Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NOPA San Francisco

So, you’ve just spent an afternoon, evening or late night at Terroir (or your other SF wine bar/haunt of choice) and you’re looking for some good grub to fill that nagging void in the pit of your belly?

Even with well over 4,000 restaurants in San Francisco (Yelp lists 4,373 and I’m guessing they’re missing at least a few), I can’t think of any reason not to head to NOPA. So what if it’s half way across town? Granted, I’ve hardly put a dent in the SF restaurant scene, and I’ve only been to NOPA once. Sometimes, though, you walk into a place, feel the energy, peruse the menu and wine list… and you just know. When the food arrives and solidifies those first impressions, and when you’re already trying to suss out when you’ll next be able to visit before your meal comes to an end, then everything, at least in the moment, is right with the world. NOPA is that kind of place.

Shortly after being seated we were welcomed by NOPA’s Wine Director, Chris Deegan. It turned out that Chris was the very accommodating soul with whom I’d spoken when I called to change our reservations after our planned quick afternoon break at Terroir turned into a four-hour mini-marathon session. He was keen to get the lowdown on what we’d tasted at Terroir and was equally keen to guide us through the finer points of both NOPA’s menu and wine list.

I settled in with a glass of 2008 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from Natural Process Alliance, perhaps the greenest orange wine out there. Kind of had to try it after reading about The NPA on just about every Bay Area wine blog at one point or another over the last year or so. It didn’t disappoint; not as tannic or oxidative in style as Paolo Bea’s 2007 "Rusticum," with which I’d started the day at Terroir, but more gently drinkable for it and really quite delicious.

Meanwhile, we all settled in with some apps for the table: warm marinated olives, wood grilled sardines, the flatbread of the day…. As inviting as some of the more creative main courses sounded, I’d already been told by Cory, among others, that I had to – not should, but had to – order the burger. No disappointments there, either. This was not the coarse ground, loosely packed burger so typical back home in Philly but a fine ground, firm, very geometrically correct yet not overworked patty. Perfectly juicy and tender, its real standout characteristic was its high yet perfectly distributed seasoning, as if a little elf in the kitchen had caringly placed a single grain of sea salt on each individual ground morsel of beef. Top it off with melted cheese, pickled onions and a grilled brioche roll… oh yeah.

What to drink with the NOPA burger? The choices were many – Mr. Deegan has put together a very cool wine program – but having chosen comfort food, I kind of wanted to drink something that was a little outside my usual range. Chris steered us toward Spain, into Galicia, and directly to Guimaro’s 2007 Ribeira Sacra “B1P.” Crunchy, juicy and fresh; medium bodied, red-fruited and just a tad on the herby/spicy side. It’s something I really must explore again, just as NOPA is a place that I really must visit again. And again. And again. Problem is it’s 3,000 miles away. Hmmm….

560 Divisadero (at Hayes)
San Francisco, CA 94117
Nopa on Urbanspoon


Samantha Dugan said...

How have I not been to NOPA yet? I know where I will be heading on my next trip up North, thanks for the tip.

TomHudson said...

As a relative novice to the SF dining scene, how typical is it to see a euro-centric wine list like this in CA?

David McDuff said...

@Sam - You're welcome, Sam. I think you'll love it.

@Tom - The euro-centric list at NOPA is certainly not without precedent, Tom. In addition to Terroir (much more a wine bar than a restaurant), the list at The Slanted Door comes immediately to mind, as does the wine program at The Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, right in the heart of Sonoma wine country. I'm no Bay Area dining scene die-hard either, though, so hopefully an SF local or two will chime in with their thoughts.

Marcus said...

Funny - I stayed directly across from NOPA during my time in SF last spring so of course I found it quite easy to get there. Made friends at the counter and ended up making terrific conversation, which was good because I remember getting a bit sullen when the French wines I wanted to taste were being replaced by suggested local alternatives (should have taken the suggestion in retrospect). There's definitely a friendly atmosphere in the place - a continual loud buzz - but I felt like the food prices were inflated due to large portion sizes, only to realize later that I had ordered wrong.

Anonymous said...

David, another lovely post from your SF adventures. I do hope there's a second burger post in the works. SF pizza, hell, everyone talks about that. But all these secret burgers? I'm only sayin'...

@TomHudson the Euro-centric list is more common in the Bay Area (and LA) than you might think, less so in other parts of the state. Although a better word for it might be Euro-heavy. As food styles shift towards seasonal, sometimes lighter fare, wine staff tend to gear their lists to reflect that. But with that said, lists like Nopa's, etc, also feature California wines, but usually the funkier, artisan side of things. Like the NPA Chardonnay David mentions in this post.

- wolfgang

David McDuff said...

@Marcus - Very cool that you got to become a semi-regular at NOPA during your visit. I'm sure the US/French wine substitutions were personal to the bartender/server you were working with, though based on the domestic wines on their list you'd have been fine, as you suggest, taking their recommendations. The portion sizes are indeed large but not to the point of gross obscenity. All the better for sharing....

@spume - Secret burgers? I have no idea what you mean, Wolfgang! Seriously, of course... a Rosamunde's review is coming up.

Thanks for chiming in on the list; point well made re: euro-centric vs. euro-heavy. There were definitely plenty of savvy US choices on NOPA's list.

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