Friday, August 17, 2007

Vacation #1, Post #1. San Francisco's Limon!

After saying goodbye to our summer jobs *waves goodbye to gorgeous Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse*, my girlfriend (Kathy, in case you forgot) and I hopped onto a plane for cloudy San Francisco, with a dream of hitting it big in the summer associate market. A large gathering of law students far more academically gifted than I (but can they say they have a food blog with an active readership of nearly FIFTY, that’s right the big 5-0.. “fiddy”, UNIQUE READERS A DAY!? NU- UH ) sequestered in the financial district of San Francisco. Gathered into the Orrick conference floor (surrounded by a disturbingly breathtaking view of San Francisco in every direction), every law student eyes each other, knowing the other person is competition for that coveted job that’ll pay $2,800 to $3,100 dollars a week. But like I always remind you my dear reader, this blog is about food, not my daily on-goings in the world of law (even though if by some crazy way this food blog does magically create a job at a reputable law firm, I will have no qualm). So I present to you vacation #1 in the city of San Francisco, that begins the moment we step out of our business suits and into the wild city life of San Francisco.

For the week leading up to our trip to SF, Kathy and I have been plotting a gathering of friends to enjoy food in the culinary heaven (not my label) that is San Francisco. After repeated making of reservations and cancelling of reservations, we decide on the restaurant Limon in Mission.

A modern Peruvian restaurant, very different from the place I reviewed a few months back in the ghettos of Los Angeles. The restaurant tries to use American, Spanish, French, Italian flavors to blend into Peruvian, hoping (I think) to attract a younger hipper crowd of salaried young adults by banking on some sort of hipness that is devoid from the Inca Cola populated Peruvian restaurants. There’s no Inca Cola at Limon, but there is a large amount of Spanish and American wines. I did find it funny the wine list greatly lacked in South American wines that would have gone wonderfully with the food. One would think that much thought wasn’t put into the list, but I am no sommelier, who am I to judge.

A quick Bart ride from our hotel a chunk of our party arrived at Limon. Located in the Latino/a community of Mission, the restaurant is nestled between multitudes of Tacquaria and bars. The restaurant itself is not nearly as run down its neighbors. You walk into a brightly lit restaurant bristling with activity, as tables sit squished together, so close that two parties of two may actually hold hands and become a party of four (this seems to be a reoccurring theme in the city of San Francisco). I hurriedly walk in and confirm my reservation. My friend had called me 1 minute before saying the hostess threatened to cancel our reservation for 9 if I didn’t show in the next 5 minutes. This is why I can’t rely on public transportation, but it does give me something to pass blame on when I’m tardy.

We get seated on the 2nd level, overseeing the restaurant and all its inhabitants. We quickly order a pitcher of Sangria, the ice cold fruity wine drink popular in its native country of Spain and all other Spanish restaurants... another curious item on the menu of this Peruvian restaurant. In my brief research on chowhound and other assorted websites I repeatedly see the suggestion to order the combination ceviche. The CC is a choice of 4 ceviche’s out of the restaurants 8. The ceviche on the menu is split into normal “limon” ceviche and cream based ceviche. Since I am one for equality and fairness in all aspects of my life, I ordered two of each.

On the left we have the standard limon ceviche. Being standard ceviche, the dish is raw fish or seafood cooked overnight in the acid of a large amount of lemon juice. So for these dishes, no heat is used in the preparation process. I’ve always been curious who discovered or created this dish, what persuaded them to put their hard earned fish in a vat of lemon juice. Such a dish could not be a coincidence, you’d have to have squeezed all these lemons ahead of time and then put the fish in. Even if it was an accident and you left some fish in a nice fresh cup of lemonade overnight what would persuade you to eat it? This sounds more like a bizarre frat ritual than the makings of a fabulous dish. Anyways...

The top left dish is the standard limon ceviche with halibut. Mixed with cilantro and sliced sweet red onions (yum!) the fish is rather soft yet at the same time noticeably raw. You get that nice chew that you get from sashimi but it still flakes a little between your teeth (this attribute runs through all the ceviche dishes ordered). This was probably my second favorite one out of the bunch. It’s simple and to the point, just how I like it!
Going counter clockwise we have the a different limon ceviche with mixed seafood and.. hominy (which is commonly found in the Mexican favorite, Menudo) Hominy by the way is soaked dry corn in lye water. Like the previous dish we see generous amounts of sliced red onions and cilantro mixed into shrimp, fish, scallop, and squid. What we see in this dish that’s rather unique is the mixture of yellow and white hominy. The consistency of the corn was extremely hard to pinpoint. When you bite into it, you get a slightly less starchy texture of a potato. If you closed your eyes and someone fed you this corn , you’d think it was a potato. I for one wanted no part in this business, corn should pop like corn and potato should be mashy like potatoes, let’s not mix these two please.. who knows what atrocity could be formed. This dish is significantly more acidic and sour than its predecessor. The fish I generally ignored (due to said sour), and some conniving fiend stole the only shrimp available but I actually really enjoyed the squid/calamari. I don’t know why, but the extreme kick of acidity really worked with the chewy stretchy nature of the squid. *shrug*.
The next two ceviche’s are crème based. They used the same basic fish/vegetable mixtures but instead approached it with what I believe was a chutney curry sauce and a tomato cream sauce. I thought the chutney one had a weird spice to it, that is better left to warm/hot foods, but the tomato cream was actually very appetizing and refreshing. Sorry i don't have a stronger impression on them, i really concentrated on the non-creme based ones. I have let you down =(

Being the fatties we are, my friend Ryan and I ordered the fried chicken appetizer (Chicarron de Pollo) to go along with the meal. He (not I) figured that the platter of ceviche would not be able to satisfy our hunger, especially when its shared among a party of 9. Now you know I love fried chicken, but I’d consider this more as pan fried chicken with absolutely no batter. But the chicken was extremely soft and tender and very meaty. Imagine crispy chicken at your local Tapioca Express but with no batter. Of course the best part of this dish had really nothing to do with the chicken, it was the dipping sauce they provided. If you’ve been to El Pollo Loco and you’ve had their house salsa, this is what its richer more endowed older sibling would taste like. Since I love El Pollo Loco as much as I love Chick Fil –a (RIP) I found this sauce amazing. No one else seemed to share this enthusiastic joy with me, but when did I care about other people’s opinions (just kidding).

(by the way, i love sliced red onions, i love them so so so very much. Especially if they are a little sour with marinade? Man oh man)

After finishing our food, we waited impatiently for our food in-between members of our party persuading other members of our party to acquire more Sangria. After trying to conjure up amazing conversation for all 8 other people to enjoy (failed unsuccessfully our dishes arrived) our dishes arrived. Sorry but I didn’t take pictures of every dish, I’m actually missing two, one that I regret that I forgot to take a picture of and the other I’m glad I didn’t waste the digital memory for (you know I only have 10,000 deletion cycles left on my $15 memory card! I gotta save those).

The dish I ordered was Arroz con Mariscos, a dish that reminded me greatly of cioppino of Italian fame. The funny story behind this dish (and one of the missing pictures) is that they had another item pretty much like what I ordered but a few dollars less. I asked the waiter which one he would pick and he pointed me to the more expensive one... funny thing is my two friends hated their dish and I told them my story of the waiter’s decision and they both stated that the waiter told them to order the cheaper dish! The waiter must have known I am a lover of fine foods and wouldn’t settle for anything but the best.
Funny story aside I actually enjoyed my dish. It’s a combination of large tiger shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, fish, and calamari on a bed of rice. My problem with cioppino has been its just too tomato-y and soupy, the rice just gets drenched in the oily sauce . Luckily Peruvians do not have the problem with over-saucing their dish and leave a dish where the jasmine rice stays nice and fresh not completely penetrated by oils and tomatoes. Instead of a soup base like a cioppino, it’s more like a thin sauce. The seafood generally was pretty fresh. The scallop much appreciated by Kathy and I, very moist and flaky, just parts with a bit of pressure from your fork. The shrimp were also very large fresh tiger shrimp. (Speaking of which my dad gave my brother and I 10+ pounds of Large Texas Gulf Shrimp that apparently retails at 10$+ per pound, and even an ungodly 20$ a pound at the airport). A very delightful dish all and all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sorry to say my companions at the other side of the table did not enjoy their recommendation.

Kathy’s choice was inspired by what I had ordered at the Peruvian restaurant a few months ago, essentially steak and fries, Lomo Saltodo. This version of the dish is significantly less oily than the one we ate previously. The beef is also of finer quality (since the dish is nearly 3x the price) , it might actually be steak opposed to just some sort of beef chunk. But I’m not sure why I liked the other version so much more. I think the oiliness and the grease really brings out of the flavors! I also think they didn’t cook the tomatoes long enough at Limon because I was expecting a hint of tomato behind every bite.. which didn’t happen (/tear!).

I took pictures of the other items that were ordered but i didn't really have an opportunity to try them. So i'll give you the people's impressions.
Churrasco a la Parilla, Very simple steak, nothing to write home about. Like a majority of restaurants when a medium rare is requested.. it comes as medium. But from my own personal view, they did a very good job with the grill marks! Look at how defined and pretty it is? This steak should be a professional steak model. "What's for dinner? Beef.. *cue steak from limon with its pretty grill marks*".

Vegetable Risotto.
I had an opportunity to take a bite of this. Nice crisp vegetables in the risotto. Good creamy texture for the rice, but it seemed a bit too sticky. I like mine creamy yet not so clumped together. The green sauce was a vegetable puree which added a lighter flavor to the risotto. I've had better.. or i will have better (hint of what's to come!).

Overall it was a decent experience. My biggest problem here is the price of the dishes. All these dishes looked nice and tasted fine but the prices were astronomical for the food that we were served. I think the steak was easily over $30, and my stew was $28!. Price is kind of ridiculous considering you're eating Americanized Peruvian food. If i got Kung Pao chicken at PF Chang's for $20, i'd be furious. Luckily, i don't know anyone from Peru to gauge their anger at the atrocity.

Would i go here again? Probably not... considering i have a hankering for cheap Peruvian food. There are so many other restaurants to explore in San Francisco, so not coming back here will definitely not be a loss. But i am kind of surprised at the amount of people that suggested this restaurant to me. My food was good, but the overall experience or the QPR (quality price ratio) just wasn't there.

524 Valencia Street
San Francisco, California


KirkK said...

Wow that's some major sticker shock....I just had some Chicarron De Pollo with a good Salza Criolla(the "onion thing") it is usually deep-fried, hence the "chicharron" for like $9. The process of "cooking" or denaturing using citrus is a centuries old style.

Charlie Fu said...

kirk: i think san francisco is just expensive in general. Nice variety of food tho.

Charlie Fu said...

and yes, the Salza Criolla is so delicious. I'm going to just put it on everything.

Maria said...

You forgot something: Best macaroni and cheese EVER!

Charlie Fu said...

maria: i did not see any M&C