image courtesy of venue
Palio d’Asti 640 Sacramento St./Montgomery St., Financial District. Artwork in the light-filled front room here evokes the piazza in Asti where the restaurant’s namesake horse race, Il Palio, is run. A more cozy, cave-like back room features comfortable booths and a full bar (during happy hour, martinis are $1 and pizza is complimentary with drinks). The Italian menu offers a risotto, a wood-baked gnocchi, and a selection of pastas--which might include housemade square spaghetti alla Chitarra with veal meatballs, or a hearty and tasty ravioli stuffed with porcini mushrooms and ricotta and topped with wild boar sugo. A superb summer salad features stone fruits—peaches, plums, and cherries—with butter lettuce, red onions, almonds, and pecorino cheese. Pizzas and an assortment of secondi courses are also available. The lunch menu is a la carte, while the dinner menu consists of three prix fixe menus: $29 (two courses), $37 (three courses), and $45 (four courses).
Park Chow 1238 9th Ave./Irving St., Inner Sunset.
Pasión 737 Irving St./9th Ave., Inner Sunset District. Peruvian-style cuisine with complex sauces dominate the menu in this sleek, sophisticated restaurant furnished with dark wood tables and chairs softened by a few comfy banquettes. Floors are polished grey cement, and large windows provide views to the street. As would be expected, the menu offers a bevy of ceviches (my favorite is the scrumptious cooked lobster version with mango and avocado) and a raw oyster bar. Appetizers include conchitas (seared wild scallops from Maine topped with a sweet plantain tostone and colorful cilantro mojito sauce), albondigas (lamb meatballs in a creamy sherry-truffle sauce topped with fresno peppers), and duck empanadas. Entrees include a paella and traditional lomito saltado stir-fry of sirloin steak strips, tomatoes, and onions plus a side of french fries. Among the desserts are moist tres leches cake and chocolate-coconut bread pudding. Pisco drinks are a house specialty--I loved the traditional pisco sour with a swirl of bitters in the foam--and sangria is an option.
Before or after, enjoy a pleasant stroll along busy Irving Street and browse the shops. One of my favorites is Sakura at #936, a small shop that sells Japanese household items and foods. I picked up a big bag of rice crackers like they serve in nearby Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden, some wasabi-covered hard green pea snacks, and a box of guava cookies from Kauai.
Pete’s Tavern 128 King St./2nd St., South Beach. Operating within a lovely vintage brick building right across from the baseball park, this updated American-style pub has TV screens surrounding its large, central horseshoe bar. The simple one-room interior is concrete floors mixed with natural wood support beams and rafters--the ceiling is way up high. Seating includes some high tables, and though the noise level is eardrum-piercing and the room dark, the ambiance is cheery. An extensive selection of beers on tap and wine by the glass is offered, along with pub food that includes a double cheeseburger with curly fries, house-smoked brisket sandwich and ribs, housemade corn dogs on a stick, and big “dogs.”
Pica Pica Maize Kitchen 401 Valencia St./15th St., Mission District. The signature item in this cheery spot with citrus-colored walls is arepas, but cachapas, maize'wiches—all popular Venezuelan street foods—and empanadas, yuca fries, sweet plantains, soups, and salads are also available. Beverages include the house coconut lemonade slush, red and white sangrias, craft beers on tap, wine by the glass, and guarapita--a Venezuelan daiquiri-style drink.
Plouf 40 Belden Pl./Bush St., Financial District. Specializing in steamed mussels and offering eight different versions, this seafood bistro is so contemporary French that after just a few minutes diners feel like they’ve been beamed onto the French Riviera. One waiter witnessed here could do no wrong. Dressed in a white-and-black-striped shirt and sporting a charming, authentic French accent, he brought a huge iron pot full of mussels pastis with a side of perfect thin, crisp pommes frites, and he regularly removed bowls of discarded shells. More seafood items are on the menu--including fish & chips with garlic aioli and malt vinegar--along with a variety of meats and a seafood pasta. Good wine choices straight out of France include Muscadet, Sancerre, and Burgundy. For dessert, profiteroles--little cream puff shells filled with banana ice cream and topped with warm chocolate and caramel sauces—are the way to go. Outside, tables fill the pedestrians-only alley just as they do in the south of France. However, because the weather here isn’t as divine as it is there, heat lamps attempt to take off the chill. The dining room features a high, pressed-tin ceiling and a romantic fireplace, and it has booths as well as a bank of intimate bench-and-chair tables for two. In sync with the name, which translates as “splash,” stuffed sport fish decorate the walls.
Polly Ann Ice Cream 3138 Noriega St./39th Ave., Outer Sunset District, (415) 664-2472. Claiming to be the only ice cream store in the world where both dogs and babies get a free ice cream cone, this small shop is notable for yet other reasons. Where else is there a constantly changing choice of more than 400 flavors of ice cream? Where else does the owner make all of his own ice cream and smile happily as he declares, “Tonight I think I’ll make watermelon”? At least 40 flavors are available every day. Some are seasonal, and some are trendy--like Batman (black vanilla with lemon swirls) and Star Wars (blue vanilla with rainbow marshmallows). Among the many unusual flavors are sunflower seed, vegetable, red bean, chocolate-peanut butter, and American beauty made with fresh rose petals. Believe it or not, some traditional flavors are also available, and vanilla is always the number one best seller. According to the owner, “Anything is possible.” And those who just can’t decide can spin a big wheel on the wall and let fate determine the flavor. No seating is available.