Restaurant Review

Prana

Hall of the disco king
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paulr@sfbg.com

Prana has a soundstage look of the sort we haven't seen in restaurants around here since the late 1990s, when Entros and Mercury lived their firefly-brief lives. The main dining room is a vast hall whose ceiling is supported by two parallel columns of whitewashed pillars. With some flagons of mead and a clutch of bit actors in Viking period costume, it's easy to imagine a scene from Beowulf being filmed there — maybe an early moment in which the warriors are sleeping one off while Grendel comes creeping from the bog.

But no. Read more »

Alembic

Raising the bar
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paulr@sfbg.com

If Cheers had served good food instead of cheap beer and persiflage, Dr. Frasier Crane might never have fled to Seattle to start anew. Also, the place might have come to resemble the Alembic, a smallish installation along upper Haight that has been distilled from that nearby citadel of suds, Magnolia Pub and Brewery, now an institution. Unlike Cheers, the Alembic isn't in a basement; it occupies a storefront that was most recently home to Maroc. Read more »

CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen

The big dig
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paulr@sfbg.com

You could, if you were inclined, step into CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen and do nothing but drink wine. The establishment opened on mid-Market in 2005 as a wine bar, after all, and the wine list is so extensive that it's actually presented as a bound volume. I've seen less impressive Bibles. But you could also, if you were inclined, step into CAV and eat food while not drinking wine, and you wouldn't necessarily think you were missing out. Read more »

SPQR

When in Rome ...
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paulr@sfbg.com

If all roads lead to Rome — or once did — what does this tell us about the Eternal City? That it has terrible traffic? Yes, eternally — since ancient times. That the city was and is an international city? Yes, again, though more so in yesteryear, when the imperial Romans called the Mediterranean Sea mare nostrum and grain grown in Egypt was shipped more than a thousand miles by boat to feed the capital's million or so citizens. Read more »

Piqueo's

The sauce king
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paulr@sfbg.com

When Carlos Altamirano opened his first restaurant, Mochica, on a drab block of Harrison Street in SoMa more than four years ago, I thought: well, Peruvian, that's interesting, but how good could it be if he had to put it there? Then I went and found out how good it could be: way good, extraordinary, probably the best Peruvian food in the city. Few pleasures are as exquisite as that of finding one's expectations exceeded.

And yet, in unlooked-for success, danger can lurk, too. Read more »

Pacific Catch

The filling station, continued
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paulr@sfbg.com

When a service station is torn down to make way for an art gallery, we cheer. When the art gallery folds and is succeeded by a restaurant, we shuffle our feet uneasily. At least they won't be tearing the building down to bring back the service station — but art galleries are harder to find than restaurants.

Pacific Catch is a pretty good seafood restaurant in a neighborhood already chockablock with restaurants. The prices are moderate, the service is friendly and efficient, the food is good, and the look is handsome in a not-overbearing way. Read more »

Conduit

Tubular bells ... and whistles
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paulr@sfbg.com

First impressions are often false impressions, but some first impressions are so overwhelming as to transcend such mundane terms as false and favorable. When I first crossed the threshold of Conduit, I had the impression of having stepped inside a pipe organ. The restaurant (which opened late last year on a once-desolate stretch of Valencia near 14th Street) is a labyrinth of copper and steel tubing, so dense in its gleaming geometry as to become a kind of metallic fabric. Read more »

Breezy's

A performance enhancement
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paulr@sfbg.com

Since the symphony strike of the mid-1990s, the west side of the Civic Center has seen more than its share of high-profile destination restaurants open their doors. From Jardinière (born 1997) to Essencia (2007), the tone of the restaurants in the neighborhood (whose epicenter is the corner of Gough and Hayes) has become considerably ... tonier.

Much of the upscale-ishness doubtless has to do with the demolition of the Central Freeway viaduct and the reemergence of Hayes Valley as a nice place to live. Read more »

A la Turca

A virtual Xanadu for any aficionado of the Byzantine
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TURKISH TREAT Lebanese, Syrian, Greek — a craving for Mediterranean or Middle Eastern can be satisfied at a number of Bay Area restaurants, yet what if you want the one cuisine bridging the two? Inexplicably, Turkish restaurants are sorely missing from an otherwise all-inclusive food scene.

But deep in the cracked-out heart of the Tenderloin resides the consistently delicious and ridiculously affordable A la Turca. Read more »

Monk's Kettle

A craft-beer bar with food to match; ergo, a kind of hipster tavern
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paulr@sfbg.com

First, although it's early, let's hand out our first annual Best Restaurant Name Award. This year's winner is the Monk's Kettle, which is a witty, memorable, and — since the place in question is a craft-beer bar with food to match; ergo, a kind of hipster tavern — evocative phrase. Everyone loves a monk, and kettle is just fun to say, especially after a fancy beer or two.

The Monk's Kettle is not a brewpub. No beer brewing is done on the premises, which are probably too snug anyway. Read more »