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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Nopa: Restaurant Review

Do you know someone who has "good ordering karma"? Whenever you go out to eat they unwittingly order the best thing on the menu and you're left with something decidedly less interesting. I'll tell you, I don't have it. It's rare that I end up with the tastiest thing at the table. Frankly, ordering off a menu is more of an ordeal than it ought to be for me. First off, I usually want to try several things and then get anxious over my choice once I make one.

So to avoid the curse of ordering poorly, how can one person manage to eat several dishes? It requires the powers of persuasion. You have to persuade others at your table to share what they are ordering and to order all different items. Or you can eat at Nopa and convince your food blogger friends to share no fewer than six small plates with you. Some of them are bound to be good, right?

Actually most of them were very good and reasonably priced (about $7-9 each, entrees are $16-19). We had a luscious halibut carpaccio which on initial inspection was so translucent that it was invisible on the plate. Little bits of arugula and lemon complemented it perfectly. We also had two cheese dishes, a dish of beans with feta that was perhaps my least favorite dish. The beans were a bit starchy and dull. We also had a goat cheese spread with croutons and a pickled beet salad with frisee.

For me the two best dishes were the small fried fish, which were crunchy and light, and the succulent and tangy lamb riblets flavored with pomegranate, harissa, coriander and mint. But that would be neglecting the flat bread dotted with sausage and broccoli rabe, which was also very good as a starter. When it comes to dessert nothing is more fun to eat than their scrumptious yeasty and ethereal doughnut holes (without a trace of grease), served with an orange infused honey.

Though Nopa has been described as a more casual Zuni, a better description might be a more upscale Chow or what Chez Nous was in its heyday, since chef Laurence Jossel was previously at both of those restaurants. The restaurant is comfortable and a bit boisterous. Upstairs they'll need to figure out a way to cool it down a bit, the circulation is not what it should be. But the view of the kitchen and mis en place is terrific. Downstairs you can sit at a big communal table or dine at the bar if the restaurant is too busy. By the way, Nopa means North Of Pan Handle, which is the location.

560 Divisadero Street @ Hayes
San Francisco
Open 6 pm - 1 am everyday