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The Great Guac Hunt: Colibri

Colibri_logo
What better way to celebrate Dia de los Muertos than to revisit the Great Guac Hunt? I suppose a good mole would be a more fitting Oaxacan tribute, but this will have to do.

For this installation, my guest judge is none other than my better half, DPaul Brown. We’ve been to Colibri once before, with our good friend Anita, who knows from good Mexican food. I’ve been looking forward to returning for some time, especially for the purposes of this project, but also because I just plain like the place.

I’m not exactly sure what makes Colibri a bistro as opposed to a restaurant, but I’m not splitting hairs. One thing is for sure — while we have no shortage of Mexican food in San Francisco, we have a terrible dearth of quality places above the taqueria level. Colibri stands out as possibly the leader of the pack in this category. 

One important note about Colibri’s guac: If you’re seated for a meal, they make it tableside in one of those rustic stone pestles (molcajetes). At the bar, it just shows up already made. They also spice to order. Though DPaul and I are major pepperheads, we ordered it medium spicy so as not to overwhelm the guac experience itself. Let’s get on with the evaluation.

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Scala’s Bistro

ScalasbistroI don’t make a habit of frequenting hotel restaurants. In the world at large, hotel restaurants are the last resort, the option when everything else is too far away, or closed, or when you’ve been traveling for 15 hours solid and you’re just too tired to give a flying fig.

But sometimes there is a difference between a hotel restaurant and a restaurant that happens to be in a hotel. Take, for example, Saha, an independent restaurant in a boutique hotel that serves up reasonably good food and even a modicum of style. This is no Howard Johnson’s.

Scala’s Bistro fits somewhere in between. It is, technically, a hotel restaurant. Both it and the hotel that looms above it, the Sir Francis Drake, are owned by the same parent corporation, Kimpton Group. And while there is a certain thread of consistency to all Kimpton properties, there is rarely homogeneity. There is also, often, quality.

DPaul and I have eaten at Scala’s probably a couple dozen times over the years. It’s become a regular lunch haunt for us, a pleasant way station en route to an afternoon of downtown shopping. (And a lunch destination it shall remain … our dinner experiences have been less enthralling.) I also occasionally drop in and order a plate at the bar if I have somewhere to be in the area in the evening after work.

Scala’s closed for one month this past summer for a "major renovation."
Such words strike terror into the heart of a restaurant loyalist.
"Renovation" can mean anything from a quick coat of paint to a total
teardown, including a complete staff change. It can destabilize an
otherwise perfectly functional operation. We hadn’t been to Scala’s
since the reopening, and were unsure what to expect. It was time to
revisit.

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Il Cantuccio

CantuccioThere is a time for fancy-pants high-end restaurants, and there is a time for lowbrow street eats. In between, it is time for the good neighborhood restaurant, the regular haunt, the failsafe. I have a mental rolodex of such places, eateries where we can drop in at a moment’s notice and get a good, solid meal at a reasonable price. For us, in the Italian category, Il Cantuccio has been this place for a number of years. But it was not always so.

For the first few years of its existence, Il Cantuccio was a well-kept secret. It had taken over in the spot that had been a few short-lived restaurants, the kind of space that has the stench of failure on it, and so we paid it little heed at first. At the time, we were loyalists of the now-defunct Caffe Ponte Vecchio (where Bistro Annex sits today) and its occasionally surly proprietor, Corrado. But when Corrado moved to Florida to be closer to his kids, we were left without a neighborhood Italian spot.

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Range: Falling star?

Range_signI’ve followed with as much interest as anyone the drama and intrigue around the recent assignment of Michelin guide stars to Bay Area restaurants. I was unsurprised by many of them, but was pleased to see Range receive one star. Frankly, I didn’t expect any Mission restaurants to receive that degree of attention.

We’ve eaten at Range a few times now. We really fell for it from the very first time we went, shortly after opening. Repeat revisits have reconfirmed my opinions: solidly good food and above-par service … for a Mission restaurant. And that’s an important modifier. I have long held that the Mission/Valencia Corridor restaurants are among the best in the city, but that is to say that they are the best in terms of diversity and quality -to-value ratio. They simply cannot be judged on the same terms as, say, Acquerello, much less French Laundry. So how can Acquerello and Range merit the same rating? How did other seeming worthies within the Mission, like Delfina and Limòn (to say nothing of more under-the-radar spots like Walzwerk) miss out?

We returned to Range last night; I was luckily able to nab a
reservation for six of us, albeit at the blue-plate special hour of 5:30
pm. It had been a few months since our last visit, and I was eager to
see whether the restaurant not only lived up to its newfound
Michelin-star reputation, but simply whether it was as good as I had
remembered it.

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Walk with me some more

It's that time again. Each May and October CityGuides rolls out the red carpet for the nice weather, expanding their already aggressive schedule of tours to include ones that are available only during these fleeting, delicious months. Here are the…

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Le meh: Bistro 1689

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I’m always excited by the opening of a new restaurant in our neighborhood. Although Noe Valley has a not insubstantial number of restaurants, comparatively few are really worth writing home (or a blog) about, so I’m always optimistic at the sight of a new eatery. Unfortunately, I am also often disappointed.

Bistro 1689 drew a fair amount of buzz well before it opened, one of a small cluster of changes in the Baja Noe stretch of Church Street, some of which are still afoot. Formerly a nondescript Chinese restaurant, I figured it could only be an improvement. Then again, I’m not crazy about most Chinese food, so the bar was low there.

We popped in last Friday, having made a clearly unnecessary (yet still point-building) 6:30 pm reservation on OpenTable. Let the games begin.

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Le sigh: Chez Papa

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have a thing for bistrots. However, since my longtime favorite Cafe Claude‘s fall from grace, there’s been a gaping hole waiting to be filled. I still like Le Zinc, and our one trip to Le Petit Robert was promising, but inside I’ve been moping and lamenting the state of bistrot affairs.

Last night, we met up a group of people at Thirsty Bear to celebrate the return of our friend Steve from six years’ exile in Arizona. (Thirsty Bear is another establishment whose culinary star has faded; we were just there for the drinks. But when they first opened, oh my. I still salivate at the very thought of the fish cheeks. Mmm … fish cheeks.) After a couple glasses of albariño (typical contrarian me — drinking wine at a microbrewery), DPaul and I wanted to grab a bite with our friends Jim and Matthew. After parsing through our options of places we could hope to drop in on at 8:30 pm on a Friday, we decided to head up to Potrero Hill, figuring that between Chez Papa, Chez Maman, Baraka and, as a perfectly acceptable last resort, Goat Hill Pizza, we were bound to find something.

The restaurant gods smiled upon us. Jim popped into Chez Papa first,
asking about the likelihood of being seated (even as people were queued
up outside the door). Luckily, a reservation for five was already ten
minutes overdue, and if they did not show within the next five minutes,
their table would be ours. We waited, shivering in the foggy evening
wind, salivating over the plates that were being whisked out to diners
seated in the enclosed outdoor area. Something more like 15 minutes
later, they seated us at a table against the wall.

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