Limon 524 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 415.252.0918
This is a copy of my latest article for SFist in which I eat my way around the Bay Area in alphabetical order. This week we are on the letter L.'
You know how it is - sometimes you hear so much buzz about a restaurant, you are not quite sure why you still haven't tried it. The more good things that are written, and whispered, about it, the more you wonder how much of it is hype and how much of the adoration is truly deserved. In the back of your mind you keep meaning to get your butt down to the Mission District to try out this talked about place, but you never quite seem to get yourself into the right gear. Eventually you let somebody else take control of your dining choices and the next thing you know, you are off for a girls night out... at Limon.
The space, in the heart of the Mission, is open and bright, lively and buzzing. The cool mandarin and lime coloured walls splashed with huge paintings are slick, modern and smart without being overly showy.
It's noisy and hectic downstairs so prepare to be in a lively mood. Our hispanic waiter, who started us off with an intriguing sounding, but too sweet, purple corn juice blended with cinnamon, apple and pineapple was funny, engaging, knowledgeable and charming as he guided us through the menu and answered our questions.
We were almost full before the appetizers even arrived because we couldn't stop eating the oily, irresistible foccacia that kept our mouths from doing any serious girls' night nattering. Expecting a similar reaction to the bread on our second visit a few weeks later, we were disappointed that this time it was dry, pale and lacking the flavour it has previously displayed. Oh well, at least we could catch up on the gossip instead.
So we wondered, does the novelty of 'new' wear off on a second visit to any restaurant? We have often been blown away on an initial dining experience, only to find a subsequent return less exciting. On our second visit to Limon, the tuna tartar, mixed with diced pears, roasted bell peppers, pine nuts and sesame oil aji amarillo vinaigrette, for example, was good, but somehow not quite the strong favourite it had been the first time round. Sometimes we wish we could experience two review visits side by side and compare a forkful of food from one, then the other, just to be sure.
One thing we are quite sure about, however, is that the Lomo Saltado, a traditional Peruvian dish of Top Sirloin slices with onions, tomatoes and fries, served with a side of rice. The succulent meat tastes overwhelmingly buttery, in a very good way. Fries, cut thick so you are in no doubt they are made of potato and not in the slightest bit crispy are not what you might expect. But if, like us, you have any sympathies towards English food whatsoever, you'll love the way they are soaking in the tomato gravy, getting all soggy and sopping up the flavours. We would return for this one dish over and over again.
We'd be even more likely to return if they sub us, as they so kindly did on our second visit, the stir fried coconut rice from the side of the Pargo Rojo, a deep fried whole red snapper basket (pictured above). Although it doesn't actually pair in the slightest bit well with the steak, this rice is so sweet and crave-inducing and the accompanying rocoto curry sauce is so mouthwatering, we would be tempted to order this, the most expensive dish on the menu, again, even though the fish itself tastes like fried cardboard. It looks pretty though, so perhaps we could take it home as a gift for a neighbour (or their cat) and simply indulge in the vegetarian components of the dish instead? It would probably be the world's most expensive plate of rice but it's almost good enough to be worth it.
PS This review was Back for Seconds
PPS. What is my problem - I find it much harder to write a restaurant review when everything is just fine and nothing interesting or out of the ordinary happens. Usually 'things' happen to me which can become a focus of my writing. When they don't, then, well, I think I just get a bit lost along the way...