Seared ono with braised white beans, clams, corn and chorizo; The Piperade, a tomato-based stew with slices of Serrano ham and poached egg; Chocolate cake "amatxi"
Occupation: Hospitality and Lifestyle Marketing Consultant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Piperade
Reviewed Piperade: Tuesday, October 18, 2005
When I told friends that I would be reviewing Piperade for Check, Please!, the unanimous response I got was, “I love that place. I want to go.” I made reservations and turned it into a thank you dinner for a friend. I love taking new people to Piperade. You feel the personality and genuineness of chef/owner Gerald Hirigoyen in every touch. The room always makes people smile. Our expectations were high because we have had several wonderful experiences in the past. I am happy to report all expectations were met and exceeded!
The room seemed extra busy for a Tuesday. We liked this because it always feels great to walk into a crowded place. The lighting in Piperade also makes everyone look really attractive. So feeling extra sexy, we posed for a few minutes and felt proud to have a table at one of the city’s hot spots. We were greeted promptly and brought to a great corner table with a full view of the room. We loved this! Our server approached, a handsome guy with an accent and asked about wine and described the specials and the specialties of the house. We ordered our dinner and a bottle of wine from the Basque region and off he went. He was really busy but kept things moving smoothly.
The menu is split into small and large plates, and sharing is encouraged. The wine list is terrific. It is really well balanced and pays tribute to California, France, and the Basque region of Spain. There is a big selection of wines by the glass. The list is organized with fun titles and is very user-friendly. Five minutes went by, no wine. First courses arrived. The server realized what was happening and the wine arrived shortly after. “Dip the bread into the sauce, that’s the best part," one of my guests exclaimed as we dug into the whole prawns with garlic, parsley, and lemon. This dish was plentiful with plump whole prawns still in their shells. The toy box cherry tomato tartlet was my favorite. The crust was buttery and crisp, complemented by a sweet and sour combination from the tomatoes and balsamic glaze. Popping a second bite into his mouth, one of my guests whispered, "Now this is divine." The seared scallops with piments d’Anglets and bacon was also tasty. The scallops were cooked really well. We all wished the sauce had a little more spice but we still emptied the dish.
By now, the room was relaxing and the server checked back in with us regularly. When the entrées arrived, he gave us a short introduction to each. The absolute winner was the marinated lamb chops with Manchego potato gratin. The lamb was cooked beautifully, and if there was room we would have been doing a happy dance with each bite of the gratin. Comfort came with the seared ono with white beans, clams, corn, and chorizo -- another great dish for dipping. We also enjoyed the roasted pork tenderloin confit with braised cabbage and figs. At first it tasted a bit dry, but once we added the cabbage and figs to each bite, the flavors came to life.
If I had to choose a dessert-of-the-year award right now it would go to the cornmeal cake with green applesauce and raisins. You read it here, folks: go to Piperade for this dessert. We also ordered a luscious apple tart with vanilla ice cream. As we scraped the plates for the last morsels of these treats, we looked around the room and at each other. Smiles were in place, and I knew that I would be back many times in the future, because a visit to Piperade will always be one of my favorite San Francisco journeys.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Manresa
Reviewed Piperade: Friday, October 28, 2005
Although I have been a fan of Chef Gerald Hirogoyen since his days at Fringale many years ago, I was skeptical of Piperade since I had been less enthralled with Pastis, a joint venture that had previously occupied the space that became Piperade approximately three years ago. But after trying Chef Hirogoyen’s second Basquaise venture, the more casual Bocadillos in the financial district, my interest was piqued, and what I found is that the transformation of the restaurant from Pastis to Piperade was quite a bit more than a change in décor and tweaking of the menu. Piperade is one of those interesting places that continues to evolve and transform itself as the Chef incorporates new and old influences into his cuisine. The food at Piperade is just as enjoyable and solidly comforting as the upscale French bistro cuisine I had first fallen in love with at Fringale. Piperade’s wine list rivals that of any of the numerous wine bars that have recently started popping up all over the City.
Most of the small plates, which come in slightly larger portions than standard appetizers at other restaurants, range from $8 to $12, except for the artisan foie gras with Monterey squid, which is $18 (and worth every penny). The big plates range from $16 to $20, except for the lamb chop and the steak frites, which cost a bit more. In addition to a full bar, Piperade has an extensive wine list, in varying price ranges, all of which are very reasonably priced for the offering (e.g., many bottles in the sub-$40 range; a 1989 Chateau Lynch Bages for $180). Although there are not very many half-bottle choices, the wine list has a long and varied selection of wines by the glass (including dessert wines), both from the New World and the Old World. Not to be missed are the wine selections offered under “Unusual Suspects.”
Among the small plates, the artisan foie gras dish alone makes me want to go back to Piperade every day of the week. The foie gras is perfectly seared and seasoned, and the fresh Monterey squid is an unusual but perfect compliment, with the grapes and verjus adding just the right piquant accent. Mopping up the leftover sauce with pieces of country bread from the basket that is brought to the table immediately upon being seated is a must. That rich brown sauce goes even better with the flavorful crusty bread than the pepper-infused extra-virgin olive oil that is served with the bread basket.
The seared tuna on a bed of sweet caramelized onion shreds with tiny warm potatoes and Espelette peppers ($10) was also excellent. Even though I have started to experience a bit of restaurant fatigue when faced with an ahi tuna appetizer, this one had enough flavor and interesting elements -- particularly the mildly pungent pickled Espelette peppers -- that I thoroughly enjoyed this incarnation. The soups are also quite good, but very filling, especially since the portion size is comfortingly abundant. Since I personally like to load up on appetizers and small plates, the soup, while very good, makes it a bit tougher to try more dishes from the menu. The soup of the day ($7) was a parsnip purée with crème fraîche, garnished with a sprinkling of pimente de la vera (looks and tastes like paprika with a kick) and a bit of chopped flat-leaf parsley. On a previous visit, I tried the garlic soup, which is very mild and has a nice creamy flavor, with the crispy bacon pieces, croutons, and egg adding quite a bit of additional texture and flavor. I was less crazy about the rock shrimp garnish to the soup, but that probably has more to do with my general dislike of small shrimp varieties than about the dish itself. The only small plate I was not thrilled with was the bacalao fritters, which I found to be too fishy in smell and taste, which the aïoli did little to mask. The exterior of the fritters were also somewhat soggy. On our last visit, this dish was no longer on the menu.
Among the main dishes, I still favor the bistro classic, steak frites. Piperade’s version is a New York steak, cooked perfectly (although the caramelized shallots on top were a bit overwhelming), with the fries consisting of a combination of portobello mushroom and fingerling potato sticks ($25). With a glass of Priorat (2001 Clos de l’Obac), this dish hit the spot. The Piperade, a thick tomato-based stew with slices of Serrano ham and poached egg ($16) is also quite satisfying. When the yolk of the poached egg breaks into the stew and glazes over the slices of Serrano ham, it is reminiscent of the richness and opulence of eggs benedict in hearty stew form for dinner. The last of the large plates I tried, braised veal cheeks in red wine with salsify and sunchokes ($20), was not as interesting. The spicing is a bit overwhelming, and the flavors mushed together without much distinction. Although the meat is very tender, as one might expect from the fact that it was veal and braised, it could have been any type of meat.
Among the desserts I had tried, the Gateau Basque was excellent. The mango purée accompanying the small round cake was the perfect combination of tart and sweet. The cake had a moist center but was otherwise satisfyingly crusty, like the top of a homemade muffin. The toasted chopped almonds on top, frosted with powdered sugar, added a nice crunch, and the whole combination went very well with a glass of 2001 Clos Uroulat, Jurancon.
In addition to the food, I was also quite impressed with the service at Piperade, which was attentive and well-timed. This is clearly an experienced crew.
Occupation: Software Developer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Bissap Baobab
Reviewed Piperade: Thursday, November 3, 2005
Jackson Square may be one of the prettiest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Wedged between North Beach and Downtown, design stores inside old brick buildings surround the tree-lined streets. Almost hidden from view, Piperade glows through the mist, a beacon calling for you to come in from the cold, take off your jacket and sit down to dinner. Elegant white cloth-covered tables crowd around a beautiful harvest table in the center, feeling at home amongst the exposed-brick walls, long hearty bar, and wise wood floors. A heated patio outside yearns for those rare warm evenings.
Our group of four was seated immediately in a corner amidst financial-district partners taking their rank-and-file to a nice dinner. All of the food was outstanding! Some of the highlights were the terrine as an appetizer, which was just the perfect dish: thinly sliced ham and cheese stacked up high then fried to a crisp. As an entrée, I would highly recommend the monkfish, a perfect autumn dish. And for desert, the chocolate cake “amaxti” was a warm and wonderful finisher -- so good, we had to order another.
Piperade truly has all the right ingredients when it comes to making an excellent restaurant. With excellent food served in beautiful surroundings, it's a wonder why this place isn't jam-packed every night. One of my friends claims with much hubris that it's his favorite restaurant, bar none. I’m beginning to see his point.