Thursday, April 3, 2008

Kokkari Estiatorio (San Francisco)

Recently I had the chance to dine in San Francisco. Since San Francisco seems to pride itself on its culinary mastery of the West Coast I try my very best to go somewhere special each time. Everywhere I looked was Prix Fixe this, Prix Fixe that, there wasn't a single nice restaurant that I saw that had something where I wasn't forced to consume a dessert. (This by no means says that I will not have dessert as you will see, I just like having the choice).

After some careful browsing I decided I wanted to eat Greek food. I settled on Kokkari Estiatorio. It had good reviews on yelp, the price seemed reasonable, and it wasn't too far from my afternoon destination (shopping!). Oddly when you look at the restaurant's website you don't see a myriad of Flash going crazy with Techno music, so under this assumption I figured it was a small operation, family owned most likely.

Boy oh boy was I wrong. The crappy website doesn't show just how well done this restaurant's design is. Multiple dinner hosts, hard wood floors, warm and homely (yet an air of grace) atmosphere.

There are two rooms, the front room with its plush leather seats with a fire pit and the inside dining room for larger parties with standard wooden chairs but next to the open kitchen.

Since we were a relatively small party we sat in the front room.

On top of there being the thick glamorous leather seats, we were sat next to the fire pit and bread area.

Bread area you say?
Loaves and loaves of fresh bread stacked on top of a stone table in the back of the dining room. Waiters are cutting loaves full of rosemary and thyme and plaiting them for each patron. As well they have a large ceramic container of olives for general consumption.

So they provide you two different types of bread, one rosemary focaccia and a french loaf.

As well as a bowl of olives (which we did not eat.. yuck yuck!).

What I found most appealing was right behind where the waiters were standing chopping the breads. Kokkari had a giant fire pit where they made their special rotisserie for the day.

Today's special was Red Wattle pig on a spit. Yum yum! Oink Oink!

The menu at Kokkari composed of a variety of appetizers that consisted of classic Greek fare

We ordered their specialty appetizer, Fried Smelts.

Lightly battered smelts with a side of bean dip really helped with the start of a great dinner. The problem with a lot of fried smelt dishes is that you essetially just eat batter and some fish bones. The fish were kept meaty within the light fried skin in this case, and the dip gave it a more condensced flavor outside of just salt and pepper.
(the table next to us called it "Kokkari fries!")

For our main courses we both ordered their special, one the fish special and the other the rotisserie special.

Psari Psito - traditional grilled whole fish with braised greens, lemon and cretan olive oil. (or over roasted olives,saffron potatoes, and roasted tomatoes

They had 3 choices of fish that day, a Sole, a halibut, and a snapper. Looking for a more delicate fish my companion went with the Sole.

The fish is prepared by being grilled in a wooden basket after being seasoned with a variety of spices. They forgot to give us a choice between which vegetable so we had the very unappealing and very unappetizing braised greens.

When I think of grilled fish I normally think of mesquite grilled, and its usually thick meaty fish opposed to something as delicate as sole. So what happens with this type of grilling is the contact isn't directly on the grill but the fish is still being touched by the flames. You get a crisp skin on the outside but the inside meat is still very moist like it was oven baked or steamed.

I personally wish it wasn't sole because I'm not a huge fan of its thin meat, I like to eat larger bites of meat. I think the snapper would have been pretty good with its oily texture. But for the type of fish it was, the fish was very well prepared. I bet if it had roasted potatoes and tomatoes it would have blown this dish off the charts.

Finally my dish, the Soulva Tis Emeras (daily rotisserie)

Let me tell you a little about the Red Wattle pork. When our waiter first told us about it, I was surprised because usually you don't hear much about people describing the TYPE of pork you get, it's usually just WHERE the pork is from. I decided to do a little bit of research on this specific piggy myself.

The Red Wattle Heirloom pig is a dying breed of pig. Not because its being over-consumed but because it's not being "produced" in high enough quantities. Most of the time when people grow pigs they not only sell the meat but the lard as well. As silly as this may sound, the RW is not a fat pig, so it lacks in lard. Since farmers are looking to maximize profits they don't often grow this pig. SO at one point it almost died out completely. There were probably TWO herds of these pigs in all of America in the early 1900's.

In 2006 they were still considered severely endangered species of pig and there were to one expert's opinion only about 300 left in existence and they all lived in Texas. (Same Herd, hence the heirloom label). (read here for a long story, pretty interesting) More and more people are trying to grow these pigs now because upscale diners are bored of normal pork meat, and as they should be since pork at a nice restaurant is usually something I avoid (tends to be dry and requires alot of sauce for flavor).

But look no further for the pork revolution. If it was my choice I'd mass produce these puppies (piggies) cause the meat is without a doubt the best pork I've had in my life. Tender, flavorful, perfect trim of fat, all come out to make the greatest piece of pork that has ever come into my mouth. It's really unlike any other type of pork. I mean you either have porkchops which tend to dry out, or you get slow cooked pork that splits up in strips. Nothing as easy to slice through like this pork.

At Kokkari, they chopped the meat right off the spit, put some spiced oils on top, pan fried the skin and called it a day. The dish itself is a little bit oily, I could use a few tablespoons less of olive oil but I was blown away by the quality of the meat. The simplicity in which they made this dish speaks wonders to the quality of the meat itself. Words cannot adequately described the heaven I was in after eating the pork. All I know is, if you ever see Red Wattle Pork anywhere.. you need to order it.

Finally we have dessert, the Galaktoboereko.

Creme filled Fila dough with roasted apricot on the outside and a scoop of ice cream. The dish was good.. but not great. The dessert actually reminded me of those cream cheese toaster strudels you can get in your freezer section at the local supermarket. I like them, but I don't like paying $8 for two.

All in all I found this restaurant to be a great experience. The ambiance was nice, the dining area was very elegant, and the food was fantastic for the price (each dish was $30). I highly suggest you come here if you like Greek food. Heck I highly suggest you come here if you like food in general. It is a bit out of the way in the Financial District but its certainly worth the trek over.

Kokkari Estiatorio
200 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA



Clayfu's Eating Companion said...

I also thought the fish special was a bit oily, but perhaps that is due to my personal aversion to oil. It's almost as if they doused it with oil after taking it off to grill, maybe to counteract the possible "drying out" of the fish.

Mmmmm smelts. Love the lemon over the little fish.

imTSENsational said...

Gaddamn that looks good.

By the way, you gonna go to Will's blogger gathering?


Charlie Fu said...

Roger: who? haha. message me we'll talk

Anonymous said...

Is it crowded? Would you recommend reservations?

Charlie Fu said...

Anonymous: I guess i'd recommend reservations. I think any restaurant of this style will be busy. We ate on a Saturday and it was a full house. I didn't see anyone waiting out front, but it could be people only made reservations.

They can definitely seat a good amount of people there tho.

Nicholas said...

looks good charlie, RW is something I'll try if I see it. I think you meant phyllo dough for the pastry. Is a prerequisite for a good restaurant, 'a myriad of Flash going crazy with Techno music'?

imTSENsational said...

Charlie, email me with a 1-liner at I never see you on AIM and I dunno your email D:. I'll send you details about the get-together.