New places, new tastes: Notable dishes at Park Tavern, Canela, and Umami Burger
APPETITE These three new places just opened; these early dishes jump out.
Staring out at Washington Square Park and city views from Park Tavern's front dining room, one could be in Europe or New York. Yet the glow is distinctly San Francisco (specifically, North Beach). The menu exemplifies the typical cooking of our peninsula: high quality ingredients prepared carefully in heartwarming dishes. There are raw, fried, or smoked menu categories, and entrees like a plump poulet rouge (red chicken) standing at attention over a platter of potatoes and wilted spinach, doused in herbs and jus. From the owners of Marlowe (marlowesf.com), this new space is already a source of comfortable sophistication in North Beach.
Early stand-out: Though bites like NY steak crudo ($10) sprinkled with Parmesan and crispy horseradish delight, a delicate (read: slight) appetizer of compressed Yellow Doll watermelon and Mangalitsa prosciutto over mustard greens ($11) is the one that leaves an impression. True, compressed watermelon with meat has been a trendy starter in recent years, but it's a delicate whisper of truffle that sends it over the top. Truffle flavor can easily come off as heavy-handed, but here it's a welcome tease, hinting at umami worlds behind its initial sweet and savory contrasts.
Bonus: Dessert should not be forgotten at Park Tavern, and, no, I'm not talking about daily "birthday cake" specials — like coconut cream or chocolate caramel, both sold out on my last visit. I headed straight for grownup ice cream shakes ($9 each): Fernet ice cream with a shot of Fernet and Fever Tree ginger beer, or an Arnold Palmer with black tea ice cream, lemon gelato and St. Germain elderflower liqueur.
1652 Stockton Street, (415) 989-7300, www.parktavernsf.com 
Raved about ad nauseum in LA for years, Umami Burger already has a staunch following ensured. The chain's first SF opening in Cow Hollow paves the way for the next two Bay Area locations already in the works. From tempting sauces (Umami ketchup, Dijon mustard, roasted garlic aioli, jalapeno ranch) to veggie burger offerings like the Earth Burger ($12 — mushroom edamame patty in white soy aioli with truffle ricotta), Umami Burger is a guaranteed hit. Overhyped, though? Definitely. These are good burgers, to be sure, but there are many equally gourmet and crave-worthy burgers in town. Still, Umami's having fun and it shows.
Early stand-out: I'm all about the Manly Burger ($11): beer cheddar cheese, smoked salt onion strings, bacon lardons. There's only a bit of each ingredient, but somehow the thin layer of bacon cheesiness makes you appreciate it all the more. Add in a side of giant tempura onion rings ($4.50) and the day's stresses seem minimal.
2184 Union Street, (415) (415) 440-8626, www.umamiburger.com 
Canela is an airy new Spanish tapas restaurant in the Castro. With the front window ushering in bright sun and Market Street's bustle, it's a lovely mid-day respite with a glass of sangria ($5). The restaurant is still finding its legs with the menu (mostly tapas; will evolve to include dinner entrees), and as is expected, some dishes work better than others. Kudos for house-made chorizo on their coca flatbread ($14-15).
Early stand-out: There's two! A bright amuse of gazpacho (also on the menu at $5 cup/$7 bowl). The cool puree of tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper, garlic, and olive oil kickstarts the taste buds. Salt cod salad ($9 small/$15 large) is punctuated by olives, red onion, and orange slices, cutting the saltiness of the fish, while orange vinaigrette ties it together. For me, salt cod evokes the Mediterranean every time, particularly when it's this fresh-tasting and, well, salty. This simple salad sent me right back to Spain gazing out at the sea.
2272 Market Street, (415) 552-3000, www.canelasf.com 
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