Criolla Kitchen triumphs with the little things (like starter salads)
CHEAP EATS First time I went to Criolla was with Coach and company and I was just tickled to death to be eating chicken and waffles within walking distance from my home. Chicken and waffles! I forgave them the dry chicken, even though it was all dark meat and dark meat is of course harder to overcook, because the waffle was good. And they offered real, true Vermont maple syrup for one worth-it dollar more.
And it was chicken and waffles. And walking distance. And so forth: sweet potato tater tots, limeade, sunshine, just a beautiful sidewalky San Francisco day at Market and Noe.
I thought: OK, new favorite restaurant. It ain't Farmer Brown's Little Skillet, or even Auntie April's, but it ain't Baghdad Café anymore, either. It's chicken and waffles! In the Castro, and that was overall a happy thought.
Next time I went was with Hedgehog on an also-beautiful day, but we sat inside. In the window, and looked out upon the sidewalk there. It's a colorful corner. Men stroll by naked. Nobody blinks.
But if you are going to make fried chicken anywhere in the world, including the Castro, including walking distance to my house, you are going to need to make it to order. Fried chicken don't sit well. It never has, and it never will. So unless you're a place that sells it as fast as you can crank it out, you're going to serve some hit-or-miss soggy-breading-ed and dry-meat fried chicken. Most of the time.
I don't know if Criolla Kitchen fries or tries to fry their chickens to order. If they do, they better get better at it.
The good news is, since it isn't just a chicken and waffle place, or even a fried chicken place, you've got plenty of other options. And a lot of them sound kinda good. Almost all of them, besides the chicken and waffles, sound Louisianic: chicken gizzards with pepper jelly, mirliton salad, red beans and rice, shrimp po'oy ...
I got the Louisiana farm-raised catfish mojito isleño on the sheer strength of the number of words in its name. If there were green olives in the tomato-ey, onion-y smother as advertised, I didn't see or taste them. But it was pretty good anyway.
Hedgehog's chicken was soggy-topped and dry inside. I'd warned her, but she had to see for herself, poor li'l prickly. Anyway, the red beans and rice that came with it were good.
Warning: the black beans are vegetarian, and therefore not very good. Unless maybe if you're a vegetarian, but even then I think they might could use a little something.
The best thing I've had, in my two visits to Criolla, was the mirliton salad. Hedgehog, being an issue-taker by nature, took issue with our waiterperson's mispronunciation of mirliton. She's also a former and future resident of New Orleans, so has heard the word more than most of us'ns.
The way she says it sounds like mella tone, as in melatonin — which has helped me sleep once or twice, so I like it. But the salad is something else entirely: almost see-through, thinly sliced strips of mirliton — or chayote, a kind of gourd with crunch, which tastes pretty much exactly like whatever you put on it, in this case a lemon-cumin vinaigrette.
And avocado, which needs no introduction.
Yum! So that was the best thing I have had at my new favorite restaurant. A little tiny starter salad. Still, I will go back, I'm sure, because even though I'm mad at them for their fried chicken, and disappointed in the catfish, there are still the shrimp po'oys and charbroiled oysters to be tried.
If those oysters come even close to the chargrilled ones I ate one day at Acme Oyster House in Metairie after buying some shirts at the mall last spring, then I will be the happiest little glaze-eyed chicken farmer in the whole wide city, and will promise to never ever leave the Bay Area ever again.
Which. Wait. I have promised before, and broken. And broken. And will break again, I promise.