Last Friday, I nabbed a table at brand-spanking-new Verbena in Russian Hill, the second restaurant from chef Sean Baker and his partners Eric Fenster and Ari Derfel of Gather in Berkeley. The food falls in line with the eclectic, veggie-forward, hippy-chic menus I'm seeing everywhere from Outerlands to Rich Table. But as gorgeous as the vegetable dishes are at Verbena, I'm afraid I fell hard for the Asian-inspired braised beef short rib and bok choy served in a broth deeply flavored with garum (fish sauce) and brightened with a bit of mint. Another bonus? Despite the handsome space's high ceilings, the acoutics allow for a genuine, old-fashioned conversation without the need for lip reading.
I just moved from Noe Valley to the heart of the Castro, a neighborhood not exactly celebrated for its selection of restaurants. However, seek and you shall find. Starving one night, my book and I found a table at Thai Chef. Not only does it blessedly have soft lighting (not necessarily a given at your average Thai joint), but the chicken in yellow curry full of potatoes and carrots comes with a nice rendition of the traditional, sprightly cucumber salad accompaniment. Better yet, diners have the option of perfectly cooked, extra-nutty brown rice. Do not scoff. Rice is often a mushy afterthought.
My parents live in Glen Ellen, a quick walk from the neighborly Fig Cafe. Last night, my husband and I joined them there for dinner. The restaurant's version of mussels and frites is pitch perfect. The broth, full of sweet leeks, is drinkable. It reminded me how good that classic combo can be.
You know when you have a good friend you lose touch with? I feel that way about Pauline's Pizza. With all the new pizza places in town, I've kind of forgotten how much I like it there. Their pesto pizza, as always, is addictive. Their service, as always, is nice. They have crayons for drawing on the table's paper. A couple mean games of tic tac toe with your kids, a slice of pizza, a good salad, and a glass of red wine, and life seems pretty complete.