When we’re in San Francisco, Sarah always suggests restaurants for us to try. There are so many places that one never runs out of first-time experiences, but it is always especially interesting to try out a new spot.
Sarah and Evan’s friend, Melissa Perello, has operated Frances for a number of years. When the restaurant first opened it was a sensation on the local food scene and was a nominee for James Beard Best New Restaurant. It remains a very popular place.
Now Melissa and her fiance, Robert, have embarked on a new venture, taking over the space that was once occupied by Quince when Evan worked there as chef de cuisine.
Melissa and Robert have transformed the place. It is filled with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the casual tables and warm but muted colors have made the restaurant inviting and comfortable.
Sarah wanted to take me to dinner while Susan got to babysit. That turned out to be what I consider a perfect division of labor. I got to eat – which I love to do – and Susan got to mind the grandchildren – which is one of her very favorite activities.
The service was warm and welcoming. Kim, our excellent server, had made a conscious decision to move from another San Francisco standby where she had worked for nine years. She was happy with her decision. All of the other servers seemed as happy, friendly and efficient.
Of course, surroundings and service are both essential to a good experience, but in the end it is all about the food. Octavia did not disappoint.
As with so many contemporary restaurants, the Octavia menu is designed to encourage sharing of several small plates before the main course. With Sarah’s professional guidance, we chose a half dozen or so small plates to share.
First was the “Deviled Egg” with Fresno chile relish, marash pepper and spice. The quotation marks indicated it was not a real deviled egg, and that was so. It was a perfectly peeled mollet egg (That is so hard to do – have you ever tried it?) topped with a spicy red chile sauce. The yolk ran out a golden yellow with my fork attack, mixing with the chiles to form a creamy sauce.
Chilled squid ink noodles with Cortez bottarga (salted fish roe), lemon oil, and green garlic came as a beautiful mound of black noodles dusted with gold. The chill took the edge off of the flavor that can sometimes doom a dish made with squid ink. The flavors of the ingredients came together. All I could think of was that I wanted more.
Mushrooms “A La Grecque” were a mix of hens of the woods, trumpets, and shiitakes in a light pickle and served with thick slabs of toasted house-made levain.
Fried artichokes were crispy on the outside and tender inside with thin shavings of Pecorino Siciliano, walnuts, and mint. If you like artichokes, you would love these.
Beef tongue with charred broccoli, toasted garlic, and marrow broth was flavorful. The tongue was so tender and well-cooked that it literally fell apart in my mouth. Some folks are squeamish about tongue, but when it is well prepared it is a great delicacy in the same way that sweetbreads are a special treat. With both, though, you should not plan on having your cholesterol measured the next day.
The salad was based on a local favorite lettuce, Little Gems, and tossed with Point Reyes blue cheese, grilled red onions, ramps (at the height of their too-short season right now) and buttermilk.
Sarah ordered the quail with morel mushrooms, spinach, and English peas. The quail was perfectly cooked, one of the best signs of an accomplished chef.
I ordered the paccheri pasta – great big rings – with olive-oil-poached bacalao (salt cod) and fennel pollen.
We ordered three different desserts. They were all delicious, but we saved them to take back to Susan, the Dessert Queen, as our thanks for being the resident baby sitter.
After dinner, Sarah had a nice visit with a well-known local restaurant reviewer and food critic and her son, a well-known Master Sommelier, who had been sitting at the next table. Chef Melissa also came out and visited with Sarah. It was a very special evening in a new San Francisco restaurant that promises to be a big success.