall. There are basically three rows of tables, yet you never feel crowded nor like you’re invading your neighbor’s space (or vice versa). The room glows in warm tones: The walls are rust-colored, with a tasteful sponge job. Three tremendous carved-wood frame mirrors loom over the banquette, creating a greater sense of space. And diorama-like altar sculptures punctuate the opposite wall. The lighting is even and soft. You immediately feel comfortable.
We decided to order everything family-style, so as to taste more things. We had:
Arepas de queso
Cornmeal "biscuits" filled with fontina cheese and grilled. In fact this was more like a tamal minus the cornhusk, and it was delicious. The smokiness from the grill complemented the nutty flavor of the cheese and sweetness of the corn.
Tamal de quinoa
Why didn’t I think of this? Using quinoa in lieu of masa gives the traditional tamal a nice nutty earthiness and playful texture. The shredded chicken filling had a nice mild spice to it as well.
Three ceviches: A la Peruana (sea bass), Tiradito de Destino (salmon) and a la Mexicana (ahi tuna). All were good but I liked the sea bass best.
Crisp, thin slices of plantain with a pleasantly sweet/tart dark green mystery sauce.
Carribean pork empanada
This was a highlight. The savory pork filling was spiced with cinammon and a sweet picadillo sauce. Interesting contrast of flavors. I could eat a few more of these.
Pastel de choclo
A casserole-like dish with layers of ground beef and chicken, raisins, olives and corn. Sounded very intriguing, and it was good, but in the end a bit too much going on. No individual flavors stood out.
Aji de gallina
Shredded chicken inn aji amarillo sauce with yuca fries. Again, solidly good but not overly memorable.
Delicious steak stir fry (and remember, I am not a beef eater!) — thin slices of steak glazed in a sweet/salty marinade. Rich.
We complemented all this with the Clos dels Codols 2001 garnacha-carinena from Monsant, Spain, which was delightful.
Why has it taken so long for us to come back here? I’m not sure, but I am sure there will not be so great an interval before our next visit. Heck, I’d be content to come after work to sit at the bar, order up the ceviches and a couple of those empanadas along with the two-for-one mojitos.
1815 Market St