Observations on Food in the Bay Area
Iluna Basque (last updated 04.02)
website - Located at Powell & Union in North Beach, this little gem is a far superior replacement of whatever used to occupy this place. Which should be obvious, considering the number of times I've been past that corner, and couldn't tell you for the life of me wtf used to be there.
Anyway, the first thing they've got going for them is that they're open until Midnight(!) in a city notoriously short handed when it comes to real places to eat late. It's also got good atmosphere, with little red candles, generally dark interior with some funky hanging lights, and a somewhat random flatscreen TV with the sound off which while we were munching was playing some old black & white movie situated rather centrally on a wall. Quirky, but fun, I suppose, if your date is hideously boring. Or maybe just weird.
The menu is basically all tapas - small plates, which vary in price from $3-10 each, and when they arrive give meaning to the phrase 'small plates'. Don't expect to get full unless you get a few of these. Each. But the food is quite good.
We, as people only snacking late, didn't get much, but here's what we had:
mache salad - really good! a hint of vinnaigrette dressing perhaps, and the feta & walnuts were a good addition.
crab croquettes - there were 3. and they were about 1 inch long each. must admit I was kinda hoping for more there... not a whole lot of crab flavor (or crab at all for that matter, from what I could tell), but they were pleasantly creamy. and deep fried. so they can't really be bad, right?
seared tuna - the tuna was fantastic. perfectly seared, melt-in-yer-mouth, wonderful consistency... wow. unfortunately, the blue cheese basque sauce completely overwhelmed the light flavor of the tuna. not bad for dipping bread in, but keep it away from the fish! this was the biggest of the 4 dishes.
salmon tartare - also really yummy. the salmon just melted, clearly very good and very fresh fish. perhaps a few more capers than I would have thrown in, but capers are yummy, so why not?
then came dessert.
bread pudding - damn. is that what bread pudding's actually supposed to be? no wonder I've never liked it before; I've clearly never had it before. fucking brilliant.
beret basque chocolat - chocolate was wonderful; very mousse-like. the cookie-like base underneath it was rather undestinguished; a bit too hard to cut through easily, and didn't add much in the way of flavor. worth getting again for the chocolate alone, though. yum.
garlic & shrimp soup - fantastic. wonderfully flavorful & rich, yet not so overpowering as to obscure the shrimp. also had some very very tasty piiiig. mmm... piiiig.
tortilla de san sebastian - a spanish style tortilla, sort of like an omelette in that it's mostly egg & stuff. my girlfriend said it was very good and quite authentic, but I'm not a big egg fan.
So other than that, they had a good by-the-glass selection of wines; I had a Cotes-du-Rhone which was suprisingly good. There's also a reasonably sized menu of full bottles, including a selection of Basque wines.
UPDATE 04.02: they even have the Ijalba we got at Piperade by the glass! Fantastic stuff, but they're charging $10/glass, which is way overpriced. Well, unless it's really really hard to find. Which it might be.
The other rioja was also very tasty, and cheaper.
One of the menu pages also lists a selection of specialty drinks from the bar, most of which (I only glanced) were martinis. Normally, I might have spent more time here, but I was in the mood for wine & food; not so much the booze. One of the selections was partaken of by our table, a concoction of Gin and mint, which tasted refreshingly like Listerine. hm. Not the best mix, methinks.
All said, though, I'll certainly be back, not only for the generally quite-good food, but especially for the fact that they're available so late, and being something of a nite-owl, I appreciate a restaurant with such clearly good taste in dining times.
Also worth noting that they were reasonably busy for 10pm on a Wednesday, which I take as a good sign that hopefully they'll stick around a while.
One final note - their chef came from Piperade before this, which amusingly enough we were at merely 4 days prior. I should probably post a review of it as well, since we'll be returning there also.