Thursday, August 15, 2013

ALIMENT ON NOB HILL IN SAN FRANCISCO...OPENING WEEK JITTERS?

Being a foodie one can sometimes get caught up in the whole new/now/next thing when it comes to restaurants opening in San Francisco. You are always on the lookout for openings in order to be the first to try them--just in case they really take off so you say with an air of some satisfaction--"yeah, I tried that when they first open, but it's become too crowded with hipsters now." But trying new places when they first open can cause its own set of problems. Restaurants are still testing out dishes, training new servers and cooks, liquor licenses not fully approved yet--all part of a host of things that come up when starting a new business. So it was that I came to Aliment (sorry they don't even have a webpage yet--and seriously why not--tech town?! should be top 5 on list of things to have) on Bush Street. Aliment not ailment is a word that actually means food or something that supplies nourishment by the way. I'd seen things on blogs and in the press about its having finally opened with their takes on comfort food and, well, I'm all about the comfort food. I called up a friend who happened to live near it and we hit it up recently, just a couple weeks after it opened.



It's a two tiered space that's one of those wood, glass, metal decor places that have become the new norm. It has an upstairs perch area overlooking the dining room so we sit up there to watch the action. It was actually nice as over the course of dinner we were the only ones up there even though downstairs did eventually fill up somewhat.



The current menu is a limited affair--a few appetizers, a handful of main dishes and some sides. We decide to start of with some sides as apps and order the french fries with garlic chive ranch and the fried brussel sprouts.


The french fries were standard medium cut fries cooked nicely crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and then a tad too heavily salted--like Lay's Potato Chip salty. The dip was a mix of garlic, chives, jalapenos, mayo(?) and milk(?). We were told it was supposed to be like a spicy garlic ranch dressing though there wasn't much spice, you could taste the garlic, but the flavor profile was more like tarter sauce and it wasn't just me, my dinner guest also got the same notes of tartar sauce. We asked for a side of ketchup and got a house-made smoked ketchup. And when they say smoke they really mean it. It was infused up, over and under every bit of the ketchup, no subtle hints here. To say it was a bit off-putting is an understatement. I like the idea but the execution was overdone, cut the smoke to just a hint and it would be fine. Problem is, it's the only ketchup they have at this point, thus we were 0-2 on sauces and just had them plain.

I love me some brussel sprouts, especially fried ones like you can find at Marlowe and a few other places in town. These came hot and fresh out of the fryer and some of them had a nice crisp to them, however, they were drenched in hoisin sauce, sesame seeds and more salt causing them be, well, waaayyy too salty. It might have been better to have the sauce as a side for dipping or just the plain fried sprouts with a light dusting of salt and seeds. As it were, between these two dishes I've already gone through 4 glasses of water and haven't even gotten to the entrees.

We decided to split some main dishes and first up we chose the braised short rib with potato puree, spiced turnips and horseradish gremolata.



This was a large plate with a nice hunk of meat that had been braised in red wine and cooked to a nice medium rare. The meat was tender and juicy and you could taste a nice earthiness from the wine that paired well with the meat. Not too fatty, like a good pot roast, more of that homey classics thing. I liked it but, the red wine is very distinctive here and if you are not of fan of deep dark reds it may be too much for you. The potatoes were pureed but also had small chunks of potato in them which I enjoyed, it gave it that homey feel of freshly hand mashed. The turnips were roasted and quartered--giving them a texture of a cooked onion but with that great turnip root vegetable flavor--hints of bitter and sweet, almost like a radish--nicely done. And yeah, no over salting here and no additional seasoning needed. The horseradish gave it just that little extra kick it needed without being overly spicy. We both liked this dish. Our second entree was fried chicken covered in a yuzu hot sauce with collard greens, lardon (fancy bacon) and potato croquettes.


Let's start with the good. The collards were great, not cooked to a total wilt, they had a nice crunch and were still bright green. And yes, the bacon really does add something it. They were mildly salty little cubes of hickory flavor that helped offset some of the bitterness greens like these can have, being from the South though, this combo of tastes is something I've come to enjoy. It also had this lovely, buttery, chicken gravy over it I found savory and yummy. The croquettes were perfect little balls of mashed potatoes rolled in panko breading then deep fried a crispy golden brown. Crunchy on the outside and warm and soft inside, you only get a few on the plate but I could have downed many more. They were perfect as they were, no sauce or dipping needed. These and the collards they should really offer as a la carte sides. The chicken is flour battered and fried, then coated with a spicy yuzu sauce. I break off part of the crust and pop it in my mouth and there is a great crunch and then the spice hits and it hits hard. If there is yuzu in here it is lost amongs the peppers bite, my tongue is quite literally on fire--here goes 2 more glasses of water. I enjoy a good spice or kick but this is hot sauce, Tabasco, sriracha territory. (I would have been happy with just the gravy that was on the greens) I then cut into the chicken to get the full taste with meat but stop short as the entire inside of the chicken it pink and a little bloody. I think maybe it was just this one piece so I cut into the other and it is the exact same. Now, I know that technically meat just has to hit a certain temperature in order to be fully cooked and sometimes that can mean a little pinkness here and there, but to me this was more than that and having grown up with the don't eat raw chicken mantra, I just couldn't do it here. I showed this to the waitress and she tried to explain that the chicken had been sous-vide first then fried and that can cause some of the pinkness. I get that the idea of sous-vide is to create an even doneness and juiciness through a slow boil kind of process but I wasn't going to totally buy that it would leave the chicken this pink, especially when you then deep fry it. I told her I couldn't eat it and was offered the menu to order something else.

As a side note, the floor manager did eventually come by and we had a chat about the chicken and he stated they had been having some problems with it and were probably going to take it off the menu. I said that's too bad, if they could just perfect it, people would flock to it. He said the menu was actually sort of going through a process and that it would evolve as they figured out what worked, what people liked and so on. And that they will probably work toward offering more small plates to attract a bar crowd. I took that chance to say they should do that with the collards and croquettes as side as they were very good. But it was interesting to hear how after 2 weeks they are still refining the menu.

The replacement dish I picked were the seared diver sea scallops with grilled nectarine, pea shoots and chili oil.


The scallops themselves were cooked perfectly with the insides soft and buttery, the problem here was what was seared on top. The seasoning was salt, paprika, salt, chili powder, salt, and then some more salt thrown in for good measure--it pretty much overpowered the lovely delicate flavor of the scallops. It was nice to have the sweetness of the nectarine to offset the brine as it were, but it wasn't enough. The pea shoots gave it some decent texture and color, yet the chili oil was so faint I didn't really get the flavor it, which is too bad as chili oil and sweet nectarines would have been nice. I'm not sure who's doing the apps and sides here but next time they taste something and think it needs salt they should have someone else taste it. 

We decided that after this why not try some dessert and our choices were chocolate cake, plum cobbler or ricotta stuffed beignets with chocolate dipping sauce. Of course I'm choosing the beignets they sounded delicious. Sadly, sound is all I got. Turns out they were out of them, already. The waitress tried to push another dessert on us but by that time I was pretty much done. 

Ups and downs seems par for the course whenever one goes to a newly opened place. Some things will work, some things won't. This particular dinner was a good reminder of that. But it wasn't all bad. The beef rib is good, some of the side dishes are quite a delight, the house manager did come to the table and we also weren't charged for either the chicken or the scallops, so they've got their customer service hats on. And for those things I'll give them props. I'd be willing to give this place a try again down the road to see where they go and what changes they make, it could be interesting. Yes, they've also started serving brunch (it's San Francisco people!) and it could be worth a return visit for that too. 


Aliment on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment