Tuesday, April 28, 2015

El Mercado Urbano


Could anything be better than the contemporary Mexican Cuisine at La Urbana? Here’s the answer: Yes, the small plates served next door at the restaurant’s attached garage space, sometimes referred to as El Garaje. La Urbana’s food is exquisite, but pricy. What was originally conceived as a small space for private parties and beer drinking has transformed into a very casual lunch venue with a late afternoon “happy hour”.

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Bottled and draft beers seem to dominate the card tables in this room, however, the red wine and citrus sangria is excellent and well worth a try. If you decide on the Sangria, my suggestion is to buy a pitcher, since the per glass price seems steep by comparison. Personally, I find it difficult to order anything but the Agua Sandia (Watermelon Aqua Fresca). The color provides enough inspiration for me to order it. Horchata is sometimes available and their version of this rice, cinnamon drink is as good as it gets.

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The Sopes alone are reason enough to stop by for a bite. In the above photos you can see their thick cornmeal patties filled to the brim with refried beans and topped with meats as exotic as barbacoa style short ribs in a heavy Mole sauce, roasted chicken, carne asada and carnitas, the Mexican classic pulled pork. Each is then topped with avocado and cilantro with a squeeze of lime. How much do these cost? They are being given away for a mere $3 each. Two are satisfying and make a cheap meal. The short rib meat is truly a bargain, because it is 1/3 to 1/4 the size of La Urbana’s  short rib entree that costs $24 with pureed potatoes and vegetables tossed in for color.

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Tacos can be had with the same fillings, though the sauces change from time to time. Queso fresco cheese was added to the batch pictured in the top photo, but not always. Smaller photos show carnitas again, a roasted vegetable and chorizo taco, a predominantly roasted corn filling with both avocado and queso fresco, and finally a braised short rib taco. There is so much filling on the tacos, that I often order extra tortillas. Again, these delectable morsels are sold for $3 each, but drop to $2 each at happy hour. Anyone could be happy eating one or more of these.


On their daily menu you may sometimes find a fish taco for $5. It was good and the size commanded a larger tortilla, but I’ve had enough fish tacos to know of several that I prefer to these.

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These photos make it clear that the tacos are made with a very generous portion of the meat and poultry fillings. From left to right we have shredded chicken, barbacoa style short ribs with a spicy chile sauce, carnitas, carne asada, then more chicken and carnitas.

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Although I usually stick to the tacos, upon occasion the daily menu will offer a tempting diversion. The chicken salad was good, but not outstanding, however, the Mexican sandwich, typically called a torta, was very good and big enough for many of us to be satisfied by eating only half. It would be impossible to overspend at this venue. I’ll bet their catering business is more than busy.

La Urbana Website with mention of El Mercado Urbano

661 Divisadero St  
San Francisco CA 94117  
1 415 440-4500  

Saturday, April 11, 2015


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There’s a new girl in town and the neighborhood couldn’t be more pleased. Brenda’s has replaced Blue Jay Cafe, a restaurant specializing in not so special Southern food. Upon our arrival in the neighborhood, we decided to give it a try. Neither of us remembered what we had ordered, but I remember having to be dragged there on our 2nd visit, some 5 years later. Blue Jay’s owners decided to partner with the owner’s of Brenda’s French Soul Food, an established and popular Southern comfort food restaurant in the city.
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A fresh coat of paint did wonders for the ambiance and the new chef performed miracles in the kitchen. The last thing I ordered at Blue Jay was their shrimp and grits, seen in the upper right photo. They were so overly sauced, I couldn’t find the grits. Brenda’s version was far superior with larger shrimp, far less though superior tasting sauce, dancing upon a bowl of well cooked cheesy grits. They may have been the same ingredients, but the execution was superior. They are better than some I had tried at NOLA in New Orleans.
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Brenda’s has an old Southern recipe for rice bignets that made a good impression, and were delightful as a sweet served with up with their chicory coffee. They are the only sweet offered on the breakfast menu. Having a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner is a treat in this neighborhood.
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Johnnie Cakes, another breakfast item, were laced with shrimp and corn kernels, amongst other vegetables, and were savory and spicy. They are served with a hot pepper butter and do not require syrup or anything else for that matter. The breakfast menu includes the shrimp and grits, gravy and biscuits, and egg dishes. French toast in on my list of new items to try.
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Chicken Etouffee and Gumbo have deep Southern roots and deeper flavor. The only misstep in the kitchen we have discovered was one time the roux for the Gumbo was too dark and left a slightly burned taste that did not improve the dish, but detracted from it.
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Fried Oyster and Shrimp Po’ Boys are both value, as well as, flavor packed. They make a filling lunch that we can barely finish at one sitting. The spicy pickled watermelon rinds are southern to the core, but are they just a garnish, or put there to be added to the sandwich? Whichever way they are intended to be eaten, their color goes a long way in adding some personality to the plating.
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Speaking of watermelon, the sweet tea uses it as a garnish. This tea, another Southern staple, is true to its name, so don’t add sugar, Sugar!
Speaking of sweet, this chocolate cream pie put me off Southern desserts for good, unless a nightly special offers the possibility of pecan pie. The taste was decent, but the proportion of cream to filling was off and the graham cracker crust did not hold together, as though someone had forgotten to add butter the to the recipe.
The full name of the restaurant is actually Brenda’s Meat and Three. Each evening the dinner menu includes your choice of meat or chicken along with 3 choices of side dishes. I tried the Braised Lamb Shank and selected cheesy grits, fried okra and cauliflower gratin for the sides. This was way too much food for one meal and I walked away with a very heavy doggy bag.
My dining companion managed to finish his Braised Short Ribs with Mushroom Gravy and was smart to select less filling and more nutritious side dishes, including buttered carrots, mashed potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon. No baggy for him.
Southern Fried Chicken is on the lunch and dinner menus and the cost is inexpensive for the quality. All in all, even with a few exceptions, We are happy to welcome Brenda’s to the neighborhood.


Thanks to some daily lunch specials, we have now tried Crayfish Pot Pie, Succotash, Chicken and Biscuits as well as my favorite, Pork Belly with Grits and Eggs. For down home, Southern , comfort food; you need look no further than Brenda's. 


Brenda's Menu

919 Divisadero St
San Francisco CA 94115
1 415 926-8657