Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Jaded Palate Syndrome

Medicine Eatstation uses a tagline on their web site "Simple food for jaded palates". In San Francisco, despite a plethora of wonderful restaurants it is easy to sometimes feel jaded. As it has been observed, many local restaurants have almost identical menus. Tuna tartar, beet and goat cheese salad, roast chicken or braised short ribs, anyone?

So where do you take your jaded palate to really wake up your senses? Surprisingly, for me it hasn't necessarily been five star dining establishments. Recently the places that have impressed me the most have had one thing in common in addition to good food, great service that conveyed a sincere welcome and a sense of the love and care that went into my meal. Sometimes food was even served up by the chefs themselves. The concept of "maitri" or loving kindness is central at Medicine Eatstation, and something I have experienced at places like Tajine, Pastores, Darbar and at Lettus Organic.

At Tajine chef-owner Mohammed Ghaleb's smile lights up the tiny restaurant. His hospitality and portions are so generous. The Dajaj Mqali, chicken with olives and preserved lemons, comforts with succulent tangy flavors.

At Pastores, cook Irma Calderon treats everyone like family and serves up big plates of food that feel more like home-cooking than average restaurant fare. It doesn't hurt that her mole is the best around.

At Darbar tables are packed with people enjoying Indian and Pakistani food that is served in a clean, pretty space that shows a clear respect that owner Mohammed has for his customers. The name alone, Darbar, or rulers court, suggests that customers are to be treated as royalty. Have the super fresh Garlic Naan, the outstanding creamy Dal Makhani and the Karahi chicken in a sauce of tomatoes and cilantro.

At Lettus Organic, a new organic restaurant in the Marina, even self-service is done with flair and attention. The food has a subtlety that you might not expect in a "healthy eating" place. Be treated to salads and sandwiches with delicate herbs, lovely presentation and prices that like the other restaurants allow you to eat well for about $10 a person.

For my interview with Medicine Eatstation owner, Will Petty head to Bay Area Bites.