After the first taste of Michelin restaurant from my last trip to San Francisco, I came back for more! This time I was in the great company of fellow foodie Areta (@foodgressing) for the return. Between the arranged visits to Teo and AsiaSF, we decided to fit in a visit to the one-Michelin-starred Al’s Place in the Mission District.
Helmed by chef-owner Aaron London, the produce-focused eatery is known for offering the seasonal best of NorCal on their menu. London had worked at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, one of the most significant farm-to-table American restaurants, notably featured on Chef’s Table on Netflix, a part of London’s journey of discovering how versatile cooking vegetables could be.
Although the restaurant started having vegetables as the stars of the dishes, they were never strictly vegetarian. It’s interesting to see they have animal protein items as the side dishes. And they have increased the number of meat dishes over the last couple of years.
Looking at the menu, the dishes are in several sections: “Snackles“, “Cold/Cool“, “Warm/Hot“, and “Sides“. When the snacks and the mains in “Cold ” or “Warm” are mostly vegetarian, a lot of the sides are meat dishes, and some of them are labelled “Limited Availability” as the kitchen only worked on a certain amount of supply during the week. And plant-based tasting menu is also available upon request. There is also a family-style dinner option, with which a group tasting menu is shared among the party.
The latest menu:
AL’s Place Dinner Menu by on Scribd
Here are what we tasted from each category.
We picked the Mushroom Broth Chawanmushi, Fuji Apple, Pistachio ($8) from the “Snackles“. This is a beautiful dish, both visually and on the palate and my favourite during the service. The silky pannacotta-like texture of the egg custard was exquisite, contrasted by the sweet crispy bits of apple and crunchy pistachios.
For “Warm/Hot”, the Sunchoke Curry, Black Cod, Citrus Jewels, Winter Jam ($20) is one of their long-standing signature dishes. The warm curry broth was poured into the dish at tableside and provided a subtle comfort to bind the rest of the components together. As a fan of sunchoke, I enjoyed the distinct sweetness of the root vegetable but felt that I wasn’t in the zen-like state to fully enjoy the subtlety of the dish.
The “Cold/Cool” dish was another popular choice among the diners, the Cured Trout, Crispy Potato, Bashed Turnips, and Bagna Cauda ($18). For a second I thought I was having chicharron made from trout skin as the potato chips vividly resembled and tasted like fish skin. The Bagna Cauda was also rather subtle on the use of anchovies.
Who would have thought of having a piece of hanger steak for a side dish? Only a vegetable-focused place like Al’s. From the “Sides” section, the Hanger Steak, with Smoked Salmon Butter, Uni-Balsamic, presented a steak with a decent size. The meat was perfectly cooked and incredibly flavourful. However, I found the taste of the salmon butter or uni balsamic underwhelming.
I also had a cocktail, the Duncan ($11). All the cocktails here are based on either Sherry or Vermouth. This is another interesting uniqueness about this restaurant.
I understand why Al’s Place is likeable, or even impressive, especially for people who are new to the vegetable-focused theme. Although we enjoyed our quick tasting here, the overall experience, however, seemed slightly underwhelming due to the familiarity of the vibe and the food. I would have been more impressed a few years ago in the early days of the farm-to-table concept. Nowadays, we are just being spoiled by a great number of produce-focused restaurants along the west coast. What we tasted here is, although delicious, not memorable enough to shine above the lot. I hope to get impressed by the dishes that are more seasonal next time and forget about those signature dishes created in 2015. Service wise, as I mentioned earlier, it’s the hipster vibe that seems a little overdone. The staff were polite but I wish I had felt more genuinely welcomed and not rushed.
$$ – $$$
Rating: [wp-review id=”15613″]
1499 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
415-416-6136 or alsplacesf.com