Dining in SF: Zarzuela

While in SF, I had the opportunity to meet up with a trio of Xangans (two of whom are AWOL from the site – ahem!) for dinner at Zarzuela, a Spanish restaurant on Russian Hill. The conversation was excellent and the food very good.


Located on the corner of Union and Hyde Streets, the cable cars climb the hill outside Zarzuela’s front door. The room is cozy and the service friendly.


Jamon Serrano con Pan e Tomate – Serrano ham with toasted bread and tomato sauce. The ham was tasty, the bread was nice, the tomato sauce was weak and watery.


Gambas Ajillo – shrimp sauteed with garlic and olive oil. Very tasty but the portion was very small – this was the entire serving before any of us helped ourselves.


Mejillones Vinagretta – A specialty is the cold mussels served with chopped veggies and a sherry vinaigrette. Cold mussels seem less common than warm ones, but this dish is a good argument why cold mussels should be more comon.


Calamares a la Plancha con Aioli – Grilled calamari shells with a garlic mayonnaise sauce. The taste was fine but the presentation was awful. It looks like a three-year old just squiggled some mayo on top with a squeeze bottle.


Pollo con Setas – Sauteed chicken with mixed mushrooms and sherry wine sauce. This was tasty but not particularlly inspiring.


Pescado del Dia – Fish of the day, in this case salmon, served with a red tomato sauce and a side of green beans. Again, tasty but not very inspired. The type of dish that I feel most home cooks could easily create, which makes me wonder why I’m going to a restaurant to eat it.


Fideos con Marisco – Vermicelli and seafood tossed with white wine and saffron. This had a bit of a “boxed mac and cheese” quality to it. Again, tasty food but not very refined. Having not been to Spain, perhaps you can argue that the food there is rustic but for a restaurant in San Francisco, I’m expecting a little sophistication for $14.95.

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Trio of desserts. I didn’t catch what they were (other than the middle one, which is an almond cake kind of like an Italian Torta del Nonna). Actually, the one on the right might be a rice pudding.


The two AWOL Xangans, Jason and Sheening. Didn’t catch a good picture of the third Xangan joining us, Piyapong. Even if they have largely abandoned blogging on Xanga, it is always a pleasure to catch up with them in person. 


Fantastic view of North Beach and Telegraph Hill (and Lombard Street) just a few blocks north of the restaurant.


Food in LA: Bar Pintxo

On my way back to Bangkok, I had a twelve-hour layover in Los Angeles.  I’m super-fortunate that Gary seems to have an infinitely flexible schedule (although he swore that if I had been in town the following day, he wouldn’t have had any free time) and an inexplicable willingness to spend the afternoon running me around town.

I also really fortunate that Gary and W are such foodies and do all the legwork of trying and evaluating restaurant, so that when I stop by for a brief visit they always have the perfect recommendation.  Tuesday evening’s recommendation was Bar Pintxo, a Spanish tapas bar in Santa Monica.  We were graced with Steve’s presence, as he had a break in his globetrotting and drove up from the OC to join us.


The restaurant is just a block from the beach, conveniently located near the Third Street Promenade.  They have a happy hour until 6:00 and we managed to sneak in just beforehand and order our first round of drinks and some of the tapas specials.


The restaurant isn’t very large and is built around the kitchen area.  It is very cozy with tall tables and bar stools and bottles of wine and a huge mirror adorning the walls.


Of course, one must start Spanish tapas with some sangria, right?  This red wine concoction was very good, not too sweet.


The happy hour specials include 6 pintxos (“pinches”) for $6, so they loaded up two platters for the four of us.  The platter above has crimini mushrooms stuffed with mushroom mousse and manchego cheese; fresh tomato and garlic; and huevos rellenos con vinagreta vasca, deviled eggs with a pepper and onion relish in a vinaigrette dressing, all on grilled bread.


The second platter had Serrano jamon (ham) on grilled bread with olive oil; chorizo Bilboa (spicy sausage) with cherry tomato halves; and tomato conserve and manchego cheese, all served on grilled bread.

The pintxos were all very tasty, a nice variety of simple but bold flavors.


W continued the ordering with frisee and shaved manchego cheese dressed with a quince vinaigrette and served on a flatbread.


Next came a paella with razor clams.  Very nice and clean flavors.


You can’t order tapas without ordering tortilla espanola, the Spanish style frittata with egg, potatoes, and caramelized onions served with a side of aioli.


We also ordered the brocheta de cerdo, mojo verde – the pork loin skewer with vegetables and a herb and lemon pesto.  The pork was nice and juicy, although the meat itself didn’t have a lot of flavor.  The sauce, though, packed a punch.


Me enjoying the meal.


For dessert we shared a plate of churros with a chocolate dipping sauce.  This was pretty unexceptional and the sauce was like thick hot chocolate, not really thick enough for dipping.


The arroz con leche, rice pudding with fresh peaches, was much nicer.  They bruleed the top slightly, adding a nice texture.  And of course rice pudding is a favorite of mine.

The service was friendly although not super-attentive, the atmosphere was convivial, and the food was tasty.  Just what I needed before a long flight back to Thailand.