Warm Goat Cheese and Crostini with Pickled Beets and Frisée; Rosemary Pork Chop with Lima Beans; Warm Chocolate Cake and Blue Bottle Coffee Martini
Occupation: Speech Technology Pioneer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: NOPA
Reviewed NOPA: Saturday January 26, 2008
A one-time laundromat, Nopa (standing for North of Panhandle), has become one of the signature restaurants of San Francisco. I’ve eaten here many times and remain puzzled how a place so constantly busy maintains such a high standard for food and service. One reason is the chef. Laurence Jossel and his wife run the kitchen and the front-of-house, respectively. Laurence can be seen every night standing between the (open) kitchen and the bar inspecting every dish that comes out. (If you can, get a seat at the small counter facing the pizza oven and you’ll get a great look at the kitchen at full speed.) Nothing gets past him that isn’t perfect. The house is run with great efficiency and charm. The crowd is lively, and the noise level is like that of a good party, as is the mood.
I tend to eat at the common table and, likely as not, I dine alone here. As a solo it’s pretty easy to get a seat, but if you’re two or more I highly suggest making reservations. The bar is usually 3-deep and there is always a crowd standing around the common table. The waitstaff must sleep well at night given how they’re whizzing around the dining room keeping drinks filled and tables pleased. Now, for the food.
On a recent visit I started with my customary Belvedere martini with a twist. While unwinding, I ordered my appetizer, which this night was the warm goat cheese with crostini, pickled beets and frisée. They serve the dish with a small spoon for dolloping the cheese onto the crostini. You’ll need it for getting every last bit of the cheese out of the small crock. I’ve had this dish dozens of times here and it never fails to delight.
A glass of Cabernet Franc 2004 Château Villeneuve came to the table, and I savored it while I waited for my entrée to arrive. I ordered the country pork chop with cannellini beans, wilted greens, and salsa verde. The pork chop is the signature dish on the menu, and some say it’s the best pork chop in San Francisco. Perfectly cooked, the meat was sizzling with a moist, slightly pink interior. Absolutely perfect. The beans and greens complemented the dish perfectly. The portions of both dishes were just right. The appetizer left me looking forward to the entrée, and the entrée itself was just enough to finish the plate and just enough to satisfy my hunger. I had to convince myself I had room for dessert.
I wasn’t gonna pass on dessert tonight. I ordered the warm chocolate cake with crème fraîche and burnt orange caramel. While waiting I had a Blue Bottle Coffee martini. Wow. The martini was spectacular. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to martinis, but Blue Bottle coffee is my fave, so I ventured into uncharted waters and came up with a winner. It was a perfect intro to my chocolate cake. Now, gentle reader, imagine if you will how the name of the dessert might appear on a plate. Yep. Soft, warm, sweet, and very rich. Perfect, and a great way to absolutely ensure I’d be at the gym in the morning. All in all, a home run. Again.
Occupation: Mortgage Broker
Location: San Mateo
Favorite Restaurant: Le Charm French Bistro
Reviewed NOPA: Tuesday February 19, 2008
Weather: A rainy night
Portion Size: Huge, perfect for big appetites, we were starving.
Quality of Food: Excellent. The chicken was large and of top quality.
Lighting: Candles were great, a little dark, but romantic.
Service: GREAT. Very, very attentive, at least 6 people waiting on us total. Over 6 people said goodbye to us.
Wait For Table: I had a reservation and we were 10 minutes late due to the rain, but we were seated instantly. It was not crowded at the time.
Food Arrival Speed: Just right.
Décor and Atmosphere: Very nice, very OPEN, LOVE the HUGE WALL of windows that was about 15 feet high with mirrors in between. They have a great building. The bathrooms are great; nice and roomy, nice décor, unisex sinks, very well done. We sat UPSTAIRS in the balcony seating overlooking the entire restaurant at a table for 2.
Bang for Buck: Very well priced overall for the quality and for the city and for the flavor.
Wine Service: Great selection available, I chose not to drink and drive home in the rain, as it was storming outside and I had a 45-minute drive home. But I was tempted by their nice bar.
Noise Level: Very good. It got really crowded by 7:00 and by 7:30 it was getting loud, but we were upstairs, and the seats are nice and far apart. This is one thing I look for, it was VERY private, which is great for dates.
COMMENTS: Lively inside with a Good Energy
- It was an adventure, something new and different
- A great LOCAL place in the city, I like places where locals hang out (not at all touristy).
- Parking was free after 6pm and easy, right across the street.
- Located in the middle of the city, it was a little far from my office or shopping haunts in the city, but a nice enough neighborhoods
- I liked seeing the Muni busses on the streets. Watching them drive by made me realize that I was in the city dining out. There was lots of great people watching and just the right amount of action.
- I liked the artwork, very unique.
- They have a large and impressive wine cellar closet in the back.
- I like the way it’s laid out, and I would go back. I would feel comfortable dining alone, either at their great long bar or at the big long wooden table, which is designed, I think, to have singles dine at the same table on any night and perhaps meet others. I liked that area; it was inviting.
- The bar is nice and very inviting and I am not a big drinker. It is set up well and lots of single women were there early. It had a very inviting feel for a woman, which I never see in the city.
- We had a great dinner and the food was DELICIOUS.
- The dessert was really fantastic, so good that I already crave it again.
- The pork chop was the best tasting one I’ve had in years with the rosemary spices on top and the flavorful meat.
- My date loved everything, and the service, I think, was the best part. Our waitress was perfect, just attentive enough, but with an extra warm smile, and she made us feel welcome. The other 6 men roaming around us for water, drinks, etc. were so friendly. I was very impressed with the friendly attitude throughout the restaurant. You can tell it is definitely a place people frequent, and everyone knows everyone. I felt very welcome. It was like sitting by a warm fireplace, that’s how warm the ambiance was.
Occupation: I.T. Referee
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Vung Tau Restaurant
Reviewed NOPA: Sunday February 3, 2008
I think we were lucky that we ate at Nopa on a Sunday night. Parking was a little difficult to find, so you should take MUNI. It was very busy and many of the tables were full. We were a few minutes late, but had no problems being seated. The hostess(es) were very pleasant and hospitable.
Before it was a restaurant, the building must have been a bank or some formidable institution. The interior is very well designed with a large bar area, high ceilings, open kitchen, and ample seating in the form of booths and tables downstairs, as well as some seating upstairs. We were seated in a booth with frosted glass to shield our faces from looking at the backs of the bar clientele. The crowd was very diverse ranging from young hipsters to earthy hippies to femme fatales à la Sex and the City. It was a bit on the noisy side, so I’m glad we didn’t go on a Friday or Saturday.
The waitstaff was very friendly and amicable. Well-dressed and hip, they were on top of taking orders and uncorking wine. The first humorous tidbit of the evening was the dinner napkin, which looked and felt, oddly enough, like a dishrag. Quickly enough, the appetizers arrived: the red wine braised calamari and the wood baked giant white beans. The calamari was amazing! It was sautéed or stewed and served on top of some bread. Very succulent and refreshing compared to the typical fried calamari. The white beans appetizer was a hit among my friends.
Then came a wait….a long wait. Our conversation emptied and so did the wine. About 20 to 30 minutes later our main courses came: the duck, the baked pasta with house smoked bacon, Brussels sprouts, tomato, cream and parmesan, and the grilled country pork chop. All the portions were extremely generous! The duck was splendid. Very lean and tender. This is the way duck should taste! The pasta was not out-of-the ordinary, but the bacon did wonders for it. The pork chop was also very tender and juicy. Their food really is splendidly fresh! This is California cuisine (with a Mediterranean twist) at its finest! Pass on the wood grilled broccoli with egg, capers and tarragon. Instead, opt for the fries to come with the appetizers. It’s enough to feed a small country!
The crème brûlée was very interesting. I’m not a fan of anything sweet that is smoked, so I wouldn’t order it again. The pecan tart was good, but you need a sweet tooth. Order the dark coffee served in a 2-cup French press to prevent sinking into a food coma.
Then the check came…..attached to a clothespin. Perhaps, it goes with the dishrag napkin? Cute touch to complete the homemade feel.
Nopa is open until 1am, which is a BIG plus for ex-New Yorkers like myself. I’d definitely go there again for a late dinner. I wish they were on opentable.com though.