Braised Vegetable Couscous with Indian Spices and Lemon-Mint Yogurt; Sautéed Rabbit with Garlic and Bacon Pan Sauce; Espresso Gelato with Fudge and Caramel Sauce
Occupation: High School Theater Teacher
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: South Park Café
Reviewed South Park Café: Tuesday, August 22, 2006
When the Bay Area commute has got me down, and I can’t even think about preparing dinner, I turn to my neighborhood bistro, South Park Café. South Park Café has a wonderful, reasonably priced prix fix menu ($32 for three courses), a diverse selection, and the quality of food is dependable. Its quiet, unassuming location may fool you that nothing special is happening in South Park (and I actually think it’s quite nice that the restaurant is not located on a busy street, but rather by a park — it’s seems more…European), but I believe the best meal in South Beach is to be had here. The rustic yet classic French food is simple and straightforward. Chef Ward Little doesn’t need to experiment with foams or fusion cuisine; the best seasonal produce and products are what he is great at preparing. For example, his appetizer beet salad is just that: beets. It doesn’t come with cheese, nuts, or seventeen other unnecessary ingredients, just the best quality beets baked until perfectly tender, and a light vinaigrette with some parsley. Yet, just because their food is simple doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity.
One of my favorite dishes is a sea bass with crab sauce over mashed potatoes. The light cream sauce gives a richness to the dish and the tomatoes and fennel enhance the flavors of the sea bass. Also, I rarely see fish served over mashed potatoes (probably due to many restaurants striving to be “Atkins friendly”), but I think it is a much missed starch and protein paring. My carnivorous better half loves their steak and pommes frites duo. And even though he is very picky about having his steak “extra rare,” he is always satisfied. But if you are a more adventurous type, and won’t be happy with just steak and fries, you will also find some French delicacies on the menu, such as blood sausage or poached beef tongue. Yet no matter what you get, I’d always save room for dessert and would recommend their espresso gelato with caramel and fudge sauce. The gelato has a slight bitterness to it, which leaves room for the sweetness of the caramel and fudge sauces.
The service at South Park Café is what I would call economical; they serve you and then leave you alone. These servers may not be interested in becoming your best friends, but they will never keep you waiting long for your food. And if there is a wait for your table (reservations are recommended, definitely if it’s a weekend) there is usually room at the bar for a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot from their excellent wine list. So whether you are on a date (the seating is cozy and the lighting is dim) or need a bite before or after a Giants’ game, I would strongly recommend South Park Café.
Occupation: Retired Legal Assistant
Favorite Restaurant: Shalizaar
Reviewed South Park Café: Saturday, August 12, 2006
Décor: Simple and elegant. As with many bistros, the tables are very close together and our booth was a bit cramped, but we managed.
Noise Level: Low, but when the place was full later in the evening (Saturday night), the noise level was high. Otherwise, a nice find in San Francisco! The owner is smart enough to keep the music level down to the right level, so diners don’t have to yell to be heard.
Prices: $50 a person including tips, tax, and wine. Reasonable for a nice three-course meal! You can order a la carte, or a three-course dinner (appetizer, entrée, dessert) for $32. Which, if you think about it, is almost like getting dessert free (they’re all $7).
Selections: 5-6 selections in each section (appetizer, entrée, dessert).
Variety: Good variety, something for everyone, from the usual fare (e.g. beet salad, hangar steak, roast chicken) to the more regional French fare (e.g. pig salad, pig’s ear terrine, wild boar stew.)
Quality: High quality, everything was nicely seasoned. The beet salad was unusual due to the real spices in the dressing (coriander); my pig’s ear terrine was good, and the salads have a light, creamy dressing with a distinctive touch of fennel. The wild boar stew has a great red wine sauce that’s very comfort food-like with rigatoni to soak up the sauce. The sautéed rabbit was good and also had a nice sauce. The vegetarian couscous dish has a nice masala curry flavor and the grilled veggies are crunchy and flavorful. My companions’ meals were all very good too. The roast chicken was a bit ordinary, nothing to rave about, but not bad either. The desserts were good, but the espresso ice cream wasn’t cold enough; my chocolate mousse was great.
Portion Size: Large enough.
Selections: Heavy on the reds, with 7-8 whites and a couple of bubblies.
Variety: Good representation from different countries/appellations/years; wide price range for different budgets; wide range for different tastes.
Quality: Very good. We got the Domaine Les Pallières Gigondas, which is a nice syrah/grenache blend. The wine was recommended by the manager, who, by the way, didn’t recommend it based on price.
Parking: Not too difficult, considering its location. There is street parking around the park or on the side streets. We didn’t know there is a two-hour limit every day until 10PM, but we were lucky.
Service: Uneven, but mostly efficient. We had two waitpersons, and the more experienced one was very attentive. We were in no hurry, so we didn’t mind the gaps.
Occupation: Senior Software Engineer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Forbes Island
Reviewed South Park Café: Saturday, August 19, 2006
As I pulled up to South Park Café, I saw a small specials chalkboard hanging from the outside wall and simultaneously heard the laughter of a leaving party. This set the scene as I entered a perfectly lit, narrow bistro setting in the SOMA area. The host was friendly and seated us promptly. The tables are small, which adds to the intimate feel of the restaurant and helps in communication as noise levels grow; I did find it too noisy at times.
To cut down on cost I brought a special bottle from my cellar instead of purchasing one from the wine list. The host was nice about this and after I sent a small glass to the chef and host, the corkage was waived. I did have a chance to take a look at the wine list, which has a slant on French wines but also has several California favorites. Prices ranged from $24-$125 and for the most part seemed reasonably priced.
For my first course I chose the Sautéed Gulf White Shrimp and Local Halibut with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil. My friend ordered the Crispy Pig’s Ear Terrine “Leon de Lyon” with Frisée and Mustard. Each appetizer’s careful presentation appealed to me when placed on the table but then, there was the taste. The shrimp was very undercooked, and the dressing’s acidity was overboard on my choice. However, the halibut was rich in flavor and perfect in texture. The pig’s ear terrine was chewy, and the seasoning was bland. I should point out that I would have never chosen this plate, and my reaction to something I have never tried before was to never try it again.
Main courses came soon after. I was warned to order my Hanger Steak with Red Wine Sauce and Onion Jam medium because the chef tends to undercook it, but I had to send it back, mooing all the way to the kitchen, anyway. Once back from pasture, the steak’s taste was adequate, but not the best paring with some extremely bland, somewhat mealy, French fries. I wonder if this is what Freedom fries taste like? The other diner ordered Sautéed Local King Salmon with Red Wine and Onion Jam, which was above average in taste and was a good value for the $20 price, especially for the large portion served.
As the meal wound down the host stopped by and chatted with us, as did our waiter. The service was good, even the back waiters were smiling and gracious. Finally, the dessert and coffee came. The coffee was served hot and had an excellently smooth taste. It paired well with the profiteroles we ordered. The profiteroles’ ice cream was smooth, and rich chocolate coated each profiterole. We left with mixed feelings, especially about the food. I cannot say I would recommend it yet, but with such great atmosphere, attentive and friendly service, unique location, and reasonable prices, I will certainly give South Park Café another try in the future.