I liked it, but my companion thought it overwhelmed the delicate fish, and I saw her point.
Potatoes are less commonplace than on other Peruvian menus around town but are used to good effect. The potato and crab salad ($13.75) turned out to be a cross between a napoleon and a sandwich, with the crab meat forming a seam between two oval pads of yellow (and cold) mashed potatoes, which had been fearlessly spiked with cayenne and lime juice. We might have expected some kind of potato preparation with the pork medallions ($19.50), but instead the crusted roulades of meat were plated with tacu-tacu, a tasty legume and rice croquette made here with mashed golden lentils and finished with a sash of bacon. The plate also included a side garden of julienned red and yellow bell pepper.
For me the one irresistible Peruvian dessert is alfajores ($4.50), the butter cookies filled Oreo-style with dulce de leche (sugar caramelized in milk). Essencia's cookies, to judge from their tender snap, are not only house made (with real butter) but baked daily, and there is a coconut variant to the dulce de leche a bit darker in color, with definite coconut perfume.
The sweets on the whole strike a light note. Peruvian tropical fruits figure in various mousses and flans, while the workaday but lovable orange turns up in thin rounds dusted with cinnamon and overlaid like a poker hand on a plate of madeleines ($7). There is a globe of vanilla ice cream too, just to keep everybody happy. And for a quasi<\d>petits fours fix, how about a selection of candies ($7), including burnt caramels, nougat, and flavored almonds, from the Miette shop just down the block?
Essencia's high pedigree suggests that it will grow, somewhere, somehow, but for the moment a big part of the restaurant's charm is its smallness. And the choicest seats in the house could be at the trapezoidal table for two behind the entryway. It's the restaurant's equivalent of the newlyweds' suite.*
Lunch, Mon.Sat., 11:30 a.m.2:30 p.m. Dinner: Mon.Sat., 510 p.m.
401 Gough, SF
Beer and wine