Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Legend of Puerto Allegre

Puerto Allegre, a Mexican restaurant (not taqueria) that many Mission folk swear by, is a consistent experience, at least. Four of us went last night. The design of the venture was cheap, tasty, authentic Mexican food we can count on, a good margarita, and a fun atmosphere. We figured we could bear the wait and the fellow who supposedly seats people for this experience we desired.

The funny thing about Puerto to me is that it consistently underdelivers and then seems better than it is in retrospect.

Dinner tonight certainly did deliver the host who doesn't host. It did deliver cheap and supposedly authentic. The food wasn't untasty, but (once again) left everyone feeling bloated and unhealthy. I took down the 3-item combo of enchilada, relleno and quesadilla (perhaps ordering like that is my problem), and couldn't even get to the then-congealed quesadilla in time. The "world famous" margaritas leave you puckered in sweet and sour.

Again, you know what you're getting going in. It has a House of Prime Rib appeal that's immune to its critics. Being treated as though you're trying to get into a Vegas club, eating lard-soaked food, dealing with hipper-than-thou fellow diners, and coping with kitschy decor is all a very charming experience, apparently.

A regular I'm sure is now saying, "you just don't understand/appreciate it" or "you're missing the point". Perhaps they're right, as I have my own similar favorites.

Which begs the question... why is this now the 20th+ time that I've been there? A friend just mentioned that Northern California was crawling with those places in the 80s, and some of them made it though the decades for various reasons, and he's right. These places went the way of the dodo unless they developed a cult following or they advanced what they were offering. Puerto went for the cult-following route.

The downside (yes, I love that word) to that allegiance is the crowd it brings. It brings people who all feel as though they've been frequenting the place the longest and are the truest supporters. It's people who feel entitlement to a fast table and anger that there might be others waiting.

If this sounds rough, here's the counterpoint. You can take this exact same experience, put it into the context of a Saturday afternoon at 3pm when the place isn't as crowded, the food somehow tastes better, and the margaritas are more refreshing, and you have a winner. I presume that most Puerto-lovers had a first experience like this that created their initial devotion. I'd like to think so at least, and then it all becomes very understandable.

For dinner... have the place to yourselves. PS. Though I'll happily be back as an outsider/underappreciator to enjoy the average food and then somehow find a way to romanticize it afterwards.

Mission Mavericks

I hit up Maverick on 17th and Mission last night with a few friends. Definitely an interesting spot with some good potential. It's a venture by two guys named Mike and Scott who came from Sociale on Sacramento. These are good guys, and make the restaurant a place you're rooting for.

Overall, the food was pretty damn good, and the wine was amazing. It sounds a bit weird to say, but these guys have the sides down. Everything that came as a side dish either alone or with an entree was amazing, while the actual entree meats were the most disappointing part of the meal. This is an interesting, yet gaping, hole. It reminds me of the way the Texas Rangers have been the last couple years, with a killer lineup, great defense, a strong closer, but questionable starting pitching. You're going to win some games just through pure offense, but it's tough to get to the playoffs without the steady hurlers.

This sounds negative, but it's really not, because the sides and appetizers are so good they're worth going back for alone. For apps (all were around $10), we had their Buffalo Wings which were actually frog legs, some "crab fluffs" and a side of the mac and cheese. The mac and cheese was downright incredible - rich, but not overbearing. The fluffs were very nice - fried but somehow very light. And the frog legs were great on a number of fronts. Not only were they very tasty with true buffalo-wing sauce, but they also set up the ol' "tastes-like-chicken" joke. I think the over-under on that joke being told on any given night in the restaurant is about 12.

(If you haven't yet noticed, the food has a distinctly southern feel, but not everything on the menu fits that mold.)

For entrees, we had the Prawn and Polenta special, the Liberty Duck Breast, and the Rib-Eye. The Rib-Eye (aka Kenny Rogers, the camera-man-punching ace) was a classic rib-eye steak and was the best of the three meats, though unspectacular and $28 (all the other entrees were $16-$22). The Duck Breast (Ryan Drese, 6.46 ERA last year) was tasty, but the texture was dry and boring. At least it came with a great Israeli cous-cous. The Prawn special (Chan Ho Park) had great sides of polenta and beet-tops, but the prawns weren't worth finishing. We finished the meal with a hunk of Humbolt Fog that was well put together (Francisco Cordero, of course). Overall, you know it's a good, talented kitchen, but I'll probably change my approach for ordering next time around and focus more on apps.

The great thing about all that food, is that everything tasted about 20% better simply because of the incredible wine. We had a Freeman 2003 Pinot Noir and a 2002 Primier Cru Bouchard Burgundy. Both wines were clearly well picked for the list and Mike the owner definitely has a passion for wine. Full-scale wine dorks will appreciate this place.

(How did three moderate-income fellows like us afford two $60+ bottles of wine on a Monday night? Well, that's a secret, but it involves Monday night being half-price-wine night. That's the only hint I will give you. Weekend brunch and $1 mimosas is another secret that I won't be telling you about.)

Every review I've read about Maverick mentions the gritty location, which is right next to crack alley. They installed a shade, so you feel well-separated from the neighborhood when inside the restaurant and the decor is very well put together, though a bit cramped. Cramped is part of the charm though. Venturing back out on the street after a couple bottles of wine is a funny, little shock.

I'll be back to Maverick. I'm rooting for Mike and Scott.

Monday, February 27, 2006


I would be remiss to make a first real post on this blog and not make it about one of my two favorite restaurants - Range or Street. There's better-this-or-that out there on the landscape, but I truly believe that these two restaurants capture the regular, day-to-day needs of the San Francisco diner better than any others.

With Range, all discussions start with the food. It's always amazing and very creative. What I like particularly about their creativity is that it's not misguided. Often you go into a restaurant and their "creative" menu offers oyster and beet roulade on a bed of flan, or vodka and chocolate-infused martini with a touch of Tabasco. Basically, it's often a bunch of ingredients that sounds "interesting" when put together and then never actually deliver (or are even just gross).

At Range, their creativity makes sense. If you're like me and think that you may throw up if you see another beet-arugula-goat cheese salad on a menu, you should check out Range. I didn't say I don't enjoy that salad, but it's as pablum as it gets at this point.

Best yet, their prices are embarassingly low. They're restaurant vets there, so they must know, but you're regularly getting a $30 entree for about $18. I feel like I'm robbing them (repeatedly!). Just in case, don't tell them about this and screw it up for me, okay?
The other things to notice about Range are:
  1. The great service - Cameron, the co-owner in the front of the house does a great job toeing the line between friendly and hospitable while still very professional. Everyone there is great.
  2. Great scene - Good people watching for the Mission. It's always an interesting crowd. The beautiful people, the angry neighborhood hipsters, and even the old folks mix in quite well. The well-done decor and aforementioned service contribute to the good vibe I'm sure.
Anyway, thanks to ridiculous amounts of positive press it's now getting quite difficult to get in. Good for them.

I'll tackle Street after the next time I go.


Thanks for visiting.

I created this blog for a couple reasons, the first and foremost being that I really should write more. I enjoy the process and the small satisfaction of accomplishment, and for that reason, this blog is primarily for my own selfish benefit.

(You're excited to read on, aren't you?)

I picked San Francisco restaurants as a primary subject matter because my dining-out habits provide regular fodder. This makes me about as common in San Francisco as a fleece-wearing tourist in Fisherman's Wharf. I suppose most San Franciscans (at least those without kids) consider themselves experts here. I'm just willing to put my experiences and opinions out there for semi-public consumption.

(Don't let the martyr act fool you... I don't expect this to be widely read... I really don't)

Anyway, onto this so-called blogging...