Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mar Bravo

Mar Bravo was one of the culinary highlights of our trip to Nazare, Portugal, perhaps to the entire country. Nazare, on the northwest coast of Portugal, is decidedly quaint, with women still dressed in black wearing dirndl skirts, layers of frilly petticoats and shawls. The town was geared towards tourism and most restaurants reflected it, but by comparison, Mar Bravo looked sophisticated and its menu proved that it was.
No one can really serve bad shellfish unless they put much effort into it. Our starter was a plate of heads on prawns served with a garlic aioli. The plating was appetizing and the prawns very fresh and not overcooked. This was a good start to the meal.
Next came a simple green salad of leaf lettuce, shaved white onions, and cucumber slices, bathed in a creamy herb vinaigrette.
The ever present French fries were competently cooked and good enough to eat au natural, sans ketchup or aioli. We would have tried them with the aioli had we not slathered it all on the prawns.
The combination of pork and clams is  traditionally used in Portuguese cuisine. As the Italians use anchovies to achieve greater depth and complexity in sauces, I believe the Portuguese use clams for that same purpose. It works. This garlic laden pork loin was covered in a pan sauce that was enhanced and made more complex by the clam juice. The clams themselves were expertly cooked and  remained tender.
When we declined dessert, the waiter comped us with this cheesecake drizzled in caramel sauce. If Nazare is the destination, Mar Bravo should be the restaurant and perhaps the hotel.
Praça Sousa Oliveira 71
Nazaré Portugal
+351 262 569 160


The welcoming, warm toned, wood clad walls seem to be about as close to a traditional Venetian cichetti bar as we will come with this venue. As I walked inside, it struck me that the restaurant was too modern, too spare, too polished, to give an authentic feel to the place, but that isn't what the owners had in mind for their restaurant. What they ran with instead was the small plate idea and a strong seafood representation on the menu. It was easy to find something that looked appealing to eat, and sitting at a table was a big plus; something not traditionally provided in a cichetti bar, unless it was an afterthought. Instead of an eat and run institution, Pesce is a comfortable restaurant where one can linger and savor the food. But don't look for really small plates, the sizes presented were much bigger than one would find in Venice and there was not a single menu item that was traditional.

My small meal consisted of two courses from the cichetti menu, the first cichetto was picked from the cold dishes offered on the menu and the second from the hot selections, even though my hot course was lukewarm at best, but that is definitely an authentic Italian approach.
The Carpaccio di Barbabietole was a lovely lite salad of roasted red beets, sliced paper thin and topped with a lemon dressed arugula salad that was sprinkled modestly with pecorino ricotta. The ricotta was so dense it was shaved onto the salad, and I suspect it was actually ricotta salata. Either way it had a mild creamy taste and worked well with the salad. I was wishing for more cheese, but the restraint kept the salad lite and a good first course selection. It was drizzled with extra virgin olive oil that had a slightly bitter taste, so the acidity level must have been more than the Italian standard of 1% or less.

The second course was also a salad, but this one named Polpo included grilled octopus. It worked well with the celery and potatoes, and was very tender. The thinly sliced octopus didn't have enough flavor for my needs, nor was it plentiful enough in proportion to the other ingredients. It arrived almost cold, but may have tasted better had it been served with more heat, even the heat of pepperoncino may have improved it some. Venetians are masters with spices and that tradition would have been welcomed had it been part of this particular dish.

Pesce Website

2227 Polk Street (between Green and Vallejo)
San Francisco, CA 94109

(415) 928-8025

Monday, February 20, 2012


This unobtrusive Mexican grill in the middle of the Castro looks like any taqueria in town, small, colorful and nondescript, but don't let that fool you, the quesadillas, burritos, and tacos are more than the sum of their parts and there are many parts. The prices are competitive and provide good value. The service, is as good as you are because it's self serve; you decide, you order, you bus your tray to the table.

Burritos are generous in size and this particular order can be had for under $8. It's a prawn burrito, that is not always found in other establishments. Besides rice and beans there are many extras to choose from, so guacamole was added to this order. It made for a very satisfying lunch, with no need to order more to quell hunger pangs.

My co-conspiritor needed something lighter and decided on one of the many quesadillas  on offer. Like the burritos, you are able to add more ingredients to the quesadillas. Starting at $1 you may add guacamole, mushrooms or spinach. You may pay up to $3 extra for an item such as fish or grilled prawns. Guacamole was good enough, but the burrito was so good, grilled prawns would make an excellent choice. 

Menu Pages Link

4150 18th St (at Collingwood)
San Francisco CA 94114
Phone: (415) 861-4470