[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="840" caption="Image from Nopa's wensite, Nopasf.com"][/caption]
When I was trying to figure out somewhere to go to dinner with my friend Hollis in San Francisco, I decided to check out the webpage for Nopa which is less than a mile from where I use to live when I was still full time in SF. As soon as I spied the words: local, organic, seasonal and simple, I picked up the phone and made my reservation. Rave reviews abound and the promise of food that fits my model for eating, health, sustainability and is still gourmet, made me really excited to try it out. I have, for the most part, not had the opportunity to explore the SF food scene. I hadn't been in SF enough to make real work of exploring (my goal is to try one new restaurant a week!) the food scene, so this was just the chance I needed to do said exploration.
I arrived at Nopa on a blustery, cold summer evening and while my guest wasn't there yet, they gave me the option to be seated at my table, away from the cold draft that came in everytime the door opened. I was lucky enough to sit upstairs and the whole restaurant really jives with my sense of style. The upstairs is more of a balcony, overlooking a huge, high ceiling, open space. The kitchen is open as well, and I could scope out some of the things being prepared from a bird's eye view. The bar on the main level was packed (it was 7pm) and I was happy to have a reservation since the drop-ins that had requested space before I was seated were looking at a minimum 1.5 hr wait. My waiter came quickly, brought me a tall glass of cool water and took my drink order with speed. I decided to try a White Manhattan. I was intrigued since I had recently read a blog about Death's Door Liquor and that it was NOT overrated and in fact quite good. I also really like Manhattans and was keen to try the interesting twist. Needlesstosay, it was a success. Enough spin and enough tradition.
Hollis soon joined me and we tucked into conversation, neglecting out menus profusely. The waiter, who I found intensely endearing and fitting- he had the style of a mission barista with the service of fine dining, made himself present and available to take our order but did not rush us. When we finally got around to looking at the menu, I was feeling a bit daring. I have been thinking alot lately about trying new things and foods I have never tried before and figured instead of opting for something I knew I would like (like the amazing summer melon salad with sheep's milk feta & basil that Hollis got), I decided to try Grilled Monterey Sardines with cherry tomato confit and spiced chickpeas. Can you believe I have never had Sardines? Well, these were the real deal-whole fish, simply and beautifully prepared. Despite the fact that I hate little bones, I made me way through the flavorful dish. The spiced chickpeas were crunchy and well, spicy and tomato confit perfectly offset the sardines flavor. As I mentioned, Hollis' summer melon salad was delicious. The flavors popped and you could taste all the best of summer in each bite. The basil was the perfect element to draw out all the layers of flavor.
For my main dish, I was absolutely drawn to the Moroccan vegetable tagine with toasted almonds. I got it sans lemon yogurt, which was not a problem. Hollis got the Northern Halibut with roasted early girl tomatoes, grilled summer squash and arugula. Even though SF is in the midst of one of its typical summers and is very cold, I didn't necessarily want a heavy dish. I wanted the flavors of summer in a warming dish and the tagine absolutely delivered! The vegetables were intensely flavored and crisp tender. The Moroccan spices warmed my palate but the dish itself was not laden with out of season vegetables. It was highly successful. Hollis' dish sang of summer. It was light and fresh. Everything that crossed our table really exuded the local, organic, seasonal nature of this restaurant. It was completely self-evident in the food. That absolutely delights me. The menu is very eclectic and covers a good range of flavor profiles. There is a burger on the menu that had me thinking all week (and ultimately creating one for myself at home) about the perfect burger, but there were also many other options available. Their wine/spirits list was extensive and thoughtful. The waiter paired my Sardines with a delightful red (mourvedre carignan syrah Languedo 2006) that complimented the dish impeccably. They put as much thought into their wine/spirits as they do their food, so no matter what you find on the menu to drink, it is not there thoughtlessly.
I will return to Nopa. It was genuinely good and I am hopeful that their food and wine philosophy sets a precedent that return meals will be as equally seasonal, thoughtful and plesantly surprising as my first visit.