I went to Bar Agricole the other night to check out what Melissa Reitz, its recently installed new chef, has been up to. [Full disclosure: this was a press dinner, i.e. fully comped, but my opinions were influenced solely by what I put in my mouth, good, bad, or otherwise.] What she’s been up to, at least judging by my experience, is making some pretty outstanding food, including a dish entailing an expertly grilled Monterey Bay sardine served with mashed beets, kumquat slices, and a slick of chili oil. The sweet earthiness of the beets, tart brightness of the citrus, and heat of the oil formed an enlightened trinity of perfectly balanced flavors, and, not incidentally, were an attractive backdrop for the fish, which fell apart in tender, flakey little clumps. Sardines can be a difficult sell—no matter how well they’re prepared, they’re like first-date food from hell’s seventh ring, thanks to those hair-like little bones you have to extract from your teeth ever few seconds—but this one was so good that I’d happily pick through it any night of the week.—R.F.M.
A visitor might think North Beach would be overflowing with good pizza, but as any local knows, it isn't. So Il Casaro, which took over the old Steps of Rome location, is a bit of a blessing. The pies aren't going to lure in the 00-flour pizza pilgrims, but the pizza here is far more than sufficient. They even offer the very typical tuna pizza, which has always been one of my favorites when I'm traveling in Italy. Bonus: A real Italian greets you and football (aka soccer) is on the flatscreen, just as it always was at the Steps of Rome. You might want to flag this as a place for World Cup viewing. —S.D.
Sammy's Aloha is a lunchtime pop-up parked in the take-out window of Butterfly, a cavernous Asian fusion joint on the Embarcadero. Its owner, Sammy Kong Kee, is reputed to be a two-time ahi poke recipe champion in California and Hawaii, so it follows that his ahi poke bowl is the thing to try. Comprised of black sticky rice, slices of avocado, radish, and cucumber, salmon roe, wasabi coulis, chunks of the aforementioned ahi poke (which is basically tuna tartare), and a wobbly poached egg, it’s essentially a perfect one-bowl meal. It boasts balanced flavor, pleasantly chewy rice, lots of fatty avocado fun, a healthy kick from the wasabi, and that glorious egg yolk to bind it all together. The tuna itself is, in truth, a bit sinewy, an intermittent reminder that you are eating something that was once alive. But taken within the context of a heaping $9 bowl of really good stuff, it’s easy enough to ignore—there’s nothing like a great deal to soften the blow of mortality, aquatic or otherwise.—R.F.M.
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