Sunday, October 28, 2007

Laiola, San Francisco - Good Things Come in Little Dishes

Laiola San Francisco

Long gone are the days when I used to relish over all-you-can-eat places, including Korean bbq, and made-for-Viking joints like Claimjumper's. America is about exceeding limits – a sometimes tacky and overbearing demonstrating to other countries that power is exemplified through making things faster, bigger and stronger. Is it a wonder that Americans don't live as long as, say Europeans, who bask in the sun with wine and gorge in meals 3-4 times a day? No, because they understand the concept of moderation and turn their heads away from fast food. As you can see from my profile photo, I haven't come to terms with eating in moderation –

I am clearly... American.

During my grueling 2-month stay in San Francisco for work, I came across this little gem, Laiola, with high recommendations from Bar Crudo's Chef Mike Selvera. Previously, I had asked Selvera about his favorite places to eat, during my 7 visits to Bar Crudo. I love finding out what chefs, sick of their own success, like to eat after a long shift. For those that haven't seen Mojo HD Channel's 'After Hours with Daniel', watch it. It's an intimate 60 minutes with celebrity-French Chef Daniel Boulud and America's famous chefs. And most of all, you get to see what they like to eat.

Laiola serves tapas. Tapas is Spanish for appetizers – delightful nuggets of goodness nestled into a 6 x 6" plato. I may be one of the last people on earth to have ever tried tapas, so for me, this was a meal long overdue. And just like dim sum, Vietnamese steamed rice cakes (banh beo) and izakayas... tapas are proof that small dishes are often very delectable.

I took a cab into the Marina district of San Francisco, an area much like the La Brea/Beverly Hills area, with restaurants ranging from passable to showstopping. I met J's brother at the front of Laiola and within a few minutes, we were seated front row. By front row, I mean, right in front of the kitchen set up behind the counters. And next to me sporting a shiny bead of forehead sweat was the head chef firing orders with an AK-47-like demeanor. For any restaurateur and guest, this arrangement can be the breaking point. It can be thrilling watching the line cook add some cognac to the pan, with rising flames that kiss the overhead range. But it may not be thrilling watching him pick out his murph and then using that same hand to plate your $35 dish. Excluding tax and tip.

In Laiola's case, cleanliness and orderliness was intact. The drinks were flowing naturally in a Spanish sangria-serving environment. And gossip was in the air amongst coworkers, business grunts and people with their date-faces on.

Laiola Sangria

Laiola's Stylish Sangria
I'm a beer and whiskey drinker and the chances of seeing me with this drink are very unlikely because it has fruit in it, unless I'm on vacation. It might as well have had an umbrella and a hula dancer on it because it looked like liquid vacation. I remember back a few years ago when I attempted to make Sangria for my friends. A little wine, some chopped up apples/oranges/grapes, 7-up and some brandy.... you're good to go. Or so I thought. My friends told me that the Sangria I had made was probably 150 proof, meaning 75% alcohol. I was convinced that I had made liquid death after seeing 2 of my friends pray over the White Porcelain God. Oops, sorry! But this drink was different, it was aesthetically pleasing, very light and flavorful as any drink should be. I had 2.

Laiola Pan Con Tomate

Pan Con Tomate
Literally means 'bread with tomato'. Fresh artisan bread, cut 3/4" thick was first grilled with a light drizzle of olive oil, rubbed with a cut garlic glove and then sanded down with an heirloom tomato. The result is a slightly-soggy, red-tinted, garlic-scented slice of bread... that is ultra savory.

Laiola Chickpea Fries

Chickpea Croquetas
We actually didn't try this Jenga-like dish. But since the chef was next to me, I asked if I could take a photo of it. From the looks of it, this is a healthier form of its cousin, the french fry because it isn't battered and well it's made of chickpeas.

Laiola Albacore Tuna Salad

Olive Oil-Poached Albacore Salad
I usually don't like to eat cooked fish because many times, the process of holding the fish overcooks it. Cooked fish tastes the best when served immediately. The poaching of the albacore resulted in extremely moist and tender strands of meat. I could taste a hint of cayenne or paprika in this. I didn't like this dish at first, but after a few bites, I grew to like the taste of it.

Laiola Blood Sausage

Cigrons Amb Morcilla (Chickeas with House-made Blood Sausage)
I've had Korean and German blood sausage before and was curious how the Spanish like to do it. I expected to see a sausage, but instead saw raisin-like cuts of meat. And it actually tasted very sour. The mixture and ratio of chickpeas and blood sausage was honestly quite bizarre. With recommendations from three staff members, we were left somewhat disappointed.

Laiola Clams Lamb Sausage

Steamed Willapa Bay Clams with Lamb Sausage
I love clam dishes. It's almost like a double treat. Most of the time at restaurants, you'll get a clam dish steamed in wine and chorizo. But the addition of lamb sausage made this stellar. After you get to eat the clams, you still have all that delicious clam juice/butter sauce. We asked for more grilled bread so that we would not leave any of that juice on that plate. This was great.

Laiola Fries with Eyes

Frituras Con Ojos (Fries with Eyes)
The advantage of getting a seat at the counter with kitchen view has its advantages. We overlooked this dish on the menu because my Spanish has gone down horribly over the years. We saw this dish being fired every five minutes. I asked the chef if those were fries and he gladly replied "fries... with eyes!" Smelt fish is battered lightly and sent to the Deep Fried Sea. A little squeeze of lemon and a savory and memorable dish is made. For $9, you get quite a big portion of 'fries'. We could only finish 1/4 of it because we had so much food.

Laiola Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus with Romano Bean Salad
This was my favorite of the evening. Baby octopus are blanched really quickly so that the tentacles spread in a more presentable form and grilled with olive oil and served over a cold romano bean salad with chicken stock. Very healthy and very delicious! I wish the romano beans were served hot.

Laiola is a great place for those that are super hungry or those that just want something small to munch on. I'll be back here for sure to try the rest of the 22 -tapas on the menu. In addition, there are four full-plate dishes as well – roasted lamb, grilled swordfish (HUGE steak), slow roasted piglet (looked awesome!) and grass-fed steak.

Thanks for reading.

Laiola
2031 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 346-5641
www.laiola.com

13 comments:

Jeni said...

Beautiful photos D, but you're missing the $35 murph shot. I'm disappointed.

By the way, my stomach and I are glad you're back for good.

JadedOne said...

Yah nice pics! The baby octopus looks so good. It reminds me of the cold Japanese red marinated octopus. Super yum! Yet another restaurant for me to go try. I would have also liked to see the murph shot hehe.

elmomonster said...

Stunning pics! How do you do that? I think we use the same camera. We need places like this in OC.

Rasa Malaysia said...

I am converted,...especially the last 3 dishes, clams, little fish and octopus...;)

eatdrinknbmerry said...

J, for $35 I can re-enact it for you anytime.

Jadedone, thank you. I love baby octopus – so tender and relaxing on the jaw.

Elmo, for the last few months, i've been using J's Nikon D70. is that what you have? the camera you saw us using back at Quan Hy was her old point and shoot. I don't think there are too many tapas places in LA as well... maybe just Cobras & Matadors.

Rasa, we should do a joint asian-style tapas posting. it'd be fun. You do the malaysian style, I'll do PF Chang-style. Spanish have their clam dish... and the Chinese have the delicious blackbean/green bell pepper sauce clams. Mmm.

Jeni said...

Nasty!

Chubbypanda said...

There just aren't any good tapas places in Orange County. None. I've looked everywhere. It saddens me...

Rasa Malaysia said...

Not sure if you receive my email reply, but my email account is dead at the mo. because my domain expired. Boo.

You can reply to blog@rasamalaysia.com for the mo. Thanks.

Rasa Malaysia said...

Regarding the Malaysian food porn, Malaysian food is a combination of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and the fusion of these three (loooong before fusion even started), with Indon and Thai influences. The seafood dishes were captured at Chinese seafood restaurants, but you can see Malay, Indian, western influences on these dishes.

Tokyoastrogirl said...

Remember when you asked me what I like to eat? That octupus, chickpea fries, bread/tomato and the albacore salad. Order up!

joanh said...

omg the clams and tomato bread and sangria pictures warrant a trip to SF! the pics are beautiful

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