Occupation: Higher Education Administrator
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Pomelo
Reviewed Pomelo: Monday, February 8, 2010
It was a chilly, dark, and misty night at the edge of Noe Valley, so after my yoga class, it was time for the usual gathering of friends at Pomelo. Perhaps the light drizzle put me in the mood for comfort food, but more likely it was the smell of citrus floating above garlic that greeted me when we arrived and the promise of a big bowl of steaming hot nourishment that got my appetite going.
The atmosphere at Pomelo is sensual. There are dim lights, original art and photographs hang on the wall, and even the soap in the bathroom has a sweet, citrus, pungent floral scent. Fresh flowers and lit candles are on every table, and the glow of the single dining room has a warm aura of ochre. Luckily, on the night I went, I was joined by four friends who were comfortable with sharing tastes of what food a vegetarian could have. The usual crowd had perhaps decided to stay home or had ordered food to go, so we were seated right away. When the restaurant is full, I have waited outside for a while, but it’s always been worth it. Also, when the place is crowded, it can feel a bit overwhelming, like the conversation volume gets trapped and amplified. Maybe one or two tables should be removed to allow for more space between tables. But this night was very comfortable — comfortable enough for our table to stay until closing. (For a good amount of time, we felt like we were at a private event because we were the only ones there). Parking in the neighborhood can be tough: all street parking in a mostly residential area, so we are always prepared to walk a block or two.
I ordered the Gilroy and the Koh Samui: familiar, and always hearty and filling. The menu changes seasonally (two or three times a season, I think), and that night we were told that the menu was changing just three days later. It’s always a bit of fun to read the menu at Pomelo, because everything is named after a place, so your meal becomes a globetrotting series of destinations.
The appetizers (the salads and other starters I tasted from friends’ plates, as well as my own baby bok choy dish) were very generously portioned. I don’t remember a Gilroy plate ever having so much baby bok choy before, but I hungrily devoured it all. The food at Pomelo is always layered with flavor and is perfectly cooked. The baby bok choy was a bright vibrant green (even in the dim light), and not overcooked to a wilted dark gray mass. The leaves were just wilted, and the stems were translucent but still had enough crispness to them to bite through. The flavors of the Gilroy dish are simple and designed to heighten the sensation of eating fresh and healthy vegetables. There is olive oil and barely-sautéed garlic with a splash of acidic citrus, and some heat from the pepper flakes. Two orders of this might be a whole meal, but one order of it and a side order of rice could make me happy on most days. After the garlic of the South Bay, it was on to my main dish from Thailand.
Southern Thai food is usually very spicy, and the Koh Samui dish is delightfully so. But just as its list of ingredients might suggest, this dish is also packed with a playful balance of flavors. You don’t just taste heat from the spiciness. In fact, the heat creeps up on you and joins the creaminess of the coconut curry sauce, the jasmine rice, the splash of citrus from the wedge of lime squeezed on top, and the fresh herb tang of kaffir lime leaves and fresh cilantro (which I pull apart and shower over the big, generous bowl of food). Not only are those flavors layered to make the dish complex and rich, but the textures are also nicely blended: the rice soaks up the sauce to create a hearty consistency, almost like a savory pudding; the cubes of tofu are both soft and firm, mirroring the texture of the straw mushrooms; the squash is nutty and tender; the long beans are crisply sautéed to add some crunch; and the sections of Thai eggplant add some color and chunkiness to the dish, so that it’s not all just one big bowl of arroz-con-something. As generous as the serving size is (and a deal at $11.50, especially if you eat meat and get it with the cubes of chicken), I devoured the whole thing and definitely felt warmly braced enough against the chilly mist outside to go home.
Overall, the amount of good eating (in flavor, texture, portion size, color, aroma) that I got for $22 (that’s with tax and a generous tip) was excellent. And it’s no wonder why I keep going back, new menu items or not.
I also got to taste the dishes that my friends ordered, all which reflected the layered and balanced flavor profiles of the dishes at Pomelo:
The Bormio had gray-flecked, wide buckwheat pasta that we all thought looked like chow fun noodles. My friend ordered this one with tofu (a vegetarian option that you can ask for. Even though it is not marked on the menu as vegetarian, several of the dishes on the menu can be made without the meat or fish, so you just have to ask), and the combination of fat al dente noodles, tender potatoes, soft tofu, crunchy shreds of cabbage, leafy Swiss chard and sage, garlic, and fontina cheese elevated this dish from a simple pasta to a really hearty rainy day winter meal.
The Pomelo is the name of the green salad that is always on the menu, but this, too, changes with the seasons. Sometimes the greens change, but the toppings always do. On this night, the minimally dressed lettuce and arugula leaves were joined with suprêmed segments of pomelo, goat cheese, and toasted hazelnuts, all flavored with a grapefruit vinaigrette. I’ve had this salad before, sometimes with walnuts or almonds or strawberries or grapefruits or oranges. Again, everything is seasonal. The addition of toasted hazelnuts was a rarely encountered nutty crunch that enhanced the salad.
The Aosta was a very generously portioned starter of baked polenta wedges with a slightly sweet, rich cream sauce and mushrooms. You might be tempted to sop up the extra sauce with some bread (two slices of country French bread and butter, named the Strasbourg, is only $1), so don’t let the Madeira-spiked cream go to waste!
The Palermo was a tasty crostini with creamy goat cheese, soft and perfectly roasted red pepper strips, and dark olive slices served on toast points. It was another nice crunch (from the bread) balanced with the overall creamy, layered flavors of the other ingredients.
Two people in my group ordered wine and two had a non-alcoholic beer; I stuck with water. The wine list is usually more than sufficient, and the co-owners/wait staff know how to best pair them with the food and have a good sense of the flavor profiles and robustness of their selections, so I’ve never gone wrong there. We were all stuffed, so we passed on the desserts (which feature a changing selection of pies and tarts and cakes and housemade ice creams and gelatos). I’ll be back after the next yoga class anyway, so maybe I’ll get one of those sweet finishes another time!
Occupation: Engineering Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana
Reviewed Pomelo: Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The restaurant is situated in an area of the city that I had not been to before. It is tucked in a little corner on the J-Church line in Noe Valley with plenty of street parking and a few good restaurant choices. As we approached the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was the wonderful outdoor lighting and a giant restaurant sign — a big green pomelo — hanging above the door, which made the restaurant easily recognizable. We were a bit confused whether or not they took reservations for groups smaller than six people, based on the information we got when we called in. The voice message asked callers to leave names and times of arrival for groups of smaller than six but a later call — that resulted in speaking to a person — indicated that there are no reservations taken for groups smaller than six. Luckily, our Wednesday night attempt turned out to have plenty of seating available at the time of our arrival.
We arrived around 7:30 pm and stayed until 8:45 pm. The moment we walked into the restaurant, the soft lighting that started outside the restaurant continued inside with warm colors of decoration, beautiful chandeliers, pleasant pictures and artwork on the walls. We immediately felt welcomed and comfortable. There was soft music playing. Between the time we sat down until the time we left, the occupancy of the restaurant went from only two tables to a full house. However, the noise level never reached a point of discomfort.
The waiter was very accommodating and pleasant by not rushing us through the process. He indicated that the restaurant has been there for about six years and the dishes are mainly an Asian-inspired cooking style. He also went over the daily special, which as the Pacifica, grilled mahi mahi with herbed brown rice.
The appetizers arrived in a very timely manner and were well prepared. I loved the combination of herbed goat cheese with my wine and I loved the freshness of the arugula with a simple lemon dressing. The olives were hard to handle, as they tended to roll off my fork. I found it to be a refreshing start to a good meal. I tasted the Nappanee, which was very different from what I was expecting of a butternut/sweet potato soup. Again, it was light, refreshing, and very tastefully prepared without overdoing any one of the ingredients. The presentation was simple and very elegant for both of the appetizers.
The main course came a bit later than we anticipated. As time went on, the waiter assured us that our food was on its way. This helped sustain our feelings of comfort and enjoyment of the ambiance. The main dishes were very similar in philosophy to the appetizers: tasteful and elegant. The plates had just the right amount of food, garnish, and variety. Textures, colors, and tastes all complemented each other. I felt that there was a bit too much use of salt and lemon with my meal. However, in terms of generating a refreshing flavor on the tongue, especially when paired with a great glass of Pinot Grigio, they fully satisfied the call. I found the meal to be very freshly prepared, full of flavor without the use of any heavy ingredients, and well priced.
The desserts and coffee were right on the mark as well. I pride myself on being a coffee fanatic and claim that it is because of my Turkish genes. I loved it when they brought my Americano with a small cup of hot water and left it up to me to dilute the coffee to my taste. I usually hesitate to order espresso drinks, especially an Americano, as I find it to be either too bitter and heavy or too diluted. The plum cake was exceptional. We later learned that it was made by a contracted German pastry chef. It was served at a perfect temperature — not with the blistering fake heat of microwaved food or refrigerator cold — and had the perfect balance of crustiness to gooey fresh plum sweetness.
We also found it pleasantly surprising that for such a small restaurant, they have wine, beer, sake, tea, juice, and sparkling water as well as espresso drinks. The suggestion from the wait staff was for us to come back for brunch on Saturday, which happens to be less busy than Sunday brunch hours. We observed that the clientele included families, couples, friends, and singles of different ages and backgrounds. This made the restaurant feel very much a part of San Francisco culture. The easygoing attitude of the restaurant that allowed the customers to enjoy their time without feeling any pressure to rush through their meals was apparent at all levels. On a weeknight, having this sort of relaxed atmosphere where you can enjoy the night with your loved ones is so very precious after a long day.
Overall, we loved the place and the food. We found it to be a small place, which made navigating between the tables a bit challenging. We also felt that the pick-up line that went right through the restaurant to be bothersome to some of the guests. I have added Pomelo to my favorites list as a perfect “neighborhood,” “any time,” “casual” restaurant.
Occupation: Stay-At-Home New Mom
Location: Santa Clara
Favorite Restaurant: deedee’s
Reviewed Pomelo: Saturday, February 13, 2010
Pomelo is a small neighborhood restaurant. We had to park two streets away from the restaurant. The restaurant had some outdoor seating, and since we were thirty minutes late, we sat outside and waited to be seated. This is a dog-friendly establishment. A lot of patrons brought their dogs, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the sunny weather and surroundings. The restaurant inside was crowded and pretty cramped. The walls had framed photos of rural surroundings in Rajasthan, India. These pictures were very colorful and were also on sale.
Our party was comprised of four adults (me, my husband, my sister, my brother-in-law and three children). One child was three-years-old, and the other two children were either a year old or younger. I called and reserved the table the night before for brunch the next day. They had only booster seats and no highchairs. Though this was fine for our three-year-old niece, it was not really safe for our one-year-old or for our seven-month-old nephew.
The food service was pretty prompt, and the wait staff was pretty attentive. The hibiscus sangria was rated highly by my husband. The Bellini, on the other hand, was not very noteworthy. The mini muffins were really yummy and were wolfed down by everyone. I wish we had more of them. The food, except for the otsu, had a lackluster performance. Though both the Noe Valley Omelet (which had crab filling) and the ratatouille were reasonable, they were not memorable. The home-style potatoes, however, were memorable and not in a good way. They were pretty burnt.
The most disappointing thing on the menu was the makena. We were all really looking forward to digging into some yummy macadamia nut brioche with mascarpone cheese, but it was a huge let down. It had no taste at all. It was very mushy and was akin to eating jarred baby food. The masantol was not sizzling in any way, be it with flavor or heat. It was served almost cold and was not flavorful. The crostini tasted more like the potatoes and was tangy due to the vinaigrette. I didn’t quite get the flavor of the Mahón cheese. The dessert, however, was good. Everyone was happy to finally dig into the chocolate mousse.
Final Verdict: None of us think we will go back, although my husband felt that if he were in the area, he might go back for the otsu.