I've known about Zuni Cafe for a few years now, but it was just so darn far away. All the way on the other side of the country. Luckily, when Mr.S and I were out in San Francisco over Valentine's Day, we got to dine in at the legendary eatery. Zuni Cafe was at the top of my "places to eat in SF" list, along with a few others, and turned out to be one of the culinary highlights of our trip. Best known for their roast chicken and bread salad entree (for two), Zuni capitalizes on seasonal ingredients as the foundation for homey, satisfying dishes.
The design of the restaurant is totally unpretentious, completely warm and inviting. The large glass windows make you feel as if you're dining by the sidewalk, somehow integrated into the neighborhood, like you've been going there for years. We arrived after the dinner rush, so the diners were sparse, but there still lingered a warm excitement over the whole place.
We opted out of the roast chicken for two, since that takes nearly an hour to prepare, and at that point we were more than ready to nibble on the table. It was mid-winter so naturally, there was a lot of citrus on the menu. We split a salad to start, something very simple, and looking admittedly a bit skimpy when it first arrived. A melange of barely-dressed chicory, Valencia oranges and toasted walnuts, it barely packed a punch on the plate, all spread out (like pizza toppings), just lying there. But what do ya know? The flavors and textures were brilliant together. Which just proves that produce at their peak freshness really make the difference. (Not to self: must use more chicory in cooking!)
The couple next to us ordered the roast chicken, which looked and smelled absolutely delectable. I was tempted to ask for a bite, but managed to hold back. My entree of grilled scallops sat amidst a forest of frisee and grapefruit, studded with black olives, drizzled with creme fraiche. Sound somewhat mis-matched and random? Well, once again, it surprised me, actually blew me away. The creme fraiche grapefruit combo was like eating dessert, and complemented the brininess of the scallops.
Mr.S's grilled pork chop was paired with a side of braised red cabbage and seared sweet potato. Sigh...the trinity of comfort food foods. Mr.S enjoyed it immensely, especially the cabbage, as his plate was licked clean.
I regret not ordering dessert. There are a few classic sweets that loyal diners come back time and again for. Seasonal granitas, the Gateau Victoire (flourless chocolate cake), and fruit tarts are at the top of the list. Oh well, next time.
It was hard for me to leave. It was as if I could have just wandered upstairs and gotten ready for bed. But not before Mr.S picked up a souvenir for me, the Zuni Cafe cookbook, which I've craved for a long time. I'd recommend going to Zuni without any expectations because the experience in itself which change your mind. The food is by no means cutting-edge, but it does make a statement. Going to Zuni is like visiting an old friend; it's familiar, easy. There's a warm and thoughtful flow to each course. I'm looking forward to going back, and it looks like that won't be so far in the distant future, seeing as Mr.S is moving out there next month!
1658 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102