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September 11, 2009


Crema de Zanahoria con Chile Ancho Dominic Armato

After the day's work was done, our mariscos lunch was happily digesting away and we were back on our own, thoughts naturally turned to dinner. My instinct, as previously mentioned, was to pick a street market and start chowing. And the idea of escaping the D.F. without sampling a taco al pastor seemed positively sacrilegious. But in deference to my traveling companion (who was warned he'd be thrown under the bus when it came time to post), we opted for a more refined affair that involved less walking. And I figured if we weren't going to take it to the streets, we might as well hit the other extreme. A short cab ride later, we were cruising into the ritzy Polanco neighborhood and stepping into Izote de Patricia Quintana.

Patricia Quintana, for many, will need no introduction. She's an ambassador of Mexican cuisine, once executive chef for the Mexican Ministry of Tourism, founder of a Mexican culinary institute and multiple cookbook author who specializes in creative, refined takes on Mexican classics. This is one of the big guns of Mexican cuisine. And though reviews from the usual spies were decidedly mixed, it seemed the perfect choice for this particular evening, when comfort was a precious commodity. The restaurant is, indeed, comfortable -- very bright and spartan, white tablecloths and simple patterned murals that evoke the colors of Mexican art (not that I'm an authority on Mexican art). It's casual, but refined and carefully put together with a minimal sense of style. The menu's rather extensive, pushing fifty items not including sides and desserts, and unless we struck them as locals (which I doubt), it wouldn't be a bad idea to brush up on your menu Spanish before heading in. Though I'm sure they'd be more than happy to translate, that's a lot of text to get through.

Empanadas de TingaDominic Armato

We kicked off dinner with the Empanadas de Tinga al jitornate con cebolla. I'm still unclear on what jitornate is (and would appreciate enlightenment... *ahem*... Solange), but the rest made enough sense to make an order of it. Tinga is shredded meat cooked with onions and a deep, intense sauce with chipotles, often served on tostadas with cheese and avocado. So what we received was really a repackaging of the classic, with the sweet, spicy meat inside a delightfully crisp and puffy shell, atop an avocado and onion salsa with a chunk of fresh cheese (seen in the background, topped with crushed dried chile pepper) for good measure. A very enjoyable dish, top to bottom, as much for the empanadas' exceptional texture as for the full flavor of the meat within. And a stunning-looking plate, to boot. This would become a theme.

Tamales de QuesoDominic Armato

Our next dish, a collection of four tamales, tried to pretend it was rustic, appearing in an earthenware bowl, but it wasn't fooling anybody. Unfortunately, while perusing the menu I saw "Plato de Tamales" and missed the "de queso" which immediately followed, meaning that where I was expecting corn, I got cheese. Now I've nothing against cheese, and these were, indeed, quite cheesy. All but one of the quartet contained what was essentially a lump of gooey, melted cheese with a little accompanying component -- one with epazote (a distinctive Mexican herb), one with squash blossoms, and one with some manner of mushroom -- but the balance was so heavily shifted towards the cheese that, if blindfolded, it would have been difficult to distinguish one from the other. The fourth -- an actual corn tamale with chicken -- was moist and light and I loved it. For missing the queso, I take partial responsibility for my disappointment with this dish. But even so, I do wish the accompanying flavors had been more assertive. It could have taken simple cheese lust and made it something special.

Crema de EloteDominic Armato

We followed our starters with a soup course, and though I was initially dismayed when my dining companion chose the one I had my eye on, I think my Plan B turned out to be a blessing in disguise. There was nothing wrong with his Crema de Elote, a creamy corn soup with a touch of chipotle and a lot of what I believe was nutmeg. But it lacked the intensely fresh corn flavor I'd hoped it might possess, and the spice -- nutmeg, not the chipotle -- was perhaps overly aggressive. The soup was more cream and spice than corn, and while tasty, it wasn't what I thought it could be. My soup, however, was excellent. The Crema de Zanahoria -- carrot soup -- was a special for the day, and hit the table a spectacular wash of orange surrounding a goat cheese-stuffed chipotle adorned with a handmade blue tortilla chip. Here, the focus was on the carrot, and the better for it. Sweet and intense, with just the right amount of spice and sourness granted by the accompaniments, it was an unusually excellent soup.

Mole Negro de OaxacaDominic Armato

Having watched Rick Bayless take down the Top Chef Masters crown just two nights prior with a Oaxacan black mole that brought James Oseland, Gael Greene and Jay Rayner to their knees, there was no way I was passing on Quintana's version. Sadly, this was the one dish of the night that was flat-out disappointing. The mole was intense, yes, but rather than subtly blending all of the many ingredients, it was completely dominated by an odd sourness that not only rubbed me the wrong way, but completely subjugated all of the other flavors. What's more, the meat it adorned wasn't even the least bit enjoyable. The matchstick cuts of duck were tough, dry and almost flavorless, as though the overcooked scraps of other dishes had been chopped up and buried beneath the most pungent sauce in the house. While I don't suspect Quintana's kitchen of such excessive frugality, the fact remains that this was not an enjoyable dish. I can't speak to its authenticity, and my frame of reference for black mole is admittedly small, but I've always enjoyed it until this particular instance. A huge disappointment...

Chile en NogadaDominic Armato

...that set me up for an absolute thrill. Chiles en Nogada is a dish that's long been on my must-try list, so I was positively tickled when I discovered that my visit happened to coincide with its rather narrow season. Chiles en Nogada is a holiday dish, made to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, and it's typically served only during the month of August and the first half of September. Doubling my excitement was the fellow at the concierge desk, who not only informed me of this fact (I thought we had arrived too early), but told me that it's a specialty of Patricia Quintana. And while I've never tasted a version other than hers, if he's correct, this is indeed a signature dish to hang your hat on. The chile in question is a poblano, which is stuffed with a picadillo made of pork, a mixture of spices including a healthy dose of cinnamon, and a number of Pueblan fruits that usually includes apple, pear and peach. This filling is potent stuff, simultaneously fruity and meaty with a dizzying mix of spices, and the chile that houses it is in a perfect state of limbo, cooked enough to coax out a little sweetness and make it a little tender, while still maintaining much of the raw green flavor and a hint of its original body and crispness. The walnut cream sauce, more of a paste in Quintana's version, is sweet and nutty, almost like a savory frosting, and the entire package -- served cold, by the way -- is buried under a handful of pomegranate seeds and a bit of fresh parsley. I was, quite simply, blown away. It's such a stunning dish, so striking and unusual, so full of vibrant flavors and so flatly contrary to what most people in the States believe constitutes Mexican cuisine. It flirts the sweet and savory divide, it plays with your expectations of texture and temperature, it's all wrapped up in a package that symbolically represents the flag of the nation whose independence it's celebrating, and all intellectual appeal aside, it's freaking delicious. If a typical version is half as good as this one, it's not hard to see why this dish is considered a national treasure. This dish was magical.

Really, Patricia Quintana could have served me five courses of chips and salsa leading up to that dish, and I would have left happy. But if I try to set my joy over the Chile en Nogada aside for a moment, I understand why reviews of Izote are so mixed. We really ran the gamut of good and bad, and I can see how dish selection could cause you to leave walking on a cloud or wondering what the heck this woman did to earn so much acclaim. If I were to go back (though that could only be after some serious exploration of the rest of the city), I wouldn't want to do so without first doing some serious research into which dishes thrill people and which don't. Some people call Izote grossly overrated. Some people call it a don't miss. I'm not sure that I'm in either camp. That is, unless it's between August 1st and September 16th and the Chile en Nogada is on the menu. For those six weeks, "don't miss" doesn't begin to cover it.

Izote de Patricia Quintana
Av. Presidente Masaryk 513
Col. Polanco
11560 Mexico City
55 / 5282-3262
Mon - Sat1:00 PM - 12:30 AM
Sun1:00 PM - 6:00 PM

September 08, 2009


Shrimp Broth Dominic Armato

This isn't exactly how I wanted to see Mexico.

Don't misunderstand, I couldn't have been more thrilled to head down to Mexico City, especially since it's the first time I've left the country in over two years -- the longest stretch I've gone stateside, I believe, since I was twelve years old. But a mere 29 hours on the ground, most of that eaten by work, doesn't exactly leave much time for exploration and culinary pursuits.

While shuttling from meeting to meeting in a subcompact with the windows rolled down, my head would suddenly be filled with the dizzying aroma of charred meats and hot tortillas griddled on the comals of the makeshift outdoor markets that inhabit even the smallest patches of bare ground, only to lose the scent as we'd turn another dusty corner and ride on. The street food of Mexico City is legendary. I wanted nothing more than to hop out at the first stop light and stuff myself full of as much as I could get my hands on until our hosts -- wondering what kind of insanity had touched their guest's head -- could catch up to me and usher me back to the car. Of course, they took us out to lunch. But it was more of a tease than a taste.

Cebiche de CamarónDominic Armato

Mariscos seemed an odd choice of culinary genre for the landlocked Distrito Federal, but I'm a sucker for fish of any fashion so I would have found it difficult to object even if I'd thought it appropriate. The venue, as it turned out, was a chain called Fisher's with a couple dozen locations as far-flung as Miami, all sleek and modern and looking about as Mexican as a California Pizza Kitchen. Even the obligatory shrimp mascot, with his jaunty cap, looked unusually clean cut. But I've said before that I'm not anti-chain, just anti-junk, and anyplace that sends around carafes of soup before your napkin has even hit your lap is off on the right foot with me. They hand you a small glass and fill it with a heady, spiced shrimp broth and instruct you to squeeze in a little fresh lime from the pile in the center of the table before sipping as you peruse the menu. Take back the menu, leave the carafe and I'll consider myself a winner. Sadly, with a vocabulary limited to menu Spanish and whatever Sesame Street had taught me, I lacked the linguistic skills to pull off such a request with the wit necessary to make it anything less than grossly awkward. The menu would have to do.

Coctel de PulpoDominic Armato

Stuck on shrimp after our soupy amuse, I started with a shrimp ceviche that found fresh, sweet shrimp in a very, very light liquid along with avocado, fried tortilla strips and diced green olives. It was surprisingly light, which is the polite way of saying it lacked oomph. Its freshness made it enjoyable, but my interest waned midway through the plate. My traveling companion fared far better with his cold seafood variant, scoring an octopus cocktail with chunks of cold seafood, onions, cilantro, avocado and the usual ketchupy sauce, but this one I found exceptional. Partly due to the fact that it wasn't a total ketchupy mess and partly due to the smoky dried chile flavor in the background that left a slow, lingering burn after each bite, it was one of the better versions of the genre I've tasted, and probably my favorite item of the day.

Camarones a la DiablaDominic Armato

I scored only a fleeting taste of the Camarones a la Diabla, served hot in an earthenware bowl that reflected the earthiness of the dried chiles inside. It was intense stuff that cried out for acid -- which, come to think of it, was provided right there on the table. But with or without lime, I still thought it could have used a little more depth of flavor. I was completely unable to resist the Huachinango al Mojo de Ajo, even if it wasn't quite what I expected. The problem, I think, was my expectations and not its preparation. Where I anticipated a sauce to top my fried snapper, what I received was a pile of crumbly, fried garlic and a small side of mayonnaise. Not at all unwelcome, and for all I know entirely traditional, but not what I expected. I enjoyed it, even if I felt it was in need of some lubrication other than mayonnaise. It was fresh and crisply fried and whilst sucking the bones and seeking ever last morsel of flesh that I could extract from the beast, I looked up to see that my compatriots' plates had not only been cleaned but cleared as well. I was, indeed, too intent on my fish to notice.

Huachinango al Mojo de AjoDominic Armato

But while the meal presented some enjoyable plates, I couldn't help but feel as though I was getting Mexican Lite -- a sanitized, gringo-friendly version of what I might find elsewhere in the city. I've no doubt Fisher's thrives on local clientele, but everything was a little too clean, a little too clinical, a little too... underpowered. Blindfold me, and it still felt like a chain, with very precise dishes that lacked oomph. And while this is a chain I'd be all too happy to have at home -- especially with its monstrous 100+ item menu covering just about every manner of Mexican seafood I could want -- I couldn't help but feel that this wasn't exactly representative of the nation's mariscos, but rather a sanitized, tourist-safe place that only hinted at what was waiting for me if I'd only hopped out of the car and took off running. Maybe next time.

Horacio No. 232, esq. Taine
Chapultepec Morales
Deleg. Miguel Hidalgo
Mexico, D.F., C.P. 11570
55 31 62 86
55 31 05 67

September 04, 2009


Rosemary Toasted Almonds Dominic Armato

UPDATE : Laiola has closed

And now, some really excellent tapas.

I actually first hit Laiola back in January. I was in town to do some work with an old friend I hadn't seen in about ten years, and after knocking off work on my first day in town, discussion turned to where the crowd should go for some good wine and eats. Walkable, small plates, good Spanish wine -- everybody seemed to feel that Laiola fit the bill perfectly. The result? A dynamite meal. One of the best I'd had in some time. And here I was without a camera. No writeup for the blog. A tragedy.

I spent the next few months wondering if my enthusiasm for the place had been... enhanced... by the liberal amounts of wine that were flowing that evening. You know how it is. Hit just the right level of inebriation and suddenly everything tastes awesome. So when I was back in town a couple of weeks ago and was looking for a spot to grab dinner with another old friend, Laiola was the first place I thought of. I even warned her. I don't THINK it was the wine, but provided it wasn't, you're in for a great meal.

It wasn't the wine.

Chickpea CroquetasDominic Armato

Laiola can lend the wrong impression at the outset, at least to chow nerds who pride themselves on digging out the hidden gems. It's Spanish small plates, it's a wine bar, it's kinda dark, it's kinda hip, they play great alternative tunes -- in other words, on first blush it'd be easy to mistake it for one of the hordes of restaurants that are cynically trying to capture the young and moneyed crowd with whatever cuisine happens to be trendy at the moment. And yes, to some degree they're doing the same thing that everybody else is right now. They're just doing it exceptionally well. I don't give a damn if it's trendy. Laiola served me some of the purest, most explosive flavors I've had all year.

Heirloom Tomato "Tomàquet"Dominic Armato

The menu isn't straight-up traditional, but it also isn't going off in crazy directions simply for the sake of being different. They take a very thoughtful approach to Spanish-influenced small plates, working locally-available product into dishes that evoke the mother country. We started off with a bang, ordering one of the dishes that had made a major impression on me six months prior. The chickpea croquetas arrive, playfully arranged like mozzarella sticks stacked by a Lincoln Logs enthusiast, with a dollop of olive aioli casually plopped down on the side. They're pure, intense chickpea through and through, but the joy is in the texture, a baton with a light and crispy fried shell that encases a puree so smooth that it's almost like a volcanic, molten chickpea core. The first taste tells you that you should really let them cool a bit lest you risk injury, but you charge ahead and scald yourself anyway.

Basque Pepper ShrimpDominic Armato

It being mid-August and all, we felt it would have been irresponsible not to order something with fresh tomatoes, so we fulfilled the obligation by going with the heirloom tomato tomàquet. It was little more than some heavily toasted, crusty bread topped with three massive slabs of tomato, olive oil, a touch of vinegar, shallot and fresh oregano. The tomatoes were absolutely stunning, and the kitchen was smart enough to send them out mostly unadulterated. Half the battle is knowing when to do less, and here they hit it on the head. Another relatively simple dish was the Basque pepper shrimp, essentially gambas al ajillo that included ribbons of the sweet and ever so slightly spicy piquillo peppers so popular in the Basque region. The shrimp were beautifully tender and sweet, and the oil avoided the acrid pungency that is too often a hallmark of the dish, instead achieving a mellow but no less garlicky depth of flavor that made it unusually compelling.

Grilled Baby OctopusDominic Armato

The grilled baby octopus made for a lovely little plate, with charred tentacles reaching up from a chaotically colorful pile of tomatoes, peppers and beans, all dressed with olive oil saturated with minced fresh herbs. (Basil and mint, perhaps? I was too busy enjoying it to pay careful attention.) In a rare moment of merely very good, I thought the octopi could have used a little more oomph -- of what nature I'm not certain. But they were perfectly tender with just enough char to bring some fire to the plate, and the focus of the dish, intentionally or otherwise, was the vegetables anyway, bright and crisp and tasting of sunshine.

Fried Padrón PeppersDominic Armato

The simplest and yet one of the most enjoyable dishes of the evening was a pile of padrón peppers, which as far as I can tell had simply been fried and sprinkled with salt. Eating padrón peppers, apparently, is kind of like playing Russian roulette. Spanish roulette. Spanish Russian roulette, whatever. In any case, the peppers are mostly mild, a touch sweet and very green, reminiscent of a poblano to me. But your plate is strewn with little incognito firecrackers that are inexplicably far spicier than their brethren. Our server explained that this was not a freak occurrence, but rather one of the pepper's most endearing characteristics. Eating them was a bit of a game -- oh, that's nice... delicious... tasty... Woo! There's a hot one! But novelty aside, they really were delightful, possessing an almost snack-like quality that could motivate you to tear through a plate four times its size. The only potential knock is that they could have used a bit more salt, but that's being unkind. Besides which, I could have simply asked for some, but I was enjoying them too much to bother.

Pimentón Spiced PotatoesDominic Armato

The pimentón spiced potatoes, not a favorite of the evening but entirely worthy, were described as sort of like patatas bravas, but that doesn't really give you the angle. "One-note" may be a derogatory term when talking food, but here I'm not so sure it isn't a compliment. The note in question was pimentón, the smoky ground hot pepper which absolutely dominated the dish in almost every possible way. Potato wedges were fried and liberally dredged in the stuff, then served with an aioli that had been flavored with the same. Where the padrón peppers were spicy, green and vegetal, the potatoes brought a different kind of heat, smoky and earthy, spicy with both a hit of heat up front and a smoldering tail on the back end. Sophisticated, no, but very bold and rather enjoyable.

Grilled NectarinesDominic Armato

It was at this point that we very nearly called it quits, and this turned out to be a close call. Feeling as though we wanted to try one more dish, not wanting a full savory item but not wanting to do dessert either, I spied an item on the menu that looked as though it might possess some of that end-of-meal vibe without having to go full-on sweets. This turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of the year. We received a nectarine, halved and grilled hot enough to get some blackened char on the face and soften the edges while still leaving the center fairly fresh. The well left by the missing pit was filled with a sherry and tarragon vinaigrette that had been sweetened with a touch of honey, and the fruit was paired with a nearly fist-sized scoop of a house-made goat cheese that had the characteristic pungency of a chèvre but much smoother and milder, and an impossibly light and fluffy texture -- almost as much air as cheese -- reminiscent of the kind of fresh ricotta you get in Italy when it's no more than a few hours old. Total showstopper, and I couldn't have wished for a better finish to the meal -- or any meal, really.

On Wednesday, I wrote about Iluna Basque, where everything seemed technically correct, but nothing had any pop. And I wasn't looking for a lesson in contrasts, but one found me. Laiola is everything Iluna Basque is not, where the flavors are big and vibrant and the ingredients are alive, no matter how simply prepared they may be. This kitchen has a great touch, squeezing every bit of flavor out of what they're working with and doing so with little touches here and there that make the dishes theirs. Who knows, I'm probably setting impossibly high expectations. But the fact remains that two of the best meals I've had over the past year have both been at Laiola, and I look forward to the third, whenever that may be.

2031 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
Sun - Thu5:30 PM - 10:00 PM
Fri - Sat5:00 PM - 11:00 PM

September 02, 2009

Iluna Basque

Prawns Cazuela Dominic Armato

UPDATE : Iluna Basque has closed

With this post, I may have doomed Mattin Noblia.

Only once before have I posted about a Top Chef contestant's restaurant, and she was eliminated that very night. Now, I'm not generally one to suggest that I wield such power -- especially since, y'know, the shows were taped months ago -- and yet, cosmic coincidences such as this cannot be ignored. Having spent so much time writing about it, clearly my connection to the show has crossed into the metaphysical realm. As you watch tonight's episode, do so with a mindful eye turned towards the Frenchman in the jaunty red neckerchief.

Piquillo Peppers with BacalaoDominic Armato

Actually, "Frenchman" isn't really specific enough. Mattin is Basque, meaning that he hails from the Basque Region, a little crook in the neck of France where she meets Spain along the Atlantic ocean. It's a region known for its unique culture... about which I know very little, and as such I will avoid pretending that I do. But what I do know is that the French food of the Basque Region is heavily influenced by nearby Spain, often appearing more Spanish than French. This was the food of Noblia's youth, and after training in France, he came to the U.S. and opened his restaurant at an absurdly young age (23), and it remains open six years later, still in the same location in San Francisco's North Beach -- no small feat.

Shaved Potatoes with Herbs & VinegarDominic Armato

So about a month and a half ago, when an old friend and I had the good forture to be in San Francisco at the same time, we decided it would be fun to do a little Top Chef scouting before the season started. Upon our arrival, it was immediately evident that Noblia can't be accused of gilding the lily. What he's opened is a small neighborhood wine and tapas bar, where most of the food comes on small plates and seems more influenced by his jaunts across the Spanish border while growing up. In many ways, this is rather refreshing. In a culinary world where so many young hotshots are trying to reinvent the wheel and... oh, gosh... trying out for cooking reality shows, it's kind of nice to hear that a 23-year-old started his career by keeping things simple. Mmmmmmm, perhaps a little too simple.

Stuffed Calamari in Ink SauceDominic Armato

We started by going straight to the piquillo peppers. Piquillo peppers are a specialty of the region. They're mostly sweet, just a touch spicy, fire engine red and seemingly in just about everything. Here, they were stuffed with sort of a bacalao brandade, and doused with a simple tomato sauce. The peppers were sweet, the fish was creamy, the tomatoes were fine... it was a good dish. And this would quickly become the theme for the evening. Up next were a pile of fried potatoes, cut thin and wide like popsicle sticks, doused in vinegar and salt, topped with crispy fried basil and served with a dipping sauce the nature of which I'm embarrassed I can't recall. There really wasn't enough of the basil to make an impact, and the sauce was smooth and creamy and a lovely complement, but the potatoes were fine. Not too crisp, but fresh, and made tart by what I assume was a splash of sherry vinegar. It was a good dish.

Shrimp and Potato CroquetasDominic Armato

Our next dish broke through the, "hey, it's okay" barrier, which is good because Noblia had listed it in his Top Chef bio as a specialty. Calamari are stuffed with shrimp, seared and served over spanish rice that's doused in a creamy squid ink sauce and topped in... surprise... piquillo peppers. Ours was positively volcanic when it arrived. Those bubbles you see may have been frozen in time by the camera, but they looked like a science experiment to the naked eye. This was a big flavor dish with very forward seafood flavor, only enhanced by the creamy, sweet and every so slightly grungy squid ink sauce, for which I'm always a sucker. A very good dish.

Mussels with Parsley & Garlic ButterDominic Armato

Bringing us back down to our previous level of quiet restraint were the prawns cazuela, sweet and fresh and cooked in a lightly curried sauce, and I enjoyed them before taking a left turn into the mundane. I'd completely forgotten that we tried the shrimp and potato croquetas before discovering the photo this weekend, and now that I see them, I have absolutely no memory of consuming them, which means they must not have been particularly good or particularly bad. Mussels with parsley and garlic butter were similarly vanilla (figuratively, not literally), looking and tasting like every order of Escargots Bourguignons you've ever tried, but featuring a tender mussel in the center of every bite rather than a chewy snail.

Basque PizzaDominic Armato

The Basque pizza was downright mediocre, placing serrano ham and pungent etorki cheese atop an insipid little piece of bread that had the soul of something prepackaged. This was, to Noblia's credit, the only dish that was downright unfortunate. And though we had no business tasting even one more bite, we decided to finish the meal with another of his stated specialties, boudin noir with caramelized apples. The boudin noir was rather enjoyable, rich and dark and a little funky. And the hot, sweet, gooey caramelized apples made a great pair, only I could have used fewer of them. More sausage, less apple makes this a better dish. But the depth of the boudin noir made it one of the evening's better offerings.

Boudin Noir with Caramelized ApplesDominic Armato

Iluna Basque really did remind me of dining in Spain. It's been a while, but I remember that leisurely pace, sitting on the sidewalk, having a drink and getting a little bit to eat. North Beach, with its Italian population, even has a very European vibe to it in the summertime, which I've no doubt is partly what attracted Noblia to it. The problem is that while I wouldn't hesitate to drop in for a drink and a bite if I were in the neighborhood and looking to relax and waste some time, the food just isn't of a nature that would compel me to drive across town... or very far at all, really. It's almost all good. With the exception of the pizza, I couldn't fault it. But calamari aside, all of our dinner was ultimately forgettable, as evidenced by the fact that I even managed to forget about some of it in the ensuing month and a half. These weren't incredibly fresh, bold, big explosive flavors served on small plates. They were all... fine. And I don't mean to suggest for a moment that there's anything the least bit wrong with straight-up traditional tapas. I like that Noblia has created a casual little Euro-style neighborhood joint where you can get a glass of inexpensive wine and a decent bite to eat. But the truth is that for whatever reason, the flavors just didn't sing like they do at a great tapas place, and without exceptional flavor or some creative interest to hang my hat on, I just don't feel the least bit compelled in any way to return. Unless Noblia is stealthily capable of much more, I daresay the Top Chef judges will feel the same way after a few episodes.

Iluna Basque
701 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
Sun - Thu5:30 PM - 10:30 PM
Fri - Sat5:30 PM - 11:30 PM