Seared Hamachi on Couscous, Roasted Chicken, Lamb Shank
Occupation: Exploratorium Teacher-in-Residence
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Aperto
Reviewed Aperto: Friday February 8, 2008
We have been going to and enjoying Aperto for almost 15 years, and this last visit, as usual, did not disappoint. We took two of our good friends to Aperto. This is our favorite place to take people from out of town. In my opinion, this is the quintessential San Francisco restaurant. The location on top of Potrero Hill gives you magnificent views of the city and the interior of the restaurant could be a set for a romantic movie. The restaurant is small and intimate, but the intelligent use of space gives you a feeling of privacy, and the acoustics, unlike many new restaurants in San Francisco, are first rate. You can actually have a pleasant conversation without raising your voice.
The experience starts by entering this charming room, filled with natural light coming in thought the giant windows. I will start with the only caveat that I can think of. They always start your dinner by serving the most delicious home made focaccia and a lovely virgin olive oil for dipping, and here in lies the problem. The bread is soooo good, you may be tempted to continue to eat this bread and not leave enough room for the delicious meal to come.
Before this feast started we planned ahead and ordered the chocolate soufflé cake, which typically takes longer to cook then other desserts. The four of us decided in order to taste as much as possible, family style would be our plan of attack. The two appetizers that started our dinner were delectable crab cakes and a wonderful white bean bruschetta. For entrees, we ordered the special fish, a seared hamachi, cooked to perfection on top of some couscous. We continued with the special meat dish, a rib-eye steak with some yummy vegetables. We also ordered from the regular menu. The roasted chicken on top of fingerling potatoes always are within the best part of my comfort zone. Finally, the lamb shank has always been one of our favorite items on the menu, and our friends concurred. Only two of us drank wine, so we ordered by the glass. Their wine list is small, but there is always something special to choose from. We had a scrumptious Chianti reserve.
As mentioned above, we preordered the soufflé and also ordered a chocolate cheesecake (never too much chocolate!) We have had this soufflé dozens of times, and this was probably the only surprise. Usually this dish is a killer! This time it was just excellent, but the cheesecake took its place on the killer list. This cheesecake was to die for!
The reason we love this place so much is that, beyond the great food, the lovely ambience, and the serene environ, the friendly waitstaff is there to make your evening special, and all this at a very fair price. Many times when we go to a newly reviewed restaurant and it misses the mark and is over priced my wife and I look at each other and say we could have been at Aperto. Added to all this, when you leave the restaurant, go out the door, turn right, take two steps, face south, you will gaze into the most beautiful sparkling city below. If you were not in a romantic mood when you arrived, you will be when you depart.
Occupation: Art Director
Favorite Restaurant: Masa’s
Reviewed Aperto: Saturday February 16, 2008
I have to preface this review by saying that I know how hard it is to run a restaurant. It’s tough work, long hours, and not always good pay. So, I do appreciate the hard work that goes into running a place. However, our dinner at Aperto is up there with the more mediocre restaurants I’ve eaten at in the Bay Area.
I called about two weeks in advance to ask if they took reservations. I was told they did not, but they asked for my name and the number in my party. I asked when a good time to arrive would be, and was told that it was busy at 7:30, but that if we came at 8pm, they could fit us in. I assumed this meant, “fit you in for regular dining.” You know what they say about assuming…
We got there at 8pm sharp, and they did not ask for our name (I didn’t bother to give it to them, to be honest, but what’s the point of taking my name if you’re not going to ask for it?) We were told that it would be an hour wait, or we could sit at the counter. Not that big of a deal really, but I was wondering why they didn’t mention that when we called. Seems they should have. We took the last counter seats available that faced a wall (the others had a window on the street), which were within sight and sound (and smell) of the only bathroom, about six feet away. I was a little surprised that they didn’t have at least a screen of some kind separating the bathroom from the dining room. It had an unsanitary feel that was unsettling during the dinner. Also, the maître d’ said he would move us as soon as the couple next to us left. He never mentioned it again.
Our waitress was a very nice young woman who did a great job of telling us the specials and taking our order. The service was slow, however. I do not fault her, I’m pretty sure it was the kitchen. It was almost 25 minutes after we were seated before the first course came. The couple next to us (who got the good counter seats that we had been promised) had their first course within 10-15 minutes, max.
Both of the barstool chairs we were seated on were extremely wobbly. They’re a health hazard and they need to be fixed. The decor of the room is Potrero Hill funky. Fresh red roses were a nice touch in the room, which is kind of industrial. I kept wondering if it used to be a drycleaners, the light fixtures looked original 50s. Nice warm yellow walls with red-brown accents. The kitchen is front and central, so you can see what is going on. It’s a very small room, about 10+ tables the counter. Extremely noisy room, which I really dislike in restaurants. I hate having to yell, and I hate it when others are yelling so loud I can hear their conversations.
The maître d’ seemed to know his wine list pretty well. We both ordered a glass of Pinot Noir, having asked for the smoothest wine he had. It was smooth, basic, drinkable.
The food was pretty bad, for the most part. The squash soup was tasteless (other squash and ginger flavors) and had the consistency of a soupy puree. The green onion crème fraîche dollop was nice, and did pair well, and actually gave it a finished taste. It could have used some salt, as well.
The butter leaf salad was awful. Tasteless, bland, I kept wondering where the “creamy herb-goat cheese buttermilk dressing” was… whatever dressing was on there was watery and bland, although there was some goat cheese. They might consider doing candied pecans and a better dressing to improve it. My husband’s beet salad was just as bad.
The main course was the worst, although my husband’s was a bit better. We both chose pasta. The one thing I will say in their favor is that the pasta was not overcooked. But the rest…? Not good. As I said, the dominant flavor in mine was burnt garlic, and everything else was bland. I ended up adding salt and pepper, which I almost never do in restaurants. My husband’s tagliatelle pasta was better, but still quite bland.
Dessert was an oddity: a warm apple pastry with caramel sauce. The apples tasted as if they’d been super-doused with lemon and the caramel sauce had the most bizarre taste I’ve ever had in a restaurant: it was either burnt, or they’d used something in it (baking powder?) that was really, really off. The consistency of the pastry was very good, but again, where was the salt? The vanilla gelato paired with it was decent enough, but nothing special.
This wasn’t a good dining experience for us, in any respect. I recommend going just one block farther up 18th Street to Chez Papa, a French bistro place that is excellent and about the same price. We showed up there with 4 people (and no reservation) a while back, and they had no problem getting us a real table.
Occupation: Youth Worker
Favorite Restaurant: New Kapadokia
Reviewed Aperto: Sunday February 17, 2008
Living as suburbanite on the 580 Corridor, east of the 680 interchange, visiting Aperto made me feel like one hip San Francisco native (I think). With the exception of being seated directly to the right of the front door (quite cold), therefore being directly in the line of entering patron foot traffic and a bustling Aperto staff team, this was a good experience. I even found a sweet parking spot one block down the hill. The interior was intimate, warm, and friendly. The seating was a bit too close to others for my comfort level, but the diverse and friendly crowd made it tolerable, and I settled in quite well after a while.
I should divulge the fact that I am, by no means, an Italian cuisine enthusiast. On any given night, if you asked me what I am in the mood for, Italian is always furthest from my mind, much to my wife’s chagrin. I chose the crab cakes as an appetizer, and they were absolutely delicious. They were fried to perfection and married well with a spicy aioli that gave just the right amount of heat and sweet to the bed of fennel and frisee salad. I chose to go for the spaghetti with shrimp dish after it and the braised short ribs battled it out in my head. The spaghetti was fantastic — an excellent blend of herbs, spices, mushrooms, tomato, arugula, and perfectly seasoned shrimp. Speaking as a guy that is not at all into pasta, I loved it. The pasta was cooked just right, to the point that I had to ask if it was house-made; it wasn’t, but it didn’t change a thing about the experience. For dessert, I had the apple crostata; sort of an open-faced apple pie with a puff pastry crust drizzled with caramel sauce with a small scoop of vanilla bean gelato on the side. I even enjoyed that, and I am not much of a dessert guy. How can you go wrong when a meal ends with any kind of gelato?
Here’s the kicker: all the dishes my wife (a lover of Italian food) ordered — the “Bruschetta” with Tuscan bean puree, broccoli rabe, balsamic syrup, and manchego cheese as an appetizer, and her main course of linguine pasta with shelling beans, butternut squash, broccoli rabe, garlic, chicken broth, butter, and grana cheese — she described as simply, above okay. The low point of the meal came when we tasted the “Bruschetta.” The bread wasn’t the traditional crispy, but grilled which gave it more of a burned taste, and I did miss the tomatoes in that appetizer. I guess that’s why it came in quotation marks.
Overall, I found myself enjoying the meal, tolerating the cold air as the door open and closed throughout the night, settling into the “intimacy” of the evening and really liking the friendly staff. I would definitely recommend Aperto for the food, but would also give fair warning about the seating.