For an embarrassment of culinary riches, take a walk on San Francisco’s Valencia Street. To my European palate, steeped in more unchanging cuisines, the breadth of offerings is staggering. Here I find edgy combinations, Italian or French renderings and a very busy atmosphere everywhere.
This part of the world enjoys a special gift: the bounty of foodstuffs. I do not know of any other region where nature is so generous and inventiveness so high. It is a match made in heaven, the impossible search for the ideal partner come true. Such endowment does not breed complaisance among cooks and chefs but a zeal to shine.
And so it is that two of my favorite establishments stand shoulder to shoulder in this hip street. Locanda is part of the mini-empire of Craig and Annie Stoll, two brilliant practitioners of Italian cooking, whose reputation is already far and wide. They put Anthony Strong at the helm of their new ship and set sail. And what a delectable navigation this Locanda provides! Their pasta dishes like the ‘cuscini”, small ravioli filled with shrimp in a silky burrata and tomato sauce, galvanize the palate and the appetizers honor a Roman delicacy, the artichoke, prepared raw in a salad with ricotta or alla Giuda, deep-fried, crunchy and golden.
Bar Tartine, their neighbor, dives deep into the glorious hodgepodge of what California cooking is all about. Here, more casual offerings and smaller plates wink at some Scandinavian inspiration such as open-faced sandwiches and pickles but also to greek skordalia on sardines or the Spanish escabeche dish on fennel and mushrooms. A loud “Bravo” to the husband and wife team of Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt. This is inspired and real food, far removed from molecular gastronomy or liquid nitrogen experiments practiced by those who believe that cooking is a postmodern practice rather than a silent revolution.