APPETITE Most memorable restaurants boasts an overarching standard of quality to their menus. Other times, one dreams of specific items from certain spots. Here are a few places worth trekking out to for unique dream dishes.
LASAGNA BOLOGNESE AT MARCELLA’S
Lasagna… there are few foods as evocative of my childhood. Until now, Gaspare’s in the Outer Richmond was typically where I’d get my old school lasagna fix. Since May, though, Dogpatch now has a lasagneria, of all fantastic things. Marcella’s Lasagneria and Cucina is a humble corner shop selling Chef Massimo’s aioli spreads (like black truffle or spicy Chardonnay) and other housemade food products, paninis, soups, and pizzas for eating in or taking out. Best of all, six kinds of lasagna to choose from.
Jovial Massimo hails from Italy’s Abruzzo region (I’m charmed by the 1980s-looking photo of him above the counter in chef’s hat with a glass of wine), who regales with tales of early kitchen work and family. The shop is named after his daughter, while his friendly son sometimes works the counter. On a typical visit (open weekdays, 11:30am-7pm), lasagna options are butternut squash, bolognese, wild mushroom, spicy eggplant, spicy sausage, and pesto zucchini. I buy a whole lasagna for a family birthday — yes, it’s celebratory-good — and bring home three slices for dinner (8.50 each), reveling in savory-sweet red sauce and ultra-thin pasta sheets redolent with but not overcome by ricotta and mozzarella.
Butternut squash lasagna is typically white, so that the squash shines. Here it still does, while benefiting from a bit of red sauce. Earthy wild mushroom, spicy eggplant or pesto ricotta are winning. I like classic Bolognese best, the version my mother used to make. Massimo corners lassagna balance: there’s never too much of any one ingredient. The entirety melts in your mouth, as heartwarming as your Italian mama’s cookinge.
1099 Tennessee, SF. (415) 920-2225, www.marcellaslasagneria.com
MILLIONAIRE’S BACON AT BLACKWOOD
There are not many Thai joints in the Marina (Yukol Place has been keeping it real for years), and certainly not one like Blackwood. High ceilings and shades of black and grey set a chic tone, while non-traditional dishes like mushroom egg rolls and unfortunately named Marina Strips — Wagyu beef strips wrapped in baby hearts of palm — fill the menu. Many dishes are larger, more artfully arranged, versions of typical Thai dishes, like papaya salad or Pad See Ew (spelled Pad See You). Thai fusion is apparent in a Thai Wagyu burger ($12) on brioche loaded with a Thai salad of cucumber, carrot, cilantro, sesame. Or in generous, sizzling stone pots ($14-16), akin to Koran bibimbap filled with rice, veggies, meat of choice (I like crispy red snapper in plum dressing), topped with a fried egg.
However, the one destination item is merely a $5 add-on to a breakfast platter (served daily, 8am-4pm). And what an add-on! Blackwood’s only been open since June, but the millionaire’s bacon has already been named on the Discovery Channel Destination America’s United States of Food. Two hefty strips of bacon are dense, shimmery, chewy beauties, caramelized and slightly sweet and smoky. Despite bacon burn-out over the past decade, with bacon gracing every dessert and dish possible, these juicy strips renew and refresh the love, reminiscent of Southern ham in gourmet jerky-like form.
2150 Chestnut, SF. (415) 931-9663, www.blackwoodsf.com
CALABRIAN CHILE SPAGHETTINI AT BLUESTEM
Bluestem Brasserie is no run-of-the-mill downtown shopping break. In fact, it has improved since opening in summer 2011, honing in on its menu, house charcuterie, and whole-animal butchery practices (no part goes to waste). With new executive chef Francis Hogan, there is fresh life in the space frequented by tourists, shoppers, and the Moscone Center crowd. While wine on tap, grass-fed beef, and whole-animal practices are common in SF at large, being centrally situated downtown between SoMa and Union Square, Bluestem is exposing a new range of clientele to the delicious taste of sustainability.
Besides satisfying house pâté (on the charcuterie platter) of pork, pistachio, and the like, a whole roasted branzino ($29) is flaky, perked up with roasted summer chilis or your choice of side, while grass-fed six-ounce filet ($31) or 12-ounce ribeye ($34) steaks are appropriately tender, medium rare, with choice of sauce ($3.75), like bourbon espresso or horseradish-roasted garlic cream. The dish I found myself trekking back for whether at lunch or dinner is Calabrian chile spaghettini ($19). Though I would prefer some heat from Calabrian chiles (I detected none), the heaping bowl of pasta is topped with Early Girl tomatoes, arugula, and basil — the pièce de résistance being melted burrata flowing over the pasta in lush waves. A gentle zesting of lemon rind perfects it. Dessert ($9.50) is no afterthought. The Peaches and Herb “Reunited” sundae was a layered summer treat, but the jar filled with mini-cookies baked in-house, including lemon sugar and peanut butter, made me feel like a kid again. There were so many cookies, I finished the rest for breakfast the next day with coffee.
One Yerba Buena Lane, SF. (415) 547-1111, www.bluestembrasserie.com