Dive into the season with these tasty bites from restaurants new and old
APPETITE Time to dive into summer — at least nominally. These five playful dishes recently made an impression, and brought a little sunshine to the table.
Brunch at one of the city's best bars, 15 Romolo, is a pleasure, and blessedly unmobbed. Arrive at opening (11:30am), and you're likely to secure a table instantly. Greeted with complimentary waffle shots — yes, rounds of waffle bites resting in a mini-pool of maple syrup and boozy rum — you're then guaranteed impeccable mid-day cocktails ($9–$10), like zippy, frothy absinthe showcase (not for the anise or licorice averse) Famous Fizz, made with St. George absinthe, shaken with strawberry-thyme shrub, cream, egg white, finished with seltzer. Or try a Breakfast of Champions # 2, rich with Manzanilla sherry, Nocino walnut liqueur, maple syrup, coffee tincture and house banana cordial — warmly gratifying, not cloying. Exciting drinks are a given here, but the menu's no slouch. This has been true at night and it's likewise true at brunch. The one that makes me salivate is the breakfast biscuit sando ($9). In keeping with other brunch dishes, portions are generous: a moist, green chile biscuit filled with crispy fried chicken, the perfect kind of bacon (not too crispy, fatty), fried egg, house pickles, and a vivid arugula walnut pesto. Hash browns accompany, and after adding on a hefty, savory house rye sausage patty ($3), I practically rolled out post-meal, blissfully fattened.
15 Romolo Pl., SF. (415) 398-1359, www.15romolo.com 
Though one can experience both highs and lows at downtown Oakland's upscale Southern sanctuary Pican (like uneven desserts or cocktails — oh, would that that sweet Mint Julep be less syrupy and served in a proper Julep cup), staff are eager to please and the American whiskey list is extensive. New executive chef Sophina Uong (Waterbar, 900 Grayson) continues introducing vibrant dishes to the menus. Even as I begin digging into new menu items like playful blue crab profiteroles, my heart belongs to classic smoked brisket meatloaf ($21). It's genius, really: shaved slices of Creekstone natural beef brisket are baked into a meaty-yet-light loaf, served with BBQ tomato jam, on roasted sweet corn salad with Cajun cheddar aioli. Mom's home cooking, upscale Southern treatment, California creative-fresh spin — a veritable mash-up of cuisines.
2295 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 834-1000, www.picanrestaurant.com 
Merely a couple weeks old, downtown Palo Alto's Rangoon Ruby boasts chefs Win Aye and Win Tin, formerly of Burma Superstar, serving fresh, vivid Burmese dishes. The chic, clean space boasts a nice spirits collection (all three St. George gins can be found here, along with Camus Cognac) and tiki-focused cocktail menu, including lava and scorpion bowls for two or four. While still working out opening and service kinks, owner and Burma native John Lee presents a gracious, hard-working aesthetic grown from his own experience working in the restaurant at San Francisco's Fairmont. Beloved Burmese salads ($10-13), from tea leaf to ginger, are done right here — brightly generous and served in its superior version: strips of mango atop greens, that fantastic hint of savory imparted by fried onions and garlic, accented with cucumber and dried shrimp. Also try nan gyi nok ($12), a heartwarming mound of rice noodles doused in coconut milk chicken and yellow bean powder, accented with a squeeze of lemon and a hard-boiled egg.
445 Emerson, Palo Alto. (650) 323-6543 www.rangoonruby.com 
Showdogs corners dogs in a space that continues to improve Market Street's less culinary-inclined blocks, adding on old school sign and sidewalk seating enclosed by hedges since they opened. I have a number of go-to sausages (plus a rocked-out corn dog), but it's the pickled hot link ($6.95) that remains truly different. A hot link, plump and pickled in apple-cider vinegar for a couple weeks: it's tangy, slightly blackened as it's grilled to order, topped with Crater Lake blue cheese sauce and arugula leaves.
1020 Market, SF. (415) 558-9560, www.showdogssf.com 
As part of an affordable seven-course Kaiseki dinner ($39.95) at Nombe, chawan mushi or Japanese savory egg custard has been prfected by chef Noriyuki Sugie. Though numerous izakayas, particularly Nojo, make memorable versions, I was recently hooked on Sugie's uni chawan mushi, lush with uni's seaworthy, umami notes, woven into a silky, custard, topped with more fresh uni, served traditionally in a covered dish. Order a pour from Nombe's impressive sake list — ask co-owner and sake sommelier Gil Payne to recommend a pairing for you — and settle into black booths in the quirky, comfy Mission diner space.
2491 Mission, SF. (415) 681-7150, www.nombesf.com 
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