Thursday, June 12, 2014

Produce-Forward Cuisine at Verbena (San Francisco, CA)

Verbena is the new restaurant from Chef Sean Baker of Oakland's Gather. The hip Russian Hill restaurant is not a vegetarian restaurant, but its produce-focused menu is certainly vegetarian friendly.

While I normally wouldn't have ordered this based on the description, I was immediately glad the waiter suggested the Sprouted seed bread with chevre and beet sauerkraut ($7)
The housemade chevre has a nutty tone and the warm, toasted seed bread, even on its own, is outstanding.

Here, you will find hard-to-find ingredients in unusual combinations, like the Cardoons and Rhubarb with caramelized honey dressing, Douglas Fir yogurt, nepitella ($11)
Nepitella is an Italian herb also known as Calaminta. While I'm not a huge fan of the tart rhubarb, it plays nicely with the yogurt.
Beets and Strawberries with black walnut beet miso, ginger, cress, and oxalis ($14)
The miso gave a rich, earthy component to the mainly sweet dish.

Again, it isn't just about the vegetables. My favorite dish was the Meatballs braised in black mole with hominy cooked in whey, kale ($16)
I didn't expect to find such good mole in a place like this but I absolutely loved this dish. Both the meatballs and mole were lighter than what you usually find and neither overwhelms the other.

Check out the cocktail list, as well. My friend had the Rocket and Rose (gin, strawberry, arugula-pepper syrup, lemon, genepy - $12)
I have been getting into beer cocktails so went with The Gilded Lily (Apple scotch, Matthiasson vermouth, cardamom, saison - $12)

For our entrees, my artichoke-loving friend had to order the Seared artichoke, asparagus, snap peas, black garlic, sorrel-cured lemon vinaigrette ($23)
The vegetables they use here are certainly high quality. The artichoke and asparagus are fresh and unusually sweet.

Chicken thighs marinated in koji buttermilk, Sonoma grains cooked dirty, hot Portuguese pepper brown butter sauce ($25)
I read raves about their quail in koji buttermilk, which they had swapped with the chicken, but I had to try it anyway. The chicken was certainly moist and tender, and the koji intensely savory, but I think I would prefer to have the quail version, after all.

For dessert: Pea tendril cake, chamomile ice cream, rhubarb ($9)
One of the most memorable desserts I've had of late, the pea tendril cake is unconventional but grows on you. The subtle chamomile ice cream tempers the vegetal notes of the cake.

I was pleasantly surprised by my dinner at Verbena. Most of the dishes either contain an ingredient that is new to me or bring together unusual components, and everything was done exquisitely. The meal left quite an impression on me and I still cannot forget that seed bread, the meatballs in mole, and the pea tendril cake.

2323 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 441-2323
Verbena on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: This meal was partially hosted


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